Word of the Day: Christmas I am quite fond of our English word for the birth of the Lord, Christmas. It’s one of a host of old mass-words which provide abundant evidence that our English forefathers measured their seasons by the liturgical year. There’s Christmas, but also Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple, on February 2, the fortieth day after His birth. There’s Lammas, the feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6 (the… Read more

Word of the Day: tree   I have heard for years that Christians adopted for their purposes the Roman Saturnalia, a feast occurring at the winter solstice, for their celebration of the birth of Jesus, or was it the feast that Aurelian instituted, that of the Unconquered Sun? Well, it is nonsense either way. Christians long acknowledged that pagans could come to some measure of the truth, and in the case of the great Platonists, the truths they saw might… Read more

Grammar Lesson: Subject   Most of my college students cannot identify the subject of a sentence. They’re bright kids, but they’ve never been taught it. Italians are bright people, too, but try explaining to one what a shortstop is. Madonna mia!   The only ones who can identify the subject are kids who have studied Latin or Greek, or kids who were taught at home (and there’s a lot of overlap). You have to know what the subject is in… Read more

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… Read more

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… Read more

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… Read more

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… Read more

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…. Read more

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… Read more

  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… Read more

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