Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Word maven Patricia T. O'Conner answers your questions about the English language! Today she focuses on presidential and inaugural language.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [58]

Mark Mascolino from Cincinnati, OH

Just wanted to add weight that there is a singluar proper noun Internet but there are indeed many internets. Technically defined, an internet is two or more connected networks. In particular sensitive military and government computers that are networked but not with the outside world can said to be part of an internet.

Jan. 26 2009 09:23 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Sign the Obama "I vs me" petition:

Jan. 23 2009 05:45 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Not necessarily pertinent, but in French, "moment charnier" (hinge moment) is very, very common.

Re "internets", it is indeed always used tongue in cheek. As are "interweb", "interwebs", "intertubes"...

Jan. 23 2009 05:20 AM
Gwen Fabricant from NY NY

Rick Warren did mean to say hinge-point, not lynch-pin. When I was in Guatemala last year the tour guide, who was very well informed and articulate, told us many times that the culture of the indigenous people was at a "hinge-point" of its history because evangelist christian missionaries were moving mayan religion away from catholicism, which had allowed indigenous traditions to persist. "Hinge-point" waas the term she used. It stayed in my mind because I had never heard it before.

Jan. 21 2009 11:37 PM
Robots Need 2 Party from Brooklyn

To Sophie. Had Hillary won Bill would probably still have been Mr. President for the most part but the term most likely would be "First Gentleman". This seems pretty obvious once you've seen or heard it used. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I got that from looking at the Cast credits for this season of 24. They have a woman President this season.

Jan. 21 2009 03:43 PM
Beth from Lower Manhattan

Rick Warren definitely said hinge point and it made sense in context. I don't think he meant lynchpin-- a device that is integral to holding things (ie., the status quo) together. Rather, I referred to the inauguration as a moment when we were are bending toward the future. The term is used in physics and there are hardware screws called hinge points.

Jan. 21 2009 02:13 PM
Nina from East Village

BTW I am in my 30's, and I still know when to use "me," and not "I" or "myself." People hear sloppy language, and then they pick it up, and then language becomes sloppier.

Jan. 21 2009 02:06 PM

Thank You Mrs. Helen Greene, English teacher, Kansas City, MO. (i am sure she is deceased by now). She taught us this simple method to use personal pronouns, etc. as subjects and objects. "You and i will go to the store". Both pronouns can be used as subject, you can construct two sentences that make sense. "Bob gave the tickets to Roger and me" both objects of prep. can be used separetely in sentences that make sense. singer/song-writers like to say you and i, or, you and me -- Mrs. Greene said this was artistic/poetic license when used incorrectly, but not for us !!!

Jan. 21 2009 02:03 PM
Kerry Fried from New York

Re "hinge point," the phrase "hinge event" is in use, meaning, as far as I can tell, "a key moment/cause of change."

Jan. 21 2009 02:02 PM
Lucille Gordon from United States

I love this segment. The term hinge pin was discussed today. I think I can add to the discussion. Its meaning is "to go in 2 different directions" as seen in the hinge of a swinging door. I believe that was what was meant.

Jan. 21 2009 02:01 PM
Nina from East Village

The WNYC "most unique" blurb drives me crazy too.

Jan. 21 2009 02:01 PM
Linda from East Village

What about Obama's use of a construction like this? The goal of the American people is is to xyz. He frequently adds the second IS, I think as a means of deformalizing his speech. Surely he doesn't write this way.

Unrelated to Obama, I also note the rise of the expression BACK IN The DAY, instead of BACK IN THE DAYS when ...

Jan. 21 2009 01:57 PM
MG from Brooklyn

Rev Warren certainly meant "hinge point" not "lynch pin" as the context suggested the moment of change -- a notion for thinking about history made popular by Thomas Cahill's series "Hinges of History", including How the Irish Saved Civilization and others.

Jan. 21 2009 01:56 PM
David from manhattan

The Con Ed ad phrase "On It" that I see often on the subway makes me feel crazy. Sometimes I think I know what it's supposed to mean and sometimes, when I ponder it, i understand nothing.

Jan. 21 2009 01:56 PM
Bill Kerwin from Piscataway, NJ

There are hundreds of internets. Companies, Universities and State Governments all have their own networks that by themselves are classified as an internet. When they are all linked together they are considered the internet but could also be classified as internets.

Jan. 21 2009 01:56 PM
Richard Johnston from Upper West Side

Obama is good, but not perfect: he said "enormity" instead of the correct "enormousness" in his victory speech on November 4, 2008, and he said "can't help but" instead of the correct either "can't but..." or "can't help" in his Inauguration oration yesterday.

Jan. 21 2009 01:55 PM
Lance from Manhattan

@Steve [32], perhaps the intelligence/military communities also have access to an internet (or internets) that the rest of us don't have access to. So yet another internet, or internets.

