Patricia T. O'Conner on the Talk of the Deli

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner investigates the talk of the deli: who invented "pastrami." And she answers questions about English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is available in paperback, as is  Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

If you have a question about language, grammar, or deli meats, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [80]

Dora from Massapequa

Please post the audio link!

Feb. 16 2012 05:49 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Hey, where's the "Listen" link for this segment? I had reception problems & missed parts of it during the original broadcast, so I wanted to hear it again, but I can't play it back!

Feb. 16 2012 12:55 AM
donald Kmetz

lopate this a m said something about 'fort,' suggesting that he does not know that there are 2 different words: fort (1 syllable) from french, meaning strong or strength, as in, "french is not my fort," and the other forte (2 syllables) meaning loud and from italian and used in music. i tried to call in. i sent him an email but he could not be bothered. can you find a time to point out to him this difference? or did i misunderstand what he said.
don kmetz

Feb. 15 2012 03:21 PM
Robert from NYC

Mary from the Brons:
Beautiful reference. Here's to Heaney's Hiberno-English Scullionspeak.

Yet there is some difference between starting a 3,000-line heroic narrative poem with "So" and leading so many prosaic little sentences with it. Perhaps the latter reflects an attempt to inflate their words.


Feb. 15 2012 02:41 PM
Raina from Queens, NY

I might be a bit late to give my 2 cents, I was driving during the broadcast, and I wanted to comment on "appetizing." For starters, it was accepted by my spell check. Second, I have heard appetizing used my entire life to refer to, as the other comment said, lox and other things you would find at a place like Russ & Daughters. As an example, "I got the bialys at Kossar's and the appetizing at Russ & Daughters." I wonder if it is a Jewish NY saying.

Feb. 15 2012 02:09 PM
connie from nj

Come to think of it, it was a WNYC host, not All Things Considered, who used 'busted'--sorry, ATC staff, I think you're wonderful!

Feb. 15 2012 01:59 PM
Robert from NYC

Follow-up to the caller who highlighted the spreading tendency to start any sentence with "So," here are some other objectionable verbal tics in currency:

- Starting sentences with "Right"

- Any variable of "really sort of," "very kind of"

Get the word out: tell all your friends and family to STOP uttering such inanities!

Feb. 15 2012 01:59 PM
Dorene from New Jersey

"As well" seems to be taking the place of "too." It is often used at the end of a sentence such as: He is speaking tonight "as well." Shouldn't "as well" be " as well as" and used as a comparison such as: He writes books as well as works at the bank.

Feb. 15 2012 01:59 PM
Mary from Bronx

On beginning with "So...." Seamus Heaney talks about this in his introduction to his translation of "Beowulf," which I use in my classes. So is an ancient time-honored way of beginning a story among the Irish. As he researched Old English, he found that it was also used among the saga relayers. He actually begins his version of "Beowulf" with "So." Check it out.

Feb. 15 2012 01:58 PM
Lisa LeVitus from Austin, Texas

Would you please explain the Southern phrase "I'm fixing to..." As a New Yorker living in Austin, I can't help but wonder.

Feb. 15 2012 01:57 PM

I will take "so" over the absolutely annoying start of an answer to a question with "I mean" before you've said anything!!!

Feb. 15 2012 01:57 PM
Helen from Murray Hill

Memordum, curriculum, bacterium, etc., are Latin words used in English. It stands to reason that their plurals should be Latin also: memoranda, curricula, bacteria. The list of borrowings is long.

Feb. 15 2012 01:57 PM
Robert from NYC

Well then also Polish and polish, one eats kielbasathe other shines the furniture!

Feb. 15 2012 01:56 PM
Sandy from Toronto, ON

Something that drives me crazy is the use of the two words together "still continuing". As in, the weather reporter will say: "It's still continuing to snow". I hear this frequently, even on the CBC and NPR!!! Is this correct? To my mind it's redundant. It's either still snowing or continuing to snow.


Sandy from Toronto, ON

Feb. 15 2012 01:55 PM
John-Luke from East Village

Entree means a may course in the US but doesn't it mean a starter in Europe? The opener before the main event? What went wrong?

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
Richard Carroll from Shelton, CT

According to the Turks, the name of the game BRIDGE, originated during the Crimean War when the Sultan in Istanbul would not allow card playing so the British had to cross the bridge to the area not controled by the Sultan in order to play the game "BRIDGE"

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
The Truth from Becky

Ya Know Leonard, that was not right for you to tell Patricia on us, you know?

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
Robert from NYC

So might be a time holder, that split second you need to get your thoughts together to start a reply or whatever.

