Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:438
Posts / Week:0.8
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Whoever or Whomever?

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Fran from Suttons Bay was watching reruns of Criminal Minds when she heard the following dialogue: “The killer wants to inflict fear not only in the victim, but in whomever finds the body.” She wonders if that should have been whoever. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Van from Petoskey was curious about the word embarrass. It seems to have come into English from the French, but it has cousins in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It now means to make a person or institution feel awkward or self-conscious, but that meaning evolved over time. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

I know there’s no such word as candidity, but I like the sound of it. A listener asked about the word candor. It now means openness, frankness, and outspokenness. Originally (14 th c.), it meant brilliant whiteness. That’s no surprise, since it came from a Latin word that meant whiteness. Show More Summary

No Man Is An Island

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

The Latin word insula had two meanings, one dry and one wet. It meant a block of buildings separated from surrounding structures, and it also meant an island – a land mass completely surrounded by water. It shows up in words like insulate, insulated, and insulation. Show More Summary

In Perpetuity

11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Frank from Suttons Bay came across the phrase in perpetuity, and he figured out from context that it means forever. In legal use, it means “not subject to termination.” The phrase is often used in documents granting an easement to a utility company. Show More Summary

Seeing What’s Not There

12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

The Science channel carries a program named What on Earth ? The program examines mysterious images captured by satellite cameras and tries to determine what is actually being seen. Last week, the program discussed what appeared to be a large face engraved on a Ukrainian field. Show More Summary


12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Joan from Torch Lake reminded me of a figure of speech that is delightful to encounter. It involves a sentence in which the last half presents a twist in meaning – an unexpected conclusion – that causes the listener to go back to the first half to reinterpret the meaning of a term. Show More Summary

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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