“Ta-ta” to Tautologies

hero-blue-bookToday’s GrammerBook.com email about English grammar is too good to pass up. It fits in well with our “Word Wednesday” feature, besides teaching proper English grammar.

Isn’t it time you say “ta-ta” to tautologies?

Read on, my friends! And you don’t even have to go above and beyond. Just beyond.

Striking the Surplus from Tautologies

The English language includes the tools it needs to communicate with beauty, depth, and precision. Like any other healthy entity, it also moves most swiftly without extra weight. In the world of words, flabby noun phrases are known as tautologies.

Merriam-Webster online defines a tautology as “1a: needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word.”

Common English is rife with such excess. It often occurs because of needless descriptive emphasis or a simple lack of grammatical economy.

GrammarBook.com touched on this issue similarly before in Pleonasms Are a Bit Much. In that entry, we defined a pleonasm as deriving from pleonazein, a Greek word meaning “more than enough.” “The jolly man was happy” is one such example of adding a pound made more of fat than muscle.

We return to this subject and call it by its other namesake so you might recognize this intruder of our language by either ID card it carries.

Tautologies will never be fully edited from spoken language simply because of inherent informality; only a well-trained and -disciplined mind will omit extra words during a conversation in motion.

Careful writers, on the other hand, have the time and the will to infuse their linguistic diets with protein. They cut the sugar and carbs that add calories without nutrients to their thoughts.

They avoid composing phrases and sentences such as:

each and every one  Choose “each one” or “every one”–both are clear when standing alone.

above and beyond   “Beyond” is all you need in a statement such as “Her report went beyond expectations.”

vast majority   You hear it all the time, and you might even use it yourself. If you do, you now recognize that “majority” means the largest part of the group, so you can cast the “vast” and not lose your meaning.

forward planning   If “plan” means “to devise or project the realization or achievement of” or “to make plans” (as in “plan ahead”), is it possible to plan backwards?

mass exodus   Yet another pudgy phrase we hear or use all the time. An “exodus” is defined as “a mass departure,” so we know which word need not join the evacuation.

Trained expert, violent explosion, invited guest, identical match: The line continues out the door and winds its way to the streets of congested communication outside.

You have the power to improve the speed and flow of traffic in English. Just say “ta-ta” to tautologies by reviewing word choices and ensuring you enhance your meanings rather than duplicate them.

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 9:00 PM  Comments (1)  

A Journey Into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory – The New York Times

It has been some time since we did a “Word Wednesday” feature. Today (tonight!) I post this significant “word” item I saved a while back.

In this article penned for The New York Times (March 22, 2017), Jennifer Schluessler uncovers the secrets of the Merriam-Webster “word factory,” that is, the company’s famed dictionary. Along the way, you will find out some of the old ways of producing this time-tested word book, as well as the new ways that modern technology has added to and enhanced the process. Ah, the thrill of being a lexicographer!

Below is one of the images that go with the story, and then the beginning part of the article. Find the rest by clicking on the image below.

And, yes, this place certainly looks like a verbal gem-mine to me! Another one to add to my book-tour trip. 🙂

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in America, has turned itself into a social media powerhouse over the past few years. Its editors star in online videos on hot-button topics like the serial comma, gender pronouns and the dreaded “irregardless.” Its Twitter feed has become a viral sensation, offering witty — and sometimes pointedly political — commentary on the news of the day.

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer here, is very much part of the vanguard of word-nerd celebrities. Her witty “Ask the Editor” video contributions, like a classic on the plural of octopus, and personal blog, Harmless Drudgery, have inspired a Kory Stamper Fan Club on Facebook.

…But the company remains very much a bricks-and-mortar operation, still based in this small New England city where the Merriam brothers bought the rights to Noah Webster’s dictionary in the 1840s and carried on his idea of a distinctly American language. And this month, Ms. Stamper, the author of the new book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” was more than happy to offer a tour of some of the distinctly analog oddities in the basement.

Published in: on April 19, 2017 at 10:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

Word Wednesday: Candle – Rev.W. Langerak

StandardBearerThe latest biblical word study has been published in the July 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer. This time Rev. W. (Bill) Langerak writes about the meaning and significance of the word “candle.”

We make it our Word Wednesday feature today. May his thoughts enlighten your mind and encourage you to shine as lights in this world of darkness.