Jan. 21 2009 01:55 PM
Francis from New York

just one nit-picking point - it's BarAHK Obama

not BARRack obama - re Pat


Jan. 21 2009 01:54 PM
Dashiell from washington hts

One that writes columns is called a ... (ist or nist)

Jan. 21 2009 01:54 PM
Nina from East Village

The I/me/myself thing is deeply irksome to me! As is the "is is" thing. Ugh.

But I wanted to mention my delight in hearing Obama use the word, "swill" in his address. Good word!

Jan. 21 2009 01:54 PM
John from Brooklyn

Did I really just hear Patricia O'Conner pronounce the President's first name as BAIR-uk -- BBC-style -- three times in the course of about 15 seconds?

Jan. 21 2009 01:54 PM
wendy rothstein from manhattan

I myself can't bear the use of the inappropriate term "myself" when "me" is indicated, and I am more or less in Barack Obama's generation. If it has to do with generation, I am "old school!"

Jan. 21 2009 01:53 PM
Lance from Manhattan

FYI, Ms. O'Conner,

President O'Bama's first name is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, in which the a takes the "ah" sound. It does NOT rhyme with barrack as in military barracks (the way certain conservative talk radio hosts and commentators pronounce it).

Jan. 21 2009 01:53 PM
Edward from NJ

Alas, "decider" has entered the language. I frequently hear people use it with no irony.

Jan. 21 2009 01:51 PM
Robots Need 2 Party from Brooklyn

It is now the Internets. I exclusively use the internets now. Not only as a Bushism but because the internet is too big to be singular. It should be plural and be the internets. Go Obama!!!

Jan. 21 2009 01:48 PM
Sam Tilden Godfrey from Airmont, NY

(I believe the singular for miscellanea is "This thing here.")

Jan. 21 2009 01:48 PM
Steve from Harlem

There are in fact more than one Internet! There's a new Internet called Internet2 that's being used solely by research institutions et al to bypass the bandwidth clogging of the original Internet, so one can, indeed, speak legitimately of "Internets."

Jan. 21 2009 01:47 PM
John Hahn from Glen Rock NJ

Patricia T. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ask Leonard to get that WNYC funding blurb OFF THE AIR.

The announcer says:...Time Magazine says it is most unique.
I say: Time Magazine said 'Most Unique' Where are the editors? Why does WNYC repeat theis poor useage?

Do waht you can.

Love your monthly segment.

Jan. 21 2009 01:47 PM
Sam Tilden Godfrey from Airmont, NY

To me, the most annoying word that it seems George W. Bush has popularized during his 'realm' is the simple word 'tuh.' Of course, this is the word 'to' that has been brought down to the level of finding a dog hair on ones tongue and politely spitting it out. It would be fine with me if only Mr. Bush used it but 'tuh' seems to now be everywhere including spat out by NPR reporters and anchors.

Meanwhile, my favorite political word is 'mugwump'. I won't elaborate here, it's in the book...

Jan. 21 2009 01:46 PM
Connie from nj

Have you noticed the construction I hear frequently: "The problem is, is that....", or "The reason is, is that...."? Is this another way of filling a pause, like 'um'?

Jan. 21 2009 01:45 PM
Steven from New York

N.B. "Internets" is always used sarcastically.

Jan. 21 2009 01:45 PM
Amy from Brooklyn

What is the difference between the hyphen and the dash - since they look the same - and where is the dash well used?

Jan. 21 2009 01:44 PM
MichaelB from UWS Manhattan

Wasn't it Lincoln who said "with chalice towards none"? (And you thought Leonard's puns make you squirm....)

Jan. 21 2009 01:43 PM

If past presidents have added new words to the English language, can't one argue that Bush invented new uses for old words?

Jan. 21 2009 01:43 PM

Re: hyphens:

The translation of Madame Bovary that I read seemed very Flaubertian in its crystal clarity, but its generous use of hyphens was distracting. "Ash-tree," for example.

Jan. 21 2009 01:43 PM
hjs from 11211

The derivation of the word augur is uncertain; ancient authors believed that it contained the words avi and gero --Latin for "directing the birds"--but historical-linguistic evidence points instead to the root aug-, "to increase, to prosper."
so says Wikipedia

Jan. 21 2009 01:42 PM
Hubert Herring from Dobbs Ferry, NY

A horrible usage took hold during the campaign -- "growing" the economy. Even Obama, when commenting on dividing the economic pie, said he would "grow the pie." Much as I love Obama, I wanted to scream, "No! Pies don't grow on trees!"

Jan. 21 2009 01:41 PM
Lance from Manhattan

The sentence "These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics" sounded awkward to me. What he meant by that phrasing is clear, but it seemed an inartful way to put it.

