Q: Already this season, I’ve heard three people who ought to know better “celebrate” the retirement of treasured old guys. They meant to “honor” the guys, not “celebrate” their retirements. But maybe I’m the only one who notices. A: For hundreds of years, the verb “celebrate” has meant to observe or acknowledge a significant event—such... Show More Summary
Q: I’m Dutch and I recently read (from someone claiming to be a native English speaker) that the use of “happy end” is a common mistake made by those not intimately familiar with the language. Instead “happy ending” should be used. Can you enlighten me? A: In the phrase “happy ending,” as you know, “ending”... ? Read More: A happy ending
Q: As an immigrant and an American citizen for nearly 70 years, I have always considered myself a “first-generation American,” and I dislike seeing the term applied to the first generation born in the US. If you haven’t addressed this, would you, please? A: Your usage is fine, but so is the one you dislike.... ? Read More: A first-generation American?
Q: Two dinner companions recently got into a spirited debate about using “died” in referring to a euthanized pet. Leaving aside the general advisability of being specific, is there any authority for characterizing “died” as incorrect or misleading here? A: As two long-time owners of Golden Retrievers and Labs, we’ve had to put down several... ? Read More: Did Stella die?
Q: Every once in a while an expression that I’ve heard all my life suddenly sounds strange. Why, for example, do we refer to something unthinkable or impossible as “out of the question”? A: When the word “question” showed up in English in the early 1200s, it meant (as it does today) something that’s asked... ? Read More: Out of the question
Q: The question herein to be addressed centers around the so-called word “ubiquitousness” (I frankly contest its claim to the title). Do you agree with the editor who changed my use of “ubiquity” to “ubiquitousness”? A: We prefer the...Show More Summary
Q: I’m puzzled about why the “brachiocephalic artery” is commonly referred to as the “innominate artery.” In other words, why is an artery with a precise name vaguely referred to as an anonymous artery? A: Let’s first look at the adjective...Show More Summary
Q: I’ve noticed that you spell “judgment” without the extra “e” in the middle. I use the same spelling, but “judgement” is increasingly popular. During my law school days, I encountered the word with no small regularity, and both American and English texts used “judgment.” If I never saw the written word, though, I would... ? Read More: Judgment (or Judgement) Day
Q: The phrase “up and at ’em” is older than you suggest—at least in Spanish. Is it borrowed? The Spaniards who conquered the New World used arriba y a ellos as a battle cry. A: Although “up and at ’em” has a Spanish equivalent—arriba y a ellos—we’re doubtful that the English expression came from Spanish.... ? Read More: Up and at ’em
Q: No grammarian I/me, but why is “head” singular as well as plural when referring to cattle? A: In both the singular and the plural, the noun “head” has long been used numerically. It’s used for a number of animals (“twenty head of cattle,” “each head of sheep”) as well as measuring (“two heads taller,”... ? Read More: Are two head better than one?
Q: In golf, the expression “rub of the green” basically means bad luck—as when a putt for a birdie is knocked off line by a dive-bombing red-winged blackbird. Does “rub” in this case have any link to Shakespeare’s “Aye, there’s the rub”? A: When the noun “rub” showed up in regional English in East Anglia... ? Read More: The rub of the green
Q: Can you a please tell me the origin of the expression “my foot!”? A: The word “foot” has traveled quite a bit since it showed up in Anglo-Saxon days as a noun for the part of a leg, below the ankle, that a person stands on. It’s meant a foot in measurement (since sometime... ? Read More: My foot!
Q: In your “disrupter”/“disruptor” post, you use the word “since” in the sense of “because.” To me, “because” indicates cause and effect, while “since” indicates time. Am I being hypercritical? A: Yes, you’re being hypercritical. The word “since” has been used as a conjunction in the sense of “because” for hundreds of years. Show More Summary
Q: How about the use of the word “share” to mean communicate, as in “I want to share my concerns with you”? A: People have been sharing opinions and feelings since Shakespeare’s time, but the more personal sense of sharing that’s common today dates from the 1930s. Here’s the story. When the verb “share” showed... ? Read More: We have some ideas to share
Q: When did the “e” disappear from “disastrous”? In other words, why don’t we spell it “disasterous”? A: English borrowed both the noun and the adjective from French, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The source of the noun...Show More Summary
The LONG wait through army medical processing isn’t made any easier with rampant abuse like this all over the place. (Thanks, Timm!)
Seen on a police display case (Thanks, Gary Ansok!)
Q: I’ve read your article about why a “w” is called a “double-u.” What puzzles me is why we still have words with “uu”—i.e., “vacuum,” “continuum,” and “triduum.” And why the “w” in “weltanschauung” is pronounced like a “v.” Just curious. A: As we said in that 2011 post, English words were written in runic... ? Read More: Not every “uu” is a “double-u”
Subject line pretty much says it all. See here.
Q: I noticed a sign yesterday outside a bar that listed “Happy Hour” as being from 4 to 7. Besides wondering about the oddity of describing a three-hour-period as an hour, I became curious about the history of “happy hour” as an expression. Any ideas? A: The phrase “happy hour” showed up in the early... ? Read More: Happy hour