Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner answers your questions about the English language. Today she wants to talk about nicknames! Call us at 212-433-9692 or leave a comment below.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [52]

ALR in PA from Wayne PA

I cringe every time I hear the phrase, "At the end of the day.." spoken most often by news pundits, politicians and attorneys. As used, it never truly precedes an accurate summation of what may come to pass at the end of a single day. Rather, it's one of those useless, ad nauseum flip phrases meant to aggressively short-circuit a discussion or negotiation. Whenever I hear it used, I wish a loud buzzer would go off, a la Pavlov, so this phrase would fall out of use. I wonder if Safire's 'Irregulars' have weighed in on this?
Great show, by the way, and THANK YOU for your humor!

Apr. 16 2008 05:13 PM
LS from Brooklyn

I thought that the distinction between gender and sex comes out of the LGBTQ movement. Sex is a technical term, referring to the genetic make up a person is born with. Gender is an assignment of choice. For example, a transgendered person may be of male sex, but identifies with the female gender.

Apr. 16 2008 02:17 PM

Over a barrel... one history:

I suspect it was something to do with whipping. A position of powerlessness, at least.

Apr. 16 2008 02:05 PM
kevin from park slope

When I visualize ramping up it seems to be a slow steady rise where revving up can be slow or a quick blip so ramping can seem more concise.

Apr. 16 2008 02:04 PM
shawn nelson from eugene, Oregon

I understand from an old wood-block printing that to "have someone over a barrel", comes from parents spanking their children while having the childs head inside the barrel. apparently love is blind but the neighbors aren't deaf.

Apr. 16 2008 01:59 PM
roland brown from manhattan

Is it possible that some nicknames originated when a child that is learning to speak mispronounces its own name? For instance, a small child trying to pronounce "Alexander" might come up with "Sasha" It seems that some nicknames are kind of blurred versions of the full name.

Apr. 16 2008 01:58 PM
al oof

no! the reason we see gender now so much is because gender means something different. sex is a biological difference, gender is a societal difference. read some trans theory and then comment back on that.

Apr. 16 2008 01:58 PM
bill from vermont

Over a barrel may have derived from the Civil War practice of straddling a miscreant atop a barrel

Apr. 16 2008 01:58 PM
Nora from Astoria

My shampoo advertises an "advanced system that helps restore up to 2 years of damage in 1 month..." this sounds like a BAD thing to me...restoring damage? wouldn't repairing damage be more fitting? albeit false advertising....

Apr. 16 2008 01:55 PM
Raconteuse from Brooklyn Heights

I believe I once read that 'dori' comes from Japanese, meaning street. While on leave, American GIs would get their 'R&R' on a certain street in Tokyo or get the picture.

Apr. 16 2008 01:54 PM
shawn nelson from eugene, Oregon

okie dokie?

Apr. 16 2008 01:53 PM
Rachel from New Jersey

okey dokey is another rhyming pair that doesn't make a lot of sense.

To go "to hospital" is the british way to say it.

Apr. 16 2008 01:53 PM
Tierney Fitzmartin from Maplewood, NJ


Do YOU need to take a pause before using "I" or "me"? Or does that come easily? I am studying for an English teaching degree and this still does not come naturally for me.

Thank you!

Apr. 16 2008 01:53 PM
Shana from Brooklyn

Is the word "luddite," used to mean a person who opposes technology, is that a derogatory term?

Apr. 16 2008 01:53 PM
PegB from NY, NY

Brian (post #36): Usually used by British speakers.

Apr. 16 2008 01:52 PM
Mo Mejia from nyc

I live in the Bronx and something that I hate is when people ask me if i'm going to the city, meaning Manhattan.

Apr. 16 2008 01:52 PM
Erica from 10024

Mark (#7) see the first cartoon in this week's New Yorker, at the end of the Table of Contents.

Apr. 16 2008 01:52 PM
Erica from 10024

Dissect. I agree wholeheartedly. Dissect means to take apart, literally dis-section. "Dy-sect" would be more akin to separating into two pieces, i.e. bisecting. The operating prefix here is "dis" not "di."

Apr. 16 2008 01:50 PM
brian from nyc

I hear news reporters often say "he went to hospital", instead of saying he went to THE hospital, is it proper to leave out, the, and if so why leave it out?

