Q: The expression "to make a mountain out of a molehill" is well known but its origins seem a bit murky. I came across the Welsh word "moel" which is a bald hill (or mountain depending on what you read). Could it be the basis for the expression? With Wales being mountainous, it seems logical that someone could assert that a mountain was being made from a "moel hill". Just a thought. Adrian, Semaphore, SA.
A: Nothing so exotic I'm afraid. "Molehill" just means the small mound or ridge of earth pushed up by a mole in burrowing near the surface of the ground. The expression "make a mountain out of a molehill" just means "to exaggerate" -- so the image becomes clear: someone is talking about something as small as a molehill as if it was as a big as a mountain. I have driven through the beautiful mountains of north Wales, but, sorry, they don't really come in to it.
Q: Where does the abbreviation Mrs come from? Is the real word for a married woman really “missus”? Tessa, Gooseberry Hill.
A: "Mrs" is the clipped or shortened form of "Mistress" (as in "the mistress of the house"). So, originally a married woman was called "Mistress Smith" which was shortened (in written form) to "Mrs Smith." The pronunciation was also clipped, and the form "missus" represents that shortened pronunciation.
Q: Hi Kel. Could you please help me understand -- Who, Whom, Who's and Whose. Thank you. Kit, Coomera.
A: All are different cases of what what is called the interrogative pronoun "who."
"Who" is the nominative case (the subject of a verb).
"Whom" is the accusative case (the object of a verb).
"Whose" is the genitive case (showing ownership).
"Who's" is a contraction of "who is".
Does that help?
Q: I just watched you on Peta Credlin explaining the derivation of chunder.
I was told by my father that it originated on the ships coming out to Australia. If someone was going to throw up over the side, they would call out “Watch Under!” to the people below…Which if you are saying it quickly as you are vomiting sounds like wat chunder….which was shortened to chunder. Christine, Reesville.
A: Yes, the "watch under" story is familiar to me. But the best evidence supports the rhyming slang explanation. You are right -- I should have told people about all the alternative explanations, but under time pressure I just mentioned the best evidenced one.
Q: We travel from Bahrain to Saudi each morning and listen to 6PR. We find the Word of the Week segment really Fulsome :). This morning on the drive to work we listened to WOW and wanted to know the origins of "It's a Ripper" As used by Liam. Best Regards, Cal and Ray, Saudi Arabia.
A: This is one of the great puzzles of Australian slang. Many other Aussie expressions of approval (e.g. "bottler") we understand the origin of -- but "ripper" remains a mystery. Can any reader of this website offer any suggestions? Research continues.
Q: Hi Kel, I arranged to meet a friend for a chin wag.. then we both wondered about the origin and correct spelling of this word... is it chinwag, or chin wag,... and what is 'wag' in this context?) Cheerio, Riana. Mullumbimby, NSW.
A: The Oxford records "chinwag" as a single word. The "wag" part comes from the verb "to wag" meaning to move -- the chins of chattering people are moving constantly. It's recorded from 1879.
Q: Hi Kel, We have a major issue in New Zealand with the pronunciation of very common words. The worst examples are when a k is used to replace a g- As in somethink, nothink anythink and so on. You may have noticed our Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is guilty of this. It is also being used by some newsreaders which should never happen. I believe that Arderns poor pronunciation of numerous words is being picked by younger people. She regularly says I’ve bin there,she can’t pronounce any words ending with ty-she replaces the T with a D eg she pronounces commodity as commodidy. She pronounces Jeopardise as jeprodise. We need your help Kel - maybe you have a speach expert that could help Ardern- she is responsible ruining the speach of a generation of young people. Mark, Aukland.
A: I wish I had the power to correct language! The problem is that no one has that power, so people (even people in public life) go on using (and misusing) language anyway they wish. The terminal "K" your refer to also happens here in Australia -- and people speak that way who would never spell the word that way when they are writing. Why on earth do they do it? I wish I could get inside their heads and see what is going wrong. The "D" for "T" error is also common in Australia. I wish I could offer help, but all I can offer is sympathy!
Q: Hi Kel, love your segment on 6PR and it’s not long enough . When answering a question or making a statement why do people put the word SO before ? Many thanks Lynn in Perth.
A: I really don't know for certain. Used correctly "so" links the coming statement with the preceding statement. And sometimes that is how it's used. At other times it is little more than a verbal grunt people use to get themselves started.
Q: Hi - I have a problem with Gas Leak - its Gas Escape - as Water Leaks and i have worked in the Gas Industry - anyway - please explain. Phil, Ryde.
A: The root meaning of the Germanic source word behind "leak" is "pass." Most dictionaries say that any fluid (either gas or liquid) can "leak." That is probably the way lay people (non engineers) use the term.
