Friday, June 27, 2014

Terrific!

Penny from Benzonia, Michigan, called to confirm a word origin that she had heard about. The word was terrific, and she was told that it originally meant terrifying or frightening. Her information was correct. The word entered English as the equivalent of a Latin verb that meant to terrify. Now it means amazing, impressive, excellent, exceedingly good, and splendid.

It’s a great demonstration of the fact that words can accrue multiple meanings over the centuries, and that it’s even possible for the meaning to do a complete reversal. A couple of other examples spring to mind.

The word silly means foolish or frivolous. But originally it meant amazing, impressive, excellent, exceedingly good, and splendid. Before arriving at its current meaning, it meant weak or pitiable. Quite the turnaround.

The word nice is another interesting example. Now it means pleasant and considerate. When it first entered English, it meant foolish, silly, ignorant, and simple. Then it transitioned through showy and ostentatious; finely dressed and elegant; scrupulous and punctilious; fussy and strict; fastidious and decent; shy and modest; and intricate and precise. Talk about evolution.

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.






Monday, June 23, 2014

Fewer or Less?


Dave from Traverse City, Michigan, asked about the proper use of less and fewer. It's a question that has come up before, but the last time I covered it in this blog was about 8 years ago. Since it is a frequent question on my radio program, I'll cover it again.

The general rule for the difference between less and few/fewer is this:

  • (1) Use few/fewer to describe things that can be counted—fewer cigarettes, fewer cars, fewer jobs.
  • (2) Use less to describe things that cannot be counted—less smoking, less traffic, less employment.
However, to be fair, in idiomatic English—and more and more in formal usage—less is being used with a plural noun denoting time, amount (including percentage), or distance:
  • There are less than two minutes to play in the game.
  • She makes less than $40,000 a year.
  • Less than 2% of the population has celiac disease.
  • We have less than three miles to go.
In other words, sometimes separate, countable elements (which would normally need the word fewer) are treated as an unbroken unit and the word less is then acceptable. Until the dust settles, play it safe and follow rules one and two above. But don’t be surprised to see the words used interchangeably; their use is in transition.

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, June 13, 2014

Truck


Michael from Douglas Lake, Michigan, asked about a word used in the movie Rio Bravo.  He said that it was used in a sentence that ran something like, “Take care of your own truck.”

Curious to see if I could find the line in its original context, I ran a google search. To my astonishment, I discovered a web site that contains perhaps hundreds of move script transcripts. It’s called Drew’s Script-O-Rama, and it has a transcript of Rio Bravo’s dialogue.

Here is the relevant passage:

            Stumpy, where do you keep the deputy sheriff badges?

            In the right-hand drawer there.

            You know where that book is, the one with the oath?

            No! lf you can't take care of your own truck don't look for me to do it.

In context, it’s apparent that it means belongings. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “small articles of a miscellaneous character; sundries; stuff; chiefly in depreciative use: odds and ends; things of little value; trash, rubbish.” The first example cited dates to 1785.

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, June 08, 2014

Don't Interrupt Me!

Karl wrote with a punctuation question. “I frequently find myself adding information midsentence, usually a definition or an example, but using all those commas gets pretty tiresome. Are there alternatives?”

The first thing to consider is not interrupting yourself midsentence. Occasionally it seems necessary or highly effective, but if it’s become a mere reflex action, try putting the extra information in a separate sentence.

That said, there are three punctuation marks that can be used to enclose parenthetical information. They include the comma, the dash, and the parenthesis.

·      Members of the rodent family, such as mice, gophers, squirrels, beavers, and chinchillas, take their name from a Latin word meaning to gnaw.
·      Members of the rodent family—such as mice, gophers, squirrels, beavers, and chinchillas—take their name from a Latin word meaning to gnaw.
·      Members of the rodent family (such as mice, gophers, squirrels, beavers, and chinchillas) take their name from a Latin word meaning to gnaw.

And here’s the information expanded into a separate sentence:


·      Members of the rodent family take their name from a Latin word meaning to gnaw. They include mice, gophers, squirrels, beavers, and chinchillas.



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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