Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Implacable


Because I am always planning group ballet trips (more on those here), I spend a lot of time reading reviews on tripadvisor.com, and am often entertained by the spelling mistakes and malapropisms I find there.

My favourite so far has been "All we got for breakfast was ONE BEAGLE!!!"

 But I recently came across another one:

"The service is implacable while friendly (including when one travels with kids)"

What they meant (I hope!) was "impeccable."

"Impeccable" comes from the late Latin impeccābilis,  from the negative prefix im- + peccāre to sin. The word originally meant "incapable of sinning", but has been weakened to "faultless; in accordance with the highest standards". 

"Implacable", on the other hand, comes from the same word that gave us "placate" and means "Unable to be appeased or placated" or "Unable to be stopped; relentless". The words that are found most frequently with "implacable" are very rarely positive: enemy (overwhelmingly most frequent), foe, hatred, hostility, and so on. 

Of course, I suppose the service in a hotel COULD be described as implacable, but only if you have the misfortune to turn up at this hotel:


https://youtu.be/tcliR8kAbzc

You may be surprised to learn that the original pronunciation of "implacable" was "im PLAY ka bull". But this gradually shifted to "im PLACKA bull". Vestiges of these pronunciation shifts can be seen in the root word "placate".

In British English it is pronounced "pluh KATE"

In the US it is pronounced "PLAY kate" or "PLACK ate". 

In Canada, typically, we have all three pronunciations, in the following order of frequency, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

"pluh KATE",  "PLAY kate", "PLACK ate"

I am not aware of ever having heard "PLACK ate", but some people in our pronunciation surveys must have said it or it wouldn't be there.

What do you say? 


For another entertaining malapropism, see this post:
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2016/06/a-mistake-you-really-dont-want-to-make.html
  Not a big ballet fan but like to travel? Why not check out my "Wine, food, sightseeing, and a bit of ballet trip to Bordeaux and Toulouse" in July 2017. I promise our hotels are not like Fawlty Towers! More info here:
 http://toursenlair.blogspot.ca/2016/06/food-wine-sightseeingand-ballet-trip.html

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COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Hockey mom" makes it into Oxford English Dictionary



I bet the Stonewall, Manitoba (pop. 4536) Interlake Spectator never expected it would be quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary! But there it is, in the new entry for "hockey mom" (part of the dictionary's latest quarterly update). 

Here's the earliest evidence the lexicographers found for this term:
1956 Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald 22 Feb. 7/5 (caption) Proud hockey mom... Mrs. Alice Richard beams as she holds a picture of her two famed sons, hockey stars Maurice and Henri.
followed by
1984 Stonewall (Manitoba) Interlake Spectator 9 May 22/3 To be a hockey mom..means you do everything moms do plus drive to the rink, work at the rink, and watch games and practices at the rink.
Of course, "hockey mom/hockey mother" has been in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary for almost twenty years now, along with many other "hockey" compounds that the OED hasn't got around to yet: hockey bag, hockey gloves, hockey jacket, hockey socks, hockey tape, and so on.
 
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P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
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Friday, July 1, 2016

Do not mispronounce this!


It's Canada Day! Let us look at a Canadianism and how to pronounce it. 

This is "poutine":
Poutine. Do not pronounce like...
I will understand if you non-Canadians are mystified by the ingredients, which are french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. (Acadians in the Maritime Provinces have another kind of poutine, which is a dumpling made of grated and mashed potatoes with pork in the middle. Theirs is the older version of "poutine".)  Even my devotion to real-world research for the Canadian Oxford Dictionary could not persuade me to sample the Quebecois poutine, but it is quite popular with Canadians. 

The ultimate origin of this word beyond Canadian French is uncertain. It is probably derived from various similar words in many French dialects, and influenced by the English word "pudding" (which has a fairly disgusting etymology we'll get into some other time).

