Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner explores how new words get into the dictionary and responds to listener mail. She then 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 Jr. is available for purchase at


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [23]

Marc Naimark from Paris

"Herstory". The use of this word doesn't need to be based on PC run riot. You don't need to believe that "history" means "his-story" to note that this structure is contained in the word, and to decide to make a play on words on this. English is full of opportunities for language play, so let's make the most of them!

And what would really be stupid would be to ignore the fact that history HAS been the story of men, ignoring women's lives and the realm of women.

Jul. 26 2007 07:22 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Well. Silly people. "Well" IS an adjective. It's the opposite of "ill". So when someone asks how you are, it is absolutely correct to say "well", for "I am well", i.e., in good health.

"I'm good", however is nonsense, unless you're describing your moral qualities.

Jul. 26 2007 07:17 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Viewshed: think of "watershed", but for what you see, rather than where the rain falls.

Jul. 26 2007 07:14 AM
Mike Choi from Northern New Jersey

oops, "diphthong"

Jul. 26 2007 03:39 AM
Mike Choi from Northern New Jersey

I am Korean American, so my ears pricked up at "chaebol," the rough Korean equivalent of the Japanese "zaibatsu" (i.e., conglomerate). (In fact, the Chinese characters for both words are identical.) In Korean at least, the "ae" in "chaebol" is closer to "eh" ("e" in "metric") than "eye." The romanization of Korean words varies quite a bit, depending on historical practice, official/academic standardization, or personal preference. I am far from expert (heck, I majored in English), but I believe the "ae" spelling reflects a literal transliteration of the Korean original, a dipthong consisting of two vowels pronounced individually as "ah" (romanized to "a") and "ee" ("e"). The "ae" in "Daewoo" is the same dipthong and thus pronounced the same way (again, at least in Korean; I had never heard it spoken by someone not familiar with the Korean pronunciation, come to think of it, until LL said it in this segment). While we're at it, the "ai" in "Hyundai," another internationally known chaebol, is also the same dipthong, just with a different transliteration.

Jul. 26 2007 03:32 AM
Robert Lawrence from Jackson Heights

I think that I have always used the word KEY as in the expression, "That's key!" in my response to a statement or query.

For example, in a classroom discussion, a student makes a seminal comment. The instructor /leader's response would be "That's key!"

Although I only get these English usage program by chance, I really enjoy them. Today I got home and turned on the radio [always set to WNYC] just as "key" was being discussed.

I have never called in. I have called in only once or twice when living 900 miles southwest, but was uncomfortable being held on the line by an "editor." For WNYC call-ins, the caller seems to be kept on for only a second or two, thanked, and then move on, rather like people being herded off and on the subway during rush hour. Hainv lived in the midsouth for the last 30 years, I find this approach uncomfortable and certainly unwelcoming. I'll just listen, which is more comfortable anyway.

Jul. 25 2007 02:04 PM
Kyle from Manhattan

I'm also curious about interpreting "this week" vs. "next week", especially when one is making these references during the weekend! Any chance that the use is explained as a British vs. American English?

Jul. 25 2007 02:01 PM
Penne from NYC

How about making this show a full hour? It's so good and we get it only once a month! Thanks!

Jul. 25 2007 01:58 PM
francisco from portland, or

One of the worst mistakes made everyday is the term "most unique" and "quite unique". Unique means one of kind. this cannot be modified.

Jul. 25 2007 01:54 PM
Janine White from Manhattan

Well vs. Good - I have always been told "well is a moral concept" and when one asks how you are, they are asking about your condition and you should say well.

Jul. 25 2007 01:54 PM
Bob from Newark, NJ

If English is your only language and you're sometimes not too sure about that, you're semi-lingual, ma?

Jul. 25 2007 01:46 PM
Ansi Vallens from Chatham, NY

Pronunciation: Ginormous with Gi as in Chai

Jul. 25 2007 01:44 PM


prefix a- means to come into
prefix e- means to go out of

affluent and effluent

affect is what come into us - emotions
effect is what goes out of us - actions

Jul. 25 2007 01:41 PM

NO! A viewshed is part of the litigation of someone whose view of the river is obstructed by the latest Trump monstrosity.

Jul. 25 2007 01:30 PM
Richard from Brooklyn

I heard a woman (on a different public radio station) say, "... when you look at the history and the 'herstory'...", i cringed/groaned and then thought, wow, she must be pretty stupid. I would like to know what Ms. O'Conner thinks of such an unfortunate formation.

Jul. 25 2007 01:03 PM
VAT from NJ

I am more than a little distressed at the ever increasing use of the article "an" in front of 'historic' rather than the classic "a"; now even BBC is saying, "... an historic"! Interestingly though, most still say "a history", and not "an history". Should I be?

Jul. 25 2007 12:47 PM
Lennie from Manhattan

Dear Pat: I find that "infamous" is now being used both on television and in print as meaning "well known" or "noteworthy" or "famous". Is this another lost cause or is there yet hope? Best, Lennie

Jul. 25 2007 12:46 PM
Troy from Brooklyn, NY

Is it correct to use the term "1st annual"?

Jul. 25 2007 12:44 PM
Robin from Garrison, NY

'Anyhoo' seems to be everywhere. Sometimes it is meant to be ironic. My question really is, might it eventually replace 'anyhow' or 'anyway'? One etymology site refers to another spelling, 'anyhu'. (??)

Jul. 25 2007 12:34 PM
hjs from NYC

why do people say "i'm a direct
descendant of - "
can you be an indirect of someone?

Jul. 25 2007 12:08 PM
Carolyn Martin from Litchfield CT

"Anyhoo" (or "anywho")is a jokey slang substitute for "anyway," and is meant to be amusing. If you can find either spelling of the word in a dictionary, it will probably be marked "substandard," as are both "anyways" (shudder) and "anywise," (double shudder).

A similar example of this intended-to-be-lighthearted locution is the substitution of "invite," the verb, for "invitation," the noun. This latter example - I am grieved to note - is alarmingly close to becoming standard. So far, I don't think "anyhoo" has come that far on the acceptance scale.

Jul. 25 2007 11:48 AM
Rachel from Manhattan, NY

I'm curious about "I'm well" as a response to "How are you?" I've been told that this is grammatically correct but is it? Shouldn't one have to say, "I am doing well" so that "well" functions as an adverb, not an adjective?

Jul. 25 2007 11:40 AM
Robin from Garrison, NY

I'm curious about the word 'anyhoo'. Might it replace 'anyhow', which I don't hear much 'anywoo'?

Jul. 25 2007 10:16 AM

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