Urgency, Exigency, and Moonshots

A reader asks: Can you explain clearly the difference between urgency and exigency? Thank you. Also, any thoughts on the concept or process of “moonshoot”? Heard the term when President Biden was talking about cancer. The nouns urgency and exigency are not synonyms, but they are related in thought. Exigency An exigency is an urgent … Read more

Pronunciation Guides

A reader, wondering about the pronunciation of caricature, asks if I would consider including the phonetic pronunciation of words I discuss. Many years ago, when I first began writing for DWT, I provided phonetic transcriptions and talked rather a lot about pronunciation. Two considerations led to my dropping the transcriptions and treading carefully on matters … Read more

A Lie Is a Lie Is a Lie

A web search for the term “crisis of truth” brings up more than a million hits. Public figures have always lied in order to advance their careers, but in former times, they had the grace to be embarrassed when caught in their lies. Nowadays, political candidates and their lawyers caught up in lies are quick … Read more

Seep and Steep

The writer of an article in the Washington Post about the funeral arrangements for the late Queen Elizabeth II remarked that the events were “seeped in tradition.” It may have been an inadvertent typo, but it may have been the result of not looking up the word to check its meaning. An event may be … Read more

Does “Raze” Need “to the Ground”?

A reader asks about the sentence: “Vikings razed many monasteries to the ground.” Is not “to the ground” in this statement superfluous? Where else could it be razed to? The question puts me in mind of Lear’s response when his daughter proposed to reduce some of his amenities because he didn’t need them: Reason not … Read more

Fringes, Fringes Everywhere

Lately I’ve been struck by the frequency with which I encounter the word fringe in the media. I can recall a time when my only associations for the word were with the trim on my mother’s lampshades and the term “fringe benefits.” Fringe entered English as frenge from French with the meaning, “an ornamental bordering, … Read more

Career and Careen

A reader asks: Could you clarify whether a car “careens” or “careers” off the road? Are both usable? The original meanings of the words are quite different. Career stems from horse-related activities, and careen has a nautical origin. Career Career functions as a noun and as a verb. The noun has changed more over time … Read more

Punctuating Appositives

A reader requests clarification on the punctuation of appositives: I would like to see a piece on the punctuation of appositives. Decades ago, I somehow came to believe that an appositive in which the first noun is general and the second noun is specific is not offset by commas. Conversely, if the first noun of … Read more

Honest, Candid, and Frank

I’m always glad to receive topic suggestions from readers. Sometimes I may not quite understand what is wanted, but comments can still trigger a train of thought leading to a post. Recently, a reader complained about “Gen Z’s use of honest in place of candor or frank.” Lacking examples of the perceived misuse, I could … Read more

A Tin Ear for Pronouns

Another of my certainties has been shattered. Like anyone who has tried to explain why we do not say “Jack and me went to France” or “They invited my wife and I to the party,” I have always used the same approach. Incorrect use of object pronoun form as subject Person says: Jack and me … Read more

Addendum to Legal Terms in the News

A recent post about legal terms in the news drew several interesting comments from readers, prompting this addendum. One reader pointed out that I’d omitted the term “stare decisis.” As I recall, “stare decisis” is the very term that led me to write the post in the first place, but somehow, I managed to leave … Read more

Them’s the Breaks

Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order. I was a bit puzzled, considering that the expression is quite common. I was surprised that the out-going British Prime Minister, a classical scholar, graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, would … Read more