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Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Patricia T. O'Conner answers questions about the English language and grammar. Today she's focusing on words that have come back from the dead. Call us at 212-433-9692, or leave a comment below. Her new book is Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language.

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Comments [39]

Rhonda from Manhattan

To Brianne. "On Line" began at Ellis Island in the 1880s. Immigrants were told to "Stand on Line", referring to the painted lines on the floor.

Jul. 15 2009 05:00 PM
Ro from SoHo

re: 'Off-putting'

In the 1969 issue of the Penguin English Dictionary definition is

adj. ( colloquial) disconcerting, causing dislike or hesitation.

I always enjoy this section. Thank you Lenny and Dr. O'Connor

Jul. 15 2009 01:59 PM
Tom from Westfield

Regarding French and Check; in a restaurant in France you ask for L'Addition to get the "check."

Jul. 15 2009 01:59 PM
Rita from Spring Valley

Regime and Regimen. When did these become synonyms? And, often, the user hesitates ever-so-slightly, as if he's also uncertain if he's choosing the right word. (Maybe the real question is why more people are unwilling, simply, to 'look it up'.)

Jul. 15 2009 01:58 PM
Billy in Jersey from NJ

From S. Sotomayor's previous comment about a "...wise Latina woman..." Is this redundant since a Latina by definition is a female?

Jul. 15 2009 01:56 PM
brianne from manhattan

Why do East coast ppl say "Next ON line?"

I am from Montana and have lived all over the west and we say, "Next IN line."

On or In?

Jul. 15 2009 01:56 PM
Alvin Thaler from NYC

Highjack = highway + jacker

from the online etymolofy dictionary

Alvin

Jul. 15 2009 01:55 PM
Leo from Summit,NJ

Consider:

"Very unique"?

Jul. 15 2009 01:55 PM
Jeff from Brooklyn

Funny recent use of "literally."

Sarah Palin's spokesperson said to Anderson Cooper:

"The world is literally her oyster."

Literally?

Jul. 15 2009 01:54 PM
Tom from UWS

Broad, Deep and Wide have consonant sounds at the end, so the noun form uses tH to make it easier for English speaking tongues to say the word.
High ends in a vowel sound, so Height needs no h to be well-pronounced.

Broad, deep, wide and high are similar in use, but not in sound, and that's what influences the other form.

Jul. 15 2009 01:53 PM
David from Manhattan

Dodgy from OED.com

Full of or addicted to dodges; evasive, tricky, artful. Also (colloq.) of things: difficult, awkward, tricky. Hence {sm}dodgily adv., {sm}dodginess.
1861 WYNTER Soc. Bees 237 Beggars divide themselves in several classes:{em}the humourous, the poetical, the sentimental, the dodgey, and the sneaking. 1870 FURNIVALL in Bk. Curtasye 698 in Babees Bk. marg., A towel folded dodgily. 1871 Daily News 22 Sept., ‘Dan Lysons’ and his dodginess are on everybody's lips. 1896 Ibid. 16 Oct. 6/3 The pious purpose perhaps justified the dodgy means. 1898 G. B. SHAW Mrs. Warren's Prof. I, Take care of your fingers: theyre rather dodgy things, those chairs. 1916 D. H. LAWRENCE Let. 13 Jan. (1948) 67 The roads are too dodgy to be grasped. 1959 Times Lit. Suppl. 7 Aug. p. xii/2 Docketing and definition are dodgy businesses. 1960 H. PINTER Room 108 It'd be a bit dodgy driving tonight.

Doge ==> root word from OED.com

Full of or addicted to dodges; evasive, tricky, artful. Also (colloq.) of things: difficult, awkward, tricky. Hence {sm}dodgily adv., {sm}dodginess.
1861 WYNTER Soc. Bees 237 Beggars divide themselves in several classes:{em}the humourous, the poetical, the sentimental, the dodgey, and the sneaking. 1870 FURNIVALL in Bk. Curtasye 698 in Babees Bk. marg., A towel folded dodgily. 1871 Daily News 22 Sept., ‘Dan Lysons’ and his dodginess are on everybody's lips. 1896 Ibid. 16 Oct. 6/3 The pious purpose perhaps justified the dodgy means. 1898 G. B. SHAW Mrs. Warren's Prof. I, Take care of your fingers: theyre rather dodgy things, those chairs. 1916 D. H. LAWRENCE Let. 13 Jan. (1948) 67 The roads are too dodgy to be grasped. 1959 Times Lit. Suppl. 7 Aug. p. xii/2 Docketing and definition are dodgy businesses. 1960 H. PINTER Room 108 It'd be a bit dodgy driving tonight.

