Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner answers listeners’ questions about the English language. You can leave a comment below, or call us at 212-433-9692.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [21]

Carolyn Martin from Litchfield CT

To Raconteuse: You were right, and Mary Cygan was right. Apparently it was the discussion on the air that strayed. As a sometime fiction writer, I use the past perfect to introduce a previous event. One only has to use it once to set the time, and then return to the simple past, sometimes called the "narrative" past. Cheers to all.

Jan. 16 2008 06:34 PM
Raconteuse from Brooklyn Heights

To posting 8, Mary Cygan:
I don't understand. Isn't that what I wrote? The past perfect is formed by HAD + the past participle of a verb, as in: We had drunk all the beer by the time Joe turned up at the party. I find most people now use the simple past.

Jan. 16 2008 05:13 PM
Randy from San Francisco

Recently found out that "Zero sum gain"/"zero some gain" really "zero sum GAME"...I always knew what it meant but I had NO IDEA "why" it "meant" I know!

Jan. 16 2008 04:49 PM
Randy from San Francisco

My old boss would say: "That's like beating a dead horse...with a stick..'til it's dead"...which still CRACKS me up! That's what I'd really call a waste of time!

Jan. 16 2008 04:44 PM
Jessie from Brooklyn

Something that has really started to bug me is the way that people use the word "technically." I overheard someone say this yesterday: "Technically I could take the M train, but then I would have to walk ten blocks." The word technically is completely unnecessary in that sentence. Is anyone else bothered by that?

Jan. 16 2008 02:18 PM
Tom from Brooklyn

Re: Approve/Approve of

I think I disagree with your caller on this one. In the context of a political ad, "I approve this message." is correct.

There are two senses of approve--to agree with, and to grant permission. In a political ad, the candidate is explicitly using the second sense, putting them in compliance with campaign finance laws.

A candidate can approve of all sorts of things, but can only approve actions taken in their name.

Jan. 16 2008 01:58 PM
Brad from Pelham, NY

There has been plenty of media reporting these days using the terms "Opposition Leader" and "regime change." What exactly a do these things mean and how do they apply to the US political climate?

Jan. 16 2008 01:55 PM
Ruth from Manhattan

I keep hearing clerks in stores say, "will the following customer please step down," when they are referring to the next person in line. This sounds incorrect to me, but I can't explain why, grammatically. Am I correct that this is grammatically incorrect, and if so, why?


Jan. 16 2008 01:55 PM

I've always wondered what is the numerical value associated with the word "several." A lot of people say it's any value more than a couple. I always say it has to be seven or more, perhaps because of the sound... Or am I just being stubborn?

Jan. 16 2008 01:54 PM
AC from NYC

Can the word maven please comment on whether she believes the profileration of and it's "comment" feature supports an increase of incorrect grammar as over 85% of the comments I've read are misspelled?

Jan. 16 2008 01:49 PM

Take vs. Bring

The time to use one vs. the other seems very clear to me though i can't seem to explain it to a friend that consistently uses bring when take sounds like the correct choice to me. For instance:
"could you bring this to the post office for me", even if neither of us are already going there.

Jan. 16 2008 01:49 PM
Harriet from NYC

My mother always used the expression "coggily wobbles" to refer to an upset stomach. I am 65 from Maryland. Perhpas this expression was used in the 1940s in the South.

Jan. 16 2008 01:49 PM
Steve from Hoboken, NJ

I've never heard the word "ulterior" used except in association with the word "motive". Do you know of any other usages?

Jan. 16 2008 01:47 PM
Mary Cygan from Stamford CT

I thought the question Patricia T. O'Connor received asked "what happened to the past perfect tense?" But the discussion that followed seemed to concern the subjunctive mood not the past perfect tense.

Rather than sentences with "would have" constructions, an example would be:

She had finished singing before they left.

Past perfect tense makes it possible to show the sequence of two events in the past.

Jan. 16 2008 01:43 PM
Don Preziosi from Mendham, NJ

Why not call a restaurant owner in the US an entréepreneur!

Jan. 16 2008 01:41 PM
Raconteuse from Brooklyn Heights

It's actually on the LAM, no B.

Jan. 16 2008 01:38 PM
Sean from Marthas vineyard

where does the term "on the lamb" come from

Jan. 16 2008 01:34 PM
Raconteuse from Brooklyn Heights

Can you tell me what's happened to the past perfect tense? Hardly anyone uses it properly anymore: HAD + past participle of a verb.

Also, why is it Americans pronounce the FA found in the middle of words as FI; case in point, Lafayette and Rafael. In the US, this latter one is often shortened to Rafi, when in the Hispanic world, it's Rafa.

Hey, in Yorkshire and much of Northern England they say, "Where there's muck, there's brass (money)!"

Jan. 16 2008 01:31 PM
Carolyn Martin from Litchfield CT

I think I've missed Patricia's segment today. Will catch on MP3 later, but question: Why are so many folks saying "than me," "than her," "than us," etc.? Of course, they use this locution only at the ends of sentences where the the complete clause with verb "than I AM, she IS, or than we ARE" is only implied. It is driving me nuts. Help!---old grammar teacher, formerly at Riverdale Country School.

Jan. 16 2008 01:25 PM
Madame von Punctuation from North Salem, NY

On email and other written communication, I am noticing an ever-increasing amount of people who pluralize nouns by adding an apostrophe-s. And not just in the professional world but in the education world as well. I've seen a PTO email that read "We need Dad's to chaperone the field trip" My son's preschool posted a flyer, "Fundraising check's are due on Friday!"

It's appalling.

Jan. 16 2008 01:16 PM
PJ from NYC

You might ask Patricia if it is correct to refer to someone as having bounced BETWEEN fourteen foster homes, as today's host just did at the beginning of the show. The WNYC web page uses both between and among on the show description today--I guess they are hedging their bets.

Jan. 16 2008 12:18 PM

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