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
David Moriah

1 - Why do people say "try and" when they mean "try to"
2 - Why are people saying "literally raining cats and dogs" when they mean "figuratively?
3 - Doesn't "exact same" mean the same thing as "same"?

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
Mark Kalan from Valley Cottage, NY, USA

What bothers me is a retail associate saying, "Have a good one!"
Have a good what?!
I've got a good "one" but sure would like a bigger one that works better!

Feb. 15 2012 01:54 PM
Larry Gustavson

Please explain the proper use of the word "moot".

Feb. 15 2012 01:53 PM

I always have disagreements with others over whether foreign names should be pronounced as they are in their native language or should be anglicized, and also are we correct in changing pronunciations at will such as pronouncing the name Reich as "rich", or names ending in stein as "steen". What is Patricia's view?

Feb. 15 2012 01:53 PM
Glenn from Astoria

"The following guest" drives me crazy. Especially as its often abbreviated to the point where it makes even less sense. I often hear simply "The following guest" and occasionally just "following."

Feb. 15 2012 01:52 PM
Jake from New York - Upper East Side.

I am from the Midwest and moving to New York years ago noticed people use the expression "Waiting on line" where I would intuitively say "Waiting in line." Which is right. I've suspected "in" is correct and that use of "on" has to do with some translation of a preposition in Spanish to English.

Feb. 15 2012 01:51 PM
kay from Brooklyn

Something that used to drive me (silently), raving mad, when I worked @ a large Corp: memo would say:

"see the below"; I attempted to correct my direct(High Level) supervisor for years and then gave up. Am I missing something? English is my 3rd Language. Thank you.

Feb. 15 2012 01:51 PM
smh from CT

Should be "the members of The Grateful Dead are..." otherwise it would be The Grateful Dead is, as it's a corporate body and in the US (vs UK) such entities are usually singular. The government is, the team is (and members of the team are),etc.

Feb. 15 2012 01:50 PM
connie from nj

I heard one of the ATC hosts say something was 'busted' when she meant 'broken'. Ouch.

Feb. 15 2012 01:50 PM
commenter from Brooklyn

2 things that I've noticed in New York City that I've never heard in the rest of the US.

New Yorkers say "on" line, when waiting orderly. The rest of the US says "in" line.

Also, in most of the US, food is "for here" or "to go" in NYC it's "to stay" or "to go"

Feb. 15 2012 01:50 PM
A listener

Re: yesterday's program, Leonard's pronunciation of miscegenation with a hard g, instead of soft j-correct, or not?

Feb. 15 2012 01:50 PM
Ruth from Rego Park

IS it paradoxical to say "paradox is not a word"?
Is it correct to say "Paradox is not a word, it's a situation"? and / or
"Paradox refers to a situation"?

Feb. 15 2012 01:49 PM
A listener

Re: yesterday's program, Leonard's pronunciation of miscegenation with a hard g, instead of soft j-correct, or not?

Feb. 15 2012 01:49 PM

I have so often wanted to write ATC and Morning Edition and scold them for the awful grammar so many correspondents use, particularly in the past tense of irregular verbs. "It shrunk" is a common example of this sorry ignorance. Why don't these people know simple English?

Feb. 15 2012 01:49 PM
John-Luke from East Village

Entree in the US means a main course. Doesn't it mean first course in Europe? The "entry" food before the main event? What went wrong?

Feb. 15 2012 01:48 PM
Catherine from Brooklyn

Less vs. fewer???? -- can you explain the different usages?? I hear people using them interchangeably these days but I believe they are meant to be used in quite different instances.

Feb. 15 2012 01:48 PM
Mary Beth from Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Hi! My friends and I once had a really long argument over which is correct -- a "bald-faced" lie or a "bold-faced" one. I said it was bald, because you are lying so blatantly that there's nothing to cover it up (like a beard!).

Feb. 15 2012 01:47 PM
Stew from Manhattan

The word Peruse is perhaps the most misused word in the English language. Most people use it to mean to "browse or skim over," but it ACTUALLY means "to examine carefully or at length" or to meticulously inspect.

Feb. 15 2012 01:47 PM
Joel Hubbard from Smithtown

Feb. 15 2012 01:46 PM
Michael from Blauvelt, NY

A traditional Italian meal consists of 5 courses:
Antipasti: means 'before' pasta
Primo piatti: are normally pastas (or risotto)
Secondi: are the main course and include meat, poultry, or fish
Contorni: are vegetables or side dishes
Dolce: are desserts

Feb. 15 2012 01:45 PM
Paul Langer from Fort Salonga, NY

My wife, who is English, pronounces the "h" in herb and of course, says that we pronounce it incorrectly here in America. She also says that I speak with an accent.

