Patricia T. O'Conner on Holiday Words

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner discusses holiday words and answers questions on the confounding and colorful English language. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, has recently been published in paperback, and a paperback version of Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman, was just issued.

Call us at 646-829-3985 with a question, or leave a comment below.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [30]

tom from bklyn

Terry Sciavo, in italian sciavo is pronounced SKIAVO but perhaps due to unpleasant association with the meaning "slave" the pronuciation has been corrupted. Ciao by the way is a corruption of "vostro schiavo"; your slave eg at your service.

Feb. 15 2011 01:55 PM

I thought Christos was a vibration not a person or a title - did you know there are those who think he went east and learned chinese medicine (something liek qigong) which is waht the healings were.

Dec. 15 2010 03:52 PM

Never say comprised of. It's just wrong, even though it's become pervasive in American speech. For example, the US government comprises 3 branches: executive, etc. You can also say, it's composed of 3 branches.

Dec. 15 2010 02:19 PM
Christian D from Bedford, NY

All corned up, which a caller's grandmother used to say, would refer to a horse fed a lot of oats or another grain (called "corn" in British English). The more corn it eats, the more excitable and headstrong the horse becomes -- useful if the horse is about to race, but not so good for a quiet ride.

Dec. 15 2010 02:10 PM
Rich from nj

fyi - 1982 edition of websters new world has disinterested defined as both 1. impartial, unbiased 2. uninterested

Dec. 15 2010 02:00 PM
Mary from Queens, NY

Would Dr O'Conner please discuss the extreme over-use of the word "like" by US teenagers . It is used 3 or 4 times in each sentetce . It seems to me to be a linguistic plague.

Dec. 15 2010 01:59 PM
Eric from New Jersey

Hi Leonard,
Could you ask your guest to comment on the incredibly pervasive misuse of the word "got" in our current English idiom?
So many people have gotten into the habit of using the word "got" when properly the word "have" or "had" should be used, or when it should not even be used in the first place.
Ex. - "I've got to get going", should be said "I have to get going".
"I've got the measles", when it should be "I have the measles".
Thanks for allowing me to point this out!

Dec. 15 2010 01:58 PM
JD Gershon from NYC

After the christmas party, do you "call in" or "call out" sick?

Dec. 15 2010 01:57 PM
joe Denaro from NYC

the use of "way" better than "much" better....please comment

Dec. 15 2010 01:57 PM
Todd from Bergen County

Hey Leonard, I hear you say "I am well" frequently. Wouldn't that be using an adverb where an adjective should be? Shouldn't it be "I am good." or "I am doing well" when describing the verb?

Dec. 15 2010 01:56 PM
jawbone from Parsippany

It seems to me that in England, the greeting "Happy Christmas" is the most used, while here it is usually "Merry Christmas."

Now, I tend to say "Happy Holidatys" to avoid unintended insult or discomfort to those who do not celebrate Christmas.

Any thoughts on why it's "Happy" in England, not "Merry"?

And on the best way to wish warm winter solstice greetings to everyone (and, boy, would some Christians go bonkers in a negative way over being greeted with "Happy Solstice"!

Dec. 15 2010 01:56 PM

Not holiday, buy seasonal: the last four months of the year refer to the numbers 7-10. Did the year once have ten months?

Dec. 15 2010 01:55 PM
marc from manhattan

Talking of "take", what about the annoying invasion of "takeaway" among journalists and pundits?

Dec. 15 2010 01:53 PM
tom from uws

Pat, I'm from the midwest, too.
Some folks (not most) would say, "My dad went hunting and brang back a deer."
I brang that with me to New York all the way from Nebraska.

Dec. 15 2010 01:53 PM

"please to pass salt"? Sounds like Borat.

Dec. 15 2010 01:45 PM
George from Brooklyn

Please comment on what happened to the change in the use of the word fun, as in "I had so much fun at...."
How did it become "It was so fun" What happened to the adjective. I remember the change happening with my middle school age son 5 to 7 years ago. Thanks so much.

Dec. 15 2010 01:45 PM

What's happened to "fun". When I was a kid, we had a lot of fun. Now, it's I had the funnest time. That hurts my ears. And, yes, I'm over 16!

Dec. 15 2010 01:45 PM
Ed J from Flemington NJ


fArther Away
fUrther discUssion

Dec. 15 2010 01:44 PM
Don from Smithtown

Please point out to the last caller that he can "remember" these stories by playing them online for his family at their Christmas party!

Dec. 15 2010 01:42 PM
Tamara McAllister from Neshanic Station, NJ

About the word "until now." Does it include now or not? For example, if I say, "I have not celebrated Christmas until now" does that mean I do celebrate it now or I haven't and I still don't? I grew up in Montana believing it means that as of now, it's changed and I do celebrate. But my experience with British English speakers is that it means it's not changed and includes still not celebrating. Is it a British English/American English thing? A personal mis understanding?

Dec. 15 2010 01:42 PM
Richard Z. Ross from Tarrytown, NY

When do you use, though as opposed to although?
Thank you.

Dec. 15 2010 01:39 PM

Where the French "Noel" come from?

Dec. 15 2010 01:35 PM

At least in modern Greek, the X symbol sounds like the letter h not k. :)

I doubt it would be k even in the older Greek, since the k sound is generally associated with bad things.

Dec. 15 2010 01:35 PM
Mary from CT

Christmas is still call "Jul" in Norway.

Dec. 15 2010 01:32 PM
Dan Kulkosky from New York

Regarding "bobtails": in the Stephen Foster song "Camptown Races" one of the lines goes "I'm gonna bet on the bobtail nag, somebody bet on the bay."

Dec. 15 2010 01:32 PM
Dan Kulkosky from New York

Regarding "bobtails": in the Stephen Foster song "Camptown Races" one of the lines goes "I'm gonna bet on the bobtail nag, somebody bet on the bay."

Dec. 15 2010 01:31 PM
Bobby G from East Village

The most over-used, meaningless expression in Washington is "get something done." Does it mean bi-partisianship? No.

Dec. 15 2010 01:29 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

Is there a central web site broadcasters use to check grammar?

I was amazed at the number of local and network news people who said that Mark Medoff was "hung."

And is there a best site for audio of correct pronunications?

Dec. 15 2010 01:25 PM

Another off-topic question - carryover from Brian's euphemism segment.

Is there a separate term for acronyms like S.N.A.F.U. and F.U.B.A.R. that are also used euphemistically?

Happy Holidays to WNYC & my fellow listeners.

Dec. 15 2010 11:27 AM
Kristine from Monmouth County NJ

Happy Holidays, Patricia and Leonard! I know today's show is about holiday words, but perhaps you will have time to address this question as well: how does one distinguish when to use "comprised of" versus "comprising"? A friend recently corrected my usage, saying (if I have this right) that people are comprising a group, but, say, a box could be comprised of toys and books. Apparently, as in"hanged" vs. "hung", humaness is the deciding factor. Please clarify for me.
Thank you!

Dec. 15 2010 09:31 AM

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