What’s Verbatim? Verbatim is a magazine devoted to what is amusing, interesting, and engaging about the English language and languages in general. We strive to bring fascinating topics out of the dusty obscurity of dry linguistic scholarship and polish them up for the general reader with an intelligent interest in language. We gently poke fun at the messes people can get into with English and the misunderstandings that arise from our common language. All this, plus a generous helping of book reviews, should provide an hour or two’s diversion for the person interested in language.

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VERBATIM Articles, Book Reviews, News

A Backhanded Pardon

"My Lord, I had forgott the Fart." Queen Elizabeth I, as told by Aubrey When Oxford first appeared at Court, He blushed to hear a loud report Behind him as he bent his knee Before Elizabeth, and she Must have shown she too had heard By uttering a witty word, Such as:...

What’s the French for “Fiddle de dee”?

What’s the French for "Fiddle de dee"? Margaret of Scotland, Wife of Louis XI, provides an answer for Lewis Carroll Here’s a question to explore, A query Alice merely parried When she was examined for The right to wear the crown she carried, And to be a pawn no more....

Favorite Words

Last year sometime (we?re very exact here at VERBATIM world headquarters) we asked you to send us your favorite words. Not necessarily the words whose meaning you most admired, but the words you found a joy to say, write and hear (and as some of you pointed out, to...

Intolerable Intolerance, Redux

EX CATHEDRA In Volume 1, Number 3 of Verbatim, Laurence Urdang, in an article entitled "An Intolerant View of Intolerance" wrote: "I consider myself–as, I am sure, everyone regards himself–a tolerant human being: I try to avoid prejudice in all things. Yet I must...

Epistolae 242

In William H. Dougherty’s "Bromides" in the Winter, 1999 issue, lumpectomy appears to be presented as equivalent to mastectomy. Not corect. Lumpectomy means just what one might guess, excision of a lump. Mastectomy is the surgical removal of the entire breast, the...

Epistolae 243

While reading William Dougherty’s article "Bromides" (XXIV/1) about the reluctance that physicians exhibit in speaking frankly about their patients’ life-threatening conditions, using euphemisms and circumlocutions, I remembered an experience I had that illustrates...

Preposition Pollution

Foreigners trying to learn English often have more trouble with our prepositions than with any other feature. But I see and hear so many awkward uses of prepositions lately that I think we all have more trouble with them than with any other feature--and more trouble...

The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary

BIBLIOGRAPHIA The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, by Paul Dickson , 592 pp. Harvest Books (Harcourt Brace and Company), 1999. Hardcover $35.00, Paperback $20.00. We speak baseball all the time. Even those of us who know nothing about the nuances of the game...

DARE-More Than Halfway There

Dictionary of American Regional English Because logophiles regularly ask about the progress of the Dictionary of American Regional English (familiarly known as DARE), I'd like to take the opportunity of VERBATIM's rebirth to bring you all up to date. First, let me...

All about All

In the movie Spartacus,1 the Roman general, Crassus, ensures the cooperation of the slave dealer, Batiatus, by making him the following promise: "I authorize you to be the agent for the sale of all survivors." When Crassus wins the final battle and orders that all...

BONA PALARE: the Language of Round the Horne

Some historians of comedy argue that Round The Horne, a BBC sketch show broadcast between 1965 and 1968, prolonged the life of radio as a major medium of entertainment in the UK, at a time when TV was rapidly establishing its regrettable hegemony. Certainly, RTH was...

From A Dictionary of Interesting Collisions

Abasement Flat: Digs hard-up tenants lower themselves by renting. About-facetiousness: earnestness; the reverse of frivolity. About-preface: Epilogue or afterword; an antonym for introduction. Acuwomen: Form of female intuition; shrewdness peculiar to women....

Byte Bonding, Bit-bangers, and BLOBS

The mechanisms involved in the processes of word formation have been well documented by linguists; the wit, creativity, imagination and ingenuity displayed by the vernacular is inexhaustible. Magazines and newspapers, songs and screenplays all yield innumerable gems....

Classical Blather

What is so rare as a day in June? And what is so common asa rhyme for it? Speakers of English through the century seem tohave delighted in the sound of the double o, rotund and warm,gently terminating in the soft glide of the n "as if it wereloath to cease."1 Popular...

On Blue Moons, and Others

Nature has favored us with a single large satellite with two felicitous peculiarities: It always turns the same face towards us, and it appears exactly the same size in the sky as our sun. The latter property makes a total solar eclipse, if we are fortunate enough to...

Graphic Account

As code, is how the alphabet Began in use. Visible ink. Cuneiform, which few regret, Did everything most people think Essential in a writing system For three millennia of sale, Gift, loan-could number, name, and list them, Hard copy, should agreement fail. It was so...

Darn, Durn, Down, Doon, Damn

Dwight Bolinger Professor of Linguistics Emeritus Harvard University Minced oaths are etymological landmines, and if I were a better guesstymologist I probably would not tread on this one; but if it is a coincidence it is too good to be true, so here goes....

A Bestiary of Adjectives

Darwin, Desmond Morris, and David Atten-borough, to mention but three, teach us that man is just another animal: a hairless primate distinguished by uniquely complex language patterns. In DNA terms a human being is more than 95 percent chimpanzee. Does that explain...

A Bawdy Language

A Bawdy Language: How A Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top, by Howard Richler, Stoddart, 1999. ISBN: 0-7737-3186-5. 208 pp. $15.95/£9.86 As you might guess from the title, A Bawdy Language is a rather irreverent and almost relentlessly topical romp through...

Bats as Symbols

In the United States and Europe, bats tend to be considered creatures of ill omen–it is assumed that there must be something wrong with a mammal that wears fur but flies through the air. What is worse, most bats fly at night, thus proving they are up to no good....

Assing Around

The word ass appears in American slang in multiple ways with multiple meanings. It has a rich and varied history and can signify anything from good to bad to more. A mildly transgressive word, ass is not quite as serious as shit or fuck–it is more of a humorously...

Certain Somebodies

"There was a certain man..." begins many a parable; yet the identity of the man is anything but certain. Monty Python's reluctant messiah in The Life of Brian, dropped by a joyriding space buggy onto a Jerusalem Speakers' Corner, tries to blend in: "There were these...

243 Crossword Answers

Across 1. GEMSTONE (anag.) 5. S(CR)EAM 10. UN(IT)E 11. ME(A + TEA)TER 12. METAL (mettle hom.) 13. DETOURING (anag.) 14. TRIG + GERMAN 17. BASS (base hom.) 19. VISA (hid.) 20. ATMOSPHERE (anag.) 23. MILES + TONE 25. TULLE (tool hom.) 27. OPERATIVE (rev.) 28. PRIZE (2...

Believe it or Not

A new issue! Several, in fact, but here's the Table of Contents for the first of the new issues:Qat in Yemen Gregory Johnson Three Limericks Max Gutmann Cuckoo for Crack Mark Peters My Genetic Code Louis Phillips User-Friendly Turkish Martin Gani Linguistic Larceny:...

Crossword #104 Answers

If you were missing the answers to Crossword #104 in XXXI/1, you're not the only one! Click here for them, which I know you're only using to check your own answers, right?

Our New Address

VERBATIM has moved, and despite our renewing the forwarding request several times, the Chicago Post Office has decided it would be easier to pretend we don't exist. So if your letter is returned, our new address is:PO Box 597302Chicago IL 60659Our old address may be...

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The Language Quarterly
Language and linguistics for the layperson since 1974