Streams

Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner Goes Back to School

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Our word maven, Patricia T. O’Conner, talks about new words and back-to-school words. She’ll also answer questions about language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of O’Conner’s book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is available in paperback, as is  Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

If you have a question about language and grammar, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!

Guests:

Patricia T. O'Conner

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Comments [39]

Eddie from Manhattan

re: prodigal. Perhaps prodigal was confused with prodigy. It was the prodigal son that squandered his fortune whereas a prodigy might be an extraordinarily talented person who could return to inspire wonder.

Sep. 18 2013 02:24 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Correction to my previous comment: Speaking of the Irish use of "oi," there's a subgenre of punk rock in the UK called "Oi!" which is associated with nationalist skinheads, which is odd considering that they don't like the Irish, to say the least.

Sep. 18 2013 02:10 PM
Gregory from Brooklyn

I was incensed to hear the usually refreshingly erudite PTO'C err so grossly regarding the word 'prodigal'.
The proverbial Prodigal Son spent prodigiously, and thus was constrainted to return, tail between the legs, to daddy. Thus the distracting association. Luv u Pat, but careful what u claim :)

A quick google search turned up:

Prodigal, which is derived from the Latin term prodigere, which means “to drive away or squander,” also means “lavish,” and in addition it has a sense of luxuriance that may, depending on context, be negative, neutral, or positive. However, the word is usually employed to allude to the parable in references to a redeemed returner as a prodigal son.

Sep. 18 2013 02:03 PM
Joseph Bell from downtown

One more take on the mangling of "Manhattan". I often here younger (sub-age 40 perhaps) pronounce words with an ant suffix in the same way. For instance, impor' ent (important)

Sep. 18 2013 02:03 PM
George from So Amboy, NJ

Re: prodigal ... see prodigious :) An excess, an immensity, etc.

Sep. 18 2013 01:58 PM
jennifer from Princeton

"Go Forth, and Squander" sounds like something I should've said to my son when he headed off to college....since he "left a prodigy and returned a prodigal." Great segment, as always. You two should do an entire show together--the patter is getting funnier each time!

Sep. 18 2013 01:58 PM
Tee from NJ

I just looked up profligate in TWO dictionaries and it DOES mean speding extravangantly!

Sep. 18 2013 01:58 PM
Vicki from Manhattan

Any difference in meaning of flammable and inflammable?

Sep. 18 2013 01:57 PM
joseph Bell

There's no conflict with prodigal if we appreciate that its most common usage is tied to the biblical tale of the prodigal son

Sep. 18 2013 01:57 PM
Ken Campbell from harlem

The female equivalent of cuckold is "cuckquean"

Sep. 18 2013 01:56 PM

LTD = Limited liability company

Sep. 18 2013 01:56 PM
Vic

is there any difference between flammable and inflammable?

Sep. 18 2013 01:55 PM
anna

Eric Craig,
You don't have other problems in life? Languages evolve - live with this.

Drop your cheap and illiterate attitude.

Sep. 18 2013 01:55 PM
Nicole from NY

Why did I grow up havin to say "preventative" when now people say "preventive?"

Sep. 18 2013 01:55 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Speaking of the Irish use of "oi," there's a subgenre of punk rock in the UK called "Oi!" which is associated with nationalist skinheads, which is odd considering that they care for the Irish, to say the least.

Sep. 18 2013 01:55 PM
Kevin from Brooklyn

A recent writer is correct about the term prodigal.

See Merriam-Webster:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prodigal

Sep. 18 2013 01:54 PM
Tim from Brooklyn

Hmmm... here's the dictionary.com definition... I guess JB is right.

prod·i·gal [prod-i-guhl] Show IPA
adjective
1.
wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
2.
giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually followed by of or with ): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
3.
lavishly abundant; profuse: nature's prodigal resources.
noun
4.
a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.

Sep. 18 2013 01:53 PM
Darren from Manhattan

Is there one non-gender-specific word for both niece and nephew? Or do you always have to say "my nieces and nephews?" What about for aunt and uncle? We have "parents," "children," and "cousins," why nothing for this relationship?

Sep. 18 2013 01:53 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On "woman doctor," it is strange--we don't say "man nurse," we say "male nurse." But why not just say "doctor" or "nurse" & then use "she" or "he" to show which sex the person is, if it's even necessary to specify?

Sep. 18 2013 01:53 PM
antonio from Bayside

My girlfriend Barbara who grew up in Queens (Bayside) says "Main - TEN - nance" for maintenance (we live in a coop)...

But I wanted to comment on was Patricia mentioned "mums the word." Where did that come from? I suspect the UK?

