Friday, October 31, 2008

Mighty Aphrodite

Mighty is a word that should be used with care.
If you use mighty as in "I'm mighty glad to see you," it will either date you, as someone who actually worked on the original Foghorn Leghorn comics, make you sound Southern, but cheesy Southern, not the cool Southern that you would like to be, or make you sound stupid.

The only way you could convincingly use the expressive mighty is if you are writing for a network television show and you write a line to be said by someone who is rescued out of, say, a well, right before a cliff-hanging commercial break, as in:

Brock wipes the two inch layer of mud from his eyes, reaches for his cowboy hat, and says, "I'm mighty glad to see you!"

Otherwise, keep mighty to be used as an adjective when describing something of great power, skill, strength, or force, such as Aphrodite

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Material Girl

Materialize actually means to "make material" or to "invest with or regard as material."

It does not mean "to take place or to happen."

So, when you say"the party never materialized," you are just plain wrong, and should have been home reading fine literature that night instead of worrying about some silly party.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mannish Boy

Forgetting for a moment that we all love Mckinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, who masterfully rendition of Mannish Boy could be titled nothing else, the words mannish and manly are not synonymous.

Manly signifies of or becoming to a man, man-like, and also manfully. Mannish means masculine, or suitable to a man. We characterize a brave and courageous man as manly and a woman's masculine attire as mannish.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Likely Pet Peeve

Here is another misuse of words that is on the top third of my Teeth Gritter List.

Likely. Liable. They are not interchangeable. Really. And liable is not a fancy way to say likely, and no, it doesn't make you sound more Southern. You won't be increasing your grammatical status or your cool by saying liable when you mean likely.

"He's not here today, but he's liable to be in tomorrow." This is wrong. Say instead, "He's not here today, but he's likely to be in tomorrow."
Liable is used chiefly with regard to answering the consequence of an act that is likely to be the cause of trouble; as in, "The arrest of one who exceeds the speed-limit is likely, and may render him liable to a fine."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Am I Idle or Lazy?

The words idle and lazy are not synonymous, are they?

Idleness mean inaction at least the absence of useful action. So a person who is usually hard working could be, due to some medical condition, forced to be idle for a period of time. So for instance, I will in December of 2018 (true story), get my right hip replaced. Following the surgery, I am supposed to stay in the house with a walker for a week. I expect that I'll be on enough drugs so I shouldn't be doing anything important or delicate. So I will be forced to be idle.  I'll be in a state of idleness.

Laziness, which is indisposition to exertion, indolence, or a state of sluggish inactivity. Laziness is not forced on someone, it is a reluctance to make an effort or do anything useful.

One could be idle since one is lazy.  One could also be lazy but be forced to be active, so not idle.

So I'm distinguishing between lazy, which is an attitude and idle which is a state, not necessarily an attitude. Of course, an awful lot of dictionaries seem to give a primary meeting of idle which is really close to lazy.

What do you think? This is open to debate. Your ideas?  To be frank, it's Sept 2018 and I just rewrote this old post and in doing so, I found that I reversed the previous explanation of these words by Miss Suzy.  Was it really ten years ago that Miss Suzy was here writing about words for us?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Knitted vs. Knit

"The stockings were knitted with care by Grandma."

No, no, a thousand times no.
"The stockings were knit with care by Grandma."

If you speak this way you might as well have putted your sippy cup on the table, you are So Very Preschool.

A more common use of this phrase might be, "The stockings were knit with care by a lead-laden machine in China." In any case, a dollar fine for misuse of this verb would be fair.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't "Kid" Around

The word kid means a few different things.

It can mean a baby or young goat, which is the original meaning of the word. It also is used as a verb meaning "to tease or joke around with" or as a noun for a child.

Although I don't object to the use of the word to describe a light joke, I do prefer to call a human child a child, and a young goat a kid.

I try not to say, " I have to go pick up my kids" as I like to identify with humans, not cloven-hoofed creatures with slitty pupils.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Jealousy, Envy, Suspicion

Jealousy, envy and suspicion. These are powerful words, and distinct in meaning, so let us use them correctly.

Jealousy fears to lose what it has, envy is pained that another should receive what it wants for itself, and suspicion is directed toward one who has the power and/or the will to hurt another in some way.

