by

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…

by

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…

by

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…

by

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…

by

Dumb Writing Advice, Part 2: Yielding to Nitwits

“Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive,” says The Economist’s style guide: “The ban is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.”

So modifiers preceding the verb in an infinitival clause (as in to clearly demonstrate) must be avoided because grammatically uninformed readers might experience irritation. The Economist’s writers are expected to acquiesce to opinionated nitwits.

And that is just wha…

by

Smile, Smile, Smile

The centennial commemoration of the start of the First World War has brought to the fore some of the music of that war, including an unsung gem that could well be the greatest fight song of all time.
(Granted, it’s not exactly unsung, since it’s a song. And the BBC recently praised it for its musical qualities.
But the song, “Pack Up Your Troubles,” has yet to be appreciated for its matchless galvanizing effect as pure language. And not really matchless, either, since it calls for a match.)

Here…

by

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…

by

Grammar: The Movie

photo-mainIt’s got an all-star cast: Steven Pinker of Harvard, John McWhorter of Columbia, Geoffrey Nunberg of Berkeley, Noam Chomsky of MIT, Adele Goldberg of Princeton, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, Brad Hoover of Grammarly, Bryan Garner of A Dictionary of American Usage, and dozens of other marquee attractions, including (way down in the credits) yours truly. I’m talking about Grammar Revolution, a quirky feature-length documentary by David and Elizabeth O’Brien, which is intended—I think—to wake …

by

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

by

The Long Game

20524

Anthony Trollope

I just turned in to the publisher the final version of a book, and have now started on this post. Not exactly a Trollope move, but it’ll have to do. (“Every day for years, Trollope reported in his ‘Autobiography,’ he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next…