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, dictionary.com 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


On July 4th, let’s pay tribute to the legendary Richard Stands. Name ring a bell? Here’s a reminder …
cc some rights reserved, by respres

I pledge allegiance to the flag

of the United States of America

and to the Republic

for Richard Stands … .

Maybe YOU were able to make sense of all the chanted lines in the Pledge of Allegiance. Took me a while. So, I can understand how many American schoolchildren came up with such unintentionally humorous phrases as “Richard Stands” or even “witches stands” for the line that goes “which it stands.”

“Richard Stands” is one of the most common mishearings or misinterpretations of the words to the Pledge of Allegiance — and one of the best examples of a class of creative homonyms dubbed mondegreens.

Mondegreen is a term coined by American writer and editor Sylvia Wright in a column for Harper’s Magazine (1954). Seems that Ms. Wright had misheard the last line in a favorite Scottish ballad – the line being “And laid him on the green” – as “And Lady Mondegreen.” The neologism stuck.

When you perceive a word, lyric or phrase as another viable word or phrase — that’s a mondegreen. And the thing is, it may be years before you find yourself slapping your forehead and saying, “Oh, is THAT what it says?!” Mondegreens tend to be very personal, however several examples, especially in song, have achieved classic status.

Famous song mondegreens of a certain era:

  • “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” from Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix

One more thing about mondegreen, the word. It’s been slow to be accepted by the dictionary police. It’s not in my Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary – Eleventh Edition, but IS in the M-W 2008 update.

July 04 2009 | mondegreen | 1 Comment »


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


That is frustrating.

  • What is frustrating?

Not what. That.

  • That is what’s frustrating?


Here are some examples of the way that functions in a sentence.

That = demonstrative adjective.  
I’m reading that new Casey Jones mystery.

That = demonstrative pronoun.
We’ll see about that.


That = relative pronoun
He found the chips that you hid under the sofa.
I feel sorry for the team that plays against UNC.

That = subordinating conjunction
I think that the boss is inebriated.

*Thanks to Mr. Adams for explaining that.

March 23 2009 | parts of speech | 2 Comments »


I was at a meeting last week where a committee member proposed “to operationalize the strategy.” Ugh!

That’s a lot of syllables for a word that means to begin or more specifically, to cause to be operational. But why does this -ize word sound particularly jargon-y and like it’s trying too hard?

Sometimes the -ize have it and sometimes they don’t. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, -ize was introduced into English in the late 16th century “to remedy the surplus of monosyllabic words.” Huh.

Turns out the multi-faceted suffix has been drawing criticism ever since. The oft-used shortcut to verbing nouns and adjectives has resulted in many words in common usage. Think strategy/strategize, economy/economize, sync/synchronize.

The suffix works especially well with words ending in l, as with crystal and final. And sometimes the root word has disappeared right from under our -ize, as in mesmerize, which is derived from a proper name, Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) .

I think the problem with operationalize is its unwieldy tone and distance from the original verb, operate. To my ear, it sounds … dysfunctionalized.

March 10 2009 | -ize and errs | 1 Comment »


Funniest. Grammar. Lesson. Ever. Delivered by Sister Salad.

January 30 2009 | textual healing | No Comments »

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