Toothy and Toothsome

A reader remarks on the use of toothsome in this headline at Discovery-dot-com: Crocodiles are fun-loving, finds a new study on the toothsome predators. Unless the writer thinks of crocodiles chiefly as the source of a tasty meal, a more appropriate word is toothy. Here are the usual definitions of toothsome and toothy: toothsome adjective: … Read more

Mobs and Mobiles

It is etymologically appropriate that the term mob should be associated with a roiling crowd, because the word is a clipped form of mobile. That word, in Latin, means “movable,” but it also had the sense of “fickle,” which was what is meant by the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, which refers to the perception of … Read more

3 Cases of Faulty Parallel Structure of Negation

The following three sentences, each followed by a discussion and a revision, illustrate the problem with setting up a “neither . . . nor” construction or similar phrasing without careful attention to grammatical integrity. 1. “Data coming from third-party sources can neither be made to comply with the organization’s security guidelines nor can its authenticity … Read more

30 Baseball Idioms

The sport nostalgically known as “America’s Pastime” (though football now reigns supreme) is the source of many evocative idioms whose meanings now extend beyond the baseball diamond. Here are thirty of those phrases and their meanings when used past the warning track. 1. ballpark figure: a rough estimate 2. bat a thousand: a reference to … Read more

Join the Freelance Writing Course – 2016 Edition

Every single week we receive an email from someone asking when the next Freelance Writing Course will be offered, as we only run it once or twice a year. If you are one of those, wait no more! Today we are opening the doors to the 2016 edition (click here to get all the details … Read more

3 Cases of Missing Commas

The presence or absence of a single punctuation mark can create confusion or ambiguity about the meaning of a sentence. Three sentences illustrating this problem, each followed by discussion and revision, follow: 1. These factors make it hard for management to decide what to communicate to directors given the board’s crowded agenda. The lack of … Read more

A Hella Cool New Dictionary Entry

Merriam-Webster, publisher of the print and online dictionary that is perhaps most widely consulted by wordsmiths in the United States, has made what some may consider an audacious decision: Hella is now officially a member of the English language. As an aficionado of etymology, I have always been pleased to have been near a word’s … Read more

Time to Retire “Political Correctness”

The expressions “political correctness” and “politically correct” have gone through so many meanings that it’s no longer possible to know what a speaker means by them. The word correct was used as a verb by Chaucer in the fourteenth century in reference to correcting his writing. It’s from Latin corrigere, “to make straight, set right, … Read more

Four Common Idioms from Shakespeare

What do the following examples from the Web have in common? Changing my mind is not something that happens often. It’s a simple case of me stating my point and refusing to budge an inch from it.  US Recovery Cold Comfort for Unemployed Are your kids eating you out of house and home during the summer? . I made the mistake of buying him an egg salad … Read more

Words That Evolved from the Latin Term for “Turn”

A small group of words ending in -volve share an etymological origin of the Latin verb volvere, meaning “turn,” but they have some cousins whose family resemblance is not obvious. Here are some expected and unexpected words with that ancestor in common. The words that obviously stem from -volve include evolve, meaning “change,” “develop,” or … Read more

55 Boxing Idioms

Despite the waning popularity of pugilism, or the sweet science, as boxing is also called, the sport has contributed a number of colorful words, phrases, and expressions out of proportion to its current stature among athletic endeavors. Here is a list of idioms that originated in boxing and were subsequently extended to the world outside … Read more

3 Types of Quotation Errors

In the following sentences, something about the treatment of a quotation interferes with comprehension. Discussion of the error, and a revision of the sentence, follows each example. 1. “We are seeing our efforts having some effect on their financial flows. And it’s difficult to get a handle on just how much because of the different … Read more