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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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Monday, July 12, 2010

That's the kind of fan I want!

I was just reading an item about keeping cool in the summer that suggested what you really need in your bedroom on a hot summer night is an "osculating fan". Much as I would like a fan that kisses me, what they meant was an "oscillating fan". "Osculate" (to kiss) comes from the Latin osculum (small mouth). It's possible that "oscillate" (to move back and forth) also comes from a Latin word meaning "small mouth", possibly in reference to a mask left to hang in the breeze. But this is not confirmed.

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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.