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“Up” Yours

It’s easy to understand up, meaning “in or into a higher position, especially away from the center of the earth” or “the opposite of down,” but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up?

At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up, why are the officers up for election, and why is it up to the
secretary to write up a report?

We call up our friends. We use light to brighten up a room, we polish up the silver, we warm up the leftovers and clean up
the kitchen. We lock up the house, and some guys fix up the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.

A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. We chop the tree down, then chop it up. We open up a store in the morning, but we close it up at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed up about up. To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look up the word up in the dictionary. In my dictionary, it takes up almost one quarter of the page and adds up to about 28 definitions as an adverb, 22 definitions as an adjective, five as a preposition, four as a noun and five as a verb.

If you are up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways up is used. It will take up a great deal of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with 100 or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding up. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up. When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things up. When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry up.

I could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up for now. My time is up, so it is time to shut up.

Thanks to Warren S. for emailing this up to me. My guess is he found it while looking things up on the Internet.

Until next time! Use the right words!

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Line up for the lineup!

Today, I introduce yet another homophone that spelled one way is a noun and spelled a different way is a verb: lineup and line up.

Baseball people (fans and those associated with the game in some way) know that a lineup is a list of players taking part in the game.

It’s a noun when spelled as one word.

Teachers, especially those who deal with elementary-school-aged kids, know that they sometimes need to shout “Line up!‘ to get their charges’ attentions.

It’s a verb when spelled as two words.

Fortunately, I haven’t come across any writing that mistakes these two. If I do, I think I’ll tell the person, in my best baseball-umpire voice: “Yer out!”

Until next time! Use the right words!

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Did I Expect From Pro Athletes and Radio Hosts?

My daughter likes to listen to Radio Disney as I drive her to school. The other day, the morning hosts interviewed basketball player Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks. They talked about how often players play pranks in the NBA, but to describe it, they used pranking.

I don’t know prank as a verb. I know it as a noun that means “a malicious act,” “a mildly mischievous act” and “a ludicrous act.”

So, I looked it up in the dictionary and found prank as a verb. But it means “to dress or adorn gaily of showily” and “to show oneself off.”

At first, I thought, OK, maybe my dictionary is outdated. I’d better look online. So I did — and didn’t find any different definition (but I did find a definition that used “ostentatious.”

I had to consider the sources: a pro athlete who never attended college and two radio hosts of a show whose target demographic is children.

Not the most intelligent of sources. I should have known better.

Until next time! Use the right words!


November 14, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Bad? Your Bad What?

During this past weekend’s high school volleyball tournament in which I officiated, I again was reminded of how the younger generation has its own way of talking, and I’m not so sure it’s always better.

Case in point: Using an adjective as a noun. Specifically, bad.

As any word snob will tell you, bad is an adjective meaning, among other definitions, “poor,” “unfavorable,” “spoiled,” “not sound,” “morally objectionable,” “disagreeable,” “unpleasant,” “disobedient,” “injurious,” “harmful,” “severe” and “unhealthy.”

So, when a volleyball player made a mistake and told her teammate, “My bad,” I wanted to say to her, “Your bad what?” Your bad volleyball playing? Your bad hitting? Your bad digging? Your bad serving?

Since it wouldn’t be professional to actually speak up and ask that, I could only guess it was the time she hit the ball into the net.

I supposed it would have been bad to have asked her what she meant.

Until next time! Use the right words!


October 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s Really Going to Talk Here?

I remember when I was in high school and college and teachers/instructors/professors would begin the lecture by saying something akin to, “Today, we’re going to talk about …” or “Today, we’re going to discuss …”

Then they would talk for the entire period.

Maybe somebody (me, perhaps) wanted to ask something, but the speaker responded to the raised hand with, “Hold all questions until after class.”

Where I come from, the pronoun we refers to “you and I and others.” But only one person was speaking.

The teachers/instructors/professors really needed to use the pronoun I because it refers to “the one who is speaking.”

I never understood what was the problem with saying, “Today I’m going to discuss/talk about …” It was true.

Besides, if people really didn’t know one-person lectures made up the majority of the classes, they shouldn’t have taken the class, or they should have read the syllabus.

Until next time! Use the right words!


September 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like, Let’s Talk About “Like”

People have used the word like in several different ways for hundreds of years. My dictionary lists nine entries for like: as a noun, verb. adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection.

I want to address like as an interjection. It’s the ninth listing and means “used chiefly in informal speech as a meaningless expletive or intensifier or to lessen the emphasis of a preceding or following word or phrase.”

