Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner takes your calls on the English language! Call us at 212-433-WNYC (212-433-9692) or leave a comment below.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [57]


Sorry, Marsha. The Revd Oonagh will not respond to your comment 'cause she's been death for more than a year.

Jan. 04 2011 01:24 AM

Sorry, The Revd. oonagh Ryan-King from heart in Donegal, but a metaphor does NOT use "like" or "as". A simile uses "like" or "as".
For example: "She is as pretty as a rose." (simile)
"Life is a journey." (metaphor)

Sep. 30 2010 04:05 PM
The Revd. oonagh Ryan-King from heart in Donegal

RE: metaphor and simile

metaphor uses AS or LIKE
simile does not

strong as an ox=METAPHOR

Jan. 14 2009 10:13 AM
A. G. Kamya from NYC

I know this is a show on language...but no need to be cavalier with history:

1. William III of England was William of the House of Orange (Dutch Republic) and not from Orange Free State, which is only a 19th century South African entity.

2. There was not a German-born king on the English throne during the American Revolution. George III was the first of the Hanoverian kings born in England, indeed his first language was English.

Oct. 15 2008 05:54 PM
Mary Hilscher from New Jersey

In answer to the question about the Bronx.

The borough uses an article because it was once the Bronx farm.

Oct. 15 2008 04:03 PM
LM from Long Island

Again to clarify .. there is no such thing as a Britich accent. There are many British accents. I think when people talk about the use of the long 'a' or adding an 'r' to the end of a word like Atlanta they are referring to what the BBC used to call "received English".. that would not resemble the way a Glaswegian or Geordie or someone from the west of England may speak

Oct. 15 2008 02:15 PM
Peter Joseph from Brooklyn

I'm sorry I couldnn't get to this during the show, but I just began reading a book that addresses many of the historical questions that were raised. It is "Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way," by Bill Bryson. For instance, even in the 17th & 18th centuries, there wasn't just one English accent. There were many regional accents, and modern American regional accents tend to reflect the accents of the region of England that most of the original settlers to that area came from. Apparently the modern Appalachian accent is an almost unmodified 17th centruy Scots highland accent.
There was also a great PBS series about the history of the English language (hosted by Robin McNeil of M cNeil Lehrer) about 20 years ago. I don't know if it's still available, but for anyone who is interested, it is well worth tracking down, because you can not only read about the influences, you can hear them as well.

Oct. 15 2008 02:13 PM
Leonardo from Queens

Regarding William F. Buckely (Billy to me!) accent, I believe that a lot of it has to do with class and regionalism. Certain groups of people historically congregated based on family, region and social class and picked up the most common way of pronouncing words within that certain group. This is very common in Latin America where there are regional differences, especially in valleys, and there are difference within cities and social-economic classes within those cities.

Oct. 15 2008 01:59 PM
Laura from Manhattan


I feel it means: "Now we are here, let's start"........."Thus" more than "Therefore".....

I love The Leonard Lopate Show but I'm glad it's over now or I'll never get anything done today! Glued to the radio instead of my reading.

Oct. 15 2008 01:59 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

accent is often used to help you identify with a particular group or level of society. I haev chosen to retain my "black" read southern accent as a sign of solidarity. And so I speak much more "black" than other members of my family.
When I speak Chinese I have dropped my Beijing accent as it is often seen by Chinese outside that area as pretentious. I have adopted a more general Chinese accent to "blend in " more and seem like a regular guy.

Oct. 15 2008 01:57 PM
Daniel M. Rosenblum from Teaneck, NJ

On William of Orange -- he had nothing to do with the Orange Free State, which was part of South Africa (much later) and which was named for the same Orange, which I think was part or all of the Netherlands (of which William was stadholder) or was the Dutch royal house at the time.

Oct. 15 2008 01:57 PM
Ann from Long Island

Just want to point out that Leonard just mentioned that the word "narang" for orange came from Spanish. It is actually originally from Sanskrit.

Oct. 15 2008 01:57 PM
Connie Smith from Westchester

"Herb" cane to us from the French word...L'herbe" in which the "h" is silent. I am told it gained the pronounced "h" when it crossed the channel! Then dropped the pronounced "h" when it crossed the Atlantic.

Oct. 15 2008 01:57 PM
Ken from New Jersey

I've heard many presumably-educated people use "flounder" as a verb to mean "founder" (which I would define as "to struggle while sinking"). Is this now correct?

Oct. 15 2008 01:56 PM
Laura from Manhattan

Dead giveaway for seemingly British accent in upper class Americans--here's the test. They say something like "feuust" for 'First''s not even British, it's more Bostonian. The last time I heard it = Gov. Kean on the 9/11 Commission.

It's like those secret societies with special handshakes......How they recognize each other.
William of Orange in Holland. Orange is the color of Dutch royal families dating back centuries. The Royal House of Orange. (In Holland he's known as William the Silent).

The Dutch were not only world traders but also great connoisseurs of quality in the products they important such as coffee, tea, spices. The color orange implied something like 'seal of approval' for quality. Now it's the national color, like our own red, white, and blue.

