And That's the Way It Is

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Carol Szymanski of Cranbury, N.J., recently wrote to ask whether the word "that" was needed in these two sentences:

"If you can't remember that daylight saving time ends soon, you may forget to turn your clocks back."

"Mary needs to go back to the store because she forgot that she needed to buy cat food."

My answer: yes and no.

"That" IS ...Read more

Ten ... Well, Nine Linguistic Resolutions for 2017

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The long winter afternoons and evenings of January invite contemplation, self-reflection, and the occasional glass of wine. So, after raising my wine glass to the New Year, here are my 10 linguistic resolutions for 2017.

--I will choose the specific word over the general word. The verb in this column's first sentence, for instance, was ...Read more

Brewing Up Some 'Small' Talk

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Last spring, Steven Rattner wrote in the New York Times, "With real wages declining for many Americans, the enactment of relatively minor initiatives is small beer."

Was he suggesting that Joe Six-pack is becoming Joe Five-pack?

Not exactly.

"Small beer" first entered English during the 1500s to describe an unfiltered, porridge-like brew ...Read more

The Word Guy: Language of 2016 Was a 'Dumpster Fire'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The year gone by, oh, what a mess.

It left our language in distress.

The venom of election fuss

With "nasty" insults tortured us.

From Donald Trump came crooked Hils,

While she denounced "deplorables."

He scolded "morons," "hombres" bad,

As "lightweights," "losers," just "so sad."

"Obamacare, repeal, replace"

Became his mantra, fueled ...Read more

Language Goes to the Dogs

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Every now and then I like to unleash my readers' pet, "Peeve." While Peeve is a gentle dog in polite company, whenever he spots an error in grammar or usage, he attacks it like a chew toy. Grrrrr ...

Elmer Sullivan of Ewing, N.J., says his Peeve barks whenever he hears politicians and pundits say "unchartered" when they mean "uncharted," as ...Read more

Jolly Mondegreen Giant Sleeps in Heavenly Peas

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's not eating nice."

Bill Hoelzel sent me this charming rendering of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by his 3-year-old grandson. It's one of many delightful responses I received to my recent request for mondegreens, phrases based on misunderstandings of spoken English. (The term "...Read more

New Word Books Deserve a Kiss

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point."

If you find yourself standing under the mistletoe this holiday season, keep that punctuational maxim in mind. It comes from the French actress and singer Mistinguett and appears in Mardy Grothe's delightful compendium "Metaphors Be With You" (Harper Collins, $19.99). It's just...Read more

When 'Should'a' Contraction Be Used?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Could'a, would'a, should'a.

We know it's OK to use contractions in speech, but when should they be used in writing?

Until the early 20th century, most teachers treated contractions like cockroaches scuttling and hissing through students' sentences. These fuming pedagogues fumigated, ordering students never to use contractions. Of course, ...Read more

The Immortal Voice of Elephants Gerald

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Mistakes of the ear can bring us cheer!

A few days after a music teacher told her students that her favorite singer was Ella Fitzgerald, she gave her class a quiz with this extra-credit question: "Who is Ms. Smith's favorite singer?" One student wrote, "Elephants Gerald."

When a man visiting Acadia National Park asked park ranger Deb Hardick...Read more

Hurtling Past Linguistic Hurdles

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today I confront five of my linguistic bugaboos -- usage choices that perplex me every time I encounter them.

--Hurtle or hurdle? Perhaps because my good friend in high school hurdled (jumped) over hurdles as he hurtled (sped) down the track, I've always confused these verbs.

Use "hurtle" when you mean "to speed" (The spacecraft was hurtling...Read more

'Gussy Up' for a Walk on the 'Shore'line

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"The world needs to shore up assistance for impoverished countries." "The University of California has moved to shore up the security for its computer network." "Europe's central bank is trying to shore up the economy.

As these sentences from recent newspaper stories suggest, there's a whole lot of "shoring up" going on these days. But how ...Read more

Try the Flaming House Specialty

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today, we present "the dirty dozen" -- 12 errors that readers have spotted in newspapers and magazines:

1. "Designed to immolate a craftsman-style farmhouse, The National Tavern is warm and welcoming." I'll bet it's warm! (submitted by Larry Gavrich, Avon, Conn.)

2. "Our friends run the gauntlet from creating Facebook and Twitter profiles ...Read more

Have Fun With This QU I--Z

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I recently challenged you with a quiz on frequently-confused words, based on a list compiled by Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn. That quiz comprised words from the first half of the alphabet, and many of you have asked for more. So here's a second quiz covering letters I through Z on Bob's list. Good luck!

1. Some readers made (invidious, ...Read more

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