The candle is a significant biblical picture.  This should not be that surprising, since for thousands of years candles were a prominent appliance in the everyday life and even worship of the church.  The fact that candles have little practical value and use today does not diminish their continued spiritual significance as an enlightening symbol for us.

   In general, the candle symbolizes the presence, life, and knowledge of God.  In a real sense, God gives to every man a candle.  The spirit of man (that God breathed into him in the beginning) is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly (Prov. 20:27).  But such light is not grace to all.  God’s presence indeed gives life and knowledge, but it also condemns man and his use of that life as unrighteous, unthankful, and wicked.  There is no reward to the evil man, and in anger the Lord shall put out the candle of the wicked (Prov. 24:20; Job 21:17).  His sentence upon man’s kingdom and culture of sin is that “the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee” (Rev. 18:23).  Only in Christ is God’s presence a candle of grace.  Knowing this, the believer joyfully exclaims, “Thou wilt light my candle; the Lord God will enlighten my darkness” (Ps. 18:28).  This candle of the righteous shines so he can walk in darkness (Job 29:3).  The smoking flax (wick) of this candle the Lord will never quench (Is. 42:3).  And the candle of the virtuous woman goes not out by night, not merely because her godly care knows no limits, but because she lives constantly in the light of God’s gracious presence.

   The candle is also a glorious picture of the church.  A notable feature in the tabernacle was the menorah, a splendid seven-branched candlestick.  It is mentioned 22 times in the Torah, including how the Lord ordered it to be crafted out of pure gold, decorated with gold almond blossoms, and fueled by the purest olive oil (Ex. 25:31-35).  When moved, it was to be carefully wrapped in fine blue cloth, protected in a leather case, and carried on a pole.  When at rest in God’s house, it was to be lit every night. And on the day of dedication, the Lord gave special instruction from behind the veil that its candles were to be mounted to illuminate the way to His mercy (Num. 7:89-8:4).  Night and day, the Lord was always home, blessing His covenant people with the light of His Spirit, guiding them to His unfailing grace through His atoning sacrifice.

   This picture finds further development in the new covenant vision of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:11-13).  Here, the candles represent more clearly, not simply the presence of God with us, but the church itself as she lives in the world—distinct yet united, imperfect yet glorious in righteousness and works of holiness, by Christ in their midst by His Spirit (Rev. 1:20).  As a candle, the church is a continual witness to the grace and glory of God enlightening them before the whole earth (Rev. 11:4).  And if any particular church stubbornly refuses to be such a witness by leaving her love for the Lord to walk with the world in unrighteousness, the Lord can and does remove such a candle out of its place (Rev. 2:5). 

   As candles lit by the Holy Spirit of Christ in the midst of a world dark with sin, the true church and her members have only one purpose:  to broadcast the light in us of the power of God’s grace to forgive sins, sanctify, and give eternal life.  Unlit candles are useless.  So are flickering ones.  To shine brightly, the whole body must be full of light.  Take heed, therefore, that the light in you be not darkness (Luke 11:35-36).  Equally useless are bright candles hidden in foolishness, fear, or shame.  Candles are not meant to be placed under a bed or a bushel (Mark 4:21).  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world; a city set on an hill that cannot be hid.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). 

   Yet, in spite of their significance and value here, in the new creation all this changes.  There will be no candles there.  Not one.  Why?  Because there in Jesus’ presence, there shall be no night, only day; and no darkness, only light (Rev. 22:5).

For more such word studies from the Scriptures, visit this section of the PRC website.

Final Thoughts… on Words and Books – M.B. Lubbers

In the latest issue (June 2016) of the Adams’ Announcer (Christian School where some of our grandchildren attend) Mrs. Mary Beth Lubbers reflects on her impending retirement as a Christian school teacher – after 45 years!

Mary Beth is one of my favorite teachers – and I didn’t even have her for one. She taught several of our children in South Holland, IL, instructing them with “old-school” philosophy but with fresh ideas and daily enthusiasm for learning. Our children still speak of her influence on their lives.

Mary Beth (Mrs. Lubbers!), we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your faithful work as teacher for those 45 years! We will miss you and your inspirational teaching. But know that it lives on in the hearts, minds, and lives of our covenant children.

Her article, titled “Final Thoughts”, includes some of her punchy insights into today’s educational world, some of which I would like to include here today, especially her thoughts on word-use and books. I think you too will appreciate her “final thoughts.”

