Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner answers your questions about the English language...including some of the more interesting new words of 2007.

Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English is available for purchase at

Comments [37]

Marc Naimark from Paris

"Almost any name can become an adjective."

Indeed. Look at the adjective made from Patricia's name.


Dec. 21 2007 10:33 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

On the -ola:
In Mazola and Canola, the "ola" comes from "oleum", or "oil". Mazola is corn oil, and Canola is "Canadian oil". I believe Canola was invented to replace the less marketable original name, "rapeseed oil".

Wikipedia says that the "ola" comes from oil, low acidity", and that canola oil is a specific variety of rapeseed oil.

Dec. 21 2007 10:32 AM
J. Sims

I have a candidate for Word of the Year.

The word 'anxious' can have two opposite meanings. On the one hand, an event we are anxious about can be one to which we very much look forward and happily anticipate. On the other hand, we can truly dread the outcome of the event. In the second case, I propose we use the word 'anxietous', incorporating the word anxiety which carries more of a negative connotation.

Dec. 20 2007 06:01 PM
Gene from New Rochelle NY

Re foreign speakers use of "thanks god" - I believe it is short version of "thanks be to god"

Dec. 20 2007 12:13 PM


Just wanted to let WNYC know that the "on demand" function for this segment cuts off at about 6 minutes 30 seconds. Thanks!

Dec. 19 2007 06:10 PM
Alvaro from Lisbon, Portugal

To Matt:

I think "extra" in extraordinary comes from latim. Extra, I think, means "out" or "outside". So if something is extraordinary it stands out of the realm of "ordinary" things/normal course of events.

Dec. 19 2007 02:50 PM
Matt from Warwick, NY

Regarding the word "extraordinary"

Doesn't putting "extra" in front of "ordinary" make it seem like something is more dull, or ordinary, rather than special or unique?

Dec. 19 2007 02:07 PM
ezra from harlem

Please please please let's call for a moratorium on the NON word "oftentimes"

Sometimes is a word.
Oftentimes is NOT (though it has ended up in many dictionaries)
"often" does just fine.

Dec. 19 2007 02:03 PM
h-man from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

Hey, thanks Graham! re: "sic"

Dec. 19 2007 02:03 PM
Valerie from Manhattan

I live in Queens and take the 59th street bridge to go home. As you know, this bridge has 2 levels. Upper level and lower level.
Why do we say "upper" and "lower" when the opposite of up is down and the opposite of low is high....?

Dec. 19 2007 01:58 PM
JVM from westchester

my pet peeve of the year: pronouncing "versus" "verse"

Dec. 19 2007 01:57 PM
Ken Campbell from Harlem

sanction - are there other words with two, oppostie meanings?

ravel and unravel - which is preferred?

Dec. 19 2007 01:57 PM
David from South Orange

"More unique" just means more attributes are unique.

Dec. 19 2007 01:53 PM

Why do radio hosts, when finishing a show, say "We'll see you tomorrow," when it's physically impossible. A better one: "Until tomorrow (or next time), goodbye."

Dec. 19 2007 01:52 PM

Again from the German?: "change out" (the bulb, for instance), I guess, comes from the perfectly correct "auswechseln" ("aus" is "out," "wechseln" is "change").

Dec. 19 2007 01:51 PM

ATM machine and PIN number drive me crazy...they're saying Automatic Teller Machine machine, Personal Identification Number number...

I know I should give up on this, but for some reason I can't...

Dec. 19 2007 01:50 PM
P.G. from Manhattan

In Scotland, which is where my husband is from, "Brawlicht" means "Brightly Lit", as in the poem, "It's Braw Licht, moonlicht nicht t'nicht"

Which means "its a brightly lit moonlit night tonight"

Dec. 19 2007 01:49 PM
Isaac from Jersey City

The phrase "spit and image" is often referred to as "spitting image". Isn't the former correct? Thanks!!

