I am shamelessly lifting a video from the FABULOUS blog of K.B. Owen (subscribe right now if you like mystery and/or history). She pointed the way to this awesome video about the history of the English language from The Open University:
As for ROW80 progress, here’s where I stand:
Finish reading Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. Done.
Cheer on the ROW80 participants. Done.
Edit at least 50 pages of SHARING HUNTER, my young adult contemporary novel. Gave the novel to a teen beta reader to get feedback from my target audience.
Exercise at least twice each week. My Zumba classes are on hiatus for two weeks.
Submit a query for SHARING HUNTER. Done.
Adding for this week:
Work through at least two lessons of Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS with YA novel.
Read at least 50 pages of The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
How is your progress coming along? Did you enjoy the video?
As always, you can cheer on my fellow ROWers by clicking HERE.
I am proudly one-sixteenth Jewish. For most of my life, I didn’t even know that. I think I learned of my Jewish heritage in my teens or 20s. However, I realized the other day how many Yiddish words I naturally use! Perhaps Jewish genes are just that strong. Whatever the reason, on this Amaze-ing Words Wednesday I invite you all to add a little Yiddish to your English.
Below are some of my favorite Yiddish words that we English-speakers have incorporated, along with their definitions from Dictionary.com and examples of usage.
bupkes. absolutely nothing; something worthless. Stupid muse. I stared at my screen for hours and wrote bupkes last night.
chutzpah. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall; audacity; nerve. You’ve got a lot of chutzpah to ask me out after I divorced your brother!
glitch. a defect or malfunction in a machine or plan. There is a glitch in SPECTRE’s plan to take over the world.
klutz. a clumsy, awkward person. I am such a klutz that I fell off the stage right after accepting my Oscar.
maven. an expert or connoisseur. I would love to be a maven of words and their origins.
mensch. a decent responsible person with admirable characteristics. My little brother paid for our lunch with his first paycheck; he’s such a mensch.
putz. fool; jerk. (In Yiddish, literally penis.) Get your hand off my knee, you putz!
schmaltz. exaggerated sentimentalism, as in music or soap operas. (In Yiddish, it’s literally chicken fat.) My guy won’t watch chick flicks with me because he says they’re all schmaltz.
schlep. to carry; lug. I schlepped my grocery sacks up the stairs to my apartment.
schmooze. to chat idly; gossip. At every work party, I have to schmooze with the higher-ups for at least an hour.
schmuck. obnoxious or contemptible person. (In Yiddish, literally penis.) My friend’s ex-husband better watch out because I have no patience for that schmuck.
schmutz. dirt; filth; garbage. Hey, you have a little schmutz on your cheek. Want me to wipe it off?
schpiel. (In Yiddish, to play a game.) a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; pitch. The politician gave me the whole schpiel on why I should vote for him.
tuchas. the buttocks. After sitting in this chair for hours, I can barely feel my tuchas.
It might help to practice making your h have a little k sound in it as well. That will help with words like “chutzpah” and “tuchas.” Also, you should note that spellings of these words in English vary. For instance, you might see hutzpah, chutzpah, or khutzpah. Take your pick.
When you get comfortable with Yiddish words, you can start talking in Yinglish (Yiddish/English). For instance, “Rosie schlepped through the mall with her packages, while I got bupkes. Some putz had stolen my card, and the credit company kept saying it was a glitch. I had to schmooze my way up to a manager who had the chutzpah to give me his schpiel about upgrading to a gold card. Oy, what a schmuck. It’s just as well, I suppose. I can’t find any pants these days to fit my big tuchas.”
If you still need some help, perhaps this video will help: Yiddish with Dick and Jane (based on a book of the same name by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman).
Do you have any favorite Yiddish words? Do you find yourself using any of the ones above? What Yiddish words would you add to my list?
Some time ago, my blog was visited by the well-known language arts teacher, Miss Pronunciation. She helped to clarify proper articulation of commonly mispronounced words, such as library and et cetera. I was recently contacted by her colleague, Miss Spelling, who wanted her turn on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, to correct commonly misspelled words in the English language. Today I am happy to oblige. The floor is now yours, Miss Spelling.
February. Having read Ms. Glover’s lovely post on the origins of the names of the months, I know that February derives from the Roman festival of Februata. However, it is rather challenging to get that first r into the pronunciation, and before you know it, you’re writing “Febuary.”
Whether you are an Aquarius, a Pisces, or another zodiac sign with no relation to this month, it is important to learn this spelling. You might someday have an important event in the month of February — like a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary, or the apocalypse. Be ready to mark your calendar with the correct spelling. Example: “End of the World, February 16, 2031.”