Rival suitors are jealous of each other; competitors are suspicious of each other's good faith.

Do not say that you are jealous of your neighbor's new wood floors, when you are really full of envy.
You may however be jealous of your teenage son's basketball skills when he begins to beat you in four out of five games when you used to regularly trounce him.

You may receive a suspicious package in the mail, but do not look suspiciously upon your neighbor's new wood floors unless you are a police officer and you think the floors may be stolen.
Instead, keep yourself commandment-clean and look on the floors with admiration.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Labor is sometimes erroneously restricted to physical toil. Properly, labor may be physical or mental but must have some useful end. Toil signifies oppressive or harassing labor, or hard continuous work that taxes the bodily strength or mental powers.

Here is a quote that helps explain it:

"Of all the wastes, the greatest waste that you can commit is the waste of labor. No man minds work or its being hard if it comes to something. Perhaps you think "to waste the labor of men is not to kill them?"
John Ruskin, Work

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Let's Settle Farther and Further Right Now

Farther and further are actually different words and should be used differently. It's not some old to-may-to/to-mah-to pronounciation hold-out.

Is the store farther or further down the road?
This one is easy.

Farther actually means "more distant" or "more advanced."
Further indicates "additional" or advancement to a greater degree, as in time.

The store is farther down the road.

You read further into the textbook.

Do you farther or further your education by reading further into the textbook?
Let me know.....

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Lurid, Livid Little FYI

Lurid, although interesting, is frequently misused. That which is lurid gives off a ghastly yellowish red light, such as flames with smoke, or reflecting or made visible by such light. By extension, this also means giving uncertain or unearthly light of any kind, such as lurid flashes of lightening; or a lurid atmosphere.

Please distinguish it from livid, which means black and blue, ashen, or lead-colored.
Livid does not mean angry and lurid does not mean lewd, or sexually vulgar.

So the child molester doesn't give a lurid smile, unless he is bathed in yellow light. What he probably gives is a lewd smile, or perhaps a leering glance.

And you should probably describe your mother as "furious" rather than "livid" when you break her favorite crystal vase, unless you drop the vase on her head, in which case she might indeed be black and blue.

Lay Lady Lay

First off, if Mr. Dylan were truly trying to get the lady in his big brass bed, he would have told her, "Lie Lady Lie" and, captured by his exquisite grammar, she might have given in. Doubtless, she left immediately upon hearing the phrase and Mr. Dylan was forced to work on his songwriting all by himself. Perhaps he devoted his lonely time to co-writing the lyrics for Mr. Clapton's song Lay Down Sally, as both of the songs erroneously use lay for lie.

Here is how you remember when to use lay and when to use lie:

Lay requires a direct object and lie does not. You lie down on the big brass bed. You lay your guitar down on the big brass bed.
If it is a person getting horizontal by himself, it's lie, if a person is putting something down, including another person, it's lay.

Just to completely befuddle you, you use lay for the past tense of lie, as in "Last night I lay down and went to sleep." And as a past participle, you would say, "Last night I had lain down to go to sleep, when I heard a noise."

Now, to take it a step further, it is also not uncommon to hear lay as past-tense for laid, as in, "He lay the package down on the table." This is wrong.
Say instead, "He laid the package down on the table."

If Mr. Dylan had known this, he might have gotten laid more often but then again, we wouldn't have the wealth of Mr. Dylan's songs to clutter up open mike coffee houses around the world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Pronounciation Niblet

Here is s simple tip for sounding well-educated, even when you aren't. There is nothing wrong, by the way, with not having been afforded a superior education when you were a child and young adult. It's never too late. Educate yourself!

Regarding the suffixes "-ive" and "-ively," know this: these suffixes are frequently mispronounced, especially in the words positive and positively. In traditional American English speech, they are pronounced pos' i-tive and pos' i-tive-ly.

Avoid pos- i-tive'-ly if you don't want to sound like a roob.

Monday, September 22, 2008

English Pronounciation in a Nutshell

I love this poem. I'd like to give the author credit, but s/he is unknown. If you are anything but a native English speaker, you may have trouble with it. Native English speakers, be honest and let me know if you had a perfect run-through. Non-native English speakers -- good luck with it! Feel free to comment. I may post a recording of it at some point.

