1. n. The love of language

Placebo: from funeral-crasher and sycophant to inactive or sham therapy

by Louise


Watching a TV review of the new off-Broadway musical comedy Placebo (in which “Louise is working on a placebo-controlled study of a new female arousal drug”*), I learned something interesting — not about myself or female arousal drugs, but about the word that gives the show its title. It didn’t always mean a therapy that provides a psychological benefit rather than a physiological effect or a dummy drug used in clinical trials. Apparently the word’s etymology is revealed and discussed in the early part of the new play, so we’ll do the same here (but without the arousal effect) … Read the rest of this entry »

The narrative you

by Louise


“After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. It seems the right number of cultural events. On the stereo you play your favorite harp and oboe music.”

“Your day breaks, your mind aches / You find that all the words of kindness linger on / When she no longer needs you”

Read the rest of this entry »

The history of happy (on International Day of Happiness)

by Louise


Happy International Day of Happiness!

Be happy. Or happy someone today. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, happy used to be a transitive verb meaning “to make happy”.

Fortune shines on you when you’re happy. Read the rest of this entry »

The chance of a link between casual and casualty

by Louise


A scene from the popular British TV soap “Casualty”

Bloomberg View reported earlier this week that “U.S. Exaggerates Islamic State Casualties”, and a headline in the Detroit News read: “Marine casualties from Fla. helicopter crash identified”. The context of the statements leaves us in no doubt about what is meant by the word casualty here: it’s being used in its most extreme and tragic sense — to signify death. (In its plural form it’s commonly used to denote the death-count from a war or accident.)

We also meet the word casualty in a slightly different incarnation. “The unseen casualties of Japan’s lost decades suffer in silence”, reported Sahoko Kaji recently in the Financial Times, and “The Journalistic Casualties of The Guardian’s Erroneous Whisper Story” was a headline in New York magazine a few days ago. Again there’s no ambiguity here in the sense of the word, which can also refer to someone injured (in a war or accident) or a person or thing lost in or badly affected by an event or phenomenon. (In the UK there’s an additional meaning: you go to “casualty” — just as an American might head to the ER — for treatment after an accident or emergency.)

Now let’s turn to the adjective casual, so close in spelling to the ominous noun, and suddenly the mood is lifted. Whether it describes something happening by chance (i.e. not planned or expected), informal (i.e. calling for ordinary dress or behavior), or done without much thought, effort or concern, the word seems very far away in meaning or nuance from the mortal or grave sense of casualty, which is invariably associated with disaster. Can the words possibly be related? Read the rest of this entry »

Naming that app (applr, …)

by Louise

 directr   trrigr  mixlr      foodler   yummly

At the time of writing, there are just over 915,400,000 live websites online — and counting, according to New apps and sites are being added to our cyber-world by the second — and as fast as the new hopefuls pop up on our screens with their snappy vowel-less monikers, so do hundreds of Zuckerberg-wannabes surrender their lowercase domain names back to GoDaddy, hanging their bearded chins in their youthful hands and wondering what went wrong. Well, one thing that helps make a good site is a good name. But what gives a cyber-name its magic? Read the rest of this entry »

Answer to yesterday’s short grammar quiz

by Louise

Yesterday was National Grammar Day, and Glossophilia published a short grammar quiz. We asked how many of these eleven images depicted a grammatical mistake. The answer is:


Here’s why:



This is not a question of grammar, but rather of vocabulary or word choice. The use of the word infer here is correct: the pumpkin (and the audience) infers from what it sees that it will soon be made into a pie.




This is not a grammatical mistake, but one of spelling. The plural of Oreo is “Oreos” — without the apostrophe.



This sign originally contained a grammatical mistake: the verb “drive” needs an adverb (“slowly”) rather than an adjective (“slow”) to modify it. But thankfully someone corrected it. So there’s no error here, grammatical or otherwise.




Although an infinitive (“to be”) has been split with the adverb “really”, placing the adverb anywhere else in this particular title would be convoluted and might possibly change its meaning. This is a good example of when it’s OK to split an infinitive, even though it’s desirable to avoid doing so whenever possible. (See Glosso’s recent post on split infinitives.)





This sentence is awash with spelling and punctuation errors, but not grammatical mistakes. You’re needs an apostrophe; it’s needs an apostrophe; a comma would be nice after the word this; and the sentence could probably do with a period at the end. And does it really have to be spelled in all caps?




“Between you and me” is grammatically correct. The objective pronouns you and me are appropriate for the objects governed by the conjunction between.




“Clam” is a typo: a simple spelling mistake. It is not a grammatical error.




Using over instead of more than to indicate greater numerical value was a no-no for a while.   It used to be that if you were discussing countable quantities, you would use “more than” to describe a greater amount, and if you were talking about spatial dimensions, you used over to indicate greater dimensions. However, last year the Associated Press announced a change to the AP Stylebook, joining most other usage guides in determining that more than and over are both acceptable in all uses to indicate a greater numerical value. And anyway, isn’t this a case of word choice rather than grammatical standards?




The use of the word literally in this advertisement is questionable. But this is a matter of vocabulary or word choice, and not a grammatical faux pas. You might argue that the one-word sentence, “Literally.”, is a grammatical error, but you’d be wrong. Totally.




Assuming that Rachael Ray doesn’t enjoy cooking her family or her pet canine, there is a comma missing after the word cooking. This is a punctuation error, not one of grammar.




How can a company named “apostrophe” insert a rogue apostrophe in it(‘)s advertising? Well, this one did. It made a common spelling error, but not a grammatical mistake.

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It’s National Grammar Day: take a short grammar quiz

by Louise

It’s National Grammar Day! To celebrate the occasion, take Glosso’s short quiz to find out if you know your grammar. Have fun and good luck!

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How many of the eleven images below depict a grammatical mistake? Post your number (no spoilers please) in the comments section; the answer, with explanations, will be published tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

To boldly go where Byron went before …

by Louise


Are we now safe to boldly go where we weren’t allowed to before? Glossophilia tackles the dastardly split infinitive: here’s most of what you hoped possibly to know — or hoped to possibly know — about grammar’s favorite villain.

Lord Byron’s poem Solitude, written in the early 19th century, opens with these lines:

“To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene” Read the rest of this entry »

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (Feb 27)

by Louise


TGIF. Language and usage in the news this month: confessions of a comma queen; the possible death of “uh”; a town torn apart by an apostrophe; the mid-Atlantic language mash-up; some non-translatable idioms; what your pronunciation says about you; and a critique of Wikipedia’s grammar vigilante. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry in Motion: 9

by Louise



Seen on the NYC subway C train, Feb 25, 2015.