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9 responses to “How?

  1. I’d love to see you weigh in on the etymology of the phrase “the whole nine yards”. I haven’t found any compelling answer, yet. You?

  2. In at the 1:30 mark you say a sentence with a word that is (I claim) not a word: it’s instead a mispronunciation of a common french word. I’m curious, though, what word you think you’re saying as it doesn’t seem to be unusual (in the USA anyway) and presumably others uttering this sound also think they’re using this (non) word.

    • Kory Stamper

      I’m saying this, which is a word we’ve borrowed into English from French, and appropriately given an English-ish pronunciation. (I was actually told to French it up a little during the shoot–the way I usually say it bastardizes it even more. Sorry, Francophones!)

  3. Andrew

    How do you know the difference between jelly and jam? I ask, because I have a hunch that M-W, and all dictionaries, get it wrong. After all, most citations of the words won’t give you any information to distinguish them. “He spread some jelly on his toast” doesn’t tell you much about *what* is being spread. And citations that *do* explain the difference between jelly and jam, or otherwise provide sufficient details for a reader to suss it out, will necessarily be drawn exclusively from those sources that *do* distinguish between them. But my hunch is that IRL, most people who actually use the words *don’t*, or at least consider one a subset of the other. Is this sort of casual use lexically significant, or is it simply taken for granted that a large number of terms are used more loosely than even the ur-descriptivists at M-W could reasonably indicate? Is there field research, in which M-W sends lexicographers out into the world to ask people what they call the stuff in their sandwich next to the peanut butter (and then asks them to see it, to find out if it’s actually sweetened, congealed juice or sweetened, boiled fruit)? *Shouldn’t there be?* After all, isn’t lexicography the intersection of linguistics and anthropology, and to be honest, a little more on the anthropology side of the street?

    • miss pooslie

      the difference between Jelly and Jam would be for an encyclopedia not a dictionary.

      they are both cooked down fruit and sugar emulsion that is spreadable. the difference is not lexicographical but nuanced as to how it is prepared, etc.

  4. Adam Nelson

    (gush gush gush your blog is great.)

    I’d love to hear what you can add to the “No, totally” mystery. (

    My intuition is that the ‘No’ in ‘No, totally’ expresses a desire to be perceived as an ally by the first speaker. As in ‘no [I don’t disagree at all], totally.’

    I wonder if its use is more common when the speaker is on the defensive. Or if indicates insecurity in the speaker.

  5. JM Hatch

    Thought you might find this article interesting. Your blog posts were a pleasure.

  6. Justin Kagan


    After yet another writer offended my sensibilities with a misuse of the reflexive pronoun “myself”, I wondered if you would be willing to settle this by considering it as a topic for a future video. While this issue is important to me, I ask not only for myself. It is for the benefit of all, including me.

    Me? Myself? Why is this so terribly difficult for people? Didn’t they teach us to remove everyone else from the sentence, at which point the correct pronoun becomes self-evident? This seems like a natural follow-up to the “it is she” vs. “it is her” debate.

    Thanks for what you do. Keep it up.

  7. E. J. S.

    The first provision in Sec. 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…” The meaning of the often-ignored and controversial phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” has been under scrutiny. Can you elucidate meaning of “jurisdiction” from its 18th Century legal context and usage? Do lexicographers define legal terms, then or now? Thanks.

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