To publish, or to release, a book?


Both my dad and one of my good friends are having their (respective) first books published in the coming weeks* — and the anticipation is killing me. I’ve got them both on pre-order, and amazon reminds me in red letters that “This title has not yet been released.” Released? Why not published?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb to release — in its transitive form — means (among other things) “publish or make available for publication (a document, piece of information, etc.); make available to the public (a film, recording, etc.).” The Oxford American Dictionary is a little more specific: “4. allow information to be generally available. 5. make a movie or recording available to the public.” It’s curious that neither definition offers the book as an example of this verb’s object. We’re long used to the idea of films or CDs making their public debuts in the form of a release — and indeed, movies can also “go on general release”. Both definitions above also make references to “information” being made available — but this to my mind means something quite different from the act of publishing a book or other material. To publish, according to the OED, is “to prepare and issue (a book, journal, piece of music, or other work) for public sale”.

I work in the world of music publicity, where I regularly issue press or news releases and I talk about CDs (and sometimes DVDs) being released. In the former case we’re “releasing” news and information that has, at least implicitly, been kept under wraps and from public knowledge until the appropriate time. I would argue that this sense of the verb release ties in logically with its other meanings: “to set someone free from imprisonment or confinement; free someone from a duty; allow to move freely.” Note that the OAD definition above “allows” information to be made available. It certainly implies that information that was previously restricted is at last being unleashed or revealed.

Granted, you could stretch that idea and claim that a book is being kept under wraps while it passes through the publication process, but it’s really not the same idea. So what accounts for this fairly recent phenomenon (or at least I think it’s fairly recent: please correct me if I’m wrong) of using publish and release interchangeably?

I have a few thoughts; feel free to disagree with me or to suggest other ideas.

First, is it possible that we’ve become so used to the idea of seeing, reading or hearing something the moment it becomes available — whether it’s a piece of news/gossip, a new episode or series on Netflix, or a downloadable track — that just the act of accessing or obtaining it is almost as important as the thing itself? The word release has an immediacy and even a sense of revelation that publish just can’t compete with, and we’re hungry for whatever is brand new.

Or is it something to do with the standard availability of audio and digital versions of a book, whose publication nowadays is technically more akin to a movie or CD release, given that it’s downloadable and delivered directly to your screen or device of choice?

Another related idea is that book publishers and retailers are trying to market their product as an item of leisure and entertainment — aligning it in the consumer’s mind more with movies and music and less as a category in its own right. Especially now that we’re one-stop shopping at online retailers, we want to load all our new releases into our virtual shopping baskets — whether we end up watching, listening to or reading them once they’re in our clutches.

The word publish might just have become too old-fashioned for the modern young reader-slash-consumer. It conjures up dusty images of paper, ink and printing presses, pesky nit-picking editors, and an interminable wait that guarantees it will be out of date before it even lands on the doormat (even if it is a timeless novel). The modern-day book is hip, fresh, immediate and current: it’s ‘released’ instantaneously and accessed with the touch of a button. Why would anyone consider publishing anything any more?

Damian Fowler’s Falling Through Clouds is published by St. Martin’s Press on April 29; Brian Barder’s What Diplomats Do is released on July 16 by Rowman & Littlefield.

Posted in Nit-picking, Words, phrases & expressions, Yanks vs. Brits | Tagged Brian Barder book, Damian Fowler book, publish or release book | Leave a comment

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (April 11)


An endangered species?

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky …

The weird word of the week is incarnadine: see definition below. And in the news this week: a grammatical bank robber; a grammatically incorrect and insolent student; no freedom for the Eskimos; some extinct and endangered names; and some bananarama …

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An English teacher who received a rude, expletive-filled letter from one of his or her disgruntled students took a red pen and returned it with corrections. The closing comment? “Please use your education appropriately. Proofreading takes five minutes and keeps you from looking stupid.” The Telegraph (and lots of other publications) had the story.

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There isn’t an Inuit word for freedom; the closest they come is annakpok which means “not caught”. The BBC included this fact in its freedom season.

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Bananas: did you know that a bunch of bananas is called a hand and that individual bananas are called fingers? I didn’t either … But mental_floss did.

