Word Maven: Patricia T. O'Conner on Mother's Day

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner talks about the apostrophe and Mother's Day. She’ll also answer questions about 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 and grammar, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [41]

Amy from Manhattan

To me, "cute," when used for an adult, always sounds somewhat patronizing, as though it went with an "Awwww" & a pat on the head. It's fine for children & small animals, though.

May. 08 2013 11:05 PM
Frank from New Canaan

I hope you and Patricia O 'Conner can explain why it has become so common for people to begin EVERY spoken sentience with the word "so". For example: "How are you feeling , Nancy? So, my , temperature is down but I still have a cough., or :What is the latest from the Middle East, Bob? So, the Syrian authorities have vowed to crack down."

This practice , aside from the vaguely patronizing tone, is distracting and SO annoying.

Patricia, please say this too shall pass.

Thank you.

Frank B.

May. 08 2013 02:08 PM
Robert Plautz from New York City

Concerning the caller who asked why isn't a litigious person really a litigis person: if that same person also makes allegations in a lawsuit, is that person an alligator?

May. 08 2013 02:01 PM
Michelle from Long Island City

Can you please encourage Ms. O'Conner to check her rampant classism in these discussions and refrain from referring to people who speak in a blue-collar way as "pugilistic"? Imperfect grammar does not indicate violent tendencies or moral debasement.

May. 08 2013 01:57 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

Is it true that there are more s's in the work possesses than in any other word that possesses s's?

May. 08 2013 01:56 PM
Ned Visser from Nyack, NY

How does one pronounce "primer", i would thing long vowel before a single consonant.

May. 08 2013 01:48 PM

Kitty Corner and Caddy Corner?

May. 08 2013 01:48 PM
Louis in Niagara Falls

Is there an effective rule for the use of the word "lay" vs. "ly" or "lie"?

May. 08 2013 01:48 PM
Jeff Tomberg from Old Greenwich, CT

Please settle an argument my wife and I are having. Do the words "popsicle" and "icicle" rhyme?

May. 08 2013 01:47 PM

On PAGE ONE, no less, of today's NYT:
datelined, of course, Washington. I couldn't believe my eyes, but there it is: "Capital".

May. 08 2013 01:47 PM
The Truth from Becky

Another old hair puller "specific" and "pacific" is an ocean people!

May. 08 2013 01:46 PM
Jeff from Jersey city

Flutist or Flautist?

May. 08 2013 01:46 PM
gabrielle from chelsea

How do definitions of words change/evolve. Two have come up recently: I was told that cosmopolitan now can be considered offensive and cuckold is now defined as sexual fetishist. How do traditional definitions change so dramatically and who determines that?

May. 08 2013 01:46 PM
Sarah from Long Beach, NY

The "sh" for "s" thing - here's where I've noticed it... Tony Soprano, Vincent Piazza playing LUcky Luciano on "Boardwalk Empire" and the head of the Dept. Of Sanitation - on TV a lot after Hurricane Irene. So I'm guessing it's a Jersey thing, or a gangsta thing of a particular ethnicity. :) (sanitation??? hmmmm....)

May. 08 2013 01:44 PM
Richard Taddei from hell's Kitchen, NYC

Lack Possessive apostrophes on stores signs bother me. Like, Hells Kitchen with no apostrophe or Fast Eddies, no apostrophe. etc.How can they permit store signs like that!

May. 08 2013 01:44 PM
Tom Jones from Nyack

I think "dasn't" may come from "darest not". Also, I call your attention to "durst", which is similar and something some people still say.

May. 08 2013 01:44 PM
Stephanie from Irvington

Is there a language other than English in which they have spelling bees? In other words, languages in which words are not spelled as they are pronounced? My children and I are wondering, especially since they are enjoyingnhowmeasy it is to spell words in Spanish,

May. 08 2013 01:41 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

I'm still curious as to why Americans pronounce buoy, as a "boowee" whereas, the rest of the English speaking world pronounces it as "boy" - yet, everyone pronounces "buoyancy" the same way.

May. 08 2013 01:41 PM
LF from NY

I first became aware of the SH sound you were discussing when George W Bush became President because that is the way he pronounced S.. Consequently, many many peole began speaking like that.

May. 08 2013 01:40 PM
Dave from Brooklyn

Pundit vs. Pundint

I can't believe how many people I hear using the word "pundint". When and why did this begin? As far as I can tell there is no such word. The word is "pundit". Any ideas?