Q: There are three expressions that have taken over from the originals which I find quite annoying:
the proof is in the pudding. Kathy, Eugowra.
A: You are right to be annoyed! (1) "Behaviour" is a gerund -- a noun constructed from the verb "to behave" which is already plural and needs no "S". (2) The correct form is "bored by" or even "bored with" but "bored of" is non-standard. (3) And the correct form of the old proverb is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" -- which is logical. The shorter version is incoherent -- it makes no sense at all.
Q: 'Holus-bolus', Kel, is there an extraction, why the hyphen and what is the origin? Campbell, Cairns.
A: It's a bit of mock Latin from the mid 19th century, meaning "the whole lump." And I have no idea why it is hyphenated!
Q: When a person sneezes, have a people say, bless you. I'm very curious to know where that come from. And what is the meaning behind it? Wayne, Kandos, NSW.
A: It goes back many centuries -- probably to the era of the Great Plague. A sneeze was often seen as the first symptom of disease, so "God bless you" was a prayer asking God to bless the sneezer with good health.
Q: Enjoy your Wednesday chat with Peta Credlin every Wednesday evening on SKY, Kel.
I have a question: when speaking about court cases, why do people say PLEADED should they not say PLEAD??? I know it was years ago, but I am sure this is what I learnt at school in Sydney in the 1950/1960's. Pamela, Pacific Pines, QLD.
A: This is one of those verbs that has shifted from being irregular to regular. The Oxford lists "plead" as the past tense and past participle of the the verb "to plead." But there is a whole generation that can't cope with irregular verbs, and so they are changing them!
Q: Wonder if the current word "tweet" has any historic connection to the earlier use! Barry, Pennant Hills.
A: When the social media site Twitter chose its name (and its bird trademark) it went on to use the bird call as the name for any entry on the website. So "tweet" as the name for a bird call was the direct origin of what happens on Twitter.
Q: Kel our politicians seem to have adopted the word visitation instead of visit. My understanding is that visitation might apply to a visitation from the Arch Angel Gabriel but not a visit from you for a chat. Your comment please. Muir, Southport.
A: They use "visitation" because it contains more syllables and sounds more important. Typical of politicians! It is a very old word, recorded in English from the 1300s and just means a more formal visit -- often used of an inspection of examination.
Q: Your recent articles about “The Voice” and “the debate”, and “social justice” got me thinking about the origin of the word “der” or “durr” or “doh” as used in the Simpson (as a dig at someone as if they didn’t know something. Did this change meaning from the German “de” or “der”? Is it a play on the word “the” as the definitive artilcle? (As in when people say, “Durr!”, they are pointing out the “bleeding obvious”). Raymond. Ormond.
A: The spelling usually associated with Homer Simpson is "doh". This recorded from 1945. The Oxford suggests this comes from the slightly earlier "duh" -- which is an imitative sound of someone unable to express an intelligent thought. So it appears not to come from the German indefinite article.
Q: Recently I realised I use the word “Sheesh!” to express shock or surprise. Where does sheesh come from? Have I myself invented sheesh? Simon, Leichhardt.
A: "Sheesh" is American, recorded from 1959. It is one of many exclamations are are softened blasphemies. The Oxford says this one started out at the blasphemous cry of exasperation, alarm or disapproval "Jesus" which was softened to "jeez" and then was softened again to "sheesh." And since I disapprove of blaspheme I approve of the softening process!
Q: Hi Kel, When most Americans say 'been', they either pronounce it as 'bin' or 'ben', although they can pronounce 'pork and beans' correctly. Paul Murray is falling into the same habit and I find it annoying. I've even noticed certain songs that rhyme their words 'ben' or 'bin' with words like 'in' or 'when'. I love Americans, but they are destroying the English language. Alan, Melbourne.
A: The "bin" pronunciation of "been" is also common in British English. In fact, it is a normal part of what is RP -- "received pronunciation": the standard southern English. So it's not just the Americans!
Q: Several: 1. it seems people can no longer say " very" it has to be "very very". Same with "many many" almost universal.
2. " no way shape or form" as replaced " no way" or even simple "no".
3. Why "tilt" or "throw hat in ring" re seeking an appointment as MP?
4. virtually across the entire media and politicians when referring to electricity prices have adopted the phrase " going thru roof" instead of increase or ordinary word.
5. Too commonly the word " punters" refers to ordinary people; I think this is not only lazy, base, crude and ignoring the fact that most ordinary people don't bet on anything; so it's an unnecessary word especially for people trying to learn English which is a high percentage of Australians.
Anthony, Double Bay.
