Streams

Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, May 12, 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.

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Patricia T. O'Conner

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Comments [69]

Aditya Sharma from 60622

I'm an avid fan of using the portmanteau 'technochimp.' As in, the gerund - I spent all day technochimping.

Aug. 19 2010 02:32 PM
Anne Finkelstein

Pat
I was looking for the place to post photos of signs with grammar and spelling mistakes - have a great one - where should I post it?
Thanks!
Anne

Jun. 21 2010 01:19 PM
dboy from nyc

I think I totally have a crush on Ms. O'Conner!

May. 12 2010 02:02 PM
Torkil from Downtown Brooklyn

Take it to the bridge and bring it home.

May. 12 2010 02:00 PM
Irene from Toms River

I'm annoyed by verbs conveniently made into adjectives, like "relateable" (last caller), but more so, "makeable", "doable", "catchable", etc., made popular by sportscasters. I'm not even sure how to spell these words. Do they annoy you as well, or are they really acceptable nowadays, gramatically speaking??

May. 12 2010 02:00 PM
chemmy

I've noticed in the north east baptist African American community that "gifted" is used to indicate God's significance in the gift received; meaning the gift came at a very needed time.

May. 12 2010 02:00 PM
Xopher from Hoboken

The "perspective" she's talked about the last couple of minutes is really called deixis. It's the _deictic center_ that matters, not whether you're WITH the thing or not.

If I say "Are you coming to the show?" that means I'm going too; if I say "Are you going to the show?" that means I'm not. Neither is incorrect!

Thus I could say "Take this to the potluck" perfectly correctly, if I mean that I'm not planning to attend it myself.

May. 12 2010 01:59 PM
Connie from Westchester

I find that I began to wonder when the "quiz" riddle would be asked on this segment, when I realized that is a different show. But, I think it would be a great gimmick to have a difficult word question and Patricia could give one of her books as a prize. How ablout it?

May. 12 2010 01:58 PM
rob from Jersey City, NJ

I cringe when i hear COMPRISED OF (vs. simply 'comprises' or 'consists of'.
I see COMPRISES as similar to 'INCLUDES,' as in "America comprises 50 states" (includes, is composed of)...

Dictionary.com quotes either Random House Dictionary or Amer. Heritage Dict. usage note, "These uses are often criticized, but they occur with increasing frequency even in formal speech and writing."

What say you?
Thanks! -ROBERT

May. 12 2010 01:58 PM
Kevin Roon from Manhattan

What's wrong with "medaling"? It introduces no confusion, provides a single word for a concept for which none exists. It's an important concept in that field, so why not coin a term? Would people be less worked up about it if it were a completely new but less transparent word?

May. 12 2010 01:57 PM
Ivan from Bronx

The difference between misinformation and disinformation.

May. 12 2010 01:56 PM
Christina from Manhattan

'Teachable Moment' drives me absolutely crazy. A moment is an abstract concept and cannot be taught anything.

May. 12 2010 01:56 PM
capper

what is correct:

Beside that issue, everything is fine
Besides that issue, everything is fine

May. 12 2010 01:56 PM
Vi from Westchester, NY

What do you think of the format "this is a book of Bob's", which is a sort of redundant possessive?

May. 12 2010 01:55 PM
Xopher from Hoboken

OK, I object to the idea that lexicographers are the arbiters of whether a given English phenomenon is correct! Dictionaries are monuments to the language as it existed in the previous century, as I think Ambrose Bierce said.

This woman seems to be unaware that there are native speakers of English in India. (In fact there are MYRIAD native speakers of English in India!) Since they're native speakers, their English is just as "correct" as hers.

Also, about prepositions, how about something a friend of mine said once, when we were walking around an unfamiliar city: "Oh look," he said, "we've ended up back around behind the hotel!" Or Willard Espy's (fictional) child who asked "What did you bring me that book to be read to out of for?"

May. 12 2010 01:53 PM
Terry from Manhattan

Come on guys. The prepositions in phrasal verbs like "[to] base on" are arbitrary. Otherwise, "based on" would be closer in meaning to "taken on" but in fact it's closer in meaning to "taken off of." And PS, you understand "based off of," right? So it's fine.

