Tag Archives: tgif

In the news … March 25


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In this month’s language usage news, we have a high-profile hold-out on the use of the singular “their”; the word okay and its origins; a list of horrid words; a vulgar word finds its way into the OED; a spelling mistake that thwarted a bank heist; bad spelling used for effect in an ad campaign; Donald Trump’s 6th-grade linguistic skills; and a spelling quiz from a fine New York institution. (Warning: explicit vocabulary ahead.) Continue reading

In the news … (Feb 27)


TGIF. Language and usage in the news this month: confessions of a comma queen; the possible death of “uh”; a town torn apart by an apostrophe; the mid-Atlantic language mash-up; some non-translatable idioms; what your pronunciation says about you; and a critique of Wikipedia’s grammar vigilante. Continue reading

In the news … (Feb 6)


Thanks to Ben Finane for the photo of this Park Slope, Brooklyn deli that isn’t going anywhere …

TGIF. Language use and abuse in the news this past month: a discussion about accents prejudice; a typo takes a business down; how to pronounce February; and more …

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Just how are you supposed to pronounce the month we’re in? (That’s February, for those who haven’t caught up yet…) mental_floss has the scoop … Continue reading

In the news … (Aug 22)


MoS2 Template Master

TGIF. In language, grammar and usage news this week: does how we write tell others how smart we are? Do punctuation and grammar matter when we’re flirting digitally? Does the language of a restaurant’s menu tell us how expensive the restaurant is? Plus some spelling challenges presented to U.S. foreign policy reporters; movie titles that make us cringe; and the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks …


How you write can affect how smart others perceive you to be. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “Typing … in the Comic Sans font … could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent. The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”

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“The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon.” So Roy Peter Clark maintains on Poynter.

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The Huffington Post has identified 18 movies whose titles make every grammar geek cringe. It’s mostly a case of missing hyphens (“40 Year-Old Virgin” has a slightly pedophiliac quality to it) and apostrophes (“Two Weeks Notice” cries out for one); but when it comes to Zach Braff’s new movie, he’s

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“Funky or very informal spelling” is the biggest turnoff for both men and women when it comes to digital flirting, according to the results of a digital flirting rules survey done by Omlet, a chat app. …For women, the second biggest turnoff was the lack of punctuation and grammar.” Delaware’s News Journal has the story.

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The Hill has published an article on the spelling challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Is it ISIS or ISIL?

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Does the language of a restaurant’s menu indicate how expensive it is? Dan Jurafsky has found that it does, as reported in the Atlantic. “Fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf)…. Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like deliciousflaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words.” Does that mean I get a bargain when “steak frites” is on the menu?

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In the news … (June 20)

tiny grass

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. Words and language in the news this week include a schoolboy pointing out BMW’s bad grammar; a prime minister’s spelling error and a president’s incorrect pronunciation; the relationship between texting and bad (or good) spelling; and some real Nazis who are also grammar nazis. Continue reading

In the news (May 30)

hotbreakfastWhy punctuation matters (Somewhere in America, Memorial Day, May 26)

TGIF: Language in the news and on the web this week includes a spelling bee tie, a poetic birthday celebration in Siberia; some words that mean the opposite of themselves; some foreign words that are untranslatable; voting words into the dictionary; a very fashionable pronunciation guide; and a war against euphemism and cliche.

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Two boys won this year’s National Scripps Spelling Bee. As CBS News reported, “Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, shared the title after a riveting final-round duel in which they nearly exhausted the 25 designated championship words. After they spelled a dozen words correctly in a row, they both were named champions.”

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To mark the 215th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Pushkin on June 6, one of Russia’s greatest poets, the Siberian city Novosibirsk is going to offer free rides on its underground to anyone who can recite at least two verses from any of his Pushkin’s poems. The BBC reports on this poetic event.

