Archive for the ‘Wordmistress’ Category

Yes, said Wordmistress

Oh, dear.

Wordmistress, your faithful companion in the Land of the Well-spoken, must do something most unpalatable. She must revisit a verbal transgressor.

How it pains her.

WM enjoys tackling new conversational challenges. Lord knows there are enough of them.

But this word is like a verbal mosquito. While she may swat at it silently (one refrains from public correction), she is under no illusions that it is not multiplying at a most unfortunate pace.

Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, absolutely.                                                                                   

Really? Really?

Really? Really?

It is the fashionable tic du jour, the new “awesome!” The favorite go-to response in any conversation.

WM, while taking pains to stay current with the news, can hardly stand to view it anymore. Every interviewer, interviewee, commentator, reporter, or bystander suddenly confronted with a microphone feels obligated to say that word.

  • Host:  “Senator, do you agree that the American people are overtaxed, poorly represented, and weary of the heavy hand of government?
  •  Senator, with lifted brows and an emphatic shake of the head: “Oh, ab-so-lute-ly!

While the Senator is not going to disagree with the obvious truth of that premise, somehow it eludes him to simply say “yes.” Why, WM wonders, is “yes” not sufficient?

Does the Senator (or the person with whom you are conversing) think you won’t understand the unplumbed depths of their feelings on the subject?  Or that you will be particularly impressed with a vigorous, four-syllable word?

One can, in fact, be both elegant and emphatic with that one simple response: yes. The short phrase“ I do agree” may accompany “yes” and leave the questioner with no less assurance of the strength of one’s conviction.

Wordmistress will not belabor this point any further. She has now stated her position clearly, twice, and retires to review other transgressions that must be addressed.

It is exhausting standing on the wall while hordes of verbal misdemeanants threaten at the gates.

Perhaps she will nap first.

You may read other engaging posts by WM by clicking on the link cleverly entitled “Wordmistress” in the sidebar. She welcomes your comments.



Hanging Out with Wordmistress

One hears it so often these days.                                                          girlonswing

An example.

Wordmistress: “So, where did you go last evening, dear?”

Young Adult: “I was with Prudence.”

WM: “Oh! So what were you doing?”

YA: “Hangin’ out.”

WM, with a slight twitch: “Ah.”

What has happened to the clear, simple description of enjoying the company of one’s friends? When did people stop visiting or being with one another? Was WM napping when an entire generation decided to hang out?

Please do not misunderstand. Wordmistress is not fooled.

After all, her house has occasionally been hung out at.

People sit on or drape over the couch with smartphones. Or laptops. Or IPads. Checking Facebook. Or Twitter. Or email. Or text messages. Along with everyone else in the room. With the television on. And sporadic conversation. And possibly snacks.

Wordmistress, ever at her post on the walls of civility while the hordes of social change threaten at the gates, is not peeved, exactly. Well, that is not entirely true. WM is rather peeved, but in a resigned sort of way.

The term, in the opinion of Wordmistress, is a rather sloppy way of describing a 21st century default behavior: frequently checking social media while in the company of friends and/or family.

If this was not the case, if you were with friends and/or family and you spent the evening pleasantly conversing, or playing board games or card games, or watching a fun show or movie together, why not simply say so? Why toss an enjoyable evening into the recycling bin of postmodern slang?

Wordmistress fervently wishes you not to feel scolded, but encouraged to precision in language. While she would never hang out with you, she is certain she would enjoy the pleasure of your company.

With our phones on silent, of course. And out of sight.

Do you, dear reader, agree? Kindly leave comments here on Wordmistress’ post to share with others.

Merry Christmas, says Wordmistress

Peace and parties, goodwill and great deals whirl around us in a frantic dance of celebration.christmasmusictree

Wordmistress is enchanted with Christmastime.

She is, of course, concerned about the commercialization of this holy season. She is also concerned about the elimination of crèches from public places, the excising of any mention of Christ’s birth in schools, and – but the list is lengthy. Wordmistress will have to lie down if she dwells too long on bureaucratic stupidity.

