Word Maven

Pat Guiney

There is no single authority on single and plural pronouns, but our regular grammar expert always has practical advice.  In this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Patricia O’Conner, author of Woe is I and other books about the English language. O’Conner says "they," "their," and "them" can (sort of) be singular.  

If you've spent time touring Iowa, you've noticed signs for towns like What Cheer, Des Moines and Maquoketa. You've also probably seen signs for rivers named "Raccoon" and "Nishnabotna." Where did those place names come from, and what's the best way to pronounce them? 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with word maven Patricia O'Conner, who is author of the book Woe is I and author of the blog "Grammarphobia." 

portrait by George Catlin, photo courtesy of Cliff / Flickr

Moccasin, chipmunk, hickory--many words from Native American languages have morphed into words we use in modern American English. English language expert Patricia O’Conner explains that many Native American words that have been adopted into English still retain their native associations, but there are many words especially for animals and different kinds of food that have gone full cross cultural.

Using an unusual spelling of a word or a fancy French saying may seem like an easy way to sound elegant, but in reality the roots of the words or sayings are not what you think they are. 

On this episode of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with English language expert Patricia O’Conner about pretentious spellings and pronunciations. O'Conner is the author of Woe is I and writes on grammar blog, Grammarphobia

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Gleaning the wisdom of those who have come before us is a practice as old as time, but in quoting the geniuses of the past, we often misattribute their wisdom. Pat O'Conner, author of Woe is I, says that a few people in particular get a disproportionate number of quips attributed to them.

"People who are known to be wits, and if they're famous, often an anonymous quote will be pinned on them," says O'Conner. "For example, Twain is often credited with saying, 'Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.' Well no, he didn't say that."

Lake Superior State University in Michigan has been issuing its "Banished Words List" since 1975.  The wordsmiths there now have over 800 entries on their list of overused, tired and shopworn words and phrases. 

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Most of the time, there's more to what we say than the words we use. English language expert Patricia O'Conner says that the tone, volume and pitch of our voice, as well as our body language, plays a huge role in how we communicate. Those aspects of conversation are called paralanguage. 

"The para in paralinguistics  is taken from a Greek word. It means parallel or equal to but outside of language," she explains.  "The message is right there under the surface."

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On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Patricia O'Conner, word maven and founder of “Grammarphobia.” They discuss the word itself, its interesting etymology, what it means in the US and the UK, and the origin of the phrase “knee high by the fourth of July.”

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Euphemisms can be used for many purposes, but perhaps none more useful than substituting for swear words.

Halloween can almost generate a dictionary of its own.

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Have you ever wondered where the word "soccer" come from and why we use it?

Emily Woodbury

Many of this year’s blockbusters, video games, and books are set in post-apocalyptic worlds - a growing trend in the past few years.

Today on River To River, we take a look at why this is such a common theme. Host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowans who are prepared to face an apocalyptic scenario, and he sits down with an Iowa Homeland Security representative, to find out how prepared the state of Iowa is for disaster.

Scott McLeod

Beanball, bender, bleeder, brushback, bull pen… baseball has a language all its own. Today on Talk of Iowa, English language expert Patricia O’Conner "plays ball." Host Charity Nebbe talks to O'Conner about baseball lingo and, of course, she answers your language questions.

Join host Charity Nebbe for this talk with Patricia O'Conner to talk about words of the year for 2013, and "banned words." What's your "word of the year"?

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Host Charity Nebbe and Patricia O'Conner, aka The Word Maven, discuss the words and phrases of summer.  O'Conner reveals the origins of dog days, bikini, lemonade and barbecue.

Open vocabulary book
Deb Stgo / Flickr

Boom, shimmy, giggle, squeak… these words are called echoic words, words whose sound echo what they stand for. Host Charity Nebbe talks with English language expert Patricia O’Conner about these and other onomatopes that belong to the English language.

The Word Maven

Aug 2, 2012

Words like tornado and Derecho fascinate and frighten and they both have surprising histories. Charity talks with English language expert Patricia O’Conner who looks at  the origins of weather related words.  Patricia answers all questions that relate to the English language.

For the past five years, we've been talking more about money than ever before.  From the 2007 Global Financial Crisis, to the recent mammoth loss at J.P. Morgan Chase, the language of finance seems to occupy more of our brain space.  Today, Charity speaks to our "Word Maven," Patricia O'Conner about the origins and changing use of such terms as "buck," "salary," "credit," "two bits," and many more.  O'Conner is the author of popular word books including "Origins of the Specious," "Woe is I," and "Words Fail Me."

There are movie lines so iconic that not only does almost everyone instantly recognize them, but they’ve actually become a part of our lexicon. Today, Charity talks with English Language expert and Iowa native Patricia O’Conner about the movie lines that endure and shape our language. O'Conner is the author of a number of popular word books, including "Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English; Words Fail Me, and others.

Henry James once said, “Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.” On today's Talk of Iowa we’ll talk about the words you think are the most beautiful...for what they mean or for how they sound. Language expert and Iowa native Patricia O’Conner is the guest. She is the author of the popular "Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English" and several other language books.