The Meaning Of Christmas

The word Christmas has been around for centuries. Some dictionaries say it belongs to the late Old English period; others that it dates back to the 12th century. Old forms include cristes masse and christmasse, meaning the festival (mass) of Christ. Christmas actually replaced a number of significant pagan midwinter festivals when the church was … Read more

W00T – Word Of The Year

Merriam Webster has published its 2007 word of the year, and the winner is w00t. Who would have thought that a word with numbers in it would make the cut? According to M-W, the word is an expression of joy (similar to yay). It’s also used by gamers to signify: ‘We owned the other team’. … Read more

Gentle and Genteel

The doublets gentle and genteel illustrate the way words from the same Latin original can change in meaning in the course of centuries. Both words come from Latin gens, “race” or “clan” by way of one of its forms, gentilis, meaning “of the same family or clan.” In Roman culture nothing was more important than … Read more

Doublets: An Endless Source of Fascination

Because of its long practice of borrowing words from other languages, English has acquired a huge stock of doublets, pairs of words that began as the same word, but over time have changed in form and in meaning. Sometimes the kinship between doublets, such as potion and poison, are fairly obvious. With others, such as … Read more

Chant and Cant

“My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may say to a man, “Sir, I am your most humble servant.” You are not his most humble servant. You tell a man, “I am sorry you had such bad weather and were so much wet.” You don’t care sixpence whether he is wet or dry. … Read more

Do Synonyms Exist?

A synonym is supposed to be any word that means the same as another word. But I don’t think there is any such thing. I don’t believe that kind of synonym exists. Okay, I need to qualify that assertion. Technically, a synonym is “a word or phrase that has a meaning the same as, or … Read more

What is the Difference Between Among and Amongst?

I first heard amongst used when I went to live in England. To my ear it sounds quaint and very “British.” I especially like it in the expression “to put the cat amongst the pigeons.” If there ever was a difference between the two words, it is lost now. According to the OED, amongst is … Read more

How to Improve Your Vocabulary Steadily

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Sylvia Grappone says, “An article on how to improve vocabulary would be helpful. I’m in my late 30s and noticed that I can no longer remember things as easily as I did when I was a teen, and with a hubby and kids have no time to really focus on studying. I do read in my leisure time but at the moment only technical books. Would reading novels help my vocabulary? Any shortcuts or techniques?”

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Dictionary vs. Thesaurus

Afshan Khan asks, “What is the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus?” A dictionary is a book containing the individual words of a language (usually organized alphabetically). The purpose of the dictionary is to set forth the orthography, pronunciation and signification of those words. The thesaurus, on the other hand, is a specific dictionary … Read more