Q: I heard you report that the word "vaccine" comes from vacca. Untrue, it comes from the word vaccinium which is the name of the berry plant family. This is because our ancestors consumed berries in their season to inoculate themselves for the transition between seasons. It has been discovered that berries contain protective components that strengthen cell walls and other functions that prevent illness. This is the true vaccine. Sam, Wollongong.
A: You don't need to persuade me -- you need to persuade the scholars at the Oxford English Dictionary. They say their research shows that "vaccine" does not appear in the English language until the year 1799, and that its origin is "Latin vaccīnus ( < vacca cow)." It might be interesting if you went to the OED website and contacted them with your alternative history. I would like to know what they say.
Q: Hey Kel love listening to you on 2GB. What are your books you have out I'd like to get some . Dean Woolaware.
A: Just search my name on Booktopia or Book Depository or ABEBooks.
Q: Saw your interview on SKY regarding your new book. I have a very battered copy of 'The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux', edited by Noel McLachlan, which I read a few years ago. As you say, it is a fascinating story, and could, perhaps, be fodder for a TV series. Anne, Sunbury.
A: I agree -- it's a story just made for a TV documentary. Let's hope the book inspires a producer to get the same idea!
Q: I listen to you on Tuesday nights and find it very interesting. My question is when I was younger I would ask my brother what he was doing and he would say “making a wigwam for a gooses bridle." Do you know where this say came from and what does it mean. Kathy, Mosman.
A: It is a deliberate piece of nonsense invented by adults to avoid explaining themselves to children. It goes back to at least the 19th century when nonsense (think of Lewis Carrol and Edward Lear) was very popular. And that's all it is -- nonsense used to fend off over inquisitive kids.
Q: In the early years, we invented the sun dial for time keeping. This later became a 'Clock' and later a 'Timepiece' and finally a 'Watch'. Question, how were the names, clock and watch originated ? John, Middle Dural.
A: "Clock" came into English in the 14th century from an Old French word behind which is a late Latin word -- both meaning "bell"... because the earliest clocks did not have faces that showed the time, but rather they chimed the hours. A small time-piece has been called a "watch" since the 16th century. This comes from the older notion of being "on watch" (think of the nautical use of the word). The "watches" on a ship began and ended at set time (at eight bells, or four bells). And being "on watch" meant being alert, aware. A small instrument that keeps you alert to the current time, aware of the current time, takes its name "watch" from that source.
Q: On air with Smithy today your critique of Dr Chant’s LEARNINGS was correct, (and i’m still teaching other architects). This word was foisted (?) upon us many years ago. But your suggestion to use “lesson”, which involves the process of “teaching” does not describe the “outcome” of the “lesson”. So what word best describes the student’s learned experience and ALSO the usable outcome from a learned lesson? Christopher, Lilyfield.
A: Although "learnings" are discoveries, rather than the product of formal education, I still suspect that "lessons" works semantically. We talk about the "lessons of life" which arise outside of formal education. But you could, if you prefer, replace the hideous neologism "learnings" with a phrase rather than a word: "There are things we have learned from this."
Q: Two things (1) heard you the other night talking about Devon, back in the 50's we called it Pork Fritz but I suppose the PC brigade got to it ,eh? (2) Also my granny used to have a saying, I think if we asked a question and she didn't know the answer she'd say, a wigwam for a gooses bridle, what's your explanation on this please ? Thanks heaps ,been carrying this round for 60yrs. Ben, Badgerys Creek.
A: (1) Devon is a mild-flavoured, pre-cooked sausage, (usually sold pre-sliced) which seems to travel under many names and speak many languages (As you have discovered). Here aree at least some of the names I have found for devon: beef Belgium, Belgium sausage, Byron sausage, Empire sausage, fritz, German sausage, luncheon sausage, polony, pork German, Strasburg, wheel meat, Windsor sausage. (2) "Wigwam for a goose's bridle" means nothing. It is a deliberately invented nonsense expression given (often to children) instead of a real explanation. Cheers, Kel
Q: Logon. Or Login...the computer term...verb? Noun? Adjective? Jimmy, Glenmore park
A: It's actually two words "log in" -- and it is a verbal phrase. It comes from the old nautical verb "to log" -- meaning to record the distance travelled by a ship in a "log book." With the coming of the internet this verb was transferred to computing, so that joining the net was being likened to opening up a ship's log book to make an entry. Why this particular metaphor was chosen, I don't know. But it was.
