All You Can Eat?

Those of us at Run It By Fred wouldn’t be in this business if we weren’t head over heels for words: their infinite variety, their everyday use and misuse, their often perplexing placement when strung together in sentences. To passionate word nerds, English and its intricacies are like food – and, all the better, the menu is spiced with borrowings from all corners of the world.

In a little exercise to prove the “all corners” point, first note these seven foods: hummus… West African blackeyed peas… chow mein… coq au vin… fettucine Alfredo… paella… yogurt. Now match them to the everyday words bequeathed to English by the tongues of the countries of origin – in corresponding order, sofa (Arabic) … funk (Bantu)… kowtow (Chinese)… intrigue (French)… fiasco (Italian)… macho (Spanish)… and caftan (Turkish). Our vast vocabulary owes much to Latin, Greek, Old German, and Old French, but countless languages have contributed to English’s astonishing scope and color.

 We invite you to join a discussion of the posts in the various blog categories – some praiseful, some peevish… but all, we hope, informative. Or you could simply browse a few and move on. Whatever your choice, find two small plates of appetizers below – first, such matters as pronunciation, euphemism, and word coinage; second, curiosities thrown in mainly for laughs.

The functional

  • When (and why) did so many Americans start pronouncing either as EYE-ther? (Whither Either?)
  • What’s behind the snowballing replacement of die and death with pass and passing? (Don’t Kill Death!)
  • It is fairly well known that the word boycott came from Charles Boycott and mesmerize from the surname of Franz Mesmer, but what are a few other words derived from people’s names? Prepare to be surprised. (Eponym Guy)
  • Did the s sound at the end of the phrase coup de grace just fall off a cliff somewhere? (Coup de What?) On the other hand, why have scads of sentences gained something wholly extraneous: an extraneous it – and in turn, mangled grammar? (Pronounce This!)
  • Why do we sometimes pluralize the word way (“It’s a good ways down the road”), when there’s no reason whatsoever to do so? (What’s Up with Ways vs. Way?)

The just plain fun

  • In the elongated-word stakes, which 45-letter New England lake name is outrun by a North Island of New Zealand hill name by more than a mile? (The 45-Letter Lake)
  • What are some of the most cringe-worthy word manglings that have recently popped up in print, in popular websites, and on radio and television? (Misfires)
  • Which Pennsylvania hamlets have names that would make Hester Prynne* blush? (The Amish Road to Naughty)
  • What’s the word for seeing the face of Jesus in a burnt tortilla or a galloping horse in a cloud? (OMG! It’s Jesus!)

Run It By Fred will keep dishing up treats as fast as we can. Just how many will make their way onto the menu over the coming months and years is up in the air, but our goal is to make them so tempting you’ll find them worth sampling.

*Protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1805 novel The Scarlet Letter

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