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Good vs. Well

The words good and well have been in English since its earliest incarnation. When Beowulf finds the ancient sword in the underwater cave of Grendel’s mother, one of the words used to describe it is good. Likewise, when the Beowulf poet contemplates the afterlife, he says, “Well [i.e., “in a state of good fortune”] is the person who after death seeks...

Hindmost

The useful adjective hindmost may be shifting into the territory of the unfamiliar, where words become vulnerable to a change in meaning. The opposite of foremost (“most forward or advanced in position”), the word hindmost is closely associated with the collocation, “Devil take the hindmost.” As an adjective, hindmost denotes a fixed position of being...

Let’s Save “Critique” vs. “Criticize”

Regard the use of the word critique in the following examples: My boyfriend critiques the way I make the bed and fold the towels. Control freaks are compelled to critique every little thing you do. Perhaps you need to look in a mirror before you critique someone else’s comments. Using the word critique in these sentences is the waste of a good word....

The Past Tense of “Lead” Is Spelled “Led”

The past tense of the verb to lead (pronounced /leed/) gives some English-speakers as much trouble as the past tenses of lay and lie. The prevalence of past tense led misspelled as lead on amateur blogs and social media like Reddit is not surprising. To see the misspelling in the writing of professional journalists and academics, however, is discouraging....

A Drabble, a Dribble—Short Fiction by Any Name

Not too long ago, in the Before Times, when I still dared attend large gatherings like writers’ conferences, I experienced the delight of winning first place in the Flash Fiction category at William Bernhardt’s Red Sneaker conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’d written the story sometime in the past, but had never done anything with it. When I saw its...

Connotation of “Ram” vs “Cram”

While browsing the web in search of royalty-free graphics, I came across a source described this way: This site does not host one unattractive image, it is rammed full with outstanding landscapes and breath-taking scenes of nature. What? Surely this blogger meant to say “crammed full.” Surely, no one else is confusing the verb ram with the similar...

Misology and Other Words In the News

As an avid reader for more years than I care to mention, I have a reasonably large reading vocabulary, if I say so. During the past few months, however, I am encountering more and more unfamiliar words in my daily perusal of various newspapers and websites. My theory is that journalists, bored beyond endurance with the utter sameness of daily and...

Wether, Weather, Whether

Wether is a prime example of a word that will slip past the spell check. It is easily confused with two of its homonyms, whether and weather. Flying fingers find it easy to miss the single letter that separates them. Unless you’re a farmer, you might not even know that wether is either a: male sheep or ram (the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology traces...

Musings on Five Collocations

Speech and writing are made up of single words, but most words we use are grouped as phrases. Many of these groupings occur again and again in specific patterns. Linguists call these predictable patterns collocations: collocation: The habitual juxtaposition or association, in the sentences of a language, of a particular word with other particular words;...

Something Odd Happening with Irregular Verbs

In Old English—the principal language spoken in England from the mid-fifth century until the Norman Conquest in 1066—English verbs were of two main kinds: Weak and Strong. OE weak verbs formed their past tense endings with dental suffixes that have survived into modern English as our -ed endings: walk (present) walked (simple past) have/had/has...

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