Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks. (note: JavaScript must be turned on in your browser to view results.)


Ask a Question!

Puzzled by Posh?
Confounded by Cattycorner?
Baffled by Balderdash?
Flummoxed by Flabbergast?
Perplexed by Pandemonium?
Nonplussed by... Nonplussed?
Annoyed by Alliteration?

Don't be shy!
Send in your question!




Alphabetical Index
of Columns January 2007 to present.


Archives 2007 – present

Old Archives

Columns from 1995 to 2006 are slowly being added to the above archives. For the moment, they can best be found by using the Search box at the top of this column.


If you would like to be notified when each monthly update is posted here, sign up for our free email notification list.






All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2020 Evan Morris & Kathy Wollard. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

Any typos found are yours to keep.

And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


TWD RSS feeds

It burns, it burns….

Geoffrey Pullum writes a review

The book is called Strictly English: The Correct Way to Write… and Why It Matters. It was published in September by Random House…. If you can feel your teeth start to itch as you read his title, don’t buy the book. Look at it in the front of the bookstore and then put it back on the table. It really is that pompous, and for true bone-headed blundering stupidity about grammar it actually gives The Elements of Style a run for its money.

I know that a few tender souls will feel that there must be something good in everything, and that I really shouldn’t be so negative. So I will say one favorable thing about the book. Holding it in my hands did not make my skin erupt in a horrible disfiguring disease. There. I’m done. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to be fair and balanced.

via Language Log » Strictly incompetent: pompous garbage from Simon Heffer.

By the way the excellent and eminently sane Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage is available in toto, gratis at Google Books.

I could care less

Jan Freeman celebrates (?) the 50th anniversary of the usage so many people love to hate:

It was 50 years ago this month — Oct. 20, 1960 — that one of America’s favorite language disputes showed up in print, in the form of a letter to Ann Landers. A reader wanted Ann to settle a dispute with his girlfriend: “You know that common expression: ‘I couldn’t care less,’ ” he wrote. “Well, she says it’s ‘I COULD care less.’ ”

Ann voted with her reader — “the expression as I understand it is ‘I couldn’t care less’ ” — but she thought the question was trivial. “To be honest,” she concluded, “this is a waste of valuable newspaper space and I couldn’t care less.”

She couldn’t have known it at the time, but her reader’s trivial question would be wasting newspaper space (and bandwidth, too) for decades, as it blossomed into one of the great language peeves of our time. In 1972, Ann’s sister and fellow advice-peddler, Dear Abby, used “could care less” in print herself, and got an earful from readers. In 1975, the Harper’s usage dictionary declared that “could care less” was “an ignorant debasement of the language.” (Said panelist Isaac Asimov: “I don’t know people stupid enough to say this.”) In 1979, William Safire declared in his New York Times column that “could care less” had finally run its course: “Like most vogue phrases, it wore out its welcome.”

But three decades on, “could care less” is flourishing. Ben Zimmer, examining its career last year in a column at the language website Visual Thesaurus, reported that “could care less” had steadily gained ground in edited prose. In American speech, according to research by linguist Mark Liberman, “could care less” is far ahead of the “couldn’t” version. And “could care less” is no recent corruption, Zimmer found; it shows up in print by 1955, only 11 years after the first sighting of “couldn’t care less.”

As Liberman observed in a 2004 post at Language Log, “could care less” is not uniquely odd. Its pattern is familiar in other phrases like “I could give a damn” (and its ruder variants), and in the lyrics of Sammy Cahn’s 1940s classic, “I Should Care.” But whatever its sources — sarcasm, irony, Yiddish, or (as its detractors say) ignorance — “could care less” is snugly embedded in the American idiom. Yet the complaints keep rolling in.

[more via I could care less – The Boston Globe.]

Ps & Qs

Don’t toss that ballpoint:

… Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

It’s not just children who benefit. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

[more] via How Handwriting Boosts the Brain –