Multi-national personnel at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language ... until they tried to pronounce it. To help them discard an array of accents, the verses below were devised. After trying them, a Frenchman said he'd prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sleeve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jangle and Jar

No, I'm not talking about your change jug. I'm talking about two borderline quirky words which can be useful when used properly.

Historically, jangle is discord, and jangling is wrangling or babbling. Jar, however, is a clashing as of opinions or interests. Jangling disconcerts or discomposes us: jarring produces conflict, causing us to clash the one with the other, thus producing ill-will where good nature should prevail.

I'm not being sexist, just using this sentence as an example: A nagging woman can destroy the peace and happiness in her home by jarring her husband, and an irritable host may jangle his company by ill-humor.

Modern use of these two words include use as descriptions for sound. Jarring is a harsh, rough, irritating sound, and jangling is described as a harsh or discordant sound such as "keys jangling in a pocket."
Let's not limit the use of these two good words. Use the older versions -- it's more fun, which is why I often put on my spectacles to find my trousers.
Here's a page full of fun lists of sound-alikes that can be played in matchit type games like this one (click to play)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


This phrase is so important to proper grammatical health that I submit that a body one cannot live without it.

The phrases "It is I" and "It is me" have long been the cause of controversy.

Little Billy visited his grandmother and was standing in front of her dressing mirror, saying, "Yes, that's me."
"Billy," said his grandmother, "You should say "That is I.""
Little Billy said, "Well it may be I, but it looks like me."

Little Billy was right in his conclusion. for me is the object of the preposition unto understood.
In the vernacular, both "It is I" and "It is me" are used, and "It is me" finds greater favor with the masses. But many grammarians are against it. They insist that one must always say "It is I," never "It is me," and that the same course must be followed with every personal pronoun following the verb to be, and in apposition with its subject. That's right. It's an appositive. Remember that from high school?

This same sort of error is commonly made with such phrases as "She is better looking than me," in which, if the elliptical verb were supplied, the correct construction would readily be seen to be "She is better looking than I (am)."

Does this make sense? Let me know.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Have and Have Known

Lest you think I am a grammatical stickler and am obsessing over minutiae, spend a few minutes listening to random conversations in public and I'll bet you hear this next phrase on my Teeth-Gritter List.

"The bank was closed. Had I have known it, I wouldn't have bothered to drive down there."
Or worse, "The bank was closed. Had I of known it..."

Close your jaws all the way. Grit them together hard. Now, grind your teeth until you get a headache. That's exactly how I feel when I hear this phrase several times per week.

Please, keep me out of head gear! Simply say instead, "The bank was closed. Had I known it, I wouldn't have bothered to drive down there."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Clean Up Your Use of Guest

Oh hot ice! Freezing fire! And familiar obscure Shakespearean oxymorons.  Here's a puzzle.

If somebody has a guest, it is already assumed that the guest was invited to partake of the hospitality and entertainment of his his; hence avoid using the phrase "an invited guest" as it is redundant, and what's more -- tautological. Guests by definition are invited.

By definition, all guests are invited, therefore an "uninvited guest" is also pointless, and an oxymoron, to boot.

Refrain from use of either of these phrases and I'll give you a gold star on your grammar star chart.

Need help practicing your oxymorons. I invite you to play the oxymoron game. Be my guest!

What's interesting is that so many common expressions are oxymorons:

  • loosely packed
  • instant classic
  • act natural
  • irregular pattern
  • slumber party
Isn't it amazing?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Improving Grammar One Step at a Time

This is so easy and quick it's the grammatical equivalent of making Jello.

Improve your speech and writing with this simple phrase trick:

Instead of saying or writing, "He went on to say, " or, "He goes on to say," simply say or write, "He continued, " or, "He continues..."

It sounds slightly more formal, slightly more educated, and uses fewer words. What's not to love?
Now if only I had a grammatical equivalent of fruit cocktail to add to the grammatical Jello.....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Every One

With the exception of my own daughter, I have yet to hear a high school student use the phrase "every one" correctly, and my own daughter only does it because I pain-reinforced her into using it correctly. She's in high school after all and it's no fun to not fit in.

Nearly all native English speaking American children, and their elementary and middle school teachers would say, regarding the players on a football team, "Every one of them are good."


