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We have occasionally invoked Tom Lehrer when discussing how the simple letter "e" can change the meaning of many words, citing his song "Silent 'E.'" That "e" can also magically change a word into another form, such as a noun into a verb. This being illogical English, there are few "rules" as to what it does, though.  Continue reading...

One of the things everyone remembers about Shakespeare, whether they spent a few weeks on one play in high school or an entire semester on several plays in college, is that he wrote in iambic pentameter. Some may also have vague recollections about their teacher explaining that iambic pentameter isn't difficult to understand, because English "naturally" falls into its rhythms.  Continue reading...

I was born a night owl. I used to think 2 am was the perfect bedtime and I resented having to get up before 8:30. Paradoxically (or perhaps I mean, annoyingly), I had to be at work by 6 am in the years I worked as a senior newspaper editor. I loved my job but I was miserable, sleepwise.  Continue reading...

When I was studying Spanish and had gotten to the point where our assignments consisted of reading real books, I kept a well-thumbed dictionary on my desk. Every paragraph seemed to contain several words that I had to look up, which was tedious and slow. Our wise teacher kept telling us that we didn't need to do that—you don't actually have to know what every word means to understand the text.  Continue reading...

Recently, I came across a version of this sentence in a client document: "ABC Corp. hired XYZ Co. exclusively for testing multiple simulations in order to find the best solution." Did ABC Corp. hire just XYZ Co. or did it hire XYZ Co. just for testing? Although the sentence is grammatical, the meaning is ambiguous absent further context.  Continue reading...

If, as a writer, you write long enough, well enough, and popularly enough, your manuscripts, drafts, notes, and letters may someday be gathered, sorted, catalogued, boxed, and stored deep in the bowels of a library archive, ready to be pored over, decades or centuries later, by scholars and biographers eager to learn how and why you wrote as you did.  Continue reading...

Any word in a living language can develop different meanings in different contexts. These uses of the word can have distinct tones and qualities, with the result that one goes largely unnoticed while its twin draws regular complaints. For example, my bank recently sent me a form to fill in, which included the following instruction: Please advise your Country of Birth.  Continue reading...

2 3 4 5 6 Displaying 22-28 of 466 Articles