May. 12 2010 01:53 PM
elizabeth rand from Brooklyn

I teach literature in college and my students like to talk about how "relatable" a character is. I have always told them that "relatable" is not a word, though of course I know what they mean. Have you encountered this?

May. 12 2010 01:52 PM
Roy in Ossining from Westchester

The difference between "myriad" and "myriad of" is surely correlated with whether "myriad" is being used as an adjective or a noun. In "myriad fish", the construction is:Adj N. In "a myriad of fish", the construction is: a N of NP. The latter is the construction used in (e.g.,) "a lot of people". The issue, therefore, is explained by the fact that "myriad" can be used as both an adjective and a noun.

May. 12 2010 01:51 PM
Alan from Manhattan

When my boss says "Send an e-mail to John and I," would I be doing him a favor if I were to correct him? More to the point, would I be doing myself a favor?

May. 12 2010 01:50 PM
Derek

Why do the British always say " Liberal Democrat" and not just Democrat? Love the show:)

May. 12 2010 01:50 PM
Gabriella from Brooklyn

I recently got into a huge fight with several Ivy League grads over the use of my word "ambivalent". They all said it meant "indifferent", as opposed to "torn".

When I looked up the definition, which supported my usage, they said that since it wasn't often used in the sense I had used it (which was in the context of a break-up), I was wrong.

Who is in the right? The one who uses a word according to its definition, or the one who uses in according to the vernacular.

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
rob from Jersey City, NJ

I cringe when i hear COMPRISED OF (vs. simply 'comprises' or 'consists of'.
I see COMPRISES as similar to 'INCLUDES,' as in "America comprises 50 states" (includes, is composed of)...

Dictionary.com quotes either Random House Dictionary or Amer. Heritage Dict. usage note, "These uses are often criticized, but they occur with increasing frequency even in formal speech and writing."

What say you?
Thanks! -ROBERT

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
Mary from NYC

Some words mean the same thing in their positive and negated forms. For example, ravel and unravel, bone and debone. Is there a word to describe this phenomenon?

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
rob from Jersey City, NJ

I cringe when i hear COMPRISED OF (vs. simply 'comprises' or 'consists of'.
I see COMPRISES as similar to 'INCLUDES,' as in "America comprises 50 states" (includes, is composed of)...

Dictionary.com quotes either Random House Dictionary or Amer. Heritage Dict. usage note, "These uses are often criticized, but they occur with increasing frequency even in formal speech and writing."

What say you?
Thanks! -ROBERT

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
capper

What is correct:

Beside this issue everything is fine

Besides this issue everything is fine

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
Richard Johnston from Upper West Side

"We threw him out of the house" induces "he threw it out of the window," instead of "he threw it out the window."

May. 12 2010 01:49 PM
Cynthia from Manhattan

Does "just" do anything to the object?

For example, would "just" change "It is I" to "It is just me"?

May. 12 2010 01:48 PM
Roseann Smith from saddle brook, nj

turn the light off vs. close the light vs. shut the light

May. 12 2010 01:48 PM
Beatrice Foley from Brick NJ

why do I hear a slurring of words that start with "st" now? It's everywhere!!

May. 12 2010 01:48 PM
a g from nj

pat, do people on the autistic spectrum have a tendency to see language in a different way. it would seem to me that the overtly literal perception of some peeple would make the explanation of language[especially idioms] quite complicated.

May. 12 2010 01:48 PM
capper

What is correct:

Beside this issue everything is fine

Besides this issue everything is fine

May. 12 2010 01:47 PM
naomi from Manhattan

Re: the study on mumbling/masculinity: Where was it conducted/published? I've Googled around, but haven't been able to find a reference to it. Thanks.

May. 12 2010 01:47 PM
Ed from Melville

So if the alarm went off on time, really, didn't the alarm went on on time??

May. 12 2010 01:47 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

Could you comment about subject-verb agreement? I notice more and more that verbs become plural after they follow plural objects, even if the subject of the sentence is singular and calls for a singular verb. Is this going to become a new standard?