"Every one of them is good." Let's remediate and save the nation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Estimate and Esteem

It seems as if I should have to mention it, but just in case:

Esteem and estimate both imply appreciation of value, but when we esteem a thing we judge its actual and intrinsic value, while when we estimate it we arrive at its worth by calculation.

You can estimate the esteem you feel for a person, and you can esteem a person for his honesty. You can also estimate, or approximate something, such as its worth, size, or weight, or estimate as in form an opinion or judgment. Just don't mix the two up, or I'll have to charge you a dollar.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Please....Enunciate and Articulate

Enunciate when you use "enunciation" and "articulation" correctly. Here's how to do it:

Enunciation is that articulation of sounds with the organs of speech and may be clear or careless. Articulation is a distinct utterance. A mumbled or clouded annunciation indicates lack of poise, not a high level of "game."

Many persons fail to speak distinctly because they have acquired the habit of careless enunciation, not articulation.

Command your sloppily spoken children to enunciate, not articulate their words. If they have trouble with articulation, please take them to a speech pathologist.

Use the words correctly, and remember that proper enunciation of words is as important as proper use of them.

With the exception of a gentle application to President George W. Bush, here's an old quote that still rings true today:

If you are not sure of the value of clear enunciation and distinct speech make this experiment. Watch the most successful man you know and see how seldom he utters any of those embarrassed half sounds that characterize the speech of many persons." -- The Sun, New York, August 17, 1921.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Are you Prominent, Eminent or Either or Neither?

Let's remember that eminent differs from prominent in meaning in an important way that is often ignored, or unknown these days. The first word characterizes one who ranks high in his profession or office; the second, one who stands out from others. Prominent men are not all eminent, but eminent men may be prominent.

Now, either, means "one of two," "one or the other," and "the one and the other." The word, as defined, is an adjective or pronoun, as in "Either one of them might go to the convention." When it is employed as a disjunctive conjunction either is always used as a correlative to and proceeding or (the other), that is "either the one or the other."

Neither, on the other hand, means "not either" or "also not" as in, "It benefited neither you nor me to go to the convention," certainly not "It benefited neither you nor I to go to the convention."

Let's keep it grammatically clean. Misuse of either of these groups of words costs one dollar per misuse and can be mailed directly to me. Email me at for my address.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Prominant Edifice

I sincerely hope you understand that the word edifice designates a large, important public building and is often associated with houses of worship, therefore should not be used indiscriminately for any ole' building.

It is not to be used as a fancy word for any building, and certainly is not to be used to describe the front of a building. An evening news reporter recently misused it to say " the edifice of the building was damaged by graffiti and vandalism," and it took me extra time to fall asleep that night. I spent a good two hours tossing and turning, creating an ugly letter to the station manager of the so-called "news station" in my mind before realizing that it wouldn't do any good anyway.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I should figure out a way to start fining people.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Explicit and Implicit

Explicit and implicit are not synonymous, but are sometimes used as if they were.

Explicit expresses all that is meant, leaving nothing to implication or suggestion.

Implicit signifies that which is not plainly expressed but implied and can be inferred from something else.

It is not terribly common to misuse explicit because we have media-related catch phrases to help us infer meaning, such as "explicit lyrics warning label," the creation of which likely gives Tipper Gore a reason to wake up on the morning (well done, Mrs. Gore -- this may make up for the giant carbon footprint that is your husband).

Implicit, a slightly loftier term, as it implies the nature or essence of something, is often misused as "explicit" and I would like to suggest that people stop this.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Each Other, One Another

Please memorize this immediately and begin putting it to daily use:

The distinction between each other and one another lies in the fact that "each other" should always be applied to two only, whereas "one another" should be used where more than two are concerned. For example, "The two friends congratulated each other," that is each one congratulated the other.

And, spoken to a large group, "This commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another," that is, all should love one another.

Teach this to your young children so they will pass correct language on to their progeny and all will not be lost.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Each and Every Duty and Obligation

Duty and obligation --there is a difference in the meaning of these words. Duty is that which one performs as a moral obligation; and obligation is that which one is bound, as by bond, or is compelled to do.

One has a duty to perform as a citizen; another is under obligation to pay a debt. Moved by a sense of duty a man, traduced by those nearest him, may work for them, but in view of their actions, is not under obligation to do so.

