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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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Friday, September 28, 2012

The Raisins of Wrath

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The grape harvest is in full swing in Ontario, but if it weren't for a historical misunderstanding, the grape growers in Niagara would be harvesting raisins instead. 

In French, the word raisin designates grapes collectively. A grappe (related to “grapple”) was a hook used for harvesting, and so a grappe de raisin was a “hookful” of grapes. 

The English, who had little to do with this fruit before the French invaded, got confused, and thought that the word meaning “bunch” was the name of the fruit, and that's why we call them grapes. But we also cannily realized that keeping “raisin” allowed us to make a distinction between the fresh and the dried fruit.

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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.