Talking About Young People

Many terms exist to describe children of various ages, all of them having different connotations. The messages of journalists, politicians, merchants, professional educators, and social commentators are often slanted by the terms they choose to describe children. For example, politicians who may usually refer to children as kids are careful to use the words child … Read more

Round vs. Around

One of the differences between American and British English is the usage of the words round and around. Americans use around in contexts in which most British speakers prefer round. The word round has five grammatical functions: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and preposition. The fighter was able to go another round. (noun) We watched as … Read more

L Words in English

One topic on language certain to stir passions is the pronunciation of “l words” like salmon, almond, palm, and psalm. Charles Elster in his Big Book of Beastly Pronunciations submits reluctantly and ungraciously to the fact that a great many educated English speakers pronounce the “l” in almond: With so many accepted pronunciations of the … Read more

Adverbs and Hyphens

A reader pleads, Please, please, please discuss the use of hyphenation (and lack thereof) of adverbs with adjectives. I keep seeing the likes of “newly-minted doctor” or “visually-impaired cat” regularly these days and it makes me crazy! Is it something that’s becoming more acceptable? Or is it the general lack of editors and grammatical knowledge? … Read more

15 English Words of Indian Origin

The English language has absorbed words from cultures the world over. The following is a list of some English words whose origins lie in the Hindi, Urdu or Sanskrit languages spoken in India, Pakistan and other countries. These words have entered English through a variety of routes, but the presence of many dates back to … Read more

Shone vs. Shined, Lit vs. Lighted

A Canadian reader asks, Has it become okay to change irregular past verbs like lit and shone to lighted and shined? The answer to the first part of the question is that irregular verbs have been in a state of flux for centuries, so I suppose that it’s always “okay” to change them. The dominant … Read more

Wayside and Waste Side

One of the many meanings of the English noun way is, “a thoroughfare used or designed for traveling or transportation from place to place.” Roman legions travelled along the Appian Way. Shakespeare’s Autolycus sang, Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way, And merrily hent the stile-a: A merry heart goes all the day, Your sad … Read more

Boy Oh Boy

This sentence in a newspaper feature about Civil War hero David O. Dodd, got me thinking about the word boy: Dodd is lionized in these parts as the “Boy Martyr of the Confederacy” — although “Teen Martyr” would be a more accurate sobriquet for a young man who was only a year short of being … Read more

Do You Mean Passive or Just Weak?

A great deal of nonsense is written about “Passive Voice,” especially on sites targeted to writers. Here’s a typically misleading bit of writing instruction under the heading “How to Make Passive Writing Active”: Take the sentence “The inn was noisy.” This is a fine sentence. It communicates what’s going on in the room. But it’s … Read more

Godwin’s Law

Mike Godwin is an American attorney and author who formulated “Godwin’s Law” in 1990 when he made the following assertion: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. Note: In probability theory, an event is said to never happen when its probability is 0, and to … Read more


A cutesy use of the word libation is becoming popular with restaurateurs. I heard a radio spot for a local eatery of no particular elegance advertising “food and libations.” Pinterest has a category called “Elegant Food and Libations,” and numerous restaurants advertising on the web offer libations. One of them has made sure that potential … Read more

Raise vs. Rise

A recent headline in my morning paper declares: Local Unemployment Rate Raises to 4.8 percent Both as verbs and as nouns, raise and rise are used in many contexts, sometimes overlapping, but in the context of this newspaper headline, the verb should be rise. In standard usage, raise is transitive (takes an object) and rise … Read more