Each is an adjective defined as "being one of two or more distinct individuals or things having a similar relations and forming an aggregate; every." It is used when the same thing to be said of individuals or things considered distributively or one by one. To emphasize individuality it is often followed by one; as "each sailor received a reward, for each one had earned it."

As a pronoun each denotes every one of any number or aggregation considered individually, or as having characteristics common with others yet holding a position peculiarly its own; as, "each of the officers of an army."

Each is distributive when only two individuals are considered and is synonymous with both as every is synonymous with all.

Not to get all biblical on you, but these two different biblical translations offer an excellent example of the subtleties of each and every:

The Authorized version of Revelation chapter iv, verse 8 reads, "and the four beasts had each of them six wings" but in the Revised version the rendering is "having each one of them six wings."

The first is correct, and the second is incorrect. Each means "every one of a number separately considered." Every must be followed by one or its equivalent; as, "every one knows that"; "every man knows it," but each does not require after it. One may say of persons "each is found to excel in some particular walk in life"; "each made it his duty to retire in course" ; "each has his own place marked for him"; "each did much to purify the spiritual self-respect of mankind."

I hope this helps each and every one of you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lowest Common Denominator of Language

Honoring, for a moment, the fact that most of America has reduced their daily use of language to the lowest common denominator of English that could be understood by the stars and viewers of today's television shows, such as America's Got Talent, Nanny 911, Reno 911, and Grey's Anatomy ( seriously!), I am going to talk about a common slip of speech that occurs when messing with the words don't and doesn't.

The first is a contraction of "do not" and the second is a contraction of "does not." Both are so frequently misused that people, even teachers, are letting this regular misuse slip by.

"I don't know why she don't cut her hair." Said without the contractions: I do not know why she do not cut her hair. Does this sound correct? No.

"I don't know why she doesn't cut her hair." "I do not know why she does not cut her hair."

It suddenly makes perfect sense.

If you get confused, stop using contractions and say out the whole word.
I promise, there will be enough time in the day to do that.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Definitive Delight

I hope we all operate linguistically with the knowledge of the difference between definite and definitive.

These words have distinct meanings. That which is definite has fixed or marked limits in signification, is bounded with precision; hence determinate; certain; precise. Definitive describes positive, conclusive final. A definitive decision admits no change; a definite meaning is one so precisely defined that it could not be misunderstood.

And while I am at it, I believe the continued success of English speaking Western Civilization hinges on our ability to to use the word momentarily correctly. Pilots and telephone message recording ladies everywhere, heed:

Momentarily -- what it's not:

It is not a fancy way to say "in a moment." Momentarily means "for a moment."

With hope, you are not "landing the plane momentarily," for if you are, no one will be able to get off of it, and let's pray, major corporations everywhere, that someone will not be with your callers "momentarily" for your customer service will be so poor that the entire United States, even the Republicans, will be on the phone to India or China for goods and services. Oh, wait we already are.

Rather, say, "This shot will only hurt momentarily," and "I thought, momentarily, of bringing him home to meet my parents, but then I realized he was a cad."

Friday, July 25, 2008

How to Totally Destroy Your Date

I am convinced that if any one of us were dropped via time machine into decent society in, say, 1901, we would be unable to sit through a dinner without insulting someone, or obtain a job that requires proper speech, such as anything other than work as a shepherd.

Language usage has changed so much in a hundred short years that we now, as a matter of course, use words that were considered terribly vulgar not that long ago. Of course, this vulgarization of language is also easily seen by anyone who remembers television before the onset of cable, and we do not need to actually travel back a hundred years, we can just go back to 1975, where I would have gotten spanked for saying the word "buttocks" at my grandmother's house.

Did you know that the word date when used for appointment or engagement was vulgar? Well-spoken people were to avoid saying," I've got a date for tomorrrow," as it was seen as coarse. Now everyone has a date. Play dates, lunch dates, hot dates.

The word destroyed as used back in the day, deserves a closer look. As we know, destroyed means that which has ceased to exist, been knocked to pieces or put to an end. The well-spoken were urged to avoid the phrases totally destroyed as tautological.

