The Many Meanings of “Groom” and “Grooming”

A formerly useful and innocuous set of words–groom, groomed, and grooming—has become a trope used primarily to stir anxiety and dread in parents. People who use words professionally may want to give some thought to taming some of the hysteria that has come to reside around these words. The noun groom Until recently, the noun …Read more

A Lie Is a Lie Is a Lie

A web search for the term “crisis of truth” brings up more than a million hits. Public figures have always lied in order to advance their careers, but in former times, they had the grace to be embarrassed when caught in their lies. Nowadays, political candidates and their lawyers caught up in lies are quick …Read more

Fringes, Fringes Everywhere

Lately I’ve been struck by the frequency with which I encounter the word fringe in the media. I can recall a time when my only associations for the word were with the trim on my mother’s lampshades and the term “fringe benefits.” Fringe entered English as frenge from French with the meaning, “an ornamental bordering, …Read more

Them’s the Breaks

Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order. I was a bit puzzled, considering that the expression is quite common. I was surprised that the out-going British Prime Minister, a classical scholar, graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, would …Read more

Esteem and Ratchet

Esteem An old-movie buff, I recently watched White Heat (1949) for the second time and wanted to know more about the making of it. I found an excellent review, but my inner language nerd puzzled over the use of the word esteem in the following comment: Once Cody lands himself in prison by his own …Read more

Same Phrase, Different Meanings

Recently I read two articles back-to-back in which the phrasal verb to make up was used with two entirely different meanings. That set me thinking about phrasal verbs that have two or more meanings. For starters, to make up is used with at least four different meanings. to compensate for The two systems must determine …Read more

Body Parts as Metaphor

Many of the nouns used to name body parts have corresponding verbs that describe the literal functions performed by the body part in question. A fighter knees his opponent in the ribs. A dog noses through the garbage. An aggressive shopper elbows others out of his way. A musician tongues a note or fingers an …Read more

Falling Prey to Error

在研究文章在日常写作技巧,我stumble upon all kinds of interesting topics and curious examples of usage. One recent search led me to a site dedicated to clinical philosophy, where I found this sentence in an article about the importance of words in the exchange between therapist and patient: Furthermore, we all …Read more

The Name Is not the Person

Words as labels The first principle of semantics is that the word is not the thing. Words are labels for things that exist in the physical world or in our thoughts. The word air is not identical with the substance that we breathe. The word kindness is not the quality we wish more people would …Read more

Calculus Etymology

I did not take calculus in high school. (I barely made it through basic math.) All I know about calculus is that it is a branch of mathematics that involves a certain type of calculation that entails the study of rates of change. The word calculus has an interesting etymology. It’s a diminutive of the …Read more

30 Ways to Say, “You’re Stupid”

I’ve been bingeing on the Shetland mysteries by Ann Cleeves and have finished them all. The novels are set in the Shetland islands to the extreme north of the UK. One of the many enjoyable features is the realistic dialogue, replete with dialect words and British idioms. I encountered several words, some of them insults, …Read more

Critical Race Theory

一个学术术语接收大量的关注这些e days is Critical Race Theory. When a previously specialized term makes its way into the general vocabulary—beg the question, moot, Anglo-Saxon, etc.—misuse runs close behind. Add a hot-button word like race, and the term becomes explosive. Critical Race Theory is a descendant of Critical Theory. Theory …Read more