A: 1. The reason for this duplication seems to be a concern about not being believed. It is the same reason people say "absolutely" instead of just "yes" these days.
2. "no way shape or form" is a well established English idiom -- and English is built around the use of idioms.
3. "tilt" used in this way seems to come from the sport of fencing where competitors lean in (or tilt) towards each other; "throw you hat in the ring" comes from the early 1800s (when all men wore hats) from the sport of bare knuckle boxing when a young man could challenge a champion by literally throwing his hat into the ring.
4. It is just an extension of "going upwards" -- going so far upwards it goes right through the roof.
5. "punters" has been used for ordinary people since the 1960s -- at least it's better than "the great unwashed" !!!
Q: I remember when reading many years ago, Henry Fieldings' History of Tom Jones, encountering the word "tweet". A landlady said to Tom, "don't you tweet me". This reader was left to guess as to what exactly she meant. I would be grateful if you could enlighten me. Thank you, Barry, Pennant Hills.
A: In 1749 (when Fielding wrote his novel) the word meant "to speak to a person cheekily or impudently." So what she was saying was "Don't you cheek me."
Q: Hello Kel. I would like to know the correct phrase. Is it 'One and the same' or 'One in the same'? Thank you, I really enjoy your segment with Peta Credlin, my parents and I always watch it. Shane, Tynong North.
A: The standard English idiom is "one and the same". It is just a more emphatic way of saying "the same."
Q: Traveler or Traveller? Data: a short or long ? Best wishes and thank you for your splendid news letter. John. Lara.
A: The Oxford gives both spellings -- although one "L" is the standard American spelling and two "L"s is more common in Britain. Both pronunciations of "data" are acceptable on both sides of the Atlantic -- both 'DAR-ta' and 'DAY-ta.'
Q: Hi Kel, I know what the two sayings mean, but I was wondering where they originated.
1. Rattle your dags. Telling someone to hurry up. (I believe this may be from New Zealand or earlier Scottish links)
2. Up Mulligan’s gutter. (This may have been made up by my great grandmother from Northern Ireland but I don’t know).
Context: if you do xyz.. you’ll end up in Mulligan’s gutter.
I look forward to hear your thoughts on where they actually originated. Many thanks, Libby, Brisbane
A: 1. "Dags" refers to the dried, clotted dirt hanging around in strands of wool near a sheep's tail. It probably comes from an earlier English dialect word. It's recorded in Australia from 1872 and in New Zealand from 1912.
2. I think "Up Mulligan's gutter" must be a family expression. It's not found in any of the numerous reference books or slang dictionaries on my shelves.
Q: Hi Kel, Love your work. Just wondering where the expression 'Gunga Din' comes from? Gail, Bowral.
A: From an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling called "Gunga Din." It's about an Indian man working with the British army in the days of the Raj as a water carrier and a dresser for the wounded. It is famous for its last line: "You're a better man than I am Gunda Din."
Q: Hi Kel, I love your segment on 6PR and wanted to ask you about the word "appreciated"
I wonder the right way to say it, I always said appreshiated but I heard someone say with a c like in cinema, is it correct? Kind regards, Igaal, Dianella.
A: The Oxford English Dictionary lists two acceptable pronunciations of the word: (1) "appre-SHE-ate, or (2) "appre-SEE-ate". Although both are acceptable, (1) is preferred.
Q: Re: "Happy as Larry"... Kel, a LARRY is a long handled tool like a hoe but with 2 large round holes in the blade for mixing cement, mortar and concrete but particularly cement and mortar.
The term may no longer be used, but was certainly used by my Anglo Saxon grandfather [ 1885 - 1964 ], my father [ 1907 - 1972 ] and me [1944 - ]. Hope this helps. Regards, Denis, Picton, NSW.
A: That is very useful. Thank you for that. Was a "Larry" a particularly happy tool?
Q: Where does the expression "carrying on like a pork chop" come from? Jenny, Nowra.
A: This is an Australian invention. The expression "as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue" is recorded from 1932 (and refers to the ban in eating pork under Jewish dietary laws). Then "carry on like a pork chop" (meaning "making a fuss") is recorded from 1975 (which surprised me, I would have thought it was earlier than that). The second version may be a development of the first -- and that seems likely to me. I have heard an extended version that said "Carrying on like a pork chop in a synagogue in Jerusalem on a Saturday" (that being the Jewish Sabbath day). But it is also possible that comes from the way that pork chops spluttered on the barbecue when being cooked. Or even a combination of the two. But, personally I suspect it all began with that 1932 expression.
Q: What is the origin of 'I don't know if I'm Arthur or Martha'? With all of the gender acceptance recently it could be perceived quite differently. Zoe, East Innisifail.