Q: I see that inherited from our unfortunate American spell check, that Australians now swap the ‘a’ for an ‘i’ in words such as collapsible. (Collins has both) I always believed that collapsable meant that it was ‘able’ to be collapsed, but this approach is not consistent. Some words ending with ‘ble’ are quite comfortable with ‘ible’ such as incredible, but others not so. Your thoughts Rick, Bakery Hill, Victoria.
A: Which spelling to use can be a challenge even for a good speller -- they sound the same and the choice between them seems arbitrary. Pam Peters in her "Cambridge Guide to English Usage" says that in general "-able" goes with words from Anglo Saxon or French source words, while "-ible" goes with words that came from Latin roots. Often the words to which "-able" is added are words that can work alone as verbs (e.g. contract / contractable) while words with "-ible" will not work as stand alone verbs (e.g. we have incorrigible but there's no such verb as incorig). However, having said that -- there are two complicating factors: (1) There are a lot of irregularities in English, so standard patters apply mostly, but not always. And (2) as you point out Americans often change well constructed English words to suit themselves (a practice started by Noah Webster).
Q: One thing that has always interested me is that different languages don't call a country the same thing as the natives do. Germany = Deutschland; Switzerland, die Schweiz - Suisse + Italian version. It's not just an English thing. Food for thought ?? Paul Gurr.
A: Yes, good point. It's worth bearing in mind that when we talk about foreign places we are talking in English using English words. Hence, the Italian city of Florence is, in Italian, Fiorenze; our Munich is Munchen to the locals... and so on. It is not the case that places have only one name (which the same in every language).
Q: Sometimes I say to my children, 'bollycowobble' meaning 'that's not right.' They think I made it up. I must say I don't recall hearing is a child. Please help. Glen, Dapto.
A: There are words that lexicographers call 'family expressions' -- phrases and words used within a family and unknown to anyone outside the family. This 'bollycowobble' of yours strikes me as being one of those. It is a nonsense word which becomes a way of saying 'that's nonsense.' Even though you can't recall hearing it as a child you most likely did -- perhaps from a friend at school whose own family had coined and used this nonsense word.
Q: I have 2 questions, if I may: (1) You might have dealt with these nuisances (to me) in that past, but I find them teeth grindingly awful: the use of "So" and "Look" as introductory words when responding to a question. "So" seems to be an ABC and scientific thing. ABC on-camera people and scientists appear to be most inclined to transgress. Particularly weather and COVID commentators. I actually heard a laboratory scientist answer about 10 or 12 questions in succession and every single answer began with that word. "Look" seems to be confined to journalists, the worst offender in my experience being Kate McClymont. I once heard an interview of her in which nearly every response thus commenced. I need your help to eliminate these horrible usages of otherwise useful words. (2) Is there a word, and if there is not can you make one up, for a member of a sporting team (usually one of the footy codes) who, having just dropped a pass or missed a tackle or committed some misdemeanour, starts wildly gesticulating and barking orders at his teammates to go to certain positions where he/she is not - even though he/she is not captain? I reckon this is intended to draw attention from his/her own inadequacies and put the blame at someone else's feet. Mark, Mosman.
A: (1) These are what I call 'getting the brain into gear' utterances. They are the meaningless sounds that people make to fill a second or two and allow them to gather their thoughts and work out what they really want to say. They tell us that nature abhors a vacuum, well it is certainly the case the humans abhor silence and have to fill it with something--even something meaningless. And these utterances can become habits -- what a friend of mine calls 'verbal ticks.' I'm afraid this habit will not go away any time soon! (2) I know of no specific word for that situation, except the old word 'distraction.'
Q: Do you know when the term 'climate scientist' was first used? I've tried googling but without success. The reason I ask is that it seems almost everyone is a climate scientist now...
best wishes, Stewart Franks.
A: The expression 'climate scientist' is recorded from 1976.However, there is a distinction that needs to be made between 'climate science' on the one hand and 'global warming / climate crisis' on the other. The first expression refers to the difficult task of analysing and understanding climate, while the second is a (non-scientific) ideology (we can know that it is non-scientific because it is an ideology that cannot specify what would falsify it -- and that is the test of whether a theory is scientific or non-scientific). And you are right in the sense that many people claim to believe in the ideology based on what they call 'the science.' However, until they can specify what would falsify their ideology they themselves are not speaking scientifically. That is not to say that the 'climate crisis' ideology is untrue -- just that it is not being talked about (at least in the popular media) in a scientific way.
