Language

Sage Fright

I got caught in the crossfire of a dispute at the shtieblach in Beis Yisrael, Yerushalayim. Shtieblach is the plural of shtiebel — literally, a small house. It refers to…

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How Do You Jew?

Get out your pencil. It’s quiz time: Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb? No, he’s not. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife are entombed — not buried — in sarcophagi…

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Trite and True

If you think meme is the sound of an opera singer warming up, you are blessedly innocent to the ways of the web. Memes are images or phrases that are…

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Funny Is as Funny Does

About 30 years ago, I went into a shop in Manhattan and ordered two cups of black coffee — one of them decaffeinated. Before handing me the coffee, the Asian…

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Defusing the Killer Noun

My grandson Avraham Yitzchak came home from day camp one day, zonked from obstacle races. Frankly, that was surprising. When he was 2, and a training wheel fell off his…

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Murphy Was A Shlimazel

Ever have one of those decades? Has it ever seemed you just can’t win for losing? Things just seem to go haywire? Haywire is a low-tech term for out of…

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Miss Quote

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Everybody knows that proverb. Some people know that it was the English poet Alexander Pope who said it. Only he didn’t. As Ralph…

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Splitting Infinity

OK, take your seat. It’s quiz time. Now list three grammar rules you never heard of. Had you there for a second, didn’t I? How can you list them if…

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Dialecatessen

My son Meilech has a friend who studiously cultivated his New Yorkese. Once, after hearing my wife speaking, he ran over to Meilech and said, “Your mothah’s got ACCENT!” Accent…

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Pass It Over

My father, z”l, once heard someone complain, “I work like a dog a whole year, and comes Pesach, I don’t have a piece of bread on the table.” Without missing…

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Spy-Q

There I was, minding my own business. (Actually I was minding somebody else’s business — editing an article. But that’s my business.) Suddenly, something jumped out at me. It wasn’t…

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Who Put the Poor In Poorim?

There is absolutely no basis to the rumor I made up that the word Purim is derived from poorim — a plural of poor. Purim means lots, as in a…

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The Case of the Clueless Kibosh

A little bird told me to write this. OK, it wasn’t a bird. But it sounded like one. It was a tweet. (Disclosure: I use Twitter, but I never fully…

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Dare to Care

In simmering irony that barely keeps from boiling over, Mark Twain told how Huckleberry Finn battled his conscience over helping a slave escape. Huck had always been taught that slavery…

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It’s All In Your Head

Pull up a chair. I’ve got a story for you. Back when I was a mail-order copywriter, one day I was drinking decaffeinated coffee. (It was before a fast day…

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Storming the Walls Of Technopoly

In early January, irate victims of cyberattacks, data breaches, and tech giants’ peddling of private information smashed computer network servers in Palo Alto, California. Waves of attacks spread to Menlo…

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Woe of the Year

There’s a pernicious rumor going around that Chicken Little was wrong. However, unlike our little feathered friend, I didn’t run with Henny Penny and Ducky Lucky to tell the king…

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Shmooze Control

Call me a perfectionist (thank you), but whenever I write, edit or proofread, I keep my reference toolkit close at hand. Along with essential dictionaries, thesauruses and usage manuals, I…

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So What Is Chanukah?

When my son Meilech was in his early single digits (I’m not good with numbers), his sisters celebrated birthdays in close succession. Feeling left out, Meilech asked, “When is my…

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Do You Make These Mistakes in English?

I lied. Maybe I’d better rephrase that. I exaggerated. Actually, a more precise term would be hyperbole — “the rhetorical device of deliberate overstatement” (Garner’s Modern English Usage). Vocabulary.com defines…

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