Sep. 18 2013 01:53 PM
JB

FROM MERRIMAm WEBSTER:
1prod·i·gal
adjective \ˈprä-di-gəl\

: carelessly and foolishly spending money, time, etc.
Full Definition of PRODIGAL
1
: characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : lavish <a prodigal feast> <prodigal outlays for her clothes>

Sep. 18 2013 01:53 PM
Stuart Blumner from Manhattan

We recently used the phrase "If you has your druthers" with a teen ager who didn't have a clue as to what it meant. Is druthers an word?

Sep. 18 2013 01:52 PM
anna from new york

Oh people.
T becomes "d" between vowels as a result of assimilation.

Sep. 18 2013 01:51 PM
Tim from Brooklyn

Apparently a guy named Hoyt used to play on a NY team, and when he was hit by a baseball, the headline read, "Hoyt Hurt," which was pronounced the other way around in many parts of Brooklyn... ha ha!

Sep. 18 2013 01:49 PM
gw from Staten Island

Regarding "dentalizing" the /t/ sound: dentalizing is incorrect production by touching the tongue tip to the back of the front teeth, not the use of the clear /t/ sound. The /t/ sound is properly made by touching the tongue tip to the "bump behind the top teeth" (the aveolar ridge).

Regarding ?d/ for /t/ sound:
The difference between a /t/ sound and a /d/ sound is solely the use of vibration of the vocal folds ("vocal chords") for the /d/ sound.

Ask a speech pathologist!

Sep. 18 2013 01:49 PM
Amy from Manhattan

That's very interesting on the origin of "heuristic"! I was wondering if it was related to the French word for "happy," "heureux" (& as I posted in Brian's segment on words students look up on m-w.com, I keep getting it mixed up with "hermeneutic").

Sep. 18 2013 01:48 PM
JB

My pet peeve: the misuse of the word prodigal!! It does not mean someone who returns. It means someone who spends too much.

Sep. 18 2013 01:48 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Eric Graig from Riverdale -- I am also irked by Manhattan being pronounced as "Manhadden," and even more by the use of "Manha'en." Arrgghh!

Sep. 18 2013 01:45 PM
Joel from Westchester

Negatives/non-negatives: disgruntled/gruntled

Sep. 18 2013 01:41 PM
JR from ManhaTTan

how about insure vs. ensure? I understand them to have different meanings but see them used for the same purposes.

Sep. 18 2013 01:40 PM
Chris

In an article on an Australian site, I saw "farewell" used as a transitive verb, as, "He farewelled his wife." I had to read further to understand that
she hadn't died, but that the husband had "bid her farewell."
Is this usage found outside of Australia?

Sep. 18 2013 01:38 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On the origin of "culture" to mean cultivation of a field, does that mean that back in those days "agriculture" was redundant?

And Eric, the fish is menhaden.

Sep. 18 2013 01:35 PM
Chris West from Purchase, NY

It may not be a new word, but "homogenous" seems to be taking on a new meaning as a substitute for "homogeneous". Have you guys noticed this?

Sep. 18 2013 01:32 PM
Dee from Montclair

Is it my imagination, or does everyone now start interviews with the word 'so'? I don't remember that being common, but now it seems constant.

Sep. 18 2013 01:30 PM
Rebecca from Brooklyn

I'd like to know when the use of the word "ejaculated" to mean "exclaimed" fell out of favor. I was recently reading the book "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" (published 1881) to my daughter, and they used it throughout the book. I've also seen it in other older books.

Thanks.

Sep. 18 2013 01:29 PM
Kate from Upper West Side

Why, or why, has the word "epic" become the all-purpose adjective when the college-age speaker usually simply means big or major? I've even heard it used to describe breakfast cereal in a TV commercial.

Could Ms. O'Conner address the actual meaning of "epic" and comment on its current abused usage?

Sep. 18 2013 01:29 PM
Eric Graig from Riverdale

What is up with people's inability to pronounce the word Manhattan and other words with a similar ending. Manhattan is now Manhadden (a type of fish I think :-)), important is now impordant, and on and on. I used to see this only in teenagers, mostly girls. Then I started to see it in adults, again mostly women. Now my son who is 17 is softening the 't' although he seems to respond correction.

Sep. 18 2013 01:27 PM
Rebecca

I'd like to know when the use of the word "ejaculated" as "exclaimed" fell out of favor. I was reading the book "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" (published 1881) to my daughter recently, and it was used quite a bit throughout the book. I've also seen it in a few other older books.

Thanks.

Sep. 18 2013 01:27 PM
Michael Greer from Bronx

I'd like to hear Ms. O'Conner's thoughts on the Grammar Rumble video.

Sep. 18 2013 01:14 PM

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