May. 12 2010 01:46 PM
Laurie Faber from Riverdale, NY

Even our president uses this grammar and I wonder if it's correct:

What want to say is is that

May. 12 2010 01:46 PM
Chad from Sunset Park, BK

@Thomas from NYU:

To matriculate is to enter, not leave, a place of higher learning. From latin "matriculare," to enroll.

May. 12 2010 01:46 PM
Stephen J. Herschkorn from Highland Park, N.J.

-How should the word "short-lived" be pronounced?

-I have heard the opinion that the abbreviations "i.e." and "e.g." should be avoided, saince people get them confused. I disagree - is language to be dimiminished because people won't learn it? What is your take?

May. 12 2010 01:46 PM
Tom from uws

I love the Off/On Out/In usages.

Also, word pairings like this, my favorite:

A Brush Comb is a metal tool for cleaning paintbrushes.

A Comb Brush is made for cleaning hair combs.

May. 12 2010 01:46 PM
Jenny from Teaneck, NJ

I always thought we open a "drawer", but I hear other people say: "draw" - "open the draw"....

Also, do we say "Please pass the scissors", (regarding one pair) or is it singular: "Pass the scissor"....

May. 12 2010 01:45 PM
Angela from Philadelphia

I grew up in the south where we said, "Will you crack the window?" meaning "Will you open the window a crack?" I lived in Ireland for several years, and whenever I asked my partner to crack the window, he'd crack up.

May. 12 2010 01:44 PM
rob from Jersey City, NJ

I cringe when i hear COMPRISED OF (vs. simply 'comprises' or 'consists of'.
I see COMPRISES as similar to 'INCLUDES,' as in "America comprises 50 states" (includes, is composed of)...

Dictionary.com quotes either Random House Dictionary or Amer. Heritage Dict. usage note, "These uses are often criticized, but they occur with increasing frequency even in formal speech and writing."

What say you?
Thanks! -ROBERT

May. 12 2010 01:43 PM
Richard Johnston from Upper West Side

British and American differences.

Reversing "which" and "that" in dependent and non-dependent clauses. Americans say "the house [that] I bought is big," Brits say "the house which I bought is big."

"27 January" which is read "27th January" instead of January 27, which is read "January 27th," inducing "January 27th, 2009," instead of "January 27, 2007."

"run-up to" instead of "before"

"knock-on effect" instead of "result," and the unnecessarily complex sentence structure with noun clause as the subject and the predicate a gerund:

"What we are doing is washing our hands," instead of "we are washing our hands."

May. 12 2010 01:43 PM
Thomas from New York, NY

I'm graduating from NYU today. I wasn't an English major. When do you, if ever, use matriculate in place of graduate?

May. 12 2010 01:42 PM
Hal

I don't know why I am sometimes discomfortable rather than feeling any uncomfort.

May. 12 2010 01:42 PM
Alan from Manhattan

I never used to hear the word "concerning" used as an adjective until a few years ago. Now I hear it often, and I find that concerning.

May. 12 2010 01:42 PM
EL

Annonymous.. I am British.. I can tell you that the accepted phrase is "different from" not "different to"......tho it does get missused.. my late Granny used to hate it

May. 12 2010 01:39 PM
Anonyme from NY

It's definitely true about French, that men speak less clearly - I have been working bilingually for over a quarter century and it's very true in my experience. I thought there was something wrong with me!

In French you would say "since twenty years"

May. 12 2010 01:39 PM
Morris from Madison, NJ USA

My son is frequently told that he "Did good" when in school and at sports.

I believe that he "Did well" and I tell him so.

Being as I am a Brit in NJ; am I just being British or is the former really just bad grammar?

May. 12 2010 01:39 PM
Chad from Sunset Park, BK

"myriad" means ten thousand, not one thousand

May. 12 2010 01:38 PM
estelle from Austin

Is there an element of *variety* implied in the word "myriad," or just number?

May. 12 2010 01:36 PM
Anonyme from NY

Here's one - in Britain - different to - here - different from

here similar to

May. 12 2010 01:35 PM
Harris from Harlem

Have you ever heard that there is a distinction between the use of a dollar sign with one vertical slash and a dollar sign with two vertical slashes?