Cemetery. The final e in this word has come to be pronounced by many with an a sound, thus causing us to incorrectly spell the word “cemetary.”
No, no, my friends. No self-respecting paranormal creature would settle for such nonsense. You will find your vampires, zombies, and ghosts in a cemetery. Remember, they may be dead, but good spelling isn’t!
Lightning. For heaven’s sake, do not tell me about bolts of “lightening”! There is no such thing. If you wish to lighten an area, turn on a lamp. However, if you are watching flashes of electricity trail across the sky, remember that it is “lightning” — two syllables, no e.
Thus, the Olympian Percy Jackson’s first quest is for The Lightning Thief. If instead he had chased the lightening thief, Percy might have merely found a poor schmuck who stole someone’s Yankee candle to add a little ambiance to a dark room.
Pastime. Doesn’t it seem that the two words “past” and “time” would make the compound word “pasttime”? For reasons I cannot explain, the t is simply unnecessary here. One t gets the job done. If anyone feels so inclined, they can make it their pastime to figure out why we dropped the additional t.
As for me, my pastimes include correcting such misspellings and shopping for various colored reading glasses to coordinate with my cheery wardrobe.
Privilege. Some wish to make this “priviledge.” Perhaps they believe that there is some “edge” to being privileged. I suppose there is. However, recent personal disasters of the rich and famous (Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, Demi Moore) do make one wonder how much privilege one wants. Silver spoons and celebrity status aside, your command of the English language will help you to hob-nob with grace among the academically and socially privileged class. If only you could get the privilege of being invited to a party where said hob-nobbers will be.
Shepherd. How often you even use this word may depend on your proximity to goats and sheep. How often you write this word depends on . . . well, I don’t know. Yet I have written this word several times in my life, and often with prolonged head-scratching as to how to do so. It is not “shepard,” “shephard,” “shepperd,” or one of the other variations I have seen. Take “sheep” and “herd”; stick them together; remove the first e; done.
Now sheep are rather doltish creatures who wouldn’t know whether you could correctly spell “baa.” They are happy to have nurturing shepherds of any spelling ability. Yet, this shepherd, my friends, is leading any willing sheep into the fold of proper language.
Surprise. This is another case of saying a word improperly which leads to writing it incorrectly. Thus, too many have tried to spell “suprise.” Two r’s, please. If you throw a party and your invitations say “Suprise Party,” you will be surprised by how many invitees shake their heads with pity at your poor spelling.
Admittedly, if you add the words “open bar” to the invitation, you may still have a rather nice showing at your soiree. While we’re at it, make sure you serve “hors d’oeuvre,” not “orderves.” And no surprises there, please. All appetizers should be reasonably identifiable on sight. Asking your guests to nibble on pig’s eyes pate is bad form of another sort.
Every single word that ends with -ent or -ant. How many of you face words such as “dependent,” “redundant” or “malevolent” and find yourself asking a or e? You are not alone! This is tricky in English because there isn’t a simple rule like “a before e except after c.” It’s largely dependent on memorizing each word or writing it out and staring at the word to see if it looks familiar. Good luck!
Thanks for clarifying these problematic words in our English language, Miss Spelling. Of course, we all have our spelling weaknesses. For instance, I must rack my brain every time I spell “pharaoh” and “deodorant.” I can’t seem to memorize them once for all.
Miss Spelling would also like to remind everyone of the Spell Check function available in most computer software programs, including blogging sites. “Remember, students, Spell Check is your friend.”
Which words do you have trouble spelling? What other words do you see commonly misspelled?
Idioms are one of my favorite things to look up and discover their origins. Idioms are phrases or sayings which have an underlying and generally understood meaning apart from the literal words themselves. For instance, “dead as a doornail” or “break a leg.”
Curiously, we have quite a few idioms which revolve around COLOR. For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, we’ll navigate a labyrinth of phrases that include colors.
Blackmail. The word “mail” here is the old Scottish word for rent (which actually comes from Old Norse “mal” meaning contract). In the 1600s tenants paid their rent in silver coins known as “white money.” However, the Highland clan chiefs began threatening tenants with violence if they didn’t pay for “protection.” This additional rent soon became known as “black rent” or “black mail” – the opposite of rent paid on the up-and-up. During the 1900s its meaning was extended to the act of demanding money to protect another’s secrets.
In the pink. The phrase did not originate from the color itself. Its first use is found in Romeo & Juliet (1597), as Mercurio states, “Why, I am the very pinke of curtesie.” In this instance and several others, “pinke” meant tip-top, the highest, the peak. Perhaps using the word “pink” to indicate excellence derived from Queen Elizabeth I’s admiration of Dianthus flowers, commonly called Pinks. These flowers are both pink in hue and edged like pinking shears. So to be “in the pink” is to be in the most excellent condition possible.
