What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 112 of 132

Duped into a trip-up

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, December 3, 2010

Kudos should go to Dolly for trying out a new word. She must have learned the word “duplicate,” which means an identical copy, and extended the meaning when she spied triplets … or triplicates, if you will.

Watching children figure out language is both fascinating and charming. My three-year-old granddaughter told me recently that she “drawed” a picture for her father. Since most English verbs are regular verbs that use “ed” in the past tense, she has inferred that adding the “ed” suffix is how to describe an event in the past.

Choosing not to correct her, I replied, “Yes, you drew a beautiful picture.” I could almost see her brain’s neurons fire up. I know that she’s tucked away that usage away and, when her stage of development is right, she’ll say, “I drew a picture.” I just hope she doesn’t say, “I drew a picture all over the living room wall.”



Stormy title, stormy times

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jeremy has my sympathy today. Wuthering Heights is not the easiest book to read.

Wuthering is an adjective used by inhabitants of Northern England that describes blustery winds or turbulent weather. As you’ve probably guessed, the word heights just means a place that is higher than others.

Wuthering Heights is a metaphoric name for a story about two ill-fated lovers in rural England. Their personal lives, racked with high drama, set up conflict for the next generation, as well.

Published in 1847, Emily Bronte’s gothic novel is replete with archaic words and convoluted sentence structure. Reading it can be a challenge. Still, the novel is a fascinating look into the souls of two iconic characters, and it inspired Kate Bush’s song with the same title in 1978. To see Bush performing the song, check out a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxZiDQ6Iw5s&feature=related.

Wuthering Heights truly is worth "sussing out." Let’s hope Jeremy perseveres.


No lie: It’s lying

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, December 1, 2010


If cavemen can get their grammar right, so can we. Many of us, it seems, have a hard time remembering the difference between lying and laying.

As it is used in the cartoon, lying is the present participle of the intransitive verb lie. An intransitive verb is associated with only one noun and cannot take a direct object. A transitive verb is associated with more than one noun and can take a direct object.

Examples: The baby is lying comfortably. The mother gently lays the baby down onto the changing table.

The first sentence has no direct object. Lying, the verb, is associated with the simple subject, baby. Lying has a helping verb, is, in front of it. In the second sentence baby is the direct object and mother is the simple subject. The verb lays is associated with both nouns.  It is a transitive verb.

For more examples of the difference between lie and lay, check out http://www.learningtreasures.com/lay_lie.html


A diplomatic cat-astrophe

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Syndicated cartoonist Paresh Nath relies on a common idiomatic expression in English to make his point about the latest Wikileaks revelations. To let the cat out of the bag means to divulge a secret.

The expression is widespread, but its origins are murky. Some researchers say it may have started in the marketplaces of the Middle Ages during times when meat was in short supply. Shoppers were warned not buy a cat in a bag or sack. The rumor was that an unscrupulous seller might substitute a cat for a pig to an unwitting buyer. A buyer who did not check the bag would take home something inedible.

Other historians, though, think that people in the Middle Ages surely could not have been that gullible. A cat’s anatomy, after all, is different than that of a pig, and the two animals certainly make different sounds. Perhaps shoppers who were both blind and deaf could have been tricked this way, but not the average person.

Another theory comes from the practice of keeping a “cat o’ nine tails” in a bag aboard a sailing ship. Some historians say it was used to punish disobedient sailors in the British Royal Navy; other historians claim that slaves, not sailors, were punished with it.

At any rate, a “cat o’ nine tails” was a whip composed of three ropes. Each rope had three smaller ones braided into it. When the braids came loose, the unfortunate soul at the receiving end of the whip would endure the pain of nine ropes.

If sailors knew they risked a flogging for planning a mutiny, they would want to keep their mutiny plans secret. So, if the secret and its holders were revealed, the next step would be “letting the cat out of the bag.” Perhaps over time, some historians claim, the phrase went from meaning punishment to revealing a secret.

Other historians discount this theory, though, because other references to a “cat in the bag” came before the nautical reference. Still others say claim that the origin was simpler and just relied on common sense. If a cat is let out of a bag, it will go wherever it wants, rather like a secret once someone discloses it.

I learned much of this information by checking out the sources below. For more details on this phrase, go to:



The cartoon’s creator, by the way, is Paresh Nath, the chief cartoonist for India's National Herald. Cagle Cartoons syndicates his work in the United States. His cartoon is a reminder that millions of people worldwide have learned English well enough to understand its idioms, or phrases that mean something different than their literal meanings.

To read the full story on the release of sensitive files, check out the front page of today’s print edition or e-edition of The Daily Sentinel.


Definitely a princess

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, November 29, 2010

I was especially interested in the Student of the Week section today, because it features Sarah Ferrieri, a former literacy student of mine. The name Sarah comes from the Hebrew, Sara, which means princess.

Despite the meaning of her first name, Sarah Ferrieri never expected to be treated like royalty when she was an eighth-grader at West Middle School. Quite the contrary. Every day, she rolled up her sleeves and tried to learn as much as she could. She always went above and beyond her teachers’ expectations for her schoolwork and for her behavior.

Sarah Ferrieri has a bright future ahead—one of her own making. If she is ever treated like royalty, she will have earned every second of it.

As promised Friday, here are some more words that end in “ee”: lessee, trustee, escapee, refugee, retiree, employee, trainee, referee, absentee and addressee.

Sarah Ferrieri, Palisade High School senior

Page 112 of 132


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