Category Archives: Grammar

Grammatically Speaking


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A New Addition to the Reading List

A New Addition to the Reading List

After looking through some of my books, I found one that I believe to be quite valuable: A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. And it will be going into the Improving Your Own Writing section of the reading list.

For those of you who do not know this book, it teaches clarity, grammar, punctuation and mechanics, research, MLA, APA, Chicago, and usage/grammatical terms. It’s good for those who have difficulty writing essays.

8 food idioms that are right under your nose

8 food idioms that are right under your nose

1. Nutshell

The term in a nutshell refers to a short description, or a story told in no more words than can physically fit in the shell of a nut. But the origin of the term tests those limits with the most long winded of tales. The ancient Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder claimed that a copy of Homer’s The Iliad existed that was small enough to fit inside a walnut shell. Almost 2000 years later in the early 1700s the Bishop of Avranches tested Pliny’s theory by writing out the epic in tiny handwriting on a walnut-sized piece of paper and lo and behold, he did it!

2. Beans

English speakers have been using the word “spill” to mean “divulge secret information” since 1547, but the spilling of beans in particular may predate the term by millennia. Many historians claim that secret societies in ancient Greece voted by dropping black or white beans into a clay urn. To spill those beans would be to reveal the results of a secret vote before the ballots had been counted. Kidney he lives, pinto he dies!

3. Pie

As many of us know from experience, it is not so easy to make a pie. A buttery crust can fall apart in the deftest of hands and around Thanksgiving many pumpkin “pies” might be more accurately deemed pumpkin “soups.” On the other hand (or for our purposes) anyone can become an expert at eating a pie. Popularized in the U.S. in the late 1800s, the most notable use of pie to mean “simple and pleasurable” appears in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Part of our next food idiom makes a home in many pies, especially in America.

4. Apples

Apples and oranges refers to two incommensurable items, i.e. a comparison of things that cannot be compared. Though they are both fruits, apples and oranges are separated by color, taste, juiciness and 89.2 million years of evolution. The idiom first appeared as apples and oysters in John Ray’s 1670 Proverb collection, and equivalent terms exist in many languages: “grandmothers and toads” in Serbian to “love and the eye of an axe” in Argentine Spanish. What other funny fruits turn unusual phrases?

5. Bananas

Not only does going bananas mean “to go crazy,” the term can point to things for whichyou’ve gone bananas, or obsessions. According to lexicographer E.J. Lighter, going bananas refers to the term going ape often used in American popular culture in the second half of the 1900s. Apes were seen as crazy by the mid-century media, and what do apes eat? Bananas! For example, here at Dictionary.com, we’re bananas for grammar but we go bananas when people end sentences with prepositions.

6. Tea

Though English is spoken all over the world, there are certain idioms that recall its, well, Englishness. Popularized in British Edwardian slang, cup of tea originally referred to something pleasant or agreeable. The negative usage as in not my cup of tea arose during World War II as a more polite way to say you didn’t like something. “You dont say someone gives you a pain in the neck,” explained Alister Cooke in his 1944 Letter from America. You just remark, he’s not my cup of tea.'”

7. Cheese

Perhaps the savoriest idiom on this list, the word cheese can refer to a person or thing that is important or splendid as well as to the delicious dairy product. The usage is thought to have origins in Urdu, from the Persian chiz meaning “thing.” In common usage, “the big cheese” is a person of importance or authority, and cheese is often associated with smiling, based on the “say cheese” method of posing for pictures.

8. Eggshells

Our final idiom is our most delicate: walking on eggshells or taking great care not to upset someone. It is thought to have originated in politics when diplomats were described as having the remarkable ability to tread so lightly around difficult situations, it was as though they were walking on eggshells. In a nutshell, we hope you go bananas for food idioms. Whether or not they’re your cup of tea, these terms are easy as pie to use and they’ll make you the big cheese of any conversation! So go ahead and spill the beans, it’s just like apples and oranges.

