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Pronouncing Forte

A listener in Billings, Montana, says his brother is an English teacher who corrects his pronunciation of forte, meaning “strong point.” Pedants will insist that it should be pronounced FORT, but that reflects an assumption about its...

The Year 1805

Today the title War and Peace is practically synonymous with “incredibly long novel.” If Tolstoy had kept the book’s original title, however, our synonym for such a hefty epic would be The Year 1805. This is part of a complete...

I’ll Be Your Boo

If you’re nibbling on slippery Jims or sipping sweet soup, chances are you’re in the Badger State. It’s the language of Wisconsin — explained at last. Also, the famous abolitionist whose name became an exclamation, and how to...

An Issue with “Issue”

A listener from Madison, Wisconsin, has an issue with the word issue. She doesn’t like it being used as a synonym for problem. But the American Heritage Usage Panel has come around to accepting the new use of issue, so if that’s a...

Thesaurus Plagiarizing

Whatever Roget’s Thesaurus may have you believe, sinister buttocks is not a synonym for “left behind.” But a growing number of students are blindly using the thesaurus, or Rogeting, trying mask plagiarism. And it’s not...

Lacerates Falling from My Eyes

Back when George W. Bush was a student at a New England prep school, he took to the thesaurus to impress a teacher, and wound up using a synonym for the wrong meaning for tear. Hence, the telltale phrase lacerates falling from my eyes wound up in...

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