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

Does Past Tense “Turnt” Have a Future?

A reader, commenting on one of my posts about the -ed past ending, suggests that turnt for turned may have a future: Where I live, more and more I’m hearing the word “turnt” used as a past tense version of “turned.” It’s a slang usage, obviously, and is used to describe food or drink that … 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

Data Is and Media Are

Some speakers continue to insist that the noun data must be used only as a plural, but the consensus is in. Although the singular of data is datum, in nonspecialized contexts, using data as a singular noun is acceptable. Both usages continue to occur, often in the same publications. When this data is directly accessible … 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

When S Says Z and F says V

Browsing the comments attached to a previous post, I came across this lament about two changes in pronunciation that seem to be catching on with younger speakers: I can’t keep track of how many words are being pronounced differently than when I was taught them. To me, the first “s” in “houses” has a “z” … 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 Only Standard Usage Will Do

When I began writing about English usage, I would label sentences as “correct” and “incorrect.” I don’t do that anymore because what is “incorrect” in the standard dialect may be “correct” in one of the other dialects of English. The English language is not a monolith, but a collection of “Englishes.” According to some estimates, … 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

Slurry and Flurry

Almost right is not good enough. I read this in the Daily Mail during hurricane season: . . . the National Weather Service issued a slurry of alarming tweets. Presumably, the writer meant that the Weather Service issued so many tweets, one after another, they were like objects flying through the air. If that were … Read more

The Half-life of Verbs

The term half-life existed before the term was applied to the breakdown of a radioactive substance. One earlier meaning was “an unsatisfactory way of life.” Another was “the size of painting half life-size.” The radioactive application dates from 1907. Now, the term is also applied to the time required for half the amount of any … Read more