Choate, couth and cognito


Disingenuous seems to be the word of the week at 21C: we’re all at pains to avoid seeming or being it in our work as publicists. But as one of my more literary colleagues pointed out: why don’t we use the word ingenuous* more often — i.e. without the “dis-” in front of it? Is there even such a word, and does it mean the opposite of disingenuous? (See below to find out.) And are there other words like this whose obvious opposites don’t seem to exist? Continue reading

From soup men to grammar nuts: is the name Nazi OK?


In a bizarre story coming out of Russia a couple of months ago (and no, it wasn’t in April), government officials in their zealous drive to purge the country of any symbols or supporters of fascism and Nazism went after a language pedant, probing his links with “grammar Nazis”. According to the Moscow Times, “prosecutors in southern Russia … summoned for questioning Alexei Pavlovsky, the head of Bonus Media, which supports the local branch of the popular Total Dictation educational project. The project tests how accurately people can transcribe a text read orally. “They asked me first about the dictation, about my other civil initiatives, and then politely inquired about what I knew about grammar Nazis, and whether they were financing my activities,” Pavlovsky wrote on his Facebook page.”

It does make you wonder just how right or OK it is for the word Nazi — a name with such abhorrent associations — to be appropriated for more benign or jokey purposes. Continue reading

Tan or tanned, brown or bronzed?


It’s tanning season again, and time for a talk about tan.

“’You’re so tan. Are you out of L.A.?’” asked the former Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, of a New York Daily News reporter recently. “Palin then confessed that her golden glow came from a salon. ‘Mine’s fake,’ she quietly confided. ‘I mean, I’m Alaskan.'” Continue reading

You say string bean, I say haricot vert …


Most of us know and agree on what “green beans” mean — i.e. what they look and generally taste like. (We also know that beans meanz Heinz — and that’s another story altogether.) But those grass-colored finger-shaped legumes have a lot of names — and not just because of the almost infinite varieties of bean, but also thanks to the inability of the Brits and Yanks to agree on what they should call them (even among their fellow citizens). Continue reading

Mad props


Warning: mildly explicit content

“Ayo I got the mad skills that make you wanna flex
I dominate this track so it’s time to have sex
But just chill while I get all in it
Cause I’m about to rip it, who said I couldn’t kick it
Uh, I get shots off just like a shotgun
Stick a fork in your butt, you’re just about done
I pour you MCs just like a lobster
Cause this hip-hopper gets props just like a mobster”

So rapped Da Youngstas in his song “Who’s the Mic Wrecka” — and I guess he should get props for rhyming “just like a lobster” with “just like a mobster”. Mad props, in fact.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, props means “respect or credit due to a person”. But where does it come from? Is it related to theatrical props? Continue reading

Love, deuce and all that jazz


Glossophilia is posting this one again — for all you tennis fans out there. Djokovic and Murray aren’t meeting tomorrow, but they’re still in the game and due to meet some time next week. Familiar faces, new balls …


They’re meeting tomorrow in what promises to be a nail-biting Wimbledon final (nail-biting at least for the great British public). But how much love will there be on Centre Court between these two formidable sportsmen, Novac Djokovic and Andy Murray? On the scoreboard, there might be a fair amount during the course of the match; perhaps not so much on the court itself. Why is love the name given to the score for zero in tennis? And what the deuce is the story behind the score for 40-all? Continue reading

Outside baseball: 20 words & expressions that came right off the batting field


“It came out of left field”; “she threw me a curve ball.” These expressions — and others like them — might have started “inside baseball”, but they’ve traveled outside the ballpark and taken root in our everyday language, especially in the mouths of North Americans. Here are 20 words and expressions that came right off the bat, or out of left or right field. Please feel free to add any others I’ve missed in the comments section below.

1) Ballpark: Continue reading

Forget Pharoah: what about the fascinating fascinator?


When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, a lot of us reached for our dictionaries as well as our superlatives. Yes, yes, we know, we know: his name is spelt wrong (or wrongly?). But that’s another story, and not the only interest Glossophilia has in horse-racing. There’s something else that fascinates us about the races, and that’s what the spectators wear on their heads: the fascinator. Continue reading