What Do Words Really Mean?
How discombobulating words can be! You feel certain about what a word means, but then are challenged by another person’s interpretation. Sometimes the discussion, or even argument, is rooted in changing social situations. For example, what does poverty mean? What did it mean 200 years ago? A dispute about words may also be philosophical: there […]
Undue Care and Attention
Are you ever guilty of writing with undue care and attention? If you didn’t spot the clunker in the preceding sentence, prop your eyes open and attend! We think we know the language and may even make our living by writing and editing, but the ways to slip up are infinite, providing sport for many […]
We’re All Looking for Style
What is style in writing? Writers — and their editors, of course — must think about this, but not everyone agrees on what is appropriate. A writer of non-fiction, for example, probably aims for an unobtrusive style in which the language — the words and phrases, the syntax and grammar — takes second place to the content. […]
What’s an Editor to Do?
The vagaries of language can cause even the most experienced editors headaches. Editors as a group are more attuned to the whims and ways of language than the average speaker, but many strange and challenging usages regularly fly under the radar and pass into public text, despite our best efforts. When should an editor accept […]
One could say that bold words enter the language shouting. An example would be the word AIDS, which was coined in the early 1980s, probably by a journalist, as an initialism for the descriptive medical name of the disease: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Because the disease burst upon the world so devastatingly, the word AIDS was in the news just about […]
When I took on the commitment, a year ago, of contributing blog postings about language, I began bravely by tossing out a little ditty that came into my mind, inspired by Dr. Seuss: “New words, old words, shy words, bold words.” Well, I’ve talked about old words and new words, but shy words? What was […]
Old words are just as interesting as new words. But how old is old? We use a good number of words today that go all the way back to Old English, the language of the Germanic peoples who invaded and then settled in England in the fifth century A.D. These “native” words are some of […]
The end of a year brings thoughts of old and new words—and not only to us word birds, who throughout the year are tuned into what’s coming in and what’s fading out. It’s generally easier to recognize the new than the obsolescent. New words and meanings can virtually explode onto the linguistic scene. Such terms usually relate […]