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Do you know anyone called Fanny, Gertrude, Gladys, Margery, Marjorie, Muriel, Cecil, Rowland, Willie, Bertha or Blodwen? Probably not — at least not in the UK — since they are now all “extinct” in that county. None have been recorded in the latest record of births. Clifford, Horace, Harold, Doris, Norman and Leslie are all endangered, so think about them when you’re next naming a baby, if you want to keep those names alive. The Telegraph reports.

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A bank robber in Denver seems to have left his (or her) mark with grammatically immaculate demand notes. Local law enforcement officials have named the suspect (who is still on the lam) the ‘Good Grammar Bandit’.  “It’s well punctuated, there’s proper sentence structure, the spelling is correct,” FBI Denver spokesman Dave Joly told ABC News. “He did a nice job.”

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Weird word of the week: incarnadine: adj – 1. flesh-colored; 2. crimson or blood-red.

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my  hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”
– Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II

Posted in Grammar, Language, Nit-picking, Spelling, TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky, WWW: Weird Word of the Week | Tagged Inuit word freedom, No, TGIF That Gerund Is Funky, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red, weird word of the week | Leave a comment

Are you talking eggcorns?

George W. Bush

Dubya: An egghead or an eggcorn?

Admit it: at some point you’ve asked yourself this question. When you’re anticipating that awful something that might or might not come to pass, should you be saying “if worse comes to worst” or “if worst comes to worst”? (Some of you might even be thinking of a third way of expressing that most disagreeable scenario. Now I’ve got you wondering …) You’re not really sure which is correct, since they sound almost identical coming out of most people’s mouths and you’re wondering whether logically that first word should be a comparative (more) or a superlative (most). Welcome to the world of eggcorns, which we all — or at least most of us — are guilty of uttering with amusing and unknowing regularity. What’s an eggcorn? It’s a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting another one, with an element of the original being substituted for one that sounds very similar or identical.

Here are some classic phrases that are often spoken — or spelled — as eggcorns. You might be surprised to find out that you’ve been spouting eggcorns all these years — or even worse: that you’ve been laughing at other people’s eggcorns that aren’t really eggcorns at all …


If worse comes to worst  or  If worst comes to worst  or even  If worse comes to worse

Meaning “should the worst possible scenario come to pass”. I’ll let Ben Zimmer explain this one to you, as he did in the New York Times‘s On Language column a couple of years ago. The history and “correct” (or at least the original) version of this expression might surprise you.

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For all intents and purposes  or  For all intensive purposes

Meaning “for all practical or important purposes”, “practically speaking”. For everyone who says “intensive purposes”, I’m afraid you’ve been using a classic eggcorn. The expression “for all intents and purposes” dates back to the 1500s in English law, where it originally had a longer incarnation: “to all intents, constructions, and purposes”.  It can be found in an act of legislation passed by Henry VIII in 1547.

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Champing at the bit  or  Chomping at the bit

Meaning “to be restlessly impatient to start”. There’s a horsey origin to the phrase. Champ is a verb meaning ‘to make a noisy biting or chewing action with the jaws and teeth”. Horses are said to ‘champ at the bit’, with bit referring to the mouthpiece of a horse’s bridle. According to the Oxford English Dictionarychamp has meant to bite (noisily, on something hard) since about 1577. If you say chomp at the bit, you’re in good company and using an ancient eggcorn of sorts (or you might be an American). Chomp became a variant of champ in the 17th century, although early references have people or animals chomping on food rather than on metal bits. Chomp in the context of “chomping at the bit” has become fairly standard in American English (although the American Heritage Dictionary still lists only champ in this context).

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Slight of hand  or  Sleight of hand

Referring to a technique used by magicians or card sharps to surreptitiously move or hide cards, coins or other objects to produce an effect. Which is it? Does it rhyme with kite or weight? See this earlier Glossophilia post to find out …

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No holds barred  or  No holes barred

Meaning “not subject to restriction” or “free from rules or parameters”. If you’re using holes, you’re using an eggcorn. The expression originates in the sport of wrestling, of which there are many forms. Historically there were no real rules restricting the wrestlers’ actions, but once FILA (the sport’s governing body) introduced certain regulations, there were prohibitions on wrestlers’ holds — ie. how they hold their opponents. Nowadays there are two forms of the sport in which no holds are barred: hardcore wrestling and cage fighting. Hence the expression “no holds barred”.

