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Cruciverbalists and How to Address an Envelope to a Married Couple

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Welcome to another newsletter from A Way with Words.

This past weekend we gave another airing to our episode about crossword puzzles. This is the one in which we talked about whether it should be "driver license," "drivers' license," or "driver's license," and the pronunciation of "route."

Hear it here:


This week's special treat is a minicast about how to address an envelope to a married couple. If you've got modern sensibilities, it's not easy. Shouldn't we also include the woman's first name?


We've been answering a lot more mail.

Sandy writes, "My sisters and I are in a disagreement about the proper way to say that someone has graduated from college or high school. I believe the proper way is to say 'She graduated from college' or 'She graduated from high school.' They both say 'She graduated college' and 'She graduated high school.'"

Sandy, in formal situations (such as in a public speech or a business email), the best form is "she graduated from college."

In informal speech (such as between friends, in grocery store chit-chat, or in an email to family) it is also fine to say "she graduated college" without the preposition.

Some people might say that one should only ever say "she *was* graduated from college." However, even the most conservative style guides pooh-pooh that transitive usage as outdated. It it best (and perhaps should only be) used in hyper-formal situations, such as speaking before the Nobel committee or in an obituary.

Ten-year-old Trenton from Wisconsin writes to ask what "whip my weight in wimps" means. We suppose there's some slang in there that might be a bit confusing.

"Whip" in this expression means "to beat or overcome someone in a physical fight." A wimp, of course, is a person with no athletic ability or muscle strength.

The phrase as a whole is a variation on the long-standing Americanism to describe a man who was so tough he could "whip his weight in wild cats," which dates to at least as early as 1845.

Using "wimps" instead of "wild cats" kind of turns the expression on its head, though, so someone who is said to be able to "whip his weight in wimps" isn't really that much of a fighter, is he?

Sarah in San Diego says, "I am writing about a phrase my dad used to say. When it was time for us to leave somewhere he would say 'Trunks and Tails!' I'm guessing it has something to do with elephants lining up holding the tail of the elephant in front of them with their trunk. Unfortunately my dad has passed away so I can't ask him but I would love to know where the phrase came from."

Yes, that's exactly it, Sarah. It brings to mind the circus parade, doesn't?

Though we suppose "trunks and tails" could also describe an intrepid traveler's suitcase: it contains clothing appropriate for swimming, a black-tie dinner, and everything in between.

That's all for this newsletter. More next week.

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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