Q: What is the origin and meaning of "played [him] off a break"? Would seem to derive from snooker or pool. Warwick, Canberra.
A: You are quite right. My son, who is an excellent pool player, tells me it refers to what happens following the opening shot in a pool game -- when one player "breaks" the racked balls. The results of this break vary wildly, but when a good player does well following a break that puts the balls in awkward positions he has "played (his opponent) off a (bad) break."
Q: Dear Kel, Having lived in Australia for most of my adult life and brought my two children there I have always taken care to ensure the name “Australia” was and is pronounced as it is written. So often I hear the word pronounced phonetically as Austraya .Even the host of the news show you appear on weekly, pronounces it this way. I appreciate language changes but this to me is lazy speech. Your views on this would be appreciated. Mike, Cromwell, New Zealand.
A: You are, of course, quite right -- the pronunciation "Austraya" is a common one. However, this sort of elision of letters in a place name is not unique to this country. The residents of New Orleans" pronounce the name of their city as "New Orlins." It's easy to dismiss such pronunciations as the product of a "lazy mouth" not bothering to articulate all the syllables, but I suspect we need to be more generous than that. There are some words that are almost never articulated with precision. For instance, "library" often loses a syllable and becomes "libree". I suspect there are some sounds that require the speech organs of mouth, tongue and lips to move too quickly from one position to another--and that these are often slid together for ease of rapid pronunciation. By the way, it can get even worse than your example -- as when "Australian" is compacted into "strine." Cheers, Kel
Q: What is the origin of "drongo"? Warwick, Holder.
A: Drongo is yet another of those Aussie expressions meaning “an idiot”. The story goes that there was a racehorse named Drongo(running between 1923 and 1925). This horse, supposedly, always ran last (or near to last). Cartoonist Sammy Wells, then of the Melbourne Herald, apparently adopted Drongo as a character in his political and sporting cartoons. In these cartoons Drongo was the no-hoper in every situation. That’s the story that’s told. In fact, the earliest citation for the word drongo is from the Melbourne Argus of 1924, and says (quote): “Drongois sure to be a very hard horse to beat. He is improving with every run.” But, hang on, that doesn’t sound like a horse that consistently ran last (or near to last)! Furthermore, there was a bird called a drongo and, just possibly, the insult “you drongo” originally meant “you bird brain”. Or perhaps boththe bird and the race horse played a part in the adoption of drongointo Aussie English.
Q: Well said on Sky News tonight! Ray, Picnic Point.
A: What Ray is referring to is the conversation I had with Peta Credlin about "cultural cringe." The expression ‘culture cringe’ was coined in 1950 by literary critic A. A. Phillips to describe the cringing assumption that anything that is Australian is second rate. We thought we’d got rid of ‘cultural cringe’ in the 1970s—but now it’s back with a vengeance. Academics at Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education have declared that our schools are ‘part of a system of colonial rule’ that is ‘deeply embedded’ with ‘structural racism.’ In other words, they have declared Australia to be shamefully and morally second rate. Their message is that only international standards—set by such bodies as Black Lives Matter—should be allowed to rule in this country. Perhaps their shame over being Australian, and their obsequious cultural cringe before imported ideas, doesn’t speak for most of us—but they have certainly breathed new life into A. A. Phillips’ old coinage.
Q: What is the origin of the term “after dark”. If something is happening after dark, then wouldn’t it be happening when the darkness has finished? I.e. in the morning? Gavin, Cranebrook.
A: 'After dark" (like many other English idioms) is a contraction of a longer expression. It takes the place of 'after darkness has fallen'--cutting seven syllables down to just two. When you look at the longer version you can see why it applies during the hours of darkness, and ceases to apply once dawn comes.
Q: One word that gets under my skin in sporting codes: Defence--as now used in our Aussie sports. DEfence in basketball. This must have come from America. Glen, Oak Flats.
A: You are quite right. In English pronunciation it is most common (in many words) to stress the second syllable--so we say deFENCE. It is the Americanns who shift the emphasis to the first syllable--DEfence. By and large Australia has resisted American pronunciations. Why sports commentators have given in to the Yanks on this one I do not know. It irritates me as much as it irritates you.
The latter is creeping into all sport and I don't like it.
