As millions of Americans will be counting their blessings and gathering with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day this week, I thought it would be fun to investigate the origins of several words commonly associated with the holiday. Please enjoy this post first published on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.
Thank comes from the Old English word thanc, which is derived from the prehistoric Germanic thangk, with a root idea of thoughtfulness. The English word think comes from the same root. It’s easy to see how our word for expressing gratitude originated from the concept of thinking or giving thoughtful consideration. A twelfth-century translation of Matthew 15:19 reads, “From the heart come evil thanks.” By the early sixteenth century the same verse was rendered, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (KJV). To give thanks is to think about and express one’s gratitude for something. And what better way to say “thank you” than by enjoying a big feast.Continue reading “Five Thanksgiving Words”
Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.
Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.
Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.
. . . you usually tag an –s onto the word toward. The preferred British spelling is towards. The preferred American spelling is simply toward (no –s). When I copyedit a document written for American readers, almost the first thing I do is to execute a global search-and-replace to eliminate all those pesky s’s (if there are any) in one automated swoop. A copyediting instructor years ago taught me that trick. (Shhh! . . . let’s keep it our little secret.)
. . . you often use single quotation marks for quoted words and sentences instead of double quotation marks. ‘You guessed it, good fellow. I’m from Liverpool’, (British) instead of, “You guessed it, good fellow. I’m from Denver,” (American). In American English, we use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes, such as, “Here’s the answer he gave,” said the investigator. “He said, ‘I’m from Denver.’” Otherwise, we use double quotation marks for quoted words—even one word—and sentences. To make it ridiculously complicated, in British English that punctuation scheme is reversed. What were they thinking? Next thing you know they’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road.
. . . you tend to place your commas and periods outside of quotation marks* instead of inside them. Here’s an example: The film critic from the Times wrote that the latest sequel was “pabulum not befitting an infant”, but the critic from the Daily News countered that it was “a feast fit for a king”. Note the placement of the comma and period there. In the US we would keep that comma and period tucked safely inside (to the left of) the quotation marks. And that’s true even if just one word is enclosed in quotation marks. Try it, you’ll like it!
So there you go: a simple, non-exhaustive test for determining if in fact you might have grown up in England, or some other land where British English is used, and somehow forgotten it.** Δ
*Our British friends call periods full stops and single quotation marks inverted commas.
**With apologies to my friends across the pond for this tongue-in-cheek piece. It wasn’t my intent to be cheeky. If this essay seems like tosh, I may be a nit, but hopefully not an oik.
When the United States began to recover from the terrible trauma of the Civil War in the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s, the game of baseball provided a healing tonic for many Americans. Baseball (or base ball, as it was typically written back then) had been around in one form or another for several decades prior to the Civil War, but that national tragedy provided fertile soil for the sport to grow exponentially in popularity. Soldiers from both Northern and Southern armies played baseball, and they took it home with them when their military service ended. A mere four years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the first professional baseball team had formed in Cincinnati, and two years later, in 1871, the first professional baseball league had been (loosely) organized.
As baseball’s popularity skyrocketed, newspapers featured detailed accounts of games, box scores reduced each contest to a quick-and-easy statistical snapshot, and top ball players—or “ballists”—became the idols of boys everywhere (men, too, if they were honest). Enthusiastic devotees rose up from all walks of life, but guardians of polite society frowned upon them and referred to them as “cranks,” a decidedly pejorative term. Continue reading “Of Cranks, Bugs, and Fans”
RE: Robert Lee, Confederates, and Related Nonsense
ESPN announced yesterday that one of their broadcasters, an Asian American by the name of Robert Lee, who was scheduled to cover a football game in Virginia this weekend, was pulled from the assignment because (are you ready for it?) someone might be offended by the similarity of the man’s name to that of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee—who is supposedly offending plenty of folks lately with his frightening statues. What in the world is going on with these pantywaist ESPN execs?
I wrote an article last summer for this blog about “clipped” words—longer words that are commonly shortened—and how to spell them. It’s easy to see how many multi-syllable words came to be abbreviated, because that’s the nature of informal communications. It’s is how we talk, and the spellings of most clipped forms are straightforward. For example, we obviously get phone from telephone, photo from photograph, and bio from biography—all easy to understand and simple to spell. Continue reading “Clipped Words We Use Every Day”
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Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, coined a term for words created by combining the sounds and meanings of two (or more) different words: he called it a portmanteau [port-MAN-toe] word. The next time something tickles your funny bone and makes you chuckle and snort, you can thank Mr. Carroll for the descriptive word chortle. He also gave us galumph (gallop + triumph, or a triumphant gallop). I challenge you to work those words into a meaningful conversation tomorrow with a loved one, teacher, or client. They will be impressed.
A portmanteau word is created when smoke is blended with fog (=smog), when gigantic is combined with enormous (=ginormous), when information is combined with commercial (=infomercial), when education is combined with entertainment (=edutainment), and when Oxford is combined with Cambridge (=Oxbridge).
Now that we’ve been enlightened by this life-changing term, portmanteau word, here’s a list of ten more, used somewhere in the world every day:
aerobicize (aerobic + exercise)
blog (web + log)
brunch (breakfast + lunch)
docudrama (documentary + drama)
emoticon (emotion + icon)
fantabulous (fantastic + fabulous)
motel (motor + hotel)
simulcast (simultaneous + broadcast)
televangelist (television + evangelist)
Vitameatavegamin (a portmanteau word on steroids: vitamins + meat + vegetables + minerals. From I Love Lucy, season 1, episode 30.)
Your turn. Please share a portmanteau word you’ve used or have heard used. If it’s your own made-up word, that’s great—as long as it’s one you have actually used with real people. Kindly observe proper netiquette (Internet + etiquette) at all times.
Speakers of English tend to shorten or truncate longer words, both in writing and speaking. That’s the way we are; it’s normal. We call such truncated words clippings. Sometimes we drop the initial syllable or syllables. Examples are airplane → plane; hamburger → burger; and telephone → phone. When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular → pop; public → pub; and technician → tech. Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenza → flu; and refrigerator → frig. Wait. Frig? Get me a cold one from the frig? Hmmm. More on that one below.
When it comes to writing clipped words, how do we spell them? Here’s the general principle: We most often spell a clipped word as it sounds, not necessarily as a sliced off version of the longer original. Occasionally, therefore, the spelling will be a little different. Here are three common examples: favorite, microphone, and refrigerator. Continue reading “Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten”
Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.
Thanks for stopping by my website! My overarching goal is to celebrate and affirm standard written and spoken English and consequently promote clearer, more effective interpersonal communication. To that end, I’ve written blog posts and included other resources related to writing, language, grammar, words, usage, punctuation, and even pronunciation. For a few chuckles, check out the “Grammar Funnies” tab.
Why do I write this blog and manage this site? I’m an educator by nature and nurture and a lover of the English language. I get energized by reading English-usage manuals and studying the why-fors and what-have-yous of grammar and punctuation. To use old colloquial expressions, I really dig this stuff. It floats my boat.
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