Streams

Word Maven Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner answers questions about the confounding English language and talks about ungrammatical song lyrics. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, has recently been published in paperback, and a paperback version of Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman, was just issued.

Have a question about language and grammar? Call us at 646-829-3985 or leave us a question as a comment below.

Guests:

Patricia T. O'Conner

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Comments [83]

sol from santiago

Im writing from Chile... (south america) just to say That I love the program

Nov. 07 2010 07:43 PM

@ Julie:

"Il faut" or "il faut pas" means, roughly, "one must/must not." It's a perfectly grammatical phrase in French, but it isn't related to faux pas.

"Faux pas" is completely independent of "il faut." Faux/fausse is one of a handful of adjectives that precede the noun.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Oct. 27 2010 11:47 AM
Celia B from NYC from midtown

From "Cecilia" by Paul Simon (still one of my favorites, for obvious reasons!):

Jubilation, she love me again.
I fall on the floor and I laughing.

But I can forgive Paul Simon just about anything...

PS - the first word of the song, btw, is "CELIA"!

Oct. 22 2010 04:32 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

@Julie. And you, dear Julie, sound delusional. No, I'm not "threatened". I don't see how I would feel "threatened" by your ignorance, and your delight in persisting in remaining ignorant, and your pride in your ability to spout such bilge.

But a question: did you bother to actually look this up?

No? Didn't think so.

Oct. 20 2010 05:37 PM
Joe Adams from Bergen County

"Hence It Don't Make Sense"- title of a 1944 song by, of all people, Cole Porter.Porter also wrote "Riding High" which is very interesting coming from a guy who wrote that he gets no kick from cocaine.

Oct. 20 2010 04:26 PM
Joem from Brooklyn

Paradigm comes from a particular book. Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" where he talks about "paradigm shift."

Oct. 20 2010 03:37 PM
Chris from Manhatta

People in NYC, young people, now call the sidewalk and street the "floor." They can be heard admonishing their dogs and toddlers not to eat the tidbit off the floor. (I mentioned this to Larry Josephson, whom I met in linguistics graduate school at Berkeley, and he said this substitution is not happening. Moreover, we were taught in linguistics not to be prescriptive, language is whatever people do, but I can't help it. I am.) I also complained to him about the overuse of "prior" instead of "before" and "previous." I find it pretentious, irritative and frequently used ungrammatically, e.g., "when I went there prior, the gun was not on the table" and "Leonard's prior remark." I also have many colleagues who not only say but write, "Send it to Melissa and I by next week." Years of complaining have served only to alienate them but not reform. When I once asked, "Send it to I?," the response was, "No, YOU should send it to US." (Note they do not say "send it to we," but they do not note.) These individuals have advanced degrees and are believed to be extremely competent writers. Oy.

Oct. 20 2010 02:06 PM
tom from uws

A paradigm may be a model, but every model is not a paradigm. Paradigm is useful to refer to something "set up" as a model: from Greek roots meaning "by+example"
I see that until the 1960s the use was almost exclusively in grammar.

Oct. 20 2010 02:01 PM
Kate Wilson from NYC

"Paradigm" took off because of T. Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolution," off-putting title for influencial idea that science doesn't just accumulate truths, but morphs across paradigms -- broader than "model", it includes questions, vocab, a more overall framework. Then alas it was embraced/warped by Business discourse, hence popularized.

Oct. 20 2010 02:00 PM
Steve Brennan

Somehow penultimate has become even more or "more last" than ultimate. Whatever that would be.

Oct. 20 2010 01:59 PM
Ro

One of the reasons I LOVE it when Professor O'Connor is on the air - apart from REALLY enjoying her wisdom - I love the fact that Leonard seems to really have fun and enjoy himself!

Oct. 20 2010 01:58 PM
Howard from The Bronx

A pet peeve - A cable network has "less commercials" as a tag line.. The use of less when fewer is correct seems to be becoming universal. Drives me nuts.

Oct. 20 2010 01:56 PM

Math abuse alert! The use of parameter is absolutely correct. It's the terms by which a problem are defined.

Oct. 20 2010 01:56 PM
Randall from Astoria

Paradigm --

Perhaps it is more correctly used in its academic sense, as a scientific weltaunschauung, as elaborated in Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions."

Oct. 20 2010 01:56 PM
Sheila

paradigm didn't pop out of nowhere. It first became popular with the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) which coined the term paradigm shift. This book was very influential in making this term popular.

Oct. 20 2010 01:56 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Thanks for breaking the Paradine Case.

