Category: Idioms

Striking the Surplus from Tautologies

Posted on Monday, April 24, 2017, at 11:37 am

The English language includes the tools it needs to communicate with beauty, depth, and precision. Like any other healthy entity, it also moves most swiftly without extra weight. In the world of words, flabby noun phrases are known as tautologies. Merriam-Webster online defines a tautology as “1a: needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word.” …

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The G-Rated Truth

Posted on Monday, November 7, 2016, at 11:16 am

Euphemisms put a happy face on the world’s brutishness. When a player is laid out by a ferocious hit in a football game, announcers downplay it with a cheerful “He really got his bell rung.” We had a Department of War from the eighteenth century until the late 1940s. Then it was renamed the Department …

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Pop Gets It Wrong

Posted on Monday, October 3, 2016, at 8:15 pm

Misinformation spreads like bedbugs. For centuries, humans have clung to articles of faith gleaned from parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, authority figures, community leaders, and other notoriously unreliable sources. These rumors, superstitions, misinterpretations, urban legends, and baseless theories are often nothing more than quaint, harmless nonsense. Then again, try telling that to those who …

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You Can’t Coin What’s Already Coined

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 12:24 pm

Sometimes you hear statements like this: They threw him under the bus, to coin a phrase or To coin a phrase, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those who say such things do not understand coin a phrase. You cannot coin a phrase that other people have already used. When you use phrases …

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The Haves and the Have Gots

Posted on Tuesday, July 19, 2016, at 11:02 am

In a recent post we bemoaned the widespread overuse of surreal: “Why keep regurgitating surreal when something atypical happens—is that all you’ve got?” A reader found the sentence objectionable: “Really? ‘is that all you’ve got?’ How about ‘all you have’?” His email insinuated that “all you’ve got” is unacceptable English. Many grammar mavens down through …

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