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

Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:670
Posts / Week:2
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Sally Port

Tim from Traverse City asked about sally port. A sally port is an entryway, but unlike a normal door or opening, it is scrupulously secure and controlled. It shows up in fortifications, prisons, police stations, courthouses, and some places of business, such as a jewelry store. Show More Summary

Get it?

Mike from Traverse City asked if it’s ever correct to use the verb got. Hypercorrectionists have a field day with this one. Some go so far as to say never use get or got, but as one caller pointed out, the three absolutely legitimate principal parts for that verb are get/got/gotten. Show More Summary


I received three “Is that really a word?” inquiries last week. There’s a strong subjective element involved. The questioner will often say, “that just doesn’t sound right.” Kelley objected to the phrase preheat the oven,claiming that you are simply heating the oven. Show More Summary

Read the Riot Act

To read someone the riot act is to berate that person for unwanted behavior and to threaten him or her with consequences if the behavior doesn’t cease. The fact is, there was an actual Riot Act, and it was passed into law in Great Britain in 1715. Show More Summary

Pore or Pour?

I found this in the Traverse City Record-Eagle (AP) 4/7/14, 6B: “[As an NBA player] point guard [Kevin Ollie] devoured information, pouring over scouting reports and game film, looking at tendencies and statistics—whatever he could to...Show More Summary


Sonya asked about the word verge. She came across it in an article discussing medical scientists on the verge of discovering a cure for baldness. It means a border or the point at which something begins, especially as the distinctive line of separation between one subject or phase and another. Show More Summary


Mike from Cadillac asked about the word Lent. In certain Christian circles, Lent is now the period including 40 weekdays extending from Ash Wednesday to Easter-eve, observed as a time of fasting and penitence. The early Church did not...Show More Summary


Pat from Elk Rapids asked about the word stateroom. Originally (17 th century), the stateroom was the captain’s cabin on board a ship. It was the largest and most desirable one available. Soon thereafter, it was used to designate a large, lavishly decorated hotel room used on formal or ceremonial occasions. Show More Summary

Hearty or Hardy?

An article in the Record-Eagle quoted a local Conservation District coordinator as saying, “They are pretty hearty plants.” He may actually have said that, but the reporter should have quietly corrected the word choice to what it should...Show More Summary


Timothy was telling me of his plans for St. Patrick’s Day, and they included a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. He wondered about the origin of corned, since no corn is apparent in the dish. Corned beef is preserved or cured with salt. Show More Summary

Fell a Tree or Fall a Tree?

Norman wrote, “Can you provide some clarity on the use of 'fall' and 'fell' with regards to cutting down a tree? Many folks say, I'm going to fell a tree. On the other hand, some say, I'm going to fall a tree. Thanks for any insight that you can provide me.” The proper form is "fell a tree." Fall is not supposed to take an object. Show More Summary


John in Glen Arbor asked about the word revamp. It means to give a new and improved form, structure, or appearance to something. The re- prefix means back or again, and in this case, it signifies restoration. Vamp is the interesting element. Show More Summary

Double the Pain

“Double pane windows” gets 8,660,000 results on Google. Surprisingly, the incorrect “double pain windows” gets 2,130,000 hits, a demonstration that trying to spell a word based on its sound alone is risky business. Pane is an interesting word. Show More Summary


Roberto asked about the word gross, trying to piece together how 144 pencils (or other items) and repellant corpulence connect. All senses of the word track back to the Latin grossus, thick, bulky, stout. Once upon a time, a gross was a medieval coin. Show More Summary

Jailhouse Rock

A couple of listeners asked about slang terms for a jail or jail cell. The select list below shows the year in which the word entered English with that particular meaning. The source is the Oxford English Dictionary. · bastille [1561], from the name of the prison-fortress built in Paris in the 14 th century. Show More Summary


The word scratch came up several times during today’s show,the result of the observation that it abounds in multiple meanings. The word seems to have come from similar words in Old Scandinavian and Germanic dialects. As a verb, it has gone through a succession of meanings since the 15 th century. Show More Summary

Cite & Site

This headline appeared in my local paper today (Traverse City Record-Eagle): Jeter to retire after 2014 Yankees’ shortstop sites injuries as reason The problem is the choice of the word “sites.” A site is a place, location, or position. Show More Summary

Male and Female He Created Them

Casey from Gaylord asked about animal nomenclature. Specifically, he wanted to know why male and female animals have different names, such as bull/cow, buck/doe, and cock/hen. Felicia from Fife Lake speculated that size might determine the names of animals. Show More Summary


Doug from Traverse City asked about the word pigeonhole. As a verb, it means the tactic of dumping an idea or a person into a limited type or category—usually unilaterally. The effect is to marginalize someone, to stymie him or her, to render the person unable to act effectively. Show More Summary


Judy from Gaylord asked about the phrase scot free. There are a few folk etymologies connected with this phrase; in other words, popular (but incorrect) guesses. First of all, stop picturing kilts, haggis, and bagpipes. The phrase has nothing to do with Scotland and its inhabitants. Show More Summary

Copyright © 2011 Regator, LLC