There is one thing, though, that she would like to bring to your attention. It is something we can all do to help reclaim ground lost to the (how to say this delicately) secular progressives.

To begin, Wordmistress is not terribly fond of shopping. She would rather be home with her books and her grandchildren. But when she does shop at Christmastime, she is highly sensitive to certain words.

Two of those words are “Happy Holidays.”

They seem innocuous enough. Happy Holidays. But they have become, she must sadly remind you, code words for “Let’s not say the word ‘Christmas’ with the word ‘Christ’ in it.’” A few years ago, when the War on Christmas (do not attempt to argue with WM about this) was heating up, some employers actually forbade their employees to address customers with those dreaded words, “Merry Christmas.”

Wordmistress was, as you can imagine, outraged.

While things have calmed down somewhat, one still hears “Happy Holidays” with startling frequency. And while one does not doubt the sincerity of all those goodhearted salespeople, you are encouraged to respond with a cheery “Merry Christmas!”

You may be pleasantly surprised at how often those words are repeated back to you with a smile of what appears to be relief. Ah, a bold guest. A fearless customer.

This is just one small way we may push back against the tsunami of political correctness. And we can do it with good humor and goodwill.

Wordmistress wishes you a merry and blessed Christmas season.  Kindly, but firmly.

Do you agree?


Wordmistress Has Seen Enough

I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it. American writer, Carl Sandburg.

In her earnest efforts to eradicate verbal tics and minister to the conversationally challenged, Wordmistress must ever be a model of discretion.                                                                                      

Good breeding prevents her from rolling her eyes and sighing deeply when she hears you know people trying like to you know explain like what it was like you know when that like happened.

She smiles graciously while struggling through the linguistic maze.

And then she hears someone blithely say, “I seen it.”

Now, a confession is in order. Wordmistress has great affection for movies such as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The improperly conjugated past tense of the verb “to see” appears frequently in that fine and funny film.

She is invariably amused.

But this is not the 1930s and we are not in a movie.

Time was when elementary schools were called “grammar schools.” Why? Logic would suggest that it was because those early years are when the basic structure of language is most easily grasped by young minds.

Wordmistress fondly remembers laboring over verb conjugation on her homework sheets as a young girl.

Sometimes, however, verbal burrs like “I seen” stick to the Velcro of our mental interior. They must be firmly grasped, removed, and replaced with the much more attractive Proper Conjugation.

In his useful Common Errors in English Usage, Paul Brians writes: “Errors in usage are a lot like errors in table manners. There are tiny deviations from standard practice few people will notice or care about, like using your salad fork to eat a steak.”

While agreeing with this simile, Wordmistress must gently add that saying “I seen” when you mean “I saw” is like trying to cut that steak with your spoon. It is unnecessarily clumsy.

It has been said that language:

  • expresses thought
  • conceals thought
  • takes the place of thought

Wordmistress is ever ready to help with the expression of thought.The finest language,” said writer George Eliot, “is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”

Those simple, unimposing words are most effective when correct in usage.

Should you know someone who has difficulty in this area, kindly direct them to this post. Here, in an amiable tone, Wordmistress will help them.

Perhaps when they’re done, they will say with enthusiasm, “I saw the light!”

Could one ask for more?

Are there other improper conjugations that annoy you? Share them here.



Wordmistress Again, You Guys


In the grand and glorious universe of words there are guerillas.

These villainous little tics and phrases hang around the edges of perfectly good conversation. Suddenly, without warning, they launch themselves smack into the middle of a fine, sturdy sentence. And it collapses without a fight.

Wordmistress, always at her post, has already brought several irritating examples to your attention. She must now deal with a particularly viral, 2-word, (what shall she call it?) delinquent that is beginning to make her twitch noticeably in public.

Wordmistress has had it with you guys.

What is the root of this verbal weed?

  • Did someone look around at some point and decide that the world consisted of males?
  • Did they miss 4th grade and not realize that, in the English language, you also serves as a plural pronoun?
  • Did they think the entire American population resided in the Bronx?

