Words, Episode 7: Spitten Image, Spitting Image, Spit and Image; Which Is Correct??

Some years ago I went on some sort of rant to the members of my household about “spitting image” and how it’s incorrect usage. The phrase is commonly used regarding a child that looks very much like one of its parents or another of its ancestors. I argued that “spitten image” is correct, because it’s … Read more

Words, Episode 6: “… 2000 times as small …”

I’ve been reading the very fine book Superconductivity: A Very Short Introduction, by Stephen Blundell, about which I’ll have more to say in a subsequent post. The book is very well written, with only a very few editorial infelicities in the book, the most striking of which is the following phrase, which appears on page … Read more

Does Nature “Obey” The Laws of Physics?

Today I’d like to discuss a pet peeve of mine. In many physics textbooks, one reads phrases such as: a certain physical system obeys a certain law of physics Here’s an example taken from page 147 of Chemical Principles, by Steven S. Zumdahl, Cengage, 2009 (although I am not trying to single out this author … Read more

Words, Episode 5: World Record Super-Alliteration?

Many years ago I took a course on writing led by a wonderful man (whose name I now forget) who was a veteran of the newspaper business. He remarked one day on how difficult it is to write newspaper headlines, and that most newspapers had an editor who did nothing else but write headlines. Article … Read more

Words, Episode 3: Linear

One of the obstacles to learning in mathematics and physics is the fact that there are many closely related concepts, although logically distinct. Additionally, the same structures (logical or mathematical) occur over and over again in our mathematical models of the world. For both reasons, the same word is sometimes used to mean several different … Read more

Words, Episode 2: compassion

Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Karen Armstrong (her recent book is 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life; for reviews see here, here, and here, for example) yesterday on Q, and she made the point that the major religions have largely failed at training their members to be compassionate, instead emphasizing doctrine, and rigid adherence to rules of … Read more

Words, Episode 1: mangia-cake

My parents grew up in a small village in the hills of Calabria, Italy. My Mom used to tell stories about her childhood, which involved getting up insanely early to hike out to work the fields with her father and older brother and sister. They would carry their lunch with them, which often involved only … Read more

Title Inflation

I heard an interview this morning on The Current, and the guest (whose name I didn’t catch) spoke about VVIPs. Yikes! I had never heard this usage before, and I fear I am frightfully behind the times. I had better get up to speed before VVVIP becomes common. And how long can it be before … Read more