It is this usage I object to so much. To me, it’s another way of saying, um or uh. It makes one sound less intelligent.

I remember when I was in college, the funniest thing I ever heard someone say was one sorority girl to another, “Well, do you, like, like him?”

If you go back to the original 1969 cartoon “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” you’ll hear Shaggy use like this way in probably every episode.

What I find interesting is that this usage dates back to 1778, which tells me it’s not going away.

I prefer that people simply say nothing instead of uttering like, uh or um. It takes discipline but can be done. And you’ll sound so much more intelligent.

Until next time! Use the right words!


September 19, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Did “Envelope” Become a Verb?

The other night, I attended a birthday party where conversation turned toward an upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Invitations had gone out, and the parents wanted to know if the families had received theirs. I heard a guest acknowledge that she had received hers and responded, “I’m enveloping them.”


I understood the context: She had marked her response on the RSVP card and put it into the envelope but had not mailed it.

But it’s still wrong. Envelope is a noun. My dictionary lists seven definitions, all of which are nouns. The word goes back to 1714 to mean that flat container  usually made of paper in which we put letters. Other definitions refer to an aerostat’s outer covering, the bag containing the gas in a balloon or blimp or airship, and a curve or surface tangent to each of a family or curves or tangents.

The verb envelop goes back to the 14th century and means “to enclose or enfold completely with or as if with a covering.” It’s easy to believe that envelop evolved into envelope.

But the other night was the first time I had heard anyone use the noun as a verb.

And to think the guest was a teacher.

Until next time! Use the right words!


July 3, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh Joy! New Words!

I don’t know if I should cheer or cringe. In last week’s issue of Time, the Oxford English Dictionary, no less than THE authority on words, added the word tweet to its lexicon.

My dictionary lists tweet as a noun meaning “a chirping note.” OED defines it relative to Twitter.

So, tweet is a noun meaning a post on Twitter and a verb meaning the act of posting to Twitter.

This makes sense, since these uses clearly have entered our normal everyday vocabulary.

However, doesn’t the word post serve the same function? Is tweet considerably more specific? Does it really matter?

Let the debate continue. In the meantime:

Until next time! Use the right words!

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Know Your Prepositions!

I love Schoolhouse Rock. Growing up, I watched Saturday morning cartoons, and I knew that between the shows on ABC, I would see a bus driving some children to a little schoolhouse. Then the youngsters would get out and walk on the snowy path to the house. Then my brother and I would guess what we would see: Multiplication, Grammar, America or Science Rock.

Thanks to Multiplication Rock, I knew my “times tables” (multiples of 2 through 12) inside and out, and I could quickly recall the answer to any multiplication problem on the tables. This helped me dominate my fifth-grade class contest. I beat everybody in my class of about 35 by shouting the answer before my opponent.

Thanks to America Rock, my wife would hear people start singing the preamble to the Constitution in class.

And thanks to Grammar Rock, I knew my parts of speech: A noun is a person, place or thing; adjectives describe, verbs are action words, pronouns are shorter than nouns, conjunctions join words, etc.

But there was no song about prepositions. Not until 1993, when Bob Dorough, who wrote 20 of the three-minute songs, penned “Busy Prepositions.”

By definition, a preposition is a word (and a part of speech) that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. The “Schoolhouse Rock” song about prepositions says “nine or 10 of them do most all of the work” and then lists 11: of, on, to, with, in, from, by, far, at, over, across.

But wait a second. Far? Far is an adverb , so I could go to Lolly and get it there. Far also is an adjective, so I could find it hiking with my turtle friend. I would not find far with the other prepositions.

Some comments I have received since I first posted this tells me it is very likely that Dorough wrote and Jack Sheldon sang for, which is a preposition, but the video clearly shows the word far. Another listen to the song confirms this.

Bob Dorough is still alive. I wonder if he knows. Somebody find him and ask him!

In the meantime …

Until next time! Use the right words!

March 21, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Author! Author! Writer! Writer!

Sometimes, it seems everybody wants to write a book. As a book editor, I come across many people’s manuscripts. Most need a great deal of work, but that’s why I make the big bucks, right?

Here’s something every book writer ought to know: You don’t author a book. You write a book.

In its purest sense, author is a noun meaning “the writer of a literary work (as a book).” It is true that the word can be a verb meaning “to be the author of,” but to me that’s  like saying a word can be a verb meaning “to be the noun of.”

Writer, however, is only a noun and means “one who writes,” write being the verb form. In my dictionary, author is a synonym for writer, but writer is not a synonym for author (despite the word writer being in the definition of author).

Funny how English works.

Until next time! Use the right words!

February 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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