Saturday, May 26, 2012


On this day in 1897, the first copies of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula went on sale in London bookstalls.

Stoker coined the noun un-dead, which he in fact considered as a title for his story. The word had appeared before that in the Oxford English Dictionary, as an adjective.

The Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary considers undead to be a noun. It gives legitimacy to the extremely dumb word unbe, "to cease to have being." Most other dictionaries list unbe as archaic.

It also lists "unlive" as a verb, defining it as "to live so as to make amends for."

Other amusing "un-" verbs in the OSPD:

Unchoke ("to free from choking"); unchurch ("to expel from a church"); unguard ("to leave unprotected"); unmingle; unsell; unswear; and unthink.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new

What this country needs is a Cliché Czar. That eminence would ride herd on the unthinking, lazy and demoralizing use of worn-out expressions. He (or the Tsaritsa, if it happened to be a woman) would decide exactly when popular expressions become trite and would retire or ban them outright. Any citizen heard uttering an interdicted term would be flogged in public with a whip of wet noodles, a humiliating but largely symbolic punishment.
Here are five expressions that would demand immediate action.
  • At the end of the day. A metaphor that was never any more colorful than the phrase it replaced, “When all is said and done,” the expression is a favorite of pompous types also given to asking themselves questions and then answering them:
Q: “Am I happy with the way the reports turned out?”   
A: “No, but at the end of the day you have to decide whether you did all you could do.”
By the way, what time is the end of the day? Midnight? Most people are asleep by then, and indisposed as far as summing things up. Five p.m.? If so, what about people who work at night? Doesn’t the expression discriminate against them?
  • Think outside the box. Speakers who imagine that this piece of advice is still useful or inspiring—or that it ever was—should be placed in a box, preferably bound and gagged, and lowered into a canal somewhere. Let them think of how to get out.
  • It’s not rocket science, or, alternately, it’s not brain surgery. How about giving some other professions a chance? For instance, let’s say you’re studying for the bar exams, and somebody asks you how it’s going; you could tell them, “Well, it’s not exactly pizza delivery.”
  • Throw someone under the bus. Here again, let’s consider some alternatives. How many people ever ride a bus, especially politicians, who use this expression as much as any group? Wouldn’t it be more apropos for them to say “They threw him under the taxi,” or “He threw her under the limo”? Anyway, whatever happened to the good old expression, “Let’s throw him to the dogs”?
  • Bucket list. The time has come to terminate this once-novel term. Let’s give an equal opportunity to some of the multitude of other metaphors for death. How about (Grim) Reaper list, (dirt) nap list, worm (food) list, (pushing up) daisies list, or (give up the) ghost list?
What should be on every language lover’s list-formerly-known-as-bucket-list? Running for Cliché Czar. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


In giant letters on a sign above a brand-new business: Glorious Nail's. Who is this Nail, and why is he/she so glorious? And what kind of business does the glorious Nail operate?