Green with envy. According to The Phrase Finder, “the Greeks believed that jealousy was accompanied by an overproduction of bile, lending a pallid green cast to the victim.” I have yet to see anyone with an actual green complexion when envy strikes, but it is an effective saying.
Caught red-handed. The phrase “caught red-handed” is first seen in English novelist George Alfred Lawrence’s Guy Livingstone in which the presence of stolen goods caused the character to say, “we were caught red-handed.” In fact, the word “redhand” or “red-handed” had been used since the 15th century and originated in Scotland. It simply refers to having blood on one’s hands, which was proof of involvement in a killing.
Once in a blue moon. While there are a couple of other possible explanations, I’m going with a more commonly accepted one. In 1819, The Maine Farmers Almanac listed dates of “blue moons.” Various moon phrases were given names (e.g., “harvest moon”), and “blue moons” occurred in those years when there were 13 moon cycles rather than the typical 12. The extra moons were called blue. They don’t happen often, of course; thus, “once in a blue moon.”
Paint the town red. In our town, the D.A.R.E. drug awareness program for school is accompanied by an encouragement to “paint the town red” with red ribbons everywhere. However, the theories on where this phrase came from are hardly as innocent. One suggestion is that in 1837 the Marquis of Weatherford and his friends went on a spree in the town of Melton Mowbray and, among other misdeeds, painted it red. Although the event itself took place, no references to red painting were recorded at that time.
Another option comes from The New York Times in 1883 when a reporter wrote: “Mr. James Hennessy offered a resolution that the entire body proceed forthwith to Newark and get drunk… Then the Democrats charged upon the street cars, and being wafted into Newark proceeded, to use their own metaphor, to ‘paint the town red’.” Perhaps the drunkenness is related to a red flush on one’s skin. This still doesn’t explain the phrase’s origin.
A final suggestion was that the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan was painted pink in 1853 in honor of a visit from Prince Albert. But then, why paint the town red when the building was painted pink?
Red itself often refers to blood, so perhaps the original meaning was to have such a violent spree that blood was spilled around the town. I think I’ll opt for the nice ribbons instead.
Red Herring. A red herring is a misleading clue, usually in a mystery. In the 18th and 19th centuries, herring was common in Britain. This fish was preserved by salting and smoking, which resulted in a deep brownish red color and a strong smell. Early animal-lovers in the 1800s wanting to preserve the fox could throw hounds off the hunt with red herrings.
Tickled pink. The word “tickled” here doesn’t mean to touch someone in a way that makes them laugh; it’s an older usage which means to give pleasure. “Tickled pink” is to be so pleased that you appear pink (as when blood rushes to the skin’s surface). Its earliest written reference was in 1910 in The Daily Review, an Illinois newspaper: “Grover Laudermilk was tickled pink over Kinsella’s move in buying him from St. Louis.”
White Elephant. Perhaps you’ve participated in a White Elephant gift exchange, in which you pull out some useless, unwanted item from your home and place it in a pretty gift bag for some other sap. Back when Thailand was Siam, whenever a white elephant was discovered, the king automatically took ownership but not possession. One could not neglect, ride, or work a white elephant, so it was a huge burden to have one. In fact, the king was said to give a white elephant as a special royal gift to those who displeased him. You couldn’t refuse the royal gift, but then you had to take care of said elephant without getting any use from it. Frankly, I’m happy that all of the white elephant gifts I’ve received required no feeding and shoveling.
White knight. In Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, Alice is rescued by the White Knight from the Red Knight. He represents the chess piece of the same name. In the tale he is clumsy, but helps Alice nonetheless. Indeed, the term now simply means “one who comes to the rescue of another” (Merriam-Webster).
Yellow-belly. What the color of one’s stomach has to do with one’s level of courage, I’m not certain. There are several theories. However, the most convincing one involved the Texas revolution. The Wisconsin Enquirer reported in 1842 that “We learn from Capt. Wright, of the N. York, that it is the intention of the Texans to ‘keep dark’ until the Mexicans cross the Colorado, and then give them a San Jacinto fight, with an army from 5000 to 7000 men. God send that they may bayonet every ‘yellow belly’ in the Mexican army.” Was that merely a reference to the skin color of Mexicans? I suspect so. Thankfully, such racist tones have not lingered with the use of the term (that I know of). A “yellow-belly” is simply a coward.
What other color idioms can you think of? Why do you think we use color in our common sayings?
