Monthly Archives: April 2014

Epidemics and More

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That is the symbol for “epidemic.” If you want to be strict about the use of this word, it applies only to humans. “Epidemic” means “in or among people.” If animals suffer an outbreak of disease, the accurate word is “epizootic.” If a disease has gone on for a while, it is no longer an epidemic but becomes “endemic.” “Epidemic” refers only to the outbreak phase of a disease. When the disease is found throughout a country or the world, it is then labeled a “pandemic.” (“Pan” is Greek for “all” and “demos” is “people.”)

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Which Pronoun Would You Choose?

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I am often asked which pronoun is correct a sentence like this:

1. I appreciate you helping me.

2. I appreciate your helping me.

No one’s brain is going to explode if you choose the wrong pronoun, but “your,” a possessive pronoun, is definitely preferred.

How about this one?

1. Daniel looks forward to your arrival.

2. Daniel looks forward to you arrival.

That was easy, wasn’t it? You’d never write “you arrival” because “arrival” is a noun, and you know you need an adjective to modify it. When you use a pronoun that acts as an adjective to modify a noun, you’ll always need a possessive pronoun, in this case “your.”

That’s all for today, folks.

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Ending Sentences With Prepositions

I’m often asked if it’s OK to end sentences with prepositions. The answer is definitely YES. The injunction against doing so comes originally from a Latin construction, but no reason exists not to end sentences with prepositions in English.

Someone recently asked me, “Would you write, ‘Where is the library at?'” Of course I wouldn’t. I would ask, “Where is the library?” That “at” serves no purpose because the word “where” is already asking for location. 

Would you ask, “Who was that person with whom I saw you?” I very much doubt it; instead, you’d rephrase the sentence to say, “Who was that person I saw you with.”  As  you can see, ending sentences with prepositions often makes sense, sounds more natural, and will keep you from sounding like a grammar pedant. 

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What Can Happen to Your Knickers

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I recently bought The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, by Tony Thorne. It’s fun to read although many entries would get an R rating. Browsing through it, I came across “get one’s knickers in a twist,” a British locution from the late 1950s and originally of purely sexual meaning. In America it is used to illustrate a state of agitation, over-excitement, of being flustered and generally rattled.

“Knickers” itself is British usage for underwear (the lower garments only) and is a shortened form of “knickerbockers,” a centuries-old Dutch word meaning baggy, knee-length undergarments. Women’s underpants are also called knickers, particularly in Britain. (Don’t say you don’t learn anything from my blog.)

In addition to getting your knickers in a twist, you might also find your knickers or panties in a wad or a knot. If that happens, take some deep breaths—or a stiff drink.

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Uptalk

imagesPerhaps you’ve never heard the word “uptalk”? Even if you haven’t, I know you’ve heard it every day? You might be wondering why I’m ending these sentences with question marks? I’ve just written three declarative sentences that should end with a period. But the question mark tells the voice to rise at the end, making each sentence sound like a question. The result is uptalk.

That is what linguists have named the common tendency of people to end their sentences with a rising inflection. It is associated with “Valley Girl” cadences, seems to be more common among females, and may serve several purposes.

It may show genuine uncertainty: “You asked me where Joseph put his report, but I’m not sure?”

It may indicate lack of confidence: “I really would prefer not to head that committee?”

It may soften correcting another person: “Sheila has been with this company for five years, not three?”

When a man uptalks in public to correct a woman, he may think he is being chivalrous, telling her she is wrong but being careful about not embarrassing her: “I know you meant well when mentoring Alex, but it would have been better to listen to him first before challenging him?”

As much as I find it annoying, I think uptalk is here to stay.

 

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Names Derived From Occupations

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(His name probably isn’t Mr. Fisher.)

Did you know that chandlers are candlemakers and coopers make and repair barrels? Here is a partial list of occupation-related last names from a Wikipedia list. These days, many are being used as first names as well.

If you go to the list at the website below and click on any name, it will tell you the occupation associated with it. The list includes many German, Italian, Spanish and French names as well as a lot from other ethnicities.  Being a word geek, I love things like this—and I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Category:Occupational_surnames&pageuntil=Kellner#mw-pages

Abbott

Archer

Baker

Barber

Brewer

Butcher

Canner

Carpenter

Carter

Chancellor

Chandler

Clark

Cook

Cooper

Currier

Draper

Driver

Drover

Dyer

Earl

Falconer

Farmer

Fisher

Fowler

Glaser/Glazer

Glover

Goldsmith

Granger

Hawk/Hawking

Hooper

Hunter

Judge

Kaiser

King

Klerk

Luther

Lynch

Marchant/Marchand/Merchant

Marshall

Mason

Mayor

Messenger

Miller

Page

Palmer

Pastor

Plowright

Porter

Potter

Prince

Ranger

Rector

Reeve

Roper

Sadler

Schumaker/Schumacher

Shepherd

Smith

Steward/Stewart

Tanner

Taylor

Thatcher

Tinker

Turner

Waggoner/Wagoner

Weaver

Wheeler

Wright

 

 

 

 

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Slander or Libel?

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It’s common for people to use these two words interchangeably, but an important distinction exists. You know both of them involve making false statements about another. But slander is spoken defamation and libel is written. It’s easy to remember which is which because SLANDER starts with S, as does SPEECH.

Don’t confuse “libel” with “liable”: the latter means either “likely to do something” (She is liable to become the next head of the committee) or “legally responsible”: (He is liable for all charges on his credit card”).

 

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