(I found this on dictionary.com.)

Anybody have anymore?

5 Fun Ways to Say “Boring”

5 Fun Ways to Say “Boring”

1. Ennui
[ahn-wee]

Not all boredom is created equal: some of it is fleeting and circumstantial, and some of it teeters on existential crisis. Ennui tends toward the latter–or at least it used to. Derived from the French verb enuier meaning “to annoy,” its peak usage was in Victorian and Romantic literature to express a profound sense of weariness, even a spiritual emptiness or alienation from one’s surroundings and time. Nowadays it’s used at both ends of the boredom spectrum, but its deep literary history lends even the most shallow disinterest a grandiose air.

2. Bromidic
[broh-mid-ik]

Bromide is a chemical compound that was commonly used in sedatives in the 1800 and 1900s. It took on a figurative sense to mean a trite saying or verbal sedative, or a person who is platitudinous and boring, in the early 1900s with help of the U.S. humorist Frank Gelett Burgess, who published a book titled Are You a Bromide? in 1907. The next time a particularly bland work meeting lulls you into a near coma, remember to mentally log it as bromidic just before nodding off.

3. Prosaic
[proh-zey-ik]

If your personal brand of boredom stems from a deficit of literal or figurative poetry in your life, this is the word for you. Now commonly used to mean dull, matter-of-fact, or unimaginative, prosaic entered the lexicon as the adjectival form of the word prose–as innot poetry. Its evolution to mean uninspired and commonplace in a broader context feels in many ways like a love letter to the oft-neglected literary genre.

4. Insipid
[in-sip-id]

Much like bland and flavorlessinsipid is commonly used to describe food that leaves your taste buds wanting more, but it’s also used in an abstract sense to describe a person, place or thing that lacks distinction, depth or intrigue. Its versatility can be attributed to its root word, the Latin sapidus, which translates to well-tasted, wise, or prudent. The next time you find yourself surrounded by droning company and uninspired cuisine (perhaps on your next flight?) liven things up with this handy twofer.

5. Platitudinous
[plat-i-tood-n-uhs, -tyood-]

Stemming from the French word for flat, plat(think plateau), platitudinous is used most frequently to refer to lackluster or trite use of language. A political speech brimming with tiresome rhetoric and cliches can be said to be platitudinous, but with this illuminating descriptor in your word arsenal, your bemoaning of the speech doesn’t have to be.

(I found this on dictionary.com)

Can anyone think of any more? If so, comment!

Double your fun with these irregular plurals!

Double your fun with these irregular plurals!

1. Spaghetti

Next time you dive into a hot plate of spaghetti, take a moment to appreciate each individual spaghetto. The word spaghetti is from the Italian spago meaning “thin rope, twine.” It’s amazing to think that this beloved, stringy pasta has been a plural all along. Early on in its time in English, spaghetti was spelled “sparghetti,” as in Eliza Acton’s pivotal 1845 cookbook Modern Cookery, but by 1885 the plural pasta assumed its currently accepted form.

2. Passersby

When a person is seen passing by a scene either casually or by chance, they are considered a passerby, but on a busy street, one passerby is just a member of a crowd of passersby. Instead of pluralizing the act of passing, as would the incorrect “passerbys,” this clever word pluralized the passer or passers themselves, indicating that multiple people might be getting a quick glimpse of the same thing.

3. Kine

If you think the plural of “cow” is “cows,” that’s right. However, kine is also an accepted alternate plural form, and it’s the only word in English whose plural shares no letters with the singular form! From the Old English cy, plural of cu (Old English for “cow”), kine is actually a double double, because it adds the secondary plural element “n” to the previously doubled “y” or “i” sound.

