A deadly blutterance: How words are formed


Blasted, blithering and blooming. All lovely descriptive words with a possible to probable note of irritation in how they are expressed, depending on context of course.

These words remind me that the art of conversation could be in jeopardy what with SMS, Twitter and Google-speak.

As the age of digitisation overwhelms us tweeny and teeny boppers, young adults and even baby boomers are forced into a language compromise.

Generations are crippling language, literally cutting off its limbs to express themselves in words of three or four letters. Fingers become adept at superfast touch typing and there’s no time for long words (although predictive text does help, except when in haste you accept the wrong word, looking like it was the right word) and a quick burst of text is communicated.

In previous blogs I’ve written about how words are formed and combining which often, truth be told is shortening is one of the ways. From this technique comes blutterance – utterance and blast or something similar.

Most of the information on blutterance centres on Boston Legal, created by prolific screen writer David E. Kelly. He, through his characters, must be credited for the creation of this delightful expression.

Urban Dictionary defines it as n. cross between “utter” and “blab/blubber/bluster” and such. Meant to convey a sense of poorly chosen words spoken in passion.


This is the scene from Boston Legal:

You’re a Crane, get used to it. … I first saw the client and his wife together. … said because we were arguing, it would-it would qualify as an excited blutterance.

Bernie: She said what she heard wouldn’t be hearsay. She looked it up. We were arguing, so it would qualify as an excited blutterance.
Alan Shore: Blutterance isn’t even a word, much less a defense! You murdered someone over a fake word!

-Alan Shore (James Spader) Boston Legal

Boston Legal ran in 2005 and since then the word does not seem to have had much airtime.

I hope, having read my blog, you will start ‘bluttering’ with due regularity or at least use it in your writing.


Theft and larceny: correct usage

With so much exposure to people’s dirty legal laundry and equal amounts of televised fictional dramas – Law and Order my personal favourite – I often heard the charge of larceny and never understood what it meant. So today I delved into it.

In its simplest definition, larceny is theft. But falling into the legal domain, there is greater complexity to it.

law.academic.ru says, “Theft in English law is now defined in statutory terms as the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. In Scots criminal law, theft is the felonious taking or appropriation (or retention) of the property of another without his consent and in most cases, but not necessarily) with the intention to deprive him of it permanently.

legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com defines theft: A criminal act in which property belonging to another is taken without that person’s consent.

The term theft is sometimes used synonymously with larcenyTheft, however, is actually a broader term,

encompassing many forms of deceitful taking of property, including swindling, embezzlement, and false pretenses.

Some states in America categorise all these offenses under a single statutory crime of theft

Translegal.com does a great job of explaining the differences between the terms robbery, burglary, theft and larceny, which it says, are distinguished by the means, the methods and the victims of these takings.

She says theft and larceny are the same thing and refer to taking something of value with the intention of depriving the owner, that is, no intention of giving it back.

A common example of theft and larceny is shoplifting.

Theft and larceny have a scale from grand to petty or petit. In the United States the difference between grand and petty is about 500 dollars (R7000) depending on the jurisdiction. If you steal a packet of pens from a stationery store, that’s petty theft; but if you help yourself to a car parked on the side of the road, unlawfully, that’s grand larceny.

Hand in the cookie jar
Petty theft, we’ve all done it

Unlawful entry adds to the seriousness of the crime. This constitutes burglary. TransLegal says “unlawful entry is sometimes called breaking and entering or housebreaking, but it is also an element of a burglary and when you burgle, as you would do in British English, or burglarise a premises, it means you have entered that premises to take something or to otherwise commit another crime.

When a person is the target of a theft, it’s called robbery and the seriousness is measured against the level of physical threat, or even perceived threat. What’s key here is that the threat of force has only to be felt by the victim for the charge to be robbery.

TransLegal says a mugging, when you hold somebody up on the street, in public, is a robbery. A purse snatching when you steal somebody’s purse from their body, that’s a robbery.

Interestingly, ‘A car-jacking when you steal a car with somebody in it, that’s another example of a robbery. (Note, this is not grand larceny) One of the most frequent crimes is cell phone theft, and if stolen from hour hand, pocket or handbag on your person that is a robbery.

In summary, a person who commits theft or larceny, is a thief, a burglary, a burglar. If a person perpetrates a robbery, that person is called a robber. Law is a fascinating area and if you are going to write about it accurately you need to do your research.

