Where is Old Zealand?
Our ancestors weren’t exceptionally clever when it came to naming bodies of land.
Disappointment Islands, French Polynesia
Lonely Island, Ontario, Canada
Snake Island, Brazil
Easter Island, Chile
Great Blue Hole, Belize
Christmas Island, Australian Territory
Dead Dog Island, Canada
You get it.
Unsurprisingly, because our ancestors lacked creativity, there is also a plethora of “new” and “old” towns, cities, and land masses. Included in this list is New Zealand. But what makes it so new? In fact, what happened to Old Zealand?
Although the island nation has long since been populated by the Maori people who call their home Aotearoa, it wasn’t until the Dutch laid eyes on it that the nation was given its European name – Zeeland, which translates to “Sealand” in Dutch. But, because the Netherlands already had a province named Zeeland, they had to distinguish it somehow.
Thus, the name New Zealand was born!
If the “Number 2” pencil is the most popular and standard of all pencils, why is it still number two?
“Number Two” or “No. 2” doesn’t mean the pencil is in second place, nor does it denote it’s worth, contrary to what you thought in first grade – and might still believe. Actually, No. 2 identifies the pencil’s place on the HB graphite grading scale, the gage measuring the hardness of a writing/drawing utensil’s graphite core.
The higher the number, the harder the core which marks lighter on paper. The inverse is also true; the lower the number, the softer the core. Combined with the user’s pressure, softer cores leave darker marks on paper.
To fill out tests, specifically scantrons, it is advised to use the No. 2 pencil – not because it was demoted from first place, but because it is least likely to smear or wear.
Everyone knows the folk song “Jimmy Crack Corn” from their early nursery rhyme days, but, like many songs sung by children for their lyrical ease and rhymes, the song alludes to one of history’s darker themes – slavery. Published in the 1840s during the height of slavery, the song was written with a subversive meaning.
Using a catchy melody, the singer explains that as a slave, he was tasked with protecting his master – and his master’s horse – from insects while outdoors. Although an alternate title for this song is “De Blue Tail Fly” indicating that this was probably the most problematic insect, it is thought that the singer is referring to a type of horsefly whose bite is quite painful. The singer is unsuccessful in safeguarding the master’s horse and the steed bucks, unseating his rider. The master is subsequently killed. The master’s death is ruled an accident due to the blue-tail fly and the slave is exonerated.
So, where does the “cracking corn” part come in? It just so happens, that the idiom “to crack corn” was old slang meaning to sit around idly gossiping. And variations of the name “Jim” was given to slaves. Therefore, the final lines of the chorus imply that with the demise of his master, Jim – the slave – was able to sit back and relax.
“Jim crack corn, I don’t care! Jim crack corn, I don’t care! For [master] me gave away.”
If a fork was made of something other than silver such as gold, would it still be considered silverware?
“Where’s the silverware drawer?”
“Do we have any clean silverware?”
“We’re out of silverware.”
We use the term silverware regularly without stopping to wonder why. If the majority of all modern cutlery is made of stainless steel, why do we refer to it as silverware?
It is widely believed that the Romans were the first to fashion spoons from a variety of materials such as pewter, bone, silver, and bronze. Unfortunately, they were also the first to learn that not all materials were ideal eating utensils as many of the materials created chemical reactions with foods and liquids. For instance, when mixed with acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegars, and citruses, pewter experiences a chemical reaction, breaking down in the mouth to produce a metallic taste – and possibly a poisonous aftereffect!
Silver wasn’t just chosen for its resistance to chemical deterioration. It was a clean metal. For all of the nonsensical practices early humans kept, we have to give them credit. They knew that silver had disinfectant properties! Thanks to its oligodynamic properties, silver readily killed living organisms such as viruses and bacteria.
Regrettably, most common people were unable to attain silverware due to its price and so it became associated with the wealthy. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the invention of stainless steel allowed for mass production of a wide array of cutlery.
But, still wishing to be included in the wealthy club, people continued to refer to this new type of cutlery as silverware.
If you can be discombobulated, can you be combobulated?
Discombobulated is a quirky adjective used to describe someone who is concerned, disconcerted, or perhaps even a little confused. But, according to English language rules, if discombobulated is a word, then combobulate must also exist as the prefix -dis implies the negative or the opposite of something. Therefore, someone must also be able to be combobulated, to be lucid and clear of concern.
Unfortunately, the extensive list of Latin prefixes you memorized in 8th grade has forsaken you in this instance as the word discombobulate is made-up! It is a mock-Latin term most likely derived from the old word discombobricate which can no longer be found in a dictionary, much less in daily conversation. The modern word of discombobulate(d) stems from crazy Americans trying to coin new words in the 1800’s using Latin roots.
How did Webster find the definitions of words he wrote in the dictionary?
Webster’s Dictionary – the most popular dictionary in America. But who was Webster and how did he write an entire dictionary? Noah Webster Jr., whom the modern dictionary is named after, was a famous lexicographer – someone who keeps lists of words and definitions. He published several books that helped millions of Americans learn to spell.
In 1807, Webster began compiling a comprehensive dictionary. It took him 26 years to complete! He learned over two dozen languages (28, to be exact) to better evaluate the etymology (origins and construction) of words. The dictionary contained 70,000 words, nearly two percent of which had never before appeared in a dictionary.
After Webster passed, George and Charles Merriam, who had founded the book-selling company G&C Merriam Co., bought the rights to Webster’s dictionary. The publishing company Merriam-Webster, Inc. was formed.
Americans owe the consistency and modernization of the English language to Noah Webster Jr. and his dedication.
Ah, the Oxford Comma, otherwise known as the serial comma. The single, most important punctuation in all of English grammar. No matter the genre or field, I adamantly encourage authors to utilize the Oxford Comma for maximum readability, comprehension, and fluidity. Yes, yes – I’m aware of the abhorrible AP Style, the one where they just list things like a precocious child working off a single breath of air. I cringe every time I see it.
Many people shrug off the importance of the Oxford Comma, citing the universal rule that it is up to the author. I’m here to disperse your antipathetic ways and encourage you to seek linguistic enlightenment. To begin down the path of knowledge, consider the following example:
I invited my relatives, Lady Gaga and Steve Carrell to my birthday party.
AP Style indicates that this is written correctly, but you and I know it’s not. The statement’s intended meaning is that I invited my relatives and Lady Gaga and Steve Carrell to my birthday party. Without the Oxford Comma, it’s easy to misinterpret this account and believe that I invited my relatives whose names are Lady Gaga and Steve Carrell.
What about this one?
I love my hobbies, dancing and eating ice cream.
Do you love your hobbies which are dancing and eating ice cream? Or do you love your hobbies and dancing and eating ice cream?
The Oxford Comma is a simple but enduringly effective method to ensure there is no confusion in your writing.
Now, come walk with me and revel in syntactic Nirvana.