After so many years of dealing with the word ‘friend’ as a noun, I cannot see myself using ‘friend’ as a verb, as in the popular: ‘I will friend you.’ Similarly, the word ‘listen’ has always functioned in our language as a verb or verbal; how can I switch to calling it a noun as CNN so frequently does with its glib: ‘Take a listen.’ The word ‘like’, of course, currently qualifies as any part of speech one wants it to be. Those are grammatical adjustments I am unwilling to accommodate. But, I predict these aberrations will eventually nudge their way into our lexicon. So, it comes down to ‘Mrs. Lubbers, get on the train or get off the track.’ Well, I am getting off the track even as I continue to rail against such nonsense.

On top of all that, ‘computer-ese’ is not my second language. …For me, chrome is a shiny decoration on a fast car. It will never be a Chromebook. I recognize books as beautifully bound in leather with wonderful papery textures that respond to one’s very touch. They hold the link of letters and words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs that fire the imagination and magnify our small worlds. And I really am convinced that Johann Gutenberg’s printing press of 1440 was the first and last great invention A.D. I have always taught from books, and if I lacked the books, I am pretty sure, by now, I could teach and inspire kids from my head and heart. The spoken word. Stories that come alive. Poetry to delight the senses.

Well said, Mary Beth. May we carry on the ‘good fight’ against verbal and grammatical nonsense and FOR good books and traditional reading.

Coined by God: Legacy

CoinedbyGod-MallessIt has been a while since we served up a “Word Wednesday” feature, so let’s return to it by considering another entry in the book Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Bible , the combined work of Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003).

Our selection today is the word “legacy, an oft-used word today which never made it into the main English translations of the Bible. About this common English word Malless and McQuain write (pp.49-50):

LEGACY: (noun) anything handed down by a predecessor; bequest

One of Wycliffe’s major linguistic legacies is the infiltration of the English language with many loanwords from the Vulgate Latin of Jerome’s Bible. His literal borrowing of legacy, however, led to a semantic as well as a translational dead end.

The noun appears in a section of 2 Corinthians where Paul exhorts the faithful to become ‘ambassadors of Christ’: ‘Therefore we are set in legacy [legacie]…for Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). ‘Ambassador’ would be the English translation of Jerome’s word legationem (from the verb legare, ‘to send an ambassador’), but Wycliffe chose to stay with the Latin. Consequently, legacy was dropped from the 1388 Wycliffite version, never to appear again anywhere in the Bible, and its literal meaning of ‘legateship’ became obsolete by the end of the eighteenth century.

Today, traces of that earlier coinage survive in delegate, but the most common legacy has been in the sense of a figurative bequest. This the first annual Hurston/Wright Legacy Award was recently announced to honor published writers of African descent. …But perhaps Shakespeare said it best in All’s Well That Ends Well: ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’ (III. v.13).

Coined by God: Doctrine

CoinedbyGod-MallessFor our “Word Wednesday” feature today, we consider another entry in one of my new favorite word books – Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Biblethe combined work of Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003).

Our selection today is the word “doctrine, perhaps unspectacular to us, but nonetheless, quite significant in its own right and certainly in its origin. About this now common English word Malless and McQuain write (pp.49-50):

     Another Wycliffite loanword from the Latin of Jerome’s New Testament, doctrine enters the written language in the words of Matthew’s Jesus, who is quoting Isaiah: ‘This people honors me without cause, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men’ (Matthew 15:9). This is the first time that doctrine appears in the modern sense of ‘that which is taught as true concerning a specific area of knowledge’ (as in the Monroe Doctrine, when ‘knowledge’ becomes ‘policy’). Through the seventeenth century it was most commonly understood as ‘the action of teaching,’ and Wycliffe claims first rights on this connotation as well: ‘In all things showing good faith, that they adorn in all things the doctrine [doctryn] of our savior God (Titus 2:10).

The staying power of this authoritative noun might have to do with its learned ancestry. From the Latin verb docere (‘to teach) and its Greek relatives dadaskein (‘to teach’) and dokein (‘to seem’), doctrine’s siblings include doctor (which originally meant ‘teacher’), document, dogma, orthodox, doxology, and decent.

And two hundred years after Wycliffe, Shakespeare managed to give it even wider audience when in Love’s Labor’s Lost Berowne professes that ‘From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive; /They are the ground, the books, the academes, /From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire’ (IV.iii. 298-300).

