Word of the Day: whore

The Word of the Day: whore. It may please some of my readers to learn that the word whore and the name Cher are etymologically related.  But how? The first thing we need to clear out of the way is that w at the beginning of whore.  It doesn’t belong there. It’s orthographic kudzu. It’s linguistic wisteria.  It’s a parasite. People in the late Middle Ages no longer pronounced the w in words like who and whose, so they ended up putting it in print where it had never been before, to be … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Abused

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Abused The Passive Voice is abused when the agent of the verb is not general and is indeed of consequence, but the writer wishes to obfuscate. Bureaucrats and politicians abuse the passive all the time, to hide responsibility. That is not surprising, since bureaucrats and politicians abuse the Constitution, abuse their immunity from civil suits, abuse the media, abuse communication with their constituents, and abuse the sausage-grinding … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Badly

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Badly The Passive Voice is used badly when the writer tucks the real item of interest into a prepositional phrase, obscuring the agent of the verb and deflecting the emphasis. Consider these sentences: The slider was hammered by Colavito into the left field bleachers. Colavito hammered the slider into the left field bleachers. The second places the emphasis on Colavito, the subject of the sentence and the … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: seethe

Word of the Day: seethe. It’s a good old Anglo Saxon word, but it did not mean to grow angry, scowling, waiting the chance to strike. It meant, simply, to boil. Why didn’t the Anglo Saxons say boil if they meant boil? Or berl, if they were from Brooklyn-on-the-Thames? Or bo’ll, if they were from Southwark? They hadn’t been invaded by the French, that’s why. I suppose that English stewards cooking (a French word) soup (a French word) for their dukes (a French word) would boil it – see … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Well

 Grammar Lesson of the Day: Passive Voice, Used Well The passive voice is like any tool. You can use it well, you can use it badly, and you can abuse it right out. If I use a garden hose with a nozzle to spray water on my flowers, that’s nice. If I turn the nozzle on jet-stream and churn up the dirt underneath them, that’s bad. And if I take the hose and run over it with my car back and forth, in a fit of pique – angered by the local Gardening Society – that would be abuse. … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: went

The Word of the Day: went. Why do we say, “John goes to the pawn shop today,” but “John went to the pawn shop yesterday?” Where does that come from? German doesn’t have it. In the Krautic tongue, people say ich gehe, I go, and ich ginge, I went. The past ginge is in the same corral with the present gehe. So what happened to us?Our Old English verb gan, to go, to walk, had two past tenses, depending on where you were and what century it was. One was based on a completely different … [Read more...]

Math Lesson of the Day: Quick Averages

Math Lesson of the Day: Quick Averages When I was a kid, my teachers spent the first two or three weeks of every school year complaining that I didn't “show my work” when I was doing math. The problem, most of the time, was that I didn't have any work to show. I looked at the problem and knew the answer.The rest of the time, the problem was that I did “work,” but it was either the work of ordinary reason, or the work of a quick way to solve the problem that would take longer to e … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: thank

Word of the Day: thank Our word today sounds like think, and that’s appropriate, because the words are related. We move from a verb that means “to seem, to appear,” as in German duenken, to the causative verb “to make an image appear to oneself,” in one’s own mind, as in think (Anglo Saxon thyncan, German denken), to a verb meaning “to think good thoughts about someone else,” a causative on top of a causative: Anglo Saxon thancian, German danken, Swedish tak, English thank.I’m … [Read more...]