Uneasy vs. Uneased

I read the following quotation in a newspaper account of a local city council meeting: I’m uneased by the fact that we have land in the city [that is not zoned]. Surely, the councilman meant to say that he was “uneasy about the fact”! At once I began a Web search and discovered that this … Read more

Negative Guilt Syndrome

A reader expresses second thoughts about a sentence she wrote: When I looked back at it, I realized this use of a double negative to convey a positive is an unusual construction and remembered the dire warnings received in my youth to, “never use a double negative.” The reader is referring to this sentence: “You … Read more

Sense and Nonsense

A reader who heard a doctor describe a patient as “fluent and sensicle” has asked if sensicle is a word. Sensicle (more often spelled sensical) is a word in the sense that couth is a word, or combobulate or ept. Humorists have long delighted in making comical back-formations of unpaired words like nonsensical, discombobulate, and … Read more

Whenever vs. When Ever

It’s interesting that two-word phrases like “any place,” “a lot,” and “all right” are often squeezed into nonstandard one-word forms like anyplace, alot, and alright, but one-word wherever is often written incorrectly as “when ever.” As a relative conjunction introducing a conditional clause, whenever means “at whatever time, no matter when.” Here are some examples … Read more

To Go Haywire

A reader asks, What does the expression “to go haywire” mean? Applied to a system or contraption of any kind, “to go haywire” means “to go wrong.” Applied to a person, “to go haywire” means “to become mentally distracted.” Here are some examples of idiomatic usage: My new company’s server went haywire right after I … Read more

Hungover vs. Hung Over

A reader feels that the adjective to describe the state of experiencing the effects of too much alcohol should be an open compound: I would be really grateful if you would address whether or not the compound noun ‘hangover’ retains its closed form when used as an adjective (‘she was hungover’). I feel irked when … Read more

Worked, Wrought and Overwrought

Judging by comments and emails I receive whenever I write about the verb wreak, some English speakers believe that the past tense of wreak is wrought. That’s not the case. Wrought is an archaic past tense form of the verb work. Work and wreak derive from different Old English verbs: wyrcan (do, make) and wrecan … Read more