Word of the Day: Karma

Karma [kär’mə], according to the Buddhism, is the overall effect that the actions of a person will have on his or her own future existence. It is also used generally in the western world to indicate one’s destiny or fate. According to the mysticism, karma is considered to be non-physical emanations that each person releases, … Read more

Words to Describe Fearful Recoil

Writers are constantly reminded “Show, don’t tell!” One way to be more descriptive in our writing is to use verbs that convey movement. Here are some words that describe movement prompted by fear, cowardice, or pain. flinch [flĭnch] to draw away in anticipation of pain. The prisoner flinched when the guard raised the whip. The … Read more

English Words Spelled with 3-letter /ī/

Among several ways to spell the “long i” sound in English is the 3-letter combination -igh- as in sight [sīt]. The spelling reflects an earlier pronunciation in which the gh represented a sound made with the soft palate, rather like the ch heard in German ich. The -igh- spelling has persisted in English because it … Read more

We’re in the Pink

Look up the word pink in the Merriam-Webster Online Unabridged Dictionary, and you’ll find 13 entries for the single word, and 175 two-word entries in which one of the words is pink. An impressive legacy for a word that entered the language in 1573 as the name of a plant and not a color. The … Read more

What is a Split Infinitive?

This is the passage that contains what may be the most famous split infinitive of all time: Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. to … Read more

The Difference Between “Un-” and “Dis-“

A reader asks about differences between the prefixes un- and dis-. The question is not easy to address. The prefix un- has been in the language longer than dis-. The Old English prefix on- (now spelled un-) was added to verbs to indicated a reversal of the action: wind/unwind bind/unbind fold/unfold do/undo This prefix has … Read more

Hermes, God of the Word

In Greek myth Hermes [hûr’mēz], son of Zeus [zūs] and Maia [mā’ə, mī’ə], was not just the patron god of thieves, merchants, and boundaries. He was also a god of science, art, speech, eloquence, and writing. Hermes…son of Zeus and Maia, which is, of mind and sense. For the word is engendered from mind and … Read more

Numskulls, Noodles, and Nincompoops

When I began to research words meaning “stupid person,” I expected to find ten or so common ones and be done with it. Instead I’ve found dozens upon dozens of English words used to describe a person of perceived limited intelligence. I plan to continue my research, but here are twelve for a start. cretin … Read more

Word of the Day: Aura

Aura [ôr’ə] is a noun, and it refers to an invisible, subtle breath or emanation, like the aroma of the flowers. It can also be used to indicate the atmosphere or intangible quality surrounding a thing or person. The plural can be written as auras or aurae. Carlyle says Mr. Bush does not do fund-raising … Read more

What is Dative Case?

A reader asks about the grammatical term “dative case.” English makes use of four “cases” – Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, and Dative. The term “case” applies to nouns and pronouns. The case of a noun or pronoun is determined by what the word does in the sentence. A noun or pronoun is in the “Nominative Case” … Read more

To “B” or Not to “B”

English words ending in the spelling -mb occasionally give English learners difficulty. The error arises in trying to pronounce the final b. Some of these words derive from originals that included the b sound and spelling. Some, however, had the unnecessary, (sometimes called the “parasitic”), -b added after the words were in common use. Here … Read more

Should THAT Be Allowed to Stand In for WHO?

A reader writes to deplore the use of the relative pronoun that when the antecedent is person: English is my second language, and it hurts to see the rampant disrespect everywhere for a person who Here’s the offending sentence in a recent DWT post that prompted the objection: A fervent person is one that feels … Read more