Do you get sick of hearing the same words over and over? Take “fail,” for instance. It was the in word last year, and believe me, I knew it with my kids uttering it at every possible opportunity. I began to feel about the word “fail” the way my father felt about the word “awesome” when I was a teenager: It lost all of its original meaning by misuse and overuse.
Amazing – Guilty, I suppose, since I named this day Amaze-ing WordsWednesday. Do I at least get credit for the word play of “maze” in there with my Threading the Labyrinth blog title?
Baby Bump – I had a baby bump for about two seconds, after which it was a basketball embedded in my abdomen. Back when I was carrying, however, maternity clothes were not stretched across tummies like saran wrap, so fewer people noticed the “bump” until it was no longer bumpy but just plain big.
Shared Sacrifice – I have noticed that those most likely to encourage shared sacrifice have a lot more stuff than I do. Why is that?
Occupy – The best suggestion I heard regarding the Occupy movement was to Occupy Disney World. Now there’s a cause I could go for!
Blowback – I’m betting the listmakers will get some blowback for including this word in the Stop-It list.
Man Cave – If only men would settle for a cave. Instead, most husbands I know want a whole room with electronic equipment, cushy furniture, and easy access to the food sources in the home. Seeing as my husband has just moved his computer into my writing room, I’d use this phrase ad infinitum if I could get him a man cave. (Just kidding, honey. I love that you’re here. ;))
The New Normal – I hear this one all the time. But whatever normal you’re in is new to you – unless you did this life before.
Pet Parent – I had never heard this phrase. Maybe because I have a cat. You’re not really a pet parent to a cat so much as an unappreciated roommate.
Win the Future – This phrase makes it sound like you scratch off the lotto card and the right numbers get you a future. The future isn’t a tangible thing you can win really. Moreover, is anyone actually suggesting we lose the future?
Trickeration – Never heard this one either. Apparently, it’s a fave of sports announcers.
Ginormous – Another guilty expression on my face. I have made the ginormous enormous mistake of using this word instead of more appropriate, and recognized by a dictionary, terms.
Thank You in Advance – Does saying this absolve a person of later sending a thank you note? Does it presume that the person on the other end will do what you want?
What’s perhaps more interesting is what words appeared on previous lists. Have we gotten better at our use of the following?
Dialogue – 1976
Perfectly candid – 1977
Medication – 1978 (What happened to “medicine”?)
Energy Crisis – 1979
Do-able – 1980
Campaign Rhetoric – 1981
Classic – 1982
State of the Art – 1983
User-friendly – 1984
Mandate – 1985
(List unavailable online) – 1986
Wellness – 1987 (Instead of simply “health”?)
(List unavailable online) – 1988
Babyboomers – 1989
Best Kept Secret – 1990
Longer Hours – 1991 (By definition, an hour cannot get longer. But you can work more hours.)
Bottom Line – 1992
(List unavailable online) – 1993
Dysfunctional – 1994
Target Audience – 1995
Been There, Done That – 1996
Multi-tasking – 1997
Giving 110 percent – 1998
Courtesy Call – 1999
24/7 – 2000
Begs the Question – 2001
Bi-partisanship – 2002
Must-see TV – 2003
Metrosexual – 2004
Enemy Combatant – 2005 (Is there any such thing as a non-enemy combatant?)
Dawg – 2006
Awesome – 2007 (It made the 1984 list for a one-year moratorium. But the word and its misuse stuck around.)
Random – 2008
Carbon Footprint – 2009
Too Big to Fail – 2010 (“Stimulus” also made the list.)
Epic – 2011
If you want to see the history of the banished words list, be sure to visit the LSSU website. You can find most of the previous lists there as well.
What words or phrases are overused or lack meaning? Which ones do you wish we would ban?
One big shout-out to writer Erin Brambilla who pointed the banished words list out to me! Be sure to check out her website. Her blog is among my favorites.
So how do you spell the “oo” sound in English? Um, it depends.
The English language represents a mixing of cultures because it has borrowed words from many other tongues and pronunciation has evolved. Often, this leads to confusion about pronouncing words in general because there aren’t standard rules for many letter combinations. We grabbed words from everywhere, so the word may have been anglicized or the spelling from the original source might remain in some form.
I have often been glad that English is my first language because learning it later in life would probably feel like picking grains of rice out of pile of mud – tedious to say the least. I read a poem to this effect a long time ago and saved it in my files. It’s a brilliant summary of the difficulties of pronunciation in our English language. Take a look.
Recovering Sounds from Orthography
Brush Up Your English
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, through, plough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness’s sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five.
The funny thing is that most people do master English – more or less. We’re not all great spellers, and we have to scratch our heads now and then to think about which letters to use. But we mostly get it.
