Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bare With Me

I was engaged in a text conversation with a customer service representative yesterday when he asked me to "bare with" him while he looked up some information. I did NOT take him up on his offer. Why he wanted me to join him in disrobing is beyond me. I mean, how was I supposed to know if he followed up on his end of the deal?

I almost took the time to correct his spelling, but why rob future customers of the chuckle I got?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back Formation

Here's an interesting concept I just learned about: back formation. Back formation occurs when a word is mistakenly assumed to have come from a particular root. That "root" is then actually coined as a word.

Burgle, for example, was assumed to be the root of the word burglar, and has recently been recognized by dictionary-makers as a synonym for burglarize. Burglar, however, predates burgle.

Couth is another example--sort of. It has been used for some time as a facetious synonym for manners. I always found it humorous that one could be uncouth, but not merely couth. I read today, however, in David Feldman's book, Who Put the Butter in Butterfly?, that uncouth is rooted in the Old English word couth, which meant "known," or "familiar." Uncouth took on negative connotations as it applied to the manners or behaviors of outsiders. Uncouth in that pejorative sense survived into modern English, but not its root, couth. The reemergence of couth, now recognized in several dictionaries, is from the evolved definition of uncouth (boorish, unmannerly).

So, the couth that spawned uncouth is not the same as the couth we unwittingly invented. Get it?

Anyway, some other examples of back-formations (courtesy Wikipedia) include:

automate (from automation)
aviate (from aviator)
bartend (from bartender)
book-keep (from book-keeping)
brainwash (from brainwashing)
bulldoze (from bulldozer)
bus (from busboy)
choreograph (from choreography)
creep (from creepy)
destruct (from destruction)
donate (from donation)
edit (from editor)
escalate (from escalator)
emote (from emotion)
funk (from funky)
grovel (from groveling)
haze (from hazy)
isolate (from isolated)
legislate (from legislator)
manipulate (from manipulation)
opine (from opinion)
proofread (from proofreader)
spectate (from spectator)
tase (from taser)
upholster (from upholstery)

Hyphen--Will Work for Food

The newest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has dropped hyphens from something like 16,000 words. The decision was influenced by the Web, where hyphens are often omitted. Print media has gradually followed suit. With this new dictionary, the demise of the hyphen has become official.

Included in the list of new, formerly hyphenated spellings are:

pot belly
ice cream
test tube
fig leaf
hobby horse
water bed

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Most folks don't know the term heteronym, but they are baffled by them nevertheless. Heteronyms are words that have identical spellings (homographs), but have different meanings and pronunciations.

For example, a person who sews is a sewer. Underground pipes that carry off waste are called sewers.

Usually the context solves the problem, but it just doesn't seem right that sewer and sewer can be complely different words! I wish I knew someone to complain to about this!

coop: The neighborhood coop met in a renovated chicken coop.
sow: The farmer fed the sow and left to sow his field.
bow: The archer left his bow in the bow of the ship.

Here are some other hetronyms. It might take a few seconds to recognize the varying pronunciations/definitions:

wind appropriate buffet content contest does drawer
entrance intimate number recount refuse resent wound
taxes alternate perfect separate convert permit rebel

Can you think of others?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Body Part Metaphors

Our language is replete with familiar metaphor. All of the following are common metaphorical terms referring to body parts. Can you fill in the blanks? I'll post the answers in a comment.
Hint: There are no repeats.
Note: I got manyof these from Richard Lederer's The Play of Words.

1. ________ of lettuce
2. ________ of a needle
3. ________ of a relay race
4. wet behind the ______
5. long _________ of the law
6. ________ of drawers
7. ________ of the matter
8. ________ of your shoe
9. ________ of contention
10. _______ of a river
11. to go _____ to _____
12. turn the other __________
13. _______ service
14. to split ________
15. save _______
16. a main _________ of traffic
17. fight _______ and _______
18. get off my ______
19. _______ grease
20. _______ under
21. _______ laugh
22. _______ reaction
23. take it on the _______
24. chip on your _______
25. _______ punch
26. shove it down your _______
27. shout at the top of your ______
28. it fell right into my _______
29. that _______ of the woods
30. under one's _______

There are plenty of others. Feel free to post some.