Forgetting for a moment that about 5% of modern English users know what "tautological" means, try to imagine anyone who who doesn't have to worry about microwaves messing with their pacemaker, saying the word "destroyed" without using "totally" in front of it. It just doesn't happen. The city can't be destroyed in the earthquake, it has to be totally destroyed.

The kitten didn't destroy the my new blouse, he totally destroyed my new blouse, as if "totally" conveys the emotional difficulty of dealing with the destruction. As if "destroy" by itself isn't bad enough, or complete.

Like, totally.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are You a Daisy or a Dandy?

There are a few good old slang words that I wish we still used.
"Daisy" is one. Around the turn of the 20th century, it indicated some person or something that excited admiration.

My favorite movie line of all time, besides "I am Ironman,"
is that one the Val Kilmer, as Doc Holliday, uttered in Tombstone:

McClaury: I've got you now!
Holliday: You're a daisy if you do.

I was excited to learn that witnesses said that the real Doc Holliday, who had knack for using slang, really did say the phrase during the fatal standoff with Frank McLaury.

Another old slang word is "dandy." Nowadays when we hear the word dandy, it is usually sarcastic, such as:
"You need a tetanus shot." "Oh, dandy."

Dandy used to be a slang word for pleasant; pretty. Incorrect uses of dandy included having a "dandy time" or wearing a "dandy hat." Dandy is actually from Old French, dandin, which means "ninny."

Doc Holliday was no dandy, even though he used words like "daisy."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where Did the Word "Cute" Come From?

Cute is a contraction of acute and means shrewd, sharp, or clever in securing one's own aims in petty ways, but has been expanded to mean bright and taking; attractive. Condemned in the latter sense by purists, the meaning is now fully established as an Americanism.

I like the old way of using it better, but we probably wouldn't be able to call 99.9% of the things we call "cute" by this term, unless you talk about public figures.

Who would be "cute" if we used the real derivation?

Webkinz and The Wiggles? Not cute.

How about Hillary Clinton? She'd be pretty cute.

Ashley and Mary Kate? Cute no matter which definition you use, if you you like multi-billionaires who look like refugees.

Can you think of anyone?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slips of Speech -- Did You Know How To Use Condone?

Here are a few more good words that modern American regularly butcher. Let's put our best speech forward, shall we?

condone should not be used for make amends or atone. To condone means "to overlook and offense, or forgive one for it." Atone signifies "to make expiation of amends for ." One may condone an insult; another atones for a crime.

considerable should not be used when considerably is meant. The former means " more than a little" or "of noteworthy size or amount," the latter, "in a marked degree"; "to a great extent."

contemptible, contemptuous are distinct in their meaning. Contemptible characterizes that which is despicable and deserving of contempt. Contemptuous indicates the the manifestation of disdain or scornful superiority; haughtiness. To refuse the hospitality of one's home it a relative is a contemptible act, and to receive her contemptuously is not to behave as a gentlewoman.

convene is frequently misused for convoke. Congress convenes in special session only when it is convoked by the President.

couple should not be used to designate more than two. Couple means "two of a kind; a pair," so avoid "He has a couple of dollars in the bank."

S.O.S -- Choosy

These are a few words which we would all do well to make sure we use correctly:

is primarily "to make a selection"; "take by preference," and should not be used for wish.
Not I don't choose to do it," which is a vulgarism, but "I don't wish to do it."

clear, clearly, when used adverbially have distinct meanings. Clear indicates entire separation; entirely; clean; quite; but clearly means in a clear manner; luminously; plainly. Avoid "The distinction of ever it has been made has not been made clear" ; say rather, "...made clearly."

climb down, altho it was used six hundred years ago, is a vulgarism today, and should not be used when withdraw from a position of attitude that one has maintained is intended. In idiomatic English one climbs up a mountainside (in which sentence "up" is redundant), but climbs a mountain. And not infrequently one creeps down in making the descent.

close, near. There is a fine distinction in the meaning of these words. Those who are close to on are firmly attached as confidential friends, wheras those who are near are familiar or intimate, or connected by blood, as near relations. Near and close when used miserly are vulgarisms.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

S.O.S. -- Caliber

I always try to expand my word use to include some words that are no longer popular. I also like to learn the social history of their usage. Here are a few more:

primarily denotes the sizer of the bore of a gin or the diameter of a bullet, but has been used figuratively and erroneously to characterize the quality of work, which should not be measured by such means. Caliber, in its figurative sense, is used of intellectual endowments or capacity of mind. We may speak of an intellectual man as one of "high caliber" but in work should be characterized as "good," "bad," or "indifferent," such as the case in mind may be.

