Category Archives: The Week

Not nice, not silly, actually rather awful

My latest article for The Week is about words with meanings that have travelled quite a bit over the centuries. It’s not that they’ve clouded or warped the senses, but their histories are likely to throw you, or at least leave you in doubt.

11 words whose meanings have completely changed over time

 

In excelsis in excess?

Is it possible to try too hard? Sure. People do it every year around Christmas. One of the ways they do it is by trying too hard to pronounce in excelsis right and ending up saying (or singing) it wrong – making too many sounds. Sometimes the highest and best is not the most. Here’s my latest article for The Week:

How do you pronounce ‘in excelsis’?

 

Talking turkey

Last year I did an article on what the turkey is called in different languages – and why. This year we (specifically my splendid producer at The Week, Lauren Hansen, and I) made an audio version of it. So you get to hear me saying the words for ‘turkey’ in all those different languages. Give it a listen!

How the Thanksgiving turkey was named after the country Turkey

 

Normal, standard, regular, ordinary

Other writers on language have explored the word normalize and its history: Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, Nancy Friedman on her blog Fritinancy, Mark Peters in the Boston Globe, the lexicographers of Merriam-Webster on their blog… But the question no one has addressed so far is: Why can’t we use standardize or regularize in place of normalize? We could conceivably use make ordinary – but why doesn’t ordinary have a verb form, anyway?

So here’s my answer, in my latest article for The Week:

What does normalize even mean?

 

Look! It’s a noun! It’s an adjective! It’s a number! No, it’s…

My latest piece for The Week is an introduction to that double-agent class of words, there in the numbers but not of the numbers: quantifiers.

Singular or plural? It’s complicated.

Going off the rails on a gravy train

Donald Trump tweeted that line about the gravy train again. How Rob-Ford-esque can he get! I decided to do a little digging to find the origin of the phrase. It’s my latest article for The Week:

Was there ever an actual train that carried gravy?

You can’t use it however you want; however, you can use it

My latest piece for The Week is on the word however, which just happens to be one of Wikipedia’s favourite words – however, people aren’t always sure how to handle it.

However: Everything you need to know about a commonly abused word