Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
You can also order my best-selling book of over 500 intriguing word histories, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do With Pigs. It's a fun read!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: no guff

#Canadianism of the day: no guff = 1. a declaration of truthfulness. 2. an expression of mock surprise at a statement.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.
Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady

If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rollicking Story of the English Language

I am once again offering this fun survey of the English language, described by one of my students as "the best course I've ever taken".

Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30 pm, October 1 - December3
Goethe Institute
100 University Ave., North Tower,
Suite 201
on the west side of University a few steps south of King
St Andrew subway station
This venue is fully accessible.
Nathan Phillips Square parking garage is 9 minutes walk away.

Price: 10 2-hour classes for $250 including HST
Enrollment limited to 20 people.


Please register in advance by 

emailing me or phoning me 416-693-4496
and sending a cheque made out to
Katherine Barber
201 Hanson Street
Toronto ON
M4C 1A7
Please write "English course" on the cheque


  1. Oct 1 Celts and Anglo-Saxons:

Celtic and Latin relics from pre-5th century Britain. The Germanic origins of our essential vocabulary and grammar. Why we have "feet" instead of "foots" and why we use apostrophe s for the possessive.  Relics of Anglo-Saxon dialects in Modern English.



  1. Oct 8  Using the Oxford English Dictionary.

A primer in using this essential online and print tool to research the history of English words.



  1. Oct 15 The Vikings:

Old Norse borrowings into English. Why we wear skirts and shirts. Why the verb "to be" is so ridiculous.



  1. Oct 22 The Norman Invasion:

A brief history of French. Middle English. Why we have "pigs" in the open and "pork" on the plate. The origins of chaotic English spelling.





  1. Oct 29 The Renaissance: Early Modern English

Spelling and pronunciation don't jibe. The Great Vowel Shift. Why is there a "b" in "debt" and an "h" in "ghost"? Why do some folks say "y'all"? The effect of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the vocabulary



  1. Nov 5 The 18th Century:

The prescriptive grammarians of the 18th century at the origin of our present grammar “rules”. The original dictionaries and Samuel Johnson. Re-examining our pet peeves.  Why are British and American spelling different?

  1. Nov 12 The 19th Century to the Present :

The influence of Sir Walter Scott, the industrial revolution, and the expansion of the British Empire. Why some people pronounce "herb" with an "h" and others without. Why Lufthansa supplies its first class passengers with "body bags".

  1. Nov 19 American English:

Have they corrupted the language? Noah Webster and his dictionary.

  1. Nov 26 Canadian English:

The history of Canadian English. Are we more British or more American? How we can be very confusing to other English speakers.

  1. Dec. 3 Writing Dictionaries :

How do new words enter the language? What do lexicographers do?



P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.

Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady




Rollicking Story of English: Kitchener-Waterloo

FALL SERIES THURSDAY AFTERNOONS - 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
FORBES FAMILY HALL
RIM Park
Manulife Financial Sportsplex
2001 University Avenue Waterloo

The Rollicking History of the English Language

Why is English spelling so chaotic? Why do we have so many synonyms? What might your name tell you about the history of the language? What is the history behind your favourite language pet peeve? This course is a highly informative and entertaining survey of the influences that have shaped English vocabulary over the years. We will tie linguistic developments with the social and political events with which they coincided. Forget your dull high school English classes as Katherine Barber takes you on a surprisingly hilarious trip through a crazy language.

Katherine Barber is known as “Canada's Word Lady” for her frequent and popular media appearances discussing matters of language in general and Canadian English in particular. She supervised the publication of two editions of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and many other smaller dictionaries. One of the foremost authorities on Canadian English, she vivaciously and humorously communicates her knowledge and love of the history of the English language.
October 16 - Celts and Anglo-Saxons
Why we have "feet" instead of "foots" and why we use the apostrophe for the possessive. German origins of our essential vocabulary and grammar.
October 23 - Vikings
Why we wear skirts and shirts. Why the verb "to be" is so ridiculous. Blame the Vikings.
October 30 - The Norman Invasion
Why we have "pigs" in the open and "pork" on the plate. The Norman Conquest, Medieval England and the origins of chaotic English spelling.
November 6 - Renaissance English
Spelling and pronunciation don't jibe. Why is there a "b" in "debt" and an "h" in "ghost"? Why do some folks say "y'all"?

November 13 - The 18th Century
Re-examining our pet peeves. British spelling and American spelling are different. Why?

November 20 - The 19th Century to the Present
Why some people pronounce "herb" with an "h" and others without. Why Lufthansa supplies its first class passengers with "body bags".

November 27 - Canadian and American English
Have they corrupted the language? How we can be very confusing to other English speakers.

