Monthly Archives: April 2019

Assure, Insure, Ensure



© Judi Birnberg      Collage with handmade paper


I assure you that you will understand the differences among these three similar words. See? You already knew what ASSURE meant in that sentence: to give a guarantee or to make certain.

ENSURE also means to make certain; you might say, “I can ensure you the package you ordered will be delivered today.”  Note the use of can with ensure.

INSURE has to do with money (think about insurance). “You need to insure that package at the post office.”


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Have You Heard?

So many words in English (and most likely in every language) are so close to other words,  both in spelling and pronunciation. These similarities contribute to phrases that are close, but no cigars will be distributed:

Statue of limitations   You want the legal term statute.

Pass mustard   At the dinner table, fine. But the expression is to pass muster, meaning to pass inspection.

Free reign   No royalty involved. It’s free rein (as in giving your horse freedom to ride however she wants).

Baited breath  I’m squirming. Leave the bait in the boat. It’s bated breath, meaning the people holding their breath are waiting anxiously for something to occur.

Heart-rendering  The expression is heartrending. To rend is to tear.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Than I or Than Me?

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©Judi Birnberg

Which do you prefer? Elmer loves golf more than I  or  Elmer loves golf more than me?

It used to be, not so long ago, that than was considered a preposition, and prepositions are followed by object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them). But than can also be considered a conjunction, which would need to be followed by subject pronouns (I, he she, we, they).

Times, they are a-changin’. Today, it’s generally acceptable to follow than by either a subject or an object pronoun, whichever one sounds better to you. This is progress! One problem with using the subject pronoun, however, is that your sentence is likely to be seen as stilted, pompous, or stuffy, somewhat la de dah. What you are saying in the first example in the first line is that Elmer loves golf more than I do. When you add those clarifying words, the stuffiness disappears. If you prefer using the object pronoun, you may have to also add clarifying words: Elmer loves golf more than he loves me.

A side note: Than and then may sound very similar, but they have very different meanings:

Than is used to compare things: more than, less than, taller than, stronger than, closer than….

Then shows relationships in which one thing follows another or results from it: Sam came home from school famished; he then emptied the refrigerator for his afternoon snack.

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Wondering What to Name Your Baby?

images.jpg   I’m fascinated by the trendy names being given to babies these days. Where have Mary, Steve, Linda, Barbara, Jim, Judy and Roger gone? I have a book titled Remarkable Names of Real People, compiled by John Train. If more traditional names don’t appeal to you and you’re tired of all the Coopers and Mackenzies, this book might provide inspiration.






A. TOXIN WORM, New York City (I’m wondering if something was in the NYC water.)


and a MRS. SCREECH, a singing teacher in Victoria, BC

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Over 300 New Words Added at

Hot off the presses this week, ( has added a load of new words and their definitions in an attempt to keep up with the ever-changing English language. Here are a few entries for your consideration. Click on the link above and you’ll see a box about the new words for you to explore.

LATINX: This is a gender-free way to refer to people of Latin American descent. I’ve seen this in print recently but couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it. It’s luh TEEN iks.

CRYBULLY: A person who harasses others but still plays the victim. Avoid this person.

INFODUMP: An enormous pile of information released all at once, too large to digest easily. Friday night is the most common time for politicians to release their infodumps or newsdumps.

COLORISM: Different treatment of people based on skin color, often giving preference to people of lighter skin tones.

TOXIC MASCULINITY: Glorifying virility, dominance, strength, and stoicism. A close relative of MANSPLAINING.

BRAIN FART: Formerly known as a senior moment. You don’t have to be a senior to suffer from cerebral flatulence.

WOMP WOMP: The dismissive sound indicating false sympathy (“Oh, boo hoo, poor you. I couldn’t care less.”)

On the website, you still have c. 300 new entries to look up. JSYK. (Just so you know.)

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language