So how do you make the /ee/ sound now?
Why is that? First, we typically learn the sound of a word before its spelling. So while the spelling may strike us as unusual, we still know that [throo] is a word which we now associate with “through.”
Second, although we are often taught as children to sound things out, it is better to memorize whole words. And what’s the best way to memorize words? Well, if you read a lot (whether novels, comic books, magazines, online, etc.) and practice writing words correctly, pronouncing and spelling them becomes second nature.
What pronunciations do you find particularly quirky in the English language? What amazes you about our ability to master our native tongue? If English is your second language, has pronouncing words tripped you up at times?
“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”
George Bernard Shaw
If you’ve watched BBC comedies or attempted to look for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a British bookstore, you quickly discover that there are language differences between the two major countries that speak primarily English. We mostly understand one another – even with thick Brooklyn or Cockney accents – but the words aren’t always the same.
For instance, you’d better change your search to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone since that is the original title of J.K. Rowling’s first book. A friend of my mother’s read the British edition with its references to Harry and Ron receiving home-knit jumpers from Mrs. Weasley. The British “jumper” is the American “sweater.” There were several word changes made for the American edition to clear up those terms that don’t make a lot of sense to us in the States.
Here are some other British words with American descriptions:
A lorry is a truck.
A pram is a baby carriage or stroller.
A biscuit is a cookie.
A nutter is a crazy person.
Abarrister is a lawyer.
A flat is an apartment.
A lift is an elevator.
A bonnet is a car hood.
A chip is a French fry.
A queue is a line.
A bum is a behind.
A holiday is a vacation.
Daft is stupid.
Telly is the television or TV.
The loo is the bathroom.
But you may have known most or all of those. How about more obscure ones?
Ask for a rubber to get an eraser.
Antenatal is prenatal.
Braces are suspenders.
A chemist is a pharmacist.
A dummy is a pacifier.
A wally is a nerd.
A rubber is an eraser.
A spanner is a wrench.
An estate agent is a realtor.
A waistcoat is a vest.
Cheers means thank you.
A mobile is a cell phone.
A torch is a flashlight.
A jumble sale is a yard sale (called garage sale where I live).
Trainers are athletic or tennis shoes.
Pants are underwear (say trousers in the UK instead).
A people carrier is a minivan (sounds right to me).
The slang of our two countries is even more difficult to decipher! Hugh Laurie played a game on Ellen Degeneres’s show trying to figure out the particular jargon of the other’s home country.
By the way, I knew absolutely none of the slang – American or British.
Can you think of any other English words that vary in American and British usage? What do you think about the differences in our language? Do you find Brits or Americans had to understand at times? Do you watch British television shows or movies or read books with word variations?
How many people can say that they coined phrases that will still be in use over 400 years after they introduced them? Only a handful, I would think. But I have discovered that William Shakespeare is to credit, or blame, for numerous phrases and proverbs in our English language. Here are just a few:
•Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2)
•Fair play (The Tempest)
•Foul play (Love’s Labours Lost)
•Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
•Hair stand on end (Hamlet)
•Heart’s content (Henry VI and The Merchant of Venice)
•In a pickle (The Tempest)
•Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
•Love is blind (Merchant of Venice)
•One fell swoop (Macbeth) (by the way, fell = savage or cruel like felon)
•Pound of flesh (The Merchant of Venice)
•Salad days (Antony and Cleopatra)
•Send packing (I Henry IV)
•The short and the long of it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
•Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (“There’s a method to my madness”) (Hamlet)
•‘Tis high time (The Comedy of Errors)
•Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
•What the dickens (The Merry Wives of Windsor) (dickens = hell)
•Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
There are other sayings that Good Ol’ Bill popularized, even if they weren’t his own, such as “It’s Greek to me” (Julius Caesar) and “All’s well that ends well” (All’s Well that Ends Well).
I had no idea how many commonly used expressions Shakespeare is responsible for! I have tried to imagine another person who has had such an influence on English. The only book I can think of that would rival The Complete Works of Shakespeare for infusing words and phrases into the English language is the Bible – which is actually a collection of sixty-six books written by forty authors.
How have Shakespeare’s words become so popular in our society? How is it that a 16th/17th century poet and playwright still exerts so much sway over our language today? I have to wonder if any other single person will ever match Shakespeare’s impact.
What Shakespearean phrases do you most like? If you want to see more, here are a few websites to check out:
Did you know that many of our expressions emanated from the Bard’s writing? Can you think of anyone else who has been a significant contributor to our language? And while we’re at it, what’s your favorite quote or play from William Shakespeare?