Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner answers your questions about the English language. Lately Patricia has been thinking about the word "heart" as a verb, as in "I heart New York." Share your thoughts on that by leaving a comment below, or you can call us at 212-433-9692.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [41]

kelly moyers from new jersey

Hi Patricia,

The book title you were searching for is "Language from the Roots Up". I recommend it highly to anyone who is seeking to improve their vocabulary. One of the most profound benefits I derived was a better understanding of the kind of science and medical terminology that I am constantly bombarded by. I recall that there were sections for both Latin and Greek; and I know that due to that basic knowledge I can puzzle out terms in physics, biology and medicine enough to follow conversations that might otherwise be beyond my ken. Many's the time I've relied on those root words to make the educated guesses that got me through tests. I am a Lib. Arts person in a family of engineers and whatnots. The flashcards used to live on my coffee table; people seemed to be as interested in them as they were in the magazines.

Nov. 25 2009 02:19 PM
Phillip from Bronx, NY

Make often comes from the German machen, which very often means to do. So I suspect making a party comes from eine Party machen while make nice comes from mach's gut (=mach es gut), some very common phrases in German.

Dec. 11 2007 02:54 PM
Martin from New Canaan, CT

Real estate, in my opinion derives from the "Royal Estate". In the feudal system in Europe, all land belonged to the crown. The sovereign could grant land titles to nobility that conferred the right to levy taxes etc. The serfs that actually produced crops did not own the land.
The British system of buying a 99 year leasehold on property in certain parts (very frequent in London) may be a leftover of some of the feudal practices. In fact, large parts of London belong to a few aristocrats, and so can still be considered "royal estate".

Nov. 27 2007 02:02 AM
Daniel from Manhattan


"make" is used instead of "do" because of

German background in upstate Rochester
Yiddish background in New York City

German/Yiddish "machen" = to do / to make

Nov. 21 2007 02:39 PM
Amy S. from NYC

Both the noun and the verb "object" certainly come from the same Latin root: the particles "ob" ("in front of," "before," etc.) and "jactare" ("to throw," etc.). To object, in the sense of to raise problems, etc., makes sense -- it means to throw or raise hurdles to something. The route to the noun "object" is a bit trickier; it seems to come from the past participle ("obiectus"); I'm unsure when it first started to be used in this sense, but at least by the time of late Scholastic medieval philosophy, it is used as something that 'stands against' a perceiver or some other agent, to some degree in contrast to a "subject," (where THAT does not mean a perceiver, but something that stands "under" something else). In this respect, it is very much like the German "Gegenstand," which is frequently translated as 'object'.

I'm unsure about why land is considered "real property," but certainly that use can be found in 18th century debates in political economy. I had always speculated (or assumed) that it was largely because of the view that all national wealth is ultimately grounded in land -- a popular folk economic theory to this day. It would be interesting to see if advocates of alternate accounts, e.g., early Mercantilists, refused to use the term in that sense. Wish I knew.

[Note: I'm a philosophy professor, and I object to identifying "real" with "objectivity" -- because of the sense given above. Hooray for old scholastic concepts!]

Nov. 21 2007 02:33 PM
Daniel from Manhattan

to make = machen in upstate New York German
to make = machen in Brooklyn/Manhattan Yiddish

Nov. 21 2007 02:32 PM
Kathleen Walsh from Brooklyn, NY

Re: "Real Estate"
In Adam Freedman's book "the Party of the First Part", he explains that "...the 'real' in real property comes from the french word for "royal", because land used to be held by a king." A number of older law journal articles support this theory. There is, however, an alternative explanation: that the "real" comes from the Latin res, or "thing." The Oxford English dictionary is in favor of this; however, it's unclear why land should be more "thingy" than other objects, which are not real property. So I vote for the Adam Freedman's explanation; but I have to disclose: he's my husband. Still, if you enjoy Patricia's show, you might like this book. William Safire praised it in his column!

Nov. 21 2007 02:20 PM
Al from queens

As far as Mazola goes -- that's an easy one -- "you call it corn, but we call it Maize" + ola -- short for oleo, a term for oil. Perhaps the ola in "payola" refers to "greased palms."

Nov. 21 2007 02:04 PM
richard from manhattan

"Real property" in the legal sense does not include tangible property other than land, or things affixed to the land (called "fixtures"). Condominuiumns are defined to be real property by statute. Co-operataive apartments are not real estate in New York State but are in some other states. Go figure.