What are your thoughts on it.
Q: My question is this: in this pandemic people say "Keep safe" or "Stay safe ". My understanding is that Safe is either a noun or an adjective. I didn't see how it could become an adverb and I thought our version of that was safely, e.g. Drive safely. Could you confirm or correct me please.
A: "Safe" first appeared in English as an adjective (around 1300) from an Anglo-Norman source word. Later it became a noun, and later still a verb. In the two phrases you quoted I think 'safe' is being used as a noun (the key word in the phrase) and "keep" and "stay" as adjectives. With parts of speech (as Steven Pinker has demonstrated in his classic book The Language Instinct) it is often best not to look at individual words, but at phrases -- and those two phrases are what Pinker calls "noun phrases."
Q: I have two questions: (1). I always use the following together when trying to be aussie. Cobber digger mate ocker bluey sport. Ususally all at the same time. But where did each originate? (2). I also used to hear the following when someone wasnt sure about something. Something fishy in Denmark. Or close to that. Where did thar come from? Rhys, Willoughby East.
A: (1) "Cobber" seems to have developed in Australia from a Yiddish word. At least, that is the current thinking among linguists. It is also possible that it came from an English dialect source word. "Digger" was the nickname given to each other by Australian soldiers in WWI -- possibly from all the trenches they had to dig, but more likely influenced by the gold rushes where mates saw each other as "fellow diggers." "Mate" is not exclusively Australian. It's very old (comes from an old Middle Low German source word) -- and has always meant what we mean by it: colleague or comrade. "Bluey" has many applications in Aussie English [a] red heads (a joke, you see); a swag (which in the colonial days had a blue blanket wrapped around it); a blue heeler cattle dog -- and all of these together merged to make it a word for a friend. "Ocker" is the Australian abbreviation of the name "Oscar". And "sport" is short for "a good sport." (2) The Denmark comment is a misquotation from Shakespeare. Hamlet's actual words are: " Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
Q: When & Why has the word gay been used to describe the L.G.B.T.I. community, thanks. Helen, ? Daleys Point.
A: The word "gay" has been part of the English language since the 13th century meaning "bright and cheerful." The earliest recorded instance of it being applied to the homosexual community seems to be from 1922. Before then (in the 19th century) "gay" had been used as a word for prostitutes. The linguists surmise that its earliest use in the homosexual community was similar--as a word for male prostitutes (or "rent boys" as they were also called). Gradually within the homosexual community "gay" came to be used more widely. Then in the 1960s politically minded leaders in the homosexual community began a campaign to make "gay" the word used to name them and their community. Clearly their campaign worked.
Q: Why do Australians call chickens chooks? Helen, Daley's Point.
A: Like many other Australian expressions this one started as an English dialect word. "Chook" comes from Yorkshire where "chicken" could be abbreviated to either "chick" or "chuck". And if you imagine the word "chuck" pronounced with a Yorkshire accent you will understand why we now say, and spell, it as "chook."
Q: Thanks for taking my question, l wanted to see if you can let me know what exactly a "Liberal" is, as the Australian version appears and sounds different to the American version. My understanding of a "Liberal" is an individual who appreciates freedom to do and say as I like within context, and of which l can choose my own direction and way of thinking towards what I feel is right. My understanding, might be a little outside the box, but when you think of it as a proud conservative, as the conservative understanding in the US/Canada is different. I understand it, is a a person who is broad minded, who is socially and politically a person who will change their minds based on government decisions.
Again, this is my brief understanding, where I thought the Australian Liberal Party, and the American Republican Party, were like minded, or similar in many policies and laws, and way of thinking to protect each others countries sovereignity and right to protect the people, and make decision to benefit and aid their peoples. So please explain to me, its origin, and the true meaning of a "Liberal" in Australia, and the US, and whether they are the same, or truly have different meanings, as I feel the Australian Liberal Party, should change to Conservative Party like the English. Its so confusing, as a true conservative, very strong and passionate, I want to know, as I plan to start a channel on Youtube, to discuss conservative issues, here and around the world, and all facets of what a conservative stands for, as not all conservatives are Liberals, nor from the ALP, or any other minority group. Adrian, Safety Beach, Vic.
