Category: French words in English usage

Forte vs. fort -- there should be a distinction

Forte vs. fort -- there should be a distinction
Sometimes watching or listening to something familiar at an odd time can unearth distinctions to words that were unnoticed before. That’s what happened to me this morning when I had a little time for my personal “Insomnia Theatre.” I was tired of the news, but too tired to sleep, so I put on a rerun... Read more »

'The Story of English' -- The Mother Tongue

'The Story of English' -- The Mother Tongue
“From the beginning, English was a crafty hybrid, made in war and peace,” write Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil in Chapter Two of “The Story of English,” called “The Mother Tongue.” Invasions and cultural revolutions fed the development of English long before 1776 and American independence. In the eighteenth century, “a gifted amateur... Read more »

'The Story of English' -- Speaking of English (and why now)

'The Story of English' -- Speaking of English (and why now)
As promised, here’s part one of the series about the book “The Story of English.”  But I would be remiss if I went on with it without mentioning why I choose to stick with writing about words now. First of all, you expect it of me. But secondly, for those of you who think I... Read more »
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Why people say 'Mayday' (and why this won't get read on the radio)

Why people say 'Mayday' (and why this won't get read on the radio)
Happy May 1! That’s how you’ll probably hear today mentioned on radio and TV. You’re extremely unlikely to hear it mentioned as a little holiday you may have celebrated at school, May Day. (Even the parades in Russia are usually described as May 1 parades.) That’s because Mayday is the international signal for distress. It... Read more »

Yes, it's Louis -- not Lewis

Yes, it's Louis -- not Lewis
I was delighted to hear the radio stories this morning about the names of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby — Prince Louis Arthur Charles. I was happy because of the names’ historical connections, but also because I could hear the first name first. Here in the former colonies, we’re more likely to spell this pronunciation... Read more »

History as a suspense story

History as a suspense story
I’ve been away from the blog more than usual lately because of my reading habits. Not only am I in the last chapter of “The Sign of Four,” in company with my own characters, but I’ve been reading a great and suspenseful biography. That’s right, a suspenseful biography — to be exact, “The Last Lion... Read more »
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Guest post: Life in France under the state of emergency

Guest post: Life in France under the state of emergency
The following guest post was written by Marie Vallet. We met when she came to Chicago in the summer of 2014. We had exchanged e-mails before she came over from Paris, France, so we knew each other slightly before we met. But when we heard each other’s voices — and languages — we had a... Read more »

Paris, Chicago and national anthems: O say, can we sing?

Paris, Chicago and national anthems: O say, can we sing?
The terrifying events on Friday, Nov. 13, in Paris have brought me one consolation: the sight, in photos or videos, of crowds of Parisians singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. Even the crowd at the national stadium after the France-Germany football (soccer) game left singing it. They knew the words. They had the tune.... Read more »

Variations on Serious questions

Variations on Serious questions
On the subject of variations, let’s try a varied format — questions and small answers, as far as I have them. Here goes! Why do people think that “Variations on a Theme” is a synonym for dull and/or boring? Musically, it’s not the same old theme played the same old way — it’s a way... Read more »
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I have a problem with saying 'No problem!'

I have a problem with saying 'No problem!'
When someone is kind enough to thank you for something, how do you respond? Next time you’re shopping, or in another situation where people get thanked, listen to some responses. Does “Thank you” get followed by the standard American answer, “You’re welcome,” or is there something else? As far as I can tell, “You’re welcome”... Read more »