A: This is an Australian expression. It has spread to the UK, but in many places in the English speaking world they would be confused by it. The earliest citation in The Australian National Dictionary is from 1948 (from the Sydney edition of the newspaper Truth) -- but it is possible that an earlier citation has been found in The Inverell Times from 1941. It might just be what is called a "rhyming reduplication" to express confusion (in fact that seems most likely), but I've sometimes wondered if there was an old time radio soap opera with characters called "Arthur" and "Martha"? (But that's just me guessing.)
Q: Hi Kel When a structure is burnt to the ground why is it said that it was raised to the ground? Karen.
A: Because we say it was "razed to the ground" -- and "raze" is the affective (or shortened) form of "erase" meaning "to obliterate."
Q: Please Kel, are we oriented to a particular thing or orientated? Also can we give up on the phrase “ ordinary people” please? I find that very ugly and demeaning. Thanks, love your comments with Peta. Cheers, Erica, Hervey Bay.
A: "Oriented" and "orientated" are exact synonyms. The verb "oriented" appeared first in our language (1728). It originally meant "facing east" and later broadened to mean "facing in a set direction" (regardless of whether it was east or not). The verb "orientated" came later (1848) with exactly the same meaning -- probably as a back formation from the noun "orientation" (1839). The Oxford accepts both words as correct English. So, take your pick!
I am less offended than you by the expression "ordinary people." In fact, I am happy to celebrate my "ordinariness." The word "ordinary" (I believe) doesn't downplay our individuality (our distinctiveness) -- but it deals a blow to those people who think they are "special." I am ordinary in the sense that I "belong to the regular or usual order or course of things; having a place in a fixed or regulated sequence." (OED)
Q: Why are words like battling and struggling and athletics pronounced even by newsreaders as battaling and struggaling and athaletics. There is no "A" in there. John, Townsville.
A: The sort of question I can never answer is the "why" question -- why on earth would anyone say that? But they do! It's rather like those people who say "fillum" for "film" or put a put a "K" sound at the end of a word ending in "--ing". They would never write the words like that. They know how to spell them. So why do they mispronounce them? I wish I knew!
Q: "So. Yeah".... meaning? Thats it?... All I have to say ? Seems to be used frequently. Is it used in interview situations particularly? Lammermoor Beach, QLD
A: Surely this is just another of those "padding" phrases used when the speaker can't think of a clear English expression as they form their thoughts?
Q: Hello Kel, Notwithstanding my Irish heritage, I was unsure what to make of the word “well” in the Lyrics of “The town I loved so well”, sung by various Irish artists. Is this the best use of the English language, in saying one loves something “well” as opposed to e.g. very much, or something similar? Thank you as always, Kieran.
A: This is a very interesting question. The use of "well" in the song lyrics is (I think) a noun in the accusative voice -- the object of the verb "loved." If I have parsed the sentence correctly, then this use of "well" is perfectly okay, and probably goes back to an Old English word meaning "in a kindly and friendly manner" (the sort of thing we mean when we say "I wish you well").
Q: What is the difference between regimen and regime? Joan, Bentleigh East.
A: The words are related. Both come from French, both appeared in the 1400s -- and both have to do with regulation. "Regimen" implies a systematic regulation, often to do with improving your health. While "regime" means the regulation imposed by a government or ruler.
Q: Wouldn't miss your Wednesday night with Peta - love it. Please what was the origin of "well I never". Jackie, Cowra.
A: It is an English idiom expressing surprise. The full expression is "well I never expected that" -- but it is now usual in idiomatic English to only use the shortened version.
Q: I was surprised that ravel and unravel can mean the same thing. The Sunday edition of The Age alerted me to this via the following question: “What four letter word can be both a battle and a verb meaning to unravel?” My mother was a knitter and used the term unravel the wool as the wool had ravelled or frayed. Help - I am confused now. Raymond, Ormond.
A: "Ravel" came into English from Dutch in the 1500s with the double meaning of "to entangle or disentangle." Clearly that caused confusion, so a hundred years later the word "unravel" was coined to mean "disentangle." That had the affect of narrowing the meaning of "ravel" to mean only "entangle." The old double meaning still exists, but is what the dictionaries would called "rare."
Q: Can you explain to me the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ please? And how to use them. Also, the word ‘whom’ is used rarely these days. But what is the correct use? David, Hughes.
A: "That" is a demonstrative pronoun while "which" is mainly used as conjunction (like "and" or "but"). The grammar books provide detailed rules for using each. But "that" has become the "workhorse of the English language" (to use Professor Pam Peters expression) and we should be fairly relaxed about using either "which" or "that." In cases of uncertainty, you'll usually get away with "that." (And, trust me, you don't want me to go through all those rules!)
