Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:371
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Fair to Middling

Doug from Traverse City asked about the phrase fair to middling. It is now used mostly in response to the question “How are you doing?” The colloquial reply is, “fair to middling.” It seems to have originated in America in the mid 19 th century, and it means O.K.—not spectacular and not disastrous. Show More Summary

-self pronouns

Ann from Traverse City called in to complain about an increase in the misuse of pronouns ending in -self. They are being used in place of object pronouns, as in “Give the check to John or myself,” or “According to herself, the price of coffee will continue to rise.” Ann has a valid point. Show More Summary

Breaker, Breaker

Each week, my program ends with a multiple choice vocabulary quiz, and prizes are awarded for a correct answer. Last week’s quiz used the word biblioclast. biblioclast: (a) book seller (b) book lover (c) book destroyer (d) book binder The correct answer is (c). Show More Summary

Spelling vs. Pronunciation

Casey from Gaylord asked why some words are spelled one way, but pronounced another. He used the word colonel as an example. In some cases, a word comes into English through more than one route. It may then retain the spelling of one, but favor the pronunciation of the other. Show More Summary


Mike from Cadillac asked about the word plethora. The Latin plethora, fullness of habit, came from the Greek word ???????, fullness or satiety. It was based on a verb meaning to fill. Originally, in ancient Greek medicine, plethora meant an overabundance of one or more of the humors. Show More Summary


Dave from Traverse City asked about the word umbrage. It’s the emotion that erupts when someone feels offended, aggrieved, or insulted. It often appears in the form, “I take umbrage at that.” It comes from the Latin umbra, a shadow.Show More Summary

Underdog or Underduck?

Loveda in Traverse City called because she and her daughter-in-law call the same action by different names, and she wanted to know which one was correct. The action takes place on a swing set. The pusher runs under the swing and then lets go. Show More Summary

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Speaking about the recent second earthquake in Nepal, CNN’s Wolfe Blitzer referred to tremblers or tremblors. It’s impossible to tell from pronunciation alone how he would have spelled it. He should have used the more correct temblor, a word for earthquake taken from the Spanish, and at first popularized in the southwestern United States. Show More Summary

Throws or Throes?

Jamie from Elk Rapids wrote to complain of a misspelling that she thinks is becoming annoyingly frequent. She keeps seeing the word throws written in place of throes, as in the throws of winter or the throws of passion. It’s not unusual that homophones get misused by the careless or inattentive, but it is, indeed, annoying. Show More Summary

Caught Red-Handed

A caller asked about the phrase, “caught red-handed.” Currently, it means to be caught in the very act of committing a crime. Given the circumstances, there is no possibility of pleading innocent. It seems to have arisen in Scotland somewhere around the 15 th century. Show More Summary

Purse Your Lips

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

On the basis of the similarity of letter sequences, Stan asked about a potential connection between the words reimburse and disburse. There is a connection, and that is the Latin word bursa, a pouch or purse. In turn, that came from the Greek word ?????, a hide or wine-skin. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Florence asked about the word amenable. First of all, she wondered about the correct pronunciation of the word. Then she was curious about shades of meaning. As far as pronunciation goes, there are two versions. A quick search of a few dictionaries shows that the preferred pronunciation is ah-MEEN-able. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Rodney from Charlevoix shared a word that has a specialized meaning among software writers. It’s obfuscation, and it means the deliberate attempt to make coding unreadable. That sounds counterproductive, but Rodney said it’s useful if...Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Keith from Acme was curious about an admonition that his grandmother used to make: keep your nose to the grindstone. With that, she encouraged Keith to stick to a task or a course of study even if it became tedious and boring. He asked if the original reference was to a mill where grain was ground into flour. Show More Summary

Except Accept

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Susan called to report a sign over the cash register in a local store. It read, We do not except personal checks. Since except means to leave out, that means that they take personal checks. Yes, I know what they meant – accept – but word choice matters. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Art asked about the word pension, which in our day is an agreed-upon payment made to a retired employee. At various times since the 14 th century, it has meant · payment made to retain loyalty – almost a bribe; · payment made to an artist...Show More Summary

Rump Parliament

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Wes Schulz reminded me last week that he has long been a fan of the exotic word callipygian. It means having shapely buttocks, and it is based upon the ancient Greek word for rump, ? ? ?? (pyge). It is also part of the name of the classic statue seen above, The Callipygian Venus. Show More Summary

Vent Your Spleen

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Brad Schnaidt wrote, “Can you explain the source/origin of the phrase ‘vent your spleen’? Does it have something to do with the old (and currently being revived) medical treatment of blood-letting? Thanks for your help, and I am an avid...Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Randy from Traverse City was intrigued that the meaning of the word icon went without much protest from the sacred to the secular. Icon came from the Greek ?????, where it meant likeness, image, portrait, semblance, and similitude. Ultimately, it tracks back to the verb ??????, to be like. Show More Summary

Things That Are Noxious in the Night

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Stella wrote to ask if the word noxious is indebted to the Latin word for night, nox. “Since primitive times,” she reasoned, “night and darkness have been seen as dangerous.” Noxious means harmful, poisonous, and unwholesome. It comes from the Latin noxa, harm or injury. Show More Summary

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