For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies
. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word.
Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you've noticed the return of –mentum
: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions.
With the boxing movie "Southpaw" opening, it's a good time to ponder where the term "southpaw" came from as an epithet for a left-hander. Baseball and boxing have both used the term for a long time to label lefty athletes, but which came first?
Pluto is coming into startingly sharp focus, thanks to the first images and data received from the space probe New Horizons
last week. As we learn more about this distant cousin of Earth, we're also expanding our linguistic horizons. Here's a closer look at some of the words and names in the Plutonian news.
It May Concern: who
is a subject and whom
is an object. Who
acts and whom
receives. Say what? Who
is like "he" or "she" and whom
is like "him" or "her." Who
is collecting money for homeless kittens? He is! Then to whom
does the money go? Send the money to him.
How do you comfort grammar snobs? Pat them on the back and say, their, there.
You see, they're
easily comforted, but you have to get it in writing because those words sound alike. Their
shows possession (their
car is on fire), there
is a direction (there
is the burning car),
is short for "they are" (they're
driving into the lake).
The verbs lay
are total jerks. People often say lay
when they mean lie,
but it's wrong to lay
around. You have to lay
something, anything — lay
an egg if you want. But you can lie
around until the cows come home!