Apr. 16 2008 01:49 PM
Mike from N. Manhattan

If you have to outsource files to India and give them instructions you can't use "drill-down" or "get your ducks in a row" or some type of baseball terminology. They won't get what you mean.

Furthermore, I trouble over "me" and "I" a lot when writing, thinking or speaking. I use "me" at the end of a sentence if it's in a prepositional phrase.

Apr. 16 2008 01:49 PM
John from work

What about the use of onboard as a verb as in "That person is onboarded..." or We need to onboard these people (to the project).?

Apr. 16 2008 01:49 PM

I meant, 'flee' of course. But on another note, I really enjoy Patricia's appearances. The whole "Mine Oliver" origin was enlightening.

Apr. 16 2008 01:48 PM

Thanks for this topic! I've often wondered about the origins of some nicknames. Thanks for the information that it's not known why Peg is used for Margaret (won't spend more time on that); I'm still wondering about Polly from Mary, though--???? That's quite strange. . .

Apr. 16 2008 01:48 PM
bkershnar from brooklyn

I checked the Times headline, and I think the caller misspoke. The article makes reference to a Capt. Logan Veath, a singular person who was making the plea.

Apr. 16 2008 01:47 PM
David from NYC

19, I think "Keeping Up Appearances" was hilarious.

Apr. 16 2008 01:46 PM
Isaac from Jersey City

Politicians are always talking about "resiliency". Souldn't it really be "resilience"?

Apr. 16 2008 01:46 PM
Michael DuBick from Brooklyn, NY

The referenced article in the New York Times with the headline using American's was correct because the body of the article was about a army major who tried to persuade the Iranian soldiers not to abandon their post.

Apr. 16 2008 01:46 PM

Regarding the NY Times headline, the article talks about a specific person's plea to his squad to not flea the front. So the headline was indeed referring to one person, one American. The apostrophe 's' was appropriate.

Apr. 16 2008 01:45 PM
john from Brooklyn

Here is the NY Times Headline:


Iraqi Unit Flees Post, Despite American’s Plea

Apr. 16 2008 01:45 PM
Erica from 10024

"myself" strikes me as an Irishism, along with things like "himself" and "your man."

But, in a related subject, isn't it redundant to introduce one's opinion by saying, Me, personally . . ." ??

Apr. 16 2008 01:45 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

I have another New York Times mistake to point out: principle for principal in a NYT Magazine article this Sunday. Sorry, Daphne Merkin--the Times may well be understaffed, as Ms. O'Connor guessed...

Apr. 16 2008 01:44 PM
Danny from East Village

Re: "Nard" as a nickname for Leonard: there was an underground comic in the 60's called "Nard & Pat".

Apr. 16 2008 01:43 PM
ellen from brooklyn

i've always wondered why it's acceptable to refer to someone as a "woman writer" or "woman pilot" instead of a "female" whatever. It doesn't seem to work the other way around--you'd never say "man writer" or even "man dancer."
my friends think i'm being an oversensitive feminist when I bring this up but it just seems grammatically incorrect to me.

Apr. 16 2008 01:43 PM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Re: Mine Ed, mine Oliver, etc.
My mother often spoke of her sister as "our Helen." Helen was a common name and many families had a Helen, so I assume that to distinguish my Aunt Helen from others she was designated as "our." Similarly, the brothers were spoken of as "our Joe," "our Adam," and "our Frank." They all often spoke of my mother as "our Anne."

I noticed, too, in that awful British comedy shown on PBS, the sisters are spoken of as "our Rose," "our Hyacinth," "our Daisy," "our Violet." (By way of explanation, I watched it for a while because a friend thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen.)

Apr. 16 2008 01:41 PM
Wendy Kenney from Washington Heights

My late Italian-American father-in-law was named Vincent, but everyone called him Jimmy. I think it's a common practice.

Apr. 16 2008 01:41 PM
David from NYC

Caller, I wonder whether the late Iona-NC State basketball coach was Vincent Valvano?

Apr. 16 2008 01:41 PM
Kathryn Walton from manhattan

My mother wanted to name me Katy, specifically with a "y," so she looked up all the spellings of my name. A Katie would be a Katherine (the "i" and the "e" in the birth name), and a Katy is a Kathryn. I know some Catherines that go by Katie as well as Cate....

