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.

 

http://www.lifesomundane.net/2015/06/condolences.html

 

Tintinnabulation: Origin of words and #belltolls4JZ

Tintinnabulation.

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
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:

rubbish

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.


bunk

bunkum

buncombe

guff

rot

hogwash

jive [N. Amer], 

flapdoodle [N.Amer], 

junk

nonsense

rhubarb [Brit], 

folderol, (my personal favourite)

tripe

trumpery [archaic], 

trash,

wish-wash

applesauce

codswallop [Brit], 

falderal

 

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.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dive

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!

Know the difference between fewer and less: Language skills

Knowing the difference between fewer and less

 

English is a complex language and there is often confusion between words that seemingly have the same meaning but are particular in their usage. Such is the case with the words fewer and less.

It’s tempting to be lazy about these words.

You might be happy to say, ‘There are less clouds in the sky today’, and most people would know exactly what you meant. But to be technical about it, the correct statement is, ‘There are fewer clouds in the sky today.’

If I say, I have lost less weight this month than last month, the statement is correct. But if I want to talk about the number of kilograms I have dropped, I would say, ‘I have lost fewer kilograms this month than last month.

So what’s the difference? A body or mass of materials is spoken of as less. There is less water in the swimming pool than there was before the rainy season.

But it is correct to say, I have drunk seven cups of water, two cups fewer than yesterday.

Fewer is used in instances where items can be counted as singular units, i.e. in the discussion, clouds, cups, kilograms. Less is used where quantities cannot be broken down into units.

Less is used with abstract nouns such as sunshine, rain, thunder etc.

Here’s an exercise for practice. Fill in fewer or less.

  1. Jane’s wardrobe has _______ clothing in summer than in winter.

  2. Peter has ___________ dogs than his best friend.

  3. Mary wears ___________ perfume on week days.

  4. There is _____________ heat in the mild curry.

    A lovely cup of tea
    A lovely cup of tea
  5. Tea is _____________ expenses than coffee.

  6. There are ___________ dollars left after a shopping spree.

  7. How can there be______ money in my account after I paid a deposit?

  8. There are much___________ pieces of paper in that draft document.

 

http://www.awordor2.co.za

Write better English: the difference between license and licence

Writing good English requires a depth of knowledge of the language.

English is full of tricks: words that sound the same and are spelled differently and words that are spelled the same and have different meanings – and that’s just two.

There are many areas of confusion in the English language so let’s just clear up one.

Licence is a word that is spelled two ways. Licence and license. It starts out being quite simple using licence as the noun and license as the verb. And even that only works if you follow the UK English system. In America, license is used as a verb and a noun.

In UK English all derivatives of the verb from of license are spelled with an S, such as licensing and licensed. It’s really quite tricky so pay close attention to your writing.

If you can’t manage, get hold of an editor or a proofreader to help you out.

Here’s to better English.

 

Is said dead? How to use attributions correctly and creatively

In my work as a sub-editor, the only word allowed for an attribution is ‘said’. No, ‘revealed’, no ‘pointed out’, no ‘suggested’, no ‘argued’ – just plain ‘said’.

But for fiction writers the use of the word ‘said’ can become tedious if used over and over again. Eager writers will look for ways to substitute said with other, possibly more descriptive words.
There is a superb list of alternatives to choose from and budding novelists should not be discouraged.
For those who want to get stuck in right away, or write away, here’s a glimpse of just a few quick possibilities.

  • -Answered (a favourite)

    -Blasted

    -Cited

    -Exalted

    -Fumed

    -Garbled

    -Hissed

    -Intoned

    -Lambasted

    -Moaned

That’s just 10 ways to substitute said and should keep you busy as you fit the respective words to your characters. But getting back to said… You have to be careful that you substitute with purpose. The last thing you want is for your writing to sound forced and artificial.
There’s many a time where a simple said, will do the job just fine.

And at the cost of repeating myself, at the newspaper, said is the only attribution in the text. Here it’s all about simplicity.

And that’s all I have to say, for now.

 

Why I find both bothersome

As a provider of professional English writing services I have always found both a bother in the language. I find that is used in many, many phrases as a redundant word. However grammarians do not seem to have cause to edit this word out and some of the most highly respected publications throw in the word bother with gay abandon, not paying heed to its redundant placing in a sentence.

Having spent many years as a sub-editor working to a ‘less is more’ protocol, every word must count.

Thus both is bothersome because it is so often superfluous. For example, in the sentence ‘Joan and Mary both have measles,’ the sentence can stand and mean the same thing if you write, ‘Joan and Mary have measles’. And, is a very efficient little word and does the job just fine. However, if you write ‘Joan and Mary are sick, they both have measles,’ both is functional in its own right.

If your write,’Catherine has two kids. Both are at nursery school’ both has a perfectly good function. But, in most cases where the word ‘and’ is used to couple two nouns, both is unnecessary and does not add to or clarify the meaning.

I particularly dislike, ‘Both Jake and Bill are top business men’, when ‘Jake and Bill are top businessmen,’ does the job adequately. I do not see a fit purpose for ‘both’ in this sentence.

I urge all practitioners of written English to dispense with an over-reliance on both, and only use it when absolutely necessary.

I also welcome discussion on this topic and would like to learn more about the origins of the usage of the word ‘both’.

Businessmen shake hands
Nice doing business with you

All grammarians and practitioners of the English language welcome.