Oct. 15 2008 01:55 PM

Actors & Actresses up to 1950's had a pseudo british accent.. were they taking speech classes? Did ordinary people sound like this too?

Oct. 15 2008 01:55 PM
Paul from NJ

Re the Dutch influence on the lack of "th" sounds, I've heard that it was the Irish influence: the Irish language has no "th" sound. Many post-Famine Irish who came to NY were either bilingual or monolingual Irish speakers.

Great show!

Oct. 15 2008 01:55 PM
Gregory from The Bronx

Life in big cities has always been fast, which has led to many times people taking shortcuts: in the Spanish-speaking Carribean, where Spanish is spoken relatively quickly, the last consonant is frequently omitted. In French, the last consonant of a word is omitted unless followed by a word beginning in a vowel.
About New Yorkers, whereas "r" is at times omitted, at times it is added, as in Archie Bunker's "erl" and "turlet." And Bugs Bunny was specifically given a Bronx accent by Mel Blanc.

Oct. 15 2008 01:55 PM
Heidi Durrow from New York City

Just wondering about the influence (accents or words) of African slaves and also the creolized language of slaves on white Americans.

Oct. 15 2008 01:54 PM
Craig from Brooklyn

Does Patricia mean English when she says British?

I've been told that the Northern Irish accent (mine) is actually close to the original 'proper' pronunciation. (but I would wouldn't I...)

Oct. 15 2008 01:54 PM
Ron Rentenaar from Bermuda

You are a bit off re Orange!
William of Orange is that because he was of the House of Orange (which came from southern France). Which is the Dutch royality. The Orange-free state is such because it offer freedom from the Dutch crown.

Oct. 15 2008 01:54 PM
Bill from Edison, NJ

Isn't true that many of the so called "bad words" were simply Anglo-Saxon words banned by the Normans?

Oct. 15 2008 01:53 PM
judy from NYC

Patricia, This is one of your most interesting shows . Thanks

Oct. 15 2008 01:52 PM

buckley had a middle atlantic "accent"

Oct. 15 2008 01:52 PM
Din from NYC

Is there any possibility for someone to drop the name of any books/websites talking about the pre-1790 varieties of British accents? I couldn't believe that those accents were basically what static American accents are today.

Oct. 15 2008 01:51 PM
Cynthia from Manhattan

On flammable, inflammable, and Inverness.

Pat, you are one of my goddesses.

So, will you speak to us as to how it is that inflammable and flammable (sp?) mean the same thing? (There are other words like this but none come to mind at the moment.

Also, how is it that the most beautiful English spoken is found in Inverness, Scotland, and in the same country the dialect is totally incomprehensible?

(And I still hate the word "empathetic." :-)


Oct. 15 2008 01:51 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

I would think that this and that being pronounced "dis" and "dat" is probably something from a range of people who have trouble with the English "th". I've heard people of African descent, Spanish-speakers, and Italian-speakers who all seem to make "th" into a "d".

Oct. 15 2008 01:51 PM
Ivey from Brooklyn

Food question, there are a number of foods that are integrated from other languages, why do we call it zucchini while the british call it courgette?

Oct. 15 2008 01:50 PM
Thomas Lilly from Brooklyn

Bukkake - be proud you don't know the meaning.
You were being pranked

Oct. 15 2008 01:49 PM
Marco from Manhattan

Orange Free State was in South Africa...William of Orange decsends from the House of Orange Nassau in Germany.

Oct. 15 2008 01:49 PM
Meg from Morristown, NJ

There is a wonderful book called THE STORY OF ENGLISH which was a spin off of a BBC/PBS program that explains how accents in the US came about.

Oct. 15 2008 01:48 PM
Melissa from Hoboken

I thought that certain isolated communities in North Carolina & Virginia (Okracoke, the hollers of Appalachia, Tangiers Island) have preserved an authentic 18th century british accent, which resemble modern cockney accents. I'm sure the same could be said for islands off New England or remote parts of Maine.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the "American" accent (I assume Patricia means her own "TV" accent?) is a blend from various sources, and that the origins of our regional accents derive from the regional variations in the original settlers? Scots-Irish versus London, versus middle England, etc.? Not to mention the influence of Dutch, German and other immigrants. Likewise, the modern English accent (Oxford?) would also be a blend and evolution of those same original accents.

I don't think it's fair to say that any particular American accent is any closer to the colonial British accent than the modern Oxford or Cockney accent. It's always been fragmented.

Oct. 15 2008 01:48 PM
Bill from Summit, NJ

Are we adopting the English usage of the plural when nouns referring to groups are used e.g.

Congress have voted instead of Congress has voted. The G8 have decided vs The G8 has decided. etc.

Oct. 15 2008 01:47 PM
Anne from Manhattan

Do you know the origin of the term "Body Politic"?

Or when we started using the word body to mean any substantial group (e.g., electoral body, Ms. O'Connor's body of work is growing, etc.)?

Oct. 15 2008 01:45 PM
Laura from Manhattan

I read or heard somewhere that in the American South rich boys were sent away to school and spoke standard American English while their sisters stayed home and it was observed that those who stayed home, raised by slaves....they picked up the African-influenced speech pattern.

