Are You Able?

Two common suffixes in English are ‘-able’ and ‘-ible’. It is sometimes difficult to know which one to use. -able descends from the Latin ‘abilis’ and has resulted in the formation of words such as capable, amiable and favorable, as well as many other English formations. The suffix is also in wide use because of … Read more

Accent And Dialect

Most people think of an accent as something that other people have. In some cases, they speak disparagingly about one accent compared with another. The truth is that everyone has an accent, because an accent is simply a way of pronouncing words. The reason that you can tell the difference between people from Boston and … Read more

Time Words: Era, Epoch, and Eon

Sports writers are fond of saying that the retirement of someone or other marks “the end of an era.” What is an era? And is it different from an epoch? What about an eon? All three words denote a period of time. All three have specialized meanings for geologists. Here are their most common meanings … Read more

Review Writing Lessons

When I was trying to build up a store of online writing clips, I found myself doing a lot of reviews. They were short pieces of writing, but they packed a lot of information into a couple of paragraphs. I also learned a lot about what readers are looking for and how to write to … Read more

Farther, Further: What’s the Difference?

Some authorities offer differentiated meanings for farther and further, but the short answer to the question of which to use for what is that you can just take your choice. The word farther is a comparative of far. Your house is farther from the school than ours. The word further comes from an Old English … Read more

Festive Words

I love the Christmas season. The process of decorating, choosing gifts with care, preparing seasonal food and spending time with friends and family really appeals to me. With that in mind, here are the origins of some popular seasonal words. decorate Meaning to adorn, decorate dates from the 16th century. However, its seasonal meaning of … Read more

Go Ahead, Put that Preposition at the End!

Commenting on one of my posts about prepositions, Annette writes: When did the rule about ending the sentence with a preposition change? It’s always been one of my pet peeves (in written word more than spoken) because we learned it was wrong in high school grammar…. but now I’m reading that it’s acceptable? Could all … Read more

Word of the Day: Teraflop

The word teraflop combines tera, which is a prefix from the International System of Units used to denote one trilion (1,000,000,000,000), with flop, which is an acronym of Floating Point Operations Per Second. You can make an analogy with the number of instructions per second that can be handled. Flops are mainly used to measure … Read more

Usage That Provokes “Blackboard Moments”

The comments on my post about writing dates with or without terminals got me thinking about the way everyone who speaks English reacts strongly to at least one word or point of usage. The different ways that people write a date seem to excite curiosity without making anyone angry, but sometimes words or expressions evoke … Read more

Hopefully Speaking

Pedantry or laxity? Upholding standards or lapsing into colloquialism? When it comes to using hopefully, these are the terms that are often thrown around. Here’s why. As an adverb, hopefully originally meant in a hopeful manner (example: the dog waited hopefully for a bone) and that is still the primary meaning given in most dictionaries. … Read more

Word of the Day: Boggle

Boggle (bŏg’əl) means to hesitate or shy away. It can also refer to a situation where something is overcome by fright or astonishment; hence why people say “it boggles the mind.” Aside from the equivalence between abortion and Nazi death camps, the idea that Roe v. Wade is responsible for immigration — the mind boggles. … Read more

The Meaning Of Christmas

The word Christmas has been around for centuries. Some dictionaries say it belongs to the late Old English period; others that it dates back to the 12th century. Old forms include cristes masse and christmasse, meaning the festival (mass) of Christ. Christmas actually replaced a number of significant pagan midwinter festivals when the church was … Read more