December 4 - Writing Dictionaries
Not as dull as you might think: How do new words enter the language? What do lexicographers do?

http://www.tal-kw.ca/

Sunday, August 17, 2014

History of the English Language course, U of Toronto School of Continuing Studies

  Section Schedule(s):   
Mon 1:00PM - 3:00PM , 29 Sep 2014 to 24 Nov 2014 

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  
Did you know that the word "travel" is derived from an instrument of torture? That "tragedy" originally had something to do with goats? That hotels and hospitals have something in common? The fascinating history of the English language is full of such surprises. This course is a survey of the influences that have shaped English vocabulary over the years, covering the Anglo-Saxon and Viking origins, the influx of Norman French and Central French, later Latin and Greek borrowings, standardization and French borrowing in the 18th century, and international borrowing since the 18th century. We will tie linguistic developments in with the social and political events with which they coincided. Topics will include why English spelling is so difficult, why we have such a large wordstock, and how dictionaries are written



PREREQUISITE(S) : none



COURSE OBJECTIVES:  
By the end of this course, you will have greater knowledge of and familiarity with: 
1. The various stages in the development of Modern English
2. The historical reasons for the oddities in spelling, pronunciation and grammar of English
3. The role of dictionaries and how they are researched
4. The etymology of many common words

Sept 29 Celts and Anglo-Saxons:
Celtic and Latin relics from pre-5th century Britain. The Germanic origins of our essential vocabulary and grammar. Why we have "feet" instead of "foots" and why we use apostrophe s for the possessive.  Relics of Anglo-Saxon dialects in Modern English. 

Oct 6 The Vikings:
Old Norse borrowings into English. Why we wear skirts and shirts. Why the verb "to be" is so ridiculous.

Oct 13 The Norman Invasion:
A brief history of French. Middle English. Why we have "pigs" in the open and "pork" on the plate. The origins of chaotic English spelling. 

Oct 20 The Renaissance: Early Modern English 
Spelling and pronunciation don't jibe. The Great Vowel Shift. Why is there a "b" in "debt" and an "h" in "ghost"? Why do some folks say "y'all"? The effect of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the vocabulary 

Oct 27 The 18th Century:
The prescriptive grammarians of the 18th century at the origin of our present grammar “rules”. The original dictionaries and Samuel Johnson. Re-examining our pet peeves.  Why are British and American spelling different? 

Nov 3 The 19th Century to the Present :
The influence of Sir Walter Scott, the industrial revolution, and the expansion of the British Empire. Why some people pronounce "herb" with an "h" and others without. Why Lufthansa supplies its first class passengers with "body bags".

Nov 10 American & Canadian English:
Have Americans corrupted the language? Noah Webster and his dictionary.The history of Canadian English. Are we more British or more American? How we can be very confusing to other English speakers. 

Nov 17 Writing Dictionaries :
How do new words enter the language? What do lexicographers do?


To register:
https://2learn.utoronto.ca/uoft/coursebasket/publicCourseBasket.do?method=addToCart


P.S. If you are fascinated by the English language, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.

Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady


 

Starting today! Canadianism of the day on twitter

Follow me on twitter for your "Canadianism of the Day"! Many will surprise you.

@thewordlady

Saturday, August 16, 2014

'Qajaq' Floats Into Scrabble Dictionary

In this article, Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal talks to me about how "qajaq", made it into the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as a variant of "kayak", and how it made its way into the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary:

"The latest edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was released earlier this week, and the big news for Scrabble addicts is the addition of 5,000 new words that will now be officially playable in North America.
The additions that will have the largest impact on players will be..."

http://online.wsj.com/articles/scrabble-dictionary-allows-thousands-of-new-words-1408124528


P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.

Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady

Friday, August 15, 2014

Earth has not anything to show more fair

August brings us many opportunities to go visit some country fairs (and in the US bigger state fairs, what we call in Canada an "exhibition" or more commonly, "the ex", like the Canadian National Exhibition which opens today in Toronto). I don't think Wordsworth in the line quoted above was thinking about tucking into funnel cakes and candyfloss or opportunities to play Whack-a-Mole; is there in fact any connection between the noun "fair" and the adjective "fair"?

This is another case in English where we have one word from Anglo-Saxon and another unrelated one from French that just happen to end up being spelled the same way. The gathering for buying and selling goods goes by an Anglo-Norman name (as did so many commercial things after the Norman Conquest), feyre (modern French foire), derived from the Latin word for "holiday", feria (a word which is still used in ecclesiastical English to designate an ordinary day as distinct from a feast day).

The adjective "fair" is much older in English, going back to an Anglo-Saxon word fagar  (beautiful). The "g" sound between vowels almost always disappeared, so that by the Middle English period this word was also being spelled "fair". Because beauty is generally considered A Good Thing, the word took on many other meanings:
  • 1. just, unbiased, equitable; in accordance with the rules.
  • 2. blond; light or pale in colour or complexion.
  • 3. of (only) moderate quality or amount; average.
    • considerable, satisfactory: a fair chance of success.
  • 4. (of weather) fine and dry.
    • (of the wind) favourable.
    • (of the sky) clear; cloudless.
  • 5. clean, clear, unblemished: fair copy.
  • 6. (Baseball) (of a batted ball) that lands or is caught within the legal area of play.

Here's my choir (I am not in this video) singing William Harris's fabulous "Faire is the Heaven" (set to words by Edmund Spenser, who was not thinking about baseball).
http://youtu.be/tFFE92H9sMI 
 




P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.

Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady