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Hello, Minnie!

Q: We saw Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and noticed that the libretto makes generous use of “hello,” notably with shouts of “Hello, Minnie!” at the saloon. I don’t see anything about “hello” on your blog. Would you like to correct this oversight? A: We’ve discussed “goodbye” in several posts (most recently, in 2011), but... ? Read More: Hello, Minnie!

The poop about pooped

Q: After separating the recyclables into three bins and dragging them out to the street, my hubby turned to me and said he was pooped. Speaking of which, where does “pooped” come from? A: The adjective “pooped” (or “pooped out”), meaning exhausted or worn out, showed up in the early 20th century in American English.... ? Read More: The poop about pooped

Compounding the problem

Q: In your “Compound fractures” post from 2012, you discuss hyphenating “potentially confusing compounds.” Shouldn’t that be “potentially-confusing”? I’m not being snarky, mind you, just trying to understand. A: The use of hyphens in compounds is pretty straightforward—except when it isn’t. Show More Summary

Batten down the hatches

Q: We’re having a big storm in Grand Rapids and I’ve battened down the hatches. I assume this originated as a nautical expression. When did it come ashore? A: Yes, “batten down the hatches” does indeed come from seafaring lingo. The nautical expression showed up at the turn of the 19th century, and took on... ? Read More: Batten down the hatches

Was Elizabeth Bennet blowsy?

Q: I just finished reading your dispatch about whether a “blown rose” is in bloom or has finished blooming. I’m surmising the adjective “blowsy” is related to the “past-its-prime” meaning of “blown.” Yes? A: Etymological bloodhoundsShow More Summary

A ‘fount’ or ‘font’ of knowledge?

Q: In your recent post about “cold feet,” you refer to a character in Shirley Hazzard’s novel The Transit of Venus as a “font of academic gobbledygook.” Don’t you mean “fount”? A: Both “font” and “fount” are derived from the Latin fons (a spring or fountain) and its combining form, font-. One figurative meaning of... ? Read More: A ‘fount’ or ‘font’ of knowledge?

Does your grandma suck eggs?

Q: In your post last month about the verb “suck” and its relatives, you refer to several negative senses of “suck eggs.” But you didn’t discuss the only usage I had heard: “Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.” A: That old rebuke, “Don’t teach your grandmother (how) to suck eggs,” has been used for... ? Read More: Does your grandma suck eggs?

Can ‘across’ mean ‘around’?

Q: When did we change from saying “around the world” to “across the world”? Doesn’t “across” contradict our notion that the world is round? A: “Across” doesn’t always mean in a straight line. It can also mean distributed “throughout, all over, in all or many parts,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Show More Summary

A lawyer walks into a bar

Q: My question, should you care to consider it, is which came first—the “bar” where attorneys work or the “bar” those attorneys may frequent after work? A: We briefly mentioned the connection between one “bar” and the other in 2014, but we didn’t go into detail. To make a long story short, the “bar” at... ? Read More: A lawyer walks into a bar

A plethora of notions

Q: I recently came across a blogger’s statement that “there is a plethora of entries” for derogatory terms in dictionaries. My ear tells me it should read “there are a plethora of entries.” Am I right? A: You’re right—and so is the blogger. “Plethora” is a singular noun, like “plenitude” or “abundance,” so it’s quite... ? Read More: A plethora of notions

A blown rose, by any other name

Q: On a recent trip to London, I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Antony and Cleopatra. Hence this question. How did the phrase “blown rose” come to mean a rose that’s bloomed? A: Let’s set the scene for anyone who isn’t familiar with the passage in Shakespeare’s play. When Cleopatra is told that... ? Read More: A blown rose, by any other name

Is might (v.) a kin of might (n.)?

Q: I can’t recall seeing any discussion on the two usages of “might” in “It might happen if I try with all my might.” Care to discuss? A: This may surprise you. The verb “may” and its past tense “might” ultimately come from the same prehistoric ancestor as the noun “might.” So the two forms... ? Read More: Is might (v.) a kin of might (n.)?

It’s medieval, albeit still with us

Q: I heard a radio DJ the other day, on a jazz station, using “albeit,” which is a nice word. I wonder if it’s a short form of an earlier phrase in the language. A: We’ve mentioned “albeit” a couple of times on the blog, most recently in a 2015 post about the phrase “at... ? Read More: It’s medieval, albeit still with us

Muffs, mufflers, and muffed

Q: My wife is using a small blanket to cover her fractured hand. She can’t get a glove over her brace. The other night, she said, “Hand me my muff.” I thought of Mimi’s cold hands in La Bohème. Also “muffing” a fly ball, the “muffler” on necks and cars, and the more salacious uses.... ? Read More: Muffs, mufflers, and muffed

When “mortify” meant to kill

Q: At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley is “mortified” by Darcy’s marriage to Elizabeth. I’ve read the novel umpteen times, but it just struck me that “mortify” must have something to do with death. What is the connection? A: Yes, the verb “mortify” has a deadly history. When English adopted it in... ? Read More: When “mortify” meant to kill

The emperor’s cold feet

Q: Professor Wadding, a minor character in The Transit of Venus, says the expression “cold feet” comes from Emperor Henry IV’s waiting in the snow at Canossa to meet Pope Gregory VII. Is this etymology too good to be true? Yes, that’s a fictitious story, but don’t blame Shirley Hazzard, the author of the novel.... ? Read More: The emperor’s cold feet

Is “monthslong” a word?

Q: Is “monthslong” a new word or did the editors at NPR slip up? A recent story referred to “a monthslong campaign of racist bullying.” A: Yes, “monthslong” is a word—a unit of written or spoken language—and it’s not all that new. But is it really a word, one that’s alive and well in writing... ? Read More: Is “monthslong” a word?

“Intend on” vs. “intend to”

Q: I hear people saying things like “I intend on getting back to you” instead of “I intend to get back to you.” I wonder if they’re conflating “intend to” and “intent on.” It sounds incorrect to me. Or is “intend on” correct? I’m intent on knowing. A: The verb “intend” has been used in... ? Read More: “Intend on” vs. “intend to”

Little Buttercup, disassembled?

Q: While playing oboe for a D’Oyly Carte tour, I heard that Little Buttercup may really mean “disassembled” when she tells the Boatswain in Pinafore that she has “dissembled.” Have you ever come across this alternate definition? A: Does Little Buttercup use “dissembled” to mean “disassembled” in H.M.S. Show More Summary

Coming for to carry me home

Q: I’ve come across the use of “for to” instead of “to” in a number of songs, poems, and other writing. In fact, a post of yours includes an example from Chaucer: “cometh for to axe him of mercy.” In what context is this usage correct? A: The old phrase “for to” is now considered... ? Read More: Coming for to carry me home

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