It’s everywhere. In restaurants: “What’ll you guys have?” Friends: “You guys wanna come over?” On TV: Unavoidable.  News programs (anchors, reporters, guests – from politicians to celebrities to attorneys to Joe Schmoe and his grievance), sitcoms (even though I never watch them because they kill brain cells en masse just like reality shows), finance shows, recent presidents (oh, dear).

It is a symptom of the slangy, sloppy, and sometimes faintly disrespectful way we are increasingly communicating with each other.

That sounds harsh, you say.

The future.

Wordmistress responds that she is standing on the wall of civilized conversation dodging missiles of fragmented thought being hurled by the masses saturated in social media mush.

She is armed only with her website and her wits.

Sometimes she grows weary and irritable.

Nevertheless, she encourages all of us to uproot you guys and plant the following:

  • you 
  • all of you
  • everyone

Stand strong. That means you. (Don’t even think it.)

Thank you to those who have shared verbal tics and phrases they find annoying. Wordmistress will address them in due time. Comments are appreciated.

A Word With Wordmistress

Alright, everyone, gather around. Wordmistress wants a word with you.

It is time to clean up our collective vocabulary and polish our verbal skills.

I am here to help.

Hopefully, some of you found my suggestions in a previous post, Help for the Conversationally Challenged, to be an indispensible aid in your verbal exchanges.

What We All Want

Let’s agree that everyone wants to communicate clearly and effectively.  I sense enthusiastic head-nodding. Good. (You’ll notice I simply said, “Good.”) Let’s also agree that while social media has made everyone an instant worldwide communicator, it doesn’t mean that the level of discourse has been elevated.

Sadly, the opposite is true.

Since we must start somewhere, we shall consider the virulent use of certain words that are yanked from their original meanings and chucked willy-nilly into conversation.

We begin with the word “awesome.”

The TMNT Effect                                                                                                                                        


It invaded everyday conversation in the 1980s with that hardshell crimefighting quartet, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: “That was soooo awesome!” “Toootally, duude!”  It was cute, really, when it began. My young sons awesomed and duded and fought crime vigorously for several years.

“Totally, dude” shall be given a pass. But “awesome” must be dealt with. Immediately.

This word’s actual meaning is inspiring awe.

What is awe? A mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, sacred, etc.  (Please reread.)


  • You find a perfect solution to a nagging household problem on Pinterest.
  • Your child eats peas without incident.
  • Your buddy wipes out on his motorcycle, resulting in massive road rash.

Are any of these things majestic, sublime, or sacred? Do any of them excite feelings of reverence, fear, or wonder? Are you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? The answer is no. NO. NO. NO. Yet every day, the mundane, the near-tragic, and the stupid all receive this same response.


Wordmistress says to reserve “awesome” for describing God, and to find other words in your handy Thesaurus to describe things like shoe sales and the weather.

But awesome is not alone in its irksome overuse.

It has, in recent years, been joined by “absolutely.”

Glad you agree, but. . .

The idea seems to be that the gentle, affirmative nodding of the head, or a simple, “Yes, that’s true”, does not suffice anymore in conversation. One must widen (or dramatically roll) ones eyes, swing ones head forward, and say repeatedly, “Absoluuutely! Absoluuutely!” Subsequent statements must be followed by this same response.

It is as though the person to whom you are speaking is oblivious that you are in complete, and I do mean complete, agreement.

Wordmistress insists that you wait until the person is finished speaking and then calmly say something like “I agree.” The person with whom you are agreeing will likely get the message. If not, find someone slightly more conscious with whom to converse.

Necessary Inoculation

New on the Verbal Irritations list is a surprising newcomer: clearly.

It has invaded the news media and infected every reporter, anchor, and guest. And it is creeping into everyday conversation at an alarming rate.

That is why I am inoculating you here.

Do not begin sentences with clearly. It sounds pretentious and, at times, patronizing.

Wordmistress suggests that you make your comments or state your position clearly. Then you won’t be tempted to use that annoying word.

