Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:422
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive


[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

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

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

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

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


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

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

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

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

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

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


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Last Sunday’s Traverse City Record-Eagle ran this teaser in a box at the top of page 1: “World’s fastest man ‘Bolts’ into action at the Olympics.” The reference was to Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and the verb bolts was used with the meaning to proceed rapidly. Show More Summary

Starboard and Port

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Bob from Traverse City asked about the nautical terms starboard and port—specifically, he wondered why sailors don’t simply use the words right and left. Right and left are relative terms; they depend on the direction you are facing....Show More Summary


12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Geoffrey wrote, “Yesterday I was at the local saddle and bridle store (Square Deal Country Store) and I thought, this is the tack store. So my wife and I are wondering about the origin of the word tack as it refers to horses, bridles, saddles, etc.” Tack came from similar words that existed in German, Dutch, French and Celtic. Show More Summary

Putting on the Dog

Danielle Arens asked about the phrase, “putting on the dog.” It means to dress fashionably and somewhat formally in order to impress your audience. There is no unanimous opinion as to its origin. One patently ridiculous explanation (although...Show More Summary

Cuffed in the Buff

Marge from Suttons Bay cited a story in the Record-Eagle that spoke of an intoxicated woman who was “cuffed in the buff.” That sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss. She was found hiding naked behind a tree in Leelanau County before being led away in handcuffs. Show More Summary

French fried vs. French fry

Roger Funkhauser wrote to me at and asked. “Is it more proper to use ‘ice tea’ instead of ‘iced tea’ or doesn’t it make a difference?" It should definitely be iced tea. It has to be the past participle form. Ice tea would be made from ice. Show More Summary


Bill from Merritt, Michigan, mused on the word scale, which can encompass diverse meanings from relative size to the covering on a fish to a musical progression. As with many words having multiple meanings, though the spelling is identical, the origins may have absolutely nothing in common. Show More Summary


Gifford Haddock asked about a word that appears in Acts 26:14. The word is goads, and it appears in this context: “ And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you...Show More Summary


Fred asked about the word foist. It shows up in settings such as this: “Don’t let them foist their shoddy goods on you.” In this sense, it means to palm off or surreptitiously force items on someone. “To palm off” is quite accurate because the word originally meant to conceal a token in your hand or fist and then make it appear as if by magic. Show More Summary

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