Zero derivation—that is, the ability of a word to perform different grammatical functions without a change in form—is a celebrated feature of English. A sideshow of zero derivation is the fact that English has no barrier to using a principal verb form—the past participle—as an adjective. What's not to love, you may think, about the simplicity of using a single form to do so many jobs? I have no argument with this fantastic and flexible feature of English, only with the license it gives speakers and writers to use it in a weaselly way.  Continue reading...
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I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments. He's been in the news because of his decision to set the minimum salary for his employees at $70,000. What interested me in the interview was his use of pencil out, a phrasal verb that was new to me. Lexicographers are to words like birders are to birds: when we spot one that's not on our life list we get very excited, even as others' eyes may glaze over.  Continue reading...
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"Verbing weirds language." Ad copywriters have made the weirding of language – and especially the verbing of nouns – a signal feature of the current brandscape. They're only the most visible of the language-weirders who are making the culture more expressive... or more vexing, depending on your point of view.  Continue reading...
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Many verbs that entail some advanced cognitive capacity are commonly used in predicates for subjects that are not human. All speakers are comfortable with sentences like "Verizon revamps mobile plans and ends 2-year contracts & subsidies." Most speakers, however, reject sentences like "Microsoft is vividly imagining a purple square."  Continue reading...
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Many writers today strive to avoid the passive voice. Do you know what I mean by passive? Don't be too quick to say yes!  Continue reading...
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This week's publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-dormant sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, has gotten a tune running through my head: "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." Two titles, same number of syllables, and the same syntactic structure, right down to the use of go plus another verb right next to it. But how do both those verbs fit into the place where just one verb should go?  Continue reading...
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Recently in an online forum for editors, someone balked at then being used as a coordinating conjunction, as in: "I went to high school, then I went to college." Coordinating conjunctions, you'll recall, join two items of equal status: two words of the same parts of speech, two phrases of the same type, or two clauses.  Continue reading...
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