As a general rule "who" is in the nominative case (is used as the subject of a verb) while "whom" is in the accusative case (is used as the object of a verb).
Q: Kel, will you simplify the ruling between "it's/its please? Campbell, Cairns.
A: "It's" (with the apostrophe) is always and only and contraction of "it is." "Its" (with no apostrophe) is a pronoun of possession (like "his" or "hers" -- which, you'll notice, also do not have apostrophes). The simple test is to expand the word and see of it makes sense: "the dog ate its dinner" -- try expanding it: "the dog ate it is dinner"... no, that makes no sense, so there should be no apostrophe. "It's time to leave" -- try expanding it: "it is time to leave" yes, that does make sense, so the one that makes sense when expanded has the apostrophe.
Q: Hi Kel, can you please explain the difference between dent and dint? Which one is grammatically correct? Cheers. Stuart.
A: They are both very old words (going back to Old English). "Dent" means the impression (the hollow) left in a surface by a sharp blow; "dint" means the blow itself (although we don't always observe this distinction, and we sometimes called a "dent" a "dint"). The metaphorical extension is "by sheer dint of..." meaning "by the force of of..."
Q: I have been taught that one should not end a sentence with a preposition. However, I am becoming increasingly aware that that particular rule of grammar is no longer "in fashion". I have two questions: First, is it still grammatically correct that we shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition? And, Second, if any grammatical rule changes who has the "authority" to make that change? Love your segment on Credlin on Wednesdays. Jonathan, Tenterfield.
A: The earliest English grammars were written by Latin scholars, and they imported in English rules that apply to Latin but are meaningless in English. The terminal preposition is one of those. (Splitting the infinitive is another.) Over time they were dropped (but it took a long time!) as scholars realised that they didn't belong in English grammar. So, there is no single authority that makes pronouncements on these thing (there is no English equivalent of the French Academy) -- changes happen as the community of scholars and English users make changes.
Q: I enjoy your segment after the football Thursday night on 2GB. Why does the word 'CORPS' as in 'Army Corps' have 2 silent letters? Are there any other words that have 2 silent letters? Also, how is the plural spelt and pronounced?
English does not use declentions, except for 's in the possessive case, and your often talked about 'who' and 'whom'. English has more exceptions than rules!
Why do Americans say ,'I will write you.' when we say 'I will write to you.'? And yet, we say ' I will write you a letter.' English is strange. Enjoy. from John.. Eagle Vale.
A: The Old French and Middle English version was "cors" and meant "body". This later gave us "corpse" (a dead body) and an army "corps" (a body of men). The p was added to make it conform to the Latin "corpus." In French the p is a mere bad spelling, which has never affected the pronunciation. In English also, at first, the p was mute -- it came to be pronounced in "corpse" but not in "corps." Why should this be so? Well, English is just like that. I recently read a new book about our language called "Highly Irregular:... and that sums up English!
Q: There's a serious division in the family regarding the pronunciation of "tour". My wife insists it's "too-er" while I have always pronounced it "tor". Phillip, Baulkham Hills.
A: I wish I could settle this dispute -- but the Oxford English Dictionary says both of your pronunciations are acceptable!
Q: There is a common misuse of "there is" instead of "there are", as if the plural form is now obsolete with many people. Denise, Maitland.
A: This is part of a wider problem that afflicts a whole generation who were no taught the basic rules of grammar at school -- including that the verb must agree with its noun is number. The education system has much to answer for! I am told grammar is once again being taught. Let's hope so.
Q: To ‘HACK’ a is a legal action. To ‘CRACK’ a computer is the correct term that refers to the illegal breaking into an otherwise closed digital platform. At least this is what was taught to me at TAFE. Do you agree? William, Bondi Junction.
A: The dictionaries don't agree with your TAFE teacher. "Hack" is a very old word with the core meaning of "to chop." And the dictionaries are saying that when an unauthorized person chops their way into a computer system, they have "hacked in to it."
Q: Kel I get so angry when so many people pronounce the letter H. At school I had to write the letter H (aitch) one hundred times. The young children today do not know what I am saying when I tell them to say aitch. I love the saying "That is a lot of Cock and Bull" which I know you would know the meaning. Love your time on Peta Credlin. Regards Joan, Malua Bay, NSW.
A: There is no such word as "haitch" -- all the dictionaries insist on "aitch." So we haven't given up on this one!
Q: Hi Kel, could you tell me if the shortened form of a prescription is 'scrip' or script'?
I see conflicting answers on the internet. Perhaps the American and British forms are different? Thanks! Betty, Seven Hills.