Tangible property that is not real property is referred to, in legal terms, as "personal property."

Many European legal systems use words similar to "immovable" for real property and "movable" for tangible personal property.

Nov. 21 2007 02:04 PM
stephen sellinger from Rockland County

speaking of "threepeat," many years ago in an Indian Post Office I was amused by this sign,
" Please fill out form in threeplicate."

Nov. 21 2007 02:03 PM
judith cooper from manhattan

Oh no! After you post a comment, you get back a message that it will appear MOMENTARILY.

Nov. 21 2007 02:01 PM
judy from New Jersey

I too think that "making a party" is a regional expression. When I moved to New York from the midwest 20 years ago, several of my friends from Long Island were "making a party" for one reason or another. I think it's right up there with "on line" vs. "in Line", or WINTER coat (emphasis on the winter) vs. winter COAT, as we midwesterners would say!

Nov. 21 2007 02:01 PM
Daniel Gross from Great Neck, NY

There is a community on Long Island named LLoyd's Neck.
In colonial days, according to one old story, a Dutch sea captain had a wife named Nan who owned property in the middle of the Great Neck peninsula. At some point she became less than happy with some aspect of her life and became known as MAD NAN and their land was known as Mad Nan's Neck.

Nov. 21 2007 01:59 PM
judith cooper from manhattan

I'm Jewish and from Brooklyn. I still make a party- of any size. We also make weddings.

Nov. 21 2007 01:59 PM
Mariano from queens

Comment regarding how reporters are pronoucing the countries with an accent. I think it's partly because they also don't want to be seen as pretentious especially if they are bilingual. Also, the word "carry" as in I will "carry" him mean I will give him a ride, etc.

Nov. 21 2007 01:57 PM
Jo from New Jersey

People in Newark still say "Down neck" never quite sure how to spell it!

Nov. 21 2007 01:57 PM
hjs from 11211

c.1896, trademark name (1901) of a player piano, the ending perhaps abstracted from viola (q.v.) and meant as a diminutive suffix. The pianola's popularity led to a rash of product names ending in -ola, especially Victrola (q.v.), and slang words such as payola.

Nov. 21 2007 01:55 PM
Pup from Brooklyn

Correction: the term "real property" is ONLY used to refer to real estate (i.e. land, buildings, or any appurtenances attached to the land). It is NOT, as Ms. O'Connor, said just now used to refer to any property that has monetary value. Other property would be called "personal property." As one of my law professors used to say, if you turn the world upside down and the thing falls out, it's not real property.

Nov. 21 2007 01:55 PM
Chris Pericone from NJ

Payola" is a contraction of the words "pay" and "Victrola" (LP record player), and entered the English language via the record business...i.e. the illegal practice of payment or other inducement by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on music radio.

Nov. 21 2007 01:54 PM
Christopher from Manhattan

Like Italian's fare, agere and facere from Latin also have a multi-verb function. It can mean drive, do discuss, and more. Latin derived agere from Greek, where it also can mean doing, driving, leading, et cetera. In Japanese, an obvously unrelated language, the verb shimas, means to do, to have, to make, and so on, and can be added to nouns such as benkyoshimas(u) (benkyo, studies + shimas(u), to do) to mean study. Perhaps a general action verb is essential, or somehow primary, to language.

Nov. 21 2007 01:54 PM
Jimmy from Brooklyn

Did anyone see that PBS special on Athens that aired Monday. Apparently the word testify comes from the fact people, before testifying, would hold a pair of Bull's testes in their hands and swore the truth. Gross I know.

Nov. 21 2007 01:53 PM
David from New Rochelle

Main Entry: pay·o·la
Pronunciation: \pā-ˈō-lə\
Function: noun
Etymology: 1pay + -ola (as in Pianola, trademark for a player piano)
Date: 1938

Nov. 21 2007 01:52 PM
In Chicago

from a history of rock and roll website:

""Payola" is a contraction of the words "pay" and"Victrola" (LP record player), and entered the English language via the record business. The first court case involving payola was in 1960."

Nov. 21 2007 01:52 PM
chestine from NY

Hi Patricia - Have you read the new book by Daniel Cassidy that traces American slang to Irish words (hiding in plain language!) and listed "origin unknown" by the OED - very interesting. I heard an interview; I haven't seen the book. (Also of Irish ancestry)

Nov. 21 2007 01:52 PM
janet hammond from lausanne, switzerland

would payola have anything to do with victrola?

