Discover a new way to find and share stories you'll love… Learn about Reading Desk

All Blogs / Academics / Linguistics / Grammar / Popular


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

18 hours agoLinguistics / Grammar : Mr. Verb

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

“Rather than” is rather puzzling

Q: I have a question about the following sentence: “My mind still worships the idol of specialness rather than love God.” Is the word “love” correct, or should it be “loves”? The phrase “rather than” seems to be the decisive factor. A: The word “love” in that sentence is an infinitive, so it doesn’t have... ? Read More: “Rather than” is rather puzzling

The original martinet

Q: Bill O’Reilly said on Fox News the other day that a man who’s a strong leader in America today can expect to be called a bully, a tyrant, a martinet, and other negative terms. Where does ”martinet” come from? A: John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins traces the usage back to “the name of... ? Read More: The original martinet

How sick is this usage?

Q: In striking down California’s teacher-tenure system, a state judge, Rolf Treu, wrote that ineffective teachers had a “negative impact on a sick number of California students.” I’ve always considered this use of “sick” to mean “excessive” (or maybe “amazing”) to be slang, but now it will be in law books. When does a word... ? Read More: How sick is this usage?

Surf’s up in Rivendell

So you know that whole thing about how the elves in The Lord of the Rings are all, so, we’re getting in our fancy boats and sailing off into the sunset on our exclusive party cruise? Well, they said that’s what they were doing, but I think “west” must be code for “settling down in […]

In the nick of time

Q: In regard to your recent article about the criminal uses of “nick,” what about its use in the expression “nick of time”? A: The noun “nick,” which referred to a notch or groove when it showed up in the 1500s, soon took on an additional meaning: the exact point of time when something takes... ? Read More: In the nick of time

The divoon comedy

Q: My favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees song is “Kiss Them for Me,” which contains the line “It’s divoon, oh it’s serene.” Did the band coin “divoon” or is it a real word? It sounds like something Noel Coward made up so he could complete a difficult rhyme. A: No, the English rock band Siouxsie... ? Read More: The divoon comedy

Some words about the N-word

Q: In Origins of the Specious, you say the N-word is derived from Latin. I’ve read that it comes from the area of Africa called Niger. Slavers changed “Niger” to “nigger” as a form of humiliation. A: “Nigger” dates back to the 16th century, when a group of words beginning with the letter “n” started... ? Read More: Some words about the N-word

It’s no yoke—or is it?

Q: Most of us were taught that the yellow part of an egg, though pronounced like “yoke,” is spelled “yolk.” But a recent AP story called it “yoke” many times. And the Webster unabridged lists “yoke” as a variant spelling. Does that mean it’s perfectly OK? A: We’ve checked eight standard dictionaries and only two... ? Read More: It’s no yoke—or is it?

Can a woman be testy?

Q: A headline on Politico about an exchange between Hillary Clinton and an NPR reporter said, “Hillary gets testy over gay marriage.” It strikes me as inappropriate to use a word derived from the male reproductive organs to describe a woman. A: The word “testy” doesn’t refer to the testes. It comes from an entirely... ? Read More: Can a woman be testy?

Negative thoughts

Q: A colleague in the operating room where I work said to a patient: “You are allergic to no medications.” We all agree that the sentence is awkward at best, but we are debating whether it is in fact incorrect. Can you provide me with an answer (or at least your expert opinion)? A: This... ? Read More: Negative thoughts

When “thanks to” is thankless

Q: A recent article in New Scientist magazine says some people lose the ability to speak “thanks to” certain types of brain damage. I am not a native English speaker, but I seem to remember from usage guides that “due to” is used for negative reasons, while “thanks to” is for something positive. Surely damage... ? Read More: When “thanks to” is thankless

Speaking of dumb

Q: When did “dumb” go from meaning “mute” to “stupid”? A: To begin at the beginning, the word “dumb” has been traced back to dheubh-, a prehistoric Indo-European root indicating confusion, stupefaction, or dizziness, according to John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins. Show More Summary

Are you a wonk?

Q: American University, in its radio advertisements, uses the word “wonk” as a positive part of its mission. I should have thought it was a slangy, moderately derisive tern. It also grates. What is your view? A: When we wrote about this subject on our blog back in 2007, the use of “wonk” or “wonkish”... ? Read More: Are you a wonk?

A method to the methodology?

Q: When we accountants write about the “methodology” for cost allocations, we are trying to make our work sound more important than if we had used “method.” How do you feel about the use of “methodology” to mean, as it often does, a fancy method; a complex method, a glorified method, rather than, based on... ? Read More: A method to the methodology?

Business agnostic?

Q: In a recent conference call, three people described themselves as “business agnostic.” By this they meant they had skills useful in many business sectors, not just one. Is this use of “agnostic” correct? If so, will you please explain the rationale? A: We can’t find this sense of “agnostic” in the Oxford English Dictionary... ? Read More: Business agnostic?

Is a customer a guest?

Q: My question is about the disappearance of “customer” and the overuse of “guest,” as in “May I help the next guest?” when taking your ticket at the movies. Why is this happening? A: We agree that “guest” is being overused these days as a euphemism for a paying customer. We don’t think of ourselves... ? Read More: Is a customer a guest?

Why villains are vilified

Q: Your article on the many uses of “nick” on British crime shows reminds me of the way cops in the UK call perps “villains.” That has to go back—to Shakespeare, at least. A: You’re right. The word “villain” does go back a long way. It crossed the Channel with England’s Norman conquerors (in Anglo-Norman... ? Read More: Why villains are vilified

Wisconsin Englishes update ...

Word on the street is that Wisconsin Englishes will be on Wisconsin Public Radio in western Wisconsin tomorrow, on Spectrum West with Al Ross.And the Wisconsin Englishes Project website has been spiffed up a little... various updates and a bunch of teaching materials, etc. You can check it out here.

Copyright © 2011 Regator, LLC