Happy Halloween: Monster Legends Gallery from Merriam-Webster

It’s finally here–Happy Halloween, dear readers! My soul is aglow like a candle inside a Jack-o-Lantern!

What are your plans? Handing out candy to trick-or-treaters; curling up with a ghost story; terrorizing the town? I will post some stories and pictures after today, but I’ve already been lucky enough to attend multiple Halloween celebrations (it’s never enough). Tonight, I am going to a masquerade!

I am floating like a ghost over the combination of two of my great loves: Halloween + Merriam-Webster Dictionary. That’s right, folks, it’s not just any dictionary, but my FAVORITE dictionary (instilled into me by rigorous grad school standards of this being the ultimate go-to source).

Besides Merriam-Webster’s level of detail and accuracy, they are my favorite because of the kooky and fun things they do to celebrate holidays in the wordiest way possible (A.K.A., the best way).

If, for some strange reason, you haven’t been following their website every day leading up till Halloween, I invite you to view their gallery of monsters–the origin of the legend, their word etymologies/origins, and their evolving definitions. I promise, it’s lots of fun and good trivia, so you know exactly what you’re dealing with when you hear something go BUMP in the night.

Counting down to Halloween, we bring you the strangest, most elusive beasts in the dictionary.

Source: Chupacabra – Monster of the Day (Final Update!) | Merriam-Webster

Yes + No–A Paradoxical Language Habit that Just Makes Sense

I’d like to share with you tonight a quirk that’s wriggled its way into our modern English language. It’s so insidious that you’ve surely used it today without even noticing it. I’ve found it to be equal parts amusing, fascinating, and frustrating. Ever since I read about it, I’ve caught myself using it multiple times a day, in all settings–social and professional.

Alright, I’ll cut the suspense–it’s the paradoxical construction of “yes” plus “no” to emphasize the last part of the phrase. It sounds more confusing than it is.

Embed from Getty Images
Here are some examples:

Elizabeth: Don’t you like dancing?
Darcy: No, totally.

Katniss: Would you like some berries?
Peeta: Yeah, no.

Out of context, it may sound bizarre. But if you take note, as I have (inconveniently), you’ll hear it ALL THE TIME in conversation–I’d say only verbal, not written, at this point.

The phenomenon was recently explored at length in The New Yorker article, “What Part of ‘No, Totally’ Don’t You Understand” and more concisely in NPR’s “No, Yes, Definitely: On the Rise of ‘No, Totally’ As Linguistic Quirk.”

According to both, we’ve set this problem up for ourselves as the English language has evolved. As in many other current languages, English used to have a four-part positive/negative answer system. However, we’ve dropped down to two, causing us, perhaps subconsciously, to compensate for the meaning emphasis by combining the words.

NPR explains:

Schulz [in The New Yorker article]…found out that the English language used to have more options than just “yes” and “no.”

There were four options, to be precise: “yes,” “yea,” “no” and “nay.” She writes:

” … ‘nay’ was used to respond to positive statements or questions, while “no” was reserved for contradicting anything phrased in the negative.

Is the Tabard open?
Nay, it closed at midnight.
Isn’t Chaucer meeting us here? 
No, he went home to bed.”

So, there you have it! Tell me, dear readers–have you noticed yourself using this habit lately? I’m not arguing against it; in fact, Schulz argues that sometimes, using both words increases clarity of meaning, or at least adjusts intensity. I agree with that! It’s just very interesting the way it’s sneaked into our language–unnerving, perhaps, to a writer who takes great efforts in being deliberate in her word choices. 😉 Can I get a “No, totally!”? 😉

Happy Grammar Day (Week)–Quiz

Happy Friday, dear readers! Grammar Day was a few days ago, but if you’re like me, that’s a holiday that bears 24/7/365 observance. And, if you’re further like me, your idea of a fun Friday night involves taking this “What Kind of Grammar Nerd Are You?” quiz. It actually is fun–I promise.

