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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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Toffee for my feast day

Today is a day close to my heart: the feast of St. Catherine. The patron saint of unmarried women, she was invoked thus:

Sweet St. Catherine,

A husband, St. Catherine,

Handsome, St. Catherine,

Rich, St. Catherine,

Soon, St. Catherine!

Francophone Canadians traditionally make and eat taffy on this day. The words "taffy" and "toffee" are related, the former being the earlier version, used in Scotland and surviving there and in North America. Although its exact origin is unknown, it is possible that it is linked to the word "tough," as taffy and toffee are notoriously chewy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Soldiering on

“Soldier” and “solid” both come from the Latin word solidus (whole, complete). A solidus nummus was a “complete coin”, that is, a solid gold coin. Shortened to solidus and then to “sold” (which is related to "solder", but not the past tense of "sell", which is another word entirely), it was borrowed into English in the 1300s to designate money paid to people in the army, who therefore became “soldiers”.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What a guy!

Despite being very common, the word “guy” has been at our disposal to mean “person” for only the past 150 years. The original “guy” was Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the British Houses of Parliament on November 5th, 1605 as an act of protest against mistreatment of Catholics. Since then, bizarrely clad effigies, or “guys” have been burnt on this anniversary, called “Bonfire Night”, in Great Britain (and also in Newfoundland). Odd-looking men started to be called “guys” in the early 1800s, and then gradually, in North America at least, the term was applied to people in general.

Monday, November 2, 2009

English language newsletters

I'm launching two free weekly e-newsletters about the English language:
Word of the Week (WOW): a short snappy interesting word history
"Better English Simplified" Tips (BEST): tips on usage, grammar, spelling, how to correct the most common English language errors, and even advice on what you might think are errors but aren't.
If you would like to sign up for either or both, please email wordlady.barber@gmail.com with the word Wow or Best (or both) in your subject line to indicate which newsletter you're interested in.

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.