A: The political label "liberal" does indeed mean different things here and in the US. Basically for Americans "liberal" means "socialist" while for Australians "liberal" means something closer to the old Whig party in the UK--which was built largely on a commitment to liberty (in the sense of John Stuart Mills' classic essay "On Liberty"). On the other hand, as I once explained on Peta Credlin's program, "conservative" basically means those who see themselves as being part of the history of civilisation--having received values handed down by previous generations and being responsible to preserve (and perhaps add to) the values that handed down to the next generation. That "standing in the flow of many generations" is central to notion of conservatism. When Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party his intention to bring together that conservative notion together with the old Whig defence of liberty. Which is why here in Australia the Liberal Party has always been what John Howard called "a broad church."
Q: In talking about an office being manned by staff I maintain “being manned” is not sexist because is used , and has been for a long time as the same as saying staffed by . One wouldn’t say woman Ed by . It is a term that is still relevant whatever the make up of the people in the office , on the stall etc . Am I correct ? Ann, Kew East.
A: Yes, you are correct. The English word man represents two different Greek words: "andros" (male) and "anthropos" (humanity--we get "anthropology" from that source). English only has one word to do the work of these two Greek words. And I would agree with you that "man the office" represents "anthropos" not "andros", hence is not sexist.
Q: Do you know why we call each other mate. I know in the navy they have first mates on ships, we have work mates, room mates, table mates, mate ship etc. Does it come from mate as a sexual partner. If so, why would men call each other mate. Warren, Newcastle.
A: No, it doesn't come from the notion of sexual partners. "Mate" It is a very old word (at least 800 years) and comes from a Middle Low German source word meaning much the same as "comrade" or "mess mate." It became common in Australia in the convict era when you were often dependent for your survival on the person you were working with.
Q: A question about some English surnames that are pronounced differently to the way they are spelt. e.g. - spelt Mainwaring,but pronounced Mannering.(Dad's Army) -- spelt Dalziel , but pronounced Dee-El. Is there a name for these ? John, Padstow.
A: A good question. No, to the best of my knowledge there is no word for pronunciations that are divorced from their spelling. By the way, the most notorious example is probably Featherstonehaugh pronounced "fan-shaw"... now explain that!
Q: Kel, why is ph used for an f i don't understand? Trevor, Lithgow.
A: Because they originally represented different sounds. "F" was sounded as we sound it today, but "ph" (from the Greek letter "phi") made a slightly different sound--what the linguists call "an aspirated P" (meaning the "p" sound with a gush of air). But over the centuries the two sounds drifted together until they became identical.
Q: Can you please explain what the difference is between ‘it has an affect’ and ‘it has an effect’. Or when you would use those two words. It’s always puzzled me. Karen, Bondi Junction.
A: For general purposes the choice between these words is a matter of grammar--"affect" is a verb ("It affected me badly") while "effect" is a noun ("the effect was...").
Q: Why do so many media commentators leave the L out of the word vulnerable? Is this an acceptable pronunciation? Gail, Morningside.
A: It also happens to the word "hospital." This sort of pronunciation is called a "dark" L--and seems to have originated in a regional English dialect, which is why it appears in some places (and some speakers) more than others (it is common, for instance, in Adelaide).
Q: Hung and hanged. I'm confused. It seems to be common in the media to state he hanged himself opposed to he hung himself. George, Sylvania.
A: The verb "to hang" has two past forms "hanged" and "hung." Originally there was only "hanged" and then around the 16th century the alternative "hung" came to be used--probably on the analogy of swim/swam/swum. By the 19th century it had become standard English to use "hung" for objects ("we hung the picture on the wall") and "hanged" for executions ("Ronald Ryan was the last man hanged in Australia"). This seems to have been determined by usage, and not for any linguistic reason.
Q: Why is the word 'Crucifixion' spelt with an 'x' instead of a 'ct' please? Does it have something to do with not wanting it to represent 'fiction' ?Are there any other words like this? Thanks, Kel, love your work. Betty, Seven Hills.
A: As I was explaining to John Stanley on 2GB--most of the spelling puzzles in English come from the fact that English has borrowed so many words from so many other languages. The verb "to crucify" came in English from French--and it is French-sourced words in English that often end in "--tion". However, French has never had the noun "crucifixion"--which seems to have come into English directly from late Latin. And Latin uses the consonant "x" in the place where French has "--tion." I realise this doesn't feel like a very satisfactory explanation--but it does appear to be what is behind the spelling, and, like so many questions about our language, further clarity is hard to find.
