While we’re discussing specialty words (see the last two posts), here’s another: slang. Slang is characterized by informality, and it typically has more to do with popular culture than any specialty. Some slang becomes a normal part of the language, some fades away. One of my favorite bloggers, Mike Peterson, of Comic Strip of the Day, found a site that’s all about slang. Here’s a picture of some of it. See how many words you know. I remember my parents using a lot of these.

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Buzzwords, Jargon, and Portmanteaus

Okay, my previous post is out of order. I mentioned a “previous post” about portmanteau words, but it was a post whose material was in my saddlebag—I hadn’t posted it yet! So here’s that material:

A definition is in order: jargon is language that fits into a narrow field and might be unknown elsewhere. Jargon doesn’t need to consist of portmanteau words, but lots of times it happens. Here’s the Fastrack comic that got me started on this topic:

The comments on the site are pretty good, too. Some of these are portmanteaus, and some are just plain jargon. Jargon that gets overused are buzzwords, by the way.

And while I’m on the subject, the excellent daily  blog A Word A Day is mentioning portmanteaus this week (starting May 29, 2017). Go look. Subscribe!

Portmanteau Words

Seems to me I mentioned these guys recently, but I’m too lazy to do a big search for my post about them (I think it was a post about buzzwords). Besides, this Dagwood oops Blondie comic is a good example of these words.

A portmanteau is an old kind of suitcase, usually made of leather, and usually with some kind of straps. You put unrelated things inside, hence the analogy with portmanteau words, parts of unrelated words put together into one word.

Blondie - 05/16/2017

“Ever-popular” is just a plain old compound adjective.


I mentioned enormity a while back, as a word that most people get wrong. Here’s someone who gets it correct!

In case you didn’t see that earlier post, “enormity” means extremely bad, not extremely big.

And here’s a more serious example of getting enormity right. It’s from This Day in History for May 11.

Still, many in the crowd did not realize the enormity of the disaster. Some young fans reportedly danced and sang in front of the raging fire while others threw stones at a television crew.


Watch your Person

You see this mainly in informal English, especially spoken, but if you don’t want to cause that little jolt to your reader that comes from sloppy writing, don’t mix persons. That is, don’t start with something like “me” and end up with something like “you.” (Emphasis mine:)

This pair got an especially hard laff this morning because, for those of us who work at home, time off means time spent thinking there is  something more productive you ought to be doing.

This excellent example of gear-changing is from Comic Strip of the Day, by one of my favorite bloggers, Mike Peterson, who writes both thoughtfully and informally, occasionally providing me with something to quote. The quote is toward the bottom of the post, in a section labeled “Juxtaposition of the Day,” referring to two strips about people who work from home.

Don’t throw your readers this kind of curve. The statement isn’t literally true; (well, maybe it is, but) his meaning is probably about …something more productive that we ought to be doing.

Tesla Gets Comprise Right

This is part of a strip about Nikola Tesla, quoting part of his autobiography. Follow the link to see the whole thing. Yes, I have a thing about getting “comprise” right (see the text at the bottom of the picture), but I recommend Zen Pencils anyhow because it’s a good, often inspirational comic. Go poke around the site.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Really concise today…

Mallard Fillmore - 04/29/2017  Bruce Tinsley

My solution is to avoid pronouns. Pronouns are an easy source of accidental ambiguity. The singular “they” goes back to Milton or Chaucer, so the duck can’t really object to the usage.

We have no gender neutral singular pronouns in English–you can’t have a group of a singular, but in our current culture, it’s less in style to be so specific, although sometimes you don’t know the gender. Sex, btw is the biological term, gender is grammar, though our culture has started using gender to refer to sexual preferences.


Easy post today. Jim Scanarelli must save these up to fit so many into one Gasoline Alley strip. It’s at

Most places I’ve seen the term written as “malapropism,” but the first time I saw it, the word was “malaprop,” and I like that word better. The longer word sounds pretentious. The term comes from a Dickens novel that had a Mrs. Malaprop, who got a lot of her words humorously wrong.

May and Can

When I was a kid, my teachers (several of them, in grade school) taught us that “may” meant permission, so when a clerk asked “May I help you?” They were being deferential—”Do I have your permission to help you?” Use of “may” in this circumstance is still considered to be polite and high class. “Can,” my teachers said, meant ability. So “Can you open this pickle jar? It’s too tight for me,” is appropriate (unless the speaker is being manipulative or something, though most manipulative would be to assume the person can open the jar by using “would,” but I won’t get into that). Anyway, this Retail comic does a nice job of describing the subtleties of these words.

Retail - 04/23/2017

All that said, The language seems to be changing. I wrote some math curriculum for IBM once, and the PhD SMEs we worked with insisted we use “can” even when “may ” was technically more correct. And I see “may” used a lot as a weak version of “might.” On that last usage, if you can use “might” instead of “may,” use “might.” Your writing will have more punch.

A Word about Apostrophes

Okay, Brooke McEldowney (he of Pibgorn and 9 Chickweed Lane fame) is one of my favorite cartoonists, but I don’t get the punchline in this one. That doesn’t matter, though, because I want to mention the references to apostrophes in the first cell. [I just figured out that it’s not “cell,” but “panel.” At least that’s what I see the cartoonists using, and they ought to know. Several panels make a strip, and a “cel” is a single frame in an animated movie. I guess a “cell” is where you put prisoners or honey.]

Okay, in the first panel, she mentions that apostrophes are to indicate a missing letter in a contraction, and separately to indicate the possessive case. As it happens, the possessive is also derived from a missing letter! We still see it in the German, whence we get a lot of our possessive forms. Originally the possessive was -es, and we took out the e and replaced it with an apostrophe.

My other comment is the pair of apostrophes in one word. You can actually do that, sometimes. For instance the helping verbs in the future perfect, “will have” can both be contracted, mainly in informal spoken English: “I’ll’ve been writing this blog for nine years come January.” If I think of (or see) any other examples, I’ll add them.

Meantime, if you get the joke, explain it to me.