Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Word I Love


Although it’s not a word one hears or reads every day (it’s more like twice a year), I love the sound of the word “palimpsest.” It refers to a manuscript (literally, something written by hand) that has been written over with a new text.

A thousand and more years ago when monks wrote on parchment, it was difficult and laborious to prepare the animal skins, and they often ran out. The monks then had to use a piece of parchment again. They would either write between the existing lines or turn the parchment at right angles from the original and write the new text directly over the old. The sad part is that so many times the original text became undecipherable and lost to history. But I still like the sound of the word.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

More Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes


Last week I posted a list of similar words with different meanings. Many of you let me know you wanted more, so here goes:

FORTH means onward or forward: Brianna set forth from her apartment, not knowing what to expect from the blind date at Starbucks.
FOURTH has within it the number four, containing its meaning.

DESSERT. Yummy. Hard to resist. Mmmm. Strawberry shortcake.
DESERT as a noun means a sandy, dry area. As a verb, with the accent on the second syllable, it means to abandon or leave behind. Do not desert your best friend in her hour of need.

COMPLEMENT completes something: A glass of beer is not the perfect complement to a piece of strawberry shortcake. Her sweater complements her green eyes.
COMPLIMENT means praise: Why is it difficult for so many people to accept a compliment?

A LOT is a piece of land you can build on. It also means “many” or “much.” There is no such word as “a lot.”
ALLOT means to parcel out or distribute. I told my children I would allot them two pieces of Halloween candy each day.

MINER is a person working in a mine.
MINOR means lesser or not particularly important: It’s hard to believe Van Gogh was once considered a minor artist. If you are a minor (less than legal age), you cannot buy alcohol in your state.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Wonderful Typos


In a thrift shop I recently pounced on a book titled Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir. Today’s offerings come from overseas; it isn’t nice to laugh at people who don’t have full command of English. So stifle yourselves while you read these:

From India: WELCOME TO HOTEL COSY, where no one’s stranger.
From a doctor’s office in Italy: Specialist in women and other diseases
From Japan: Teppanyaki—before your cooked right eyes
From a cheese menu in a French restaurant in Hong Kong: Roguefart
From a cheese menu in France: This crud is from the finest milk
From a drink menu in Nepal: Complimentary glass of wine or bear
From a sign in a French gift shop: Our police: no refund, no exchange

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes


Here are some pairs of words that either sound alike or look very similar. Their meanings, however, are quite different. Remember, your spellchecker will see them all as words and doesn’t know the context in which you are using them, so it’s going to be up to you to proofread carefully to make sure you wrote the word you really wanted.

LOSE means to misplace or be defeated. It rhymes with choose.
LOOSE means not tight and rhymes with goose.

ADVICE is always a noun and rhymes with dice.
ADVISE is always a verb and rhymes with prize.

ACCEPT is always a verb and means to take.
EXCEPT is a preposition and means excluding.

CHOOSE means to select and rhymes with booze and whose.
CHOSE is the past tense of choose and rhymes with doze.

AFFECT is a verb and means to influence. (It is occasionally seen as a noun with the emphasis on the first syllable, primarily used in psychology to mean the way people present themselves: The patient showed no emotion and had a flat affect. But chances are great that you will be using affect as a verb, with the stress on the second syllable.)

EFFECT is a noun meaning result. Many people today are using impact instead of effect, but that’s being overused, in my opinion.
(Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about, as in effecting change. But it’s more likely you will be using it as a noun.)

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

“Dior and I”


This is the title of a new film that was reviewed in today’s Los Angeles Times. Does the title make you wonder if the pronoun is correct? In fact, it depends what the filmmakers wanted to say.

“Dior and I” is correct if you are using “I” as the subject pronoun it always is. For instance, “Dior and I collaborated on many shows.”

But “Dior and Me” would be correct if you’re using “me” as the object pronoun it always is. For instance, “The Winter 2000 show was produced by Dior and me.”

If you are uncertain about when to use “I” and when to use “me,” I hope this helps.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Cliché Finder

Cliche Finder is a website ( that has lists of random clichés. Here’s one I stumbled on just now. See if any of these sayings are near and dear to your heart (and there’s another cliché for you):

different strokes for different folks
to have and to hold
forewarned is forearmed
from A to Z
If you’re the last one to leave,turn out the lights.
warms the cockles of your heart (Did you know your heart had cockles?)
find yourself in a hole
turn turtle
no sweat
didn’t like the color of his money

What’s so wrong with clichés? The first time we heard any of them, we might well have thought, “Isn’t that clever!” But by the 20th time, they had become old hat and made us green around the gills because they were hoary with age, well past their pull-by date.

