Category Archives: Words


Readability, Understandability, and ETS

Presidential Candidates Address AIPAC Policy Conference

Donald Trump’s speech to Aipac scored above a grade-level 6 in readability.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the formulas available for estimating readability are less than foolproof. It doesn’t even take a linguist to notice that things are missing from the formulas.

Last week I offered a link to the website Readability Score, where you can take any text and paste it in for an instant estimate by half-a-dozen different formulas, all purporting to determine the grade level o…


‘Punter’s Chance’ or ‘Puncher’s Chance’? I’ll Punt

If [the Oklahoma City Thunder are] clicking on all cylinders, I give them a punter’s chance obviously to put the kind of firepower out on the floor to go head to head with the [Golden State] Warriors four quarters.

—Jalen Rose, quoted in The New York Times, April 15, 2016

As I have mentioned here before, I am the sole owner and proprietor of Not One-Off Britishisms (NOOBs), a blog devoted to charting British expressions that have become popular in the United States. And when I read the quote by …


Introductions and Outroductions

thegoldrush1What’s the opposite of an intro? If outro comes to mind, you may be riding a trend. The word shows up in student papers. People say it. People hearing it don’t ask what you mean.

The term outro is now often used to describe the ends of things — music mainly, but other forms, too. “Sympathy for the Devil” has an outro, and we know this because there is at least one YouTube tutorial to help you master it.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates outro to 1967, providing the definition “a concluding s…


Instant Readability


Lincoln at Gettysburg

No, the age of miracles hasn’t passed. I’m about to give you a free tool that will make you an instant expert on readability.

Readability? What’s that?

It’s the ability of a text to be read and understood. It’s vital to measure readability, for example, in choosing texts that will be understood by elementary or high-school students at their appropriate grade levels. And it’s also vital in court, for another example, to determine whether a typical consumer could understand t…


Never Underestimating

thumbMaybe George W. Bush’s neologism misunderestimate isn’t such a bad candidate for adoption into the lexicon. That’s what I decided shortly after reading the following passage in a New York Times article about the various adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho:

Mr. Bale’s role in Bateman’s liftoff is impossible to underestimate. You can trace the character’s ascent along the arc of the actor’s career. (Bateman, Batman, Bale, baleful — there’s a malevolent linguistic r…


Being an Antecedent

On the morning of April 1, I heard a BBC newsreader say (without levity, April Fool’s Day though it was) that Sajid Javid, the British government’s secretary of state for business, innovation, and skills, had “assured the steel workers that ministers were doing everything they could to save their jobs.” And for a few misguided milliseconds my brain was saying “Typical: politicians trying to protect themselves!” I had linked the genitive pronoun their to t…


Sentences I Hope Never to Use

Trouble with the hardwareOne very specific desire I have is to reach the end of my life (a long time from now) without ever having used the phrase working closely with.

Nothing wrong with it syntactically or semantically, but it strikes me as a repellent cliché that drops like uncontrolled saliva from the mouths of self-justifying administrators under press questioning. A question like “What steps has your agency taken since the explosion and fire?” is answered with: “My office has been working closely with emergency au…


OK, Presidential Hopeful? Celebrate Today.

> on July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Bernie Sanders: “It’s not a question of me being OK.”

Happy 177th birthday to America’s greatest word … OK!

Entirely curved O, entirely straight K — put them together and they are the two-letter, two-syllable combination that confirms agreements, certifies that something works, gives lecturers a way to sum up, and expresses the American philosophy of pragmatism. I could write a book about it (and I did).

For 177 years, ever since OK was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on March  23, 18…


The Trumptionary, Part 2

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David Barnhart

As the Trumpus continues, our living language stretches to accommodate the new notions and perspectives generated by the Donald’s inimitable political career. The lexicographer David Barnhart, author of the quarterly Barnhart Dictionary Companion, has been quick to keep up with the new vocabulary.

He has written entries in the manner of the Oxford English Dictionary for each term, including the detailed entry for Trumpertantrum that I included in my post last week.

Here are some o…


A ‘Perfect’ Storm


Truman Capote

Randye Green, an observant friend of mine, commented not long ago that she’s tired of perfect. Not because the perfect is the enemy of the good, but because, as she said, the word has become such a cliché.

That was news to me, but ever since our conversation I’ve observed a perfect storm of perfect, in both speech and e-mail correspondence. Students, especially female students, are fond of it.

The assignment is due a week from Monday. Perfect. Meet you at six? Perfect. I’ll have a…