Monthly Archives: November 2018

Keep It Simple!

Thought for the day:

Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness

A predilection by the intelligentsia to engage in the manifestation of prolix exposition through a buzzword disposition form of communication notwithstanding the availability of more comprehensible, punctiliously applicable, diminutive alternatives.

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Nieces, Nephews, and Cousins

I get a daily email you might be interested in: The primary author is Patricia O’Conner, who wrote my favorite grammar book, Woe Is I. (Yes, that is grammatically correct, but don’t worry.) In addition to being extremely informative, Pat writes with a wonderful sense of humor—many fun connections and plays on words. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

In today’s Grammarphobia email, a reader asked her why we have words indicating gender for nieces and nephews but use only cousin, without showing whether that cousin is male or female. In fact, said Pat, a gendered word does exist: cousiness. Who knew, right? It’s archaic and rarely seen today, so you can forget about it.

O’Conner quotes Joanna Rubery, a former online editor for Oxford Dictionaries:

“Anthropologists,” she writes, “have identified at least ten different kinship systems in use around the world.” The simplest is the Hawaiian system, which “makes no distinction between siblings and cousins,” while the most complex, the Sudanese system, “has a different name for each individual on the family tree. There are different words for aunt and uncle depending on whether they are related by blood or marriage; specific terms for in-laws depending on age; and different words for grandchildren depending on lineage.”

In Chinese, she says, “our simple cousin can be translated in at least eight different ways, not just according to whether the cousin is male or female, but also whether they are on the father’s or mother’s side, and whether they are older or younger than the speaker.”

Her conclusion: “Perhaps our generic word cousin is quite handy, after all.”



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An Italian Lesson


images-1.jpgThe first thing you should know is that I have never studied Italian, much as I’d like to. However, just from being in Italy over the years, I have become quite fluent in Menu Italian. Did you know that biscotti is plural? If you have the willpower to eat only one, you will crunch on a biscotto. But who can eat only one?



Have you ever tagged a wall? (Tsk tsk.) If you made only one mark, you created a graffito. Graffiti is when you (or Banksy) paint a large creation containing many letters and figures. If caught, you’d have to confess, “These graffiti were my creation. And that graffito over there also was mine.” Plural vs. singular.



Filed under All things having to do with the English language