To me, grammar is a tool we should use for the most clear expression and understanding. I’m not against its evolution–language is a living, breathing entity that changes as we change. However, I do believe in “following the rules,” because they are a structure for understanding–unless you’re making a point in your “breaking” them! Of course, I’m human, and I break them accidentally sometimes, too–but you get my point. 😉

So, in celebration of Grammar Day, or Grammar itself, here’s a fun quiz from Grammarly.com:

Grammarly Grammar Nerd Quiz Feature Image




What was your result? Mine was this–I’m not sure how flattering it is, but yes, to me, grammar is one of life’s greatest joys. 😉

The Pedant’s Grammarian
You may drive your friends and family nuts, but you would make Strunk and White proud. You love enforcing rules just about as much as you love the rules themselves. For you, grammar truly is one of life’s greatest joys.

A Wedding and a Campaign: Andrea & Ben | #LikeAGirl

Good evening, dear readers! It seems the whole Midwest has been pelted with thunderstorms and worse today; I hope everyone is OK! As for me, that puts me in that gothic melodramatic writing mood (it’s all so sweepingly romantic), so I have come here to funnel those energies. My novel characters have been awfully greedy with my time lately, talking to me in every moment. (Writer friends–does this happen to you, too? 🙂 ) I tell them my blog misses me, but they don’t listen…so I put the towel over their cage for the moment, if only briefly, for one of them will surely set it on fire sooner or later (*spoiler alert*). First, I’d like to say congratulations to my writer-friend Andrea, who got married this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, and Jeremiah and I were so honored to be invited to share the special day. The reception was a blast! Andrea snuck several literary details into her wedding design, which I absolutely loved. I wouldn’t expect any less of this clever lady! 😉

Bridesmaid Meg reads a Shakespeare sonnet during Andrea and Ben’s ceremony

Writing buddies 🙂

Jeremiah and I had so much fun! 🙂 (A special thank-you to Jennifer for wrapping the gifts gorgeously, as well as buying that dress for me without me even there!)


Secondly, I’d like to share something that’s been going viral on Facebook, which I first saw from my sister. It’s for a campaign the company Always is trying to start: #LikeAGirl. It’s based on the concept–what does the phrase “Like a Girl” mean to you? This video, comparing what little kids think, versus adolescents, is so moving–and it says a lot about our society.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a few friends several months ago (they shall remain anonymous…you’ll see why 😉 ).

They were talking about a time when *someone* had, for some reason, an electric fly-swatter. She wanted to test it on our male friend, because obviously, right? (Haha, I couldn’t, but she can get away with these things. 😉 ) Anyway, the best way to go about such a thing is with shock, so she snuck up behind him and zapped him. Since I was hearing this story for the first time, they courteously reenacted the subsequent scream for me. “He screamed like a girl!” exclaimed another female friend. “That’s an insult!” I retorted. They laughed, but, to his great credit, the male friend laughed hardest of all.

But all of us were playing off of the societal message that “like a girl” is a bad thing, somehow lesser than the average. [Scholarly note: Even the French diminutive “-ette” suffix, borrowed into English is a feminization.] To translate for people less strangely obsessed with language than I, it means that even on a language level, we make “lesser” mean “like a girl.” I love this usage note on dictionary.com (at the bottom), which says that the diminutive forms for females is going out of style and evolving into gender-neutral. Yay!

This also echoes my earlier post about strong female characters–that “strong” has to be said, because it’s not the socially believed standard. I hear “like a girl” all the time, from people I love and respect; I’ve said it many times, myself!

I am all for this #LikeAGirl campaign, and I hope you will be, too. From now on, when someone says I do something “like a girl,” I will say, “Thank you. I take that as a compliment.” (Or, if I just did said activity poorly, I will simply say that it is not my gender, but rather the negative aura of their company that has influenced my performance. Yessss.)

Until next time, my dear readers. I shall try to escape my characters’ demands soon, if only for brief updates or shares. 😉

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare

Today was Shakespeare’s 450th birthday–and perhaps no wordsmith has achieved immortality as well as he.
The real reason I wanted to repost this blog entry is I found it fascinating and timely, a great tribute to a great author. A coincidental big stretch is that this would also satisfy my next “A-to-Z,” since the blog’s name starts with an “I”…and NaPoWriMo because Shakespeare was one of the best poets of all time, and he is quoted herein…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this trivia as much as I did. What is YOUR favorite work by Shakespeare? It’s hard to pick, but for me, I’d have to say it’s the tragicomedy “A Winter’s Tale” (a different story than the similarly titled movie that just came out with Russell Crowe, which I still need to go see).

