When I write a word with “God” in it, I sometimes need to pause to make sure I’m capitalizing—or not capitalizing—the word appropriately. Given my lifelong Christian faith, my first thought is to capitalize almost all such words. If “God” is in it, out of reverence, the word should be capitalized. But is that necessary or grammatically correct?
The truth is, most “God” words are actually “god” words, with lowercase g’s, and writing them according to long-established and widely accepted conventions of Standard Written English does not make a person of faith less faithful. Let’s consider the most common “God” words. I’ve consulted several sources for this, including Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Continue reading “How to Write “God” Words”
“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” the senator asked the female judge, a candidate for justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 22, 2022.
“Can I provide a definition? No,” the candidate responded. “I can’t.”
“You can’t?” the senator asked.
“Not in this context, I’m not a biologist,” the judge replied.
I realize that Supreme Court candidates are grilled mercilessly prior to confirmation, so I sympathize with the judge, who was thrown for a loop by a difficult question completely outside her field of expertise. I mean, let’s be real here. For example . . .
Would you ask me for directions to my house? Good luck! I’m no cartographer.
Should I be expected to tell you if it’s sunny or raining outside? Excuse me, do you think I’m a meteorologist?
How does one flush a toilet? C’mon, man, I’m not a plumber, for pity’s sake!
I’m no biologist either, but I know a thing or two about the English language. And being a married man, I know enough about women to assure you that I ain’t one. But I digress.
Allow me to help the good judge by explaining for her what a woman is. I’ll restrict my comments to the realms of lexicography and etymology.
Okay, here we go, your honor! Are you ready? I’ll type slowly, because this can be pretty hard:
Let’s break it down further: An (indefinite article) adult (as opposed to a child or youth) female (as opposed to a male) person (as opposed to an animal, plant, fish, etc.).
That’s the lexicographical answer. Are you still with me, your honor? Good! I know you’re in uncharted territory now, so when you catch your breath, we’ll look at etymology. Fasten your seatbelt!
Woman has been a part of the English language since approximately AD 1250. It can be traced back several centuries before that. It probably developed out of wumman or womman (before AD 1200), and before that from the Old English wimman (c. AD 1000), which probably evolved from wīfman (before c. AD 766), a compound of wīf (woman) and man (human being). (You might notice, incidentally, that the word wife originated from wīf—woman). Not exactly rocket science—I mean, biology—now, is it?
I do sincerely hope this little tutorial helps your honor in addressing matters of jurisprudence, biology, or simple word definitions going forward. We don’t want you to be caught off guard again. You’re welcome!
 I’m married to a woman, by the way, which, in the history of the world until very recently no one would have thought to question. But now, I recognize, we are much more enlightened.
 That is, dictionaries (lexicography) and word origins (etymology).
 Merriam-Webster. 2020. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Frederick C. Mish, ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
 Barnhardt, Robert, ed. 1995. The Barnhardt Concise Dictionary of Etymology. New York: HarperCollins (p. 847). Partridge, Eric. 1983. Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Greenwich House, (p. 776).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had the right idea about race relations, eloquently expounded during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. His “dream” for his children was that one day in America they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I believe we could call that world a colorblind society. One of the definitions of colorblind, according to Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, is “not influenced by differences of race … free from racial prejudice.” The New Oxford Dictionary similarly defines it as “not influenced by racial prejudice: a color-blind society.” That seems to be the sort of society that MLK lived – and died – for. It is a world in which “all men are created equal,” the ideal of the Founding Fathers.
As a nation, we made great strides toward realizing that dream and that ideal, until the unfortunate rise of cultural Marxism, Critical Race Theory, BLM, and the so-called antiracist doctrines of those who would demonize a certain segment of our society. Today it is no longer good, or even okay, to be colorblind, to be not racist. Now, according to the twisted linguistic and ideological gymnastics of the cultural Marxist elites who shape the prevailing progressive narrative in America, to be colorblind is to be actually racist! Astoundingly, to be not racist, according to this convoluted logic, is to be, in fact, a white supremacist, of all things. Now one must be antiracist.
The net effect of these progressive efforts has been to divide us, rather than unify us, based solely on the color of our skin. The current mantra of the so-called woke is that America is still incurably, systemically racist, as though the hard work and sacrifices of Dr. King and his fellow laborers in the Civil Rights Movement were all in vain, that they amounted to nothing. I seriously doubt Dr. King would agree with that assessment. To preach such a grim, false message dishonors his memory.