Nov. 21 2007 01:50 PM
Gaines from Knoxville, TN

I'd explain the use of spanish pronunciation for spanish proper nouns but not other foreign proper nouns as a result of offering the racial bribe to Hispanic-Americans.

Nov. 21 2007 01:49 PM
Nico from Brooklyn

Is it correct for people to say "You have 2 choices". I would think that saying "you have a choice" indicates that there is more than one option. Yes?

Nov. 21 2007 01:49 PM
Celia from NYC

On Monday, I received printed pre-surgery instructions from my doctor that specified:

"No eating or drinking after midnight the day before the surgery.

When you get up in the morning not even a glass water take."

Depending on the age and background of the listener, this will get either no response, or an outburst of laughter.

Nov. 21 2007 01:46 PM
stephen sellinger from Rockland County

Q.) What is the origin of the suffix ola, as in payola, and granola, moviola, mazola, rockola. Most of these are trademarks and they go back to early 20th century I believe. could it be trading on the popularity of cola?

Nov. 21 2007 01:44 PM
Lauren from Brooklyn

Is it "meet market" or "meat market"? Both make sense to me...

Nov. 21 2007 01:44 PM
Jon from New Jersey

I have seen a shift in the use of the past tense of the verb "to plead" in the newspapers from "pled" to "pleaded". Which one is correct?

Nov. 21 2007 01:43 PM
Fred Bachmann from Bloomfield, NJ

Re: Neck
I was taught in my cultural geography course (thiry-five years ago) as an undergraduate that the use of the word "neck" in place names was a sign of Dutch colonial influence. Sidebar: some older timers, when I was "coming up", would refer to the Ironbound section of Newark as "down neck".

Nov. 21 2007 01:43 PM

In Italian, the verb 'fare' can translate into English as either 'to make' or 'to do.' Italian speakers of English as a second language will often choose 'make' when they mean 'do,' and vice-versa.

Nov. 21 2007 01:43 PM

Making a party usually refers more to "an affair", a catered party.

Nov. 21 2007 01:43 PM
Janine from Manhattan

Leonard, you're right, the translation in Italian for having a party is to make a party - fare is the verb in Italian and it means to do, to make.

Nov. 21 2007 01:42 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

My Yiddish grandma also says "make a party"... as well as "towel paper" instead of "paper towel." These have both entered the family lexicon.

Nov. 21 2007 01:42 PM
stephen sellinger from Rockland County

necks are sometimes peninsulas such as throggs neck or llods neck

Nov. 21 2007 01:39 PM
Lisa from NJ

My pet peeve - "utilize" instead of "use".

Nov. 21 2007 01:36 PM
J.C. from Minneapolis

I completely agree with the guest's thought on her website that "It is me" is acceptable. I think that using "me" in the predicate of the sentence sounds so much better than using "I." "It is I" sounds pompous and contributes to annoying confusion that too many Americans have about when to use "I" and "me."

My personal grammar/word choice pet peeves:

1. Using "podium" when the correct word is "lectern."

2. Using "may" when "might" would work. I don't know if any grammar authorities have spoken to this issue, but I think we should stop using "may" to signify doubt about something. "May" should be used to indicate permission. I think a sentence such as "The Senate may convene tomorrow" is ambiguous because you don't if there's doubt about the Senate convening or if the Senate has permission to convene.

And, of course, I apologize for any grammatical/punctutation/word choice errors in this comment! :)

Nov. 21 2007 01:27 PM
RD from NYC

I disagree with the use since it seems to simply stem from the city's tourist symbol (and the heart symbol in that logo stands for the word "love"). On the national scale, using the phrase came from the recent film "I [HEART SYMBOL] the Huckabees." I believe this film sparked it's wide usage since when people discussed the movie they simply said the word "heart", rather than "love" which I believe is/was more appropriate.

Nov. 21 2007 09:55 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Hello Patricia!

If you lacking callers (a state I can't imagine), maybe you can deal with a question that annoys me (perhaps it's already been asked and answered... if so no problem).
Here goes:
I seem to hear and read more often now than in the past "to be close with someone". This shocks me. Isn't it always "to be close to someone"?

Nov. 21 2007 09:53 AM

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