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Category: common errors

Know how to use rain, rein and reign

woman wearing black long sleeved blazer on white horse
Photo by Laila Klinsmann on Pexels.com

It’s spring in South Africa and in the season’s first flush, we had a smattering of rain.

That’s the stuff of celebration.

What’s not to celebrate is the state of our country’s newspapers.

Rats in the language

 

Rats! If you’ve ever had the problem of rats in your home, you may identify with strongly negative feelings about the small annoying creatures.

Thanks to my compulsive TV watching habits, I learnt that the collective noun for rats is mischief – a mischief of rats.

Collective nouns for animals, such as a congress of baboons are very interesting and often surprising – too many to mention here.

Thinking back to last year when the rats came to eat the dog food that was carelessly left around the home, their trails of mischief were abundant. From the holes in the packaging of the sturdy dog food bags, to little poo droppings all over the place, it was plain to see we had a rat problem.

We could hear them running in the roof, and saw a couple run across the lounge floor, but at such a speed, we could not catch them. We would shriek,  “there goes a rat” but be frozen to inaction as the rat scuttled to safety under the cupboard. And who wants to touch a rat with bare hands and no trapping device? (not that I would use one of those).

It wasn’t long before the rats were breeding faster than rabbits. We had to call the exterminator to get rid of the multiple mischiefs.

Other meanings

Rats are associated with dirt, disease and disgust, so when you refer to someone as a rat, you imply that they are not trustworthy.

To rat on someone means to give the game away, in other words, to tell the boss that your colleague is not at work because he is applying for another job, and not at the doctor with a near fatal tumor.

Rats in the language give expression to displeasure or distaste but their close cousin the mouse, has a much friendlier reputation. They are considered cute and considerate – as quiet as a mouse – and many a character has been animated to be a larger than life rodent. Perhaps we have Mickey Mouse to thank for that.

Any famous rats of Walt Disney fame? None that I know of, but thousands upon thousands used in medical experiments for the health of human kind.

Feedback welcome.

How big is your appetite for words?

Five word pairs to increase your word power

A deadly blutterance: How words are formed

How calendar days differ from others

I have always wondered about the difference between a calendar day and just a regular day. The same applies to a calendar month.

What I learnt is that a calendar day must feature on the calendar. That may sound silly. Let me explain.

A work of sedulous magnificence

Deliciously sedulous : increase your word power

A work of sedulous magnificence
Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco, a fine sedulous work

 

I am catching up with the past, voraciously reading through the pages of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice with a copyright date of 1979. A literary marvel, the author provides delightful entertainment from the first page to the last.

Veracity and verocity: why these words get confused

Today we are going to have some fun exploring the difference between veracity and voracity. These words if not heard correctly can be interchanged to disastrous effect.  The one has to do with truth, the other appetite. Or you could say, veracity concerns one’s appetite for truth, while voracity has to do with a desire to consume.

Somnolent: Word use and origin

Last night when I got home after a long day’s work I felt particularly somnolent. This was hardly surprising as  I woke up at 4.30am fought with myself to get back to sleep without success, and started work at 10am.

I then proceeded with nine hours of intensive sub-editing at what is arguable the world’s most condemned newspaper, and in South Africa particularly.

 

sleep time

During the inordinate nine hours, I attempted to distract myself with internet research and delved into the origins of somnolent, which means sleepy.

Dictionary.com cites its origins as the late 14th century from the Old French somnolence derived from the Latin somnolentia “sleepiness” from somnolentus, from somnus “sleep (from PIE root, swep  “to sleep”. A related word is somnolency.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=somnolence

Yourdictionary.com gives us:

Adjective (comparative more somnolent, superlative most somnolent)

  1. Drowsy or sleepy.
  2. (dated) Causing literal or figurative sleepiness;soporific.

 

Soporific is also an interesting word which I discovered at university and it was apt to describe the nature of my tutorials on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gawain/).  I could never understand why we were made to suffer this belaboured text as part of our first year English syllabus.

Yourdictionary.com dates the first usage of somnolent to 1615, but concurs with the other details that Dictionary.com provides for regional areas, confirming “swep” from Indo-Europe.

Read more at http://www.yourdictionary.com/somnolent#WzfHQqyI7L16MfaY.99

Somnolence is not state in which to conduct a day’s worth of subbing but  when the copy makes me yawn, due to its total lack of inspiration,   I really can’t blame myself.

No damn synchronicity: Synonyms and antonyms

A synchronous sound

Ever had such a day where things start out great and then you’re confronted with the unexpected and things just unravel?

Such was my day. I arrived for a press function 20 minutes before the scheduled start time feeling very impressed with myself  – enjoying a  mini accolade that was short-lived.

Do horses eat loose fern? A statement on reporting standards

grazing

This week, I was subbing a story about horses that had been rescued from dire circumstances. If not for the language educated among us, the situation could have given rise to an inadvertent mondegreen (when a phrase is repeated incorrectly over time and eventually replaces the original phrase).

Through the eye of the needle: biblical idioms

The English language is so rich and diverse that one lifetime is just not enough to master all of it.

But I have discovered that as much as English owes many of its idioms to the writings of the great Shakespeare, the bible has made a significant contribution of its own.

I hasten to add at this point, that researching Shakespearean idiomatic origins is a whole lot easier than that of biblical references.

Less is more in the writing discipline

Make your verbs work
Verbs must do the hard work in a sentence

I am reading a book in which the author has swamped the pages with an oversupply of adjectives.

Of course, this is just my opinion, but I find the need to qualify every verb and every noun in the sentence an overreach and, worst of all, a punishment to the text. And the reader.