Jul. 15 2009 01:53 PM
David from Manhattan

Dodgy from OED.com

Full of or addicted to dodges; evasive, tricky, artful. Also (colloq.) of things: difficult, awkward, tricky. Hence {sm}dodgily adv., {sm}dodginess.
1861 WYNTER Soc. Bees 237 Beggars divide themselves in several classes:{em}the humourous, the poetical, the sentimental, the dodgey, and the sneaking. 1870 FURNIVALL in Bk. Curtasye 698 in Babees Bk. marg., A towel folded dodgily. 1871 Daily News 22 Sept., ‘Dan Lysons’ and his dodginess are on everybody's lips. 1896 Ibid. 16 Oct. 6/3 The pious purpose perhaps justified the dodgy means. 1898 G. B. SHAW Mrs. Warren's Prof. I, Take care of your fingers: theyre rather dodgy things, those chairs. 1916 D. H. LAWRENCE Let. 13 Jan. (1948) 67 The roads are too dodgy to be grasped. 1959 Times Lit. Suppl. 7 Aug. p. xii/2 Docketing and definition are dodgy businesses. 1960 H. PINTER Room 108 It'd be a bit dodgy driving tonight.

Doge ==> root word from OED.com

Full of or addicted to dodges; evasive, tricky, artful. Also (colloq.) of things: difficult, awkward, tricky. Hence {sm}dodgily adv., {sm}dodginess.
1861 WYNTER Soc. Bees 237 Beggars divide themselves in several classes:{em}the humourous, the poetical, the sentimental, the dodgey, and the sneaking. 1870 FURNIVALL in Bk. Curtasye 698 in Babees Bk. marg., A towel folded dodgily. 1871 Daily News 22 Sept., ‘Dan Lysons’ and his dodginess are on everybody's lips. 1896 Ibid. 16 Oct. 6/3 The pious purpose perhaps justified the dodgy means. 1898 G. B. SHAW Mrs. Warren's Prof. I, Take care of your fingers: theyre rather dodgy things, those chairs. 1916 D. H. LAWRENCE Let. 13 Jan. (1948) 67 The roads are too dodgy to be grasped. 1959 Times Lit. Suppl. 7 Aug. p. xii/2 Docketing and definition are dodgy businesses. 1960 H. PINTER Room 108 It'd be a bit dodgy driving tonight.

Jul. 15 2009 01:53 PM
Leo from Summit,NJ

Consider:

"Very unique".

Jul. 15 2009 01:53 PM
Niranjan from NJ

Hi, I grew up in India, and my professor told me once that the word "prepone" did not exist in the dictionary. He instead recommended that the word "advance" be used instead.

Jul. 15 2009 01:52 PM
Kate from NYC

Have you noticed that very many people do not pronounce the first "l" in "vulnerable?"

Jul. 15 2009 01:51 PM
Sharon from Inwood

I always thought that the word "enormity" inferred some kind of maliciousness or evil. I often hear it simply used to mean big or overwhelming, as in "the enormity of the task." What's right?

Jul. 15 2009 01:51 PM
Warren Lebeau from Sunnyside

What's up with people saying "a whole nother" in place of another whole or simply another? The first time I heard this was in undergrad from a professor and didn't even notice at first until my best friend pointed it out. In the 15 years since it seems this semantic violation has not only built momentum in speech with hoards of converts using in regularly but is now regularly seen in written form not just oral.

Every now and again when someone I feel comfortable with says it I politely inquire "two half nothers make a whole nother right?"

Jul. 15 2009 01:51 PM
MES from NYC from Manhattan

I'm reading a book set in the U.S. Civil War era and one of the characters referred to the "flip side" of something. Would that phrase have been used back then? I thought it originated with record albums.

Jul. 15 2009 01:50 PM
Spencer from Manhattan

That "shtreet" s-h phenomenon is as New York dialect as "Toity Toit and Toid".

Jul. 15 2009 01:49 PM
danielle jensen from manh

where did "One-off" come from? From the context it is used in it seems to mean "one-of a kind", but how and when did this get started? i first saw t in print a number of years age in Vogue and thought it was a typo.Now I've heard people say it including someone on Mr.Lopate's show. P.S. I hate it.

