Articles written by: Howard Richler

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Word Nerd: It takes a lot of gall to accuse someone of chutzpah

“I don’t know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it.” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow July 5, 2007, in reference to Bill Clinton’s criticism of George Bush for pardoning Scooter Lobby, given that Clinton spent his final hours as president issuing 140 pardons […]

Word Nerd: Homer, Queen and talking about death
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Word Nerd: Homer, Queen and talking about death

“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.” ~ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest I recalled this droll quip that highlights the inexact language associated with death after listening to a CBC podcast titled “A Word About the […]

First crossword
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Word Nerd: The crossword crossroads

We have just passed the centenary of the creation of the crossword puzzle. December 21, 1913, the New York World featured a new type of word puzzle constructed by journalist Arthur Wynne. Wynne’s puzzle differed from today’s crosswords in that it was diamond-shaped and contained no internal black squares. Wynne […]

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Word Nerd: Original blackmailers being blackmailed?

“Scottish independence; Navy frigate contract will be held after U.K. split vote,” read an August 2012 headline in The Scotsman. This story related how lucrative contracts to build the next generation of Royal Navy frigates would only be announced after the Scottish referendum on independence scheduled for autumn 2014. Not […]

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Word Nerd: What we lose when we lose a language

The adjective “endangered” is usually twinned with the noun “species” as the onslaught of civilization has brought about a diminution in the planet’s biodiversity. But not only are many species on the verge of extinction—many languages are teetering toward oblivion. Of approximately 7,000 languages, it is estimated that anywhere from […]

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Word Nerd: The pure gold of synonym chains

Although in the Middle Ages it is unlikely that gold fetched more than $1,500 an ounce, we still should pity the Middle Ages alchemists who futilely endeavoured to turn lead into gold. For all they had to do to perform such a metamorphosis was to create a simple series of […]

Word Nerd: Insidious Britishisms flood U.S. kit
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Word Nerd: Insidious Britishisms flood U.S. kit

A couple of years ago, the BBC asked its indigenous population to relate which barbaric Americanisms most infuriated them. This plea drew countless entries from Brits angry about the bastardization of Shakespeare’s tongue. Here is but a soupçon of the vituperative replies: “Can I get a …” It infuriates me. […]

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Word Nerd: Pronoun envy and the singularization of they

Although the English language offers its speaker a large vocabulary, it is missing some useful words, particularly in the realm of referencing other people. For example, many are not comfortable with referencing their inlaws as Mom and Dad, yet are not comfortable with calling them by their first names. Some […]

Word Nerd: Donkey kicked that arse out of the lexicon
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Word Nerd: Donkey kicked that arse out of the lexicon

In January, I listened to a podcast at lexiconvalley@slate.com that discussed the proclivity of New Yorkers to drop their Rs in speech. This phenomenon is known to linguists as non-rhoticity and is common to several English accents in North America and abroad. Podcast host Mike Vuolo by way of example […]

Word Nerd: The ABCs of the greatest invention since beer
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Word Nerd: The ABCs of the greatest invention since beer

If you ask people to name the most consequential inventions of world history, you’ll probably hear a list that includes the telephone, the wheel and, among some of my rowdy crowd—beer. The creation of the alphabet should be on this list if we measure the extent of its use in […]