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Mystery Drawer (episode #1555)

Amid court-ordered busing in the 1970s, a middle-school teacher tried to distract her nervous students on the first day of class with this strange assignment: find a monarch caterpillar. The result? A memorable lesson in the miracle of metamorphosis...

Mudlarking (episode #1561)

Twice a day the River Thames recedes, revealing a muddy shoreline. Hobbyists known as mudlarks stroll the surface searching for objects that have found their way into the river over the centuries, everything from ancient Roman jewelry to modern...

Two Kinds of “Fell”

Caroline calls from Clinch Mountain, Tennessee, to ask about two puzzling uses of the word fell, and not as in the past tense of fall. In books by J.R.R. Tolkien, she’s seen fell used as an adjective meaning “dreadful” or...

Hog on Ice (episode #1544)

One secret to writing well is … there is no secret! There’s no substitute for simply sitting down day after day to practice the craft and learn from your mistakes. Plus, childhood mixups around word definitions can lead to some funny stories...

Linguistic Hedges and Conversational Softeners

Paul in Dryden, New York, says when he lived in Tennessee, he knew that when someone began a sentence with Bless his heart, that phrase would usually be followed by the word but, plus a criticism of that person. Now that he’s living in New...

Walkie Talkie (episode #1541)

One of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear — and one of the most poignant — isn’t in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means “the last surviving member of a species.” The...

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