Q: People have started using the word ay instead of a. Eg. The man has ay dog...instead of The man has a dog. I know you don’t spell it that way but I’m trying to explain the way it’s said.
Is it correct that they say it that way? Funnily enough I’ve heard people say it both ways in a conversation eg. The man has ay dog and he also has a cat. Paulette, North Epping.
A: The letter "a" has two pronunciations--the short ("uh" sound) and the long ("ay" sound). When it is used as an indefinite article (when we speak of "a something") it is normal to use the short pronunciation. However, I suspect that when people want to stress they are speaking about just one of something they might stress the "a" and that would make the pronunciation long. I hope that makes sense.
Q: Can you tell me the difference between To and Too and when do you use them in a sentence. John, Brisbane.
A: "To" is what us a called a "preposition"--a little word that is used as a language tool. In that context" "to" expresses direction. You could think of it as a shortening of "towards" (as in "he went to the bathroom"). On the other hand "too" is most commonly used today to mean "excessive"--as in "he was too fat."
Q: Hi Kel...two of my pet hates in English misuse....(1) People who say “either side” when they mean both sides...To me “either side” means one side or the other. (2) The Americanism that I love to hate is “momentarily” which they use to say “ in a moment’s time”..whereas in English it means “ for a moment”. Chris, Hornsby Heights.
A: I agree with your point (1). People are failing to use language to distinguish between "either or" and "both and." (2) You are right again. When a pilot says the plane will land "momentarily" he means "soon"--but the word actually implies the plane will touch down and take off again at once. A silly misuse of language.
Q: Where did the very annoying statement, at the end of the day, come from? The well known political reporter Bill O'Reilly had a cash retainer on his desk at Fox News and when anyone mentioned "at the end of the day" in conversation that person would have to put a $20-00 note into the retainer. In my humble opinion, $20-00 wasn't enough of a deterrent to slow up the use of this most annoying and useless phrase. Love your work on radio Kel. Michael, Alexandra Hills, Queensland.
A: I haven't been able to track down the first use of this phrase. But its origin is the need that all politicians have for "padding"--meaningless phrases they can use to fill the air while their brains desperately search for an answer to the question they've been asked. We should try to put together a list of these "polly waffle" phrases. If any others occur to you, let me know.
Q: Incorrect use of common words — especially hyperbole — really annoys me. Words like decimate and unprecedented are good examples and both have been grossly overdone by scribblers — you can hardly call them journalists — in popular media. Geoff, Wadalba.
A: I promise to keep up the good fight. As you know 'decimate' means 'to reduce by one tenth' not totally devastate. I keep saying this, but so far the younger generation of journalists is not listening! But we shall keep up the fight (as Churchill said, we shall never surrender.)
I'm wondering whether you might attack the continuing misuse of such words either in you segment on Credlin or in The Spectator.
Q: Can you tell me, where did the saying 'Beggars belief" come from and what does it mean, please. Julie, Edensor Park.
A: The expression 'beggars belief' is quite old--recorded from 1780. What a beggar does is to beg--to plead for a donation. Any statement that sounds doubtful 'beggars belief' because it is begging (pleading) to be believed--and (hence) we are finding it very doubtful. (We assume that true or persuasive statements don't need to beg). Cheers, Kel
Q: One particular word that the Americans pronounce incorrectly, according to their way, is aluminium. Rick, Bakery Hill.
A: They even spell it differently -- aluminum (without an "I" before the "U"). The grey metallic element was originally called "aluminum" when it was discovered but in 1812 the name was changed slightly to bring it into line with how the names of the other chemical elements were spelled. However, the Americans chose not to make the change. Why I do not know!
Q: Kel, you may have noted that my email address uses the name BlackPete. This is derived from the customary roll call held at secondary school of saying the pupil’s name in surname - first name order. Coincidentally I watched your contribution on Credlin this evening in relation to “voluntary” censorship of children’s books. As a primary pupil of the fifties, I recall a reader with a story of the following title "Wig Wog and Black Peter." I wonder how that would fare in these “enlightened “ times ? Peter Black.
A: You are quite right. The politically correct brigade have attacked lots of children's book before they got to Dr Seuss. Any books, for instance, that had a toy golliwog, were instantly banned as racist. So I think the book you mention would be cancelled by their "culture warriors" for both parts of its title. No chance of survival!
