Language Matters

Words like talented and glossy-paged represent a curious feature of English: adjectives that seemingly take the past participle verbal ending -ed, but that do not derive from verbs. Why can you say talented when there is no lexicalized verb to talent? Why does a glossy-paged book sound natural but a paged book, a concreted wall or a five-houred drive sound strange? 

Although Latin is a dead language, it has a funny way of coming back to haunt us from beyond the grave. Complex declensions and deponent verbs aside, aspects of Latin grammar and vocabulary continue to affect the English language today. One such linguistic haunting is the question of whether the Latin-derived word data should be treated as a plural or a singular. So which is it, data is or data are?

Hanukkah is widely known across the English-speaking world as an important Jewish holiday. How do you spell it?

Autumn is well and truly here, and people across the English-speaking world have been celebrating Halloween: a fusion of Christian and pagan traditions with a heavy emphasis on magic and the occult. Accordingly, spells and curses are the subject of this month’s Word Stories, although, in the case of one of our words, the connection might seem mysterious at first sight.

Many English adverbs end in -ly (beautifully, honestly, merely), some other adverbs end in -wise (clockwise, otherwise, date-night-wise), and some never take a suffix (inside, midflight, so, thus). When a flat adverb (such as smart, loud or quick) does have an -ly form (smartly, loudly, quickly), many writers wonder whether it is acceptable to use the suffixless form.

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