Barbecue vs. Barbeque

We all have our lists of language peeves. Most likely, no two of our lists are the same. The reader whose email prompted this post can’t stand the spelling barbeque: One of my pet hates (I have more than a few) is “barbeque”. When I hear that this spelling…has entered into common usage I become … Read more

Pike’s Peak or Pikes Peak?

Attempts by city governments in England to drop apostrophes from official signage frequently provoke enraged opposition from local taxpayers, but in the United States, observes Jennifer Runyon, “We don’t debate the apostrophe.” Runyon works for the US Board on Geographic Names, a federal body set up by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890 “to maintain uniform … Read more

Different Meanings of Hallmark

Until recently, I attached only one figurative meaning to the word hallmark: A distinctive mark or token of genuineness, good breeding, or excellence. Here are some examples of the word used in the sense of a trait that denotes admirable excellence: The hallmark of a scholar is attention to detail. Indeed, if style, grace, intellect, … Read more

Tracking an Odd Construction in the Media

The following usage struck me as odd when I read it in the roundup column that appears on the front page of my daily paper: Rumsfeld says that George W. Bush was wrong to try to create democracy onto Iraq. I assumed that “create democracy onto Iraq” was simply an unfortunate stylistic lapse on the … Read more

Copying Files On, To, or Onto

Preposition use is not easy to formulate. In this post I will focus on incorrect—or at least ambiguous—uses of on, to, and onto in the context of electronic file transfer. First, some definitions: to: expressing motion directed toward and reaching a place. Ex. I took the book to the library. I copied the file to … Read more

Verb Mistakes #7: Four Irregular Past Participles

It’s difficult to understand how any native English speaker manages to complete eight years of formal education without mastering irregular verb forms. When people who view themselves as writers or entrepreneurs won’t take the trouble to learn them, they stamp themselves as unprofessional. The following examples have been taken from writing blogs and professional sites: … Read more

Five Ways to Look Up

ESL learners have a tough row to hoe when they set themselves to learn English idioms. Note: “to have a tough row to hoe” = “to have a difficult task to carry out.” For example, each of the following sentences contains the verb look and the word up, but each conveys a different thought: 1. … Read more

10 Fleshy Words

Latin words meaning flesh and fleshly (carnis, carnalis), have given English several words, some of which refer to human flesh and some to the flesh of animals. 1. carnage noun: a heap of dead bodies, especially of men killed in battle. The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Battle of Maldon” describes the carnage that ensues when the … Read more

Sometime, Sometimes, and Some Time

A reader questions a friend’s use of sometimes: She will say “I hope we get to see you sometimes.” Is there supposed to be a plural for sometime? There is an s form of sometime, but it is not a plural. Adverbs don’t have plural forms. The morphemes some and time occur in three combinations: … Read more

10 Deliberately Misspelled Words

If all English speakers left school having mastered English spelling conventions, the deliberate misspellings seen in movie titles and various products might not bother me as much as they do. As it is, I dread the effect of the relentless modeling of incorrect spellings in the marketplace. Here are ten of these deliberate misspellings. 1. … Read more

Is “Dystopic” a Word?

When in a recent post I referred to “Orwell’s dystopic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four,” a reader from the Czech Republic asked when the adjective dystopic should be used instead of dystopian. After referring to my usual authorities and giving the matter some thought, my answer is: “never.” That’s not to say that the form dystopic isn’t … Read more

Bulleted Lists

More than one reader has asked me to write about bulleted lists. The term takes its name from a typographical symbol called a bullet, a round dot used to mark or emphasize a paragraph or an item in a vertical list. Nowadays, typographical bullets are not limited to dots, but can be any geometric shape. … Read more