African-American influence on the Southern accent? Any comment?

In my own family in New York my brothers picked up the Southern housekeeper's accent for certain words, but their speech patterns changed when they started school.

Oct. 15 2008 01:43 PM
Jim from Manhattan

Ms. O'Conner,

You didn't say WHY the British starting speaking with a different accent after 1790.

Oct. 15 2008 01:42 PM
Jane Davenport from Manhattan

Atlanta and Georgia

The Brits would put an R at the end of Atlanta in saying this phrase. It would be Atlanter and Georgia. I posed this to a British acquaintance, who confirmed that he did it.

Oct. 15 2008 01:40 PM

french canadians speak french with an accent from that time period.

Oct. 15 2008 01:38 PM
drora kemp from North NJ

And then there are dropped letters which sound illiterate - libary, Febuary, pitcher (for picture) and respitory for respiratory.

But where does "nukular" come from? That's the worst.

Oct. 15 2008 01:38 PM
LM from Long Island

Just one note - there is no such thing as a "British" accent.. I am a Brit and have never pronouced words with a long "a".

I am from the North of England and that is ot a way we talk.

Oct. 15 2008 01:38 PM
Carlo Altomare from Manhattan

How about "best actor in a female role"?

Oct. 15 2008 01:36 PM
MG from Park Slope


I recently moved here from Mpls (Minneapolis), Minnesota and agree. Pop is used in MN, not soda. I get mistaken for a Canadian whenever I say pop instead of soda out here.

Oct. 15 2008 01:36 PM

what about the many languages that are specifically gendered?

Oct. 15 2008 01:36 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

Manhattan does have an accent that is distinct from the other boroughs... perhaps it is pretension, but the NY area drawl is not as pronounced on this island. On... why we say "The" Bronx is it because that area belonged to a family and was named after them.

Oct. 15 2008 01:36 PM
Karla Fisk from Inwood

Question for the guest:

Regarding influence of immigrants on the NY accent: what about the influence of the original Dutch immigrants on the NY and then American accent?

I've found it strange and interesting that if I'm not listening for specific words, Dutch sounds like American English. The rythyms and the sounds and intonation sound very similar to me.

Oct. 15 2008 01:35 PM
arlene ducao from soho

Why does Leonard Lopate's regional accent sound so different from that of his brother's?

Oct. 15 2008 01:35 PM
nat from brooklyn

There are two things on the WNYC election promo that have been catching my ear. I don't think they are necessarily wrong grammatically but different from common usage, enough so to change what I figured to be the common uses of phrases.

One is a quote from John McCain where he says something like "We need to stand up again to the values..."

I would have thought you "stand up for" values, and "stand up to bullies". Therefore standing up to values is antagonistic rather than supportive to my ear.

The other is the use of the phrase "Get behind the rhetoric". What I have always heard as the preposition in those cases is "beyond". Behind is correct, but seems to change the meaning of where you go; behind is a very different place than beyond.

Oct. 15 2008 01:34 PM
MNofier from NYC

I had a coworker who dropped "er"s and adding "a"s and for some reason he always seemed to develop clients with those letters.

Thus, he worked on the Kosta Boda Crystal account (which became Koster Boder) and the Interbank account (which became Intabank).

We often tried to get him the "wrong" spelling of a company name before he actively worked on the account to try to get him to pronounce it correctly.

Oct. 15 2008 01:34 PM
Erin from Brooklyn

In Minnesota they don't say "soda" they say "pop". As a native Minnesotan - and by the way I'm told that I have no accent - I just wanted to make that distinction.

Oct. 15 2008 01:33 PM
HM from Bridgeport, CT

"Nucular" ...your thoughts?

Oct. 15 2008 01:32 PM
ian from BROOKLYN

why do we add THE when me refer to Bronx? We don't say THE Queens.

Oct. 15 2008 01:29 PM
Bridget from Manhattan

My question is about metaphors/similes.

When someone says "He is strong as an ox.", it's a simile.

When someone says "He's an ox.", it's a metaphor.

When my teenage cousin says, "He's, like, an ox.", which is it?

Thank you! Bridget

Oct. 15 2008 01:28 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

Where do all dem rs' go? I have no idear.

Oct. 15 2008 01:27 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

What about "reverse discrimination"? I've heard Lenny say that.

Oct. 15 2008 01:27 PM
Rory Bernstein from Brooklyn, NY

When did the term "Main Street" come into being? It is used heavily these days in the presidential campaign, and I had never heard it before.

Oct. 15 2008 01:25 PM
John Blixt from Maplewood, NJ

Unhoned. Why is unhoned not a word - as in unhoned skills. That which is not yet reached its potential or is not yet refined.
I lost a game of Scrabble over this 8 years ago and I am still bitter.


Oct. 15 2008 12:09 PM
Brady McNamara from West Orange, NJ

Why do so many languages we study have specific modifiers for gender (der, die, das) whereas English seems to not need that complexity—or does it and I don't realize it?

Thank you,

Oct. 15 2008 12:08 PM

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