Interesting Literature

As tomorrow, 23 April, traditionally marks the birthday of the most famous poet and playwright in the English language, we thought we’d celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday by sharing five facts about him. We’ve tried to steer clear of the very obvious, partly because we’ve already written about Shakespeare several times before (see below for one example), but all of these facts have a Shakespeare link and are … well, facts.

1. He appears to have invented the girls’ names Jessica, Olivia, Imogen, and Miranda. Jessica is Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice, and the name was quite probably Shakespeare’s coinage (the idea being to create a Jewish-sounding name). Olivia appears in Twelfth Night, and Miranda is Prospero’s daughter in The Tempest. (The name Amanda was probably formed off the back of Miranda, so Shakespeare indirectly gave us that name, too.) Imogen was probably the result of a misprint:…

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Happy “OK” Day: 175 Years of America’s “Greatest Word”

Happy OK Day, dear readers! I had no idea this was an actual holiday until today, when I read this fascinating post on one of my favorite websites: Mother Nature Network. I’m more accustomed to reading entomology than etymology from them, but who am I to pass over a piece about word history? 🙂

Apparently, today marked the 175th anniversary of this word appearing in print in 1839. This word, which has been dubbed as “uniquely American,” seems to have origins seem amalgamated from Choctaw, Scottish, Greek, Finnish, West African, and more. Read on to learn the history of this word that I noticed myself using a lot today–and I bet you did, too (in celebration, of course).
(This post originally appeared here on mnn.com)

Where did the word ‘OK’ come from?


Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 10:24 AM

Few two-letter words have as many meanings, or are as widely understood, as ‘OK.’ In honor of its 175th birthday on March 23, here’s a look at how this uniquely American acronym went viral.

OK Cafe
Atlanta’s OK Cafe borrows its name from a restaurant in the 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Photo: terra2025/Flickr)
OK, so you’re familiar with “OK.” You probably use it all the time, and probably not for just one purpose. But do you really know what it means? And if not, are you OK with that?
The word “OK” is one of America’s most popular cultural exports, squeezing myriad meanings from just two letters in a way that embodies American ingenuity, enthusiasm and efficiency. It has almost as many origin stories as connotations, but linguists generally agree it was first published on March 23, 1839, a date now honored as OK Day. That means March 23, 2014, is the 175th birthday of OK.
So much subtlety in so few letters has made OK a tough nut to crack. But thanks to the late U.S. etymologist Allen Walker Read, we at least have a grasp on where it came from. After diligent research into OK’s history, Read published his findings in the journal American Speech in 1963 and 1964, tracing the term back to a March 23, 1839, article in the Boston Morning Herald (see below).
In the succinct spirit of OK, let’s cut to the chase: “OK” is most likely short for “oll korrect,” a jokey misspelling of “all correct” that needs a little historical context to make sense. In the late 1830s, a slang fad inspired young, educated folks in Boston and New York to make tongue-in-cheek acronyms for deliberate misspellings of common phrases. This led to arcane abbreviations like K.G. for “no go” (“know go”), N.C. for “enough said” (“nuff ced”) and K.Y. for “no use” (“know yuse”). Krazy kids!
oll korrect
This 1839 use of “o.k.” in the Boston Morning Herald is now considered the word’s first print appearance. (Image: University of Illinois)
Printing “o.k.” in a big-city newspaper helped it rise above other trendy initials, but it soon got an even bigger publicity boost. That’s because 1840 was a U.S. election year, and incumbent President Martin van Buren happened to be nicknamed “Old Kinderhook” after his birthplace of Kinderhook, N.Y. Hoping to capitalize on this coincidence, van Buren’s Democratic Party supporters formed the O.K. Club to promote him before the 1840 election, according to Oxford University Press.
While OK didn’t get O.K. re-elected — he lost to Whig William Henry Harrison — the word did get stuck in America’s memory. Its roots were soon forgotten, though, partly due to the same election-year chaos that popularized it. Whigs used it to mock former president and van Buren ally Andrew Jackson, for example, claiming Jackson invented it to cover up his own misspelling of “all correct.” Van Buren critics also turned the acronym against him, with insults like “out of kash” and “orful katastrophe.”
OK may have been the real winner in 1840, but it still took a while to become “America’s greatest word,” a title bestowed by author Allan Metcalf in his 2010 book about OK. Top 19th-century writers including Mark Twain shied away from it, according to Metcalf, providing little literary legitimacy until a variant of OK was used in 1918 by Woodrow Wilson, the only U.S. president with a Ph.D.
This long path to ubiquity can be partly mapped here by Google Ngram, which charts annual word usage across 500 years’ worth of books. It doesn’t include spoken OKs, or even all the written ones, but it’s still an interesting look at the word’s popularity, which apparently surged from 1970 to 2000:
Much of OK’s success can be attributed to its brevity and flexibility, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which notes “it filled a need for a quick way to write an approval on a document, bill, etc.” It has also evolved to fill many other linguistic niches, like granting permission (“That’s OK by me”), conveying status or safety (“Are you OK?”), calling to action or changing the subject (“OK, what’s next?”), and even hinting at mediocrity or disappointment (“We had an OK time at the party”).
The Boston Morning Herald may have been first to print OK, and that instance was clearly decoded as “all correct,” but it’s still impossible to rule out many alternative origins. Woodrow Wilson argued it should be spelled “okeh,” for instance, because he thought it came from the Choctaw word okeh for “it is so.” That’s a longstanding explanation, but its support has faded due to lack of evidence.
Other theories also see shades of OK beyond American English, in terms like Scots’ och aye (“yes, indeed”), Greek’s ola kala (“all is well”), Finnish’s oikea (“correct”) and Mandingo’s O ke (“certainly”). Complicating matters is that some people now spell OK “okay,” a newer variant. Even in the acronym camp, though, some argue OK came from the shorthand for “zero killed” on battlefield reports.
Oxford describes a potential link from OK to West Africa’s Mandingo language as “the only other theory with at least a degree of plausibility,” but adds that “historical evidence … may be hard to unearth.” As with much of U.S. culture, OK could just be a blend of concepts and syllables from around the planet, slowly gelling over generations. Whoever coined it, it’s now widely used as a loanword in other languages, providing a pithy verbal package for what NPR calls “America’s can-do philosophy.” And with that much global reach, OK has probably grown too big for us to ever dig up its roots.
That may not be a very satisfying answer, but considering all that can happen in 175 years, it’s OK.
Russell McLendon is science editor at MNN. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.
I hope you learned as much as I did, dear readers–and I hope that your weekend was more than just “OK.” 😉

