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, 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

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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/

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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 
 
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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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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:
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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... 

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Upcoming Tea and Wordlady events: 

  1. Canadian English 
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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  
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Gorillas and guerrillas

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Male_gorilla_in_SF_zoo.jpg/917px-Male_gorilla_in_SF_zoo.jpg
Gorilla. Do not confuse with guerrilla.


There's been much in the news about gorillas lately, so of course you want to know why they are called that.  This is what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say:
An alleged African name for a wild or hairy man (strictly for the female only), preserved (in accusative plural γορίλλας) in the Greek account of the voyage undertaken by the Carthaginian Hanno in the 5th or 6th cent. BC; hence adopted in 1847 as the specific name of the ape Troglodytes gorilla (now Gorilla gorilla), first described by Dr. T. S. Savage, an American missionary in Western Africa.
Do not confuse gorillas with guerrillas. 

guerrilla /ɡəˈrɪlə/ 


noun

(also guerilla)
  • 1. a person taking part in an irregular war waged by small bands operating independently, often against a stronger, more organized force, with surprise attacks etc.: [also attributive] : guerrilla warfare.
 You will notice that the alternate spelling "guerilla" is given by dictionaries, but this spelling (which is also the spelling used in French) is MUCH less common than "guerrilla". 

The word comes from Spanish guerrilla, a diminutive of guerra (war), and was first used to describe Spanish fighters in the Peninsular War against Napoleonic occupation in the early 1800s.

Since then, this word has taken on a life of its own, and has since the 1970s become an adjective
"Designating activities conducted in an irregular, unorthodox, and spontaneous way, without regard to established conventions, rules, and formalities, as guerrilla advertising, guerrilla cooking, guerrilla filmmaking, etc."
Surprisingly, though, the first example of this adjectival usage is earlier than you would think:

1888   Polyclinic Nov. 134/2   The so-called pure pepsins..which, by a system of guerrilla’ advertising..have been foisted upon the deceived medical profession.

 My favourite examples of this are:

guerrilla gardening  n. gardening on sites that the gardeners are not authorized to use (typically land which has been abandoned or otherwise neglected), esp. as a political or environmental statement.
guerrilla knitting  n. street art consisting of colourful knitted or crocheted items and motifs attached to public objects and monuments; the action of decorating objects or monuments in this way; cf. yarn bombing
"Who yarn-bombed that tree? Not moi!" *whistles nonchalantly*
Do you enjoy Wordlady? Please use the buttons below to share on social media.

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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:
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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Upcoming Tea and Wordlady Events





Canada's Word Lady

presents

 Two Tea and Wordlady Events!


Tuesday June 28 at 230 pm

 Celebrate Canada Day!
Bachelor for Rent:
Things You Never Suspected About 
Canadian English 
A hilarious look at what is distinctive about 
Canadians and their language
SIGNUP DEADLINE JUNE 21



Tuesday July 12 at 230 pm

Hebrew and Yiddish:
Alive and Well and Living in English
 
An entertaining illustrated talk about how
Hebrew and Yiddish words have enriched English
and continue to do so.

SIGNUP DEADLINE JULY 5



Full afternoon tea (sandwiches, mini-quiche, scones, cream, and jam, fruit and petits fours, pot of tea) 
including tax and tip, and
talk by Katherine Barber

$50 each event

T-Buds Tea Lounge
2nd floor (17 steps)
3343 Yonge St, Toronto
At the corner of Yonge and Snowdon/Fairlawn
3 blocks north (about 5 minutes walk) of the north (Ranleigh) exit of Lawrence subway station

Space is limited to only 24 for each event.
These events sell out quickly!
To register for a "Tea and Wordlady" event, please
1) send me an email (wordlady.barber@gmail.com) 
to say that you are coming
2) send a cheque for $50 per person (includes tax) made out to Katherine Barber at 
201 Hanson St, Toronto M4C 1A7.
If you use online banking, you can also do an Interac e-transfer.
3) On receipt of your payment I will email you your ticket(s) 



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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! You can either:



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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

In the pink

In the past few weeks, I've been revelling in the profusion of pinks in my garden. You may be thinking that these mini- carnations are called this because they are pink in colour (well, except for the white ones...) but in fact the colour is named for the flower rather than vice versa, and the story is quite complicated.

The Anglo-Saxons didn't have a word for pink, and probably didn't even conceive of it as a separate colour, just as a lighter shade of red. They could use rosen (of the colour of a rose) on occasion, but this did not seem to designate a specific pale red colour.

Under the influence of French, by the 14th century "rose" was being used for what we would now call pink, as is the case in most European languages (although roses can be red or yellow or white, as well as pink!) But roses got  quite a lot of bad publicity in late 15th-century England, beset from 1455 to 1487 by a  power struggle between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, who seized power at the end of the period, used the Lancastrians' emblem of a red rose and the Yorks' white rose in his propaganda emphasizing how strife-ridden and unstable the 30 years preceding his beneficent orderly reign  had been. 

Whether or not this bad rap for roses set the stage for a new word for the colour is hard to say, but about 100 years later, English speakers looked to another flower to name this colour, and "pink" started its ascendancy over "rose", in spite of the fact that another word "pink" was used at the time for a greenish-yellow pigment (just to be really confusing!)

Pinks had been around for a few centuries under the name "gillyflower", a corruption of the French word girofle (clove, because of their clove-like scent). In the 1500s, people started to call them "pinks" because of their fringed petals, which look as if someone has taken the pinking shears to them.
This verb "pink" (make decorative cuts in fabric) had been around for a few centuries, possibly dating back to Old English in the form "ping", which is derived from the Latin pungere (prick, puncture).

So, a long and circuitous route from a Latin word meaning "pierce" to our everyday word for a pale red.
And a warning: if you read about the "pink" jackets traditionally worn by the British while fox hunting, remember they're not pink at all but scarlet. They may have been originally made by a tailor called Thomas Pink, though this has not been proved. Perhaps it's a case like slang, where the in-group knows the meaning of the word and outsiders are revealed by their ignorance.

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

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

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

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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.