4. News

News comes from the Middle French nouvelles, or from the Latin nova meaning “new things.” News was originally spelled newis or newes, the plural form of the Middle English newe. The now-standard spelling news was not firmly established until the mid-17th century. When news first entered English in the 1300s, it referred literally to “new things,” though this sense is now obsolete. During the 15th century news took on the sense of “tidings” or “an account of recent events.” The construction “the news” only entered English in the 20th century.

5. Scissors

This handy cutting instrument consists of two blades pivoted together, but by no means is one blade a singular scissor. From the Medieval Latin cisoriascissors emerged in English as a plural without a singular, describing the cutting tool as a whole entity. The 19th century saw a short-lived slang use of scissors with the exclamation oh scissors!, which was used to express impatience or disgust.

6. Dice

As a noun, dice is the irregular plural form ofdie, a small cube typically marked on each side with one to six spots and used in pairs for games of chance. From the Middle English dees, an interchangeable singular and plural form, dice was reborn as a verb with to dice meaning to chop something into small die-sized cubes. Some evidence suggests that if you trace the etymology of dice all the way back to the Latin dare meaning “to give,” or in this case “to cast,” it shares root with our next term.

7. Data

When we download or research large amounts of data, it’s far too easy to gloss over each unique datum. A participle of the Latin verb dare, “datum” is on direct loan from the Latin, meaning “a thing that is given.” Today the word represents individual facts, statistics, or items of information, but the plural form data has come to function as a singular mass noun meaning “information” in the general sense.

(I found this on dictionary.com.)

Alot vs. A lot: 9 Language Crimes to Watch Out For

Alot vs. A lot: 9 Language Crimes to Watch Out For

1. Irregardless

Irregardless is considered nonstandard because of the two negative elements, ir- and-lessIrregardless first appeared in the early 20th century and was perhaps popularized by its use in a comic radio program from the 1930s. Use regardless to keep your grammar-loving friends at bay.

2. Thusly

Because both thus and thusly are adverbs, language aficionados find thusly unnecessary. The Chicago Manual of Style discourages the use of thusly altogether. For copy editors, spotting the word thusly has a cringe-inducing effect similar to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.

3. Everyday

Be careful when using everyday. As one word it’s adjectival; spelled out as two words, every day is adverbial. If you remember to do your everyday chores every day, your grammar-savvy roommates will appreciate you.

4. Anyways

While it’s commonly used in speech and writing, anyways is nonstandard. Always drop the “s” and opt for the standard anyway to impress the language fanatics in your social networks. In a world of 140-letter tweets, that one saved character is valuable real estate.

5. Literally

The Internet is literally full of critics of the figurative use of literally. While employing this metaphorical usage might make many casual language lovers’ ears bleed, descriptivist lexicographers will hail you as a language innovator. Our advice: be self-aware. Know that if you use literally figuratively, it will sound horrible to some, and perfectly acceptable to others.

6. Alot

Alot is a frequent misspelling of a lot. As many middle school English teachers constantly remind their students, “A lot is a lot of words.” So make your old English teacher proud.

7. Alright

As an informal variant of all rightalright is perfectly acceptable. The popular song and album “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who is evidence of general acceptance of alright. However, note that the creators of the 2010 film The Kids are All Right couldn’t bring themselves to use the informal variant even if the title was a clear nod to The Who.

8. Fewer

Confusion of the terms fewer and less will set off alarms in the heads of language enthusiasts. Fewer is only to be used when discussing countable things, while less is generally used for singular mass nouns. For example, you can have less salt, money, honesty, or love, but fewer ingredients, dollars, people, or puppies.

9. Hopefully

Self-described language buffs might explode with untamed rage if they hear hopefully used as a sentence modifier as in “Hopefully, it won’t rain tomorrow.” However, since the 1930s, this sense has been folded into acceptable usage. That said, it’s important to understand the extreme reaction you might provoke if you use this common sentence starter. If someone gives you guff, just refer them to Dictionary.com’s excellent usage note at hopefully. Crisis averted.

(I found this on dictionary.com.)

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