There's no nice way to put it: as we reach the peak of temperature and humidity levels in much of the northern hemisphere, we all too often find ourselves confronted by things — and yes, people — who smell. And even if we'd like to turn up our nose, for once let's take a giant whiff. Or at least an etymological one. Continue reading...
Did that headline peak your interest? Or did it pique it? I'm waiting with baited breath for your answer. Or would that be bated? All of us have a tendency to replace a fossilized word, whose nuances have been lost, with a more standard definition of that word or a different word entirely. Through this process, phrases, like words, can change meaning over time. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Words Language
"I'm trying to stave off a cold," a friend said. Another responded, "Wine will work for that." Neither probably realized that, indeed, to "stave off" has its origins in wine, or something like wine. Continue reading...
People awakening from a "nightmare" often have the sensation that they can't breathe. Not surprising: That's where the word "nightmare" comes from. Continue reading...

Hairy Metaphors

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Last August, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries published a list of words that they were adding to their dictionaries. Among them was neckbeard, which is listed as "A growth of hair on a man's neck." But this self-describing definition is not why the term was added. More interestingly, the term connotes someone with "poor grooming habits" and who's "socially inept." Continue reading...
Topics: Language Usage Words
The critically lauded film The Imitation Game just won an Oscar for Graham Moore's screenplay, adapted from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. Crosswords play an important role in the story of the World War II codebreakers, but it turns out they also mastered the art of the palindrome. Palindromist Magazine editor Mark Saltveit reveals a long-hidden chapter of wordplay history. Continue reading...
Topics: Fun Language
In January, I took part in an interesting discussion on Twitter. Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh posted a headline: "Hole-in-the-walls: East, west, and downtown, 19 named." He asked, "Would you take your sister-in-laws to such a place?" Continue reading...
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