What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 122 of 127


A false step

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Make no mistake about it; context clues help us understand words. (See Aug. 4 entry.)

In today’s Born Loser we can get a sense of what the French phrase faux pas means, because both men use a general synonym, mistake, in their dialogue. (Using a synonym is one way that a writer provides a context clue.)

More precisely, Webster’s says the word means, “a social blunder; error in etiquette; tactless act or remark.”

The phrase has been in our language since 1676, according to the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It is pronounced “foe paw” and literally means false step.

When I worked in marketing communications, my firm had a major, somewhat hotheaded client who always pronounced the phrase “foo paw.” I gritted my teeth but said nothing. Correcting him, I feared, would be a false step in advancing my career.

Now, however, for the record, Mr. Ex-Client, wherever you are, it’s "FOE paw."


 

0 comments

A word worth puzzling out

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, August 16, 2010

“Conundrum” is a word worth knowing.

In its broad sense, it means a problem to be solved or a mystery. As noted in last Saturday’s story on 3B, the Buffs’ coach has the problem of deciding which of two talented quarterbacks will start games this season.

Webster’s first definition, though, is much more precise. It’s “a riddle whose answer contains a pun.”

Webster’s gives this example: “What’s the difference between a jeweler and a jailer?” Answer: “One sells watches and the other watches cells.”

Dictionary.com provides another example, one near and dear to my heart:

“What is black and white and read all over?” Yes, you guessed it: “a newspaper.”

If you find words in a newspaper that are conundrums to you, it’s almost always worth your time to look them up or try to figure out their meanings from their context--the words around them. (See Aug. 4th entry.)

When learning new words becomes habitual, reading becomes less of a conundrum and more of a pleasure.


 

0 comments

An apt venue for an American star

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, August 13, 2010

Lady Gaga brought down the house last Friday night at Lollapalooza in Grant Park in Chicago. (Yes, that’s the same park in which President Obama delivered his acceptance speech in 2008.) Considering her scaled-down, yet over-the-top performance, it was fitting that she appeared at this venue.

The word “lollapalooza” means “something or someone very striking or unusual,” according to Webster’s. It is an Americanism, a word coined in America and sometimes exported to the rest of the world.

If you riffle through a dictionary, you will see hundreds of words preceded by a star. The star indicates that the word is an Americanism.

Perhaps the Americanism that has been most exported to the rest of the world is OK. According to Webster’s, “The term was coined in a Boston newspaper in 1839 as an abbreviation of the comic misspelling oll korrekt and was subsequently popularized as the name of a political club supporting President Martin Van Buren, who was nicknamed Old Kinderhook from his birthplace.”

You could be anywhere from Mumbai to Mozambique, and a taxi driver will understand the word OK. Thanks to satellite radio and TV, the driver may even be able to hum a few Lady Gaga tunes. Getting him to understand “lollapalooza” could be trickier....

 

 


 

0 comments

Formidable Scrabble players

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good headline writers could be formidable Scrabble players.

To successfully write headlines or excel at the popular board game, a person must have an extensive vocabulary that includes an arsenal of short words. Hard-core Scrabble players know, for instance, that if their last four tiles are the letters u-e-z-b, they can create zebu. It means an ox native to Asia and some parts of Africa.

One of our hed writers (who could likely trounce Scrabble opponents sans merci) came up with redux in the headline above. Webster’s definition of redux is “brought back, revived, restored, etc.” Words such as this come in amazingly handy when a writer must squeeze a lot of information into a short line.

The headline above summarizes the editorial’s observation that the GOP’s Scott Tipton will once again face Democrat John Salazar in a bid for a Congressional seat after a similar contest in 2006. In early November we’ll know who has scrambled to the top.

The editorial appears below.

0 comments

Horse sense, anyone?

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Down to the wire” is an idiomatic expression that comes from horse racing. Long before we wired our world to enable us to capture every muscle twitch on InstaCam, a racetrack would have the old-fashioned kind of wire strung above the finish line to help spectators determine which horse placed first in a nose-to-nose finish.

The expression broadened over the years to mean any tight race.

Dan Maes has edged out Scott McInniss in the Republican primary bid for governor, so we can say the race went right down to the wire. Whether Maes remains the GOP’s choice is a “horse of a different color,” or an entirely different matter.

Meanwhile, Ken Buck could be considered somewhat of a “dark horse candidate.” He’s emerged victorious in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate over frontrunner Jane Norton. A dark horse candidate is one who is not initially favored to win.

This phrase also comes from racing. It means an unknown horse that is hard to place a wager on because bettors are uncertain about its capabilities.

As politicians head into the general election, we can only hope that each winner will use plenty of “horse sense“ in meeting the needs of Coloradoans.
 

0 comments
Page 122 of 127




TOP JOBS




THE DAILY SENTINEL
734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050
Editions
Subscribe to print edition
E-edition
Advertisers
Sign in to your account
Information

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