Daily Prompt: Pungent

via Daily Prompt: Pungent

Even if you didn’t know the meaning of the word pungent, you might have an idea that it describes something strong, powerful, and possibly unpleasant.

Oxford English Dictionary: Having a sharply strong taste or smell.

Why is it that the word seems to match its definition so well (for me anyway, this can be subjective, and the word might have strong associations for you)? It’s what is known as an ideophone, a word which evokes a certain idea, generally strongly associated with the meaning of the word. With a word like pungent, it’s simply due to the sound of the word. The vowel sound /ʌ/ has a soft, lazy sound, and the consonant /ʤ/ sound of the g is soft and squishy, and the two of them together compound each other and create a sense of powerful smelliness.

Similar words are: Continue reading

Literally Unbelievable

Is there a word as commonly misused as literally? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

In a literal manner or sense; exactly:

‘the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the roundabout’
‘tiramisu, literally translated ‘pull-me-up’’
The opposite of literally is figuratively. We’d mostly use this word if there were a chance that something we said could be taken literally, or if we wanted to refer to both figurative and literal uses of the same phrase. For example:
The mysterious blackout left people both literally and figuratively in the dark.
Yet if the meanings of these two words are so diametrically opposed, why would people make apparently obvious mistakes with them? Here are some of the most egregious mistakes I’ve come across:

Continue reading

Getting your Message Across

Yesterday evening at about 6.30PM I had a moment of panic. I realised that in my rush to leave, I hadn’t read over my post and italicised all the words I should have. I couldn’t go back, and wasn’t in a situation to do it on my phone. It would just have to stay in that condition for a few hours, which aggravated me. Letting something unfinished like that out into the world seemed so sloppy.

What needed to be changed? Not much really, just two or three cases where I was referring to words, and not using them, and wanted to italicise them to make that clear. For example: “I’ve been trying to use the word application…” instead of “I’ve been trying to use the word application…”

A minor change, really, and most of my stress was due to my being a stickler for detail. Because, the post was probably quite comprehensible without my revisions (which of course I still made last night). Putting the word before application made what I wanted to say clear enough. Given also the topic of the blog and the specific context of the post itself, there was probably little ambiguity in the post. And it’s great that language can make things so clear for us, do so much of the heavy lifting of comprehensibility with words alone. But still, I’m drawn to being precise as I can in my use of language, just to be sure… Continue reading


Told you.

This is probably the most misused and misunderstood punctuation marks in the English language. What exactly is it, and what does it do?

First of all, it’s clearly a combination of a comma (,) and a colon (:).

A comma is used to separate elements of a sentence, such as items in a list, or clauses (a clause, generally, is a part of a sentence with its own sentence and verb). Most people use commas correctly without thinking about it, and the rules about them aren’t really strict anyway. Basically, you can use in a comma in a sentence where you would pause if you were speaking. Continue reading

The Oxford Comma

I’ve visited France, Germany and Spain this year.

I’ve visited France, Germany, and Spain this year.

You probably don’t see any difference between the above pair of sentences. But what about this pair:

On Twitter I’m following my friends, Stephen Fry, and Miley Cyrus.

On Twitter I’m following my friends, Stephen Fry and Miley Cyrus.

The second sentence is quite ambiguous. Do I mean that I follow my friends on Twitter, in addition to the celebrities Stephen Fry and Miley Cyrus? Or do I mean to say that Stephen Fry and Miley Cyrus are my friends, and I follow them on Twitter? The latter would probably make for some interesting dinner-party conversations, but that’s probably not what I meant, is it?

Still, just to be sure my meaning is clear, I can use the first sentence, with the comma between Stephen Fry and Miley Cyrus. A comma like this, before the last item in a list of three or more items, is known as the Oxford comma, as it’s an element of the house style of Oxford University Press. There’s quite a bit of debate about whether or not to use the Oxford comma, and it has its strong supporters as well as determined detractors. Some style guides recommend its use, some suggest avoiding it, and others don’t mention it at all.

Why use it? As we see above, it can resolve ambiguity in cases where the first item in a list might seem like it’s referring to the second and third items. More generally, it can avoid ambiguity when two words in a list could be joined together as one item, or could be separate items. For example: Continue reading

Stop the Monkey Planet, I Want to Get Off

Have you seen the new Monkey Planet film?

The what?

Monkey Planet! You know the ones with the talking monkeys. That guy’s in this one, what’s his name, James Franco. It’s pretty good.

Monkey Planet!?

Yeah, you know the first one, it’s from the 60s, with the astronauts and they crash land on a planet with talking monkeys!

Are you ok?

Monkey Planet, it’s a classic, how do you not know it!

You’re talking nonsense, I’m leaving!

Monkey Planet!! Ah, putain, attend, en anglais c’est Planet of the Apes!

Monkey Planet. Beneath the Monkey Planet. Escape from the Monkey Planet. Conquest of the Monkey Planet. Battle for the Monkey Planet. Tim Burton’s ill-advised Monkey Planet remake. Rise of the Monkey Planet. Dawn of the Monkey Planet. Untitled Monkey Planet Sequel.

How many of these films would you like to see (Battle for the Monkey Planet sounds like it could be good fun to be honest)?

They might all sound like fun, but aren’t they lacking the grativas of the title Planet of the Apes? It’s a good thing that the film’s producers went with that title then. But that wasn’t always the case… Continue reading