Best regards,

Feb. 15 2012 01:44 PM
Tom Crisp from UWS

Nothing wrong with "Three dollars, fifty-five cents". Brits say "Three pounds, fifty-five." without saying "pence."

What bugs me is the TV shopping channel folks who call $33.99 "Thirty three dollars AND CHANGE." This prompts the famed "double positive makes a negative" response: Yeah, right.

Feb. 15 2012 01:43 PM
Allan Weinberg from New Jersey

curious as to why the Brits say 'go to Hospital'...& USA says 'go to the Hospital'??

Feb. 15 2012 01:42 PM
Peter from Manhattan

MAD MEN question. In my experience, the use of the word 'air' for air conditioning as in "Turn on the air" is relatively recent, but maybe I just hadn't heard it in the past. On an episode of Mad Men, a character referred to the 'air' meaning air conditioning, but were people saying that in the 60's?

Feb. 15 2012 01:42 PM
Julie from Manhattan

What is the origin of "ta", meaning "thank you." What is the origin of "ta ta" meaning "goodbye?"

Feb. 15 2012 01:42 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

Appetizing stores were where you bought smoked fish and similar foods. The aroma of an appetizing store was unbelievably enticing and, yes, appetizing! No restaurant or store comes close. In Marine Park, Brooklyn, I grew up with one called Jessie's.

Feb. 15 2012 01:40 PM
Judy from nyc

Appetizing (parve, or fish, and dairy) is distinct from Deli (meat related).

Feb. 15 2012 01:40 PM
Robert from NYC

Last post not clear, example.


Written out

Onehundred and 34/100 (dollars) so the and represents the decimal on the check where you write out the amount.

Feb. 15 2012 01:40 PM
DAN from manhattan

"Appetizing" is the noun that refers to an array of smoked fish, etc. You say, for example "I going to the store to buy some appetizing" it has nothing to do, really with "appetizers"

Feb. 15 2012 01:38 PM

Is it correct when they ask for the "following" guest at Starbucks. My wife and I disagree! I believe it should be "next guest"

Feb. 15 2012 01:37 PM
Jay from Brooklyn

How does one pronounce "miscegenation"? There seemed to be some disagreement about that during a recent on-air discussion.

Feb. 15 2012 01:37 PM
SteveH from B'klyn

I was taught the and would indicate addition

Feb. 15 2012 01:35 PM
Robert from NYC

It comes from check writing. Where you write out the amount you write the dollar amount then "and" then the cents. It's only check writing not numbers or money.

Feb. 15 2012 01:35 PM

Sorry, got my raving Brits mixed up. It was Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who told Britain's Esquire magazine:

"They pronounce things like the French. They say, 'filet' instead of 'fillet'. What's that about? And 'erb - they leave off the h. If it was one person saying it, it would be pretentious, but when it's the whole f-ing nation..."

Feb. 15 2012 01:35 PM
The Truth from Becky

Happy New Year...Not Happy New Years right? Glad it's FebRuary!!

Feb. 15 2012 01:33 PM
nick from NYC

similar to ENGLIsh use of brassiere (sp.??) which is no longer used in French:

In Cuban Spanglish: "bloomer" means Panties!
"pullover" means "t-shirt"

Feb. 15 2012 01:33 PM
Ellen from Upper West Side

My mother-in-law refers to smoked fish as "appetizing", as a noun ("We're having appetizing for brunch.") Have you heard this use before, and if so, do you know where it came from?

Feb. 15 2012 01:32 PM
Charles Eubanks from Downtown Brooklyn

Re: schmeer. The Norwegian word for butter is smør (pronounced as though it were an o with an umlaut), which I always assumed was a cognate of schmeer.

Feb. 15 2012 01:32 PM
Annemarie D from Manhattan

Why do American's say "Math" instead of the correct abbreviation that Europeans say.. "maths"!!!!
The word is mathematics....

Feb. 15 2012 01:31 PM
Jan-Kees from manhattan

In Dutch, the money used for bribery is literally called smeer(geld).
The verb 'smeren' also means to spread [like butter on a sandwich].

Feb. 15 2012 01:31 PM
Robert from NYC

I love italian for bra, reggipette, holds up busts.

Feb. 15 2012 01:31 PM

I heard David Hockney raving the other day about how "pretentious" Americans are, they even use French pronunciation, like "fil-ay" for "fillet" etc.

Feb. 15 2012 01:30 PM

If I adopted a Chinese baby I would not expect her to grow up speaking Chinese. So why when we adopt a Latin word are we surprised when we start adding traditional English endings?

Feb. 15 2012 01:30 PM
The Truth from Becky

Humble as "huh-mble" or Humble as "Uhmble"?