Calling down is a vulgarism for censuring or taking to task. As there are many more expressive words to convey the thought, blame, rebuke, reprimand, censure, might be found adequate substitutes.

Cal-li' o-pe, not cal' li-ope. Nuff said there.

calumniate is to cast aspersions on; to charge falsely and knowingly of something disreputable, as in loss of chastity, and differs from malign only in the degree of malevolence that the latter implies.

certain That which his certain is sure, and therefore does not admit of comparison. Do not say the only possibility is more certain to happen than another.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

S.O.S. -- Bade, Bonehead

Although we don't often make use of some of these older words, some are currently used in modern speech and we should be careful.

: "He was bade to do it." No, "...he was bidden to do it."

Between you and I
is a common slip of speech. Between being a preposition requires that a pronoun in the objective case be used -- "between you and me"

bolt from a clear sky
. Bolt as here used stands for thunderbolt, but the phrase means " a sudden or unexpected catastrophe," and a bolt is the electric discharge of lightening when it strikes.

is a vulgarism for numskull or blockhead. Don't use it it proper circles.

breathlese silence is the silence of death, for only the death are breathless. A momentary silence is to be preferred.

bulldoze is a vulgarism for intimidate, that is to compel to compliance by threat.

bum is a vulgarism and stamps those who use it as preferring vulgarity or decency in language. Avoid, "He is a bum," "You are a bum guesser," and Quit your bumming around," as wanting in refinement and offensive to good taste.

Friday, July 11, 2008

S.O.S. Believe this.....

On to the proper ways to use a few key "B" words:

is often thoughtlessly used in combination with can't hardly but in the phrase "I can't hardly believe it" there are two negatives, the first of which muct be dropped to make sense: "I can hardly believe it"; that is. "I can not easily believe it."

between you and I is a common slip of speech. Between being a preposition requires that a pronoun in the objective case be used-- "between you and me"

bitch used for a "jade" or applied to any other than the female of the genus Canis, is ruled out of all polite society as coarse to the lowest degree, notwithstanding that the word is permitted as a euphemism by the late editor of a popular dictionary.

breakneck speed. An absurd phrase, for if one traveled at breakneck speed one's neck would be broken. This phrase, however, is used my many thoughtless persons.

brute, beast are not synonymous. Brute implies the absence of intelligence; beast refers to savage nature. One speaks of a savage beast in referring to a wild animal, but to a violent brute in speaking of a man who is under the sway of his animal propensities, to show our complete understanding of his condition.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

S.O.S -- Anxious and a few Other "A's"

How many times have we said, "I'm anxious to see that movie," and thought we were speaking correctly? Check out how we should use that word and a few other goodies.

is to be in a state of painful suspense or uneasiness, and should not be used for eager, which describes a state of ardent longing or earnest desire for something. One may be eager to receive attention but not anxious for it; another is anxious about an illness of a friend and may be eager for his recovery

audience should be used with care, for it may be gollowed by a verb in the singular or the plural according to the though expressed: "The audience was enthusiastic"; "The rest of the audience were asleep."

avenge should not be used for revenge. To avenge is to punish in behalf of another: to revenge is to punish for oneself.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

S.O.S. Anger, Frenzy, Fury, Madness, Rage

I'll be a lot of people use these words incorrectly today. Check it out:

anger, frenzy, fury, madness, rage
, related in meaning, but not easily distinguishable, are all forms of dementia. Anger is a sudden outburst of passion and is usually selfish. It is an infirmity that should be suppressed. Rage is a violent type of anger characterized by extravagant expressions and violent distortions of facts, and is present frequently in temperamental persons, especially those persons "Rage before a glass and see their pretty countenances go wild." -- STERNE. Fury is an outburst of rage and temporarily deprives one of understanding. Frenzy and madness are used of moral and physical conditions. In a frenzy of despair, men commit suicide.

Monday, June 30, 2008

S.O.S. Some Key "A" Words

Many, if not most of these have gone the way of the wind. Did you know the proper way to use these words? They did in 1922.