I am truly thankful for Dr. King’s tremendous insight, courage, and dedication, all tragically cut way too short by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.
The Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many of us. Just think of the many words we associate only with Christmas. The following ten words are among them.
1. Advent – Advent is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “the coming.” By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I had instituted in the Roman church the practice of conducting a special mass on each of the four Sundays leading up to “the coming” of the Christ-child. Similar to Lent, the season of Advent included fasting and penitence followed by a time of celebration. Eventually, the penitential nature of Advent gave way exclusively to the celebratory nature. Today, Advent is still celebrated in many churches, with each Sunday featuring a different theme, such as the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of the angels and shepherds, or the gifts of the wise men—with a candle lit for each theme. Continue reading “Ten Christmas Terms Explained”
Want to listen to an audio podcast version of this post? Here you go:
Momento vs. Memento
When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common spoken mistake; the correct word is memento.
Momento is not a word. At least not in English.
It’s understandable why a lot of people (and I do mean a lot of people) get this one wrong. I can think of two reasons: (1) Momento is a Spanish word that means moment, and (2) it makes sense that the souvenir from your vacation will help you remember a particular moment—thus a momento, right? Sorry, but no. Again, sadly, momento is not a word in English.
Here’s how to keep it straight: a memento is a MEMory aid that helps you reMEMber a person, place, or thing, or comMEMorate something. That should be easy to MEMorize.
Parenthesee vs. Parenthesis
This is kind of a joke, but I have actually heard parenthesee used by more than one person. However, parentheses is the plural of the singular parenthesis, referring to the curved symbol we place around a parenthetical word or phrase. We almost always use those symbols in pairs; thus the plural parentheses is more common. (E.g., “Remember to enclose verbal asides in parentheses in your script.”)
Parenthesee, as the singular form to refer to just one of those curved things, is incorrect; it’s not a word. Nope, nope, nope. The word is parenthesis. (Yes, really!)
Both of these can be found in the chapter “Usage Uncertainties” in my new book, Whatever Happened to English? available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book versions.
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”
Two weeks ago I wrote about five pairs of commonly confused words. It’s a topic that always stimulates a lively and full-bodied discussion among readers. While waiting for that discussion to begin, I’ll present you with five more pairs of commonly confused words.
Advise vs. Advice (ad-VĪZ vs. ad-VĪS)
To advise (an action) is a verb and advice (a thing) is a noun that refers to the information given or received in the act of advising. But confusing these two words is understandable because of another pair of words, vise and vice, which are homonyms: they are pronounced exactly the same (vīs). A vise is a tool attached to a workbench that is used to hold something securely in place. A vice, as people generally use it, is a “habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming.” Advise and advice are not homonyms. They are pronounced differently and mean different things. Many people have given me sound advice about a lot of things in my lifetime, some of which I have heeded. Let me advise you to heed wise, godly advice when you receive it.
Today I hope to enlighten the world like Lady Liberty on the difference between acronyms and initialisms. My colleagues in education often joke that our realm is all about acronyms. I used to laugh at that until I sat down one day and tried to list all the acronyms for departments and programs used on our campus. Writer’s cramp forced me to stop before I’d gotten halfway through. But the joke was on me when I discovered that there are acronyms and there are initialisms and, although similar, they are technically not the same.
Acronyms are abbreviations of multi-word nouns, consisting of the initial letters of each word and are pronounceable words. That last phrase is key. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is universally known by its acronym NASA, and “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” is the mouthful better known by the acronym laser. Continue reading “Acronyms and Initialisms–What’s the Difference?”
. . . 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.
Some pairs of similar words are commonly confused in speech and in writing. There is no “speech-checker” to catch our oral miscues, unless we hang out with grammar snobs who don’t care if they keep on friendly terms with us. And with technologically as advanced as Microsoft Word’s spelling-and-grammar checker is, it doesn’t catch everything. How well do you know the differences below?
Gist vs. Just
As a kid, my teachers persistently corrected students who sloppily said things like, “I jist tapped that boy a little on his cheek—not enough to knock out that bloody tooth there on the floor.” So when we grew up, some of us were so paranoid about not saying “jist” when we should have said “just” that we now reflexively say “just” when we should say “gist” (pronounced jist). Confused? No? Well, I’m not done yet. Gist means “the main point or part.” When we’re talking about the main point or part of this article with all our friends (yes, all of them), it’s okay to call it the gist of the article—jist don’t call it the just.