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Here’s one of the reasons I love mental_floss: today it gives us 25 words that are their own opposites – otherwise known as contronyms. “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Confused? Yeah … That’s what contranyms can do. (And even contranym doesn’t know how to spell itself, let alone decide what it means.)

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Do you think adorkable or duckface should be legitimate, dictionary-worthy words? Well, if you feel strongly enough either way, you can have your say. According to a report in The Economist, Collins Dictionary is going to add a word to its dictionary based on votes collected through Twitter.

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Is your inability to pronounce designers’ names making your life a misery? If so, Harper’s Bazaar has come to the rescue, publishing an A-Z cheat sheet to help you tackle Moschino, Hermes, Miu Miu, Lanvin and more. You never need be embarrassed again when getting your fashion lingo on …

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Bored Panda brings us 30 untranslatable words from other languages – with some attractive illustrations by Anjana Iyer. This picture captures the meaning of the Japanese word bakku-shan, for example, in a way that the English language simply can’t.


Anjana Iyer, from Bored Panda

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Ending on a serious note this week, Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker wrote movingly about the need to speak clearly and directly when conveying hard truths. Commenting after the recent California shooting, Gopnik commended the father of one of the victims for doing just this. “The war against euphemism and cliché matters not because we can guarantee that eliminating them will help us speak nothing but the truth but, rather, because eliminating them from our language is an act of courage that helps us get just a little closer to the truth. Clear speech takes courage.”

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In the news (May 2)


The weird word of this week is kakistocracy. Do you live under the regime of a kakistocracy? You might well have done at some point in your life: see below for the definition …

In the news this week: a bad reaction to bad grammar awards; bad spelling in DC; bad English words in Chinese; good punctuation etiquette amongst Harvard’s prefrosh (don’t ask); and some exotic emoticons.

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There’s a bit of a backlash against the Bad Grammar Awards, whose shortlist this year includes offenders such as the UK’s NHS, Tesco and Tristam Hunt; only in their sophomore year, the awards are coming under fire at The Guardian. “Academic linguists have left the rest of us easy prey to nonsense and ashamed of our English when we should be celebrating our extraordinary mastery of a language which really is ours. No matter how we say our words or which words we use, we native speakers form a collective democracy of experts. Unaware of this and every other revelation of modern linguistics, Hodgkinson, Gwynne, Gove and all the other know-nothing know-it-alls happily continue to peddle their sneering, condescending, dismissive, misanthropic, elitist, made-up twaddle.”

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Why is it that some English words are controversial in China? Three writers for the People’s Daily newspaper, who are leading the crusade against “zero translation” and helping fuel the national debate, blame “a lack of pride and confidence in one’s own culture and language, which leads to blindly worshipping anything Western”. The BBC reports.

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According to a report in the Daily Caller, the Board of Elections in Washington DC can’t spell — or perhaps they’re taking a “Liberterian” approach to language. Caleb Brown, director of multimedia at the Cato Institute, noticed the spelling error on a voter registration form in the District of Columbia. “Thank you. Will follow up with the appropriate staff about making a correction,” DC tweeted in response.

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The Harvard Crimson decodes the punctuation of texting. “Hundreds of high school prefrosh will be coming to campus this weekend, phones in hand, thumbs at the ready. In high school, texting was all about the abbreviations and acronyms. … Now, these prefrosh are at Harvard, and at Harvard, it’s punctuation that matters.” Prefrosh? Don’t ask — I don’t know …

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If you’re looking for some unusual emoticons but want to use only “real” characters in your prose, mental_floss offers 16 characters from other languages that might just do the trick. Who knew, for example, that the Cyrillic zhe with diaeresis above it looks like a butterfly?

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Weird word of the week: kakistocracy: n. a system of government in which the rulers are the least qualified, least competent or most unprincipled citizens. From the Greek kakistos, meaning “worst”.


In the news (April 25)


Words, language and usage have been all over the news this week. Read about a nifty word-changing browser extension, India’s election slogans, vocab in the new SAT, a swearing ban in Russia, the demise of cursive script, and more …

The weird word of the week is jobation. See below for its definition.

