Tuesday, March 26

The Debunker: Is It Wrong To Ever Split An Infinitive?

by Ken Jennings

If you had a gun to your head, could you tell me the difference between “farther” or “further,” or spell “minuscule” correctly? In honor of National Grammar Day (March 4!) we’ll be debunking dialectical deceit all month on Woot. Was your ninth-grade English teacher’s classroom a house of lies? Find out from 74-time Jeopardy! champion (and self-proclaimed grammar Nazi) Ken Jennings.

Language Myth #4: It’s Bad Grammar to Ever Split an Infinitive.

An infinitive is a verb that hasn’t been conjugated to indicate who’s doing it or when. To go, for example, is an English infinitive. But if you were to put a third word between to and go—like Captain Kirk does when he promises “to boldly go where no man has gone before”—you have split the infinitive, a construction at which many self-appointed grammarians like to tsk-tsk.

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Tuesday, March 19

The Debunker: Does "Beg The Question" Mean "Raise The Question"?

by Ken Jennings

If you had a gun to your head, could you tell me the difference between “farther” or “further,” or spell “minuscule” correctly? In honor of National Grammar Day (March 4!) we’ll be debunking dialectical deceit all month on Woot. Was your ninth-grade English teacher’s classroom a house of lies? Find out from 74-time Jeopardy! champion (and self-proclaimed grammar Nazi) Ken Jennings.

Language Myth #3: “Begging the Question” Means “Raising the Question.”

Today, when you see the phrase begs the question used, even in journalism or academic writing, if nearly always means “invites the question.” “The band Chumbawamba broke up last year, which begs the question: what had Chumbawamba been doing since 1997?” The problem is, in terms of logic and rhetoric, begging the question has a very specific meaning. And it’s not that.

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Tuesday, March 12

The Debunker: Is The Word "Posh" An Acronym?

by Ken Jennings

Let’s face it—what do any of us really know about language? If you had a gun to your head, could you tell me the difference between “farther” or “further,” or spell “minuscule” correctly? To make matters worse, a lot of the things you think you know about words are probably wrong. In honor of National Grammar Day (March 4!) we’ll be debunking dialectical deceit all month on Woot. Was your ninth-grade English teacher’s classroom a house of lies? Find out from 74-time Jeopardy! champion (and self-proclaimed grammar Nazi) Ken Jennings.

Language Myth #2: “Posh” Stands for “Port Out, Starboard Home.”

Since the 1930s, people who like to seem “in the know” have been asserting that the adjective posh, meaning luxurious, is actually an acronym—that, in fact, it once stood for “port out, starboard home,” the shadier and therefore more expensive cabins to book on an ocean liner to and from India, an abbreviation which was stamped on first-class tickets. This folk etymology has worked its way into popular culture—I remember it as the chorus to the Sherman Brothers’ song “Posh!” from the not-otherwise-memorable score to the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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Tuesday, March 05

The Debunker: Are Prepositions Unacceptable To End Sentences With?

by Ken Jennings

Let’s face it—what do any of us really know about language? If you had a gun to your head, could you tell me the difference between “farther” or “further,” or spell “minuscule” correctly? To make matters worse, a lot of the things you think you know about words are probably wrong. In honor of National Grammar Day (March 4!) we’ll be debunking dialectical deceit all month on Woot. Was your ninth-grade English teacher’s classroom a house of lies? Find out from 74-time Jeopardy! champion (and self-proclaimed grammar Nazi) Ken Jennings.

Language Myth #1: Never End a Sentence with a Preposition!

During World War II, a memo was circulated in a British government department pointing out that some in the office were incorrectly ending sentences with prepositions—you know, short words used to express spatial relationships or semantic roles, like in, for, and of. An anonymous functionary (misidentified as Winston Churchill in many versions of the story) scribbled a snarky postscript calling the rule “offensive impertinence, up with which I will not put!”

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