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Is “based off” off base?

Q: As I read the papers of college freshmen, I am often stopped by usages that seem wrong to me. The latest example is the use of “based off” for “based on,” as in “based off the research of Albert Einstein.” Your thoughts? A: You’re not the first to notice the use of “based off”... ? Read More: Is “based off” off base?

School days, school days

Q: Could you tell me the origin of the compound word “schoolteacher”? What is the reason for the redundancy? My first thought was that the phrase distinguished schoolteachers from Sunday school teachers. I later theorized that it might’ve come from the Germanic preference for compounds. Show More Summary

Dribs and drabs

Q: In your recent post about dribbling, you talk about the long-dead verb “drib,” the source of “dribble.” Is that also the source of “dribs and drabs”? A: Yes, that old verb “drib” gave us “dribs and drabs” as well as “dribble.” As we noted in our post, the “dribble” we associate... ? Read More: Dribs and drabs

Druggist or chemist?

Q: In a pharmacy in the US, the person filling the prescriptions is often called a druggist. In England, that person is often called a chemist. How did this come about? A: “Druggist” is one of many old words that Americans have preserved and the English have lost. Others include “stove,” “skillet,” “sidewalk,”... ? Read More: Druggist or chemist?

Color us plural

Q: Some friends from work were wondering if it’s correct to use colors in the plural when they’re nouns. We have a team called “Amber,” and we’re usually referred to as the “Ambers,” like my neighbors, the “Greens.” A: There’s nothing wrong with that terminology. Words for colors aren’t just adjectives, as in... ? Read More: Color us plural

Page references

Q: I cannot help feeling that the word “page,” meaning a manservant, has something to do with the word “pageant,” which you discussed recently. Surely it was worth a mention. A: Despite the similarity in appearance, the word “page,” in its servant sense, isn’t etymologically related to “pageant.” In fact, this “page” isn’t... ? Read More: Page references

The well-tempered reply

Q: I once asked you about the epidemic of people on radio and TV who respond to a question by beginning the answer with “so.” You sent me to a post that says this use of “so” goes back to Shakespeare. You guys have everything so nailed, but whatever happened to the well-established, reply-greasing... ? Read More: The well-tempered reply

Don’t sweat it

Q: As someone who ranks high on the perspiration index, I was wondering when the phrase “don’t sweat it” came about. A: “Don’t sweat it” first showed up in print about 50 years ago, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but we’ve found a similar expression that appeared in writing 50 years before... ? Read More: Don’t sweat it

Snacks and refreshments

Q: To me, “refreshments” can refer to food or drink. But in the last 10 years, at least in Cincinnati, I’ve seen it used exclusively for beverages. Often an event will mention “snacks and refreshments” or something similar, implying that the snacks are solid and the refreshments liquid. Have you noticed this, and what can... ? Read More: Snacks and refreshments

Hear Pat on Iowa Public Radio

She will be on Talk of Iowa today from 10 to 11 AM Central time (11 to 12 Eastern) to discuss the English language and take questions from callers.

Fold like a cheap X

Q: Is the expression “fold like a cheap suit” or “fold like a cheap suitcase”? Most of the people I’ve asked think it should be “suit,” but I remember it as “suitcase.” A: The verb “fold” has been used for hundreds of years to mean “give way,” “collapse,” or “fail.” But it’s been used for... ? Read More: Fold like a cheap X

Why a canard?

Q: We were celebrating our 25th anniversary with confit de canard when this question came up: How did the French word for a duck come to mean a false story in English? A: The short answer is that canard has both senses in French, and English borrowed one of them. But how did the word... ? Read More: Why a canard?

Carolina Panthers Fan FAIL! (Thanks, Brantley Smith!)

Tree’s what? Branches? Trunks?

I saw this sign at a farm supply store and had to take a picture of it for you. Being a Technical Communications major, this sign really irked me! (Thanks, Kristen Parkinson!)

Fire’d Up!

Blaze Pizza – US pizza chain (Thanks, Maurice!)

Sets My Teeth’s On Edge

Bake sale in Florida. The plural is Biscotti. No S, no apostrophe. (Thanks, James Longstreet!)

Selective apostophes

Desks and chairs are honored, but not files? (Thanks, Tom Guelker!)

Nursing home in Indiana

In a nursing home in Terre Haute, Indiana (Thanks, David C Newport !)

Good coffee, bad spelling

Seen at the new Barista Society coffee shop at LA’s Union Station. (Thanks, Susan Clarke!)

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