Feb. 15 2012 01:30 PM
rossella from jersey city

Salumeria is not an assortment of cold cuts... but it's the store that sells cold cuts. Salumi is the word for assorted of cold cuts... and by the way I'm from Bologna!!

Feb. 15 2012 01:28 PM
Frank Grimaldi from East Village

I do a blog about concerts and at the end of every posting I list the band members. I usually write for example "The Grateful Dead are:," which sounds correct to me, but I have seen other blogs "The Grateful Dead is." I know it may be elementary but which is correct? (In my mind, I am actually stating "the members of the Grateful Dead are:" )

Feb. 15 2012 01:28 PM
Jeff from Park Slope

Question about "dirty words"...

The Supreme Court has recently heard a case regarding decency standards in broadcasting, and I've heard about different cases around the country where courts or legislatures are addressing the use of profanity in public. Certainly, there are words today that you can hear in public or on TV that you would not have heard 30 years ago on prime time, which still carry their meaning but are less shocking because we've become less puritanical(like "damn").

Are there examples of words that are in common usage that today are completely innocent (and that my mother might use)that a century or two ago would have caused a scandal? Maybe some words that were once very off-color but today are innocent?

Feb. 15 2012 01:27 PM

LOVE this!!

Great show!

BIG crush on Ms. o'Conner!!

Feb. 15 2012 01:27 PM
Robert from NYC

I always just assumed it was a Yiddishization of smear?

Feb. 15 2012 01:26 PM
Julia Joseph from New York City

Spanikopita is one of my favorite words ever! I wish it meant more than spinach pie. I'd use it all the time.

Feb. 15 2012 01:26 PM
hmi from Brooklyn

Sorry LL miised the excellent mortadella while in Bologna.

Feb. 15 2012 01:25 PM
rossella from Jersey City

Sorry Bologna does not exist in Italy!!! Mortadella which is very a quite different cold cut, probably inspired American Bologna, can't go to Bologna to eat Bologna!!! ;-)))

Feb. 15 2012 01:25 PM
Robert from NYC


Feb. 15 2012 01:24 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

I'd appreciate a discussion of the difference between oxymoron and paradox. The classic example I know of oxymoron is "thundering silence." It seems to me that people have been using "oxymoron" when they really mean "paradox" or "contradiction."

Feb. 15 2012 01:24 PM
Robert from NYC

All salted cured meats are salumi.

Feb. 15 2012 01:23 PM
Robert from NYC

I still to this day cannot accept the verb loan. People use it all the time as a verb and it just screams in my ear and infuriates me. Should I get over it... lol? I grew up using lend to lend money, you lend a book, you lend whatever. You could make a loan or give a loan but you could not loan. To me loan is a noun and lend the verb of the same thing, lending / making a loan.

Feb. 15 2012 01:21 PM
Toby from Brooklyn

Two things are really annoying: using "that" instead of "who" when referring to a person or groups of people, and using "unique" with a modifier, like "a little unique" or "very unique".

Feb. 15 2012 01:20 PM
BobCat from Fairfield

Please everyone, be sure to correct people who use "begs the the question" incorrectly.

The proper phrase is "BEGETS the question".

I am on a mission, won't you join me?

Feb. 15 2012 01:17 PM
Jean Freely from NYC

I've noticed a lot of interviewed guests of Leonard Lopate are often answering a question he'll ask with "So"...(etc etc) rather than "Well" which I find to some sort of new (and annoying!) trend. It's annoying because it lacks the feeling of a respect and juncture from Leonard's (or another interviewer's) questions. Love to hear both of your comments...

Feb. 15 2012 01:07 PM
Jay from NYC

Just looked up etymology for schmear - Yiddish.
Are we asking for a bribe every time we order a bagel?

1961, "bribery," from Yiddish shmir "spread," from shmirn "to grease, smear," from M.H.G. smiren, from O.H.G. smirwen "to smear" (see smear (v.); cf. slang to grease (someone's) palm "to bribe"). Phrase the whole schmear "the entire affair" is attested from 1969, originally show business jargon,
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Feb. 15 2012 01:01 PM
Tom from UWS

Would you please ask Patricia to explain the origin of the expression "used to" to denote something one did habitually in the past?

Thank You

Feb. 15 2012 12:46 PM
Laura from UWS

A couple of curious items.
British vs. American English

Heard on BBC...interview with someone who had been reporting out of doors.....In the cold....
Interviewer asked him: "Are you in the warm now?"

On side?
"The one time when the monarchy failed to keep the armed forces on side resulted in the Civil War and their ejection."

Feb. 15 2012 12:20 PM

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