When my five-year-old nephew asked a man casually minding his own business walking through a park, “Are you a robber,” I thought, oh how cute. Now I think, oh dear, how embarrassing for his mother.

How words are formed

The English language owes much to many.

From the outset it borrowed from Germanic, French, Latin and Dutch influences, to name just a few.

Overtime the language has seen words come and go. Word styles and forms change continuously. Suffice to say the language lives among its users.


Word formation is a vast topic. Today’s article is a snapshot.

One of the most common practices, if you will, of forming new words is by adding prefixes and suffixes. We already know in most cases what the word will mean or at least what will be connoted by the prefix or suffix.

monorail, monolingual mono- means ‘one’multipurpose, multicultural multi- means ‘many’
post-war, postgraduate post- means ‘after’
unusual, undemocratic un- means ‘not’ or ‘opposite to’

terrorism, sexism -ism and -dom are used to form nouns
employer, actor -er and -or are used to form nouns to describe people who do things
widen, simplify -en and -ify are used to form verbs
reasonable, unprofitable -able is used to form adjectives
unhappily, naturally -ly is a common suffix used to form adverbs


What I find more interesting (although still disdaining – see I just made a word – the use of rubbish as a verb) is the practice of words changing from one class to another.

Here are some examples from Cambridge.com

The verbs to email and to microwave are formed from the nouns email and microwave:

Can you text her? (verb from noun text, meaning to send a text-message)

If you’re not careful, some downloads can damage your computer. (noun from verb download)

OK, so the meeting’s on Tuesday. That’s a definite. (noun from adjective)

It’s a very big if and I’m not at all sure we can afford it. (noun from conjunction, meaning ‘it’s not at all certain’)

All companies have their ups and downs. (nouns from prepositions)

We also use conversion when we change a proper noun into a common noun:

Has anybody seen my Dickens? (copy of a book by Dickens)

Google has also become an accepted verb (from Proper noun) meaning internet search.


The other interesting area of word development is history. Words such as sandwich The 18th century Lord Sandwich found an efficient way to hold a piece of meat and that was between two slices of bread, thus enabling him to continue to sit at a gambling table.

The verb/noun hoover, used as a generic term for (the action of using) an electric vacuum cleaner, was based on the name of the 19th-century American industrialist William Henry Hoover

William Henry Hoover, the 19th century American industrialist, who leant his name to a vacuum cleaner, developed a brand so strong that over time it was well understood to say, “I must hoover the carpets” and be perfectly well understood. Much like google, brands too play their part in adding words to language. (McMillandictionaries.com)

Events too must create words. And this is the purpose of this blog. In view of the student uprising of the past four weeks and the #FeesMustFall, I have a new word and it’s this.

Considering all, the number of students demanding free education, the capacity of each university, the need to continue to develop world class education and a on a growth to nowhere economy, and a budget stretched in all directions and a government so muddied by corruption, I must just ask is it at all FEE-SABLE?



The incidence of incidents

There’s not much to say about incidence and incident except that temptation (also read auto brain) to misuse the two words is quite common.

It’s one of those cases in the English language where words sound the same with different spelling.

I find these the most challenging in the language and tend to make the most mistakes with this type of English trickery. I find when I am busy, a word sound in a sentence can pass for the right word because the brain picks up the sound if one reads aloud.

Incident is a noun, meaning event or happening. For example: There was an incident during the student protest.

The word incidence, a close neighbour in the Paperback Oxford English Dictionary (2001), just one above, is also a noun. It means the occurrence of something, or frequency of occurrence, for example to form patterns. Such as: The incidence of student protests at South African universities has been high of late.

Both have a plural with the simple addition of an ‘s’.

Thus, there have been many incidents since violence erupted at universities throughout the country.


And, The incidences of violence have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.


And, The incidences of violence and injury have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.

Although this would be better said as, The incidents of violence and injury have students, parents lectures and police extremely worried.

However, you would say, Studies will compare the incidences of violence at UCT and Wits to suggest solutions (in other words two sets of incidences). However, you could just as well use incidents and the sentence would be correct.

Incidence in its plural form is a less preferred usage and should be avoided if at all possible.

Please add your views or leave a comment





A stonking good word


There’s so much to say about stonking. For starters dictionaries across the web from Cambridge to Oxford and Encarta broadly agree on its adjectival usage to mean “large, impressive, used to emphasise how good or enjoyable something is.”

Tony Thorne in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang described stonking as “an all-purpose intensifying adjective usually used in place of more offensive terms”.

