Trooper or Trouper?

A reader is bothered by the mixing up of the words trooper and trouper: Please, please, please write a column on the misuse of “trooper” for “trouper.”  In my local newspaper this morning, a family member said this about a terminally-ill child:  “She’s a real trooper.”  I don’t think the young girl is a member … Read more

What is “Pulp Fiction”?

Sudeshna has asked for a post on the term pulp fiction: That is one term which I have had trouble with always. Pulp Fiction is the name of a 1994 movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis. The movie, a violent, profanity-riddled, loosely-plotted black comedy takes its … Read more

Peace of Mind and A Piece of One’s Mind

Two idioms that sound similar and are often played with for punning effect are peace of mind and to give someone a piece of one’s mind. peace: Freedom from anxiety, disturbance (emotional, mental, or spiritual), or inner conflict; calm, tranquillity. The expression peace of mind belongs to a category of phrases that place the feeling … Read more

Expanded and Extended

Tali asks, What is the difference between “extended” and “expanded” When do you use either? Although extend and expand can be used interchangeably in some contexts, extend applies to things that are being stretched out, while expand applies to things that are spread out. One implies length; the other area. If you extend your arm, … Read more

Cleave, Cleaver, and Clove

Sophia Bailey asks about the word cleave: Can you please explain ‘cleave.’ On one hand it means to separate (cleaver – butcher) and on the other it means to cling to (cleave to bosom). Huh? Old English had two verbs that have come to be spelled the same way in modern English: clifian: to adhere, … Read more

Taller Than He

A reader questions the use of “than him” in the following statement: From 1970 on, his secretary Marie-José Gros-Dubois, twenty years younger than him, was faithfully near his side. Asks the reader, Is this correct?—or should it say “twenty years younger than he”? Whether “than him” is correct or not depends upon whether than is … Read more

Is Your Novel “Mystery,” “Thriller,” or “Suspense”?

In my continuing quest to understand the fiction genres featured in market listings, I’ve come to the categories of mystery, thriller, and suspense. Sometimes the three are presented as separate genres, and sometimes they’re lumped together as Mystery/Suspense, or Suspense/Thriller. If even agents and publishers aren’t quite sure about the terms, no wonder that writers … Read more

Heart-rending and Gut-wrenching

Although widely used by a great many speakers, an expression that makes me cringe is “heart-wrenching.” Gut-wrenching is fine. Guts twist, both literally and figuratively. And in the bad old days people had their innards pulled out as a form of torture and execution, hence the verb to disembowel and the expression to draw and … Read more

English words Don’t (usually) End with “u”

A reader asks, Is it proper to use “thru” as a replacement for “through” in professional writing? My knee-jerk reaction is, “Good Heavens! Never!” The spelling “thru” has an entry in the tolerant Merriam-Webster that jumps to through.The OED has no entry for “thru,” although the spelling is listed along with many other historical variations … Read more

Types of Ignorance

As a teacher, I am always pained when I hear “ignorant” used as an insult. ignorance: n. lack of knowledge Everyone is born ignorant into the world. The word ignorance is from Latin ignorantia. The prefix in– means “not”; Old Latin gnarus means “aware, acquainted with.” Mere ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Ignorant … Read more

Using “zeitgeist” Coherently

Zeitgeist is one of those lovely German borrowings that packs into a single word a thought that would require several in English. Zeitgeist: [tsīt’gīst’, zīt’gīst’] n. The spirit or genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period or age. NOTE: In German, all nouns are capitalized. The OED capitalizes Zeitgeist; Merriam-Webster does not. … Read more

“Virtue” is spelled “Virtue”

Looking for tips on how to remove wallpaper, I found this headline on the HGTV page: How to Remove Wallpaper: Patience Is a Virture Curious to see if this was a common misspelling, I did a Google search and came up with 133,000 hits for “virture.” Many of them were from comments and forums where … Read more