May. 08 2013 01:40 PM
john from office

Why is it Welcome and not you are welcomed???

May. 08 2013 01:40 PM
The Truth from Becky

Happy Mothers Day as misused as Happy New Years.

May. 08 2013 01:39 PM
Michael from Greenpoint

I love your show Leonard but speaking of annoying turns of phrase there was a period when you repeatedly said "any number of..." (instead of simply saying "a lot" or "many"). So glad you seem to have abandoned it!

May. 08 2013 01:39 PM
Dale From Chelsea from Chelsea

The worst is the possessive of Attorneys General. Is it Attorneys' General regulations (when it's more than one state involved)?

May. 08 2013 01:39 PM
The Truth from Becky

If I hear anyone else use: small & little together again I shall scream!

May. 08 2013 01:38 PM
Mary from UWS

What about when people pronounce "Supposedly" as "Supposably"?

May. 08 2013 01:38 PM
John from Fanwood, NJK

I think the word anniversary is being abused. I hear it used for events that are four month old, two months, etc. I even heard a WNYC announcer say it was the "one week anniversary" of something or other. It's supposed to signify a year or more has passed since the event, I think.

May. 08 2013 01:38 PM
Lori from UWS

Re Patricia and Leonard's discussion of The New Yorker cover: the use of the title "Mothers' Day" is not a mistake, and is actually a punctuation pun, you might say. The artist knows that "Mother's Day" is the name of the holiday, but the cover shows kids peeking around the corner at a lesbian couple, their two mothers -- those kids have Mothers' Day.

May. 08 2013 01:38 PM
Phyllis from New York, NY

I have difficulty when nouns morph into verbs....dialogue became dialoguing...there are others. It feels lazy to me rather than a natural evolution. I also totally dislike "My Bad". What's that about?

May. 08 2013 01:36 PM

that comment about the New Yorker mother's day photo misses the point of the visual/political -- that is why they had to put: mothers' day.

It's almost like a cartoon caption.
Let's say it's an illustration caption.
Requires Patricia T. to look at the picture, and think.

May. 08 2013 01:35 PM

my grandfather said daren't

May. 08 2013 01:34 PM
Jenna from UWS

My aunt uses "darcent" for dare not. lol

May. 08 2013 01:33 PM

If I want to refer to all of the states attorney generals, is it:

States attorney generals
States attorneys general
States attorneys generals
States' attorney generals

Which is it?

May. 08 2013 01:33 PM
Deborah from UWS

NO - the New Yorker Cover depicts TWO MOTHERS in a SAME SEX MARRIAGE, ergo Mothers' Day

May. 08 2013 01:32 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Speaking of possessive punctuations. I was taught that even with a name ending in "s" one should still use a apostrophe and the extra "s" - e.g "Jesus's disciples" Now, I'm being told that it should be treated like a plural word, e.g "Jesus' disciples" hmmm.

May. 08 2013 01:30 PM
mark from East Rockaway

It seems like where and whether to use an apostrophe these days is the result of a coin toss. "Its" is used properly about half the time. And apostrophes are inserted into plural words like "open Sunday's" for no apparent reason.

May. 08 2013 01:28 PM
Deborah from UWS

Where are we on hopefully? Having held out hopefully, thinking we could keep the word pure, I feel it's a lost cause.

BTW re: Mothers' Day - take a look at the title of this week's New Yorker cover...

May. 08 2013 01:26 PM
Allison from East Village

Are there any connections between the three definitions for the word pilot? Airplane pilot, stove pilot, TV pilot.

May. 08 2013 01:14 PM
Stephen Iino from nynj

So, I have begun to notice and be annoyed by, what I perceive to be the increased use of the word 'so' or 'right', by people as the first word when they are answering questions posed by radio hosts.

What is the origin of this use of the word and what exactly does it mean in this context?

May. 08 2013 12:47 PM
Hal from Brooklyn

If you honor all mothers, you celebrate Mothers' Day. If it's only about your own mother, use Mother's Day.

May. 08 2013 12:26 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I take issue with Ms. O'Conner's statement at the end of last month's show that it is perfectly fine to end a sentence with a preposition. The issue of prepositions and prepositional phrases is that they may modify the declarative sentence, but are not a necessary part of a sentence. Hence:

"I know where I'm at." v "I know where I am."

In the first sentence, the preposition (at) is completely unnecessary and ending the sentence with it is incorrect.

May. 08 2013 12:06 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.