Published in: on February 24, 2016 at 6:32 AM  Leave a Comment  

Word Wednesday: Balm in Gilead

CoinedbyGod-MallessFor our “Word Wednesday” feature today, we consider another entry in one of my new favorite word books – Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Biblethe combined work of Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003).

Our selection today is the expression “balm in Gilead, about which Malless and McQuain write:

Balm in Gilead – healing ointment; cure-all

‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?’ the Lord asks rhetorically in the King James Version of Jeremiah 8:22. ‘Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?’

The answer, of course, is that Gilead was already long known for its balm. This healing product is mentioned as early as the Old Testament story of Joseph’s coat of many colors…, when a company of traders arrives ‘from Gilead bearing spicery and balm’ (Genesis 37:25). In fact, some versions of the Bible have become famous just for the way they chose to translate this phrase. A 1568 version was known as the Treacle Bible for asking, ‘Is there no tryacle in Gilead?’ In 1609, another translation used ‘rosin,’ making that version the Rosin Bible. More recent versions have substituted the word ‘medicine.’ However, the King James Version was the first to introduce the phrase into the written language. (Wycliffe chose ‘gomme’ and ‘resyn,’ Coverdale introduced ‘balm,’ but the King James  translators changed the preposition from ‘Balm at Gilead’ to balm in Gilead.

From Jerome’s Latin noun balsamum (‘balsum’), which translates the Hebrew basam, this curative has been described as a fragrant golden gum, probably from a small evergreen tree (commiphora opobalsamum) cultivated to help in healing wounds or soothing pain. When healing did not occur, however, balm was also the term for perfume used to help enbalm the dead.

…The phrase has been known for its use in a folk hymn (‘There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole/ There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul’)… (pp.17-18)

Word Wednesday – “Rend” – Rev.B. Langerak

StandardBearerThe December 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer contains the latest biblical word study from Rev.W. Langerak (pastor of SE PRC, Grand Rapids, MI) under his rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken.”

This time he explains the word “rend”, showing its unique covenantal connections and implications. This too makes for another “good read.”

Rev. Bill Langerak

Rend is an uncommon word in the Bible, but one with a rather specific use, which actually sharpens its meaning and enhances its significance. In Scripture, to rend is the opposite of to sew (Eccl. 3:7), and refers almost exclusively to the tearing apart of fabrics, or, occasionally, items with textile-like qualities. Being woven like textiles, nets can be rent (John 21:11); or altars that are constructed with interlocking stone (1 Kings 13:5). And because the heavens act as a cloak shielding God from view, the prophet prays God to rend them and come down (Is. 64:1), a prayer fulfilled vividly the day our Lord appears by tearing apart the fabric of the universe and causing men to flee His presence (Rev. 6:14).

Rending is no ordinary division. Whereas such things as water and wood, spoils and inheritances, lands and lots are divided, rending divides something that has been deliberately interwoven with warp and woof precisely so that it does not rend. Rending, therefore, also destroys the benefits and purpose of this union. This idea underlies the Old Testament practice of rending ones garments in times of deep distress and sorrow. It signified outwardly the inner ripping apart of the heart by overwhelming grief over sin or circumstance, and to such an extent, the garment was deemed unfit or useless. In such despair, Jacob, Joshua, Job, and David rent their clothes (Gen. 37:4; Josh. 7:6; 2 Sam 1:11). So did Ahab, Athaliah, and Mordecai. In fact, one great evil in Israel was that, with regard to sin, this practice became only an outward show. The Lord demands true repentance: “Rend your heart and not your garments (Joel 2:13).

This consistent biblical association of rending and fabric adds significance to the one notable exception—the division of the kingdom of Israel after Solomon. With precision, it is described as a rending. “I will rend the kingdom…”, the Lord repeatedly declares, and then reiterates the point by sending a prophet to rend the garment of Jeroboam into 12 pieces (1 Kings 11:11-31). This particular description of that event, therefore, emphasizes the true character of rending any covenant body, particularly the church, the New Testament reality of the kingdom of Israel.

Significantly, the NT Greek word for rend is “schism”. With good reason schism bars from the Lord’s table and makes officebearers worthy of deposition. For schism is the sin of rending the covenant fabric of the church that God has carefully knit together in love, peace, and faith. It is rebellion against the rule of God through His officers, which is why the ten tribes cried out, “What portion have we in David?”, a chilling word that echoed through the judgment hall of Pilate (John 19:15). To rend is selfish pride that callously disregards and destroys the blessings, benefits, and purposes God intends through that covenant union. And therefore, rending any covenantal fabric, whether the covenant church, home, family, or marriage is destructive and makes that wonderful garment essentially useless. All twelve tribes found this out—being rent they all quickly lost the wisdom, sovereignty, riches, and blessed peace enjoyed during Solomon.

