Archive for the 'General' Category


2010 brings with it a New Year’s bonus — a date that’s the same backward and forwards, Jan. 2, 2010 or 01/02/2010.

From M-W online:
palindrome: a word, verse, or sentence (as “Able was I ere I saw Elba”) or a number (as 1881) that reads the same backward or forward

Mostly, we think of palindromes as words, the simplest being three-letter words that begin and end with the same letter:

  • mom, dad, gag, poop, nun, aha, ere

Some multi-syllabic examples:

  • A Toyota
  • racecar
  • solos


  • A man, a plan, a cat, a canal – Panama
  • Dumb mud
  • Top spot

And, sentences:

  • Madam, I’m Adam.
  • Sex at noon, taxes.
  • Was it a rat I saw?
  • I did, did I?

January 02 2010 | General | Comments Off


October 21 2009 | General and mondegreen and parts of speech and some word! and textual healing | Comments Off


When Sarah Palin resigned abruptly from the governorship of Alaska, a television journalist said he was “gobsmacked” by this turn of events. My ear took note of the word (but not, unfortunately, of the name of the pundit). Then I heard it again, on another news show.

cc some rights reserved

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd must have liked the sound of gobsmacked as well. Her July 4 column included this line:

Gobsmacked Alaska politicians, Republican big shots, the national press, her brother, the D.C. lawyer who helped create her political action committee and yes, even Fox News, played catch-up.”

Nice adjective. But why use British slang for such a uniquely American political moment?

  • It’s just plain fun to say.
  • It’s fresh and attention-grabbing.
  • The nuance of the hard slap of surprise to the American public in general, and to fans of the governor, fits the context.

(Personally, I think the use of gobsmacked is Dowd’s sly way of referencing the Thanksgiving turkey incident.)

But what does it all mean?

Gobsmacked (or gob-smacked) doesn’t appear in Merriam-Websters Collegiate — we need to reach for an unabridged dictionary to do justice to the definition. In a pinch, will do. Here we learn that gob means mouth in British and smacked means, well, punched.

And I suppose that being smacked in the gob would cause a great deal of surprise.

William Safire was way out in front of this usage. His On Language column from four years ago notes the rise of gobsmacked by journalist-types.

He explains the etymology; “The Gaelic gob is ”mouth, beak.” One sense of the verb gobble, from the same French root, is ”to eat fast and greedily.” And when a politician says a mouthful with some degree of articulation, he is said to have the gift of gab.”

I love this stuff.

Safire also asks, “Will gobsmacked be a nonce word, passing through the language, soon to be forgotten?”

Not as long as politicians continue to astonish, bewilder, flabbergast and astound the citizenry.

July 14 2009 | General and news and some word! | Comments Off


jacketaspxApril 16, 2009, was the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style, that compact guide to grammar and style credited to William Strunk Jr. and the great American essayist E.B. White.

According to some linguists, this was not White’s best effort, and the book’s impact on young students is lamentable. I say, no harm done.

For a brief history of how The Elements of Style came to be published — and why it does not deserve the multi-generational loyalty it receives, read the following contrarian (and entertaining) view by linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.

An article by Sam Roberts of the New York Times, ‘The Elements of Style’ Turns 50, offers a much more balanced view of the Strunk and White phenom.

Read the original review of the 1959 publication in the New York Times, though, and you’ll see that professional writers have been disagreeing over Strunk and White’s advice from the get-go.

Arguing over grammar never goes out of style.

May 25 2009 | General | Comments Off