The story behind the concoction is that Fernand Lachance, a snack bar owner in Warwick, Quebec (pronounced WAR wick, by the way), when asked by a customer in 1957 to combine fries and cheese in a bag, told him it would be a "maudite poutine" (a hell of  a mess).  But the combination and the word stuck, and made its way into Canadian English starting in the 1980s. You can now buy poutine at Burger Kings across Canada.  Apparently a poutine stand has also just opened at Disney World. Here's the "nutrition" information for a serving of poutine, should you wish to be flabbergasted (not to mention flabby, if you actually eat it):
  • Calories 800
  • Protein  30g
  • Carbohydrates  68g
  • Sugar  2g
  • Fat  45g
  • Saturated Fat  17g
  • Trans Fat 1.5g
  • Cholesterol  95mg
  • Sodium 2860mg
Concerns about health aside, though, the really important thing is not to mispronounce this word. It is pronounced "pooTEEN". But many Canadians have vague memories from their school French lessons that consonants at the ends of French words are silent. (They are sometimes, but not when followed by an "e".) Armed with this little-learning-is-a-dangerous-thing, they bravely order "poo TANG" (with a nasal "a" vowel).

Unfortunately this sounds like the French word putain (whore), ultimately derived from the Latin putidus (stinking, rotten, fetid).


...Putain

Please do not order a putain when you are at Burger King!

Another entertaining thing about "poutine" is that in French, "Poutine" is also the spelling for Vladimir Putin's surname. It always cracks me up when I read headlines in Quebecois newspapers like "Le pari risqué de Poutine" (Putin's risky gamble).

Although maybe they were talking about the risky gamble of eating poutine!
un maudit Poutine

Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please use the buttons below to share on social media. 

Hebrew and Yiddish words in English and afternoon tea! July 12. Signup deadline July 5. It's a lot of fun, and very informative. More details here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/speaking-engagements.html
 
Did you know you can hire Wordlady to enliven your meetings? I can talk entertainingly about the words related to almost any subject. See here for more.


COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html
 
P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
use the subscribe window at the top of this page  
OR  
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

One funky plant



We who have gardens that are plunged in shade are ever grateful to the trusty hosta family. But did you know they have not always been called hostas?

Indeed, this plant used to go by the name funkia. I feel it is a pity that this cute word lost out, because I would like to be able to talk about my funkias.

Although the plant is originally from Asia, neither word is of Asian origin. Both are derived from the names of European scientists: "funkia" from H. C. Funck (1771–1839), a Bavarian pharmacist and botanist, and "hosta" from N. T. Host (1761–1834), an Austrian physician and botanist.

I have only ever heard "hosta" pronounced "HOSS ta", but American dictionaries tell me that in the US "HOE sta" is more common. How do you pronounce it?

Another name for the hosta is "plantain lily", because of its similarity to these plantains, which also grow in my garden but make me less happy than my hostas:
 
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Plantago_major_Habito_2010-6-06_SierraMadrona.jpg/1280px-Plantago_major_Habito_2010-6-06_SierraMadrona.jpg

You would think a plantain is called this because, well, it's a plant. But the origin is a quite different "plant": Latin planta (sole of the) foot. Plantains, as you can see, have broad, flat, prostrate leaves looking not unlike a foot. Well, if you use your imagination.

Another pronunciation surprise awaited me when I looked up "plantain" and discovered that I should not be calling it a "plan TANE" as I have always thought, but a "PLAN t'n". The same holds true for the other "plantain", a starchy type of unsweet banana.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Ghanaian_Fried_Plantains.jpg
fried plantains

Looking at the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, I see that I wasn't allowing any of this "PLAN t'n" nonsense in it, no matter what all the other dictionaries say. To be so bold, we must have done a survey of Canadians about their pronunciation of this word. How do you pronounce it? (Please don't tell me I was wrong!)


For more gardening-related posts, please click here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2016/06/gardening-related-wordlady-posts.html


SPOTS STILL AVAILABLE FOR TEA AND CANADIANISMS NEXT TUESDAY! More info here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/speaking-engagements.html

Would you like to know more about the surprising influence that Hebrew and Yiddish have had on English over the years? Come to my entertaining "Tea and Wordlady" talk on July 12. No knowledge of Hebrew or Yiddish necessary. BOOK BY JULY 5. More info here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/speaking-engagements.html

Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please share with your friends on social media by clicking on the buttons below.

COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html



P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
use the subscribe window at the top of this page  
OR  
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

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Friday, June 17, 2016

The birth of the word "fashionista"

I remember seeing evidence of "fashionista" when we were editing the letter F of the first edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, in about 1995, but not enough for it to make the cut for the dictionary. But by 2002 when we were editing the 2nd edition, there was plenty of evidence, so in it went. In fact, I often use this particular word as an example of how words make it into dictionaries. 
Here's the story of how the word came to  be (thanks to Word Spy for the link). 
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/04/i-apologize-for-inventing-the-word-fashionista-20-years-ago/275048/

Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please share with your friends on social media by clicking on the buttons below.

Upcoming Tea and Wordlady events: 

  1. Canadian English SIGNUP DEADLINE NEXT TUESDAY, JUNE 21.
  2. Hebrew and Yiddish in English 
Click here for more info.
Fanca trip to a beautiful Quebecois village to see some great dance? Check out my August trip to the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur: 
http://toursenlair.blogspot.ca/2016/06/ballet-trip-to-saint-sauveur-now-booking.html 
 
COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
use the subscribe window at the top of this page  
OR  
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.



 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cotoneaster



Following my post accumulating all my gardening words, a Wordlady reader has written to inquire about COTONEASTER, a quite popular shrub. She became acquainted with the written word before hearing it spoken (a problem shared with the people in this post), and so thought it was pronounced "Cotton Easter". I must admit I shared that misapprehension with her for a long time. (Be honest, now, how did you hear the title of this blog post in your head when you saw it?)  

In fact it is "kuh tony ASS ter".

Its name comes from modern botanical Latin cotonea (quince) + the suffix  -aster, essentially the Latin equivalent of  "-ish". So a cotoneaster is a plant that is "quince-ish", kinda like a quince:



The flower called an "aster" tout court gets its name from another word, the Latin and Greek word for "star", aster. As you can see in this photo, it is an appropriate name. 



Fortunately, botanists have resisted the urge to name an aster-ish flower an "asteraster".

The story of how we got to "quince" is also quite fascinating. The Romans had originally called the fruit a mālum Cydōnium, from mālum (apple) + Cydōnea (the name of the town in Crete now known as Khania). This became classical Latin cotoneum.
 
As we have seen before (peach), Latin words got squished into something shorter by the French, who usually dropped the ending and the middle consonant. So cotoneum became coin in Old French (a different coin than the one meaning "corner"). In modern French this is spelled coing, just so we English don't have a monopoly on ridiculous silent letters in spelling

Like many French food words, coin (also spelled quoyne or quyne) was borrowed into Middle English. So why don't we call the fruit  a "quin"? Very early on, the plural "coins/quynes" (also spelled "quince") was taken to be the singular. Naturally, we then had to create a new plural, to wit "quinces".

For another surprising word history involving quinces (and cats), click here:
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2013/06/cat-word-of-month-marmalade.html

Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please share with your friends on social media by clicking on the buttons below.

Upcoming Tea and Wordlady events: 
  1. Canadian English SIGNUP DEADLINE NEXT TUESDAY, JUNE 21.
  2. Hebrew and Yiddish in English 
Click here for more info.

Fanca trip to a beautiful Quebecois village to see some great dance? Check out my August trip to the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur: 
http://toursenlair.blogspot.ca/2016/06/ballet-trip-to-saint-sauveur-now-booking.html 
 

COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html



P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
use the subscribe window at the top of this page  
OR  
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.









Saturday, June 11, 2016

Canadian hypercorrection

God forbid we should use -or spellings like those Americans. 


more on this phenomenon: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/.../stupor-or-stupour...

and http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/.../discouver... 

Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please use the buttons below to share on social media.

Upcoming Tea and Wordlady events: 

  1. Canadian English 
  2. Hebrew and Yiddish in English 

Click here for more info.

COMING THIS FALL! My ever-popular Rollicking Story of the English Language course. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN AND SPACE IS LIMITED. More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/p/history-of-english-language-courses.html

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE! You can either:
use the subscribe window at the top of this page  
OR  
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.


 

About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.