Archive for August, 2010



This lovely video, produced by Everynone for Radiolab, has been doing the rounds on Twitter, so you may already have seen it. It bears repeat viewing, I think. It’s about words and also about our common humanity. I find it moving. Serendipity is a lovely word and a lovely concept. Shortly after watching the Words […]

Fascinating comma fact 1 A comma is not just a punctuation mark, it’s also a type of butterfly, so-named because of the white comma-shaped marking on the underside of its wing (you can just about see it in the photo). UK Butterflies (which provides more detailed photos) describes the Comma as looking like a “tatty […]

To those of you still fretting over the Oxford Comma dilemma (and who don’t read the Comments – tsk, tsk!), the “august journal” Speculative Grammarian offers the following solution: Since the OC appears to present more problems of CrossPondian translation than any other form of punctuation, a solution must be found which satisfies users on both […]

Do you use the Oxford (serial) comma? Here’s a sentence with the Oxford comma: My favourite foods are Greek yoghurt, salted almonds, cheese, and dark chocolate. Here’s the same sentence without: My favourite foods are Greek yoghurt, salted almonds, cheese and dark chocolate. And here’s one where, unless you change the order of the list […]

I was puzzled last week to see references on Twitter to the exotic-sounding “Oxford comma”, a new term to me. It turns out (thank you, Mark Allen and  Oxford Dictionaries) that the Oxford comma is another name for the “serial comma”: an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list: We […]

“Shoe-in”, Ben Zimmer points out, belongs to a special family of errors called “eggcorns”: misspellings, mis-hearings or misinterpretations of standard (often idiomatic) words or sayings. Their name itself derives from a misspelling of “acorn”. As Ben explains in Shifting Idioms: An Eggcornucopia, eggcorns might eventually reach folk-etymological permanence, or they might continue to be considered nonstandard […]

Ben Zimmer’s latest On Language column in the New York Times (Beach-Blanket Lingo, 5 August 2010) examines the terms used by coastal resort residents (from-heres) to describe summer visitors (come-heres). One term used for the latter is shoobies, explained thus by John T. Cunningham, writing in 1958: day-trippers from Philly took advantage of the $1 round-trip […]

My last post was triggered by my husband Vito being diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis. Since then (last Friday, to be exact), my lovely Mum has fallen and fractured the neck of her femur. She’s had an operation and is now going through painful physiotherapy and rehabilitation. My mum’s 85 and has become very frail […]