A: "Script" is the shortened form of "prescription." I see no difference between us and the yanks on this. "Scrip" is a much older word meaning "a short piece of writing" -- from which it came to be used of promissory notes and other short financial documents. But not, I think, what the doctor ordered!
Q: The use of word "existential" seems to have taken off. There are existential threats, existential facts etc. Why has this term become so common as an additional description of things which should be absolute in their own right? It seems to be aimed at giving something more emphasis and greater plausibility. Politicians love it when making a point! Many thanks. Best regards, Tony, West Pennant Hills.
A: "Existential" just means "what exists." So if you say "dark matter exists" you are making an existential claim. It remained a fairly technical philosophical word for several centuries, and then became a whole school of European philosophy. Strictly speaking an "existential threat" means a threat to the existence of something. "Extinction Rebellion" are claiming that the existence of the human race is threatened if the planet warms up by a couple of degrees. Politicians -- in their usual, slack way -- just use "existential" when they mean "important."
Q: Just in case, Peta Credlin loses my Instagram comment, I asked the origin of “elephant in the room”. Dominic, Melbourne.
A: This is an American expression, coined in the discipline of philosophical logic to mean "something obvious and incongruous." Originally the full expression was "an elephant in the living room." It's recorded in this way in learned philosophical papers from 1935. Later (from the 1980s) it was taken up more widely to mean "a significant problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but ignored or avoided." It has been widely used by journalists and commentators to point out what politicians are carefully ignoring.
Q: What is the origins of the phrase, “Happy as Larry”? I enjoy your Sky News segment with Peta Credlin. Thank you. John, Bendigo.
A: The linguists used to say this came from the name of an Australian boxer Larry Foley. But there's a problem -- because Larry Foley's dates are 1859-1917 and the expression "happy as Larry" has been found in the Illawarra Mercury in 1857, two years before Larry Foley was born. So the suggestion is now that it might be that "Larry" is just was the linguists call "a partial, rhyming, reduplication of 'happy'." And although "happy as Larry" is definitely an Australian coinage "Larry" was used as a Scottish slang word (from the Clydesdale are) meaning "joking, jesting" and this may have played a role in forming the expression (given how many Scots migrated to Australia).
Q: Kel, 'renege' is described in the English diction virtually the same way as renegotiation. Is 'renege' just a slang offshoot? Campbell, Cairns.
A: "Renege" is a word in its own right (from late Latin) meaning "to refuse, or decline, or withdraw, or retract."
Q: Thank your mother for the rabbits? Laurie, Frankston.
A: This comes from the Great Depression when people often lived on on rabbit. It may have begun as a serious and familiar expression, but after the Depression was over it continued as a jokey saying for greeting or farewell.
Q: Contribution - only one way to pronounce. Contrib-ute - was how I was taught in 70s & 80s
Now I regularly hear con-tri-bite, especially Jamie Oliver. Both seem to be accepted but is there a correct English pronunciation and other is colloquial?
A: The Oxford says there are two acceptable pronunciations. They say 'con-TRIB-ute" is most common, but that "CON-tribute" is also acceptable.
Q: Hi Kel why do so many media people say AUSTRALIA as STRAYA,STRAYYER,STRAYYUN ETC.This is the Great Southern Land not some STRAYYER. Thanks Glenn.
A: What you've noticed is the broadest (and laziest) form of the Australian accent. It is called "strine" (a contraction of "Australian"). It was recorded in a very funny book years ago called "Let's Stalk Strine" by "Professor Affabeck Lauder" ("alphabetical order"). Strine was originally a product of what I call "lazy mouth" syndrome. There is no excuse for this. However, it is sometimes used for comic effect -- and that can be amusing.
Q: Where does the saying ‘Gordon Bennett’ Originate from? Pam.
A: Gordon Bennet was a New York newspaper publisher in the early 1900s. He became famous for his eccentric and boorish ways (he is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Greatest Engagement Faux Pas” for having his engagement to Caroline May broken off in 1877 after he arrived late and drunk at the May family’s New York mansion and urinated in the living room fireplace in front of his hosts). As a result his name became an expression of surprise.
Q: Dear Kel, I have always wondered about how to pronounce the letter ‘H’. I remember Sam Newman saying uneducated people pronounce ‘H’ with haitch rather than aitch. You expertise would be appreciated. Thanks Kel Leah
A: The eighth letter in our alphabet is pronounced "AITCH" (there is no "H" sound in the name of the letter) -- any other pronunciation is wrong!
Q: What is the meaning or difference between "assertion" and "assertation"? James, Wauchope.
A: Only "assertion" is correct in contemporary English. There once was an older form of the same word "assertation" but it died out in the 16th century and is now considered obsolete.