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To the manner born  or  To the manor born

Meaning, for all intents and purposes, “destined to be suited to the custom or lifestyle in question (often high-class or noble in quality) by virtue of birth”   Glossophilia looked at the history of this expression in an earlier post on eggcorns. Find out whether Hamlet described himself as to the manor or manner born — and whether you’ve been in synch with Shakespeare’s hero all these years …

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Toe the line  or  Tow the line?

Meaning “to conform to a standard or rule”. We covered this athletic (or is it nautical?) phrase earlier on Glossophilia too: see an exploration/explanation here. Do you conform with your feet, or with a long rope attached to a ship?

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To give someone free reign  or  To give someone free rein

Giving someone “free reign” does seem to make sense, implying that they are being imparted with royal powers as a monarch does when she reigns over her subjects. But the origin of the phrase comes from horse-riding rather than ruling countries. When she comes across troublesome terrain, the rider will allow her horse to navigate the terrain on his own instinct by loosening the reins — and hence you give someone “free rein”.

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I couldn’t care less  or  I could care less

Meaning “I don’t give two hoots”, or “I really don’t give a damn” (as proclaimed famously by Rhett Butler).  Perhaps this is less an eggcorn and more just lazy/evolutionary syllable-dropping — especially by American speakers, amongst whom “I could care less” is more common and becoming standard. But logically, if you really could care less, then don’t you actually care quite a lot?

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Should/could have   or  Should/could of

Again, this isn’t a true eggcorn but really just represents a common erroneous verb conjugation.

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Eggcorns shouldn’t be confused with malapropisms (when someone mistakenly uses a word that sounds like another word with a very different meaning — with unintended amusing results). For more on single-word malapropisms (featuring the masterful Mr. Malaprop himself, George W. Bush), see this earlier Glossophilia postMondegreens are a form of eggcorn, in that they represent an error of the ears. We’ll compile a list of classic mondegreens in a later post.

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Can you think of other eggcorn phrases? Please add them in the comments section below.


Posted in Words, phrases & expressions, Yanks vs. Brits | Tagged champing or chomping at the bit, for all intensive purposes, for all intents and purposes, for all intents and purposes or intensive purposes, give free reign or free rein, if worse comes to worst or worst comes to worst, no holes barred or no holds barred, slight or sleight of hand, to the manner born or to the manor born, toe or tow the line | Leave a comment

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (April 4) – plus WWW


The weird word of this week is hederigerent. See its definition below.

In the news this week: a language error by the Ukrainians; some poetic abstract nouns that no longer exist; bad spelling in the baseball stadium; and getting your spelling and punctuation right when you’re in court …

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Shortly after taking power, Ukraine’s new government made the unforced error of revoking a 2012 law granting the Russian language an official status (alongside Ukrainian) in regions where Russian-speakers predominate, according to an article in The Economist.

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mental_floss brings us 14 abstract nouns that once graced our language but eventually became obsolete. Terribility and fewty: how have we managed without you?

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A Red Sox fan doesn’t seem to mind showing a baseball stadium how bad her spelling is. Deadspin helped her bad spelling go viral.

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Watch your ps, qs, spaces and dots — especially if you’re making a legal claim for collateral from a company going bankrupt. In a recent bankruptcy court ruling, a creditor lost its security interest in the assets of a bankrupt company because it left two periods and one space out of its paper work. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story.

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Weird word of the week: hederigerent: adjective, “bearing or ornamented with ivy”. Etymology is unknown.

Posted in Spelling, TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky, Words, phrases & expressions, WWW: Weird Word of the Week | Tagged hederigerent meaning, that gerund is funky, weird word of the week | Leave a comment

Spelling pigs


We’ve all heard of spelling bees – and we’ll be reading all about them in the run-up to the big bee next month, as kids compete in regional bees around the country hoping to win a coveted place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee final in May.

Now here’s a question: is it conceivable that a pig will one day enter — and even win — the National Spelling Bee? Will we be talking about spelling pigs as well as spelling bees? The idea might not be as far-fetched as it sounds, given the unexpected findings of a recent study by English psychologists examining the language acquisition skills of non-human mammals.

