Spelling, grammar, definitions, translations and anything else having to do with linguistics.

Posts in the Language category
What Resting on Your Laurels Really Means - 27 Sep 2013

During Secret of the Wings they used the phrase, “resting on your laurels.” My 8-year-old son asked what it meant, guessing it meant sitting on your butt. I laughed because he’s obsessed with butts and said no, it meant they were being lazy and enjoying themselves without working. My explanation satisfied him, but I remained […]

Witness the Process of Writing - 26 Feb 2009

Etherpad is an online collaborative editor that tracks every keystroke you type. Paul Graham wrote an essay using Etherpad, and now you can see him writing it. It’s as if you’re looking over his shoulder, giving you a glimpse into his writing process. (Hint: it includes liberal use of the backspace) The playback feature isn’t […]

What Grade Level Do You Write At? - 11 Feb 2009

The Flesch Kincaid Readability Test measures two aspects of a document – the reading ease and grade level. Reading ease is measured from 0 to 100, 0 being incomprehensible and 100 being easily understandable by an average 11 year-old student. The reading level represents the number of years of education needed to understand the text. […]

Oo De Lally - 05 Feb 2009

One of my favorite cartoon movies is Disney’s Robin Hood. After seeing it several times with my kids I started using the phrase, “Oo de lally” to express surprise or delight and it stuck. My 4 year-old and 2 year-old adopted the phrase too and it makes me laugh every time I hear them say […]

Phrases to Avoid in Your Writing - 24 Nov 2008

Writing can be dangerous. You think it’s just a cute phrase when it makes you look foolish and irritates your readers. To save you from such ills, Oxford compiled a list of the top 10 most irritating phrases. The BBC contributed with the 20 most hated cliches. A few are specific to the UK, but […]

On the ball - 22 Apr 2008

Common every day phrases often don’t make sense when you step back and consider their literal meaning. For instance, why does the phrase “on the ball” mean to be on top of things? I enjoy learning the etymology of common words or phrases but in some cases it’s taken me years to think about the […]

Do you speak Yankee or Dixie? - 17 Mar 2008

This quiz about how you say common English words made the rounds via email the other day. The only problem is I’ve changed how I pronounce certain words. For instance, I used to say route as root. I realized that didn’t make as much sense as saying it so it rhymed with trout, so I […]

Another plural observation - 28 Mar 2007

You have one louse and many lice (if this is true, get one of those combs with tiny teeth that are really close together – lice are unpleasant), one mouse and many mice. However, it’s one house and many houses, one spouse and many spouses and one grouse but many grouses. I feel for those […]

Common grammar questions - 23 Mar 2007

Dr. Grammar has answered dozens of grammar questions and is an excellent resource to answer a question about proper grammar.

Headline analyzer - 12 Jan 2007

The Headline Analyzer rates the quality of a headline (by their own standards based on emotional marketing value) from 0% to 100%. 100% means it is a perfect headline. Here’s how I did on some recent posts. Post title EMV Score Headline Analyzer 0% Fun additions to your office 20% Stargazing 365 days a year […]

Why does K mean 1,000? - 21 Nov 2006

We were driving somewhere a few days ago and my wife asked why K means 1,000. I said I didn’t know and she said I should research it on my blog. So, here I am, researching it on my blog. I also wondered why K stands for a strikeout in baseball. The explanation is quite […]

Bald-faced or bold-faced? - 17 Nov 2006

Is the correct term bald or bold? Apart from that statement, I’ve never heard anyone say someone has a bald face. Then again, I’ve never actually heard of anyone describe a person’s face as bold either. According to answers.com, both terms are correct. Google has 1,170,000 results for bold-faced and 490,000 for bald-faced, making bold-faced […]

Vice versa - 17 Oct 2006

You may have had the same experience as I when hearing people say vice versa. Some pronounce it as vice (rhyming with rice) verse-ah, while others say vice-ah verse-ah. I decided to find the correct pronunciation (if there is one) and as is often the case, they’re both considered correct. The wikipedia entry states that […]

