Monthly Archives: February 2013

Malapropisms: The Wrong Word

I love it when I come across sentences that sound close to the intended meaning but still keep the cigar just out of reach. These are called malapropisms, named after Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a 1775 play by Sheridan, The Rivals.

For all intensive purposes, this sentence serves as an example.

Life is tough.  It’s a doggy dog world.

There’s no stigmata today to being divorced.

Ulysses S. Grant was a president and general of great statue.

My blind date was so awful: the guy told one boring antidote after another.

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A Few More Clichés

Since I wrote yesterday’s entry, I was e-mailed a few additions to the list:

Each and every (choose one; it’s redundant)

Cease and desist (ditto)

To be honest with you (wouldn’t you hope so?)

With all due respect (when someone says that, you know the respect isn’t there)

And last night, on “Downton Abbey,” a whopper of an anachronism appeared when one character said to another that his position in the family had required a “learning curve.”  No one said that in the 1920s!

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When first heard, phrases we now consider clichés were fresh and new. But because of their initial popularity and overuse, they became tired and hackneyed.

A list of trite expressions, aka clichés, could go on for pages, but I’ll remind you of just a few I hope not to encounter again.  Are any of these your favorites?

It remains to be seen

Needless to say

As I was saying

As luck would have it

View with alarm

Proud possessor of

Last but not least

From the ridiculous to the sublime

Few and far between

None the worse for wear

Reign supreme

Cut to the chase

Better late than never

In this day and age

Back in the day

To all intents and purposes


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How Many Presidents?

Read the papers and you might think Lincoln and Washington were born so you could get a deal on mattresses and towels.  Monday is, according to which ad you see, Presidents Day, President’s Day or Presidents’ Day.

This is not rocket science, people.  That day belongs to someone, but who is it?  With no apostrophe, we see no ownership. With the apostrophe before the S, the day belongs to only one president (I guess it would be your choice as to which one).  With the apostrophe after the S, both Washington and Lincoln get their due.  That’s the one you want.

Enjoy your new towels.

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Which Spelling Is Correct?

English has quite a few words that are spelled two ways and mean the same thing.  When you look these words up in the dictionary, the convention is to give the preferred spelling first.  Here are some words you can spell two ways:









British people write judgement, while in America we omit that middle e.  Similarly, they write colour, honour, centre and theatre, while Americans prefer color, honor, center and theater.  Language changes in spelling, grammar, meaning and usage, but the changes are rarely so rapid that you can’t keep up.

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Airline Jargon

I love listening to the jargon that airlines spew.  My guess is they use it to sound important and make passengers think they know what they are doing.  Here are a few examples and my translations:

1. If your ticket is still in your possession… (If you still have your ticket…)

2. We will now commence the boarding procedure.  (We’re going to start boarding now.)

3. This will expedite the boarding process.  (This will speed up boarding.)

4. Welcome aboard Verbosity Airlines, servicing Pittsburgh.  (Flying to Pittsburgh—bulls service cows.)

5. Make sure all electronic equipment is in the off position.  (Turn all your electronics off.)

The brilliant George Carlin had a wonderful riff on “airline speak.”  I’m paraphrasing here, but it contained lines like these:

1.  “Our captain today is James Anderson.”  The Captain! Who made this man a captain?  Did I sleep through a military swearing-in?

2. “Be sure to collect all your personal items.”  What else would I have?  A fountain I stole from the park?

3.  “Welcome to New York, where the local time is 5:00 p.m.”  What else would it be?  Bangkok time?

I swear, I will never forgive George for dying.


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Are You Implying or Inferring?

These two words are not interchangeable.

IMPLY means to suggest without overtly stating something:  Heather implied she might go out with Jason if he took better care of his teeth.  (What she might have said was something like, “Jason is really cute and I like him, but his dental regimen needs improvement.”)

INFER means to deduce, to figure out:  Jason inferred that if he brushed his teeth regularly Heather might go out with him.  (Someone might have mentioned to Jason that Heather thought he was cute but was turned off by his scummy teeth.)

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