Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:365
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Penny asked if the word cant is just another word for slang. That’s one of the meanings of the word—a provincial dialect so peculiar that it constitutes vulgar slang—but it’s not the exclusive meaning. In fact, cant is most often described as jargon—specialized words used in a certain profession ( legal jargon ) or by a definable group. Show More Summary

Into or In To?

Tim asked when to use into as one word and when to use in to as two words. If there’s any connection to direction or motion in the sentence, definitely use into, the single word. · We used to sneak into the theater through an emergency door. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Kelly asked about idioms, wondering if they should be treated like slang or nonstandard English. Not really. An idiomatic expression is one that the people in a given language or region understand even though it makes little sense if the words are parsed literally. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Clarence found this in the January 31 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Twice this month, the White House has publicly grappled with the politically fraught language of terrorism.” Clarence asked about the word fraught in that sentence. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Mike from Cadillac challenged me to come up with some words that we could use if they actually existed. Rather than taking time out to make some up during this very busy season, I’m going to cheat and offer some that I wrote in an article a few years back. Show More Summary

Gimbol and Gimbal

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Doug from Traverse City called in to ask about a word that he encountered in his reading. After he had hung up, I realized that I didn’t know precisely which word he intended. It was either gimballed or gambolled. If it was gimballed, it means fitted with a gimbal. Show More Summary

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