How to write in plain English - 14 Aug 2006

I’m always interested in improving my writing so when I saw the Plain English Guide, my curiosity was piqued. I aim to write in plain English, but it can be hard. Below are their eight steps to write in plain English. Keep your sentences short Prefer active verbs Use ‘you’ and ‘we’ Choose words appropriate […]

dried fruit - 26 May 2006

I only recently learned that prunes are in fact dried plums. I guess I never really thought much about where prunes came from. Most people know that raisins are dried grapes and identifying the origin of dried apricots is not all that challenging. However, it seems odd that some fruits have a specific name for […]

seeing a man about a horse - 19 Jul 2005

When I was living in Spain, I visited a castle with some friends. There were six of us, four guys and two girls, and we split up for a while. Another guy and I met up with the two girls and one of the other guys was missing. We asked where he was and one […]

plurality explored - 17 Jun 2005

I have noticed a distinct oddity having to do with plurality in the English language. If you say you have 2 miles to go, I would propose we all agree that miles should be plural. If you have 1 mile to go, that’s singular, which again, I think we’d all agree on. The confusion begins […]

words that aren’t in the dictionary - 01 Jun 2005

Here are 10 words that aren’t in the dictionary, but may be in the future. I like ginormous, snirt and lingweenie (although I had to look up the definition of neologisms). I wonder how many of the new words will make it into common usage.

answers - 09 Feb 2005

You may not have noticed, but Google no longer links to dictionary.com for their definition link on the top right of the results page. They now use Answers.com and after using them myself for a few days, I understand why. Before, when I wanted a definition I used Dictionary.com or MerriamWebster.com, but Answers.com combines information […]

reading jumbled letters - 27 Jan 2005

At lunch today someone brought up a meme that I had heard of before, but I began to wonder about its validity. The general idea is that people can read words with jumbled letters as long as the first and last letter are in the correct order. The following paragraph is used as an example. […]

spelling test - 02 Sep 2004

Here’s a spelling test of commonly misspelled words for you to test your spelling prowess. I got 14/15 right, missing #11. (via fanteja)

opprobrious phrases - 20 Aug 2004

Maybe I was in a foul mood. Maybe I like to complain. Maybe I’m a bitter man who likes to use words I’ve never heard of before but found in the thesaurus. Whatever the reason, I’m going to give you a glimpse into my infrequent yet sometimes cynical thoughts. Below are three phrases and my […]

10 mistakes writers don’t see - 05 May 2004

The top 10 mistakes writers don’t see (but can easily fix when they do) is meant primarily for authors of books, however, if you add up a person’s blog entries you’d probably have enough (or in some cases much more) for a novel. Plus, it’s useful to know the common pitfalls of writing so you […]

100 most often mispronounced words - 21 Mar 2004

YourDictionary.com compiled a list of the 100 most often mispronounced words. I expected them to be things liked ‘acrossed’ and ‘nucular’ but there were a few that I didn’t realize I said wrong, like ‘Klu Klux Klan’ (it should be Ku Klux Klan) and ‘barbituate’ (it should be barbiturate) and lambast (it’s supposed to rhyme […]

yankee or dixie - 23 Feb 2004

I usually get strange looks when I say the word “aunt” (my pronunciation rhymes with gaunt) so the Yankee Dixie quiz caught my attention. When I moved out west there were lots of words that I noticed being used or said differently, and the quiz contains nearly all of them. A few that are missing […]

words of 2003 - 30 Dec 2003

With the end of the year around the corner it’s no surprise to see a slew of best of lists for 2003, but I didn’t expect to see a top ten lists of words for the year. Blog is the #2 word, which is kind of cool, but not nearly as cool as the amusing […]

definition but not the word - 18 Nov 2003

I’ve been trying to find the word for a person who thinks they’re always sick when they’re perfectly healthy (often used as a way to get attention). However there aren’t many resources to find a word based on the definition. If I hear or read a word, I can look it up in the dictionary […]

inflammable - 09 Oct 2003

Most of you already know this, but the word of the day on the 7th was inflammable, which means flammable, and they explained how that came to be. After all, insane means not sane, invalid means not valid, why can’t inflammable mean not flammable? It’s like someone saying they could care less. If you could […]

correct use of myriad - 25 Jul 2003

Meredith wrote about seeing the word myriad used incorrectly by people who should know better. I have used it in two posts, but I was happy to find I used it correctly. The site she linked to, webgrammar.com, doesn’t have much in the way of content, but there are a myriad of great links.

