Is there a difference between standard green beans and haricots verts? A langoustine and a lobster? There is, but it's subtle. Until it comes to menu writing, where haricots verts and langoustine can make a restaurant patron feel like something exciting and new is going to be served. Continue reading...
Intensive purposes? Slight of hand? Linguist Adam Cooper contemplates phrases whose meanings are in transition as we replace unfamiliar words fossilized with language that sounds more reasonable to our modern ears. Continue reading...
Some years ago, there was a series of stories in a magazine about dates that did not go well. In one of the stories, a woman met her date at a Mexican restaurant. When they ordered dinner, her companion asked for tortillas, but he pronounced the word "dor-dee-yas." Although he did not know it, the hapless gentleman's pronunciation proved to be a shibboleth that meant there would be no second date, and got me thinking about other encounters we may have with shibboleths in our personal experience. Continue reading...
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...
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