Category Archives: All things having to do with the English language

Abbreviations vs. Acronyms


When people see an abbreviation, many refer to it as an acronym, thinking they mean the same thing. They don’t.

You all know what an abbreviation is.  An acronym is also an abbreviation—but one that is pronounced as a word:


Snafu ( it lost the caps when it became a common word)

Scuba (ditto)

Fubar (ditto)

MOMA in New York and LACMA in Los Angeles

You’d never say “Oosuh” or “Yoosuh,” so USA is not an acronym, just an abbreviation.

All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

(If you’re not sure what snafu and fubar stand for, look them up in your online dictionary; there you will discover the slightly off-color meanings.)


Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What Were They Thinking?

I was stopped at a light behind this behemoth of a vehicle and was stunned! stunned! I tell you, to see the name of the dealer that sold it. Infamous? Is the company unaware that infamous means the same as notorious, and both are strong negatives? They both mean famous but always in a very bad way. They are antonyms of famous. I hope the owner of this Escalade has good luck with it.



Filed under All things having to do with the English language

New Dictionary Entries

Recently, Merriam-Webster added 840 words to its dictionary. Many of the new words are related to food.

There’s HANGRY, feeling angry or irritable because you’re hungry. (Squishing words together, like hungry and angry to make hangry, creates a neologism.)

Have you eaten ZOODLES yet? You know: long strands of zucchini, prepared like noodles. Of course. I know you’ve eaten GUAC. To me, that sounds like someone is choking and needs the Heimlich maneuver. I refuse to turn guacamole into “gwock.” Are you a beer enthusiast? You just may be a HOPHEAD. If you are, have you ordered a FLIGHT of craft beers? That’s a selection of beers set in front of you for a taste test. (I did enjoy a flight of ice cream in Portland, Maine once, and I had no trouble walking steadily out of the store.)

As you’d expect, science and technology contributed their fair share of new words. AIRPLANE MODE made the cut; that’s the operating mode for your electronic devices that blocks wireless networks so you can’t send or receive messages. (I have to admit, I’ve forgotten to use airplane mode on more than one flight (not the beer or ice cream variety of flight, the Wright brothers’ kind) and the planes have not crashed.

INSTAGRAMMING, Merriam says, is now a verb, meaning “posting a picture to the Instagram photo-sharing app.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say that word, but you feel free.

GENERATION Z, those kiddies born between the late ’90s and into the early 2000s, are fond of  many of the new words. You might say they have their FAVES.

RANDO refers to a person who isn’t immediately recognizable or whose company is not welcome.

You might consider this post a TIME SUCK, in which case I apologize. You are free to tell me, TLDR (too long, didn’t read). OK, that’s only 12 new words in the dictionary. Only 828  to go.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

I Wonder What the Job Title Is

My friend Fran couldn’t wait to tell me about the sign she saw on the back of an old pickup truck:

We Remediate Urine Damage

of Cats, Dogs, Rodents, Hoarders, Infestations

We Remediate Odor Damage 

on Sub floors/Concrete/Drywall/Carpet

BTW, if you think I should put a question mark at the end of my subject line, I will point out that even though I am questioning what the job title might be, it’s not a question. It’s a statement: I’m just saying I’m wondering about something.


Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language


These are parentheses: (    ) Don’t use them when brackets are called for.

These are brackets:   [      ]  Use them to enclose information in a quotation that is not part of the original. For instance, “A Ken Burns documentary shows him [Mark Twain] to have had several financial setbacks, primarily of his own doing.”

Brackets are also used following an error made by another, showing that you didn’t make the mistake yourself: “Trump once said that an accusation against him was unpresidented [sic].”

Sic is Latin for thus or so. Put it immediately after the offending word.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What Constitutes a Sea Change?


Signature of William Shakespeare from Page 3 o...

Signature of William Shakespeare from Page 3 of his Last Will and Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an undergraduate English major at UC Berkeley, it never occurred to me to be a STEM major. In fact, that acronym hadn’t been invented. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Word on the street today is that if you are not majoring in one of those areas, you might as well crawl into a cave with your literature, philosophy  and history books and be happy and useless away from society. I contend that liberal arts majors have much to offer, even in today’s STEM-heavy environment: they are well rounded and can think and write clearly and logically.

Which brings me to Shakespeare. As a senior, I took a Shakespeare seminar with the best professor I ever encountered—as an undergraduate, graduate student or as an English teacher myself. (I’m talking about you, Joseph Kramer.) He once made the statement that any three lines of Shakespeare could be read as a microcosm of the world, and went on to demonstrate that point repeatedly and brilliantly.

Which brings me to today’s jargon. Previously, I wrote about clichés and jargon that originated in Shakespeare’s plays. Of course they weren’t clichés at the time of their origin, but they did catch on. A prevalent cliché, a bit of jargon, these days is “sea change.” I see it everywhere; no simple “changes” exist any more. They are all monumental, life-altering “sea changes.” If the price of oil were to drop five dollars a barrel, that would be a sea change. If Donald Trump were to fix his comb-over to the right rather than to the left, that would be a sea change. (If he were to remove the small animal that lives atop his head, I would grant that truly would be a sea change.)

The phrase originated in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” Here is how he used it:

                                                    Full fathom five thy father lies,

                                                          Of his bones are coral made:

                                                   Those are pearls that were his eyes:

                                                          Nothing of him that doth fade,

                                                   But doth suffer a sea-change

                                                   Into something rich and strange.

We’ve lost the hyphen and also lost—or changed—the meaning. Until quite recently, “sea change” indicated an enormous transformation. Now, any old change will suffice. I wish the original meaning were still appreciated.  How long until someone writes about “an enormous sea change”?

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

How Urgent?

In a post in my Next-door group, someone wrote about a topic she said was of the “upmost urgency.” I have to smile; it probably makes more sense to most people than the correct phrase, “utmost urgency.” “Utmost” means to the greatest extent; therefore, because “up” indicates an increase, “upmost” could mean the most effort or extent of interest in a topic.

This is how language changes, folks. Maybe “upmost” won’t be adopted this week, but check back with me in 50 years. (I might not be able to answer you, but I’ll try my upmost.)

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language