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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, November 2, 2012

Friday the ...Twoth?

Today is the second of November. How on earth did we get the ordinal "second" from the cardinal number "two"? This is still a challenge for some non-native speakers of English, as I quite frequently see French and German speakers writing "April 22th", for instance, and who can blame them? The fact is, the Anglo-Saxons didn't have an ordinal number corresponding to "two": they used the word "other". But as this could be ambiguous, once the French invaded with their handy "second" from the Latin secundus ("following", from the verb sequi to follow), the English were more than happy to borrow it.
For an explanation of how we got "third" from "three", click here.
For an explanation of why the ordinal of "one" is "first", click here.

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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.