Apr. 16 2008 01:39 PM
PegB from NY, NY

My given name is Margaret, but I was named is solely so that I could be nicknamed Peggy. Don't call me by any other nickname!

Apr. 16 2008 01:38 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

I just wanted to add to the discussion of an eke name. The opposite phenomenon is true of the word "asp." It began as "a nasp" and morphed to "an asp." Are there other examples of this in the English language?

Apr. 16 2008 01:37 PM
tom crisp from Manhattan

As a thomas I've always been known variously as Tom, Tommy etc. In Italian, the nickname takes the other end of the word: Tomasso becomes "Masso" or even the diminutive "Massino" ...

Apr. 16 2008 01:34 PM
World's Toughest Milkman from the_C_train

Which pronunciation is correct for "herb" as in spices?

I hear a lot of people pronouncing the "h" these days, I'd venture to guess that is more correct to pronounce the "h" since the lower class Cockney accent seems to truncate words.

Apr. 16 2008 01:34 PM
Donald Scales from West Chester, PA

"Woe is I" made it to the NY Sun Crossword last week - Congrats

Apr. 16 2008 01:32 PM
Eric from B'klyn

Is the derivation of 'hunky-dory' known?

Apr. 16 2008 01:28 PM
Steve S from Staten Island from NYC is a red sock fan

Apr. 16 2008 01:28 PM
David from NYC

#4 (and Patricia)--first, you're rearing your daughters properly!

Second, do your feelings carry over to other teams as well. For a follower of Atlanta to say, "I'm a Brave fan," suggests that he or she is courageous. Although teams from Boston and Chicago use an "x" instead of "cks" in their team names, should we expect a partisan to say, "I'm a Red/White Sock fan,"?

Interesting topic.

Apr. 16 2008 01:26 PM
Mark from Manhatan

How about a nickname for a famous poem? Is there an alternate title for Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"? It seems that nearly everyone (including Leonard and his guest today) calls it "The Road Less Traveled" which, to me, shifts the focus from lamenting what will never be to "don't follow the crowd".

Apr. 16 2008 01:26 PM
David from NYC

A language trend, which I find very annoying, continues to thrive. Why do so many people use nouns as verbs, when verb forms of the word already exist?

The most prevalent example I can think of is "conference"; e.g., "You and I should conference about that." I invariably reply, "Yes, when would you like to confer about that?"

Apr. 16 2008 01:13 PM
hjs from 11211

yes it is wrong to "ignore resumes" base on one issue. you should look at the whole package. do u never make an error.

Apr. 16 2008 12:39 PM
Steve S from Staten Island from NYC

Can we briefly discuss the Yankees vs Yankee issue again? in, "I am a Yankee fan" (good) vs. "I am a Yankees fan" (bad to the ear) wit...where they play is called Yankee Stadium, sans "s" in Yankee. That extra little "s" just hurts my ears

best, Steve (a life-long Yankee fan)

(Btw, when I was a little boy and didn't know who to root for in the 60s, my dad said to me, "We're Yankee fans...that's it" And that was that. That was the credo I repeated to my daughters.)

Apr. 16 2008 12:20 PM
Trixie Flynn from Tenafly, NJ

Is it correct to say "in regardS to" rather
than "in regard to" ? I'm sifting through
job applicants and tend to ignore those who
say they are responding "in regards to";
is it wrong to automatically dismiss those
who use that phrase ?

Thanx, Trixie (nickname - given name Paulette)

Apr. 16 2008 12:08 PM

If someone says "We are needing your help" instead of "We need your help" is that correct? Why would you use the former? I hear it on the news, co-workers, everywhere. He is wanting a raise. They are needing direction. Are these constructions correct?


Apr. 16 2008 10:14 AM
Neal from NYC

Leonard and Patricia,

I getting very tired of hearing the verb "try" followed by the word "and". Such as "I am going to try and find the book." I want to ask folks how they would diagram that sentence!

I was listening to an interview on BBC this morning in which an Israeli major (or maybe it was a colonel) used "and" in this way several times. It really seemed to stand out to me with a speaker with a strong accent and that I assume was not a native English speaker.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I always enjoy hearing you on Leonard's show.

Thank you,

Apr. 16 2008 10:07 AM

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