Category Archives: Words

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Ebola, the Word

There’s no mystery about Ebola—the word, that is, not the disease. We know exactly when and how it began, in 1976. The word lay dormant for most of the intervening decades, occupying a quiet corner of our vocabulary, until the resurgence of the virus in Africa and its arrival in the United States just a few weeks ago made the word highly contagious. By word of mouth and print and Internet, it has reached practically every household and hamlet in the land.

Fortunately, for all its fearsomeness, t…

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Amazeballs

“The most amazing thing about the Ford Fusion isn’t the way it looks,” goes an ad. “It’s the way it sees.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer references a guy who bought his daughter a house because “my daughter and son-in-law are amazing people.”

I read a Facebook comment:

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And a tweet:

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That’s just a tiny hint of the way amazing has become the word of the moment. Some more: In the movie of the moment, Gone Girl (and in the book as well), the lead female character was the model for a children’s book ch…

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The Intentional Fallacy

A fellow educator has brought to my attention the rise of intentional as a signifying term in academic life. If you haven’t noticed it yet, you will.

Intentional is a word with at least two categories of meaning.

The first sense of intentional may be found in the concept of intentional community.  Those who are part of a convent, a kibbutz, a commune— apparently things that begin with a k sound—might all be described as members of intentional communities.

I don’t love the phrase, but I get the…

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How About That?

world-of-abbott-and-costello-compilation-film-whos-on-first-skit

Abbott: “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.”

The New York Times made my day Monday with a great front-page story by Jonathan Mahler about how a “best-selling author and management guru” named Dov Seidman is suing the Chobani yogurt company for stealing his word.

It seems that for about 10 years, Seidman has been using the slogan “How Matters” to emphasize his belief in the importance of ethical processes and procedures in business. In 2011, he wrote a book called How: Why…

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Expediating the Matter

Hugh Freeze, football coach at the U. of Mississippi

“We certainly expediated the process,” I heard Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss football coach, say.

It was Sunday morning and I was half-watching the ESPN Sports Center recap of the college football games the day before. In one of the several big upsets, Number 11 Mississippi beat Number 3 Alabama by the score of 23-17. ESPN played part of the post-game interview with the winning coach, and Freeze’s verb choice caught my ear.  (As part of talking…

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Mentor, the Verb

Every year, as I fill out my institution’s Professional Activities Inventory, I’m vaguely aware that one of the categories soliciting a response—Mentoring of Colleagues—uses language far more ubiquitous now than when I firmentorst became anyone’s colleague. But it was not until I began a writing project this year that has brought me deep into the fields of business and finance that I started hearing mentor and mentee at every turn. I confess publicly here, and with no small amount of shame, that these…

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Dusting Off the Abacus

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (Bruegel).
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

You can count on Comments on Etymology to dust off old arguments about word histories and offer a comprehensive and often compelling synthesis. That’s what you’ll find in the October 2014 issue of the monthly journal self-published by Gerald Cohen at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, in Rolla, Mo. Half of the issue goes to China for an investigation of the origins of pagoda. But the other half…

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Dumb Writing Advice, Part 1: Word Prohibitions

An Überflip page by Andrea Ayres-Deets is headlined “5 Weak Words That Are Sabotaging Your Writing.” If only there were a few words that you could simply expunge to get an immediate improvement in your prose! But of course it’s nonsense. Writing advice can’t be reduced to word prohibitions; and the prohibitions recommended here would be ridiculous overkill.

Here are the words you should allegedly shun: (1) really; (2) things and stuff; (3) I believe, I feel, and I think; (4) the be of the passiv…

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Dudgeons and Dragons

High dudgeon. No it’s not a charming village outside of Oxford, but it’s a place all right, and it’s where a lot of us academic types live.

The Google NGram Viewer would suggest that dudgeon, meaning something like a fit of temper, enjoyed its heyday in the century or before World War II, a point at which, perhaps, the scale and language for anger and outrage was recalibrated.

Dudgeon is a lovely word, not to be confused with gudgeon, about which more in a moment.

The OED’s first definition for

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Pausing Over Pronunciation

islet copyA little over a year ago, I found myself standing in front of a class of almost 100 students, staring at a pronunciation conundrum. I was reading aloud a couple of key sentences from a quote on a PowerPoint slide, and my eyes jumped a line ahead and saw the word islet barreling toward me. Not a word I say aloud all that often, let alone one I have to say loudly in front of a roomful of people.

My brain started searching in a panicky way for memories of how to say this word. “Eye-let!” recomm…