In a 4-year study by scientists at the University of Sheffield in the UK, involving 240 pigs of four different breeds — Vietnamese Potbellies, British Lops, German Landraces, and Guinea Hogs — the little porkies were given instructions directing them to eat, drink, wash or lie down using simple verbal imperatives – such as “EAT FOOD” or “DRINK WATER”, and the instructions were enhanced by accompanying spoken directives. The study was designed to assess porcine reading and word recognition skills observed — sometimes quite notably — in particular breeds. But an error by one of the study technicians, at a hog-farm in Nether Edge, produced a surprising result in the porcine subjects: when a simple spelling error was inadvertently introduced (in this case it was the transposition of two letters), the normally literate pigs didn’t follow the instructions, and in some cases they became mildly agitated or displayed unusual behavior. One Guinea Hog circled around his tail for several minutes; a Vietnamese Potbelly lifted his head and snout and sniffed in the air repeatedly. To investigate this surprising observation, further spelling errors of different types (ie. dropped letters, letter substitutions) were introduced into the study, and researchers found that a significant proportion of the literate pigs failed to respond to familiar instructions that they had previously followed. The results of the study were published last week in the Journal of Language Development and Acquisition, vol. xvi.

Linguists in Denmark hope to replicate the experiment using other breeds of swine; if the results can be corroborated by similar responses in Danish Landraces (whose spatial recognition skills aren’t as pronounced as those of their German cousins), we should prepare for the eventuality of little piggies stealing crowns from diminutive spelling champions. As George Harrison asked and observed:

“Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts?
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt
Always have clean shirts to play around in” …

Posted in Spelling | Tagged Scripps National Spelling Bee | 1 Comment

Humbled — or uncomfortably proud?


When Jonathan Ive — the Apple tech guy behind the iPod and other iDevices — was given a knighthood back in 2012, he spoke of his gratitude and delight: “To be recognised with this honour is absolutely thrilling and I am both humbled and sincerely grateful.”

It’s become almost obligatory for anyone receiving an honor nowadays to speak publicly of feeling humbled. Those who utter the word while clutching their trophy or rising from the tap of the Queen’s sword are invariably hoping to convey a sense of modesty and unworthiness: it’s a common way of expressing a sense of pride while at the same time trying to avoid ownership of that deadly human sin.

In fact, claiming to be humbled by an honor, award or any kind of social elevation is turning the word on its head. As someone argued on an online discussion board, “It may be argued that many of those expounding their humility are anything but humble!!”

Humble (the adjective) is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 1. having or showing a low estimate of one’s own importance; (of an action, thought, etc.) offered with or affected by such an estimate; lacking assertion, deferential, or 2. of lowly rank or condition; modest; (of a thing) of modest dimensions, pretensions, etc. And as a verb, to humble means to lower oneself in respect or submission, or — transitively — to lower (something or someone) in dignity, position etc.; to abase. So if you’re being elevated in society’s estimation by receiving an honor, you should logically feel the opposite of humbled — even if it does feel undeserved or uncomfortable. You might argue that you felt sufficiently humble before being honored to suggest a sense of unworthiness, but afterwards the lowliness should abate rather than deepen.

Technically, you can’t really feel humbled — ie. brought down to a lower level — unless you already think highly of yourself. In the headline that Worldcrunch gave its piece about the American president’s recent meeting with the Argentine pontiff in Rome —  ”How Obama Was Humbled by Pope Francis” — the word was used entirely appropriately. In the presence of this lofty leader, the President did arguably feel more lowly in status, and hence he felt truly humbled.

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Posted in Etymology, Words, phrases & expressions | Tagged humble misuse, humble or proud, Obama Pope humble | Leave a comment

TGIF & WWW: March 28


Cockney rhyming slang courtesy A Salt and Battery on Facebook this week

The weird word of the week is galimatias: see its definition below.

That Gerund Is Funky … In the news this week: a deadly spelling error; sign language in Italy and dogs; the true meaning of grammar; and some ever enjoyable Yank-Brit differences.

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U.S. authorities missed several chances to detain Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for his terror training, thanks partly to a deadly spelling error. On one occasion, Tsarnaev, thought to be possibly armed and dangerous, was set to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database. NBC News reports.

