The Word Guy from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:54:29 -0700 The Word Guy from Creators Syndicate 301ebec70cd991eabd9a57eccfd796b6 A Glimpse Into the Kitchen of Language for 10/14/2020 Wed, 14 Oct 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>We often create words in the same way we prepare delicious foods: We slice them, dice them, season them, shake them and bake them. Voila!</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">Can you determine the method used to form the words in each set:</span></p> <p>1) piano, aps, abs, sophs.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 14, 2020</p> 248f64a10a6165ca91a52851f03c5ed0 Studying History on Its Own Terms for 10/07/2020 Wed, 07 Oct 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>"The British are coming! The British are coming!" Ah, how Paul Revere's historic call to arms still echoes in the ears of all patriotic Americans!</p> <p>There's only one small problem: Paul Revere probably never uttered those words. Because Americans were themselves British, they didn't call the soldiers of their own nation "the British." <span class="column--highlighted-text">Historians believe Revere actually cried, "The Regulars are coming!" which sounds more like the exclamation of a waitress in a neighborhood diner.</span></p> <p>Similarly, many of the words and phrases used by our nation's founders provide clues about their motivations, fears and aspirations.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 07, 2020</p> f1ac40ab328420c637aade6aeeb42e22 Give These Sentences a CAT Scan for 09/30/2020 Wed, 30 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Cats have nine lives, and this quiz on verb use has nine questions. Choose the correct verbs and you'll avoid a grammatical "cat"astrophe:</p> <p>1. The cat (use, used) to roam at night.</p> <p>2. Did the cat (use, used) to roam at night?<p>Updated: Wed Sep 30, 2020</p> 12f991e963c8821a0bf961ed50dcd122 'Cisgender' Has Roots in Latin, Biochemistry for 09/23/2020 Wed, 23 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Several readers have asked me about the meaning, origin and use of "cisgender," an adjective for a person who identifies with the gender they had at birth.</p> <p>"Cisgender," pronounced "sis-GEN-duhr," means the opposite of "transgender." While the Latin "trans" means "on the other side of," the Latin "cis" means "on this side of." Thus, transgender people cross over "to the other side" of their birth gender, and cisgender people stay "on this side" of their birth gender.<p>Updated: Wed Sep 23, 2020</p> 1ec8daca510142881b276689d1687eed A Canny Question Proves Uncanny for 09/16/2020 Wed, 16 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I had just been thinking about the odd words "canny" and "uncanny" when an email from a friend arrived asking, "How are the words 'canny' and 'uncanny' related?"</p> <p>Now, that's uncanny.</p> <p>If you're a canny connoisseur of language (and if you're reading this column, you undoubtedly are), you know that "canny" means shrewd, prudent, as in "a canny investor" or "a canny observer."<p>Updated: Wed Sep 16, 2020</p> fa9924be86656e3c8bfc127b3fb1226b 'Ghost Words' Still Haunt Our Language for 09/09/2020 Wed, 09 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>We throw our "suitcases" and other "luggage" into the "trunks" of our cars. But those "suitcases" probably don't contain suits. We've forgotten that "luggage" is a fancy word for something we have to "lug" and that cars once had actual trunks lashed to their rear bumpers.</p> <p>As technology advances, language often lags. In fact, many commonly used terms are anachronistic "ghost words" whose original associations are now almost forgotten.<p>Updated: Wed Sep 09, 2020</p> 8caeb45e290517ea12ae27cda3b8bebb From Prison to Purge: The Linguistic Origins of 'Cancel Culture' for 09/02/2020 Wed, 02 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>The term "cancel culture" has been batted around like a volleyball during the past few weeks. It refers, of course, to the practice of discrediting, boycotting or shunning someone, whether it's a classmate or a public figure, for a perceived offense.</p> <p>The fierce power of the phrase is deeply rooted in the origins of "cancel," a verb that began with the Latin "carcer" (prison), the same root that gives us "incarcerate." Because jail cells sometimes have crossed bars, a Latin derivative of "carcer" evolved to "cancellus," meaning "grating, lattice." Soon, the verb "cancellare" emerged, meaning "to make something like a lattice."</p> <p>Picking up on this "crisscross" meaning, Old French adopted "cancellare" as "canceler," which meant "to deface something written by marking it with crossed lines." During the 1300s, English absorbed "canceler" as "cancel" and expanded its meaning to a general sense of "remove."