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… Read more

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… Read more

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Voice   My students have been taught that a verb is in the passive voice whenever a form of the verb to be appears. They have also been taught that it is never to be used. They are wrong on both counts. I’ll discuss the use of the passive voice later. For now, let’s define what we mean by voice. Consider these three sentences:   Superman was stopped by Lex Luthor and a very large… Read more

Announcing, for your intellectual exercise, the First Annual Obamara Limerick Contest.  Here’s my entry.  The reasoning behind it is this: to skewer the colossal silliness of the Obamalators, those hapless secular people who just had to believe in somebody, anybody, and who therefore said that the Lord Obama would change the history of the world, would mark a transformation in the universe, would settle the levels of the oceans (well, Lord Obama himself said that), would be more significant than… Read more

  Word of the Day: tidings.        “Time and tide wait no man,” says the old proverb.  It’s a nice alliterative pair, those two, and we may be led to think that the words are related, since the tide notoriously comes in on time.  But they aren’t. The word time comes into English through French, after the Norman invasion in 1066, when William the Conqueror unloaded into English harbors whole boatloads of surplus words, and instead of throwing them… Read more

  Grammar Lesson of the Day: Infinitives.   “Her five year mission,” cut to three by NBC, “to seek out new civilizations, to boldly split infinitives where no man has split them before!” The reason why grammatical sticklers don’t like split infinitives is that the infinitive is really one word – so it’s like inserting a word into the middle of a word, which classical poets occasionally did for special effects. That was called tmesis: It simply won’t please us… Read more

Word of the Day: worry.   Imagine somebody in the grip of worry. She wrings her hands. She wrinkles her brows. She is all wrapped up in a bad situation. Something’s wrong, she knows it. The English wr- words almost all have to do with twisting. That is the case too with words that we don’t immediately associate with twisting, like worry and wrath. But the old physical meaning of worry reveals the underlying idea. In C. S. Lewis’ That… Read more

Word of the Day: forgo   The word is commonly but inaccurately spelled forego, but those are really two separate and unrelated verbs. The fore in forego means first or before, so that a foregone conclusion is a conclusion that comes before any argument or declaration, since none is necessary. That prefix fore is related to all kinds of words in English that have to do with priority in time or position. The ones beginning with f come from the… Read more

Writing over at Crisis Magazine: So, then, what does Prohibition teach us? That amendment inserted into the Constitution a law that neither protected fundamental rights nor adjusted the mechanics of governance. It was a radical break from tradition. It is crucial to understand this. It took a juridical break from tradition to obliterate the customs, the lived traditions, of the American people and their forebears. Granted, Prohibition addressed problems that certainly needed solving. Prohibition was sold, in large part, as… Read more

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Foreign Plurals There are four groups of nouns from Latin and Greek that we’ve borrowed into English directly, using both singular and plural forms.  These aren’t too hard to remember, if we focus on the singular rather than on the plural: Greek neuter singular nouns ending in –on (-ion); plural in –a (-ia): one phenomenon, two phenomena one criterion, two criteria But newly coined words with Greek singular forms simply add the usual s for… Read more

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