Pride Goeth Before a Fall

Eiffel Tower (Photo: ©Howard E. Daniel, 1965-2018) Have you ever been too embarrassed to dust off your high school French or Spanish when you’re in a country where you’re actually immersed in that linguistic environment? It can be pretty uncomfortable, as I can attest from witnessing any number of such situations. Some people — even […]

Passive Aggression

Blowout party with cake The Supreme Court hearings in Washington have primed me for a rant. No, not a political rant. You can find those everywhere you look on the internet. What I have in mind to rant about, instead, is the passive voice. It brings out the aggressiveness in me. Not passive aggression, but […]

Is It Fun or Is It ‘Barbarous’?

End of the “Cretinaceous” — not much fun Fun is a funny word. The dictionary says it’s a noun, which is clear in sentences like: We had fun (fun is the object of the verb had) The roller coaster was a lot of fun (here, fun is the object of the preposition of) In recent years, however, fun has also come […]

Blowing Smoke: Memories of 8 a.m. Russian Class

Since I couldn’t find a suitable photo of a cigarette-smoke ring on Google, here are some shots of a volcano puffing one out. Wow! Last November, in writing about the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, I recalled the birth of my interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. I wrote that when I began […]

PORE vs. POUR

A couple of weeks ago (July 3), Donald Trump – who claims to take pride in his ability to write – published a tweet that read, in part, “…the Fake News constantly likes to pour over my tweets looking for a mistake.” Far be it from me to dump on a guy who, even if […]

TOE the Line vs. TOW the Line

Toeing the line Here’s an amusing misuse of a common phrase – “toe the line.” Some writers mistakenly render it “tow the line.” The right way, using the word “toe,” creates the image of someone placing his or her foot exactly at the line – perhaps a starting line for a race or, more commonly, […]

Kisses and Buses: Do You Know the Difference?

Can you tell the difference between a kiss and a bus? What a crazy question! A kiss is a smooch and a bus is a coach, two entirely different things (that almost rhyme). Do you know any other words for kiss? Probably very few. Smooch is pretty good, and if you want to pile on […]

ADVOCATE vs. ADVOCATE FOR

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating equal rights for all. Hang on tight, everyone. Here’s another language rant. This one’s about a widespread example of English usage in need of improvement: writing advocate for instead of, simply, advocate, where advocate is a verb. I believe the confusion originates in this word’s ability to serve as […]

Which Is it? Visit or Visitation?

As the holidays approach, so do family gatherings. If the relatives are coming to town, the question arises: what should we call the occasion, a visit or a visitation? I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen the word visitation misused for visit. It reminds me of the times I’ve seen simplistic erroneously used for […]

‘Reference’ vs. ‘Refer’

George Orwell, author of 1984 and, among much else, an essay, “Politics and the English language,” which includes six rules of writing (see below) Here’s a use of a word I believe good writers should always avoid: reference when the simple verb refer is what’s really meant. Reference is a perfectly good noun: The professor […]