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.
You can also order my best-selling books, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do With Pigs and Only in Canada You Say. Fun and informative!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

No doubt about it

A very common error is to write or say "undoubtably". The word is "undoubtedly". If you really want to impress people, you could also use "indubitably".

Oh for heaven's sake

I am getting more than a little annoyed by bend-over-backward attempts to avoid words that mean "Christmas". First it was the "Holiday Tree", and now I just saw in the grocery store a cake traditionally called a "Yule Log" rebaptized a "Festive Log". Considering that Yule was a pre-Christian festival (and the real yule logs part of that), who do we think we are offending by using the word?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Talk about giving your all for your art

Saw this on a plaque at Canada's National Ballet School tonight:
"Batik is an art form that involves outlining a picture with wax, dying, and then drying".
What they meant, of course, was "dyeing".

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

conditional sentences

I have few pet peeves, but one of them is incorrect verb tense sequence in conditional sentences, like this one I just read in the paper:
"If we didn't do this study, we would have missed a lot of women with a genetic mutation."
This should have been:
"If we hadn't done this study, we would have missed a lot of women with a genetic mutation."
People get even more confused when they're using the verb "may". People don't seem to realize that "might" is the conditional of "may", so they say things like, "If we hadn't done this study, we may have missed a lot of women with a genetic mutation," which should be "If we hadn't done this study, we might have missed a lot of women with a genetic mutation,"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snowmageddon

Here's a newish word that seems to be catching on. A quick Google search unearthed the earliest usage I could find, from January 2005 in Richmond, Virginia. For the next three years, usage increased gradually, reaching about 700 hits in 2008, but in 2009 it exploded to 12,500 hits.

Ouch!

Just saw the following infelicitous headline in the Toronto Star:
Crackdown urged on head injuries

Nickname

 
December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus. Is St. Nick the origin of “nickname”? No, but “nickname” has an interesting story. It was originally an “eke-name”, from the Anglo-Saxon word eke (also), which gradually died out of the language, so people no longer understood that an “eke-name” was an “also-name”. They began to think that “an eke-name” was “a neke-name”, and so we ended up with “nickname”.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Well I guess he would be, wouldn't he?

Just saw this headline on CP24:
Young man dead in fatal shooting.

"Booze ooze" = alcohol-based hand sanitizer

In a recent Maclean's article about children and teens ingesting hand sanitizer for a quick high:
The liquid, jokingly called “booze ooze” on parenting blogs...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Manure and Magatogas

See the first installment of my brief history of English of particular interest to teachers in the current issue of Professionally Speaking, the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers.

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.