This is the Short List

Wordmistress does not want to assign too much in one post. She simply urges you to:

  • refrain from scolding people who do not have the benefit of this instruction, but instead
  • gently direct them to this website
  • lead by example

And be forewarned, “you guys” is on the Naughty List.

The Exemption


There is one exception to these particular instructions of Wordmistress. It is the Fab Five, that beautiful team of gymnasts who won gold for the U.S. a few years ago.

Clearly, they were absolutely awesome.

Do you agree with my list? What words would you add?

Help for the Conversationally Challenged

Is it really that hard to have a two-way, face-to-face, conversation nowadays, you ask? 

Yes, dear, it is.

There are things abroad in the land, sneaky, subversive things. They go by various names such as, but not limited to: “I’m Not Really Interested in What You are Saying Unless It’s About Me,” “I Have a Lot to Say About Me, So Please Don’t Interrupt,” and the dreaded, “Story-topping.”

I’m finding the whole thing exhausting. So before I decide to stop talking to people altogether, or at least drastically narrow the field, I shall, in my quest to be Helpful in the World, make some suggestions.

Really listen when someone is talking to you. People used to do this, but it happens less frequently now. Maintain eye contact, nod your head appropriately. Be interested. But also be prepared. When it is your turn to contribute to the conversation, it is possible that:

1) the person’s eyes will shift to something over your shoulder.

2) they will start checking purse or pants pocket for their phone.

Do not be one of those people.

Some years ago, I was having a pleasant conversation with a woman at a conference. Someone came up and said something like, “You are needed elsewhere.”  She turned and walked away. Gone. I was left stunned, mid-word, with my mouth hanging open. Rather than making me, well, resentful, it made me more determined than ever not to be one of those people.

Consider “How are you?” to be an actual question. 

  • If you are asking, look the person in the eye, smile, and wait expectantly for an actual answer. This includes all those people working in department stores, grocery stores, and restaurants.
  • If you are asked, refrain from a simple, “fine, thanks.” Instead try, “I’m doing well, today, thank you. And how (maintaining eye contact – see above) are you today?” You might be pleasantly surprised at their pleasant surprise at your apparent interest.

At Target one afternoon, a young guy scanning my stuff told me, after I asked how he was, that he was a guitarist in a band and they were playing in San Francisco and someone had approached them about making them famous. Or something. Anyway, the next time I saw him, I asked about the amazing music thing. He was pleasantly surprised (see, I told you). Sadly, there was no Big Break. But I think my interest brightened his Targety day.

Ask follow-up questions. This fundamental element of good conversation has almost disappeared. If you are listening, as you ought to be, and if you are making eye contact and tracking what is being said, ask a follow-up question. Really, how hard can it be? On the other hand, when you are speaking, your conversation pal may already be thinking about how they are going to respond. It will likely be with something that makes what you just said irrelevant. This is called:

Story-topping. This is where things get serious. Story-topping is epidemic. It has several virulent forms, but symptoms are obvious:

1) While you are speaking, there is a slight glazing of the eyes which are not, by the way, looking at you.

2) You can sense their wheels turning: How can I respond with a better story about something that happened to me?

3) Absolutely no reference is made to what you just said.

Story-toppers suffer from a veiled form of narcissism. Do not let the conversation wander too far from attention on me. If possible, conversations with story-toppers should be avoided.

Unless they ask for prayer.

While having a conversation with a live human being, do not text, check email, or tweet on your cell phone. Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York, notes that students no longer look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation. She attributes this to the prevalence of texting.

Yes, the culture is in technological transition and the rules are being written as we go. No matter. It will always be rude. You may say, “I am expecting a call and will probably have to excuse myself at some point.” This gives the other person fair warning. But to just stand or sit there with the phone in your hand is – Did you catch it the first time? – rude.

Eye contact. Excellent follow-up question.

So, there you have it. If you think you might be a Conversation Offender, simply follow my suggestions and improvement is guaranteed. People love to talk about themselves. The key is to find interesting people.

Be one and they will come.

Do you think the nature of conversation is shifting?  If so, how?

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