Mythology in English

by Gabrielle C. Durham Did completing your taxes seem a Herculean task? Did cleaning your adolescent bedroom compare to mucking the Augean stables? Are you more jovial or saturnine by nature? Do you or anyone you know suffer from narcissism? Did you see the movie Titanic? Have you ever been hypnotized? Do you want to…

Sneaky Bastard Words

by Gabrielle C. Durham If you took Latin, then you probably have a larger vocabulary than the average bear, and you are more likely to have strong opinions on some words you vaguely remember based on Latin roots (cognates). For example, folks are more commonly using “decimate” to mean destroy or devastate, and it annoys…

Cursing

by Gabrielle C. Durham A friend asked me to write a column about Russian cursing a few months ago. I do try to be accommodating, so I looked at several sites to get a better handle on it. In case you were not familiar, cursing in Russian is rich, much more calorically dense than most…

Trademarks and Language

by Gabrielle C. Durham Certain phrases choke us with their ubiquity at some point: “Just do it.” (Nike) “Let’s get ready to rumble!” (Sports announcer Michael Buffer) “That’s hot.” (Paris Hilton) “Hasta la vista, baby.” (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” as delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger) Did you know these have all been trademarked? This means that…

Verb Tenses

by Gabrielle C. Durham We can agree that a verb in the present tense means that action is occurring now. What about the present progressive, which I used in the previous statement? That apparently confounds non-native English speakers because it means that an action is in the middle of happening. Friends have asked me, “What…

Passive Voice

by Gabrielle C. Durham Folks love to pick on passive constructions. “Passive sentences are too wordy. They are unclear. They gave me a bruise.” Two out of three of these are objectively wrong. The third I can’t help you with. Passive voice provides a valuable service. We all know when something bad happens, even if…

Style Guides

by Gabrielle C. Durham “In receiving this award, I thank my parents, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mr. T.” This is my twist on the importance of the serial or Oxford comma, the comma that should follow “Gabor” and precede “and.” I was indoctrinated at a young age, which as we know is the best time…