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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, May 18, 2012


In May, many of us have the very civilized pleasure of feasting on rhubarb harvested from our gardens. Since it first came into Europe by way of Russia, the Greeks called it rha, which may have been an old name for the Volga River. The Romans insisted even more on its foreignness by tacking on the adjective barbarum (foreign), derived from an imitative Greek word, barbaros (babbling). The ancient Greeks dismissed foreign languages as babbling, and thought anyone who didn't have the good fortune to be Greek was automatically uncivilized; this is why barbaros has also given us the word “barbarian”.

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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.