Category: Words

December 9, 2016

Prescriptivism and Language Change

Recently, John McIntyre posted a video in which he defended the unetymological use of decimate to the Baltimore Sun’s Facebook page. When he shared it to his own Facebook page, a lively discussion ensued, including this comment: Putting aside all the straw men, the ad absurdums, the ad hominems and the just plain sillies, answer […]

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Usage, Words 6 Replies to “Prescriptivism and Language Change”
September 14, 2015

Overanxious about Ambiguity

As my last post revealed, a lot of people are concerned—or at least pretend to be concerned—about the use of anxious to mean “eager” or “excited”. They claim that since it has multiple meanings, it’s ambiguous, and thus the disparaged “eager” sense should be avoided. But as I said in my last post, it’s not […]

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Usage, Words 21 Replies to “Overanxious about Ambiguity”
October 6, 2014

New Post on Visual Thesaurus: Less Usage Problems

I have a new post on Visual Thesaurus, and this one’s open to non-subscribers: The distinction between less and fewer is one of the most popular rules in the peevers’ arsenal. It’s a staple of lists of grammar rules that everyone supposedly gets wrong, and sticklers have pressured stores into changing their signs from “10 […]

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Usage, Words 0 Replies to “New Post on Visual Thesaurus: Less Usage Problems”
June 10, 2014

Do Usage Debates Make You Nauseous?

Several days ago, the Twitter account for the Chicago Manual of Style tweeted, “If you’re feeling sick, use nauseated rather than nauseous. Despite common usage, whatever is nauseous induces nausea.” The relevant entry in Chicago reads, Whatever is nauseous induces a feeling of nausea—it makes us feel sick to our stomachs. To feel sick is […]

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Usage, Words 18 Replies to “Do Usage Debates Make You Nauseous?”
April 24, 2014

Over Has Always Meant More Than. Get Over it.

Last month, at the yearly conference of the American Copy Editors Society, the editors of the AP Stylebook announced that over in the sense of more than was now acceptable. For decades, newspaper copy editors had been changing constructions like over three hundred people to more than three hundred people; now, with a word from […]

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Usage, Words 18 Replies to “Over Has Always Meant More Than. Get Over it.”
December 19, 2013

Now on Visual Thesaurus: “Electrocution: A Shocking Misuse?”

I have a new post up on Visual Thesaurus about the use, misuse, and history of the word electrocute. Some usage commentators today insist that it be used only to refer to death by electric shock; that is, you can’t say you’ve been electrocuted if you lived to tell the tale. But the history, unsurprisingly, […]

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Usage, Words 2 Replies to “Now on Visual Thesaurus: “Electrocution: A Shocking Misuse?””
December 12, 2013

Yes, Irregardless Is a Word

My last post, “12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes about Grammar Mistakes Makes”, drew a lot of comments, some supportive and some critical. But no point drew as much ire as my claim that irregardless is a word. Some stated flatly, “Irregardless is not a word.” One ignorantly demanded, “Show me a dictionary that actually […]

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Sociolinguistics, Usage, Words 28 Replies to “Yes, Irregardless Is a Word”
November 23, 2012

Hanged and Hung

The distinction between hanged and hung is one of the odder ones in the language. I remember learning in high school that people are hanged, pictures are hung. There was never any explanation of why it was so; it simply was. It was years before I learned the strange and complicated history of these two […]

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Grammar, Historical linguistics, Semantics, Usage, Words 10 Replies to “Hanged and Hung
November 20, 2012

The Enormity of a Usage Problem

Recently on Twitter, Mark Allen wrote, “Despite once being synonyms, ‘enormity’ and ‘enormousness’ are different. Try to keep ‘enormity’ for something evil or outrageous.” I’ll admit right off that this usage problem interests me because I didn’t learn about the distinction until a few years ago. To me, they’re completely synonymous, and the idea of […]

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Semantics, Usage, Words 15 Replies to “The Enormity of a Usage Problem”
October 1, 2012

Funner Grammar

As I said in the addendum to my last post, maybe I’m not so ready to abandon the technical definition of grammar. In a recent post on Copyediting, Andrea Altenburg criticized the word funner in an ad for Chuck E. Cheese as “improper grammar”, and my first reaction was “That’s not grammar!” That’s not entirely […]

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Grammar, Usage, Words 22 Replies to “Funner Grammar”
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