Category Archives: Words

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Over and Over Again

Athelstan

King AEthelstan presenting a book to St. Cuthbert, c.895-939. The Laws of AEthelstan included “over” meaning “more than” back in the 10th century. Illuminated manuscript, c.930, via Wikimedia Commons.

For the most part, a newspaper stylebook aims to fly under the radar, directing journalists to use the least obtrusive terminology and forms, so readers will not be distracted from the reporter’s message. But the stylebook is put together by individuals (editors) who have strong feelings about ri…

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The Latest Style

ap (7)Just as California offers the most neutral and unobtrusive variety of American English (we don’t think of someone having a “California accent”), so The Associated Press Stylebook offers the most neutral, unobtrusive, and inoffensive choices in spelling, punctuation, and usage. For this reason both are worthy of note as reflecting the norm, the unmarked version of American English.

They come to their roles for different reasons. East of the Mississippi, American dialects are layered north to sout…

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Miss Prism’s Mistakes

In the greatest English theatrical comedy of the 19th century, a peculiar series of events involving an infant and a handbag are the subject of an 11th-hour confession by one of my favorite literary inventions, a governess named Miss Prism.

There are many reasons to love Miss Prism, among them the fact that in her youth she wrote a three-volume novel. Like all of Oscar Wilde’s creations, she has more than a bit of the playwright in her (Miss Prism is given to saying things like “I speak hort…

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Final Madness

We’ve finally come to the end of Language Madness, and not a moment too soon. Just as Kentucky and Connecticut, two storied programs, will face off tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball finals (finals  instead of final  being another instance of rampant pluralizing), the LM tournament closes out with a classic matchup.

To recap, we started out with 16 “sins against the language.” As many have noted, they were a mixed bowl of wrongs. Some were mistakes or “mistakes” people love to hate, such as th…

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Dolphin Talk and Human Credulity

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Potentially communicative bottlenose dolphin
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It appears to have been just bad luck that one British newspaper, The Independent, chose April 1 as the day to publish James Vincent’s science report about a significant animal-to-human communication breakthrough.

I hope it worries animal researchers at least as much as it worries me that I had to do some reading around and cross-checking to be sure that the report wasn’t an Onion-style April Fool’s Day hoax. But I found t…

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It’s a Mad (Mad) World

About two weeks ago in this space, I kicked off Language March Madness, a fun-filled tourney where various solecisms and abuses have been vying for the title of Worst Sin Against the English Language, as determined by the votes of you, the public. (The idea is to choose something that combines high frequency and high annoyingness.) As you can see by the bracket, we’re almost at the end, and you can vote on the first Final Four matchup here.

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In Style

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Entries in the 2007 AP Stylebook

Style usually stands out, hoping to catch your attention. But not newspaper style. It has the opposite goal: to be as unobtrusive as possible, so as not to distract the reader from paying attention to the message.

Without a stylebook prescribing usage, the natural variation of language would be a red herring, leading readers off the trail. For example, if one newspaper story uses the spelling OK while another uses okay, a reader is likely to notice the difference…

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‘Yooper’ and ‘the Dictionary’

Upper_Peninsula_of_Michigan[1]Michigan was buzzing last week with the news that the word Yooper is going to be included in the new edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary this spring.

For those of you who may not know, Yooper refers to someone who is from or lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (known as the UP, hence UP-er, or Yooper). Yooper is now a term of pride for many residents of the UP. According to Steve Parks (the man who lobbied for 10 years for the word to be included in Merriam-Webster’s), the te…

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Get Me the Concierge

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

“My husband used to be the concierge,” announces the woman in the window, “but he’s dead. Now I’m the concierge.” Movie fans will recognize the moment in Mel Brooks’s The Producers when our hapless protagonists approach the residence of the furtive ex-Nazi and pigeon fancier Franz Liebkind, author of the soon-to-be immortal musical “Springtime for Hitler.”

Liebkind’s apartment building is nothing special. It doesn’t have anything as glamorous as a concierge, just an u…

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Are You Feeling It?

I’ve never been a huge McDonald’s fan (my loyalties lie with Wendy’s), but lately the Golden Arches have become a particular bugbear. Many of you will recognize the chain’s slogan of almost a decade, “I’m lovin’ it,” and some will find its grammar grating. Traditionally, after all, English stative verbs—those that describe a state of being, what we think or how we feel—are not conjugated in the present continuous form. Before the lovin’ it campaign, a tasty Filet-O-Fish would have prompted most …