November 30, 2015

OK, Okay, O.K., Okayed, OK'd


O.K. is probably the most common term we don't know how to write. Here are a few pointers on using it in all its forms.

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'Beckon Call,' 'All Tolled' and Other Misheard Terms
Posted by June on November 30, 2015
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Here are a few terms people often mishear. Take care next time you want to use one of them!

Beckon call. When people say "beckon call,” what they really wanted to say was probably “beck and call.” A beck is a summoning gesture, and, yes, it’s related to “beckon.” Here’s Garner’s Modern American Usage: “‘Beckon call’ is an understandable guess at the phrase, since one would naturally call out to beckon someone. And ‘beckon’ is a more familiar term than its shorter sibling ‘beck.’”

All tolled. "All told" is sometimes used wrong as “all tolled.” It means roughly the same thing as “all said and done,” suggesting that once you have the whole story, something becomes clear. But there is a myth circulating out there — one I, myself, briefly fell for — that the correct form is “all tolled,” meaning all counted. Not so. “All told” is the original and proper form.

Bold-faced liar. Liars are often bold. But their faces aren’t. So a “bold-faced liar” is the misheard form of the original term “bald-faced liar.” Bald-faced means brazen, obvious and shameless — as many liars are.

Pawn off. “Pawn off” is an interesting mishearing of “palm off.” The original term with “palm” means to pass something off to some unwitting person — a usage Merriam Webster’s says is probably a reference to cheating at cards or sleight-of-hand tricks. Again, it’s easy to see where this one went awry. Pawn shops are at least as prevalent in the modern consciousness as card cheats.

One in the same. If you say that two things are really “one in the same,” you probably mean that they’re “one and the same.”

Baited breath. If you’re waiting for someone with “baited breath,” you might be inadvertently conjuring thoughts of worms and chum: The term is actually “bated breath,” whose first word is related to “abate,” meaning, basically, to stop.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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    June Cliff: Look up "till" in the dictionary. Not only does it mean "until," it actually predates it. It's the original. So, yes, a till is a cash register. But it also means "until." In fact, 'til is considered an error in professional publishing. (Keep your eyes peeled when reading books and newspapers and you'll see that 'til is nonexistent!)

  • Lineup, Line Up, Line-up

    June Sandra: Sorry for the very late reply. I bet your argument is long forgotten by now. "Line up" is the verb form. "Lineup" is a noun. Your sentence uses it as a noun, like "Lunch is at 10 a.m." So if you were telling people to line up at 10 a.m., you'd want the two-word form. But because you're saying that the thing, the lineup, is at 10 a.m., you want the one-word form.

  • Under Way vs. Underway

    June Steven Alper: Thanks for your comment. I had missed the AP style change from "under way" to "underway." I appreciate the link!

  • Drive Safe vs Drive Safely: Another Flat Adverbs Question

    June Allen R.: Sorry it took so long to reply. Both "readers' questions" and "reader questions" are acceptable. In "reader questions," I'm just choosing to use "reader" adjectivally instead of as a possessive. (Both valid forms.) There's a term for this, "attributive noun." Just like the noun "hat" works as an adjective in "hat store," lots of nouns can sometimes modify other nouns, making them "attributive" (aka like adjectives). Note, however, that your question using "reader's" would be appropriate only if we were talking about just one reader because you need the plural possessive readers' to show possession by more than one.

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    June Hi, Pam. Actually there's no rule against splitting infinitives -- and there never was. You can search this site for the keywords "split infinitive" for lots more on the subject.