In the news: the return of Jay-Z’s hyphen

The newly rehyphenated Jay-Z

“It’s simple really. First there was a rapper called Jay-Z, who was very popular until 2013. Then he disappeared and was replaced with someone called Jay Z. But yesterday a new album was announced by someone called JAY-Z. … The musician’s hyphen has been reinstated with the announcement of his new album – but he’s far from the first pop star to opt for a change of moniker.” Read the full story in The Guardian.

And see Glossophilia’s earlier post from July 2013: “Jay Z no longer mononymous” …


Is the Cornish pasty really a Devonian pie?

A Cornish pasty / Wikimedia Commons

“Controversially, I understand the Cornish pasty may have been invented in Devon.” This explosive statement was made yesterday by Celia Richardson, the director of communications for Historic England. Er – what?  Continue reading

To summer or not to summer

Alexis Axilette’s “L’été” / Wikimedia Commons 

In the subject line of a recent press release, we announced that the pianist “Alessio Bax summers on three continents.” A couple of journalists raised their proverbial eyebrows at the word summer stepping out so nakedly and brazenly as a verb. Is this a horrid case of “verbing”, the unseemly practice of making verbs out of nouns that Benjamin Franklin described as “awkward and abominable” in the late 18th century (and which Glossophilia discussed in an earlier post, “A-verbing we will go”)? Or are we allowed “to summer” as wistfully and prettily as Jay Gatsby did in West Egg back in the 1920s? Continue reading

A source for Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote about faith and the staircase?

Martin Luther King Jr. / Wikimedia Commons

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

When you search for that sentence on Google, you’ll get about 3,700,000 results — most of which attribute the statement (sometimes as a paraphrase) to Martin Luther King Jr. But can anyone find a source for that citation? I have searched on the King Institute web site — probably the most comprehensive collection  “of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published writings, and unpublished manuscripts” — and found nothing resembling that sentence.

Can anyone shed any light on the history of this famous quotation?

Many thanks to Bronwyn for raising this interesting query.


Voir dire: to see them say, or to tell the truth?

“The Jury” by John Morgan / Wikimedia Commons

If you’re an American and you’ve ever served on a jury — or at least been through the jury selection process (as I’ve done in the last couple of days)  — you’ll be very familiar with the term voir dire. It’s the name (at least in America) of the process all prospective jurors have to go through to be selected to serve on a particular trial. And the attorneys asking all those probing questions might well explain by way of introduction the origins and meaning of that curious name, voir dire, as a translation of the two modern French verbs: “to see [them] say.” At which point, you might as a prospective juror want to jump up from your seat and shout “Objection!” (Or you might not, since you probably don’t want to be rejected from the jury for being a jerk.) Continue reading

Oxymoron — and other oxymora

It’s inspiring to see grammar lessons on the New York subway, especially when your express train is running on the local track. Now everyone who took the A train on the C line last week knows what an oxymoron is. And just in case you’re still not sure what the ad pictured above means (because shrimps aren’t always tiny, are they?): it’s a figure of speech — an oxymoron — in which apparently contradictory terms are joined together to emphasize the very paradox of their conjunction. It’s often used nowadays more loosely to mean “contradiction in terms,” which is literally what it is. Oxymoron is in fact an oxymoron itself, derived from the Greek word oxus, meaning “keen or sharp”, combined with moros, which means “foolish”.  Continue reading

Verbs born of names

What do the following verbs — all (except one) in fairly common modern usage — have in common? Clue: they all started their lives in the English language with capital letters (and a few of them still carry their initial cap in deference to their namesakes). Can you think of any others? Continue reading

A sonnet on William Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday

Claude Monet: Springtime / Wikimedia Commons

Sonnet 98

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

— William Shakespeare, born on this day in 1564

*   *   *