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That's What They Say
6 minutes | Jul 25, 2021
TWTS: Can't take our eyes off "off of"
The 1967 song "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" was one of Frankie Valli's biggest hits. It's been covered by dozens of artists, including rapper Lauryn Hill. Listeners of a certain age probably remember Heath Ledger's interpretation in the 1999 romantic comedy "10 Things I Hate About You." This song is also one of the first things we thought of when a listener asked us about the construction "off of."
5 minutes | Jul 18, 2021
TWTS: Wet your whistle, not your appetite
When we wet our whistle at a bar, we have a "wh" in whistle but not in "wet." That fact spurred an argument in the comments section of an article we found last week. The author had used the phrase "wet your whistle," but some commenters argued it should've been "whet your whistle.
5 minutes | Jul 11, 2021
TWTS: The not-so prominent differences between "eminent" and "preeminent"
An eminent person can also be a prominent person. That same person can also be preeminent in their field. A self-described “confused” listener recently asked us whether there’s a difference between an eminent scientist and a preeminent scientist. And where does "prominent" fit in? As Professor Anne Curzan tells us, the distinctions here are few.
5 minutes | Jul 4, 2021
TWTS: Sometimes you've just got to say "have got to"
This week, we have got to address a question a listener recently sent us about whether there's anything wrong with saying "have got to" instead of just "have to." The short answer is no. However, there people are who see "have got to" as redundant, and that's why this gets a little complicated.
5 minutes | Jun 27, 2021
TWTS: We can't answer each question, but we appreciate "each and every" one
An evening of drinking beer and talking about grammar? Yes please. Last week, we were thrilled to dust off our pint glasses and host another Grammar Night for Michigan Radio's Issues & Ale @ Home series. Grammar Night is always a lot of fun, and we get a lot of great questions. We can't get to them all, but we appreciate each and every one, including Harvey Pillersdorf's question about "each and every."
5 minutes | Jun 6, 2021
TWTS: In which we dispose of listener questions
Today we’ll dispose of not one but two listener questions. No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to throw their questions away. It means we’ll use the information we have at our disposal to answer them, so to speak. Starting with a question about “disposal.”
5 minutes | May 30, 2021
TWTS: "Unbeknown" or "unbeknownst"? Who knowst
To know or to beknow? That is, well, not actually the question. However, there is some debate over whether something is “unbeknown” or “unbeknownst.” Listener Randy Miller brought this up after coming across “unbeknown” in a piece in a major newspaper.
5 minutes | May 23, 2021
TWTS: How to sort older elders
If you have an older sister, you can also have an elder sister. However, if you have an older house, you don’t also have an elder house. We’ll talk about why in a bit. As to why we’re even talking about “older” and “elder,” a listener recently asked us to settle a debate.
5 minutes | May 16, 2021
TWTS: To all the words we've used before... but don't anymore
During the pandemic, many of us have spent much of our time at home cleaning out closets, basements and garages, getting rid of things we no longer use or need. Sometimes editors of dictionaries have to do the same thing. When new words are added, obsolete words get scrapped to make room. We're talking about print dictionaries, of course: actual books with pages. Books that will keep getting bigger and heavier if cuts aren't made.
5 minutes | May 9, 2021
TWTS: Maybe “by and by” will be more specific in the by and by
It can be helpful, as well as potentially confusing, to have vague expressions of time such as “by and by.” The more we thought about this expression, the more trouble we had trying to think of how we even use “by and by.” Sure, it shows up in poetry and music , but those contexts don’t exactly lend themselves to everyday use.
5 minutes | May 2, 2021
TWTS: Mortgage, death pledge - it's all the same
In honor of tax season, Merriam Webster recently tweeted the origins of “mortgage.” It’s derived from two Old French words meaning “death” and “pledge.” Though "death pledge" probably sounds about right to some of you, others might be wondering how "mortgage" ended up with such a dark origin story.
5 minutes | Apr 25, 2021
TWTS: The language it is a-changin'
We're not exactly sure what effect the internet and other changes in technology are having on English. It could be that changes in the language are speeding up. What we do know is that English is spreading around the world in a way we've never seen before. In the process, it's coming into contact with languages all over the world. As we've seen in the past, language contact is one of the things that can speed up language change.
5 minutes | Apr 18, 2021
TWTS: "Large" occupies a large space in our lexicon
It's clearly different to talk about a large country and the country at large, but these two meanings of "large" are historically related. A listener named Edward Kudla recently wrote to us with a "large question." Edward wanted to know about the various ways we can use "large" including, "I wear a large shirt," and "the escaped convict is at large." By and large, we were glad to look into “large.”
5 minutes | Apr 11, 2021
TWTS: "Out of hand" or "off hand?" It's all in your hands
Something that’s out of your hands is different from something that’s out of hand, which is usually different from something that’s offhand. So which phrase goes where? When our listener Bruce Sagan heard one of these phrases on Morning Edition recently, he wondered whether it was used correctly.
5 minutes | Mar 21, 2021
TWTS: Our bona fide take on Latin pronunciation
This week we're getting back to our roots. Our Latin roots, that is. A listener named Seth Epstein asked us how to pronounce the Latin phrase "in situ." He says, "I've heard it as in-sigh-too, or in-see-too, but I learned it as in-sit-choo." This is just one of the Latin phrases that have become part of English with variable pronunciation.
5 minutes | Mar 14, 2021
TWTS: Pundits have thoughts about "pundents"
There are pundits who really don't like it if people call them "pundents." As a listener pointed out to us, this mispronunciation isn't uncommon. Susan Serafin Jess says, "The otherwise fastidious Jim Lehrer said ['pundent' for 'pundit'] throughout his tenure on the PBS News Hour. I have heard other journalists misuse this, including on WUOM."
5 minutes | Mar 7, 2021
TWTS: Two "p" words with nothing in common
This week we looked at two words that have nothing to do with each other, aside from the fact that they both begin with “p.” At least they’ve got one thing in common. Our first “p” word is “pound.” Our listener Jay Winegarden often hears people use the phrase “pounding beers” or something similar when relaying a drinking story.
5 minutes | Mar 1, 2021
Keeping track of “track” and “tract”
We keep track of things, we lose track of things, we run track, and listen to tracks. Sometimes though, we confuse “track” with “tract.” Recently, a graduate student who works closely with Professor Anne Curzan pointed out a job posting for a “tenure tract” position.
5 minutes | Feb 14, 2021
TWTS: "Can hardly" or "can't hardly"? It hardly matters
Our listener Susan Lessian is a Boston transplant who says she still struggles with some "midwesternisms," despite having moved here years ago. She says, "The one that disturbs me the most is the use of 'can't hardly' for 'can hardly.' Isn't this actually a double negative?" Susan is right that many usage guides have classified "can't hardly" as a double negative. But the situation is more complicated than that.
5 minutes | Feb 7, 2021
TWTS: A rule about which we should be asking questions
Many of us were taught that a sentence should never end with a preposition. However, some sentences just sound better when they do.
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