Even though most of us don't use horses or buggies as our main transportation these days, our language still has horse-related idioms, which writers sometimes mix up.
I have a new quiz for you to try. It comprises 10 sentences, about half of them have to do with word choice, a couple are about grammar and at least one is about idioms. To satisfy the purists, I should not call this a grammar quiz because it is mostly about usage and style, but "grammar" is the shorthand term I use.
As always, I look for your comments, questions, criticisms and quibbles. Please leave a comment below. Click here or on the question mark icon to begin.
People who have worked hard at perfecting their writing and language use sometimes cringe when they read or hear what they consider lax usage. What stands out like a weed in the flower patch to them doesn't even register with other people. For example, some readers are keenly attuned to the difference between "different from" and "different than."
A quote in a New York Times story that The N&O used in print inspired my latest idiom research. Here is how the quote appeared early in the editing at The N&O:
"It's a corporate problem," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who has been particularly critical of BP's operations in Alaska and will lead the House committee hearing. "Their mentality is to get in the foxhole and button down the hatch. It just seems there is this pattern."
An editor asked about "soup to nuts," which appeared in this story. It means from beginning to end or the whole shebang, of course, but then we wondered where the phrase comes from.
One copy editor duty is to keep vulgar words and phrases out of the newspaper -- or at least, to alert a decision-making editor about an off-color reference, even in a direct quote.
The words and phrases of an economic downturn fill our newspaper and Web site these days. One such phrase prompted a reader to write that we were "butchering" the language.
"Saber rattling" seems like a quaint term in the 21st century.
The phrase "in tandem" has literal and figurative meanings.
Recent letters to the editor refer to "bread and circuses," a phrase that refers to choosing short-term diversions over more important matters. It comes from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, and the English version is a literal translation.
Such loan translations are called "claques," which derived from a French word for "to trace," as in making a copy. English is full of calques. A "marriage of convenience" is a translation from French mariage de convenance. "Worldview" is a translation from German Weltanschauung. "Brainwashing" is a loan translation of a Chinese term.