Inception and Conception

A reader has asked for a post on the words inception and conception, speculating, “Might they be synonymous?” Conception comes from a Latin verb meaning, “to become pregnant.” Inception comes from the Latin verb incipere, “to begin.” Both conception and inception relate to beginnings. Conception The literal meaning of conception is “the action of conceiving … Read more

Words of the Year

Since the 1990s–beginning with the American Dialect Society—various entities, including dictionaries and individual lexicographers, have announced Words of the Year in English. (The Germans started their Wort des Jahres in 1971.) In 2021, the US dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and the British dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, are almost on the same page. For M-W, the word … Read more

We Gotta Use Words

In T.S. Eliot’s play, Sweeney Agonistes, Sweeney complains, “I gotta use words when I talk to you.” Every day, I see evidence that much of modern discourse doesn’t use words at all. Daily conversation and news outlets have become boiling vats of initialisms. Here are just a few of the ones studding the pages of … Read more

Highlighted and Greenlit

A reader encountered the question of what past ending to use with the verb to highlight as in “to mark text with a highlighter” or “to cause something, such as text or an icon, to be displayed in a way that stands out on an electronic screen, as of a computer or smartphone.” I recently … Read more

Dupe, Greenhorn, Sucker, and Easy Mark

A few posts ago, I wrote about the multitude of ways English provides for calling someone “stupid.” Now I’ll address some negative terms that target another human failing. Although cynics may equate them, innocence and trust are not the same as stupidity. Here are four words used to designate people who are seen as fair … Read more

When is a Word Just a Word?

One of my teaching dictums about parts of speech is that “a word is not a part of speech until it’s used in a sentence.” The word run, for example, depending upon context, can be a verb or a noun. We watched her run around the bases. (verb) Sammy hit a home run. (noun) Until … 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

Pandemic Vocabulary

This post was prompted by a reader who poses the following question: What is the preferred way to write Covid-19 in prose English? Answer: If you write for publication, it will depend on your publication’s guidelines. These three versions can be found in various publications: COVID-19 Covid-19 covid-19. So far, I’ve seen the all-lowercase covid-19 … Read more

10 More Naming Words Ending in -nym

eponym The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott. exonym A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-speakers call the people of Wales the Welsh. autonym A name by which a people refers to itself. The name the Welsh people call themselves is … Read more

4 Effects Named for Famous People

Among the meanings of the noun effect is this: Any of various distinct phenomena (originally in physical science, in later use also in other technical fields and in general contexts), frequently named after the discoverer or describer, or after something or someone providing an analogy or model. This kind of effect is always prefaced by … Read more

12 Words That End in -nym

Most of us are probably familiar with these -nym words: synonym a word that means the same as another word: little/small antonym a word that means the opposite of another word: little/big homonym a word that has the same sound as another word, but differs in meaning: horde/hoard acronym a word formed from the initials … Read more

Euerergetism, Paraprosdokian, and Organleptic

These three words have nothing to do with each other. They’re just interesting. Euerergetism The first time I encountered euerergetism may have been in an article about Boris Johnson before he was Britain’s prime minister. While Mayor of London, Johnson declared that Britain needed “a greater sense of eurergetism.” A classical scholar, he was familiar … Read more