Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:392
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive


“Twere is a contraction of a form of the verb to be. In full, it is written as it were, a subjunctive form. I bring it up because it is used in a scene in the Coen Brothers’ movie, Hail, Caesar. In that scene, a movie director becomes...Show More Summary

Unisex Names

Kelly from Harbor Springs asked for a word denoting a name that can be used both for boys and for girls, citing his own name as an example. Existing examples include Avery Brooks and Avery Winter; Bailey Chase and Bailey Hanks; Cameron...Show More Summary

Exasperate & Exacerbate

Last week, I listened to a speaker confuse the words exasperate and exacerbate. “This will only exasperate the problem,” he said, actually meaning exacerbate. It’s becoming a common mistake, primarily because the pronunciation is so close. Show More Summary


One of the delights of Christmas grazing is fudge. While I was indulging in that substance the other day, neighbors Alexandra and Danielle Arens asked where the word came from. Fudge is a soft candy made from chocolate chips, sugar, butter, and condensed milk. Show More Summary


Crystal Frost commented on a ruling given by a local judge in a recent hearing, noting that he displayed an admirable vocabulary. One of the words that she found impressive was nugatory. This was the context: “ Important to the analysis...Show More Summary

Ambiguous and Ambivalent

Fern asked about ambiguous and ambivalent. The two contain the root ambi -, which means both. Ambiguous also leans on the Latin agere, to drive, resulting in the literal meaning “driving here and there.” Ambivalent contains the Latin valere, to be powerful, leading to the literal meaning “equal in power.” Ambiguous applies to something external. Show More Summary

Assume & Presume

Ron asked if there’s an appreciable difference between the words assume and presume. Each has several meanings, so they do diverge at times, but the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this meaning for assume—“to take for granted”—and this meaning for presume—“to take for granted.” Both are based on the Latin verb sumere, to take up. Show More Summary

Bail & Bale

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Kent from Traverse City asked about the connection between a bale of hay and the bail pledged to get out of jail. It turns out that there is no connection. The words are homophones—they’re pronounced the same—but their spelling and meaning are totally different. Show More Summary

Dribs & Drips

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Traverse City Record-Eagle headline: Shipwrecks pose threat to U.S. waters [Nov 1, 2015, 3b]”Past leaks have shown that the oil usually comes out in drips and drabs rather than gushes, lessening the worry of a full-scale catastropheShow More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

A listener who is a fan of the British novelist Dick Francis (a former jockey who writes about horse racing and crime) asked about the word punter, a common term in Francis’ novels. Jim from Suttons Bay called in to share that it means a bettor. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Ron from Traverse City was surprised when he came across the word disusedin a novel, since he can’t remember seeing it before in print. It’s part of a cluster: disused, unused, and misused. Let’s take each in turn. Disused : For the most part, this word is now considered obsolete. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Mike from Cadillac asked about the word shingles. Specifically, he wanted to know how the painful rash connects to a roof tile. Even though the current spelling of both words is identical, it is an accident of history. The overlapping shingles used to protect a roof are thin pieces of wood with parallel sides, one end thicker than the other. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Brad asked about the origin of deadline. Today it refers to a time limit, especially a time by which an article or a manuscript or a project of any kind has to be submitted for publication or completion. The origin of the word is rather gruesome. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Cynthia asked about the varied meanings of the word habit. Ultimately, it came from a Latin verb that meant to have. There was a bifurcation of the base word in ancient Latin. One branch focused on the external features of having and exhibiting: posture, demeanor, clothing, etc. Show More Summary


12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Doug asked about the word flamboyant. Currently, it means exhibiting behavior that attracts attention because of exuberance that goes over the top. In my generation, Little Richard comes to mind. Proximately, the word came from a French word meaning flame. Show More Summary

Linked Vowels

12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Krale from Boyne City asked what to call the conjoined æ. It is called a ligature, linked vowels, or a digraph. There is no single universal pronunciation. Brits spell the word encyclopaedia; Americans consider that to be archaic and spell it encyclopedia, with the ae pronounced as ee. Show More Summary


Jason from Traverse City called in to get an opinion on an ongoing difference that he is having with his wife. He thinks that the term condiment should be limited to catsup, mustard, pickle relish, salt, pepper, and items of that nature. Show More Summary

G-string and the Alphabet

Morgan asked about the origin of G-string. Linguist Robert Hendrickson says that G (or gee) stands for groin, which was a taboo word in the late 1800s. Cecil Adams ( The Straight Dope ), suggests an origin from " girdle -string", which appears as early as 1846. Show More Summary

Advance or Advanced?

I’ve seen a number of notices recently that misuse the word advanced. Here’s an example from a physician’s office: “If you know that you are going to miss a medical appointment, please give at least a 24-hour advanced notice.” That should have been advance notice. Show More Summary

A Dry Sense of Humor

Bill from Maple City, Michigan, asked about the use of the word dry in the phrase a dry sense of humor. A dry sense of humor involves delivering a joke as if it were a serious matter. There is no prompt to laugh; the humor sneaks up on you because of the emotionless delivery. Show More Summary

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