usingtherightwords

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A Cop Bought the Farm during the Dog Days


Many of my friends and associates know what I do with words, and so they often send me photos or passages demonstrating words being used correctly or, more often, incorrectly.

But one friend sent me a book. It’s a 2005 book by Charles Harrington Elster called “What in the Word? Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to Your Peskiest Questions about Language.” According to Wikipedia, Elster has written many books about language.

In the first part of the book, people ask questions about where phrases’ origins. Here are some.

Bought the farm — When a pilot crashed in a rural area, the owner often sued the government and got enough money to pay off the mortgage and own the farm outright.

Cop — Police are called this because in northern England, to cop meant “to capture, catch, lay hold of,” and that’s part of the job description.

Decked out — “Deck” is a verb meaning “to clothe” and “to adorn.” This is why we “deck the halls with boughs of holly.”

Dog days — In Roman times, the hottest days of summer were called caniculares dies because they believed the dog star (Sirius), when it rose with the sun, added heat.

German chocolate cake — “German” actually is Samuel German, who developed the recipe.

Green room — Elster says this term goes at least back to a 1701 play. It probably has to do with the rooms had walls painted green to give the eyes some welcome contrast to the bright lights they experienced on stage. “Probably” because no one is completely sure, Elster says.

Pinkie/Pinky finger — From the Dutch pinkje, the diminutive form of “pink.” But Elster can’t explain why the Dutch used that word to describe the little finger.

Pushing the envelope — “Envelope” refers to an aircraft’s performance limits, so when a pilot tries to do that (see: Tom Cruise’s character in “Top Gun”), he’s pushing the envelope.

Santa Ana wind — This hot wind is named for the large flow of gasses that comes out of the Santa Ana Mountains.

What the dickens/deuce — A euphemism for “what the devil.”

Thanks to Warren S. for the book.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

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July 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it Really “Alright/All Right?”


As I completed my gym workout,  I spilled water from my bottle onto the floor. There was enough water to make a square yard-sized puddle.

I did my best to sop it up with paper towels, and then I told the woman at the front desk that I spilled water in the stretching area and it’s not completely dry.

Her response: “That’s alright.”

As I walked to my car, I thought, No, it’s not alright, or all right. I made a mess and possibly jeopardized the safety of some other gym patron. If it really was all right (or alright, the adverb form of all right), everything would be all right, and jeopardizing the safety is not all right (or alright).

We use terms, including alright/all right, too casually without considering what the words mean. To make sure, I looked up all right.

It is informal speech meaning, “agreeable, acceptable, or commendable.”

I find it hard to believe that my gym would agree or accept my puddle; similarly, why would I be commended for leaving a puddle? About the only commendable act was my informing the woman that there was a puddle.

The more appropriate response would have been: “Thank you for telling me.”

Once the staff cleaned the puddle, or once it dried, then everything would be alright.

Or all right.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Gym Stupidity, Years Later


Many years ago, I wrote about how a certain YMCA would rather mangle the language than hire someone (me) to fix those mistakes. Read it here.

Well, here we go again.  My current gym, Powerhouse Fitness, was sold to Crunch Fitness, and we got a note proudly proclaiming, “There will be no changes to your membership or fee’s.”

Yes, fee’s. Not fees.

The note also said, “We will be investing over a million dollars innovations and new equipment.” It’s more correct to say more than a million dollars.

I asked a girl at the front desk what the sale meant. She told me the mimimm-wage employees (including her) are still being paid minimum wage, but the trainers are gone because Crunch offered them too little money to continue. (My membership doesn’t expire until next August, so I’m taking a wait-and-see approach).

But, hey, she got a nice T-shirt to wear!

Ugh.

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for only $14.95.  Order here.

leebarnathan.com

August 4, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pardon the Interruption, but I Wish I Had Thought of That


On Tuesday, I wrote about how Pablo S. Torre, Harvard graduate, used the non-standard word irregardless on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and how I think someone with a degree from one of the top schools in the country should know better.

