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...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: but

Grammar Lesson of the Day: But. “Never begin a sentence with but.”  So my college freshmen tell me.  They also tell me that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat (everybody knew it was round), that women in the Middle Ages were no better than cattle (they had more freedom than they would enjoy until the twentieth century), that people in the Middle Ages were morose and grim (they were boisterous partiers who loved color), that they were morbidly fascinated with demons … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: what

 Word of the Day: what. I like how hillbillies pronounce this relative pronoun: hwut. It’s truest to the spelling and the history of the word. Wally Cleaver pronounced it that way, too. He said hwen and hwere and hwy? A well-brought-up lad he was. The monks who introduced the Roman alphabet into England, to evangelize the pagan Saxons and teach some of them to read, were faced with an obvious problem. How do we use these Roman letters to signify sounds and s … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: And

Grammar Lesson of the Day: And “Never begin a sentence with and,” my college freshmen have been told. This is another one of those rules that somebody must have dreamed up in a rage of vengeance: a schoolmaster named Ichabod, disappointed in love, glowering down on his young charges, and thinking, “Yes, I shall make their lives miserable!”I am opening my Bible to the New Testament, at random. I read: “And he said unto his disciples, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall ea … [Read more...]