Q: It would be interesting if you were to discuss with Peta the transition to Americanised words in our Australian English. This is the pronunciation of every syllable in a word, whereas in Australia we usually skip a syllable. I noticed this change following the Atlanta Olympics where the commentary was done by Americans. We had cer-rem-mony after cer-rem-mony. This of course underlined (not underscored) by American sourced television programs. Now it appears that some magic wand has been waved over the media and advertisers who now must pronounce every syllable. This of course picked up by politicians and every other easily influenced person. I find it frustratingly annoying that part of our culture is being lost.
As and addendum, I understand that Webster of the dictionary fame, issued a booklet to American schools, explaining pronunciation. In the article I read, it claimed that perhaps the Americans had kept the English language best of all countries. Rick, Nerrina.
A: The American influence on English has been lamented by British and Australian commentators since the 1930s. It was the invention of sound movies that exposed the world to how Americans talk. When it comes to pronunciation, both the British and Australian habit has been (not always but often) to stress the second syllable--while Americans stress more syllables. So we would say that scientists work in a la-BOR-atry (shortening the last syllable) while the Americans say LAB-ra-TORY. With ceremony my complaint is that they (and those copying them) say cere-MOAN-y. I keep insisting there is no moaning in ceremony. They do the same to the word testimony (once again they put a moan in the middle). It is the economic power of the US that has spread their linguistic influence so widely. As for Noah Webster (1758-1843) he published a spelling book long before he published his dictionary. Webster's American speller became the standard teaching text for American schools for almost a century. So, yes, he had a great influence. However, I wouldn't agree that his approach to language was better than anyone else's.
Q: A few of us 'old' Soldiers have been discussing the word "paid" in the context of war memorials having the words "Paid the supreme sacrifice". Would you explain for us where this usage originated and why it was used in this context please? Rob, Alstonville.
A: The verb 'to pay' dates back to at least the 13th century and the earliest uses of 'pay' and 'paid' did not always refer to money. We still refer to someone who 'pays in kind'--that is, does some work to pay off a debt, or supplies some product or service instead of money. So the idea that a soldier who has died in battle has "paid the supreme sacrifice" is an ancient one--so old that we can't say exactly when it began (but certainly many hundreds of years ago). It's use on war memorials is just a modern use of an ancient expression.
Q: I know you think that it is correct to put an "s" to such words as stadium instead of using the word stadia. What is your thinking about the word media that is universally used in the media instead of using the word mediums? Li, Edensor Park.
A: The ruling principle is always: usage establishes meaning. English language users have chosen the Latin plural form 'media' to label radio, television, print, online and whatever. So what the users of English have chosen is what the word is, in English. It seems to me that in this particular case it is the singular form 'medium' that has disappeared, and only the Latin plural is now used. If someone said they were doing 'media work' and it turned out they were only doing radio work we would not complain that they should have used medium' -- since the Latin plural is the form that has taken over in English. The English language is not always logical or consistent because it is a democratic institution that is determined by what people choose to say and write.
Q: Why is teacher spelt with "er" and doctor with "or"? How can one know which way to spell without consulting professor Kel Richards or professor Google? Li, Edensor Park.
A: The reason for the different spellings is that English has borrowed words from many different languages -- and the source languages give us different spellings. 'Teacher' comes from an Old English source word behind which is an Old Saxon word -- so this comes from the Germanic family of languages. 'Doctor' came into English from Old French which is one of the Romance languages behind which lies Latin. Yes, I know it's complicated because English has borrowed so many words from so many different source languages. That's why English spelling is not always consistent and logical. How to learn English spelling? There is no easy answer. Use a good dictionary (Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English is very helpful in this regard). And learn from what Spell Check tells you on your computer. But there is no easy way to learn English spelling!
Q: Why IMMIGRATION and not IN(TO ENTER). Why 1 million and 100 million without one S at the end ??? Enrique, Bribie Island.
A: 'Immigration" comes a Latin source word, and in Latin the prefix "im" means "to remove or go into." As for 'million' -- in English some words can be both singular and plural. Think of the word "sheep" -- we can talk about 'one sheep' or 'seven sheep' and the word does not change form. The same form of the word is both singular and plural. And the word 'million' can be used in the same way -- as both the singular and the plural. However, in some constructions it is permissible to add the "S" to show that we are talking about multiple millions. For instance, if you want to say that 'He earned millions' you need the "S" to show that you don't mean just one million. I wish there was a simpler way of saying this. but that (I'm afraid) is the nature of the English language -- not always logical!
