What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 112 of 132

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


Grantor vs. grantee

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, November 26, 2010

The Frank and Earnest cartoon today has fun with the name of a famous American. The Battle of Appomattox was one of the last Civil War battles; it was fought April 9, 1865. The general on the winning side was Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union forces. He would become the 18th president of the United States.

A grant is something that is given, such as "property, a tract of land, an exclusive right or power, money from a fund, etc.,” according to Webster’s. Teachers, for example, often write proposals for grant money from charitable foundations.

Grant may also be used as a verb. For instance, a genie might say “I’ll grant your wish.” Here, the genie is a grantor, someone who makes the grant. (See blog of Oct. 12 for other words with the “or” suffix.)

The person receiving the grant is the grantee. Can you think of other people who are described in words that end with the “ee” suffix? Check Monday’s blog for some answers.

In the meantime, as promised Wednesday, here are some synonyms for diminutive: little, small, miniature, miniscule, minute, petite, teeny, tiny, teeny-weeny, teensy-weensy and wee.


Big words for petite powerhouses

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If the words in this headline are unfamiliar, reading the subhead helps us guess their meaning:

Using the context clues in the subhead, we can infer (logically guess) that diminutive dynamos are small but powerful football players. We can test our inference by reading the story. Sure enough, it provides details on Danny Woodhead, not quite 5-foot-8, and Darren Sproles, 5-foot-6, whose outstanding performances make them dynamite in small packages for their teams. (Check out the print edition or e-edition for the entire story.)

Dynamos, or powerful people, dominate other fields, too. For example, many people consider Bill Gates a dynamo in the computer world, Bruce Springstein a dynamo in the music world and Hillary Clinton a dynamo in the diplomatic world.

A dynamo also means “a generator that produces direct current with the use of a commutator,” according to Wikipedia. Webster's says that the word stems from the Greek word dynamis, which means power.

How many other synonyms for diminutive can you think of? Check Friday’s blog for a few more.

Page 112 of 132


734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
Subscribe to print edition
Sign in to your account

© 2014 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy