Author Archives: Louise

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

Joss sticks


Remember when we used to call them joss sticks? What happened to those British hippy sticks of ’60s/’70s yore? They’re just incense now.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word joss means “Chinese figure of a deity”, taken in 1711 from Chinese Pidgin English, from the Javanese dejos, taken in the 16th century from the Portuguese deus, “god”, from the Latin deus. Colloquially, it came to mean “luck”. Joss stick, meaning “Chinese incense”, was first recorded in 1883.

“The Joss doesn’t get so many sticks burnt under his nose as he used to; that’s a sign of ill-luck, as sure as Death.” — from Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling


Meta is so meta


“A Film Critic Gets Meta (As Does Ours) In ‘The Film Critic (El Crítico),” ran the headline for a recent piece by NPR’s film critic Bob Mondello.

And he’s not talking about movie reviewers drinking Ethiopian beer on the job; this is all about an X about X … (i.e. a film critic writing about a film critic). As Mondello goes on to say: “A film critic doesn’t often have to review movies about film critics — probably a good thing — but sometimes, as with Hernán Guerschuny’s postmodern rom-com The Film Critic (El crítico), there’s nothing to be done.” Continue reading

Pardon? Say what?

Proof that Don Draper was a social climber…

“What?” … “Huh?” … “Excuse me?” … “Can you [please] repeat that?”

Those are some of the ways an American might ask you to repeat something when they didn’t hear you. And apart from their varying degrees of politeness, there’s not much to distinguish between them.

But it’s a different story on the other side of the Atlantic. Brits are inclined to judge you by how you say “huh?” — as much as by the clothes you wear, where you went to school or what accent comes out of your mouth.

“Pardon?” Continue reading

Thanks a bunch, and what’s up?

bunch    what'sup

Here are two common colloquialisms that divide Americans from their English-speaking cousins across the pond.

Last week, after news of her older brother’s stroke made headlines , Reba McEntire took to her social media channels to thank her fans and friends for their support: “We really appreciate all your thoughts and prayers. We will keep you all posted. Keep sending your prayers! Thanks a bunch!” Those last three words of gratitude from the American country singer were straightforward in their meaning. Reba was saying “thank you” with the most heartfelt sincerity.

But those words might have landed strangely on British ears, especially in that context. Continue reading

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (May 22)


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. Stories about language usage in the news this past month include unexpected Latin translations; an inappropriate exclamation mark; a famous fictional advertising exec showing off his grammatical prowess; a grammatically correct bank robber; football fans ranked by spelling and grammar ability; a punctuation-free doctoral dissertation; and a very expensive web site name.

Continue reading



Far From the Madding Crowd was Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel (written in 1874), but it was his first literary success, and it has been adapted into two notable movies — starring Julie Christie and Carey Mulligan respectively as the farmer heroine Bathsheba Everdene who is being courted by three men in England’s rustic Wessex. But as well as giving us what some people think of as one of the greatest love stories in English literature, Hardy’s novel has left a slightly more esoteric legacy, with its title living on in our language and keeping an otherwise extinct word alive. “Far from the madding crowd” still crops up in colloquial, promotional and sometimes literary prose as a poetic expression that means — when describing a place — “secluded and removed from public notice”, as the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges with a hat-tip to Hardy’s novel.  Continue reading

Don Draper is a grammar nerd … “Be still, our writerly hearts”


“If you’re a grammar nerd, no doubt your heart grew three sizes when you learned that Stannis Baratheon [from Game of Thrones] and Don Draper [from Mad Men] have something more than awkward relationships with their daughters in common. That’s right, these two emotionally unavailable men are also grammar pedants. Be still, our writerly hearts.” So wrote Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson shortly after the airing of Mad Men‘s penultimate episode a few evenings ago, and oh how right she was — about our hearts growing three sizes.

And thanks to Vanity Fair, we can now watch that breathtaking moment over and over and over again, without tiring of the memory of Don’s linguistic prowess. (Except: shouldn’t it be any more — two words — rather than one? Perhaps that’s for a separate discussion …)




Why do Brits pronounce lieutenant “leftenant”?


Back in 2013, on The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries page, a man called Jeff Rushton from London asked this very good question:

Why exactly do the British say lieutenant as ‘leftenant’? 

Armchair linguists on both sides of the Atlantic offered up various answers and suggestions: here’s a selection for your interest and entertainment … Continue reading