Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:431
Posts / Week:0.8
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Vowels in a Row

Bill from Merritt, Michigan, asked if there are any words that contain all five vowels in order. The answer is yes. Helping matters greatly is the existence of the common suffix –ious/-ous, meaning characterized by or full of. That leaves us the task of frontloading words with the letters a and e. Show More Summary


My wife and I have been attending the Saturday Live from the Met series at the State Theater in Traverse City, Michigan. One of the intermission features is an interview with the cast. During the course of his interview last weekend,...Show More Summary

Assure, Ensure, Insure

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Nicole from Traverse City asked about the difference between insure and ensure. Then, later that week, at a meeting of the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging, the same question came up, this time with assure added to the mix. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

The word mantle and its many meanings came up on the program recently. It originated with the Latin word mantellum, a cloak. One way or another, the divergent meanings of mantle all include the idea of something that encloses or protects. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Matthew from Cadillac asked if the horns of a goat, say, and the horns played in an orchestra are connected etymologically. The short answer is yes. The English word derived from various Germanic and Scandinavian words. In turn, they owed their existence to the Latin cornu, horn. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Tend is a word all by itself. It means to bestow attention, to have a purpose, or to advance. It is based on the Latin word tendere, to stretch. That verb also contained the senses to strain or to strive. Worth noting is that –tend was frequently used as a word part in combination with various prefixes. Show More Summary

Flower Frog

12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Alexandra Arens asked why the ornamental flower holder placed at the bottom of a vase is called a frog. There is some uncertainty. It seems to be a slang term from the early 20 th century, and many sources speculate that just like a frog, the device sits in water – hence, the name. Show More Summary

Foot the Bill

12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Bill from Merrit asked about the phrase “to foot the bill.” It means to pay the bill, often covering the debts of others, as a good host will. Foot refers to the bottom end of something -- in our day, the bottom line of a receipt or bill. Show More Summary

On the schneid

I heard from Dan in Traverse City. “ I often hear the term on the schneid used in reference to a losing streak in hockey. Mickey Redmond, broadcast analyst for the Detroit Red Wings, uses it a lot. Where did schneidcome from?” The word “schneid” is found in many sports other than hockey, but in all cases, the meaning is the same. Show More Summary


[Winslow Homer] William from Charlevoix asked about the word aftermath. Its origin is unexpected, to say the least. The after segment predictably means coming at a later time. The math segment comes from Germanic words that meant to mow. Show More Summary

Entitled to be Titled

Buzz from Traverse City called in a pet peeve. He said he flinches when he sees a sentence such as the following: “The book is entitled the Art of Fishing.” He maintains that the word should be titled. That’s been my practice, too, but it seems that we are both on shifting sands here. Show More Summary

Lame Duck

[ Credit: Library of Law and Liberty ] Since President Obama is finishing his second term, he is known as a lame duck president. The phrase refers to any politician who has lost an election or is term-limited out and can serve only until the following January. Show More Summary

Bear & Bare

Pat Phelan wrote, “I am curious as to why people say bare with me when you are talking to them? I find it happens more often during a telephone conversation rather than in person; offhand, I don't know of any time I heard that in person, actually.” First of all, remember that bare and bear, while they sound identical, are very different in meaning. Show More Summary

Rifle Receiver

Jim from Traverse City called in a question about firearm terminology. He pointed out that the body of a handgun is called a frame, but in a rifle, it’s called the receiver. Receiver in its general sense goes all the way back to the late 14 th century, when it was established as a receptacle, a repository, something that holds and receives an object. Show More Summary


[credit: Pinterest] Penny asked why it’s incorrect to say I brang a bottle of wine instead of I brought a bottle of wine. She hears the former so often that it’s making her a bit insecure. The confusion arises because there are two basic verb types, regular and irregular. Show More Summary

In the Clink

Adam asked about a phrase that now sounds a bit old fashioned, “When we were kids,” he wrote, “we’d say that so-and-so’s father was in the clink, meaning in jail.” Sounds like he grew up in a tough neighborhood. There’s some uncertainty about the origin. Show More Summary

Suppression and Repression

Sybil asked about the words suppression and repression. Both are based on a Latin verb that meant to press, to weigh down, to stifle. The word compression shares the same root. Based on the tone of her email, I think that Sybil was considering both words in their psychological sense. Show More Summary


Exculpatory Myron from Big Rapids asked about the word exculpatory. It is usually found in the phrase, exculpatory evidence. In a criminal trial, that would be evidence that tends to excuse the defendant from guilt – witness testimony, physical evidence, video, etc. Show More Summary

Living Daylights

Scott asked about the origin of the threat, “I’ll beat the living piss out of you.” It actually started out as, “I’ll beat your daylights out” or “I’ll darken your daylights.” Over the centuries, additions and substitutions sprang up. Show More Summary

Oneth, Twoth, Thresh

Judy from Elk Rapids asked why we use the adjectives first, second, and third instead of oneth, twoth, and threeth. After all, the rest of the numerical adjectives (fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.) routinely end in – th or – eth. First of all, we need to make a distinction between types of numbers. Show More Summary

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