Saturday, June 17, 2017

Udderly Slow



Jim from Northport wrote: “The other night on Wheel of Fortune, the contest phrase was, till the cows come home. I say that the use of till in that clause is incorrect, while my wife argues that it is correct. My logic is that you don't till cows. The word is supposed to be a contraction of the word until. Therefore the contest phrase should have been ‘til the cows come home. Please point us in the correct direction.”

As far as meaning goes, if you observe cows milling about, they are notoriously leisurely, and they wander almost aimlessly. So the image tells you that something is going to take so long that frustration is almost guaranteed.

Jim, I fear that your wife is correct. The heart of the matter here is that till is a word all by itself, not a shortened version of until. In addition,‘til is a fairly recent invention. It is not universally accepted as a contraction of until, and its use in formal writing is discouraged.

Adding to the difficulty is that the word till has multiple meanings. Additionally, it can function not only as a verb and a noun, but also as a preposition, a conjunction, and an adverb. In the case of till the cows come home, till functions as a subordinating conjunction; its role is to complete or enhance the meaning of the accompanying independent clause: “Junior, you can beg for the car keys till the cows come home, but it ain’t gonna happen.”

As a conjunction, till means “up to the time of,” and the first use cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1154. As a matching conjunction, until means “up to the time of,” and it doesn’t appear until 1330. So till and until are pretty much interchangeable in that sense.

What drew Jim off target was one of the verb meanings of till – to work the soil for planting. The figurative use of the verb means to cultivate some quality of mind or spirit. As a noun, till can refer to a drawer or money-box in a business, or to a stratum of hard clay or shale. But those meanings turn out to be irrelevant in this case.

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, May 28, 2017

Whoever or Whomever?


Fran from Suttons Bay was watching reruns of Criminal Minds when she heard the following dialogue:  “The killer wants to inflict fear not only in the victim, but in whomever finds the body.”  She wonders if that should have been whoever.

The preposition in certainly does need an object, but an object isn’t always a single word; it can be a phrase or even an entire clause, which is the case here.

When trying to determine whether the pronoun in this sentence should be whoever or whomever, you have to determine exactly what it is doing -- what its function is. Whoever is the subject form; whomever is the object form.

A verb always needs a subject, whether overt or implied. The verb finds in this sentence needs a subject, and in this case that duty falls to the subject form of the pronoun, whoever. That means that whoever is automatically locked in and can't be used for two separate functions. The object of the preposition in is the entire clause: “in whoever finds the body.”


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.





Saturday, May 20, 2017

Embarrass


Van from Petoskey was curious about the word embarrass. It seems to have come into English from the French, but it has cousins in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It now means to make a person or institution feel awkward or self-conscious, but that meaning evolved over time.

Originally, it meant to impede progress by putting up a barrier of some kind. The Portuguese equivalent, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, referred to restraining animals with a leash or cord. In 18th century England, a road would be embarrassed if it was blocked by fallen trees or an avalanche of rocks.

Being blocked, literally or metaphorically, would lead to confusion and uncertainty. It would stymie and perplex a person, and the inability to act would make him or her feel helpless, leading to a feeling of inadequacy.

These feelings often trigger the fight-or-flight response. The subsequent release of chemicals often causes an embarrassed person to blush as blood flow increases to the blood vesels in the cheeks.

The suggestion that embarrassment must involve exposed buttocks is not seated in reality.


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, April 30, 2017

Candidity


I know there’s no such word as candidity,  but I like the sound of it. A listener asked about the word candor. It now means openness, frankness, and outspokenness. Originally (14th c.), it meant brilliant whiteness. That’s no surprise, since it came from a Latin word that meant whiteness. It then (17th c.) expanded into innocence, integrity, and purity of character.

Other words share the same Latin root. One of them is candid. It, too, started out meaning whiteness, then morphed into innocent and pure, then into free from malice, then into open and straightforward. In photographic terms, it came to mean an informal or unposed photo.

The word candidate also stemmed from the Latin word for whiteness. This is because Romans running for office wore white togas. If their campaign caught on fire, it was positively candescent.

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.





Saturday, April 15, 2017

No Man Is An Island


The Latin word insula had two meanings, one dry and one wet. It meant a block of buildings separated from surrounding structures, and it also meant an island – a land mass completely surrounded by water.

It shows up in words like insulate, insulated, and insulation. In those words, it can mean much the same as isolation, but it can also refer to a protective covering or barrier. This appears in reference to electricity, sound, and heat or cold.

It takes on a negative sense in words like insular and insularity. The stereotype is that people who live on an island are cut off from mainlanders, and are thus prone to narrow or prejudiced feelings, ideas, or social expectations. Their minds allegedly close up, just as their island is closed off from the rest of society.

The Latin root also shows up in the word peninsula. I remember a student who was convinced that a peninsula was so named because it was shaped like a penis. I had a difficult time convincing him that it came from the words paene insula, almost an island. Replace the connection to the land mass with more water, and you would have a full-fledged island.

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.





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