On that same episode, host Tony Kornheiser made a point I wish I had made.

Kornheiser was discussing how Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes made a no-look pass in practice. Kornheiser said, “We come to the term no-look pass from basketball. It’s not really a no-look pass. It’s a look-away pass. You know where the guys are.”

I recently gave a speech in which I pointed out that some words aren’t describing what they claim to. Two examples: Life insurance. It’s only paid upon death, so it should be called death insurance. And when a baseball hits the foul pole, it’s a home run, so it should be called a fair pole.

To hear Kornheiser, who like me attended a state school (in his case, SUNY Binghamton) make this point makes me wish I had thought of it.

He continued, “In football, if it’s truly a no-look pass, the first time it is returned for six points, it will come out of the playbook.”

Amen.

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for only $14.95.  Order here.

leebarnathan.com

July 21, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Locations, Proximities and Lockers


I’ve said it before, and I’m going to repeat: If we only heard what we said, we’d shake our heads and wonder what the heck were we thinking when we said what we said.

I was at the gym and put my jacket and sweats in a small square-sized locker. When I was finished with my workout, I went to retrieve my clothes, but there was someone standing there putting his stuff into the small square-sized locker below the locker where my stuff was.

I said, “Excuse me, I’m right above you” and proceeded to open the locker and get my things.

Except I wasn’t above him; I was standing to his left. My locker was right above him.

It reminded me of the time I wondered where I was parked, except that I wasn’t parked; my car was, and I was walking toward my car.

Ah, language.

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for $14.95.  Order here.

leebarnathan.com

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Does G-H-O-T-I Spell?


A friend of mine posed this question to me last week. He probably didn’t make it up; it’s probably on the Internet somewhere. But it demonstrates how strange English can be.

To answer the question, one must ask these three questions:

What sound does the gh make in enough? 

What sound does the o make in women?

What sound does the ti make in nation?

The answers: F, I and SH.

FISH.

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is out and available on Amazon. Order now for just $14.95. Contact me on my website to reserve your copy or Order here.

leebarnathan.com

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sorry, Ryan; Stick to Improv


I love improv comedy. I love “Whose Line is it Anyway?” It’s a show that became part of the courting of the woman who became my wife (she liked it, too). We’ve seen it taped twice — each time two and a half hours of laughing our asses off (figuratively speaking, of course), and I even got one of my suggestions put into the show (see Season 4: “George Washington and the Ventriloquist:” that’s me suggesting George Washington).

I can’t put into words how happy and grateful I am that, after ABC cancelled the show, the CW brought it back — and brought back Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady (I would have liked Drew Carey back, but Aisha Tyler is fine). But I get tired to seeing the same games played repeatedly, one of which is “Weird Newscasters,” in which one performer is “normal” and the other three performers act out strange behaviors as co-anchor, sportscaster and weather forecaster.

I also get tired of seeing the same performers playing the same roles, but in a recent episode, Stiles announced that the word “news” comes from “north, east, west and south.”

Of course, upon hearing that, I immediately stopped the episode and looked it up.

News is not an acronym. According to my dictionary, it traces back to the 15th century. The online etymology dictionary says it’s from the 14th century plural of new, meaning “new things.” Wikipedia says it developed in the 14th century as a special use of the plural form of new. In Middle English, the equivalent word was newes, like the French nouvelles and the German neues. Similar developments are found in the Slavic languages—the Czech and Slovak noviny (from nový, “new”), the cognate Polish nowiny and Russian novosti—and in the Celtic languages: the Welsh newyddion (from newydd) and the Cornish nowodhow (from nowydh).

So, here’s the news flash: Ryan was wrong.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gallagher, Another Hero


Before I truly appreciated George Carlin, there was Gallagher.

When I was in junior high and high school, I looked forward to the Showtime specials featuring the prop comic best known for the Sledge-o-Matic and his smashing of watermelons. The smashing part didn’t interest me. What attracted me was the way Gallagher made you think about things. Sure, there were props all over the stage, but I was most hooked when he just stopped with the props and talked to the audience, calling it “gang.” I felt part of the gang even though I never saw the act in person.

