Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner explores how words become taboo, and answers your questions about the use (and misuse) of the English language. Call 212-433-9692 or post a question or comment during the show. If your question isn’t answered on air, you can email Patricia T. O’Conner directly at

Woe Is I is available for purchase at


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [3]

lisa hansen from leonia, new jersey


I am a summer associate at a New York law firm and share an office with someone named Josh, who used the phrase "little shavers" to refer to my kids. (He suggested I take my "little shavers" to a ball game.) I asked him the origin of this expression but he didn't know where it came from and we can't find it anywhere. I'm hoping you can help resolve this!

By the way, I really enjoy hearing you on WNYC.



Jul. 10 2007 10:07 AM
Michael Bergelson from UWS of Manhattan

Why decry the existence of "bad" words? We have need for such words... People do bad things and selfish thing to others, and we have need to express our strong feelings about and to such people.

The unfortunate thing in my mind is that these words and expressions lose their impact because of the near-acceptance of them in everyday speech. When these lose their power, what words will we use to express strong feelings?

Jun. 20 2007 01:50 PM
David from NYC

It seems like the use of the word KEY has been increasingly used as a shortcut to indicate a crucial element of some concept when the speaker or writer can't (or is too lazy) to identify a more specific modifier.

This often results in the use of "key" as a noun without an article, e.g., "something was KEY" instead of "something was THE KEY to ..." or when it should have been used as an adjective with a noun, e.g., "something was a KEY metric ...".

I've noticed this more and more in the media. Am I being too picky?

Some recent examples:

WNYC Radio Lab:

[description of some discovery]. This turned out to be KEY.

Recent NYTimes News Bulletins:

* Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" obviously was KEY to the scene, but what if it had been another song?

* China and other major developing nations have promised to do their "fair share" to curb greenhouse gases but say it is too early to talk of caps or cuts when rising energy use is KEY to helping hundreds of millions of people escape poverty.

Jun. 20 2007 01:49 PM

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