Lapses and Collapses

This post lists and defines lapse and its family of related words that pertain to a passage of time or to falling. The words discussed below all derive ultimately from the Latin verb labi, meaning “fall,” “sink,” and “slip,” in addition to other related actions, by way of lapsus, meaning “falling” or “slipping” (figuratively or … Read more

Grammar Quiz #19: Reflexive Pronouns

Pronouns ending in -self, -selves should be used only to refer to or emphasize another word in the sentence. These reflexive pronouns should not be used in place of other personal pronouns. Some of the sentences below are incorrectly using the reflexive pronouns. Edit as necessary: 1. His cousin and himself are the same age. … Read more

3 Examples of Slang in Journalistic Content

There is always a tension in language usage about achieving a balance between sesquipedalian obfuscation and, um, like, you know, overly casual language. Ultimately, clarity on the writer’s part and fluency on the part of the readership are the key criteria for whether content succeeds in communicating ideas, knowledge, and information, and writers can be … Read more

3 Sentences with Flawed Parallel Construction

In each of the following sentences, an attempt to make a list within a sentence has gone awry. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and one or two revisions suggest solutions. 1. We have specific plans about what we are going to do, how and when. This sentence implies a list consisting of “what … Read more

3 Cases of Insufficient Punctuation

Each of the following sentences is compromised by the lack of one or two punctuation marks, resulting in a potential for confusion among readers. Discussion following each example explains the flaw, and a revision demonstrates clearer sentence composition. 1. Move over millennials—this group is taking over the rental market. The imperative “move over,” followed by … Read more

Merriam-Webster’s 2017 Words of the Year

Toward the end of each calendar year, around the winter holidays, various dictionaries trot out their annual Words of the Year feature. This year, as can be expected, the focus (according to Merriam-Webster) was predominantly on terms directly or indirectly associated with politics. Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, prompted by various events and incidents regarding … Read more

Vocabulary Quiz #13: Commonly Confused Words

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.) 1. Mozart was a musical ______ who gave his first concert at the age of four. a) prodigy b) prodigal 2. None of the freshmen wanted to room with Felix … Read more

Bills, Bolls, and Bulls

The Latin noun bulla, meaning “knob” or “round swelling,” is the source of a family of words starting with b followed by a vowel and the l sound (and sometimes additional letters and sounds), which are listed and defined in this post. Ball (in senses pertaining to a round object) and related words such as … Read more

3 Types of Errors in Interpolated Coordination

Errors in sentences with interpolated coordination, in which a phrase providing additional information is inserted but punctuation and/or words that provide complementary structure are omitted or misplaced, are frequently made but easily avoided, as explained in the discussion and demonstrated in the revision following each example below. 1. It is widely regarded as one of, … Read more

3 Types of Erroneous Use of Dashes

Dashes, like semicolons, are basically commas with superpowers. However, while semicolons take the place of commas to set off independent clauses or separate a series of list items in which at least one item itself consists of a list, a single dash denotes an abrupt break in syntax, and a pair of dashes signal a … Read more

Motion and Movement

If a word begins with mot- or mov-, chances are that it refers to literal or figurative motion or movement. This post describes many such words. Motion and movement themselves are exemples of this class of word, which stems from the Latin verb movere, meaning “move.” (The connection for motion and other mot- words is … Read more

Grammar Quiz #18: Who vs. Whom

In standard English who is used as a subject or a predicate nominative. Whom is used as an object (direct, indirect, object of preposition, etc.). Compounds, such as whoever and whomever, follow these same rules. Choose the correct form to fill the blank in each sentence. 1. ______ did you choose to serve on your … Read more