-- Alfred Hitchcock

Oct. 20 2010 01:56 PM
Don from Smithtown

The parameters of the algorithm to compute the perimeter of a rectangle are the length and the width. Just sayin'.

Oct. 20 2010 01:55 PM
Julie @ Pauvre Petit March from Long Island

You sound threatened, Marc. Is it a problem for you to be corrected by a woman?

Oct. 20 2010 01:55 PM
Elizabeth from Brooklyn

The word 'hopefully' is always used wrong, isn't it? It's an adjective so 'she waited hopefully' would be correct not 'Are you going to the show tonight?' 'Hopefully!'

Oct. 20 2010 01:54 PM
Patrick Jarkowsky from Hoboken, NJ

What's the deal with weather terminology? Rain Event? Wind Event? When did meteorologists become so whacky?!?!

Oct. 20 2010 01:54 PM
Rebecca from Manhattan

When did "enthused" enter the language? In grammar school in the 40's and 50's, we were taught never to use it.

Oct. 20 2010 01:54 PM
Howard from The Bronx

A pet peeve - A cable network has "less commercials" as a tag line.. The use of less when fewer is correct seems to be becoming universal. Drives me nuts.

Oct. 20 2010 01:53 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

@Julie. Howzabout you look it up? Just how does finding that "il faut pas"* prove that "faux pas" is wrong? This is a little bit sad. A "faux pas" in both French and English is a misstep. You seem to know how to use Google and other search engines. Search for "faux pas". You'll even find it on Le Monde's website (or any French dictionnary). Sacré bleu!

Oct. 20 2010 01:53 PM
Joe from New York

Confusing Yes with America seems an unlikely error for someone as musically knowledgeable as Leonard seems to be, but maybe the confusion results from the fact that Yes performed an arrangement of the Paul Simon song "America"!

Oct. 20 2010 01:53 PM
Chris from Amityville

I recall you saying "logarithm" the other day, but I knew from the context that you meant algorithm.
I chalked it up to your automatic anagram function kicking in due to a flaw in your algorithms.

Oct. 20 2010 01:52 PM
will from chelsea

I have always wondered about the music "genre" Rock and Roll or is it Rock n' Roll... how and when did the use of the word come about?

Oct. 20 2010 01:52 PM
Chris

I recall you saying "logarithm" the other day, but I knew from the context that you meant algorithm.
I chalked it up to your automatic anagram function kicking in.

Oct. 20 2010 01:51 PM
Mary Ashby from nyc

Regarding the expression "passed," in the South this is very commonly used as opposed to "passed away/on."

Oct. 20 2010 01:50 PM
Jurgen tolido

When did "with no" instead of "without" become accepted? As in "a glass of water with
No ice" as opposed to "without" ice?

Oct. 20 2010 01:50 PM
Katherine Sheppard

I know this has been addressed before,
but I notice that the word suppos ABLY
(as opposed to suppos EDLY) is now being found in network TV shows. Between that and nucUlar and relATOR I may have to hurt someone!!!!

Oct. 20 2010 01:49 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Please tell me the difference between on line and in a line when referring to a line of people waiting. In the South where I grew up we use in line. In NYC it's on line. Why?!

Oct. 20 2010 01:48 PM
Elizabeth from Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn

Big Time Rush (the Monkees of 2010)

Any kind of guy you want girl, that's the kind I'll be. If you're staying I'm leaving.
I'll follow your lead.

Oct. 20 2010 01:47 PM
Dave from New Jersey

Leonard, can we all agree that it's time to stop saying "narrative" and "space"?

Oct. 20 2010 01:47 PM
Rob from Brooklyn

Have you noticed some affirmation inflation going on? For the past few years people have been using "absolutely" when a simple yes will do.

Oct. 20 2010 01:46 PM
Steve from Spokane

I believe the phrase "man up" came from basketball. When playing defense and switching to the more intense man to man from a zone.

Oct. 20 2010 01:46 PM
Lori from Montclair, NJ

Sorry, meant to write "There are..."

Oct. 20 2010 01:46 PM
Lori from Montclair, NJ

There a presently a lot of campaign ads on TV and, at the end, they say "I approve this message". It sounds so awkward. It's more common to hear people say they "approve of" something. Which is correct?

Oct. 20 2010 01:44 PM
Robert from nyc

Is 'irregardless' a word?. if so how would it be used?

Oct. 20 2010 01:43 PM
yz from brooklyn

My colleague and I were wondering about the etymology of the word "hipster", which does not appear in a grammarphobia search. Although the definition of the term can be debated endlessly, what is the specific etymology? How did the word originate?