I had heard years ago that one is use when the amount is less than $100 and the other for amounts more than $100.

Do you know anything about this?

Thanks.

May. 12 2010 01:34 PM
tom from uws

Make/Take

Here's a usage in phtography:
My relatives in the south will often say "Make a picture" where most of the country will say "Take a picture."

May. 12 2010 01:33 PM
MikeInBrklyn from Brooklyn

Missouri - It bugs me to no end when someone I hear people pronounce it as Missoura. How did this convention come to be? How is there any other language that so drastically modify the sound of syllable?

May. 12 2010 01:32 PM
Alan from Manhattan

Maybe when the twins say that something is "mines", they're not deriving the word as an analogue to other possessives but rather as a nod to the other twin. The thing in question is not ours, it's mine, but, hey, we're twins, no way I can leave him out, so it's mines.

May. 12 2010 01:32 PM
Bob from Manhattan

Why has for instance been replaced for example??

May. 12 2010 01:32 PM
a g from hudson co nj

it's true[whether it should be or not is another question] i find that i adapt a certain "mumblebility" in a blue collar working class situation. please don't tell i'm not being myself,we're all bloody actors on life's stage. i use it to adapt to a sitution,or defensively. i try my best not to use it to manipilate to my advantage.

May. 12 2010 01:32 PM
John Lumea from Bed-Stuy

How about "Think different"?

May. 12 2010 01:30 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

I’m sure you’ve probably answered this before, but my question in on contemporary pronunciations and substitutions in American journalism. Namely substituting “woman” for “female” and the pronunciation used for “live” and “lived”

May. 12 2010 01:29 PM
Catherine

Thanks! That explains why no matter how good my Spanish gets, I ALWAYS have trouble understanding men speaking Spanish.

May. 12 2010 01:27 PM
Harris from Harlem

Is there a different in usage of:
"anyone" or "anybody"
"everyone" or "everybody"
"someone" or "somebody" ?

May. 12 2010 01:25 PM
Anna from Manhattan

A new pet peeve of mine is that ever since the events of Sept. 11th, people have been referring to it as Nine-One-One. But Nine-one-one already has a meaning, and you'd never say September-One-One to mean 11.

May. 12 2010 01:24 PM
Arch Currie from Norwlak, CT

How did it happen that 'transparent' came to be used to describe something easy to comprehend. It seems to me that some thing 'transparent' would be hard to discern.

May. 12 2010 01:22 PM
Tim from Midtown

Infinitives/Gerunds?

I wanted "to leave".
I considered "leaving".

Why does the verb "want" warrant the form "to leave" while the verb "consider" warrants the form "leaving"? Is there a difference in the usage of the two verbs?

May. 12 2010 01:16 PM
ash idnani from right now in bronx

Our 3 year old twins use "mines" as possessive for "mine". After much thought, I see a rationale why they might be right.
We use yours, his, hers, its, John's etc., why not mines? Aprreciate your comment.
Thank you.

May. 12 2010 01:09 PM
Doug from Manhattan

Is 'Opening Hours' a British usage? I've seen it on signs listings hours of operation at banks, stores, and government agencies.

May. 12 2010 01:08 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

I've noticed lately there is only one pronunciation of "finance" on radio and television. Everyone one says FY-nance.

And a WNYC newscaster referred to Bernie Madoff as a FY-nan-seer, instead of a fi-nan-SEER.

May. 12 2010 12:52 PM
Chris from New York

Can you please talk about the emergence of the term "gift," as in, "they were gifted a leather armchair"?
It sounds off to me, but lately it seems to be appearing more and more.
What, if any, is the history of "gift" being turned into a verb?

May. 12 2010 12:40 PM
Mike from Brooklyn

The Carrot and/or the stick is constantly used(or miss-used by politicians, educators etc)as a metaphor for reward and punishment. I always thought it was a device used by a farmer to urge on a donkey pulling a cart. The farmer used it much the same as a fishing pole with the carrot held out in front of the donkey. The stubborn donkey seeing it would walk forward to get at the carrot, but of course never getting it. Is this correct or is this just an old tale.

May. 12 2010 12:36 PM

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