Thanks to one of our readers for this: I called a local city council member, and the assistant’s voice message said, “I am sorry I cannot take your call. Please leave a message and I will call you back at my earliest convenience.”
In the literal sense, bootstrap is a loop attached at the top back of a boot to make it easier for the wearer to pull on the boot–if, that is, he is sitting down. On a woman’s boot–in the days when women wore skirts to ride, the bootstrap looped round the boot to hold down the lady’s skirt.
In 1964, when Sheldon Harnick wrote the lyrics for the musical Fiddler on the Roof, he had the poverty-stricken Russian milkman Tevye sing “If I were a rich man.”
A French speaker who says “Je ne sais rien” raises no eyebrows among the educated, but an English speaker who says “I don’t know nothing” is immediately marked as semi-literate. (French ne corresponds to English not and rien to nothing.)
Grammar consultants are in great demand these days by employers who fear that the inability of their employees to speak and write grammatically gives their businesses a black eye.
Confusion as to whether to use scratch or itch is evident on the web. For example, the video of a cat scratching its own back has the label, “Cat itches his own back.”
I have a bad habit (for an American) of looking things up in the OED first and not checking to see if Merriam-Webster agrees.
Lately I’ve noticed that several announcers on NPR (National Public Radio)–both national and local announcers–have taken to pronouncing the word news as [noos].
Several readers have sent in questions regarding comma use. I’ll take them in turn.
I once thought that the slang word hype was a back-formation of the rhetorical term hyperbole because advertisements that “hype” something are often filled with exaggeration.
I heard a radio announcer say that something was “unlike no other.” I could tell from the context that he meant the thing he was talking about was unique.
You may have missed all the fuss when the media discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary has added an entry for the figurative use of literally.