Dec. 19 2007 01:47 PM
Chris from Manhattan


Should I give up on trying to maintain the difference between "eager" and "anxious." I'm a prof at an online University and I make this correction all the time. It seems that the difference is disappearing.


Dec. 19 2007 01:44 PM

One word a friend and I use this time of year is "Christeonormative"... to sum up how our culture sees Christianity and Christmas as the unquestioned norm, and everything else is seen in relation to that norm.

Dec. 19 2007 01:44 PM
Graham from Paris

John Hahn:

The Riot Act, an actual British law, circa late 18th century, provided that, when this Act--which was enacted to break up assemblies, mobs, protests, etc. which were common during the period known as the "Enclosures" of former public common lands, etc.--was read aloud by a sherrif, or deputy or other authority, it made everyone present subject to arrest and the death penalty

Dec. 19 2007 01:42 PM
P.G. from Manhattan

"Yule" is derived from a Viking term for "Wheel". The celebration honored Winter Solstice as the passing of another year, which was likened to the metaphorical "turning of the wheel", the year, like a wheel, made another turn.

Dec. 19 2007 01:40 PM
Alan Firkser from NYC

"On the Stump" is getting a lot of mention lately, does it originate from literally standing on a stump to give a political speech?

Dec. 19 2007 01:39 PM
Graham from Paris

Could someone please kill the word "famously".

Thank you.

Dec. 19 2007 01:38 PM
Graham from Paris

" SIC " is latin for "thus"
meaning, the word it follows is shown as it was or did appear. So, if an error was made in printing the word, the person who writes "sic" after it means, "thus"---"the word appeared that way"

Say you saw someone write,

"I met with Vice President Dick Chainey"

if, quoting that comment, you want the reader to know that it wasn't _you_ who misspelled "Chainey" you'd write

"Chainey (sic)"

Dec. 19 2007 01:37 PM
nycmidtown from downtown

Woot may just stick around. It is the name of a website for one deal each day.

Dec. 19 2007 01:36 PM
Salvo from Manhattan

Re: Yule

Jul (pronounced the same) is the word for Christmas in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish even today.

Dec. 19 2007 01:36 PM
Eric Goebelbecker from NYC

Word of the year: lopated

To be interrupted so frequently that you forget your original point.

Dec. 19 2007 01:36 PM
x baczewska from nyc

isn't "ola" the Spanish suffix for big, as opposed to "ita" for small?

Dec. 19 2007 01:32 PM

I get irritated when people use "rate of speed"; for example when they are referring to a car moving quickly. This seems redundant as speed is a rate (distance/time).

Dec. 19 2007 01:29 PM
Mona Peck from Peekskill NY

My Mother used to say, "Boy that will lay you out in Lavender"...Did they mean, lavender satin lining for a coffin or did they use lavender in funerals to diffuse the odors?

Dec. 19 2007 01:29 PM
Malcolm MacDonald from Valencia, CA

Curious about BRANDISHING a weapon.


Dec. 19 2007 01:27 PM

My pet peeve is when people use the phrase "rate of speed" when referring to an object is moving quickly. I would think this is a misuse; do you agree?

Dec. 19 2007 01:27 PM
Jennifer from New Brunswick, NJ

Not a grammar question either:
How do you pronounce pecan? Pea-can or Pa-cahn?

Dec. 19 2007 01:27 PM
John Hahn from NJ

What does the phrase 'Read the riot Act' mean?

What is the riot act?

Does it have to do anything with filibustering in the senate?

Love your time with Leonard!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.


Dec. 19 2007 01:27 PM
Kris from nj

Where does " out in left field" come from? why not right field? LOL

Re; that statement came right out of left field "

Dec. 19 2007 01:26 PM
h-man from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

not sure if this is technically a grammar question, but what is the origin of using (sic) in written text to indicate a misspelling or misuse of a word?

Dec. 19 2007 11:48 AM

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