useful etymology sites - 21 Jul 2003

The Word Detective (via) answers specific questions about the origin of words and the Online Etymology Dictionary provides the origin of everyday words. According to the dictionary, crap doesn’t come from Thomas Crapper, despite folk etymology insistence.

exclamation mark or point? - 01 Jul 2003

As many of you know I use the exclamation mark sparingly and even wrote an essay on the subject to encourage others to do the same, but I’ve made a discovery. I happened upon a list of punctuation marks in the dictionary and instead of ‘exclamation mark’ it had ‘exclamation point.’ Baffling, I know. A […]

no more emoticons - 16 Jun 2003

This article about emoticons is humorous, but makes a valid point. Letters have been written without emoticons for centuries. Why do we need them now? I used to rationalize that the missing inflection of the voice could cause humor or sarcasm to be misinterpreted, but that’s been the case with the written word all along. […]

fun with words - 12 Apr 2003

The Internet Anagram Server can provide hours of amusement. Find out what words exist in your name, your blog title or any number of other phrases. Also, the folks at wordsmith are trying to determine if the Jabberwocky poem by Lewis Carroll, is one big anagram. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to tell […]

grammar critics - 09 Apr 2003

In Going nuclear over nucular, Andy Lamey sticks up for George W. Bush’s pronunciation, but not his policies. I have been guilty of considering myself superior because I noticed someone’s grammatical mistake, but Lamey makes a good point. Language is evolutionary and those who refuse to change are not necessarily correct. I have resolved to […]

animal grammar - 26 Mar 2003

If a group of crows is a murder, what is it called if you kill one? Come to think of it, why is a group of fish a school, a group of elephants a herd and a bunch of lions a pride? What about a group of people? Unsurprisingly, there is already a web site […]

why does curiosity kill? - 25 Jan 2003

For some reason I was curious about the saying, “curiosity killed the cat.” Is it true? Is there really a cat on record that died because it was curious? Did it lick a light socket or crawl into a microwave? Why did curiosity kill the cat but not the dog, rabbit, mouse or orangutan? I […]

poor grammar ain’t funny - 23 Nov 2002

This site is the #1 search result for funny lists and as a result I get a continual stream of new submissions. I’ve noticed a few common mistakes that could easily be avoided if people understood the correct usage. Here are a few pitfalls to be aware of. They’re is the contraction of they are. […]

obviously - 07 Oct 2002

Have you ever noticed that people will often start a sentence with the word “obviously” or “clearly” when what they’re saying isn’t? I heard someone give the incorrect answer to a question, beginning his response with, “obviously.” I’m aware that no one is perfect, but that just confirms the validity of my suggestion. Make sure […]

a word a day - 01 Oct 2002

A good way to increase your vocabulary is to learn one new word a day. Bill Buckley’s Word of the Day is a quick test of your vocabulary. It’s also a good refresher course in case you’re familiar with the word but don’t know exactly what it means. (Thanks Jacob)

LOL - 23 Jul 2002

Way back when I first starting using the internet for chatting and instant messaging, I often typed LOL when I thought something was funny. It was akin to a smiley face in my mind. If someone told a good joke, I would respond with LOL. Later on in my chatting career I wanted to find […]

preparing for ANL - 11 May 2002

I’ve spent a great deal of time getting ready for the trip to Argonne National Labs. Staying at work until the wee hours of the morning for the past two weeks is wearing me thin. Today things finally began to come together but we still have more to finish tomorrow. I can’t say I’m a […]

exclamations - 07 Jan 2002

I got back to work this morning after having missed a day at work since I was in Denver doing a demo for HP. Since I’ve just moved into the condo I don’t have any internet access, which means I didn’t check my email. I had about 140 messages which took me a while to […]

a treatise on exclamation marks - 17 Oct 2001

I’ve finally put into words how I feel about exclamation marks. Hopefully this will change the world and no one will ever use 16 exclamation marks after a sentence when it isn’t even meant to be exclaimed.