Ahoy, mateys, and welcome aboard another newsletter from A Way with Words!

We are delighted to welcome our new listeners from KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, and WCAI, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The smell of leather-bound books and printer's ink is luring them from both coasts.

On this past weekend's show we talked about nicknames, "dilemma" spelled "dilemna," and what to call someone who leaves a career late in life but isn't retiring. Give it a listen:


You can also listen to another special online-only minicast: Pretty much everyone knows what emoticons and smileys are, but how many people know how to punctuate a sentence that contains these pictographs that are already made of punctuation?

We discuss the possibilities here:


Thanks to everyone who called and sent in email this week. A particularly great number of you had something to say and we're still sorting through them.

One batch in particular, though, is easy to answer because it gives us a chance to rebut some common misconceptions about speaking correctly.

Here's what you had to say and our responses:

"You used a split infinitive!"

This one should go down in history with spider eggs in bubble gum and childhood stars dying from eating Pop Rocks and soda: it's a myth.

All the grammar experts we know--and we know hundreds--agree that splitting infinitives is fine, though not doing it can sometimes add clarity. Blanket proscriptions against it have always been ill-advised. Choosing whether or not to do it is a matter of personal or institutional style, not grammar.

"You ended a sentence with a preposition!"

Same for ending a sentence with a preposition: as long as the sentence is otherwise correct and grammatical, it is fine. There has never been a legitimate rule forbidding it. Though there should be a Facebook group for people who are now trying to recover their equilibrium after discovering their fifth grade teachers were wrong in spreading this false rule.

"You said 'five years younger than me'!"

"Younger than me" is correct, if you consider that "than me" is operating in the objective case. "Than" is a preposition here, not a conjunction. "Than I" is best used if you are going to add a verb afterward: "Five years younger than I am." You could argue that "than I" is more appropriate in formal situations, which we might agree with--but an unscripted radio show is by no means formal!

Elsewhere, high on our recommendation these days is the new audiobook from Charles Hodgson of Podictionary.com. "Global Wording: The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English" is a pleasant summary of how the language turned out the way it has, read with Charles's homey Canadian vowels and his soothing library voice (that's the language-radio equivalent of "bedroom eyes").

Find out more about "Global Wording" here:


Don't forget that throughout the week we drop pointers to interesting language-related stuff in our discussion forums:


Never avast ye wordlubbers,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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