Q: Hello Kel, Would you please give me a definition of the word “woke”, currently used increasingly without the explanation or definition. Many thanks, Pamela, Bathurst, NSW.
A: "Woke" began as black American slang meaning "alert, aware, informed." It was then taken up by trendy white Americans to describe themselves. It has now changed again, and is used by the critics of trendiness (if there is a such a word) to mean "narrow minded and politically correct." In that sense it is a fluid word -- but has largely become a word meaning "intolerance of those who disagree with the latest opinions." Is that confusing? Or does that help?
Q: How to pronounce ‘controversy’ please? Tessa, Fadden.
A: The Oxford English Dictionary says there are two acceptable pronunciations: (1) with the stress on the second syllable "con-TROV-ersy", or (2) with the stress on the first syllable "CON-troversy. Both are now considered correct. But there has been a generational change. I grew up saying (1) but studies show that (2) has now become more common. So this is one of those words undergoing a generational change.
Q: I wanted to ask you about using the word "pair" or "pairs." We were taught at school back in the 50's and 60's that it was a pair of geese or 4 pair of geese, not 4 pairs of geese. There was no 's' on the end of the word pair. Would you be so kind to to enlighten me please. Roderick, Lennox Head.
A: I consulted the authorities and found that "pairs" is now considered the correct plural form of "pair." In the past "pair" was like "sheep" with the same form form for both the plural and the singular. Now the experts say that both are considered acceptable, although "pair" used as a plural has become less common than "pairs." The world of English is changing around us!
Q: Hi Kel, I was wondering what is the history of the saying “how’s your father”. I’ve heard it used all my life without really knowing it’s meaning. I’d appreciate your knowledge on this.
Thank you, Kerry, Kirrawee, NSW.
A: The only story I've heard says it comes from Victorian times when fathers were very protective of their daughter's virtue, and this expression originated as a query from a suitor to a young woman to find out if her father was close by and keeping a watching eye on them. It may even but true -- but it's certainly the only story that has turned up so far.
Q: Hi Kel, This word - kakistocracy - and I am wondering why we dont come across it these days? Cheers, Riana, Mullumbimby, NSW.
A: "Kakistocracy" means "the government of a state by the worst citizens." Many people would (perhaps) approve of this word to mean "government by professional politicians"! But it is a rare (and little known) word -- which is why it is used to so little.
Q: Recently I have seen several instances of the word “fulsome” incorrectly used by politicians, TV presenters and even our chief health officer. Gerry, Banora Point.
A: I guess you mean those people who use "fulsome" to mean something positive. They might say "fulsome praise" meaning "the remark was full of praise" for whoever. And you are quite right that this misses the point. The Macquarie Dictionary defines "fulsome" as meaning: "offensive to good taste, especially as being excessive; gushing; insincere" and gives the example of fulsome praise. But "fulsome" is a complicated word. It has been part of English since at least 1325 -- and has had wide range of meanings over the years, some of them positive and some of them negative. The Macquarie's lead definition is only part of the story. The Macquarie also has (as its second definition): "lavish; unstinted." To be honest, I think it is an unsafe word to use these days, because the meaning is not clearly fixed at the moment.
Q: Kel. I enjoy your program very much. Agree that language is a river not a lake. However as I love the English language I am increasingly alienated by use of trendy words and phrases.
To amuse myself I put together my current “hates”. Clarity of communication is critical for leadership and direction to staff and I am sure you will agree. With a abundance of caution I offer the following memo:
To solve a wicked problem, having woke, in giving a shout out to you all from the get go, you will double down, take a deep dive going forward, avoiding any flip flop, before pivoting to virtue signalling, without gaslighting.
Enjoy……… Valerie (93 years young) West Pymble, NSW.
A: A clever confabulation of cliches! Well done.
Q: (1) I have been puzzling over this question now for a long time. I have heard British people, one my friend, constantly use the expression Bored of” when I have always thought it was “bored with”. I though it was improper English. Now I have read it in English novels, albeit modern ones. Is it correct in Britain? (2) I have another question: again it seems to be a British thing; using “ floor” when they mean “ground”. e.g police yelling “get on the floor” when obviously they are outside. I have also seen in tv shows/ read in books “get on the ground’ when they are inside a house or building. Why? (3) Oh, and another one; toward something and towards something. I am thinking “toward” is American. (?) Kind regards, Vija, Alphington, VIC.
A: (1) I believe the difference between "of" and "with" in this context is regional. What you say depends on where you grew up! (2) Although "floor" started with the meaning of the base of a building, it has an extended use -- for instance, the "floor" of the ocean is now widely accepted. (3) "Towards" (meaning "in the direction of ) is correct English -- and has been since the days of King Alfred!