<p>Updated: Wed Sep 02, 2020</p> 6e29accf2cd1c55cb51f2f4457129cd4 And Now a Few Words From Our Sponsor for 08/26/2020 Wed, 26 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>"God sees everything," says George Wilson, the disconsolate husband in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby." God may not see everything, but He sure sees plenty of ways to sneak his name into our words.</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">In fact, "god" lies at the heart of the word "giddy." Granted, we might not see God as all that giddy a guy. We're not likely to picture Him jumping up and down, excitedly shrieking: "I did it! I did it! I made a solar system!"</span><p>Updated: Wed Aug 26, 2020</p> 245185214fe7885b53bf032d432c6fd1 Links to Slavery and Racism Taint Many Terms for 08/19/2020 Wed, 19 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>In the wake of George Floyd's death and the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement, words and phrases associated with racism and slavery have been toppling faster than Confederate statues.</p> <p>Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has ordered the deletion of the phrase "and Providence Plantations" from the official name of her state. New Jersey lawmakers have voted to call county elected officials "commissioners" instead of "freeholders," a term dating to a time when only white men could own land.</p> <p>A Massachusetts appeals court has stopped using "grandfathering" to refer to the granting of preexisting exemptions, because it's linked to the nefarious grandfather clause, a legal subterfuge that once prevented Blacks from voting.<p>Updated: Wed Aug 19, 2020</p> e2ffb18354edfafc5f9912549c18fbbe And Now for Some Literary 'Critter'cism for 08/12/2020 Wed, 12 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Edith Frankel of Hannawa Falls, New York, sent me this sentence from Science News: "An array of critters, not just the iconic polar bear, make their homes in and on the sea ice." Edith asks, "Is 'critter' now an acceptable substitute for 'creature'?"</p> <p>(And, yes, I know the collective noun "array" sounds like a singular noun, but the writer is thinking of that array as individual critters, so "make their homes" is correct.)</p> <p>Now back to those critters. ... I think I first heard "critter" in the 1950s while watching Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett" series on TV. Davy, played by Texas-born Fess Parker, must have said something in his Southern drawl about "grinning down 'bars' (bears) and other critters."<p>Updated: Wed Aug 12, 2020</p> 3e96d4b94307d365dfeaafa36eadb3d6 This Question Comes Up 'Biannually' for 08/05/2020 Wed, 05 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Q: I was taught that a biannual event occurred every other year. Now it seems "biannual" is being used to mean "occurring twice a year." What gives? &#8212; Andrea Mansfield, Trenton, New Jersey.</p> <p>A: "What gives?" I haven't heard that expression for a while. It's an Americanism that became popular after appearing in the musical "Pal Joey" in 1940. Some say it derives from the German/Yiddish phrase "Was gibt's?" ("What's happening?").</p> <p>As for "biannual," heaven help us! During the past 150 years, "biannual" has developed two different meanings: "occurring every two years" and "occurring twice a year." By contrast, the very similar word "biennial" has only one meaning: "occurring every two years" or "lasting for two years," as in, "biennial flowers."<p>Updated: Wed Aug 05, 2020</p> 3be935bc1550011ab3a92f428d5e3b8d Do Brainstorms Cause Thunder and Enlightening? for 07/29/2020 Wed, 29 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>We've all been there. You and your colleagues are brainstorming during a Zoom session, shouting out any idea that comes into your heads, no matter how absurd it might be. And then, after this exhilarating session of free-range thinking, you collectively decide to rename your company "Covid."</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">That's brainstorming for you. When it works, we have the wheel, antibiotics and the iPhone. When it fails, we have the Edsel and Betamax.</span></p> <p>The history of the word "brainstorm" is, appropriately enough, zany. When "brainstorm" first appeared during the 1890s, it referred to something decidedly negative: a violent, temporary mental derangement or a serious error of judgment, "a storm in the brain."<p>Updated: Wed Jul 29, 2020</p> c0692042ecfbab6c8902260a600e7371 Are You Woke About 'Woken'? for 07/22/2020 Wed, 22 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: In a story I just read, I found this: "I was woken up bright and early." Is "woken" a word? &#8212; June Leeper, Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania.</p> <p>A: Yes.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 22, 2020</p> a7a47fa014af2c66b2a94de0ed05bcde Heading for the 'High' Ground for 07/15/2020 Wed, 15 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Why do we say that people enjoying an opulent, elegant lifestyle are living "high on the hog"?