It’s thanks to Greg Wallace, BBC Master Chef Professionals’ judge, who described one of the contestant’s presentations as “a stonking good dish”, that stonking is the subject of my blog.

Stonking has a rich and colourful history with pundits arguing for its Scottish origins, others its British birth right and still others remarking on its Australian slang usage.

Wordlwidewords.org: says “Stonk and its relatives are an interesting bunch: with all those strong consonants they’re thudding, active, strongly masculine words,” namely noun, verb, (especially) adjective and (even) adverb.

For the Sottish argument, worldwidewords.org claims  the first recorded use of it was in John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1841, in which he said that stunk was “the stake put in by boys in a game, especially in that of marbles” .

According to the Concise Scots Dictionary, this is now only local Scots dialect, and it suggests the Scots got it from local English dialect which might have originated in stock, a store, presumably the bag or other container the marbles or money were kept in.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “stonking” as an adjective meaning “Excellent, amazing; considerable, powerful” and as an adverb meaning “extremely, very”.

The second sense of “stonk” the OED gives is “a concentrated artillery bombardment,” dating in print to 1944. The OED suggests that the word is “echoic,” mimicking the sound of a shell exploding, also known to practitioners of the English language as onomatopoeia.

A South Korea's K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea's military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE
A South Korea’s K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea’s military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE

You can trust the Australians to outslang any slang and that argument is that “stonker” used as a verb in Australian slang means “to outwit, defeat, render helpless, defeat” or  “to kill or destroy,”.

Thanks to the Aussies,  “stonkered” is a popular slang synonym for “drunk”. Apparently these originate from the “artillery bombardment” sense of “stonk,” and the Australian slang use  first attested to in 1919, shortly after World War I.

“According to the Macquarie Dictionarystonkered in Australia can mean drunk, though it also has associated ideas of being defeated, exhausted, done in, or lethargic, as after a large meal. This comes from the verb stonker, which at one time could mean to kill, but is now the action of outwitting or defeating somebody.

Whichever way you take it, it’s a stonkingly meaty and delicious word.


I offer my singular condolence: Grammar

English demands that its users know more than just the meaning of a word.

They also must know how it’s used. It’s not okay to slap just any words together. Some have special ‘partners’.

While subbing an article yesterday, I happened upon the phrase ‘pay their condolences’. I knew instinctively that condolences were not paid. However, I forgot for a second what it was that you did with them.

So of course, you offer them. Thus the phrase was corrected to ‘offer their condolences’

While gathering information on the matter, I discovered that one can offer condolences in the singular, as in I offer my condolence. There is also the verb, to condole.

Lifesomundane has explained the difference between the singular and plural usage so well that I’ve just copied it in.


Now this is a tricky one. I have always preferred ‘condolences’ because that is how I often hear it from native English speakers. It is not, apparently, as straightforward as I used to think.

First of all, the word condole is derived from the Latin ‘condolere,’ meaning to ‘suffer with one another.’ It means to ‘express one’s sympathetic grief, on the occasion of someone’s death.’ (Advanced English Dictionary)

Condolence, therefore, is an expression used to commiserate or sympathise with a person who has just lost a loved one.

To get back to the gist of the matter, does one say ‘condolence’ or ‘condolences’ when expressing sympathy to the bereaved?

weeping over loss

If used as part of an adjective phrase, there is no question that ‘condolence’ is more correct. Hence, one gives a ‘message of condolence’ rather than a ‘message of condolences.’

There also is no question when condolences are offered to the bereaved on behalf of a group of persons. Hence, you can say my family’s, my company’s or my office’s condolences. Likewise, one can just say OUR condolences.

The tricky part is when one says MY condolences. There seems to be something not quite right about a singular person offering the plural of condolence on his or her behalf alone.

However, as a matter of convention, it is perfectly correct to do so and this is, in fact, how native English speakers condole with the bereaved.

Similarly, ‘my sympathies’ is often preferred to ‘my sympathy,’ the latter grammatically correct but not quite sounding so conversationally.

Most online English dictionaries that I referred to before writing this article do not state outright that ‘condolences’ is more correct than ‘condolence’ when used by a person on behalf of himself alone.

Instead, what they say is that ‘condolences’ is how the word is OFTEN used to express sympathy when somebody dies.

To conclude, ‘my condolence’ is perfectly correct and especially so from the grammatical point of view. That said, ‘my condolences’ is just as correct and particularly so because this is how it is often stated by native English speakers.




