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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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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do your utmost to avoid this error

I've recently seen a few examples of people being unsure about the word "utmost", writing instead "upmost" or "outmost". In a way, this is not surprising, because we have no word "ut" in English anymore. Back in Anglo-Saxon times, "ut" was the spelling for the word that eventually became "out" in Modern English. So the "utmost" thing was something that was the furthest out from the centre, the "out-most" thing. But as the language evolved, "out" took over, and "ut" remained only in the words "utmost", which by the 16th century was being used only figuratively, and both the adjective and the verb "utter" (the latter originally meaning "put something out there").


  1. Hello,

    Hmmm ... I`ve been struggling with this variety of English "separable particles" for a long time ... Could we get a more extensive exposition on that ? Or at least comments on a number of cases ?

    For instance, I have thought for a while that the English "up" might correspond to German(ic ?) "ab" (in pronunciation too). But it's shaky: they say "aufgeben" in German, not "abgeben" (there is a "to submit" translation for the latter, but I'm not sure it's the "generic meaning").

    In short: how good is the correspondence between English and German as far as these particles are concerned ?

    Thank you!


    Does this window (when looking at the preview) look better in a certain browser than in others ? In Google Chrome it looks absolutely terrible!

  2. E.T. I am not an expert on all European languages. I cannot answer questions for which I have neither the time nor the expertise. I don't have time to write "extensive expositions" on anything.


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.