Sentence Adverbs

Not all adverbs end in -ly, but many do. Like all adverbs, -ly adverbs are used to add meaning to verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. For example: Jones deals honestly with all his customers. (adverb modifying the verb deals) The lecture on adiabatic and isochoric kinetics was mercifully brief. (adverb modifying the adjective brief) The … Read more

Work of Art Titles

When a freelance magazine writer asked me how the title of a sculpture should be written, I went to The Chicago Manual of Style to find out if it should be italicized, enclosed in quotation marks, or left plain. Here is the advice I found and passed on to the writer: Titles of paintings, drawings, … Read more

Passionate and Impassioned

A reader wonders about the words passionate and impassioned: Do they mean the same thing? If not, when should you use one and not the other? The word passion derives from a Latin verb that means “to suffer” or “to undergo.” One use of the noun is to name the sufferings of Jesus. For example, … Read more

Inning, Innings, and the Seventh-Inning Stretch

In the games of baseball and cricket, opposing teams take turns batting a ball. A baseball game is divided into nine innings during which each team has a turn at bat. Each half of an inning ends with the third out. (An out occurs when a player strikes out or is tagged between bases.) I’ll … Read more

Beautyism and Friends

It’s not in my two main dictionaries yet, but beautyism has found a place in the catalogue of English words ending in -ism: Beautyism in the Workplace: Disguised Discrimination Jawahar and Mattsson (2005) investigated sexism and beautyism effects in employment processes using experimental research. The suffix -ism has been a prolific source of English nouns … Read more

Waxing and Waning

The most familiar use of the verbs wax and wane is in reference to the states of the moon. To wax is to grow. To wane is to diminish. The moon has four phases, also called quarters. During the first two quarters, the moon is said “to wax” as its light increases. During the third … Read more

Picking Nits, Not Nicks

Apparently some modern speakers are happily unacquainted with head lice. This lack of knowledge may explain the confusion illustrated by the following examples: If you want to lose a friend, all you have to do is to continue to nick pick and find fault with everything that they do or everything that they say. My … Read more

Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid with Personal Pronouns

Among the oldest words in English are the personal pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. Two of the personal pronouns, you and it, have only one form that is used as either subject or object: See that goat? It bit me. (It is the subject of the verb bit.) I hear a … Read more

Verb Mistakes #4: Hoping If

A sales letter from a company that produces an “educational keyboarding program” brought a peculiar clause construction to my attention: We’re hoping if you’d be interested in taking a look at it.” The verb are hoping leads me to expect a noun clause, with or without an expressed that: We’re hoping that you’d be interested … Read more


The word crusade, used as both noun and verb, derives from a Latin verb meaning “to mark with a cross.” Middle English adopted the Old French form, croisee. When the OF spelling shifted to croisade, English speakers started spelling it that way too. Finally, in the 18th century, the spelling was Anglicized to crusade. The … Read more

Kin Words

The other night a local television anchorman, not noted for a large or literary vocabulary, surprised me with the following: I feel such a kinsmanship with these survivors. The anchor’s sentiment was kind, but kinsmanship is out of place in modern English. Kinsmanship has an entry in the OED, and Emily Dickinson (1830—1886) used it. … Read more


The adjective sexy is a US coinage. According to OnlineEtymologyDictionary, it was first used in 1923 to describe smoldering silent screen star Rudolf Valentino. Sexy to describe the sexual attractiveness of individuals and the sexual aspect or content of things is still probably the most common use of the word: George Clooney Voted Sexiest Man … Read more