Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sensual vs. Sensuous

SENSUAL always connotes sexual lust and attraction. Reserving the honeymoon suite included a sensual couple’s massage.

The renowned 17th century English essayist and poet John Milton (Paradise Lost) coined the word SENSUOUS to distinguish it from “sensual.” It refers to being aware of bodily sensations: e.g., sensuous smells, tastes, tactile feelings. Swimming slowly in tropical waters is a sensuous experience.

The things you can learn from an English teacher!

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Tropical Waters © Judi Birnberg

Tropical Waters © Judi Birnberg



Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Horde or Hoard?

These two homonyms are often confused, but their meanings are quite different.

HORDE is a crowd, often rowdy or tumultuous. Picture Walmart when it opens on Black Friday.

HOARD is a stash of valuables, often hidden, such as the paintings and artifacts the Nazis confiscated during WWII. You may have read or seen The Monuments Men or The Rape of Europa, both dealing with that subject. You may also be familiar with the television show Hoarders, in which the items collected do not seem particularly valuable except to the person hoarding them. I shudder.



A hoard of wine bottles?

A hoard of wine bottles?

copyright Judi Birnberg





Filed under All things having to do with the English language

A Few Confusing D Words

Here are three sets of similar words all starting with D that have different meanings from their near doubles.

DEFINITE and DEFINITIVE: Definite means specific, precise.
The driving teacher gave definite instructions about what her student should expect on the road test.

Definitive means conclusive, final. The algebra problem, complicated as it was, had a definitive solution that few students were able to reach.

DEFUSE and DIFFUSE: Defuse means to make a situation less harmful. The crowd was getting agitated, but the master of ceremonies’ good nature was able to defuse the nerves of the people in the audience.

Diffuse means to disperse or disseminate, to spread over a wide area. The natural gas that had been escaping for months is now more diffuse so that residents can return to their homes.

DISASSEMBLE and DISSEMBLE: Disassemble means to take apart. When she was only six years old, Katie disassembled the clock to see how it worked.

Dissemble means to conceal, perhaps to lie. Katie dissembled about taking the clock apart when her parents found the parts strewn across the floor of her room.

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Romantic Typos


© Judi Birnberg

From Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo:

Arthur was seriously burned Saturday afternoon when he came in contact with a high-voltage wife.  (Albuquerque newspaper)

Here the bridal couple stood, facing the floral setting, and exchanged cows. (Modesto, CA paper)

Mr. and Mrs. Garth Robinson request the honor of your presents at the marriage of their daughter Holly to Mr. James Stockman.  (Wedding invitation)

Socrates died from a overdose of wedlock. (Child’s homework)

The bride was accompanied to the altar by tight bridesmaids. (19th century court journal)


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A Few Pet Peeves, Linguistic Variety

Yea! You wrote "espresso! © Judi Birnberg

Yea! You wrote “espresso”!
© Judi Birnberg

Here’s a quick and simple one for you, suggested by a reader. I share her pet peeve: The “word” anyways does not exist. Just use anyway.

I would be so pleased if people looked at etcetera and pronounced it correctly. There is no EK in the word. It begins with ET, which is Latin for and.

Your favorite coffee drink is an espresso, not an expresso.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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Speakers of all languages pepper their listeners with fillers, those sounds and words that take up little space and allow the speakers to figure out where they’re going. Here are some language-specific fillers:

Britain— spelled er (but pronounced uh)
Israel (Hebrew speakers)—ehhh
Holland—uh and um
Germanyah and ahm
Serbia and Croatia—ovay
Sweden—eh, ah, aaah, m, mm, hmm, ooh, a and oh (very creative, no?)
Norway—e, eh, m, hm

Sometimes fillers are more than just a sound; they are complete words:

English speakerswell, you know, I mean, so
Turkey—shey, shey shey, which means thing
Mandarin Chinese—neige, meaning that
Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong—tsik hai, which means equal
Wichita Indian—kaakiri, meaning something

It seems that um is ubiquitous, found in every language.
My information comes from, um, the book titled Um, written by, um, Michael Erard.

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