Archives for 2013

Word of the Day: simple

Word of the Day: simple Simple Simon met a pieman, Going to the fair; Says Simple Simon to the pieman, Let me taste your ware. Says the pieman to Simple Simon, Show me first your penny; Says Simple Simon to the pieman, Indeed I have not any. Simon’s a simpleton: what does that mean? He can add and subtract, but can’t do long division? Off to the American college goes he! Finding the word’s immediate origin is simple enough: French simple, from Latin simplex (Ital … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Importantly

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Importantly Adverbs are funny critters. They can modify verbs; they get their name from that habit. They can modify adjectives. They can modify adverbs. They can even stand in for a whole idea, as if they were one-word clauses. Here are a few examples: Mr. Jones was confident of his reelection. Fortunately, he was wrong. The rain came down in sheets for ten hours straight. Thankfully, the wind was calm, and that limited the damage. Luckily, … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: bonnie

Word of the Day: bonnie When I was a boy I had a hard time distinguishing the words in songs. So this is how I heard the old sea-chanty: My body lies over the ocean, My body lies over the sea, My body lies over the ocean, O bring back my body to me!What did I know about girls, back then? Well, of course the word I was mishearing is bonnie, as in a bonnie lass.Most people would say that bonnie is a Scottish word, as in Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart heir … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: eye

Word of the Day: eye. You go to an oculist to see about your eyes. Are the words related? They don’t seem to be, at first glance.  We get oculist from Latin oculus, eye, and it’s hard to see how you get from there to here. But wait, look again! Latin oculus is trying to fool us with its diminutive suffix –ulus.  That’s a common suffix in Latin: Romulus Augustulus was the last Roman emperor, a mere lad when the German warlord Odoacer came with his army and said, “Young fellow, you’d … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Bury the Thesaurus

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Bury the Thesaurus Sometimes my college freshmen tell me that they use a thesaurus to find synonyms, so that they don’t have to use the same word all the time. Using the same word, they’ve been told, is repetitive, and repetition is bad. Well, that’s complete nonsense. I’ll turn to repetition in later lessons. For now, I imagine Jesus saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn are going to be h … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: fruit

Word of the Day: fruit. There’s a modern Bible translation that afflicts Catholics every Sunday for their sins, while giving Satan and his minions time to snooze. Here is one of its renderings I find almost comically bad: “And he sent his servants to them, to gather the produce of the land.” How did that flat business word get in there? As if Jesus should say, “By their produce you shall know them,” evidently giving to all mankind the right criterion for judging a supermarket. It is … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Indefinite You

 Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Indefinite You You’d never believe how much time I spend with my college freshmen, unteaching them what they’ve been taught in high school. For instance, they tell me that you should never use the pronoun you in an indefinite sense, meaning someone or one. If you do, you’re a stylistic redneck. “One must lift the tip of one’s nose to the cup, just so,” says Monsieur L'Hauteur, removing his pince-nez for the purpose, “and flare one … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: wax

Word of the Day: wax. The verb wax, meaning to grow, has only a few surviving uses in English. The moon waxes and wanes. And people wax … some adjective, usually describing their gestures or their speech. Note: adjective, not adverb. It’s often misused. If John is waxing eloquently, maybe he is reciting the Gettysburg Address while polishing his Camaro. If Mary is waxing poetically, maybe she is reciting Hamlet’s soliloquies while polishing the coffee table. That is, she’s waxing the … [Read more...]