Q: When you’re grateful, what exactly are you full of? A: You’re full of gratitude, of course. But what you’re really asking is, what is “grate”? The “grate” that a “grateful” person is full of, according to John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, “is a now obsolete adjective, meaning ‘pleasing’ and ‘thankful.’... ? Read More: “Grate” expectations
Q: I teach English as a foreign language. My students have a good grasp of the past perfect, but they’re freaking out at this sentence: “They arrived before the game had ended.” Shouldn’t a past-perfect action (the game) happen BEFORE the other action, not after? How do I explain this grammatically? Or is it,... ? Read More: A past that isn’t perfect
Q: My husband was riding his bike slower than normal when a friend asked, “Did you have too much mashed potatoes last night?” That got him wondering: too much, too many, too much of? What is the correct methodology of inquiring if someone has overindulged in mashed potatoes? A: A noun phrase like... ? Read More: Let’s do the mashed potatoes
Q: I recently came across “fysigunkus,” meaning a person devoid of all curiosity, in an old Scottish dictionary, but I found the etymology questionable. Can you elucidate? A: You probably found that obsolete word in John Jamieson’s 1825 Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. Show More Summary
I bought a large item at the local Kmart and had to collect it from the loading bay. That’s where I saw this sign. And why is it necessary to capitalize so many words? (Thanks, David H!)
Seen in a Target store in Melbourne, Australia. The abuse has probably been carried through to all the stores, judging by the nature of the sign. (Thanks, David!)
In Berlin right now, en route to Leipzig for a conference and I did what you do in Berlin early on Sunday morning when your hotel room isn't ready yet... headed to a bakery for a cup of coffee and a pastry. I'm sitting and sipping and look up and lo and be-freakin-hold, what do I see on the wall, but a giant dialect map of words for 'roll' in German.
CNN.com has a story online about a couple fined $3500 for posting a negative review. The link is http://ht-mobile.cdn.turner.com/cnn/big/bestoftv/2013/11/29/newday-brown-onlinefraud.cnn_2838947.3gp In its video story, the following was captured: (Thanks, Tony!)
This piece, "Academe as a Drug Gang", is getting a lot of play … like being republished on Slate. It was posted on Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik and builds on a blog post by Alexandre Afonso, here. It's a basic line of argument you...Show More Summary
Q: I’ve studied German, English, French, and Latin, which may explain my fascination with how languages influence one another. For example, the French word for a transom, vasistas, comes from the German phrase was ist das? I’ve read that French soldiers picked up the usage during World War I or II. True or false?... ? Read More: Was ist das?
Q: We know it’s “wagyu,” but the menu at Spoons Bistro in Victor, Idaho, spells it “waygu.” When we mentioned this to our server, the chef came out and explained that “waygu” is the accepted and proper term for US-raised wagyu. We liked the restaurant and we’ll go again, but we were skeptical of... ? Read More: Wagyu or waygu?
Q: I hate it when people say to me, “It’s the least I can do.” I know what they mean, but the implication is that they’ll do the least they can for me. I always point out that I’m more interested in the most they can do for me. It’s a funny old English-speaking... ? Read More: “Least” wise
Q: I wonder about the use of “donkey” in place of “ass.” I’ve seen both in various English translations of Marco Polo’s travels, though he probably used whatever the term was in his native Venetian. My question is, what’s the origin of “donkey” in English? A: We’ve discussed the history of “ass,” but... ? Read More: Did Marco Polo ride a donkey?
Q: I don’t see any mention of “Mayday,” the danger signal, on your blog. Do you know that it comes from m’aidez in French? A: Yes, it’s true that the distress signal “Mayday” comes from French. The Oxford English Dictionary says this English interjection is derived from the French m’aidez or m’aider (“help... ? Read More: Mayday: French to the rescue!
You've probably seen the Atlantic piece about because by now. I actually have been wondering about this for a long time, mostly because I read Wonkette, rightly cited as a place where you can find this construction all over the place. Show More Summary
Q: I have a customer who gives out T-shirts at a New Years party. The back of the shirts has the year. Should the date for the next party be 2013 or 2014? I think it should be 2013 because the party starts on New Years Eve. Is there a grammar rule that would... ? Read More: New Year’s Daze
Q: Did the Earl of Sandwich really give us the sandwich? Or is this just one of the many folk etymologies to be found on the Internet? A: John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, didn’t give us the sandwich, but the 18th-century nobleman—or rather his table manners—may have given us the name... ? Read More: How noble is the sandwich?
Q: Here’s a question you can get your teeth into. An article in the Guardian about the eating habits of the Neanderthals included this sentence: “There are other, equally valid but decidedly more grizzly explanations to account for those microscopic fragments of herbs and plants found in Neanderthal teeth.” Any comment? A:... ? Read More: A grizzly of a different color
Q: This sets my teeth on edge: Why is it that so many people, especially in the NY area, say “lozenger” instead of “lozenge”? Isn’t this incorrect? A: The sweetened, medicated tablet is spelled “lozenge” and pronounced LAH-zinj in standard English, according to dictionaries in the US and the UK. However, the... ? Read More: Lozenge or lozenger?
Hear Pat live Wednesday afternoon on WNYC. And meet her in person Wednesday evening at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library. She’ll be on the Leonard Lopate Show around 1:20 PM Eastern time on Nov. 20, 2013, to discuss the English language and take questions from callers. (If you miss the program,... ? Read More: Pat on WNYC and at the NYPL