Tintinnabulation: Origin of words and #belltolls4JZ


This delightful six-syllable tongue-twister made its debut in 1831 according to some sources, even earlier according to others.

Online Etymology Dictionary states its origin in usage as “the ringing of bells,” 1823, from the Latin tintinnabulum “bell,” from tintinnare “to ring, jingle”.

Its other near relatives in earlier forms of English were as an adjective tintinnabulary (1787), tintinnabulatory (1827), and noun tintinnabulum “small bell” (late 14c.).

church bells


I did not happen upon this word with ease. It was in my search for trending words that I scanned the list and only at ‘t’ was I suitably satisfied to write about tintinnabulation. It was up there with ‘twitter’ which needs no discussion, as it has escalated itself into our daily lives driven by its brand creator, whose precise intention it was to do just that.

Poet, Edgar Alan Poe is credited by many for early use of the word according to worldwidewords.org. “Poe was borrowing from a number of related terms that had by then been around for several decades, such as tintinnabulary, an obscure and rather pedantic word for bell-ringing or a bell-ringer, first recorded in 1767 (it is linked to tintinnabularius, a Latin word which meant a bellman in the statutes of the University of Oxford; all such words come from Latin tinnire to ring, as also does tinnitus, the medical term for a ringing or buzzing in the ears).

Thus Poe’s poem The Bells could support this notion in the extract…

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells

Charles Dickens in Dombey and Sons in 1847 found a place for the word in: “It was drowned in the tintinnabulation of the gong, which sounding again with great fury, there was a general move towards the dining-room”. (worldwidewords.org)

Dickens hit tintinnabulation in its heyday as the word had a dramatic fall off from the mid-19th Century. Fast, fast forward to the 21st Century, it’s probably safe to say that no one has sufficiently appreciated its vibrant onomatopoeia to tweet about it, work it into a rap rhythm or praise song, much less a hashtag.

But I must admit, having avoided all temptation to make a political statement, there is a bell ringing for someone who calls himself the president of South Africa.

Alas it’s a piercing tintinnabulation achingly shrill to the masses, but deafeningly silent to those who can make a change.  In simpler terms #belltolls4JZ.


Take out the rubbish: When nouns become verbs

I am the first to admit, I am not always original but I do try to be topical and even then, perhaps decades out of touch. Bear with me.

The word rubbish used as a verb, first struck me about a decade ago when used by a most unsuitable boyfriend who said I had rubbished his apology gift.

The discomfort I had  – with the word  used in that sense, not the departure of the boyfriend – has never left me. And so like Mrs Chow, who wrote to The Star in  2011, I also have been curious to know: When did rubbish become a verb?

Never was there a question about its meaning, but rubbish making its way into the realm of doing rather than being has always upset me.

None-the-less Oxford Dictionaries defines rubbish the verb as (British Englishinformal) (North American English trashrubbish somebody/something to criticize somebody/something severely or treat them as though they are of no value:


For example:

  • The book was rubbished by the critics.
  • He rubbished all my ideas, saying they were impractical.

Word Origin: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French rubbous; perhaps related to Old French robe ‘spoils’; compare with rubble. The change in the ending was due to association with -ish. The verb (1950s) was originally Australian and New Zealand slang.


Answering Mrs Chow, The Star explained that the offending word was often used in the Internet editions of some respectable British newspapers, and on BBC websites. It said editors were not finding it too informal to use in print  “but perhaps it is too informal to be used in scholarly publications.”

The Star, provided these examples: “The theory of Scandinavian racial purity cherished by Hitler and the Nazis has been rubbished by new scientific research.” (telegraph.co.uk, June 13, 2008)

“A top historian has revealed who rubbished rivals’ works in online postings.” (guardian.co.uk, April 18, 2010)

And in 2016, I find these among the thousand of responses on Google.

  • Guptas rubbish London news story – ANN7
  • Hillary Clinton rubbished health rumours on Jimmy Kimmels show (Today Online)
  • Bosso sale rubbished (Sunday News)

So it’s conclusive that rubbish is everywhere and having found its way into the verb class,  it’s here to stay.

However it still does not sit well with me, and I will make every effort to clear it from my writing path. My only other hope is that rubbish as a verb will remain too informal for the scholarly texts.

But for the noun, which has far greater potential, a  web dictionary provided the following rich alternatives.







jive [N. Amer], 

flapdoodle [N.Amer], 



rhubarb [Brit], 

folderol, (my personal favourite)


trumpery [archaic], 




codswallop [Brit], 



Now there’s no excuse for rubbish in your text. Use these words with prolific abandon to ensure no editor rubbishes your copy.




