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A Willing Suspension of Disbelief

The origin of this expression lies in literary criticism. The term represents a contract between reader and writer. In recent years, however, the phrase has escaped from literary criticism and is used in a variety of contexts that have little to do with the original meaning. A web search brings up numerous examples in which the term seems to serve...

Euerergetism, Paraprosdokian, and Organleptic

These three words have nothing to do with each other. They’re just interesting. Euerergetism The first time I encountered euerergetism may have been in an article about Boris Johnson before he was Britain’s prime minister. While Mayor of London, Johnson declared that Britain needed “a greater sense of eurergetism.” A classical scholar, he was familiar...

Another “Kryptonite” Issue: who vs whom

Many of the AP Stylebook users who responded to the Grammar Day Twitter question (AP Quiz Top Two Anathemas ) complained about the usage of who and whom. For all practical purposes, the pronoun form whom is ready to go the way of ye, an old form of the pronoun you. Ideally, speakers who do not understand that who is a subject form and whom is an...

The 7 Deadly Sins and Their Synonyms

Traditional views about religion and sin may be in decline, but the human behavior catalogued as the Seven Deadly Sins remains very much with us. The sins and their synonyms provide writers with words to analyze and discuss the bad things people do. Here is the list as revised from earlier versions by Pope Gregory I in 590 CE: • Pride • Envy • Wrath...

Awkward and Untoward

Both these adjectives are in frequent use on the web: awkward: about 163,000,000 hits in a Google search untoward: about 5,290,000. Language, as the media illustrates daily, can be used to illuminate or obscure ideas. The purpose of adjectives is to make writing more vivid. Used judiciously, they can clarify ideas being presented. The vastness...

Words and Expressions from Poker

Perhaps the quintessential American card game, poker gained its first popularity on the riverboats and in the saloons of the 19th century West. Based on a European card game that involved betting and bluffing, the game was called poque in French. “To place a stake or bet” was poquer. Words and phrases associated with the game have added to the English...

Conjuring and Cancelling with Cancel Culture

Like the term political correctness, cancel culture has become an incantation to conjure with. conjure: To invoke by supernatural power, to effect by magic or jugglery. From Latin conjurare: to swear together, to band, combine, or make a compact by oath, to conspire. Before cancel culture, there was cancelling, in the sense of rejecting or getting...

Two Literary Syndromes—AWS and OHS

Several fictional characters are so memorable that their names have been attached to physical and psychological maladies. Some of the so-called syndromes can be found in medical sources. Others, like “Bambi Syndrome” and “Peter Pan Syndrome,” are found only in pop culture—at least for the present. Some psychologists suggest that Peter Pan Syndrome...

AP Quiz Top Two Anathemas

On March 4 this year, National Grammar Day, the AP Stylebook editors tweeted a question for their readers: What grammar rule do you find yourself getting wrong no matter how many times you look it up? Tell us your grammar kryptonite. The feed I saw had 72 Quote Tweets. If “Quote Tweets” means “responses,” then I read them all. I did not take the time...

Shakespeare—for All Time

According to T. S. Eliot, April was :the cruellest month.” For me, April is Shakespeare’s month, a time to reread some of the plays and perhaps watch some of the film versions. Like his character Cassius in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare died on his birthday: William Shakespeare 23 April 1564—23 April 1616. His contemporary and fellow dramatist,...

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