Author Archive

  • Weak, needs revision

    Posted by on January 02, 2013

    People have long been fascinated with the idea of time travel and often speculate on the marvelous things that it would enable them to do. Here’s a reason we can be thankful that we cannot readily receive visitors from the past: some of English’s greatest writers, if they should drop in for a visit to […]

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  • Feeling used

    Posted by on December 17, 2012

    A new friend of mine is an equine-assisted therapist. After I revealed to him my almost-as-obscure profession (lexicographer) we found common ground in talking about a usage that particularly bothered him and that he was always at pains to correct. He said that newcomers to his profession, whether as clients or trainees, were inclined to […]

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  • Mr. and Ms. Right

    Posted by on December 03, 2012

    Young people today who find their lives incomplete have probably not had the experience of editing their heart’s desire down to 100 characters or so (including spaces) because online forums for those seeking fulfillment through romance are now free and have no space limitations. Formerly, lonely hearts had to give serious attention to saying it […]

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  • A preposition problem

    Posted by on November 19, 2012

    To begin, and so that you won’t feel you have yet another language problem on your plate, the preposition problem here is not a problem for you; it’s a problem for computers. You remember computers—those machines we rely on increasingly to do a huge amount of work for us. A big job for computers today […]

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  • Who signed off on my burrito?

    Posted by on November 07, 2012

    There comes a time in the life of many words when it appears that they have been given more work than they can reasonably accomplish. I popped out to the supermarket to buy lunch the other day—in the form of a modest, microwavable burrito—and decided that such a moment had come for signature. (See the […]

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  • Miscreant word behavior

    Posted by on October 23, 2012

    If you type “dictionary australia” into the Google News search box it will deliver up a cartload of stories—nearly 1500 of them when I tried it. There is shocking news that the most respected Australian dictionary, Macquarie, has updated its definition of misogyny in response to a parliamentary speech that prime minister Julia Gillard gave […]

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  • Spin to win

    Posted by on October 09, 2012

    Early this year I wrote about the special meanings that US politicians may wish to convey when they bandy particular words. Now Americans are in the deep end of the campaign for the general election and the words are still flying. About 70 million people watched the first of three scheduled debates between President Obama […]

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  • Pasta is Life

    Posted by on September 25, 2012

    Food terms borrowed from other languages tend to arrive intact, or undergo as little change as possible to still be comprehensible in the second language. As well as providing novelty and diversion for menu readers, this practice can be a real boon to English learners. A stroll down the pasta aisle of the supermarket can […]

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  • Tech talk

    Posted by on September 11, 2012

    I sat down with a programmer the other day who was showing me how to use a new text annotation tool. His first instruction to me was, “Open a shell.” Not being a mollusk, nor carrying one with me, I was briefly flummoxed. But not wanting to appear completely clueless, I said: “Do I have […]

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  • Remembrance of past participle things

    Posted by on August 29, 2012

    Stan Carey’s recent post about irregular verbs reminded me of a topic that occurs to me from time to time; to be more precise, a topic that occurs to me every time I notice someone fail to vocalize a past participle when grammar requires it, and opt for the simple past instead. Of course this […]

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