Oct. 20 2010 01:42 PM
rdigg from Brooklyn

I believe that the use of "passed" rather than "passed on" is more common among African Americans.

Oct. 20 2010 01:42 PM

"algorithm" is a series of steps used to solve a problem, most notably in the field of Computer Science. (Take it from a one-time, now disillusioned, Comp. Sci / "IT" guy...)

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
john from office

MAN UO was used in Traning Day, the movie and it caught on.

Passed is black English for dies,

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Joe from New York

Regarding "Baby I'm-a Want You": I've always understood "I'm-a" to be a contraction of "I am going to," as in "I'm-a go upside your head." Therefore, to say "I'm-a want you" makes no sense; it's like saying "I'm going to want you."

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
rdigg from Brooklyn

I believe that the use of "passed" rather than "passed on" is more common among African Americans.

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Jerry from Brooklyn

Last summer you featured signs with strange syntax. Later I saw many highway signs in both Maine and Massachusetts which said, "Trucks prohibited from left lane." I believe that "prohibited in" or "excluded from" would have been less inventive and more conventional.

On the matter of conventions, I keep hearing of people who "advocate for" something, rather than simply "advocating it." I have always thought that colloquial English moved toward brevity, but here an unnecessary word has been added.

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Don

An algorithm is any procedure, process, methodology, or set of instructions. Since computers can ONLY follow instructions, people who write computer software are said to write algorithms. Typically in software, it is used for procedures that solve specific, complicated problems, but any computer program is an algorithm in a sense.

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Paul

An algorithm, used primarily in mathematics and computer science, is a method for solving a problem in a set of discrete steps.

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Mike from Manhattan

Hi -- Mr Lopate *definitely* said "logarithm" the other day. I heard it and winced, realizing that he meant to say "algorithm".

Oct. 20 2010 01:41 PM
Peter from Crown Heights

I've always had a big problem with "Copacabana"; the lines, "There was blood and a single gunshot, but just who shot who?".

In addition to the subject/object problem, if there was a single gunshot, and blood, isn't the victim self-evident?

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM
Sophie

Homeward bound, I wish I was...

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM
Bill from UWS

Bon Jovi: "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all."

Physically impossible!

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM
Nico

Phil Ochs: "Here's to the land you've torn out the heart of. / Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of." (Later changed to "Richard Nixon, find yourself.....").

I've always said "on behalf" but occasionally read "in behalf" -- especially in Philip Roth novels, for some reason. Any explanations? Can't think of what the difference might be.

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM
Arlo from Manhattan

NO, LOPATE - YOU SAID "LOGARITHM!"

Go back and listen to the recording. (Please.)

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM

Oh my lord. Leonard meant algorithm, but said logarithm. Algorithms are step by step instructions. That's it.

Oct. 20 2010 01:40 PM
Caroline from Manhattan

Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die (from the James Bond movie)

This one drive me NUTS. Paul should have known better. It just because he needs an extra syllable:

You used to say live and let live
But in this ever changing world in which we live in Makes you give in and cry...
Live and let die

Oct. 20 2010 01:39 PM
Elizabeth from Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn

Big Time Rush (the Monkees of 2010)

Any kind of guy you want girl, that's the kind I'll be. If you're staying I'm leaving.
I'll follow your lead.

Oct. 20 2010 01:39 PM
JP from NJ

What about "Ironic" by Alanis Morrisette?

She lists things that are not ironic, then proceeds to the chorus: "Well isn't it ironic, doncha think?"

No! But it is ironic that you are singing a song about irony and misusing the word ironic, while asking, rhetorically, whether what you said is ironic!

Oct. 20 2010 01:39 PM
Bill from UWS

Bon Jovi: "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all."

Physically impossible!

Oct. 20 2010 01:38 PM
J Reilly

A friend of mine used to complain about The Eagle's line "stared up at the stars up in the sky." Anything wrong with that line?

Oct. 20 2010 01:38 PM
Matthew Saadat

The Rolling Stones. "I can't get no (Satisfaction).

Oct. 20 2010 01:38 PM
Ann Kjellberg from Manhattan

Seems to me (did you say this already) that these locutions are the verbal equivalent of blackface.

Oct. 20 2010 01:38 PM
sheila

@julie Marc is correct. The expression in French that the French use is faux pas.

Oct. 20 2010 01:38 PM
betsy

regarding "ain't" - I've read tons of Trollope & find that ain't is often used, even by educated characters. what's that about?

