Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Our word maven, Patricia T. O’Conner, answers questions about the English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book Woe is I has recently been published. Call us at 212-433-9692 or leave a question below.

Visit Patricia T. O'Conner's Website.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [41]


I believe "no worries" is an import from Australia, much as "shrimp on the barbie," "good on ya" or "mate."

Where it originated there, I've no idea.

Mar. 17 2010 02:18 PM
S Block from NYC

The early adapter/adopter distinction mentioned above and on the show is not the only problem with that turn of phrase.

"early adopter" refers to a phase in the marketing lifecycle of a technology product, where it is first adopted by the set of users whose need is so great that they are willing to pay extra and put up with the glitches. So, for example, the army was the early adopter of walkie talkies; insurance companies were early adopters of mainframe technology; salesmen were early adopters of cell phone networks.

When marketing a product, it is important to figure out who the early adopters will be. Early adopter in this sense is an attribute of a particular technology; the early adopters of one technology will not necessarily be early adopters of a different technology.

The idea that some people are "early adopters by nature", who will flit from cellphone to cellphone paying a premium to have the latest, was adapted from the earlier meaning but it dilutes its usefulness.

Mar. 17 2010 02:12 PM
Bess from Crown Heights

Oh goodness please tell them the pejorative meaning for Dutch Oven! I am LOL-ing here.

Mar. 17 2010 02:05 PM
the truth! from BKNY

also "pacific" and "specific" and people with a lisp using words like this drive me crazy also!!

Mar. 17 2010 02:00 PM

A Southern accent is believed to be closer to Elizabethan than modern English.

I believe there's a part of an island (Manteo?) in NC, relatively sequestered since Elizabethan times, that is said to have the closest thing to Elizabethan English pronunciation in the world today.

I heard an actor delivering "Oh, for a muse of fire!" approximating an Elizabethan accent. Far, far more fierce than the effete English-accented version we hear today. It had teeth in it!

Mar. 17 2010 01:58 PM
the truth! from BKNY

If I hear one more person say "supposably" instead of "supposedly" I think I shall scream.

Mar. 17 2010 01:58 PM

They're only 5 hours ahead of us today in Paris


Mar. 17 2010 01:57 PM

"Dutch Oven" is also a fart under a blanket.

Mar. 17 2010 01:53 PM

There are many British accents not just one... I come from the North of England and I atlk completely diffently from someone from the South East or South West....


Mar. 17 2010 01:51 PM
Margaret Ryan from mANHATTAN

I was wondering if Patricia could talk about the rampant use of the word actually -- as in a conversation I overheard on the train:
Q. What did you do this weekend?
A. Actually, I went to see my mother on Long Island.
I'm hearing this all the time as a kind of filler. Does it have any wider meaning?

Mar. 17 2010 01:51 PM
shawn nelson from eugene, oregon

hunky dory?

Mar. 17 2010 01:50 PM
Kathryn from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

The word "galore" comes from the Irish "go leor" which means enough or plenty. So if you have money galore you have plenty of it.

Mar. 17 2010 01:50 PM
Steve Brennan from Dobbs Ferry, NY

My mother explained Dutch Uncle as someone who would "give it to you straight", telling you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. She associated it with Deutsche , perhaps thinking of her own German uncles. So, in her case it was not a pejorative.

Mar. 17 2010 01:50 PM
a. g. from hudson county nj

the 'nook and cranny' gent sounds a heck of a lot like the late studs terkel

Mar. 17 2010 01:48 PM
Andrew from Brooklyn

Leonard, that's a silly thing to say that you would know upon the first time hearing "rinky dink" that it means puny. "It's so warm outside, it's a completely rinky dink day!" If someone exclaimed that, and you had never heard the phrase before, you'd really think it means puny?

Mar. 17 2010 01:48 PM
linda from brooklyn

dutch oven--close, but not quite. it's when you commit the offense, then pull the covers up over your significant other's head.

Mar. 17 2010 01:48 PM
Ro from SoHo

Double Dutch means nonsense in the UK. e.g. "You're speaking double Dutch!'

Mar. 17 2010 01:46 PM
Darrell from 34th St

Leonard, "Dutch oven" is a rude expression for when your sleeping partner passes gas in bed. True.

Mar. 17 2010 01:45 PM
sheila from Washington Heights

Re: ascribing unpleasant things to other nationality--

An English epithet for a condom is a "French letter", while in French, it's a "capote anglaise" (English hood).

Mar. 17 2010 01:44 PM
simon hopkins

The reference of "double Dutch" is when you say that someone is talking and you don't understand them. I'm from the UK now in NY and this is common back home; for someone to be talking "double Dutch" -intelligible

Mar. 17 2010 01:44 PM
Stubean from Westchester

Double Dutch: incomprehensible language

See Elvis Costello's song: New Amsterdam lyric:
"New Amsterdam it's become much too much
Till I have the possession of everything she touches
Till I step on the brakes to get out of her clutches
Till I speak double dutch to a real double duchess"

Mar. 17 2010 01:43 PM
Dutch Oven

You'll have to figure out how to present this on the air, but to give someone a "Dutch oven" means to snug the sheets around yourself and then break wind as your significant other is about to climb into bed.

Mar. 17 2010 01:43 PM
Laura from UWS

For a good time, Google "Knish"....word originates from Turkish.

I thought Club Sandwich was from "Country Club"....something exclusive and special. Just my impression.

Thanks for everything--both of you are so delightful and informative......

