Category: Spelling

The Spell of the Holidays

Posted on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The year-end holidays are an alternate reality. People dress differently, act differently … and even talk differently. This time of year has its own vocabulary, and some of these old-fashioned words have eccentric spellings. So here is our holiday spelling quiz. You'll find the answers directly below. 1. ___ the night before Christmas. A) T'was …

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Exchanging English Over the Pond: U.S. and U.K. Part I

Posted on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The U.S. and the U.K. are connected in many meaningful ways, perhaps most notably by a common language. At the same time, we each have variances that make our expressions distinctive, as well as interesting to learn and understand. Stateside, it’s also good for us to recognize U.K. style as that being used in countries …

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Don’t Put It in Writing

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Today we’ll discuss a word and a phrase, either of which would sound fine in a casual exchange but could attract unwanted attention if used in formal writing. Ahold  Although few people would notice anything amiss in a sentence like I wish I could get ahold of a good grammar book, many editors would change …

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Clearing the Air of Errors in English

Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The adage is true when it comes to our language: Old habits really are hard to break. Notwithstanding classroom instruction, lifelong reminders, correction from others, and even GrammarBook newsletters, certain misuses of English survive like drug-resistant viruses. Yet we grammarians and linguists march on. After all, even the Roman Empire had to give way—eventually. As …

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Play It Again, Sam

Posted on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, at 11:00 pm

It has been a while since our last pronunciation column, so here's another group of familiar words whose traditional pronunciations may surprise you. (Note: capital letters denote a stressed syllable.) Antarctica  Like the elusive first r in February, the first c in this word is often carelessly dropped: it's ant-ARC-tica, not ant-AR-tica. Err  Since to err is to make an error, …

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Year-End Quiz 2018

Posted on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Another year of grammatical exploration has concluded with linguistic miles behind us. What we’ve learned and discussed with you along the way has been illuminating, and we are grateful for the thought and insight it has inspired. We hope you gathered even more sharpened tools for communicating in concise and eloquent English. A year-end review …

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When Jumble Fumbles

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2018, at 11:00 pm

I may be a word nerd, but I don’t go in for word games. I’ve never been a Scrabble guy and crossword puzzles leave me cold. But I have a weakness for Jumble, a game that since the 1950s has been a daily feature in newspapers from coast to coast. When I started playing it, …

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Figuring Out the Trick Behind [sic]

Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at 11:00 pm

We’ve all seen it at some point when reading: a three-letter package in brackets. It follows text to draw attention to or make a point about it. We’re talking about [sic]. What is it—and when do we accurately use it? Fowler’s Modern English Usage explains that sic is Latin for “so, thus.” It is a complete word and …

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The Language of Sports

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at 11:00 pm

“I truly don’t know the language,” said the late Sparky Anderson, a Hall of Fame baseball manager, in 1993. At least he had the gumption to admit it. It’s not that they’re lazy—athletes work their tails off. And it’s not that they’re stupid—you try memorizing a football playbook. It’s just that their brand of eloquence is …

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You Lost Me After “Feb”

Posted on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, at 8:30 am

In honor of both our present month as well as the birthday of our late writer Tom Stern, today we repeat his classic pronunciation article first published on February 3, 2016.   Feb-yoo-ary. Febber-ary. Feb-wary. Can't anyone around here say "feb-roo-ary"? It's time to revisit dissimilation, the labored linguistic theory that purports to explain why so …

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Graphic Ignorance

Posted on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, at 10:17 am

TV networks’ graphics departments have long been out of control with their intrusive cluelessness. After 9/11, many cable channels initiated a constant “crawl” of news at the bottom of the screen. The spellbinding stream of words, slow and endless, is perversely distracting. But if you run a news channel, shouldn’t credibility be a front-burner concern? …

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Putting Out the Patrol for Made-Up Words

Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, at 2:15 pm

Estimates of English’s total word count vary, but linguists agree the number ranks near the top of the world’s vocabularies. A May GrammarBook newsletter article cited English as having as many as 300,000 distinctly usable words. With so many residents in a vernacular, impostors posing as real words are bound to slip in. They start as mistakes …

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Small Dishes (2017)

Posted on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 10:37 am

Things we’ve been meaning to talk to you about … Breaking news is broken  Remember when a standing ovation meant something? Now performers get them for just showing up. There’s a misguided tendency nowadays to overdo things whose power is in their scarcity. So it is that virtually every day, especially on the cable news …

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Spell Check Overreach

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2017, at 3:59 pm

My spell check has been drinking again. It just told me “déjà vu” should be “deejay.” Everyone who uses Word software probably has some form of spell check. Mine—I call him “SC”—also makes occasionally helpful (but often just surreal) suggestions about grammar and punctuation. To be fair, SC sometimes saves me from my own carelessness. …

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Spell Check

Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at 7:36 pm

An online company’s research department has revealed the top misspelled word in each state, based on search-engine queries. In Iowa and Kentucky the chief troublemaker is maintenance. Arkansas and Utah apparently can’t spell leprechaun—but why would Arkansas and Utah want to? For irony aficionados: drought-plagued California’s top misspelled word is desert. Florida struggles with tomorrow …

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