Oct. 20 2010 01:37 PM
jm

"She's got freckles on her, BUT she is nice..." (Larry Vincent)

Oct. 20 2010 01:36 PM
Scott from Brooklyn

Oh no, Don't you dis Neil Diamond
The man is indeed a poet
Great songs are poetry set to music
and Mr. Diamond is a master at it
This whole vein is silly

Oct. 20 2010 01:35 PM
ben from Brooklyn, NY

elton john's "rocket man", verse 2:

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

oh yeah!

Oct. 20 2010 01:35 PM
Max from Brooklyn

Pish posh, ain't is the vernacular, that's nothing. I hate the song "Live and Let Die" when Paul McCartney sings, "....the world in which we live in." Department of redundancy department much?

Oct. 20 2010 01:34 PM
David from Brooklyn, NY

What about Alicia Keys' Empire Sate of Mind... "concrete jungle where dreams are made of". Great song, but makes no sense!

Oct. 20 2010 01:34 PM
Harris II from Harlem

"I was made to love her by Stevie Wonder...

"...You know my papa disapproved it, My mama boohoohooed it..."

Oct. 20 2010 01:34 PM
Max from Brooklyn

Pish posh, ain't is the vernacular, that's nothing. I hate the song "Live and Let Die" when Paul McCartney sings, "....the world in which we live in." Department of redundancy department much?

Oct. 20 2010 01:34 PM
Katharine Flanders Mukherji

"I only have eyes for you," drives me crazy. He doesn't have lips for her, or ears for her, or...

Oct. 20 2010 01:33 PM
maggie from nj

Also lie lady lie could have meant prevaricate lady prevaricate.

Oct. 20 2010 01:32 PM
Judy from Parsippany, NJ

I hear young people and some adults using the word "versing" often
i.e., "what team are we versing today?"
(As in sports not literature!)

Oct. 20 2010 01:31 PM
Gary from Long Island

Question in this election year: Where did the term Man Up come from? And what are the origins of referring to gay men as Nancy's or calling some one Brucie. And in terms of musical lyrics: What is a Mojo?? And if you Man up, do you therefore have Mojo?

Oct. 20 2010 01:31 PM
sheila

Pet peeve: increasing use of "less" rather than "fewer" for countable nouns. (You'll have LESS cavities with Crest!)

Oct. 20 2010 01:29 PM
Alexandra Owens

Neil Diamond, I can never forgive you for this: "Songs she sang to me, songs she BRANG to me..."

Aargh!!1

Oct. 20 2010 01:28 PM
Julie @ Marc from Long Island


Indeed? This from Le Monde:

"...il s’agit d’enfants en danger. Il faut pas tout mélanger et amalgamer."

http://jprosen.blog.lemonde.fr/

Oct. 20 2010 01:28 PM
Harris from Harlem

Well, when it comes to ungrammatical song lyrics, Ms. Aretha Franklin takes the cake in "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

"Yes it do..."

Oct. 20 2010 01:27 PM
ed from east village

Can you please address the proper and various uses of the word nonplussed. Most definitions describe it as a state of being surprised, confused or bewildered. Yet I have also seen it defined as "not disconcerted" and "unperturbed". When I see it used in newpapers and magazines, it seem to tilt more towards the latter. Is there any contradiction in the meanings of the word? ?

Oct. 20 2010 01:26 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

@Julie. No, in French, it's "un faux pas". Certainly not "il ne faut pas". "Faux" is one of those adjectives (as is "vrai") that usually comes before the noun.

Oct. 20 2010 01:13 PM
Julie LeBras from Long Island


This isn't strictly English, but why do Americans spell "faux pas" with an X ? It's supposed to be a contraction of the phrase of "il faut pas" -- with a T -- meaning "one should not".

Americans think it means "false step", but that would be "pas faux". In French the adjective follows the noun.

Oct. 20 2010 12:27 PM
Ron Johnson

Patricia T. O'Connor should have a regular program on NPR...her program is delightful... and her laugh is the best on radio....thanks, Ron Johnson

Oct. 20 2010 12:17 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

I just wanted to share a recent (like over the last two years) contamination of French by English. It's the word "juste" used in front of every adjectif and adverb, copied from English "just", as in "it's just perfect", "she's just too fat"... Of course "juste" exists in French, but it has now gotten totally out of hand. It's just too much me to bear.

Here's a peever on this:
http://www.rue89.com/tribune-vaticinateur/2009/08/03/juste-ceci-ou-juste-cela-franchement-cest-juste-con

Oct. 20 2010 07:53 AM

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