</p> <p>The traditional explanation goes something like this: In Jolly Old England, the most desirable cuts of pork, which came from the upper parts of a hog's body, were reserved for aristocrats. (Picture festive medieval banquets &#8212; goblets, gobbling, gluttony, champagne fountains and ice sculptures.) So, ever since then, wealthy people have been described as "living high on the hog."</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">If that derivation were accurate, you'd expect to find this phrase appearing through the centuries in the works of British writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, right? Nope. </span>Surprisingly, "high on the hog" first surfaced not in England during the Middle Ages but in the United States during the early 20th century.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 15, 2020</p> e1c39117b0c25e4e6bd8b100f291e4f4 Latin Abbreviations: The Seven 'Hells' of Rome for 07/08/2020 Wed, 08 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Seven-up!<span class="column--highlighted-text"> Can you spot an error involving the use of the Latin abbreviations "e.g.," "etc.," "et al." or "i.e." in each of these seven sentences?</span></p> <p>1) Committing a mistake when using Latin abbreviations is not one of the seven deadly sins, e.g., pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, wrath.</p> <p>2) Servius Tullius built fortifications on the seven hills of Rome, e.g., the Palatinus, the Capitolinus, the Quirinalis, etc.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 08, 2020</p> 6edb82481d6650b4a679ebf3f0d6fb5f History Is a Foible Agreed Upon for 07/01/2020 Wed, 01 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>When, in the course of human events, high school students write American history papers, watch out! <span class="column--highlighted-text">Teachers have sent me these delightful bloopers and typos:</span></p> <p>"It started a quasi-navel war with France." We were belly to belly, and France blinked.</p> <p>"Puritans believed that itch craft was the most conspicuous manifestation of Satan's presence." They saw it as the work of Old Scratch himself.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 01, 2020</p> dfc80e50ca413af079457df151a378c0 Will You 'Cotton' to These Word Origins? for 06/24/2020 Wed, 24 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>"I don't cotton to that idea," a friend said the other day. The idea he wasn't "cottoning to" was my theory that Vice President Mike Pence once played the white-haired "Man from Glad" in TV commercials. After all, have you ever noticed that you never see these two guys together in the same place?</p> <p>My friend's response got me wondering how "cotton to" came to mean "take a liking to." I plucked the answer from Webb Garrison's informative book "Why You Say It" and Michael Quinion's helpful website</p> <p>In days of yore, weavers would often rub the surface of newly woven cotton fabric to give it a visible nap. This process filled the air with fluffy cotton fibers that stuck to the weavers' clothing.<p>Updated: Wed Jun 24, 2020</p> 87cd7acbf5eb66cf923faaea7b03d670 Find What's Weak, and Make a Tweak for 06/17/2020 Wed, 17 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Sentences, like radios, often require fine-tuning. Misplaced modifiers, ambiguous pronoun references and faulty parallelism can create static. How would you tweak each of these sentences to make its signal clear and strong? (One sentence contains no errors.)</p> <p>1. Thousands of contestants, hoping to find wealth, adventure or to gain fame, try out for reality TV shows each year.</p> <p>2. No matter what you think of the cellphone, you can't deny that they're convenient.<p>Updated: Wed Jun 17, 2020</p> 224f7fa95dbdebee6857de10855215c5 'Gregarious' and 'Ruminate' Share Beastly Origins for 06/10/2020 Wed, 10 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Whenever a minister speaks of a congregation as a "flock" &#8212; the last time this happened, by the way, was 1958 &#8212; we discover a clue to the origin of the word "congregation."</p> <p>The Latin noun "grex" meant "herd, flock," and this root (usually changed to "greg") survives in several English words denoting an accumulation or collection.</p> <p>"Congregate," for instance, combines "greg" with the prefix "com-" (with), and thus means "to form a group with others." By contrast, "segregate" combines "greg" and the prefix "se-" (without), and thus means "to form a group without others, to exclude others."<p>Updated: Wed Jun 10, 2020</p> 71d663cf1f71aa2cd82286f05bf97469 When Being 'Correct' Can Lead to a Wreck for 06/03/2020 Wed, 03 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>A newspaper reporter recently wrote that an Edgar Degas exhibit was "up for fewer than 10 days."</p> <p>I don't know much about art, but I know what I dislike &#8212; hypercorrection. The reporter knew that "fewer" should be used with countable items, e.g., "fewer paintings," but he applied this precept where it didn't belong. Because time is considered to be a lump-sum amount, not a collection of countable items, he should have written "less than 10 days."<p>Updated: Wed Jun 03, 2020</p>