The Beautiful In-Laws

How’s your beautiful mother?

A common error for French speakers, and one I think I heard fairly recently. It’s not just a mistake in that it’s generally inappropriate, but linguistically too. If a French speaker ever asks you a question like this, or asks about your beautiful daughter/sister, or handsome father/brother/son, there’s a good chance they’re asking about your in-laws.

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Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day today in many parts of the world. I hope you’re being well treated if you’re one of the men honoured by the day. You really never can have too many pairs of socks. Like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s quite an artificial day, but I don’t mind too much really, as sometimes maybe we need a little push to be grateful. Or to at least express our gratitude.

The word father, like mother, isn’t one we actually use all that much of course, instead preferring works like dad, pop, papa et al. These words, like so many of our words to refer to our mothers, are derived from our first babblings as a child.

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Friday the 13th



If you suffer from either of these phobias, you might want to keep a low profile today, and be extra cautious in everything you do. Avoid walking under ladders, and give any black cats a wide berth, because today of course, is Friday the 13th! The two phobias above are, respectively, a fear of the number 13, and a fear of Friday the 13th specifically. Continue reading

Merry Holidays, Happy Christmas!

Do you prefer to say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays? It seems that every year people get all het up about other people saying Happy Holidays, and spread stories of doubtful veracity about people not being allowed to say Merry Christmas to avoid offending non-Christians, all part of the grand “War on Christmas.” Which seems to be largely in people’s heads, as most examples of it tend to be exaggerated or simply not true. At worst, most cases cited as part of the “War on Christmas” seem to simply involve acknowledging Christmas alongside other ways to celebrate this time of year, like the infamous Winterval festival in Birmingham (England) in 1997. It became known as a byword for the “War on Christmas,” even though it actually involved celebrating Christmas, Diwali, and secular events like New Year’s Eve (the front cover of the brochure featured the word Christmas six times and a picture of a Christmas Tree, and the word Christmas featured on every page). Continue reading

Straight to Heck

I’ve probably heard or read the word Hell a lot more in the past few days than I would normally. I touched on this briefly before when I wrote about swearing, but it is interesting how we treat the word. It seems logical enough that in countries which were strongly influenced by Christianity, the word might be a little taboo. People understandably tiptoe around the word a little bit, because Hell really is the worst place imaginable. Only the reality  when I was young was much different. I thought nothing of uttering a casual What the Hell? when surprised. I knew better than to go full-on WTF in the presence of my parents or teachers, but no-one would ever really bat an eyelid at What the Hell. Even as I was saying it, I never even stopped to consider the fact that the phrase contained the word Hell. It was just part of the whole exclamation. At the same time, I got quite familiar with the word heck, and its associated phrases, from American TV. But, in perhaps another one of my linguistic blindspots (though come one, I was a child), I never connected the two words. Continue reading

My Word is My Bond

Have you ever given someone your word? Is your word your bond? Why specifically do we use these expressions when we talk about promises? What is it about a word that’s so important that we can trust it so much? I suppose it makes an idea more concrete. We can think that we want to do something for someone, but what good is it until we transform that thought into a word either by speaking it or writing it down. Once the thought’s out in the world we’re committed to it. Continue reading