Indicators ARE data.
And data are subject to "statistical analysis."

Jan. 21 2009 01:41 PM
Carlo Altomare from Manhattan

Auger means to drill a hole in the ground to set a pole or post. Perhaps inaugurate is related in the sense of "setting the pillar" or to "establish".

Jan. 21 2009 01:40 PM
jeffy from brooklyn

is "emboldened" a bushism? I really hate that word, sounds fake like "embigens".

Jan. 21 2009 01:39 PM
jean bond from upper Manhattan

Sorry, I got another call I had to take.

My question is when did we stop saying "in any event," and start saying "in THE event"??

Jan. 21 2009 01:38 PM

Leonard's on today; psyching out that the quotee meant chalice instead of gauntlet was really slick.

Jan. 21 2009 01:37 PM
Mary Kohrherr (cohair) from Tarrytown NY

I have young children

1 child uses the word "fullhanded" instead of hands are full (opposite of empty handed)

also now kids use verses as a verb

"Who are we versing today??"

Instead of playing today

Jan. 21 2009 01:36 PM
Chris Maloney from Queens

I think George W. Bush reintroduced the work "folks." I noticed him using it in the beginning of his presidency and the next thing you know it seemed everyone was using it.

Jan. 21 2009 01:35 PM
GK from Mamaroneck, NY

Is there a word for when you hear a word, or a name, or a song 2 or 3 times in a day or 2 when, previously, you have not heard that word for years?

Jan. 21 2009 01:35 PM
sophie from Brooklyn

With all the references yesterday to the First Lady, I wondered what Bill Clinton's title would have been, had Hillary won the election.

Jan. 21 2009 01:34 PM
Jim Pharo from NYC

Did you notice how little Barack Obama used the word "I" and "me"? Even going so far as to thank his listeners for the "trust bestowed."

It's not word coinage, but I bet in the long-haul his linguistic style makes a huge difference in society...

Jan. 21 2009 01:33 PM

would being handed a wet gauntlet be a slap in the face?

Jan. 21 2009 01:32 PM
MichaelB from UWS Manhattan

Good thing Leonard got his pun in early!

Jan. 21 2009 01:30 PM
John-Paul G from Elizabeth, NJ

"Happy entrails..."

groooooooan. Leonard!

Jan. 21 2009 01:29 PM
Rachel from Yonkers

I've noticed the use of "unchartered territory" instead of "uncharted territory" including in an ad spot on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer broadcast on WNYC AM at 11pm. Is it just a mispronounciation?

Jan. 21 2009 01:27 PM
Bo from Brooklyn - Prospect Heights

The President's insistance on speaking in full sentences is clearly elitist.

Jan. 21 2009 01:24 PM
julia from garrison

Am I imagining it, or is Obama droppin' the'g' more than usual. I just read that writing without the terminal 'g' is called a 'lipogram'.

What is the oral form called?

Jan. 21 2009 01:16 PM
Eleni from brooklyn

So, now that Obama's catch phrase "Yes, We Can" has been adopted into "Yes, We Did", I have been hearing that it is grammatically incorrect. Instead, it should be "Yes, we were able to". Is that true?

Please clarify!

Jan. 21 2009 01:08 PM
Rayda Krell from New Canaan, CT

I would like to hear Patricia's thoughts on the slip up in Justice Roberts' delivery of the oath...when he moved the word "faithfully" was the grammar still correct?

Jan. 21 2009 01:07 PM
Steve from Harlem

At the end of the swearing in of President Obama, the Chief Justice asked, "So help *you* God?" with emphasis on the you, so Obama was not thereby supposed to repeat Roberts but rephrase with the first person "me," even though the rest of the oath is in the first person on both sides... wasn't that somewhat strange, especially given the other slip-ups in the oath? Or a perfectly legitimate flourish to round things up? N.B. not in the original oath, but an ab-lib by Washington, I believe, and subsequently repeated by most (but not all) Presidents traditionally. So perhaps the incoming President-elect should always "ad-lib" it, so at least he/she has the choice whether or not to invoke a God he/she may or may not believe in.

Jan. 21 2009 01:06 PM
Leon Freilich from Park Slope

Tim Geithner is so sure of confirmation as Treasury secretary, he's organizing an Obama Administration baseball team--the Tax Dodgers.

Jan. 21 2009 12:32 PM
MichaelB from UWS Manhattan

Can Ms. O'C comment on the following?

Amongst other peeves that I cannot recall at the moment, one that bugs me and hurts my ears is the recent tendency of people to refer to themselves as "myself" instead of "me" or "I".

Also -- a smaller word choice complaint -- the lazy use of "hard" instead of "difficult" and "whole" instead of "entire."

Jan. 21 2009 12:16 PM

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