Rending is also a judicial act of God. God rent the kingdom of Israel. But He does not sin. It is His kingdom to rend. And rending is the fitting judgment of God for not rending the heart in repentance, especially while making a show of it outwardly. Besides, God rent Israel that He might unite them spiritually through Jesus Christ. Significantly, at His baptism the heavens are rent (Greek, schism) and the Spirit descends on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10). By that Spirit He teaches that simply patching up the old kingdom will only make the rent worse (Mark 2:21). When Jesus is crucified, the veil is rent from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), but His garment stays whole (John 19:24). By rending His own body (Heb. 10:10), He obtains eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). By His resurrection, that body rent by the sin of its members and just judgment of God is made whole, and all nations also woven into its fabric.

All the more reason to love the covenantal fabrics the Lord weaves, and to rend our hearts, and especially not these garment given us.

The Wonderful World of Semordnilaps

  The Wonderful World of Semordnilaps

You are most likely aware that a palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same regardless of whether it’s read forward or backward. A few simple examples are noon, race car, dad, mom, and wow. But what happens when a word read backward creates a different word altogether? Welcome to the wonderful world of the semordnilap.

One of the earliest direct references to the concept of semordnilaps (though not the name) in English can be found in Lewis Carroll’s 1893 novel Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, which is the second volume of his 1889 Sylvie and Bruno. In Chapter 1 of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Carroll writes:

“Sylvie was arranging some letters on a board- E-V-I-L.

‘Now Bruno,’ she said, ‘what does that spell?’

Bruno looked at it, in solemn silence, for a minute.

‘I know what it doesn’t spell!’ he said at last.

‘That’s no good,’ said Sylvie. ‘What does it spell?’

Bruno took another look at the mysterious letters, ‘Why, it’s “LIVE,” backwards!’, he exclaimed. (I thought it was, indeed.)

‘How did you manage to see that?’ said Sylvie.

‘I just twiddled my eyes,’ said  Bruno, ‘and  then I saw  it  directly…’”

Since then, multiple attempts have been made to coin the perfect word to describe these sort of “half-palindromes,” but none have stuck or been accepted by the vast majority of linguists or the population at large. These alternate names include backronyms, volvograms, heteropalindromes, semi-palindromes, half-palindromes, reversgrams, mynoretehs, recurrent palindromes, reversible anagrams, word reversals, reversal pair, anagram, reversion, inversion, antigram, and anadromes.

As for the term “semordnilap,” which is beginning to win out as a name for the concept, it first appeared in C.C. Bombaugh’s 1961 Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature. The originator of the term does not appear to be, however, Dr. Bombaugh, but rather the editor and annotator of the book, Martin Gardner, who included “semordnilap” in one of his annotations. The word is self-referencing in that it demonstrates the concept for which it describes- semordnilap is palindromes spelled backwards.

Whatever you decide to call them, semordnilaps are everywhere. Some words are naturally semordnilaps (evil/live, god/dog, desserts/stressed, etc.), but others are created intentionally. For instance, “yob” is a British slang word for a rowdy, misbehaving young man- essentially acting opposite of how he should as a boy.

Nota Bene: This appeared in last week Thursday’s “Today I Found Out” feature. I intended to post it for last week’s Word Wednesday but had to wait until this week.

Published in: on December 9, 2015 at 6:26 AM  Comments (1)  

Word Wednesday – Logophile

Guess what yesterday’s word of the day was on Dictionary.com?

“Logophile.” That’s right! “Lover of words”! Of course it’s our focus on this Word Wednesday!

Are you one? I hope so, because there’s a mine of word gems for us to explore and extract yet. Stay tuned, there may be another one yet today. 🙂


1. a lover of words.
When I was growing up, long before I became a logophile or even knew that a logophile was a word lover, my mom used to grumble about the misuse of the word “like” on TV.
— Patricia T. O’ Conner and Stewart Kellerman, Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, 2009
Logophile comes from the Greek words lógos meaning “word, speech, discourse” and philos meaning “loving, dear.”
Published in: on November 11, 2015 at 6:22 AM  Comments (2)