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When most people write about grammar (especially when they’re listing or testing for “grammatical errors”), are they really talking about grammar — or something else? Rob Reinalda sets us straight on Huffington Post. Thank you, Rob; I’m so glad someone finally wrote this important article.

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Deaf dogs are learning sign language in Nebraska, according to

In Italy, where its inhabitants’ characteristic hand gestures and physical gesticulations are almost as important as the language itself — to the extent that they have their own dictionary and every Italian understands their meanings, the local sign language for the deaf isn’t legally recognized. The BBC reports on this strange anomaly.

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Anglophenia gives us five tiny U.S. phrases with opposite meanings in the UK. Like table, and bills

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Weird word of the week: galimatias. n. nonsense; gibberish; confusing or meaningless talk.

“Easy at first, the language of friendship
Is, as we soon discover,
Very difficult to speak well, a tongue
With no cognates, no resemblance
To the galimatias of nursery and bedroom,
Court rhyme or shepherd’s prose,”

– from W. H. Auden’s For Friends Only



Posted in Language, Spelling, TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky, Words, phrases & expressions, WWW: Weird Word of the Week, Yanks vs. Brits | Tagged Boston bomber spelling error, galimatias, tgif, that gerund is funky, weird word of the week | Leave a comment

Celebrating the rule of three on Glosso’s 3rd birthday

Birthday Cupcake

Today is Glossophilia’s third birthday, and to celebrate, we’re taking a gander at the “rule of three” and its important place in the worlds of writing and storytelling. (Here’s a funny little fact: this is Glossophilia’s 333rd post. And thank you to those who come here often and who keep me supplied with tips and ideas: keep ‘em coming!)

The rule of three principle states that anything offered in a package of three is inherently funnier, more satisfying, more memorable, more intuitive, or more effective than something that comes in twos, fours or some other number. There’s a Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum”, that means, literally, “everything that comes in threes is perfect.” And so it often is when it comes to creative writing and prose: we see it in storytelling, comedy, speech-writing and advertising slogans.

What is the magic of three? Continue reading

Posted in Jokes and puns, Language, Poems, prose & song | Tagged Glossophilia birthday, rule of thirds, rule of three | 4 Comments

TGIF & WWW (March 21)


Only one news item makes the TGIF cut this week. And the weird word of the week is facinorous: see below for its definition.


A big piece of news this week – so big that it has its very own TGIF post: AP has decided to remove the distinction between over and more than. As Poynter reports, “AP Stylebook editors said at a session Thursday that “over” is fine when referring to a quantity; you don’t have to change it to “more than.” The news elicited a gasp …”


Facinorous: adjective meaning atrociously wicked, detestably bad. From the Latin facinora.

Posted in TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky, Words, phrases & expressions, WWW: Weird Word of the Week | Tagged facinorous definition, over or more than, that gerund is funky, weird word of the week | Leave a comment

The language of death and dying


I’ve recently marked an anniversary of my beloved partner’s untimely death, and a new musical work addressing the subject of dying is preoccupying my professional mind. We find it hard to talk about death. Even in our commonly unfiltered world in which our every thought and observation is broadcast widely and uncensored, the subject of death and dying is one of our last lingering taboos — or at the very least an area of verbal discomfort. There are worldwide historical taboos banning the utterance of a deceased person’s name; Freud argued that such taboos stem from the fear of the presence or of the return of the dead person’s ghost. Many of us find it hard to express our condolences to the recently bereaved, or even simply to report on a person’s death: we struggle emotionally, empathically and linguistically to find the right words. And so the verb “to die” — so stark in its definitive and final form, and yet so direct and honest in its simplicity — is often and increasingly replaced by words and sayings that soften the idea of this fearful human fate that befalls us all. Apparently more pronounced among American rather than British English speakers is a growing tendency to reach for expressions such as “passed away”, “passed on”, or simply “passed” to articulate the fact that their loved ones have made their final journeys; for many, the verb “to die” is either too harsh or fails to embrace the notion of life enduring, religiously or spiritually, beyond the grave. But there are also many who prefer to address the ultimate human act of submission using the three-letter word that best describes it, honestly and unambiguously.  Continue reading

Posted in Poems, prose & song, Words, phrases & expressions, Yanks vs. Brits | Tagged e e cummings nobody loses all the time, euphemisms for die, to die or pass away | Leave a comment