7 Redundant Adjectives

Redundancies abound in everyday speech: phrases that say the same thing twice. For example, two of the most common expressions that include a redundant adjective are “free gift” and “closed fist”: Credit cards offer free gifts to new cardholders.  Still she came at me, so this time I hit her with a closed fist. 1. free gift A … Read more

45 Idioms About the Number One

English is replete with idiomatic expressions featuring numerical values, including dozens pertaining to the number one alone. Here’s a list of most (if not all) of the idioms in the latter category. 1. all in one breath: said of something spoken excitedly without pause 2. all in one piece: safely 3. all rolled up in … Read more

5 Types of Hyphenation Errors with Numbers

Mistaken insertion or omission of hyphens in phrasal adjectives that involve quantities is a common error. The following sentences illustrate several types of incorrect usage to avoid. 1. In his most successful season, he made 13-of-16 field goals. In the context of sports, in a simple reference to a number of attempts achieved, hyphenation is … Read more

Usage Mistakes #1

The sentences below illustrate various types of mistakes in wording born from (not “borne out of”) ignorance or carelessness. 1. All the progress we have made to educate people about the hazards of smoking may be for not. The writer, perhaps unfamiliar with the term naught, assumed that the last word of the sentence is … Read more

Prophetic, Predictive, Presageful, and Portentous

A reader has asked me to explain the differences between prophetic, predictive, presageful, and portentous. In a very general sense, the words are synonymous. All four are adjectives indicative of the future. Their connotations, however, differ. The adjective prophetic has two meanings: 1. prophetic: “characteristic of prophecy or a prophet.” For example, King Saul was … Read more

Gollum, Epenthesis, and Haplology

As I watched holiday re-runs of the Lord of the Rings movies, I wondered if there might be a term for the way Gollum adds syllables to words. Note: Gollum is a fictional character in The Hobbit and its sequels by J. R. R. Tolkien. In Peter Jackson’s movies, Gollum is played brilliantly by Andy … Read more

Punctuation Marks as Transitional Signposts

Punctuation is a support system to enhance the organizational flow of a sentence. Often, it also provides transitional cues, and for clarity, it’s important to make that distinction by using specific punctuation marks. Here are three sentences improved by choosing the correct punctuation from various alternatives. 1. She has seen this happen before, several times … Read more

90 Idioms About Tools

Hand tools have inspired a tool box full of metaphorical words and expressions. Here’s a list of many of those handy idioms. 1–5. angry/mad enough to chew nails/spit nails or ready to eat nails: enraged 6–7. another/final nail in the coffin: one of/the last of multiple factors that contribute to a failure 8–9. ax: a … Read more

5 Cases of Extraneous Hyphenation

Hyphens are used primarily to organize two or more words into phrases to aid in reading comprehension. Although errors in the use of hyphens are usually errors of omission, erroneous overuse is also common. Beware of superfluous use of hyphens in sentences such as the ones shown below. 1. The answer is to find a … Read more

3 Sentences with Misplaced Modifiers

Phrases that provide additional information in a sentence are often haphazardly situated within that sentence in such a way that the reader might be confused about what the modifying phrase refers to, or at best must reread the sentence to confirm that he or she has comprehended the correct meaning. Here are three sentences that … Read more

The Meaning of “To a T”

The expression “to a T,” as in “That suits you to a T!” is often mistakenly written or said as “to the T” (or “to a tee” or “to the tee”). This type of alteration occurs often in idiomatic phrases (note “all of the sudden” and “for all intensive purposes,” among others). In today’s anarchic … Read more

Words That Denote Cooperation

In this post I’m going to temper the constant media barrage of negativity with words that denote cooperation and friendly relations among people who are engaged in the same activity. These are words I’d like to see used more frequently to describe what is happening in government. collegiality noun: the cooperative relationship of colleagues. collegial … Read more