We all have certain writers we’re a bit in awe of, because of their stories and because of the power of their words. To be able to hash through the revision process with such an author is an absolute honor, and I’m thrilled to present you with the following Authors on Editing interview with National Book Award, Newbery Honor, and Coretta Scott King Award recipient Jacqueline Woodson.
When local television news viewers start calling out meteorologists on their weather-specific grammar, you know people are in that end-of-winter, dark, gloomy, living-in-their-long-johns state of mind. Allow me to come to the defense of on-air weather personalities everywhere to say that “bitter cold” and “bitterly cold” are both correct.
However, there is a difference to be aware of. More
Often, when I’m giving workshops, a hand raises into the air with a great question. Oftentimes, it’s a question that makes me pause and think.
Recently, the question was this: If we should try to make the most of our words and tighten superfluous language, why would you say “oftentimes” instead of just “often”?
It was a fabulous question, one I didn’t immediately have the answer to. More
Who is this Nick we speak of? He must be a time-traveler. No, that doesn’t sound right. It must be “knick of time,” right? Right?
Sometimes our brains want to over-complicate things, believing the simple answer can’t be right and that it must be something more profound. In this vein, I’ve seen “nick of time” written a number of ways—“knick of time” and even “gnick of time” among them. However, plain old “nick” is the correct form for this idiom. More
Good Will Hunting fans and language lovers alike have wondered about the origin of “How do you like them apples?”
Where on earth did this phrase come from? Orchard owners? Apple thieves? Really proud produce managers?
The exact etymology of the phrase “How do you like them apples?” is a bit fuzzy, but many sources point to the idea that a specific type of mortar during World War I was nicknamed a “toffee apple.” It was large and spherical, which didn’t allow it to fully fit in the firing tube and gave it a candy apple appearance. It’s believed that the soldiers in the trenches were the first to say this phrase, “How do you like them apples?” upon firing the mortars across enemy lines.
More brutal than you expected?
Etymology, man. Stealing phrases from the trenches. Literally.
Join 600+ subscribers and sign-up for my writing and editing email newsletter for more language trivia like this.
Did you know “unfriend” isn’t a new word? To “unfriend” someone might make you think of social media, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the action of no longer being friends with someone has been called “unfriending” since 1659.
My personal favorite part of this word history is that “unfriend” has been recorded as a noun as far back as 1275. Now, I’m not quite sure if a medieval “unfriend” is the same as a “frenemy” or is someone you’ve simply cut ties with, but either way, aren’t you excited to know that language doesn’t evolve as quickly as we think it does sometimes? More
If you’re using words like “connote” and “denote” to elevate your communications, you’re already set to take on the world, using your vocabulary to strut your stuff. The problem comes when you don’t actually realize what you’re saying.
That’s never a good thing.
When it comes to “connote” vs. “denote,” think of “connections” and “definitions.” More
Some etymology stories might be the product of fiction, but sometimes, they are so good, you have to hope that they’re true. This is the case of the tale concerning why we call long johns, “long johns.”
Merriam Webster tells us that the term “long johns” has been used to describe this long underwear since 1941, but when you dig a little deeper, you can come across the same story again and again:
In the late 1800s, an Irish-American boxer named John Lawrence Sullivan rose to fame because not only was he unbeatable, not only did he win the last bare-knuckle world heavyweight title bout in the 75th round after recovering from vomiting in the 44th, not only did his trainer have to drag him away from bars the full duration of his training. but he was also recorded saying that, he could “lick anyone, anytime,” and would regularly jump into the ring or any other challenge in his long underwear tucked into his socks, ready to go. He did this so commonly, fans began calling the long underwear by his name.
Is this the real origin of the term “long johns”? Maybe. It’s the consistent reference though it’s not 100% confirmed. But whether it is or isn’t, can we all at least appreciate that there was a boxer so confident and so proud that this is truly how he stepped into the ring? Nightmares about stepping on stage in your underwear have nothing on this guy.
That’s something to keep you warm on a cold winter day.
Join 550+ subscribers and sign-up for my writing and editing email newsletter for more language trivia like this.
Many writers aspire to craft intrigue, to evoke a fascination in history and the world that we live in through page-turning plots and three-dimensional characters, but few make an impact as great as international bestseller Katherine Neville, who I am honored to have joining me for the following Authors on Editing interview.
Katherine Neville’s colorful, swashbuckling adventure novels, in the epic “Quest” tradition, have graced the bestseller lists in forty languages. But her books remain hard to pigeonhole:
Neville herself has been dubbed “the female” Umberto Eco, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, and Stephen Spielberg. Her work has been reviewed and has received awards in categories as diverse as Mystery, Thriller, Historic, Romance, Science Fiction as well as classical literature. Publishers Weekly described Neville’s works as having “paved the way for books like The Da Vinci Code.” In a national poll by the noted Spanish journal, El Pais, her novel, The Eight, was voted one of the top ten books of all time. More