Category: Vocabulary

Sarcastic vs. Facetious: What’s the Difference?

Posted on Monday, February 22, 2021, at 9:00 am

One of the most entertaining facets of communication can also be one of the most frustrating: That's because people don't always mean exactly what they say. We refer not to lies or falsehoods, but to statements that aren't aimed to be accepted or understood by their literal meaning. For example, if a friend tells you …

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The Diversity of American English Dialects

Posted on Tuesday, December 15, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Americans share a common language, but as in other countries, not all people speak it the same way. The U.S. has its own family of dialects that differ by region within its 3.8 million square miles. People establish a dialect when they live together within set social or geographical boundaries over time. As they use …

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Restoring the Meanings of Misused Words

Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Words give us an array of ways to express what we're thinking or feeling with boldness or nuance. The more we use them in the proper context according to their definitions, the more settled they become in our eloquence. Within American English, some words continue to operate as people wearing another's attire. One can ponder …

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The Dictionary Definition of Racism

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Just as public support for the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests over police violence are moving Americans toward positive social changes, so too do they reveal an inadequacy in how we have defined racism. We've written frequently about how the meanings of words change over time. The prescriptivists among us tend to hold …

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

Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Part I of our discussion of U.S. and Commonwealth English focused on word spellings between the dialects. In Part II, we’ll review variances in vocabulary. Understanding how the U.S. and the U.K. approach the naming of words is a great opportunity to embrace the richness of our shared language. Stateside, we enjoy and appreciate how …

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How Does a Word Become a Word?

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The English language is about 1,400 years old. One of the earliest-known English dictionaries, The Elementarie (1582), contained 8,000 words. As of January 2020, English now includes more than one million words—a figure that differs from words accepted in dictionaries, which can range from 170,000 to 470,000 depending on the source. Even if we discuss …

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Staying Woke* with New Words

Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, at 11:00 pm

English is a language of flux, always moving and shifting with the changes among us as we evolve. Each year, it introduces around 1,000 new words to represent the events, circumstances, and spirit of the day. Today’s cyber-centric existence makes it only easier for those new words to spread and multiply. We thought it would …

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Leaning on the Evolution of Meanings

Posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at 11:00 pm

Words and their meanings change as people and society do. Just as we replaced travel by horse with motorized transit, so have we altered words to serve what we want and need from the era we live in. In some cases, those words have even become the opposites of what they used to signify. At …

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Mixing Miscellany Again

Posted on Tuesday, December 17, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Our study of American English grammar and style sometimes gathers bits too small to feature yet worthy to gather for group exploration. In 2018, we discussed such medleys twice: Exploring Some English Miscellany More Mulling Over Miscellany This year we've continued tracking items of note that we receive from our readers. Let's look at several …

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Declining or Just Changing?

Posted on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 11:00 pm

If you think you know your English, Ammon Shea’s Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation might make you question your most cherished notions. The book has a lot to offer grammar sticklers with open minds, but it will challenge—and enrage—most traditionalists. People who care about language tend to deplore the slovenly habits of their …

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Checking In on Worn-Out Words and Phrases: First Quarter 2019

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, at 11:00 pm

"Nature abhors a vacuum," Aristotle once said, and the same holds true for language. If we detect an empty lexical space because we feel existing words no longer occupy it well, we will look to fill it, often with something that seems or sounds fresh within our current culture and era. For a time, we …

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A Real Feather-Ruffler

Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Up until the late eighteenth century, Brits spoke with an American accent. So says the noted language scholar Patricia T. O’Conner. The “English” accent as we know it didn’t develop until the late 1700s. That’s when British snobs started doing things like dropping r’s, adding and subtracting h’s, saying “pahst” instead of “past,” and “sec-ra-tree” and “mill-a-tree” …

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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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Exploring Some English Miscellany

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2018, at 11:00 pm

American English offers us plenty to consider, discuss, and define. Some items warrant their own full and separate treatment; others gather as grammatical bits to be captured and held up like fireflies in a jar. We’ve collected another group of these linguistic lightning bugs to arrive at more direction for concise and careful writing. Let’s …

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Orwell and Newspeak

Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at 11:00 pm

It’s not just professors and snobs who deplore the decline of English. The great essayist and novelist George Orwell (1903-50) had much to say about the corruption of language—and how it enables tyranny. The warning was clear: a distracted populace with diminished reading, writing, and speaking skills is vulnerable. Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, is …

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