Were Stoics stoical?


“She endured cancer in ‘A Wedding invitation,’ as well as amnesia and a brain tumor in ‘The Stolen Years,’ with stoical ebullience.” So reported Variety in a recent film review, using a commonly used and well-understood word that the OED defines as ‘enduring pain and hardship without showing one’s feelings or complaining.” There’s little ambiguity in stoicism‘s sense of calm, grim endurance. But does this stiff-upper-lip adjective retain any of the meaning of its origins — in an Ancient Greek school of thought born in the shade of an Athens portico? Continue reading


“I really didn’t say everything I said.”


Yogi Berra, one of America’s most famous baseball players, died yesterday. He will go down in history not just for his famous catches, but also for his catchy phrases, which came to be known as “Yogiisms”. His nonsensical witticisms took the form of obvious tautologies* or paradoxical contradictions.

Some famous Yogiisms: Continue reading

The definition and etymology of Trump



From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Trump: vt. slang break wind audibly

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Trump (v.): “fabricate, devise,” 1690s, from trump “deceive, cheat” (1510s), from Middle English trumpen (late 14c.), from Old French tromperto deceive,” of uncertain origin. Apparently from se tromper de “to mock,” from Old French tromper “to blow a trumpet.” Brachet explains this as “to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying ….” The Hindley Old French dictionary has baillier la trompe “blow the trumpet” as “act the fool,” and Donkin connects it rather to trombe “waterspout,” on the notion of turning (someone) around. … Trumped upfalse, concocted” first recorded 1728.


The power of opposites in rhetoric


When Neil Armstrong climbed down a ladder from Apollo 11 in 1969 and set his foot down on the surface of the moon, he declared famously:  “That’s one small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.” That statement became almost as iconic as the moon-landing itself, capturing as it did so poignantly how a relatively mundane action could be so vast and historic in its significance. And what made that sentence work so well? It was in its use of antithesis — the bold juxtaposition of contrasting concepts placed next to each other for dramatic or rhetorical effect and carefully balanced within the structure of the sentence. Continue reading

20 words that haven’t crossed the pond (actually 21)


Update 9/16/15: I’ve just come across another one: pantywaist. See below for definition and origin.


We all know that Brits and Americans have different names for many different things — from diapers, erasers and elevators to flats, dummies and lorries. The web is bursting at the seams with trans-Atlantic dictionaries. But there’s another category of words that separate us from our English-speaking cousins: those that just don’t translate on the other side of the pond, and haven’t made the journey themselves. You’ll be hard-pressed to come up with close equivalents of these 20 words when you’re not in their native lands — and you might find yourself wondering why some of these quite useful pieces of vocabulary* haven’t been snapped up by your friends across the ocean, whether you’re American or British. And can you think of any others? Continue reading

Does political correctness always hold the trump card?


Donald Trump has declared that he has no time for “political correctness”. Well a lot of us don’t have time for you, Mr. Trump, and not just because we like to mind our verbal Ps and Qs. We at Glossophilia are all for being PC — when it’s necessary. As the NBA’s leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently commented in the Washington Post: Continue reading


Due to time and usage, “due to” and “because of” enjoy adverbial synonymy

“Due to inability to market their grain, prairie farmers have been faced for some time with a serious shortage of sums to meet their immediate needs.”

That’s not the Queen’s English!, the purists and prescriptivists are beginning to protest (and I have to admit, my ears are slightly cringing in sympathy). Isn’t “due to”, strictly speaking, an adjectival phrase, meant to describe nouns and not verbs? If you can’t replace it successfully with “caused by” or “attributable to”, shouldn’t you be sent to the grammatical corner to gather your thoughts and rephrase your words? Continue reading

16 movie title bloopers



He did? Get game? Or does that mean he has got game — currently — whatever “game”-without-an-article means? As in, “He’s got that thing called game”? Or did he get that article-less game last week, on the same night that he got milk? Maybe it becomes apparent when you see the movie (which I had the chance to do this evening when it popped up on my TV guide), but I think we can safely say that its title lacks clarity — unless game is an abstract quality that he acquired some time in the recent past…

Here are 15 other movie titles that could have done with a good edit. If you can’t work out where they went wrong, check out their copy-edited versions below. Continue reading

Homing in on home


“I’m coming home
I’m coming home
tell the world I’m coming home”

So the song goes, and it’s a familiar refrain. We all know the definition of that abstract four-letter word, whose actual meaning is unique to everyone who uses it. But here’s a funny question: when we talk about “coming home”, “going home”, “getting home” or “being home,” what role in the sentence does the generic place-name play: is it a noun, as most places tend to be, or, strangely, could it be an adverb?  Continue reading