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“If you’re a cool-headed, fair-minded, forward-thinking descriptivist like my colleague David Haglund, it doesn’t bother you one bit that people often use the word “literally” when describing things figuratively. If, on the other hand, you’re a cranky language bully like me, it figuratively bugs the crap out of you every time.” That’s Will Oremus on Slate’s “Future Tense” blog, in his piece describing the new Chrome browser extension that replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively”on sites and articles across the web, “with deeply gratifying results.”

[This reminds me of one of my favorite Tweeters — Stealth Mountain — who sends a tweet to everyone on the web who types the words “sneak peak”, telling them, literally, “I think you mean ‘sneak peek'” … ]

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The revised SAT won’t include obscure vocabulary words any more, the New York Times reports. “One big change is in the vocabulary questions, which will no longer include obscure words. Instead, the focus will be on what the College Board calls ‘high utility’ words that appear in many contexts, in many disciplines—often with shifting meanings—and they will be tested in context.”

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Is cursive handwriting slowly dying out in America? PBS Newshour looks at the history of “joined-up writing” and asks about the future of this art form. “With young thumbs furiously pounding out abbreviated words and internet slang while texting and with fingers flying across keyboards writing emails, reports and, yes, even news articles, the act of taking a pen and carefully crafting notes and letters is occurring less frequently in the modern world.”

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The BBC looks at India’s colorful election slogans. Yes, they can too.

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The Russian parliament’s lower house has passed a ban on swearing (or what the Americans call cursing) in films, music and other works of art. The BBC reports.

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Ever wondered where the expression “bite the bullet” came from? Or “cold feet” or “go with the flow”? Buzzfeed gives us 36 unexpected origins of everyday British phrases.

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Urszula Clark on the British Council blog asks “which variety of English language should you speak?”. The results of Clark’s research show “how dynamic, fragmented and mobile the English language has become. At the same time, the influence of traditional gatekeepers of ‘standard’ English, such as the BBC, is weakening.”

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Weird word of the week: jobation. Noun: (chiefly British): a scolding; a long tedious rebuke or reproof. “It is difficult for me to justify to myself the violent jobation which my Father gave me in consequence of my scream, except by attributing to him something of the human weakness of vanity. — from Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, 1907.


In the news (March 28)


Cockney rhyming slang courtesy A Salt and Battery on Facebook this week

The weird word of the week is galimatias: see its definition below.

That Gerund Is Funky … In the news this week: a deadly spelling error; sign language in Italy and dogs; the true meaning of grammar; and some ever enjoyable Yank-Brit differences.

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U.S. authorities missed several chances to detain Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for his terror training, thanks partly to a deadly spelling error. On one occasion, Tsarnaev, thought to be possibly armed and dangerous, was set to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database. NBC News reports.

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When most people write about grammar (especially when they’re listing or testing for “grammatical errors”), are they really talking about grammar — or something else? Rob Reinalda sets us straight on Huffington Post. Thank you, Rob; I’m so glad someone finally wrote this important article.

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Deaf dogs are learning sign language in Nebraska, according to Nebraska.tv.

In Italy, where its inhabitants’ characteristic hand gestures and physical gesticulations are almost as important as the language itself — to the extent that they have their own dictionary and every Italian understands their meanings, the local sign language for the deaf isn’t legally recognized. The BBC reports on this strange anomaly.

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Anglophenia gives us five tiny U.S. phrases with opposite meanings in the UK. Like table, and bills

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Weird word of the week: galimatias. n. nonsense; gibberish; confusing or meaningless talk.

“Easy at first, the language of friendship
Is, as we soon discover,
Very difficult to speak well, a tongue
With no cognates, no resemblance
To the galimatias of nursery and bedroom,
Court rhyme or shepherd’s prose,”

— from W. H. Auden’s For Friends Only