Category Archives: Words, phrases & expressions

Highbrow: a person to regard with admiration or disdain?

phrenology

Highbrow and lowbrow come from phrenology, the 19th-century peudo-science of regarding the shape of the skull as a key to intelligence. Is highbrow — that man of high thoughts and high culture — the sort of person we all aspire to be? Or is the highbrow with his pretensions of superiority an object of disdain? Continue reading

2018’s Word of the Year

Wikipedia Commons

Collins Dictionary has selected its Word of the Year 2018. As the inhabitants of Planet Earth become ever more concerned about the environment and its alarming demise, so the words we use to describe all aspects of it — from victims to culprits, scourges to solutions  — rise in frequency and everyday usage. Collins has chosen as 2018’s top dog a common adjective that labels items — mostly made of plastic — which are made to be used once, which are poorly recyclable, and which have a significant negative impact on the environment. Can you guess what the word is? Continue reading

You say smelled, I say smelt; you say dreamed, I say dreamt …

Clothes were hung up to dry …

Men were hanged at the gallows …

There are several common verbs that have more than one past tense or past participle — like spill, and hang. Where he spilt the ink, I spilled it; the villagers hung their clothes out to dry, but they hanged their thieves. Many of these usage differences are geographical, determined largely by which side of the Atlantic you’re on. (Brits tend to prefer the poetic “t” to the more formulaic “-ed”.) But not all. There are a few other factors — some of them slightly obscure, and even possibly unconscious — that can affect which past-tense version you decide to opt for. Continue reading

Old-fashioned journo jargon

UPDATE, Nov 5: see a new entry – cock-up – below, brought to Glosso’s attention on our Facebook page.

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The world of journalism is changing — fast. Not just in terms of who is writing (or no longer writing) about what on which platform or outlet: it’s how and by what means the words travel logistically from the writer’s mind to the reader’s eye. And along with that shifting means of transport comes a whole new constantly-changing language. Let’s take a nostalgic journey back to the old-fashioned days of journalism when red pens, paper galleys, metal rules, fax and telex machines, telephones and glue sticks ruled the newsroom. Some of the old jargon from that time still floats around today, but mainly only in the dusty minds of us old scribes and subs … Continue reading

Dead & quite: How two intensifiers behave on either side of the pond

First of all, what exactly is an “intensifier,” in grammatical terms? It’s an adverb or adverbial phrase that gives the adjective it precedes extra force or emphasis. (Intensifiers are actually a particular type of what we call a “sub-modifier”: an adverb used in front of an adjective — or another adverb — to modify its meaning.) British or American, we use standard intensifiers all the time: absolutelycompletely, extremely, highly, rather, really, so, too, totally, utterly, very. And most of these “very variations” are used the same way on both sides of the Atlantic. But not all: there are in fact a couple of exceptions, one of which is quite ambiguous … Continue reading

Twit or tw*t? (Warning: explicit – but only for Americans …)

He was allowed to use the word arse last week on the Graham Norton Show, but when Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) chose another word synonymous with idiot to finish up his story (see 2:05 in the video above), BBC America roundly expunged it. BLEEP! I’m guessing that when the show aired originally in the UK a few days earlier, the four-letter word didn’t raise a single British eyebrow — let alone set off the censors’ bells. Speakers of American-English: read on at your peril … Continue reading