Words Can Be Bullies

Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, at 2:03 pm

Words that start with the letter h don’t always act like it. Consider “herb,” when it means “an aromatic plant used for seasoning in cooking.” Americans dump the h, whereas many Brits pronounce it. So we say “an ’erb,” but an Englishman says “a herb.” A different sort of h-confusion happens when self-important speakers and …

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A Fine Distinction

Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2017, at 11:57 pm

How valid can a rule be if nobody knows or cares about it anymore? That all depends on what the definition of “nobody” is. A lot of people I’ve been around seem to feel “nobody” applies to just about everybody 15-plus years younger or older than they are. Generational outcasts—the nerds, wonks, and misfits—also get …

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Spell Check Overreach

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2017, at 3:59 pm

My spell check has been drinking again. It just told me “déjà vu” should be “deejay.” Everyone who uses Word software probably has some form of spell check. Mine—I call him “SC”—also makes occasionally helpful (but often just surreal) suggestions about grammar and punctuation. To be fair, SC sometimes saves me from my own carelessness. …

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In Print Is Forever

Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, at 11:15 am

Oh, the things we see in print these days … From Time magazine: “General David Petraeus asked a famous question: ‘Tell me how this ends?’ ” Did you catch it? Here’s a clue: tell me how that’s a question. If Petraeus had asked a question, it would have been something like, “Tell me, how does this …

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Verbal Illusions

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, at 7:05 pm

During a recent gubernatorial campaign, a reporter asked a local to comment on one of the candidates. The reply: “I can’t say too much good about him.” Someone reading that might conclude the statement was negative, but anyone listening knew it was just the opposite. From the way he said it, the man clearly meant, …

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