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Grammatical Guffaws and Kerfuffles

Hi, all!

In the last archive edition before our new season (woohoo!), we cover colorful idioms around the world, portmanteau words, "wooden nickels," "thrice happy," "petered out," and why sneezing makes some people exclaim, "Scat, Tom! Get your tail out of the gravy!"


In other news, the week's funniest blog post was on Language Log, "Visual Aid for the Serial Comma." Worth at least a thousand words, don't you think?


Remember this summer's kerfuffle over Americanisms infiltrating British English? Over on Slate, Ben Yagoda demonstrates that transatlantic cross-pollination goes both ways.

"Kerfuffle," in fact, is an example.


In his lively blog, Not One-Off Britishisms, Yagoda tracks the UK expressions infiltrating Americans' speech.


You wouldn't think there'd be that much to say about the distinction between "but" and "although." Allan Metcalf recently parsed the difference in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


But there's spirited disagreement about Metcalf's column over on Jan Freeman's blog, Throw Grammar from the Train.


In a recent mini-podcast, we asked, "What's the word for the point you have to reach in order to make it through a traffic light before it turns red?"

Holly Valero answered on our Facebook page that she calls that zone "the crease," a term borrowed from such field sports as soccer, meaning "the area around the goal, with its own rules."

And what's it called when you hit a long series of green lights while driving? Holly says that's when you experience "travelation."

Karl Visser of Crowley, Tex., emailed a poetic term he learned from a driving instructor. A "stale green light" means a traffic light that's been green for a while, even after the "Don't Walk" signal begins to flash for pedestrians.

Finally this week, mysterious paper sculptures have been turning up at Edinburgh libraries.


BEHIND THE SCENES: A recent discussion on the American Dialect Society's email list centered on why so many people say "holding down the fort." The original version was simply "holding the fort."

Curmudgeons have long complained that "holding down the fort" makes it sound as if you're holding something flimsy that's about to blow away.

In any case, Martha is holding, and holding down, the fort in San Diego while Grant attends the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Baltimore this week.

New episodes start this weekend. Enjoy!

Martha and Grant

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