Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner responds to recent reader mail 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 directly by going to her website,, and clicking on "write us."

Woe Is I Jr. is available for purchase at


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [17]

eric fluger from jersey city

all in favor teaching gramar and usage. not so sure about formal lessons, espeically in early grades. gramar in the abstract can seem pretty dull to many folks. might be better to watch for and pounce on "teachable moments" and teach concepts in context of actual language use.

Sep. 19 2007 02:07 PM
eric fluger from jersey city

the use of the word "troop" to refer to a single soldier may be questionable, but it is not new.

i think this may be a case of a word having slightly different meanings in different contexts or cultures. a boy scout troop is a lot of boy scouts. in the military a troop is one soldier.

(derived from "trooper" perhaps?)

Sep. 19 2007 02:03 PM
John from Jersey City, NJ

"troops" might be used as a generic term for individual persons in the military. Army personnel are soldiers. Marine Corp personnel are marines. Naval personnel are sailors. If you call a marine a soldier, he'll probably deck you.

Sep. 19 2007 01:59 PM
David from Pittsburgh

One of my pet peeves is when sportscasters use the word "winningest." Where did they come up with this incorrect conjugation?

Sep. 19 2007 01:57 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

You want the best (worst?) evidence for the current atrocious use of English? Just read the majority of the comments to this website and at others like YouTube and Amazon; mis-spelled words, no punctuation, etc. I think it's just a juvenile showing off of the average person's disdain of appearing too intelligent. For example, in the case of avoiding mis-spelled words, all one has to do is refer to the computer's spell-checker; for some even that little effort is too much to ask.

Sep. 19 2007 01:55 PM

I couldn't agree more with Ms. O'Connor's remarks about the lack of teaching grammar in schools. Must education be watered down, too?

Sep. 19 2007 01:53 PM
bernard witlieb from white plains, ny

Re; "guys" as including women: the pattern follows the original sense of "harlot" as fellow (drugstore cowboy" type.

Sep. 19 2007 01:45 PM

Would you explain the meaning of 'nominal'?
I thought it meant name only.
I've heard people quantifying a 'nominal amount of money'. This makes very little sense to me.
I have a nominal amount of respect for these people.

Sep. 19 2007 01:44 PM
Janet from Queens

"Korea" in Korean is Hangook, pronounced "hahn-gook," and "Japan" in Japanese is Nihon, pronounced "nee-hohn." Where do Korea and Japan come from? Also, the first pronunciation in Webster's for Neanderthal is "nee-an-der-tol" (not "-thal"). How did we end up pronouncing it with "-thal"?

Sep. 19 2007 01:44 PM
Linda from nyc

I have seen "doula" used to refer to a person who assists a family while a loved one is dying.

Sep. 19 2007 01:43 PM
hjs from 11211

check out

Sep. 19 2007 01:42 PM
Mark Burnham from Brooklyn

Re: lieutenant

This is a French-based word originally meaning place-holder. lieu - place, tenant - holding

My experience is that nearly any English word ending in "ant" is French-based. 'ant' at the end of a French verb makes it a (I believe) a gerund.

Sep. 19 2007 01:42 PM
Emma from Maplewood, NJ

Just a quick note -- at least in ancient greek, doula is never translated as "servant," just "slave," according to a classicist friend.

Sep. 19 2007 01:42 PM
Leon Freilich from Park Slope


The French have their Academy

While we have our Ms. Grammery.

Prescriptive, descriptive, she won't be bound

Remaining true to what is sound.

No wonder I'm a googoo gonner

For pert Patricia T. O'Conner.

Sep. 19 2007 01:37 PM
Paula Robb from Morristown, NJ

I hear the phrase "a small fraction" all the time. Isn't it redundant?

Sep. 19 2007 01:30 PM
David schneider from on the River

I had sent a question to Patricia's website regarding the, what I considered, redundancy in the common use of 'have' & 'got' in the same sentence. (i.e. I have got ...). She/they very kindly sent me thorough response part of which was the description below of the two words:

"The confusion arises because of the presence of "have," which in this case is not the simple verb meaning "possess," but an auxiliary verb with no meaning of its own. As a linguist would say, it has no content, only function."

I am not thick, but I still can't get my head around it. Please explain so I can sleep again.

Sep. 19 2007 01:04 PM
Edward Villani from Long Beach, NY

One of the most misused expressions I've heard these days is, "The proof is in the pudding." This makes no sense unless one is referring, literally, to pudding. Of course, the expression should be, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." This is a wonderful and meaningful expression when used correctly. Unfortunately, I do not remember the last time I've heard it expressed correctly.

Sep. 19 2007 12:32 PM

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