Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, June 16, 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 us a question.

Have you noticed signs with misspellings, crazy punctuation, and bad grammar? Enter the Bad Sign Language Contest and tell us about them!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [23]

Rhoda from Upper East Side

To Alden from SoHo... In "Woe Is I," Pat says farther refers to physical distance. Further means to a greater extent or degree. "Lumpy insisted that he could walk no farther, and he refused to discuss it any further."

Jun. 26 2010 07:43 AM
Laura from UWS

Answer about City of, etc. It may very well be standard terminology about legal jurisdiction and boundaries. The postal address and the common name for a location may be very different from the legal name. For example, I grew up in a small village on Long Island where the signs read "Town of North Hempstead" even though we were quite far from the place called Hempstead. I will venture a guess that it's the politicians in charge of various districts who like to put up the signs because they get to add their names. Similar to on the websites. I just tested my theory and it works:

Jun. 16 2010 02:05 PM
Laura from UWS

BAGS. Beauty, Age, Goodness, Size. That is the order for adjectives in the French language. In English it seems to be perfect logic in saying small green apple instead of green small apple because green apple is the more important category. Doesn't it all boil down to custom? I have never seen apples group together in the store by size.

Love these segments!

Jun. 16 2010 01:58 PM
Howard from Bronx

Less and fewer. Now always being used incorrectly, to the point that one of the cable channels has as their tag line "less commercials".
How do we fight this?

Jun. 16 2010 01:58 PM
Arthur from Metuchen, NJ

Back in my college days, upstate NY, we used to go out and get some "za" (pizza), usually with extra cheese. Haven't heard or thought about that in many years!

Thanks for a great show.

Jun. 16 2010 01:57 PM
Clif from Manhattan

Regarding the "Za", I'm from Buffalo and we called pizza "Za" all the time. I guess it was out thing.

Jun. 16 2010 01:56 PM
tomas from NYC

Please explain why "is" and "are" have been misused by all including BBC radio spokespersons? example: "How is things?" "There is many choices? etc;
What is going on here??

Jun. 16 2010 01:54 PM
Lance from Miami

To see really rampant use of abbreviations in online communications, take a look at - a website dedicated to discussions about air travel.

Jun. 16 2010 01:54 PM
Brian from Williamsburg

The "netspeak" which has recently invaded the e-correspondence of the general population (u, lol, rofl, l8er, omg, g2g, ttyl, tho, luv, etc..) has its origins in the instant messaging conversations of tweens at the turn of the millennium. It seems that they're now in their early twenties and are unable to kick the nasty habit in the workplace...

Jun. 16 2010 01:52 PM

In France they say "informations" when we say "information" sing and plural -

Jun. 16 2010 01:48 PM
mac from brooklyn

pointing out bad signage and feigning surprise... smart people laughing at dumb people

Jun. 16 2010 01:45 PM
Alix from New York

Great facebook group:
"i judge you when you use poor grammar"

Jun. 16 2010 01:43 PM
William from NJ

Would you please discuss the difference between "any time" and "anytime"?

Jun. 16 2010 01:42 PM
Gary from Upper Left Side

I just heard Patricia say: "He couldn't resist making a 'funny'." Patricia, a "funny" isn't a noun. That like when people say: "my bad" instead of "my mistake".

Jun. 16 2010 01:41 PM
Arch from Norwalk, CT

How did it come to be that 'transparent' came to describe something easily seen or understood? Wouldn't opaque be better?

Jun. 16 2010 01:41 PM
David from New York

How did "entrées" ever come to mean "main course" on American menus and how could such a mistake perdure?

Sacrebleu! It drives me crazy.

Jun. 16 2010 01:39 PM
Robert from Summit, NJ

Sadly, "Brooklyn Tattoo's" on Third Avenue in Brooklyn has gone out of business.

Jun. 16 2010 01:38 PM
Lisa from New York

My favorite sign ever, grammatically correct but questionable as a promotion; as seen at a then new but now-closed cafe at West Broadway and Canal:

"Now Serving Toast"

Jun. 16 2010 01:38 PM

Highway sign seen years ago while approaching a city in the south of France:

Big straight ahead arrow saying "Toutes Directions" with an arrow branching off to the right saying "Autres Directions"!

Jun. 16 2010 01:38 PM
David Harrington from Manhattan

I really want to know why contemporary English doesn't use the Thou (you familiar) form anymore. Why do we just use the formal form form of 2nd person address? Are we just prissy?

Jun. 16 2010 01:36 PM
Alden from Soho

Quick one: Is there any difference between "further" and "farther"?

Jun. 16 2010 01:35 PM
Estelle from Austin

What's the rule about usage of "might" vs. "may"? As in: "This might happen;" or "This may happen"?

Jun. 16 2010 12:25 PM
Brian from NJ

This is not really a grammatical question but I would be curious to hear what Patricia thinks
of the trend of cities and towns phrasing their names such as The Borough of Madison. The City of Newark, etc. These are fine. I am
bothered by the ones that I see such as The City of Jersey City or The City of Union City. Why the repetition? So silly.

Jun. 16 2010 11:55 AM

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