I think I’ve tortured you with enough clichés for one day. As William Safire, the late word maven once wrote, “Avoid clichés like the plague.”


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What Do You Call These Eggs?


If you take a hardboiled egg, scoop out the yolk and mix it with mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and perhaps something spicier than the mustard, and put it back into the white part of the egg, I call it a devilled egg. I grew up in New York and moved to California, but the same term followed me to the West.

I have learned, however, that in parts of the South and the Midwest, calling them devilled eggs does not make people happy. The assumed connection to the devil is frightening to some, I suppose, even when describing picnic food. In these regions, this recipe is called stuffed eggs, filled eggs and even angel eggs.

The name deviled eggs has nothing to do with Satan. It recognizes the spiciness of the eggs. That’s all.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

The Semicolon


After writing about colons last week, I had a few requests for an explanation of semicolons; so here goes.

The semicolon has three uses:

1. It can take the place of a period when it appears between two closely related and complete sentences:

I wish I could go to the club with you; I’m just too tired.

2. When you use these transitional words in a sentence, put a semicolon in front of them and a comma after them:

; however,

; for example,

; thus,

; consequently,

; nevertheless,

; moreover,

; therefore,

; furthermore,

; besides,

; in fact,

I wish I could go to the club with you; however, I’m too tired. (Do not put commas on both sides of the transitional words; if you do that, you’ll be writing a run-on sentence.)

3. When you have a long, complicated sentence, use semicolons between the items to make the sentence easier to read:

If you’re going camping you’ll need wood for the fire; an axe to chop the wood; matches to light it; food for at least two meals; pots and pans to cook it in; and utensils to cook and eat with.

Do you see how semicolons bring order to that sentence? If you used commas in their place, the eye would be flooded with commas and it would be much harder to keep each item straight.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Clever Puzzles to Make You Feel Very Smart (or Maybe Stupid)


Brian B. sent me this link, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did have to email him after I read it to have him explain a few of them. But for those I “got,” the wordplay is very clever.

Have fun!

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

The Colon


This is not going to be an anatomy lesson. Rather, it is a simple explanation of a somewhat misunderstood piece of punctuation.

Think of the colon as a blare of a trumpet: TA DAH! It tells the reader something is coming that is closely related to what came before the colon. It almost always follows a complete sentence.

1.  It can be used to introduce a list:

Before the meeting I had to organize the following: the meeting location, a list of participants and the agenda.

 2. It often introduces a quotation:

The actor’s speech was not encouraging: “I will take any part I am offered, even if it requires me dressing up as a lemur.”

 3. It can introduce an example:

Bad luck followed them twice: when they bought their home and when they sold it.

That’s all there is to the colon. Let me know if you have any questions.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Who Said This—And Is It True?


“England and America are two countries that are divided by a common language.”

This astute observation has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill, but the consensus credits the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. Is it still as true today as it was when Shaw made the observation? The March 2015 Atlantic ran an article, “Mind the Gap,” in which British and American linguistic differences were explored.

Here are a few; I’ll list the American words and phrases first, then the British.

Trunk (of a vehicle)/Boot
Shag (Southern dance, haircut, type of carpet)/Sexual intercourse
Gloatingly triumphant/Cock-a-hoop
Knock up (make pregnant)/Knock up (call you or knock on your door)
Custom made/Bespoke
Trash container/Bin
Car hood/Bonnet
French fries/Chips
Make a mess of things/Cock up
Baby’s pacifier/Comforter or dummy
Vacuum (v.)/Hoover
Potato chips/Crisps
Period (punctuation)/Full stop
Rugby position/Hooker

Thousands more undoubtedly exist, but you get the idea. In addition we have the spelling variances, the most common being the difference between, for instance, center and centre and authorize and authorise, not to mention labor and labour. It’s a wonder we understand each other at all.

By the way, in the same issue of The Atlantic is a wonderful article comparing the British and American versions of “House of Cards,” both available on Netflix. The author and I are in complete agreement about the superiority of the British version (with the brilliantly evil, canny, sly Ian Richardson playing Francis Urquhart (F.U., just as in the American version)), the man who does what he must to become prime minister. I think Kevin Spacey is an excellent actor, but in the two versions of “House of Cards” it’s no contest.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language