Endearing and Ravished

English has such a rich vocabulary, writers have little excuse to use a word that is almost right. As Twain famously put it, The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Two adjectives that writers may want … Read more

Fossil L-Words

An aspect of English spelling that fascinates me is the existence of what I call “fossil words”— words in which a letter is embedded like a fossil in the rock—there, but no longer pronounced. Among these fossil words are some “silent L” words that go back to the earliest forms of English. walk Old English … Read more

Demise of the -er Comparative

Perhaps, like me, you were taught in elementary school that most one-syllable adjectives, plus two-syllable adjectives that end in y, form the comparative and superlative by adding –er and –est. Most one-syllable adverbs also form the comparative and superlative with –er and –est. As with every grammar “rule,” there are exceptions, but mostly, short adjectives … Read more

Calculus Etymology

I did not take calculus in high school. (I barely made it through basic math.) All I know about calculus is that it is a branch of mathematics that involves a certain type of calculation that entails the study of rates of change. The word calculus has an interesting etymology. It’s a diminutive of the … Read more

Writing the Pandemic

Since the media’s first faltering coverage of the coronavirus called COVID-19, the disease has not only embedded itself in the world’s population, it has also claimed a place in the English language. Coverage of the disease has swallowed so much of the daily news coverage since 2020 that the AP Stylebook, the Merriam-Webster dictionary and … Read more