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The “basket case” myth

Q: I found a photo online, apparently from the early 20th century, of a disabled man in a basket chair. Could this be a clue to the origin of “basket case”? A: The man pictured in the basket chair (a three-wheeled woven rattan wheelchair) is nowhere near as disabled as the original basket case—that is,... ? Read More: The “basket case” myth

How to shorten a child

Q: I recently found an old diary in which my grandmother wrote, “today the baby was shortened.” What in heaven’s name could she have been referring to? She was born in 1913, grew up around Philadelphia, and had my uncle in 1925. She was Catholic so it couldn’t have had anything to do with circumcision.... ? Read More: How to shorten a child

A half-dollar vs. 50 cents

Q: Has the use of the term “half-dollar” to mean fifty cents fallen out of favor? I never hear it anymore. A: Standard dictionaries generally define the term “half-dollar” as a coin worth 50 cents, not as an amount of money valued at 50 cents. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.),... ? Read More: A half-dollar vs. 50 cents

Come on, EA

I wish I could pop that apostrophe by lining other apostrophes around it in a row. (Thanks, theFIZZYnator!)

Your Lemonade’s what?

A friend bought some shoes… this would have been enough to prevent me from buying them. (Thanks, Monkey!)

Are “loath” and “loathe” related?

Q: I assume the adjective “loath” (meaning reluctant) and the verb “loathe” (meaning to dislike) are relations of one sort or another. Which of these came first? And where did it come from? A: Yes, the two words are related. John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins says the verb “loathe” is derived from the adjective... ? Read More: Are “loath” and “loathe” related?

When the future is present

Q: I’ve noticed that people who write Dear Abby often say something like “I am being married in the fall” where I would say “I am getting married in the fall.” Is “being married” correct here? A: The short answer is yes, but expressing the future in English can get (or be) as complicated as... ? Read More: When the future is present

Does “daresay” have a past?

Q: My dictionary doesn’t have a past tense for “daresay.” Is it “daresaid”? Or “daresayed”? Or perhaps even “daredsay”? I daresay you’ll have an answer. A: We haven’t found any standard dictionaries that list a past tense for “daresay,” a compound verb that means to think very likely or to suppose. In fact, many dictionaries... ? Read More: Does “daresay” have a past?


Q: Any thoughts why the “.com” in a Web address is referred to as “dot com” and not “period com” or perhaps the more suitable “point com”? A: Our feeling is that “dot” is preferred because it’s snappier than “period” or “point.” It has fewer syllables than “period,” and it’s clearer and more emphatic than... ? Read More: Dot-commentary

Grad students take note ...

Be sure to credit xkcd when you use this approach. (And check out the roll over.)

Learner driver or student driver?

Q: I see driver education cars with stickers reading “Learner Driver” rather than “Student Driver.” The phrase “Learner Driver” just doesn’t seem right to me. Is it? A: Like you, we find the phrase “student driver” more idiomatic than “learner driver.” But we may be in the minority here. It turns out that “learner driver”... ? Read More: Learner driver or student driver?

These ones and those ones

Q: “These ones” is never OK. Not here in the US, nor in my native UK. There is no “sometimes.” It’s simply wrong. The “ones” element is redundant. It’s “these” or “those” (for plurals), and “this” or “that” for singular items. A: We assume your remarks were inspired by our post in 2010 about whether... ? Read More: These ones and those ones

Attack of the homophones!

Delightful story in the always delightful Wonkette about a guy who got fired for writing a blog post about homophones, because it sounded too... icky. It kind of sounded like another word, you might say. Of course they had to use the...Show More Summary

Garage sailing, in knots or miles?

Q: A columnist for my local paper in Minnesota wrote that he and his wife went garage sailing. Now I’m wondering how large were his sails, in order to get his garage to move. A: We’ve also noticed that some people use the term “garage sailing” to mean going to garage sales. We’ve seen “yard... ? Read More: Garage sailing, in knots or miles?

Chardonnay facts and fictions

Q: My brother-in-law, who has made his home in Israel for the past 65 years, says Chardonnay wine is named for the hills of Jerusalem, not a small town in Burgundy. In his telling, crusaders returned to France with vines grown in the area, known in Hebrew as sha’har adonai (i.e., “gate of God”). A:... ? Read More: Chardonnay facts and fictions

Is “so fun” ready for prime time?

Q: I often hear people say things like “We went to the circus and it was so fun.” I think the correct usage would be “it was fun” or “it was so much fun.” I find it strange to see a noun like “fun” used as another part of speech. Help please! A: As we’ve... ? Read More: Is “so fun” ready for prime time?

How dim is dimunition?

Q: Just now, the chairman of the board of a financial institution with several hundred billion dollars of assets under management used “dimunition” where he meant “diminution.” I don’t often hear either word, but I hear “dimunition” about as often as “diminution.” Do you OK this usage? A: No, we don’t recommend using “dimunition” to... Show More Summary

"Interested in regional and social differences in speech? We are too!"

Just got an email with that subject line for a study about how people identify speakers of different dialects:Our research team at the University of Wisconsin is recruiting subjects for research on how people perceive and identify dialects of languages people speak. Show More Summary

Because and effect

Q: I was on the Web a while ago and saw that the American Dialect Society chose “because” as its 2013 Word of the Year (not ‘selfie’ like some others). This is “because,” as in. “I’m so happy today because in love.” Yeccccch! Does this seem likely to transfer into standard English? A: Traditionally, “because”... ? Read More: Because and effect

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