Q: Hi Kel, love your segments on "Credlin" on Sky News. Just wondering if you could clarify something for me. I’ll paint the picture :
A. I’m a pilot flying a A330
B. Engine flame out say on engine 1.
C pilot flying puts hand on correct lever (there is 2) and the call is CONFIRM.
D other pilot looks down and verifies silently that pilot flying has got his hand on the correct lever and calls CONFIRMED.
What do you think about this type of English. The first “confirm” is saying - please check I have the correct engine selected as I’m about to retard it? And then the answer should be “confirmed”
My problem is the first confirm. No question mark at the very least. Love to hear your opinion on this one and I can show you it in further context as it may make more sense.
Kind regards Nicky, Fiji.
A: I have no problem with that exchange. Every trade and profession has its own spoken short-hand. That terse exchange saves the pilot from asking "Please confirm that I am taking the right step" -- so with one word he gets two pairs of eyes (and two brains) engaged in the procedure. When I am in a radio studio if the operator says to me "rolling" what he means is "I have started recording" (this comes from the old days when a tape recorder "rolled" to record and continues in the digital age). When a surgeon says "scalpel" to the theatre nurse it is one word, not a properly constructed sentence, but it conveys "please pass me the scalpel." Such expressions are called professional "jargon" (but not in a negative way).
Q: At times some words in a phrase seem redundant. For example refer and refer back ..... is back really necessary? Another - continue and continue on. What is the difference? Then what about meet with and meet up with? You may have covered these already but as a relatively recent watcher of you segment on Credlin I have little idea of what you have previously covered. Malcolm, Napier, New Zealand.
A: The answer for many such "redundant word" phrases is that English is an idiomatic language. That is, it is contains many idioms (grammatical constructions) in which a group of words are joined in a familiar way. In some of the cases you mention the additional words would have begun by playing the role of an intensifier -- a preposition to make the statement stronger -- and then become a habitual part of the familiar phrase (an idiom).
Q: Hi Kel. Thanks as always for your contributions to Peta’s program. Perhaps you could do a session on the tendency of some presenters to try and pronounce words in the local language rather than using the English equivalent. For example I just heard Chris Kenny pronouncing ‘Envoy’ as ‘Onvoy’. Another example is Homage (which is fashionable to pronounce ‘Omaje’). I notice Peta refers to Sri Lanka as ‘Sri Lunka’ Why??? Thanks, David.
A: The basic principle is (1) if there is an established English pronunciation use that, (2) only if there is not, use the local pronunciation. That is why we pronounce "Chile" as "chil-EE" not "chil-AY". In your examples, "Onvoy" for "Envoy" is (I believe) a regional English pronunciation found in some English speaking communities -- including Adelaide (where Chris grew up). As for "homage": the standard British/Australian (and older American) pronunciation is as the word is spelled -- sounding out the initial "H" and shortening the last syllable. The "Omaje" pronunciation is a more recent semi-literate American pronunciation trying to mimic a French pronunciation because the word came into English from French. But it came into English over 700 years ago! It has now taken out its naturalization papers and become and English word! The Americans make the same semi-literate mistake when they pronounce "herbs" without the initial "H".
Q: The formulation of industrial medical chemist names/wording is a challenge to most of us, both pronunciation and understanding the exceedingly long wording. Are these words a compilation of old Latin words, segregation of English and refitted, usage of tables OR a combination of all of the above and possibly more? Campbell, Cairns.
A: They are largely constructed out of Latin roots. There have been attempts to creating rules for these constructions over the years. This matters to us because of the new ruling that all of our GP's prescriptions must now use the chemical name, not the proprietary name, of the drug prescribed. That leaves us trying to work what each script applies to!
Q: Where does ''Hold your horses'' originate from? Claire, Byron Bay.
A: It means, as you know, be patient, hold on. It began as a colloquial expression in the US -- in America's old Wild West -- and is recorded from 1843, at a time when impatient, snorting horses would have been familiar to everyone.
Q: In your article in today's online Spectator on "Language" you began a sentence with "But". Is this OK now? I was taught to never start a sentence with "and" or "but". I love all your articles. Thanks so much. Margaret, North Ryde.
A: That's a very good question. Yes, you are right that many of the old prescriptive grammar books said we should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. But that was a rule imported from Latin and applied to English in the 19th century -- and it never belonged in English grammar. It's a bit like the rule to never split the infinitive -- also imported from Latin to English, and also always out of place in English. Shakespeare (among other great writers from the past) started sentences with conjunctions and split the infinitive. Those older, prescriptive grammar text books taught a lot that was excellent and useful, and little that wasn't!