Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn., has kindly sent me a list of frequently confused words compiled during his 30-year editing career. I've incorporated some from the first half of the alphabet into a quick quiz. Can you select the correct word in each sentence?
1. This quiz is (altogether, all together) too difficult. 2. This quiz will (...Read more
When you say "Thank you" to someone these days, which response are you LEAST likely to receive? "No worries." "No problem." "My pleasure." "You're welcome." "Happy to help." "You got it." "Not at all." "Don't mention it." "It was nothing." "Thank YOU!"
If you guessed "You're welcome," you're right.
This gracious phrase, once the universal, ...Read more
When your slightly tipsy uncle starts bellowing "Some Enchanted Evening," he's actually singing in more ways than one.
That's because the word "enchanted" derives from "cantus," the past participle of the Latin verb "cantare," meaning "to sing."
"Cantus" entered English as "chant" (to sing in a monotonous, repetitive way). Because witches ...Read more
What's today's trendiest term for a calamity? Forget "train wreck," "meltdown," "hot mess" and "epic fail." It's "dumpster fire."
After smoldering quietly among sportswriters for the last eight years, "dumpster fire" has roared to life this summer, spewing bright orange flames and belching thick black smoke. And, just as with a raging ...Read more
We begin our newscast with breaking news from Charlie Jargon with the Channel 99 mobile newsroom . . .
Thanks, Dave. We're live at the scene in this normally quiet neighborhood where militant activists have taken to the streets to protest the overuse of cliches by TV newscasters. Details are sketchy but emotions are running high.
This ...Read more
I recently asked readers how many common four-letter words they could make by combining the postal abbreviations of two states, e.g., CANE (California, Nebraska).
The response has left me, appropriately enough, in two states: both astounded by my readers' genius and delighted by the serendipitous juxtapositions of states.
True, it's not ...Read more
Q: I often encounter the word "alternate" used in place of the word "alternative." In traffic reports, for instance, an alternative to the route having the traffic problem is often described as an "alternate route." Is "alternate" a legitimate alternate for "alternative"? -- Bill Danser, Columbus, N.J.
A: Someone from New Jersey is seeking ...Read more
There's nothing better than feeling in the pink! You stride down the sidewalk with a smile on your face, a spring in your step and a disturbing question on your mind: Why do we say that someone in good health is "in the pink"?
This expression derives from, of all things, a flowering plant called "Dianthus." Because the petals of the Dianthus ...Read more
The Indigo Journals: Spiritual Healing For Indigo Adults & Other Feminine SoulsYol Swan
Are you sensitive, creative and empathetic, and feel out of place in a world that doesn't make sense to you? This book will take you on a spiritual healing journey of self-discovery and personal growth to understand the different soul types inhabiting the planet and help you unlock your ...
"I'm really grateful to all my enablers," a successful businesswoman recently told a TV interviewer.
"I'm an enabler," a blogger writes. "Through listening to others, I give the positive reinforcement that allows them to do things they never thought possible."
"The Holy Spirit is our enabler!" proclaims a TV evangelist.
What's going on here...Read more
Two dispatches from the Word Front ...
-- Take Me to Your Thought Leader -- Are you a "thought leader"? This trendy, amorphous term, which bears a slightly Orwellian whiff, refers to a renowned expert in a specialized field. But now the phrase is being applied regularly to anyone who has ever had a thought on anything: professors, writers, ...Read more
The new "Ghostbusters" movie raises an urgent question -- no, not "Who ya' gonna call?" (which, of course, should properly be rendered "WHOM ya' gonna call?").
Instead, it's "WHAT ya' gonna call the red circle with the slash through it in the 'Ghostbusters' logo?" (You know, the roly-poly ghost -- Casper on Oreos -- stuffed behind the ...Read more
Feel the erg!
The Greek root "ergon" (work, activity) romps quite obviously in many English words, including "energy," "ergonomics" and "synergy." But sometimes it hides behind a disguise. It lurks incognito, for instance, in words as diverse as "allergy," "surgeon" and even "orgy."
"Allergy," coined in 1910 by the wonderfully named Austrian...Read more
Q: Why do we call a single item of clothing "a pair of pants"? -- Charlie Duncan, Potsdam, N.Y.
A: Being an average guy, I'll put on my answer one leg at a time.
English speakers use plural words for most garments worn over the legs, e.g. trousers, shorts, tights, drawers, knickers, leggings, trunks, pants (a contraction of "pantaloons," ...Read more