Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Phrasal Possessive

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Phrasal Possessive   We in English have an odd and useful tool: a possessive that can be appended to an entire phrase, rather than to just one word. Look at the following:   Il figlio del re d’Inghilterra (Italian) Le fils du roi d’Angleterre (French) Der Sohn des Koeniges von England (German)   In each case, the possessive applies to the noun alone. In the Romance languages, it must be marked by a prepositional phrase: The … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: brethren

  Word of the Day: brethren.   I like the word brethren. Its specialized use is to denote members of a solemn or sacred brotherhood, sometimes including women too. Nobody would now say, “I have three sisters and two brethren,” unless he was telling a joke; he’s a member of an order of priests, and there are three nuns next door. Brothers will do. But sometimes the older word is more powerful: “Brethren, let us now consider the matter before us.” How did it get to be … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: methinks

Word of the Day: methinks   “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, watching a play wherein a woman professes, in the most fulsome terms, utter devotion to her husband the king, two minutes before the king’s brother will poison him by pouring poison into his ear, and four minutes before that devoted woman will marry her brother-in-law. Oops! What does the word mean? And why is it methinks? I imagine a Huron queen watching the same play, and … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Deponent Verbs

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Deponent Verbs   Deponent verbs are the bane of the young Latin student’s existence. They take the form of the passive voice, but they have active meaning. And they are darned common: loquor, I speak; confiteor, I confess; morior, I die. Many of them are transitive verbs, and so they can take an object where the “look” of the verb wouldn’t suggest any. Why would the Romans have such a ridiculous thing? Many of these verbs, though, really do occupy a … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: castle

Word of the Day: castle   “A man's home is his castle!” shouts the fat bus driver Ralph Kramden, trying to bully his wife Alice to get his way. “And in a castle there's one king! And I'm the king!” And he cocks his head and jabs his finger at her. “I'm the king! And you – you are a peasant! I'm the king!”   To which Alice, utterly unimpressed, replies, “Aaaaah, shaaaadap!” And Ralph fumes with frustration. For all his bluster, he does love Alice, and he … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: new

Word of the Day: new   “There is nothing new under the sun,” said the Preacher. “Get your New and Improved Crest Toothpaste, with stannous fluoride,” said the Huckster.   I like to point out to my students, when we're studying ancient Rome, that those great architects of government had a nice term for revolution: res nova, a new thing. To call your political opponent an innovator was worse than to cast a shadow upon his motives. It was to condemn him outright. So … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: buxom

Word of the Day: buxom.   In the Beetle Bailey comic strip, the old addled General Halftrack has a dumb blonde secretary with really dangerous curves. Her name, of course, is Miss Buxley. Mort Walker was punning on the word buxom, which is now used only to describe a woman – and not every woman, either! It wasn’t always so. In Paradise Lost, Milton describes Satan as flying through the buxom air. What could he have meant? We need to return to the Old English: bugsam. The second … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: genitive of time

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Genitive of Time   What part of speech is the first word of the following sentence?   Mornings I walk over to the church for early Mass, then I have breakfast at The Gentleman Farmer.   Almost everybody would say, “Noun!” And you could make a case for it. You could say, “It’s short for in-the-morning, and ‘morning’ is a noun.” Well, ‘morning’ is a noun, but ‘mornings’ here isn’t. It answers the question, … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: twelve

Word of the Day: twelve   One of the sad losses as Western man moved from liturgical time to secular time has been the festal season. We have shopping periods, with no special beginning or end, stretching farther and farther out away from Christmas Day or Easter, losing all connection to the feast, and bringing in their wake not festivity but weariness and ennui.   A far cry from the twelve days of Christmas celebrated in western Europe, from the day of the Nativity to the … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: yield

Word of the Day: yield   I’m quite aware that this word, in Massachusetts and New York, means “ .” Interstates aside, though, it’s a nice word. It has come to mean to give way, as when a corrupt Claude Rains is trying to shout down Jimmy Stewart in the halls of Congress: “Will the gentleman yield!” “No, I w-won’t yield!” And the hearts of Boy Scouts leap. Its original meaning, though, suggests generosity, bounty, fruitfulness. Recipes in women’s magazines used to … [Read more...]