Biased and Prejudiced Against

In a recent post about confusion between the words precedent and precedence, a reader commented on a similar confusion between noun-adjective distinctions like bias/biased and prejudice/prejudiced. Thereby hangs this post. bias (noun): Tendency to favor or dislike a person or thing, especially as a result of a preconceived opinion; partiality, prejudice. biased (adjective): Influenced by … Read more

Legal Terms for Reading the News

As investigations, hearings, and trials flood the news media, a short glossary of legal terms may be useful to readers. Anyone who has watched enough Law & Order episodes probably already knows quite a few legal terms, such as warrant, subpeona, voir dire, and mens rea. Here are some terms and examples from recent news … Read more

No More Grammatical Dummies

Common terms used in teaching the expletive use of it and there are “dummy it, ” “dummy there,” and “dummy subject.” expletive: Of a word or phrase: serving merely to fill out a sentence or a metrical line without adding anything to the sense. Dummy A derivative of dumb (“unable to speak), dummy boasts twenty-one … Read more

Esteem and Ratchet

Esteem An old-movie buff, I recently watched White Heat (1949) for the second time and wanted to know more about the making of it. I found an excellent review, but my inner language nerd puzzled over the use of the word esteem in the following comment: Once Cody lands himself in prison by his own … Read more

Writing Fiction for US Adults

Writers of children’s fiction are constantly aware of the need to write with their readers’ reading level in mind. Writers of adult fiction—perhaps not so much. Technical writers agonize over the need to simplify product information and guidelines, but I suspect that novelists generally tend to assume that adult readers read at “the adult level.” … Read more

Same Phrase, Different Meanings

Recently I read two articles back-to-back in which the phrasal verb to make up was used with two entirely different meanings. That set me thinking about phrasal verbs that have two or more meanings. For starters, to make up is used with at least four different meanings. to compensate for The two systems must determine … Read more

Precedent and Precedence Are Different

A writer recently complained that Amazon had rejected her book title. She said that the title should be approved because the objectionable word in it “had a historical precedence.” If she meant that the word had already appeared in another title, she wanted the word precedent. Both words derive from the Latin verb praecedere, meaning, … Read more

Body Parts as Metaphor

Many of the nouns used to name body parts have corresponding verbs that describe the literal functions performed by the body part in question. A fighter knees his opponent in the ribs. A dog noses through the garbage. An aggressive shopper elbows others out of his way. A musician tongues a note or fingers an … Read more

“Disembodied” Does Not Mean That

In a very interesting BBC News article about ancient gardens, the writer describes an ancient relief that shows the vegetation-loving but brutal ruler Ashurbanipal and his wife reclining under a grapevine. It’s an archetypal garden paradise—that is, except for the disembodied head of an enemy, which is hanging from a nearby tree. The writer seems … Read more

Apparently and Presumably

A reader has asked for a discussion of the difference between the words apparently and presumably. A meaning for presumably is easy to pin down. The OED gives one current definition: presumably: Qualifying a statement as likely but not known for certain: as one may presume or reasonably suppose; in all probability. Merriam-Webster’s definition is … Read more

“Elite” Is Not a Dirty Word

Used mostly as a noun or as an adjective, elite derives from an Old French verb meaning “to choose.” The elite are “the Chosen.” As a noun, elite is “the pick or choice part of society or a specific group of people thought to be superior in terms of ability or qualities when compared to … Read more

“Forecast” and “Broadcast” Never Need -ed

My telephone weather app really mashes on my grammar nerve when it tells me that “rain is forecasted.” Likewise, I find it disturbing when a state supreme court judge, ruling on a misinformation case, begins a sentence with “Even assuming that Fox News did not intentionally allow this false narrative to be broadcasted….” The verb … Read more