Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer Sale on Books + gauge/gouge

“Gauge” is an unusual spelling in English, and the word frequently gets misspelled. Your spelling-checker will catch “gague” (believe it!), but won’t catch “gouge,” which occurs more often than you might think. It’s pretty easy to find a “tire pressure gouge” for sale on the Web. If the word you want has an A sound in it, the spelling you want is “gauge.”


Two books on sale through the end of August—just $12 for Common Errors in English Usage and $17 for Far from the Madding Gerund: 
We bid farewell to the podcast some time ago, but you may still listen to all the episodes you may have missed.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Jew/Hebrew + New Blog Post by Paul Brians

These terms overlap but are often distinguished in usage. In the older portions of the Bible the descendants of Abraham and Sarah are referred to as “Hebrews.” Since the sixth century BCE Babylonian captivity and the return from exile, they have been known as “Jews,” a name derived from the dominant remaining tribe of Judah. Modern Jews are seldom referred to as “Hebrews” but the language spoken in the state of Israel today, based on ancient Hebrew, is “Modern Hebrew.” Although “Hebrew” has sometimes been used in a condescending or insulting manner to refer to modern Jews, it is not in itself an insulting term. However, it is normal when you have a choice to use “Jew” to refer both to people of the Jewish faith and to ethnic Jews, religious or not.

“Hewbrew” is a common misspelling of “Hebrew.” If you’re in the habit of ignoring names when they are flagged by your spelling checker, don’t ignore this one.

Paul Brians’ latest blog post discusses the language of anti-Semitism.

We bid farewell to the podcast some time ago, but we covered this entry in Episode 50, “Commonly Confused Words, the PC Edition.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Book Sale Continues + translucent/transparent/opaque + New Blog Post by Paul Brians

Although technically anything that light can shine through is translucent, most writers now reserve this word for substances that don’t clearly display what is on the other side. A frosted window-pane, a thin rice-paper screen, or a sheet of tissue paper may be called “translucent.” A clear window or camera lens is transparent. “Sheer” fabric can be either translucent or transparent. Better check before you go out in public.

“Opaque” is the opposite of “translucent.” Anything solid through which light cannot pass is opaque.


Paul Brians’ latest blog post sheds some light on a fascinating book by Alan Moore.

Two books on sale this month, $15 each with free shipping: 

We bid farewell to the podcast some time ago, but if you could use more light these days, you might want to listen to “The Solstice and Celestial Terms.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Book Sale Continues + hyphenation

The Chicago Manual of Style contains a huge chart listing various sorts of phrases that are or are not to be hyphenated. Consult such a reference source for a thorough-going account of this matter, but you may be able to get by with a few basic rules. An adverb/adjective combination in which the adverb ends in “-ly” is never hyphenated: “His necktie reflected his generally grotesque taste.” Other sorts of adverbs are followed by a hyphen when combined with an adjective: “His long-suffering wife finally snapped and fed it through the office shredder.” The point here is that “long” modifies “suffering,” not “wife.” When both words modify the same noun, they are not hyphenated. A “light-green suitcase” is pale in color, but a “light green suitcase” is not heavy. In the latter example “light” and “green” both modify “suitcase,” so no hyphen is used.

Adjectives combined with nouns having an “-ed” suffix are hyphenated: “Frank was a hot-headed cop.”

Hyphenate ages when they are adjective phrases involving a unit of measurement: “Her ten-year-old car is beginning to give her trouble.” A girl can be a “ten-year-old” (“child” is implied). But there are no hyphens in such an adjectival phrase as “Her car is ten years old.” In fact, hyphens are generally omitted when such phrases follow the noun they modify except in phrases involving “all” or “self” such as “all-knowing” or “self-confident.” Fractions are almost always hyphenated when they are adjectives: “He is one-quarter Irish and three-quarters Nigerian.” But when the numerator is already hyphenated, the fraction itself is not, as in “ninety-nine and forty-four one hundredths.” Fractions treated as nouns are not hyphenated: “He ate one quarter of the turkey.”

A phrase composed of a noun and a present participle (“-ing” word) must be hyphenated: “The antenna had been climbed by thrill-seeking teenagers who didn’t realize the top of it was electrified.”

These are the main cases in which people are prone to misuse hyphens. If you can master them, you will have eliminated the vast majority of such mistakes in your writing. Some styles call for space around dashes (a practice of which I strongly disapprove), but it is never proper to surround hyphens with spaces, though in the following sort of pattern you may need to follow a hyphen with a space: “Stacy’s pre- and post-haircut moods.”


Two books on sale this month, $15 each with free shipping: 

There is a new blog post on hyphenation.
We bid farewell to the podcast some time ago, but you may still listen to all the episodes you may have missed, including a timely one on greeting people this time of year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Sale Continues! Also, Paul Brians in The Washington Post + Scotch free/scot free

Trending now on the Internet is the medieval idiom “scot free,” which Donald Trump spelled out as “Scott Free” in a recent tweet. Meagan Flynn wrote up the whole story at The Washington Post, and in doing so cited Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage, which remains on sale through the end of the year, lest you forget.

You may notice Flynn hyphenates the term (scot-free), while in the book it is not hyphenated. It turns out that there is no clear preference in edited work to hyphenate or not; this is a case where it can go either way. However, if you go by Webster’s, you will find it hyphenated.

Here is the entry from the book:

Scotch free/scot free
Getting away with something “scot free” has nothing to do with the Scots (or Scotch). The scot was a medieval tax; if you evaded paying it you got off scot free. Some people wrongly suppose this phrase alludes to Dred Scott, the American slave who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom. The phrase is “scot free”: no H, one T.


Further down in her article, Flynn notes that Jeremy Fowler of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage has called this a “special kind of eponym eggcorn,” but when Flynn identifies an eggcorn as “a language error when someone’s usage is close but not quite correct,” she is off the mark. An eggcorn springs from a misunderstanding of the origin of a word or phrase, such as the ubiquitous “for all intensive purposes” in place of “for all intents and purposes,” where the user mishears the phrase and creates a different meaning, in this case believing purposes must somehow be intensive. An error like Trump’s is more like a plain old homonym error, or if you like, a special kind of eponym homonym.

If only Flynn had chosen to cite another book that is on sale this month:

Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from Language Log

. . . which features an “eggcorn” right on the cover, and has all the information you would ever need to help you define the term to perfection every time!

We bid farewell to the podcast some time ago, but you may still listen to all the episodes you may have missed.