Jul. 15 2009 01:49 PM
Joan Russo from Manhattan

I've noticed newscasters mentioning "home invasions", when (I think) that they mean burglaries or break-ins. While they also say that some has "gone missing". Why are they no longer simply "missing".
Thanks for any clarification

Jul. 15 2009 01:48 PM
Grad in McGill who is an admitted atty in NY from montreal

There is no "WEBSTER's DICTIONARY" it is a generic term meaning that it is laid out... The MERRIAM-WEBSTER Company has a dictionary but many other publishers can call their booba websters without trademark infringement

Jul. 15 2009 01:48 PM
maggie

The ST shift to SHT comes from German, in which that is the correct pronunciation for ST.

In the big immigration years this became a part of English in urban working class speech, and it has hung on in some areas,(NYC, a bit in Jersey City, Chicago, etc.) and is often cultivated by speakers who want to sound tough. That is why I was so surprised to hear it from Michelle O.

Jul. 15 2009 01:48 PM
Mike from Bronx

Leonard, repeat after me:

Sonia SotomayOR (Soh-toh-my-OR).

It's NOT pronounced like the word "mayor" with an emphasis on the second syllable (may-ER)!

It's my-OR!!!

Jul. 15 2009 01:47 PM
Hope Holiner from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I heard a lot of the "shtreet" for "street" pronunciation among my Italian-American friends.

Jul. 15 2009 01:44 PM
Stephen from Greenpoint from Brooklyn

Doesn't "lion's share" mean "everything?"

I hear so many people, both in casual conversation and in the media, who use "lion's share" to mean "most of" or "the majority of."

Jul. 15 2009 01:41 PM
Ray from Brooklyn

Why do people say "There's" for "There are." Is this acceptable? For example, There's apples in the trees.

Jul. 15 2009 01:41 PM
Grad in McGill who is an admitted atty in NY from montreal

"FULSOME" used to be a "BAD" property - overdone and offensive, Obama uses the old meaning and immediately many media pundits now use it in the Obama sense

Jul. 15 2009 01:41 PM
Ruth from Manhattan

Wait - GOOD writing in a NYTimes article.

Robert D. McFadden wrote:

"Three workers at a waste transfer station in Queens were overcome by toxic fumes Monday afternoon and died, apparently falling one after another into the Stygian gloom of a putrid, manhole-size, 18-foot-deep well ..."

STYGIAN GLOOM, my friends!!

Jul. 15 2009 01:40 PM
Alan from Manhattan

It seems like half the time I see the terms "brake" and "pedal" (or "pedaled") they're spelled as "break" and "peddle," even in publications where one would think an editor would have taken a peak at this.

It seems like people are often caught up on this because spellcheck doesn't catch homophones.

Jul. 15 2009 01:39 PM
Joel from Briarcliff, NY

My cousin coined the word "glect" as the opposite of neglect for children, pets, etc.

Jul. 15 2009 01:38 PM
nycthinker from Kips Bay, NYC

What does "P U" stand for? (P U meaning, something stinks!!!)

Jul. 15 2009 01:36 PM
Alex from NYC

When outfielders in baseball are running to catch a fly ball, the announcer often says, "he has a bead on it" to mean he sees where the ball is and knows where he has to get to in order to catch it.

Why a "bead"?

Jul. 15 2009 01:34 PM
Grad in McGill who is an admitted atty in NY from montreal

can't stand people who try to sound sophisticated by pronoucing "NICHE" as neesch instead of "NITCH"

also "OFTEN" s/b pronounced OFFIN

Jul. 15 2009 01:28 PM
Phil from Stamford, CT

Hello Patricia,

I have two grammar issues that I often encounter in work emails:

-Is it true that the terms "ensure" and "insure" are interchangable? I prefer "ensure" as in "to ensure the job gets done."

-which is correct: "done per Jane Doe" or "done as per Jane Doe"? I think "as per" sounds too clunky.

Thanks,
Phil

Jul. 15 2009 01:17 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

Every dictionary shows the first (i.e. preferred) pronunciation of route as ROOT.
Traffic Reporters are required to say it this way.

During the 1:00PM newscast Amy Eddings rhymed said it as rhyming with out.

Jul. 15 2009 01:10 PM
Dashiell from washington hts

One who writes columns is called a? (ist or nist?)

Jul. 15 2009 12:08 PM
kris from brooklyn

This may have already been covered on a previous show, but I'll ask anyway:

Why is the 'ly' often dropped from adverbs? in the case of "driving really slowly vs. driving real slow"

is it correct in both instances? I see it ALL the time and am really curious.. or real curious. ;)

Jul. 15 2009 12:07 PM
Yvonne from new york

Ms. O'Conner, I see two versions of the hotdog: wiener and weener (urban dictionary). Are both acceptable?!

Jul. 15 2009 09:46 AM

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