, not ad' dress.

ad-ver'tise-ment, not ad-ver-tise'ment.

ag'ile is pronounced aj'il, not aj'ail.

among, amongst. The first signifies, primarily surrounded by or associated with; the second conveys the idea of mingling with or of dispersion.

answer, reply. The distinction made between the meanings of these words is that an answer is given to a question and a reply is made to an assertion. A reply aims to explain or refute; an answer to inform, affirm, or contradict.

Friday, June 27, 2008

S.O.S. -- Abrasion vs. Cut vs. Scratch

I am fascinated by language, especially how it is ever-changing.
Regretfully, I see changes that I don't like -- the loss of formality, loss of finesse with the use of our language that people used to take pride in developing.

I came across a nice old book called S.O.S. -- Slips of Speech and How to Avoid Them

Here is an example of the detail with which our grandparents and great-grandparents learned the English language:

abrasion, cut, gash, graze, incision, scrape, scratch ,wound,should be carefully distinguished for they do not mean the same thing. Abrasion denotes a place where the surface is rubbed off or or worn off by friction; as, an abrasion of the skin. A cut is an opening, cleft, gash, or wound made by an edged instrument; a gash; slit; a gash is a long deep incision made by a sharp instrument; a flesh wound; a graze is a slight scratch, scrape or abrasion; an incision is an opening made with a cutting-instrument as by a surgeon; it is a cut.
Scrape designates an abrasion where, through roughness or carelessness, the skin has been grazed or scratched. a scratch is a mark or incision made on a surface by scratching, a linear abrasion made by drawing something pointed or rough across the skin; hence producing a slight flesh wound or cut.

A slit is a cut that is relatively long; a slash or gash; cleft; also, it is a narrow opening. A wound is a hurt or injury caused by violence; especially a breach of the skin and flesh of an animal; a cut, a stab, or bruise; as in the wounds of battle. In surgery, the word signifies always the solution of continuity, or disruption of the soft parts of the body.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Instructions For Reading Verse

No wonder children who used to leave school after an 8th grade education used to do so well in life. To get to the eighth grade, you needed to read at a very high level and mastered a great deal of material, arguably more than many high school graduates of today!

This is an excerpt from the McGuffey 6th reader:



In reading verse, the inflections should be nearly the same as in reading prose; the chief difference is, that in poetry, the monotone and rising inflection are more frequently used than in prose. The greatest difficulty in reading this species of composition, consists in giving it that measured flow which distinguishes itfrom prose, without falling into a chanting pronunciation.

If, at any time, the reader is in doubt as to the proper inflection, let him reduce the passage to earnest conversation, and pronounce it in the most familiar and prosaic manner, and thus he will generally use the proper inflection.


1. Meanwhile the south wind rose, and with black wings
 Wide hovering', all the clouds together drove
 From under heaven': the hills to their supply',
 Vapor and exhalation dusk and moist
 Sent up amain': and now, the thickened sky
 Like a dark ceiling stood': down rushed the rain
 Impetuous', and continued till the earth
 No more was seen': the floating vessel swam
 Uplifted', and, secure with beake'd prow',
 Rode tilting o'er the waves'.

2. My friend', adown life's valley', hand in hand',
   With grateful change of grave and merry speech
   Or song', our hearts unlocking each to each',
 We'll journey onward to the silent land';
 And when stern death shall loose that loving band,
   Taking in his cold hand, a hand of ours',
   The one shall strew the other's grave with flowers',
 Nor shall his heart a moment be unmanned'.
 My friend and brother'! if thou goest first',
   Wilt thou no more revisit me below'?
 Yea, when my heart seems happy causelessly',
   And swells', not dreaming why', my soul shall know
 That thou', unseen', art bending over me'.

3. Here rests his head upon the lap of earth',
   A youth, to fortune and to fame unknown';
 Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth',
   And Melancholy marked him for her own'.

4. Large was his bounty', and his soul sincere',
   Heaven did a recompense as largely send';
 He gave to misery (all he had) a tear',
   He gained from heaven' ('t was all he wished') a friend'.

5. No further seek his merits to disclose',
   Or draw his frailties from their dread abode';
 (There they alike' in trembling hope repose',)
   The bosom of his Father, and his God'.