How to alternate the alternative: Grammar

As with much of the English language the correct use of this pair of words has slipped into misuse, and in some very unfortunate circumstances, accepted as the norm, or worse correct.


It seem the pair create somewhat of a conundrum given the discussion of usage around one or the other … which brings me to the precise point. Alternative means one or the other, that is: Butter is not available for this recipe so let’s use margarine, as the alternative.

However, Mary who is on a cholesterol controlled diet chose to alternate butter with the alternative olive oil as the fat source in her daily consumption.

Easily said and done, right? Well not so, the discussion suggests.

A source says: “Alternate can be a verb, noun, or adjective, while alternative can be a noun or adjective. In both American and British English, the adjective alternate means ‘every other’ (there will be a dance on alternate Saturdays) and the adjective alternative means ‘available as another choice’ (an alternative route: alternative medicine; alternative energy sources).

In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’ an alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring. Likewise, a book club may offer an ‘alternate selection’ as an alternative to the main selection.

Some traditionalists maintain, from an etymological standpoint, that you can have only two alternatives (from the Latin alter ‘other (of two); the other’) and that uses of more than two alternatives are erroneous. Such uses are, however, normal in modern standard English.”

Here they are nouns:

The producers … are planning to tap the cast member Matthew James Thomas to serve as an alternate for the leading man. [NY Times]

There is no medium-term alternative to the dollar for the international monetary system. [Reuters]

Portman portrays Nina Sayres, prima ballerina, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, while Mila Kunis is her alternate, seductive and potentially lethal Lily. [Waffle Reviews]

The Motorola Droid 2 Global is a solid Android smartphone for globe-trotting executives looking for a BlackBerry alternative. [CNET]

And here they are adjectives:

For those of you who use this route, signs will be up to direct you to alternate routes. [News 12]

No alternative energy source currently in development is near ready for prime time. [Slate]

  • Shklovsky says:

‘alternate’ routes should be ‘alternative’ since the plural noun implies more than one choice. The use of ‘alternate’ and ‘alternative’ is different in the UK and much of the English speaking world, from the US.

‘Alternate’ is used when things move from one option to another in sequence, from the verb ‘to alternate’. When there is a choice,’ alternative’ is preferred. ‘Alternate’ as a noun (the stand-in actor example) would be ‘alternative’ since it would be an adjectival noun – implying the word ‘choice’- and could be someone else entirely.

The American use of these words is rapidly entering the UK and, since grammatical ‘correctness’ is only determined by use, we will no doubt convert to the American forms in time, but to speak or write of an ‘alternate’ choice still sounds wrong to UK ears! Much simpler to have ‘alternate’ only when changing in sequence and ‘alternative’ for all choices, whether two or more.

  • Grammarist says:

We came across this view of “alternate” (that its use in the sense “serving in place of another” is questionable to some) in our original research for this post and considered mentioning it. But we always try to discuss words as they are now used rather than as they are traditionally used, and we find the adjectival use of “alternate” as a synonym of “substitute” or “replacement” to be very common throughout the English-speaking world, at least in news writing.

Purists, please show your support … others, your feedback is welcome.


Diving in to the truth about ‘dove’

To me the word ‘dove’ brings to mind the soap brand and the birds referred to in one of Prince’s better known songs, When Doves Cry.

So I was a little taken aback when, reading a book by an American writer, he used the word dove to indicate the past tense of dove. This is what sent me on my search for correctness.

I have the contention that the American version of the English language is a lazy one (using practise as the spelling of the verb and noun, leaving out the u in colour, and so on).
So this supported my initial theory.

Merriam Webster had this to say:
Dive, which was originally a weak verb, developed a past tense dove, probably by analogy with verbs like drive, drove. Dove exists in some British dialects and has become the standard past tense especially in speech in some parts of Canada. In the United States dived and dove are both widespread in speech as past tense and past participle, with dove less common than dived in the south Midland area, and dived less common than dove in the Northern and north Midland areas. In writing, the past tense dived is usual in British English and somewhat more common in American English. Dove seems relatively rare as a past participle in writing.

Just imagine saying the car nose-dove into the river. The only possibility for the past tense of dive in this usage is dived.

And as I continue in my efforts to keep the English language pure, I hope that dove will remain rare in its usage as I cannot concede that thrive becomes throve, or hive becomes hove and there is no possible way that live becomes love.

So I say, dove, know your place!