Carlin made his fame on, among other things, making fun of the English language. In his 1982 Showtime special “Totally New,” so did Gallagher.

First, he talks about school and how “you go there to learn to communicate and all they say is, ‘No talking.'”

Later, he starts to ask language-related questions. Why are they called “cowboys” when cows are female? Why is a statue called a “bust” when it stops right below the part  for which it would be named? Why are they called “buildings” when they’re already done? Why is it called a “TV set” when you only get one? 

Next, he made fun of words: big is a little word, and little is twice as big. Then he made fun of words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently: good and food; bomb, tomb and comb; home and some; worse and horse; laughter and daughter; ache and mustache; beard and heard; go and do.

He asked, “Why should I be serious about the language when the language isn’t serious enough to make sense?”

I agree.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

February 2, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keith Olbermann, Another of My Heroes


Lately, I’ve been watching clips of sportscaster/commentator Keith Olbermann on YouTube. I had forgotten just how well he writes (see: his time on SportsCenter). But it was a particular clip dated July 28, 2014, that caught my attention.

Olbermann, in his nightly “Worst Persons In the Sports World” segment on ESPN2, took to task the person(s) who wrote Greg Maddux’s baseball hall of fame plaque. Olbermann credited NBC’s Craig Calcaterra with discovering most of the errors.

Here, first, is the exact text of Gregory Alan Maddux’s plaque (written in all caps because the plaque is written that way):

ONE OF GAME’S MOST CONSISTENT, COMPOSED AND CELEBRATED STARTING PITCHERS. FIRST TO WIN AT LEAST 15 GAMES IN 17 STRAIGHT SEASONS, EN ROUTE TO 355 CAREER VICTORIES, EIGHTH-MOST ALL-TIME AND THE SECOND-HIGHEST TOTAL SINCE THE 1920S. ONLY HURLER WITH 300 WINS, 3,000 STRIKEOUTS AND LESS THAN 1,000 WALKS. PREPARATION, COMMAND AND STUDY OF BATTERS MADE HIM PART-SCIENTIST, PART-ARTIST, WINNING FOUR STRAIGHT CY YOUNG AWARDS. ALSO CAPTURED 18 GOLD GLOVE AWARDS.

Olbermann began by pointing out that the first five words lacks a “the,” as in “one of the game’s most consistent…” but he sort of excuses it because the earliest plaques are written in the same style.

He then jumps on using a French term (en route) without italics. His next attack is for “less than 1,000 walks.” It should be “fewer than” because “less” is used for, in his words, “stuff that has no more plurals or can’t be counted like, I have less respect for the guy who writes these plaques.”

Next, he turns his attention to the hyphenated words, part-scientist and part-artist, and he correctly — and forcefully, I believe — points out the hyphens aren’t necessary, and by using them, the words mean that Greg Maddux is a scientist specializing in parts (like the guy down at the local auto parts store) and an artist specializing in parts!

If Keith Olbermann didn’t exist, someone would have invented him. Maybe me.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Happy New Ear” and Other Soundalike Problems


English is a funny language, isn’t it? Unlike Spanish, in which the words can be spelled just by sounding them out, English requires one to know how to spell or else you’ll make some funny mistakes, as these from the great Richard Lederer demonstrate:

–To celebrate at feasts, the inhabitants sometimes cut the head off the biggest bore and carried it around on a platter.

–My uncle suffers from sick as hell anemia.

–Most teachers could careless about their students’ problems.

–Vestal virgins are pure and chased.

–No bear feet allowed.

–Due to repairs in the air-conditioning system, offices will be very humid in the coming days. Please bare with us.

–Our menu is guaranteed to wet your appetite.

–At our restaurant, the sauce compliments the salad, and we specialize in full-coarse meals.

–To win, you’ve got to knock down your opponent with wreckless abandon.

–Matt Millen is the most inciteful of sportscasters.

–Man arrested for possession of heroine.

And here’s one from Sly Stone: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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