Q: I have just read your article on the word "stonkered". in the new edition of Australian Geographic. My wife and I had the privilege of working at Goroka hospital in the P.N.G. highlands in the 1970s, and the hospital pharmacist was a Welshman and his wife a Cockney. We somehow dropped the word "stonkered" and his wife immediately burst into ribald laughter. Evidently, to a Cockney, a "stonker" was a useful early morning erection, as distinct from a "lazy lob". I can see the connection with artillery. Col
A: Possibly more than we needed to know about 'stonkered'! But thank you for the additional information.
Q: In discussion the other day I used the term describing a politician as "a wanker" - debate ensued as to what a "wanker" was - my thesaurus was no help ; it didn't recognise the word - can you assist. Jeremy, Tweed Heads South.
A: We use the word 'wanker' today to mean a narcissist -- someone who is totally self serving and self obsessed. Literally 'wanker' means (OED): " A person who masturbates." The politician you talked about may have been guilty of what a colleague of mine used to call 'mental masturbation' -- engaged political only for their own purposes and ends. As to the source of the word, the Oxford says "origin unknown."
Q: “Gotten”.....surely not good English?!?! And what about "earned" or "earnt"? Marcus, Birchgrove.
A: The Oxford English Dictionary gives 'gotten' as the past participle of the verb 'to get. Professor Pam Peters in her masterly book The Cambridge Guide to English Usage says that "gotten is often found in expressions concerning the changing of one's location or the state of one's being." Among the examples she gives are: "The men had to be gotten out"; and "The dream had gotten away from from me." So, yes, it sounds odd to our ears sometimes, but is okay. And -- the past tense of the verb 'to earn' is 'earned.'
Q: I’ve just seen your comments with Peta Credlin about vaccination - at school (in the 1950’s) we were taught that one could be vaccinated only against Smallpox (for the reasons you mentioned), and that everything else was an inoculation. Inoculation seems to have gone the way of smallpox! James, Point Clare.
A: Very interesting history here, James. 'Inoculate' is a much older word than 'vaccine' -- it dates back to the late Middle English period. But not with the meaning we know. It originally meant 'to graft a bud or shoot onto a plant of a different type.' Then this older word was taken up by medicine and given the new meaning of 'to introduce an infection into an organism.' But here is the interesting point: this new meaning for inoculate emerged about the same time as the new word 'vaccine.' So the two words are exact synonyms (which in rare in English) and both appear in the language at about the same time. (Your teacher was wrong -- 'vaccinate' was never limited, linguistically, to smallpox.) Why we have forgotten about 'inoculation' these days only ever talk about 'vaccination' is something that puzzles me.
Q: Can you explain the difference between- “anyone entering a business MUST sign in on entering that business. And compare that to “Must sign in at the entrance.”
this is in relation to the covid guide lines. Ian, Lismore.
A: The second is just a contraction of the first. The space on signs is limited and, in consequence, what we might call "sign language" often shortens a complete message to a slogan-like brevity by leaving out some words.
Q: Hi Kel, heard you on 2GB talking about words that should be banned. I would like to add a word if possible and that is "exhaustipated" which means I am tired and things are not working out. I also hate the overuse of "Gamechanger". Peter, Dee Why.
A: Both your nominations for "Banned Words of the Year" are excellent and have been added to the list!
Q: Hi Kel, have been following you for years in various forums and love your style and knowledge. I'm a former journalist and cringe at the careless use of our language.
The latest is the word "drop" or "dropped" in the headline of a real estate story, especially in on-line editions. Often see so and so superstar has dropped $6.5 m on a mansion or Warnie has dropped $15m on a new pad. I thought the word, drop, would mean to lose that amount as in a bad deal. Seems the sub-editor is some young dude who used that word with friends and the crusty old check sub is too lazy to pick up the mistake. Or why bother checking real estate stories. I love the way language evolves but this word "drop" is for mine over the top.
Would like your thoughts, please. Mick, New Forfolk, Tasmania.
A: The word "drop" is very old, and comes from an Anglo Saxon (Germanic) source word. Originally the core meaning was "to fall" from which the whole range of meanings we know developed. In the real estate stories you refer to the subs appear to say that celebrity X is now Y millions of dollars less because of this purchase -- that money has "fallen" away from them. Subs who write headlines are always looking for short dramatic words and I guess they chose "drop" to be just that -- short and dramatic.