National Grammar Day: Ten More Common Grammar Myths, Debunked

Happy National Grammar Day, dear readers! I think it’s no small coincidence that the holiday falls on the same day as Mardi Gras this year. It ramps up the celebratory factor for both! I’d love to try earning some beads by diagramming sentences.
As you’ve probably realized by now, I’m utterly fascinated by grammar. I think language is our most powerful tool, and just as important as a rich vocabulary is the way it all fits together. I love studying the grammar of other languages–namely, Spanish and Old English (which is so different from modern that I’m going to call it a separate language). However, modern English is such a lovely, frustrating, evolving hodgepodge that one can never truly be done studying it.
With all of the grammar classes I’ve taken throughout my academic career, one of my favorite lessons was the concept of, “OK, these are the traditional rules, and it’s important to know them, because THIS is the effect when you subvert them.” So as a writer, it’s awesome to discover the power that breaking the rules in such a way creates.
So while I may be a member of the “grammar police”…like, every day (sorry, world)…I also like the reminder that our language is ever-changing, and that there are different ways to use it. I really liked this post by blogger Motivated Grammar, which takes a progressive look at the English language in celebration of the holiday. I hope you enjoy it, too. 🙂

Motivated Grammar

Every time National Grammar Day comes around, I’m struck with a spot of dread. Any of my friends or acquaintances might, at any moment, spring upon me and shout “Hey! It’s totally your day! So don’t you hate when people use the passive voice, since you’re all into grammar?” And then I will be forced, as the crabby old coot I am, to meet their well-meaning inquiry with the level of vitriol normally reserved for a hairdresser who’s decided to treat your head as a testing ground for a new theory of hair design. “No,” I’ll shout, “that’s not it at all! I love the passive, I love variation! Grammar isn’t about telling people what they can’t say; it’s about finding out what people do say, and why they say it!” And through that outburst, my Facebook friend count will be reduced by one.

My problem with National Grammar…

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