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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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Upcoming Word Lady talks

I will be giving entertaining talks about:

1) How dictionaries are made (and how they're not like pantyhose)
Thursday April 3, 1-3 pm, admission $25:
Women's Art Association of Canada
23 Prince Arthur Avenue, Toronto
3 minutes walk from St George Subway Station (Bedford St. exit)
2)  the peculiarities of Canadian English (admission $12) 
7 pm Tuesday April 22nd,
Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 106 Trinity Street, Toronto,

Friday, March 7, 2014

More linguistic anachronisms in Murdoch Mysteries

As usual, I've had my trusty notebook in hand as I've been watching Detective Murdoch et al. solving mysteries this season. And as usual, the Station 4 constabulary have been well ahead of their time linguistically, coming up with words like:

scam:  (first quotation 1963, origin unknown)

go missing: 1940s. For more on this, see this post: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2010/08/usage-issue-go-missing.html

cock-up: first quotation 1948

beauty salon: first quotation 1906, did not become part of general parlance until a decade or so later. "Beauty parlour" would have been the more common word in Murdoch's time.

Another usage that strikes me as an anachronism, but in the other direction, so to speak, is Murdoch's habit of always asking Constable Crabtree: "What have you?" The use of "do" to form questions arose in English in the Renaissance. Although Jane Austen was still using "What say you?" as a construction in the early 19th century, the "What do you have" construction would, I think, have been more idiomatic by the early 20th century. It's very difficult to verify this using online tools, however. The "what have you" pattern is now used almost exclusively with a complement, as in "What have you to say for yourself?" and to a certain degree in the fixed phrase "What have we here?"

For more Murdoch anachronisms, see this post and this one

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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.