Mar. 17 2010 01:43 PM
greg from nj

Dutch uncle is not a false uncle. It a person who gives harsh, but wellmeaning, criticism. A visit from your dutch uncle is a visit from someone who cares about you, but tell you exactly what you are doing wrong.

Mar. 17 2010 01:43 PM
Tim from Midtown

Good afternoon!
What about question sentences? For instance:

1. Would you close the door?

2. Wouldn't you close the door?

Both 1. and 2. elicit the same response ("Sure" or "Yes") while they (seem to be) are opposite.

Mar. 17 2010 01:42 PM

IRISH influence from

"In a series of lively essays, this pioneering book proves that US slang has its strongest wellsprings in nineteenth-century Irish America. "Jazz" and "poker," "sucker" and "scam" all derive from Irish. While demonstrating this, Daniel Cassidy simultaneously traces the hidden history of how Ireland fashioned America, not just linguistically, but through the Irish gambling underworld, urban street gangs, and the powerful political machines that grew out of them. Cassidy uncovers a secret national heritage, long discounted by our WASP-dominated culture.

About the Author
Daniel Cassidy is founder and co-director of An Léann Éireannach, the Irish Studies Program at New College of California in San Francisco. His research on the Irish language's influence on American vernacular and slang has been published in the New York Observer, Ireland's Hot Press magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Lá, the Irish-language newspaper."

Mar. 17 2010 01:41 PM
Lorna Donnelly from Connecticut

If you say someone is speaking Double Dutch it usually means that what they are saying is unintelligible (because it is so complicated).

Mar. 17 2010 01:41 PM
Hal from Crown Heights

"Dutch courage" (booze-induced bravery)
"Double Dutch" (gibberish)
"Dutch cap" (contraceptive diaphragm)
"Dutch wife" (prostitute; sex doll)
"Dutch widow" (prostitute)
"Dutch comfort" (saying that "Things could be worse!")
"Dutch metal" or "Dutch gold" (cheap alloy resembling gold)
"Dutch treat" (social date where the invitee pays for himself/herself)
"Dutch concert" (noise and uproar, as from a drunken crowd)
"Dutch-bottomed" (empty)

Mar. 17 2010 01:41 PM
Calder from UES

One particularly irritating thing I hear is "no worries." As in 'don't worry about it.'

It seemed to have popped up in the last few years. Was wondering where / how (and why).

Mar. 17 2010 01:41 PM
mike from Brooklyn

cool, phony, gimmick, dude, to call 'uncle'...all have irish origins.

Mar. 17 2010 01:39 PM
Pablo Alto from da' Bronx

Traffic Sign Language: I know what "Limited Sight Distance" means when I see it, but it is a non sequiter of a phrase. Please comment.

BTW - I propose "No See 'em Zone"

Mar. 17 2010 01:38 PM
Megan from Brooklyn

As a Canadian in New York, I find myself running into the many differences in the English language that exist in our two countries, even still, despite having been here for 8 years. While having adapted to many of them, I still can't bring myself to pronounce the letter "z" as "zee". It just sounds too silly. How did the US become the only country on Earth to change it from "zed"?


Mar. 17 2010 01:38 PM
Dave from Westchester

Speaking of articles, the Brits omit "the" when speaking of going to (the) hospital.

Mar. 17 2010 01:38 PM
Alfredo from Brooklyn

Can you discuss differences between

anyone vs. anybody
no one vs. nobody
someone vs. somebody

Mar. 17 2010 01:37 PM
Sunshine Hernandez from Bushwick

what is the origin of rinky dink? me and my boyfriend were arguing about it two nights ago and am soooo happy you are on today!

Mar. 17 2010 01:37 PM
Andrew from Brooklyn

Marc, I've never heard anyone use "early adapter." Are you sure you aren't just mishearing?

Mar. 17 2010 01:31 PM
Daniel from Munich

I've heard that English once had polite forms for "you," the way German does. Is this true? Were "thou," "thee," "thy," etc. forms for this?

Mar. 17 2010 01:28 PM
Kate from Queens

I am curious to know how Irish speakers have most influenced the English language, if at all?


Mar. 17 2010 01:28 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris, France

And another... "tea party". Although I don't agree with the "tea partiers", I find the pun on "party" quite amusing. I also found their first campaign of mailing teabags amusing, but that's another issue, probably not safe for radio...

Now, alongside the informal "tea partiers", we have an official Tea Party, and a new movement called the Coffee Party.

My question: can anything be done to save the term "tea party" meaning that event where a host invites guests to their home for tea and cakes? Has this meaning been trampled by the political tea parties? And if so, what should we call the kind of tea party with cakes and fine china?

Mar. 17 2010 01:25 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris, France

Hello, Patricia! Greetings and congratulations to Leonard! My peeve of the day is hearing the expression "early adapter" for someone who is keen to be the first to try a new product, service, or technology. It should be "early adopter", of course. Can I get a ruling and a rap across the knuckles for the abusers?

Mar. 17 2010 01:21 PM
a. g. from hudson county nj

could patricia address the following: surreal-once,a word used to describe the dreamlike,hallucinatory,in life and art. now,an overused,"disaster epithet". what would mr. dali think?

awesome-foremerly an expression of grandeur,power,strength.[today,quite archaic to say the least] has become a commercial[as in action figure,a la sat morning ads.] term;very much the domain of white suburban pre-pubecent middle-class boys. AWW-SOMM!

Mar. 17 2010 08:18 AM

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