Sunday, March 01, 2015

Things That Are Noxious in the Night





Stella wrote to ask if the word noxious is indebted to the Latin word for night, nox. “Since primitive times,” she reasoned, “night and darkness have been seen as dangerous.”

Noxious means harmful, poisonous, and unwholesome. It comes from the Latin noxa, harm or injury. Related is the word obnoxious. Originally, obnoxious meant subject to harm. Now it refers to someone or something offensive and disagreeable. Now considered rare are two other words meaning harmful: nocible and nocive.

The Latin word for night is nox, but it has no connection to noxious other than the letter sequence. English words derived from the Latin word for night usually take their spelling from the genitive singular form, noctis, leading to words such as nocturn, nocturne, and nocturnal.

Other word parts carrying the meaning harmful include deleter- (deleterious), pericul- (periculous), and pesti- (pestiferous).

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cant


Penny asked if the word cant is just another word for slang. That’s one of the meanings of the word—a provincial dialect so peculiar that it constitutes vulgar slang—but it’s not the exclusive meaning. In fact, cant is most often described as jargon—specialized words used in a certain profession (legal jargon) or by a definable group. Jargon is deliberate and is designed as a type of shorthand for others in the same industry.

Cant (from the Latin cantus, chant), started out meaning a lilting musical sound. Then it shifted to any accent or intonation. At one point, it meant the whining of a beggar. Then it came to mean the secret language used in the underworld. It became respectable once again when it was used to mean the arcane terms used in a legitimate profession, though often such wording is viewed with contempt by outsiders.

A totally different cant, meaning an edge or corner, came from the Greek κανθός (kanthos), the corner of the eye. It meant a niche, an edge, a corner, and an inclined or slanting facet (as on a crystal).

The word cant also showed up as a term in forestry, where it meant a portion, a share, a parcel, or a division.

A fourth cant, of Irish derivation, means a disposal of property by public competition to the highest bidder; in other words, an auction.

Finally, an obsolete form of cant meant a trick or illusion.



Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Thursday, February 12, 2015

Into or In To?


Tim asked when to use into as one word and when to use in to as two words. If there’s any connection to direction or motion in the sentence, definitely use into, the single word.

·      We used to sneak into the theater through an emergency door.
·      When we drove into town, we encountered a traffic jam.
·      I’ll look into your complaint by the end of the day.
·      Step into the corridor while we clean up this mess.
In most cases, when in and to end up side by side, it’s sheer accident. The word in can be a preposition (in the basement), an adverb (come on in), an adjective (the in crowd), a noun (to have an in with the mayor), or part of a phrasal verb (to break in).
·      I listened in to the phone conversation.
·      Come in to see me any time.
·      I plan to use my "in" to influence the election.
·      Sign in to register for the conference.
If we use the phrasal verb turn in as an example, the difference in meaning and use will be more apparent. In each case below, (a) is correct and (b) would amount to magic if it were even possible.
(a) The suspect turned himself in to the police.
(b) The suspect turned himself into the police.
(a) Turn in to the driveway and wait for me.
(b) Turn into the driveway and wait for me.
(a) She turned her essay in to the teacher.
(b) She turned her essay into the teacher.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Friday, February 06, 2015

Idiom





Kelly asked about idioms, wondering if they should be treated like slang or nonstandard English. Not really. An idiomatic expression is one that the people in a given language or region understand even though it makes little sense if the words are parsed literally.

If you indicate that you are avidly listening to someone, you might say, “I’m all ears.” To acknowledge your clumsiness, you could say, “I’m all thumbs.” Neither expression is to be taken at face value, and native speakers know that.

The word idiom comes from a Greek word that meant a property or a peculiarity. Some idioms are understood by everyone who speaks a particular language. Some are confined to a particular dialect. Other limitations might include geographical area, categories of people, or a given era. These days, it has expanded beyond language and may be applied to other arts. Jazz might be referred to as a musical idiom, and cubism as an art idiom.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Dona Sheehan's prints