When we say "it's raining", what is the "it" that we're referring to? In fact, "it" doesn't exist - it's what's called a dummy or non-referential "it". Its function is grammatical rather than lexical.
"Grammatical" refers to meaning signalled by such things as word order and other devices like "s" to denote a plural. "Dog bites man" has the same words as "man bites dog", but the meaning of each sentence is different thanks to the different word order. That's grammar in action.
Every language has its own grammar. "Dog bites man" is a classic English subject-verb-object construction. Japanese, on the other hand, uses the subject-object-verb order - "man dog bites". In this respect, English is outvoted. In the 1980s, linguist Russell S. Tomlin reported that 45% of languages prefer the Japanese order, while "only" 42% prefer the English way. Hebrew, Irish and Zapotec opt for verb-subject-object - "bites man dog". Persian, Romanian and Finnish don't have a strict word order except in specific circumstances.
You might notice that every sentence above, regardless of word order, is in agreement about what each individual word means. "Man" means "man", no matter where you put it. This is what is meant by "lexical meaning", also called denotation, also called the dictionary meaning of words. "Bites man dog" is full of lexical meaning, even though the sentence itself is jibberish to an English speaker.
Which brings us back to the dummy or non-referential "it". It lacks lexical meaning - that is, it doesn't refer to anything "out there" in the world. But that doesn't make it empty. "It's raining" tells you something.
The dummy "it" behaves differently in different variations of English. In some creole languages such as Gullah, rather than say "there's a spider in the shower", a speaker would say "it's a spider in the shower", replacing the dummy "there" with a dummy "it".
Having defended the dummy words, now let me get out my shotgun for a moment. Because it requires so little thought, the dummy "there" is a common feature of weak writing. If your writing is stuffed with sentences like “there are five roads leading into the city”, you're placing a lot of empty words in your prose. One way to become more concise and energetic at the same time is to revise them to read “five roads lead into the city”.
Today's word is in honour of the remarkable 17-year-old Lydia Ko (left), who has just capped off her first season on the LPGA Tour by winning the CME Group Tour Championship and, with it, just under $2m in prize money. Oh yeah, she's also been named rookie of the year. Phenomenal!
I'd always assumed that links derived from the fact that the 18 holes on a golf course are linked, chain-like, in a predetermined sequence. But no. It turns out that links is a Scottish/Northumbrian term for undulating sandy ground, often near the sea. It comes from the Old English hlinc, "rising ground, ridge". It was on this type of ground that the first games of golf in Scotland, home of this venerable game, were first played.
I'll bet Lydia already knew that. The star.
Apostrophe abuse ranks somewhere between whale hunting and the Government hocking off state-owned assets as a reliable topic for engendering outbursts of indignity. My own heart did a little leap for joy when I spotted this misuse at our local Mitre 10. Note the (admittedly difficult to see) apostrophe in "wok's", after which the author seemingly lost heart, interest or confidence, or ran out of apostrophes, and thus failed to continue the misuse in the following items.
Apostrophes get misused in so many ways that if they were human, they'd surely have their own lobby group to defend their downtrodden selves. The most popular misuse - affectionately known as the grocer's apostrophe - is as shown here, where it's slapped, often randomly, onto a plural. For some mysterious reason, it almost seems like a law that grocers must write potato's, bean's, cucumber's and so on. Or potatos', beans', cucumbers'.
But before coming down too hard on your local vege stall, note that apostrophes have their detractors. George Bernard Shaw called them "uncouth bacilli" and British phonetician Dr John Wells said they're "a waste of time". He speaks 10 languages, so he probably has some idea of what he's talking about.
Apostrophes are a fairly recent addition to English, having been borrowed from the French in the 16th century. They've been put to all kinds of tasks ever since (who writes "look'd" a la Shakespeare these days?), and one of the challenges for anyone more interested in selling broccoli than mastering the fine points of English is keeping track of all those uses. My heart goes out to the greengrocer's (sic).
Then there are those who take the opposite view. The Apostrophe Protection Society (Motto: The whales can go hang) deserves grudging respect for its efforts "to protect, promote and defend the differences between plural and possessive". So far, though, it's not looking too good for them. A 2008 survey found that nearly half of the UK adults polled were unable to use the apostrophe correctly.
Here's an experiment for any reader not sure of this word's meaning. From its sound alone, would you guess it to be a positive or a derogatory term?
Did you plump for derogatory? It does sound kind of down-and-dirty, doesn't it? (When I asked my wife to guess the meaning, she said "something that gathers on the wheels of paddle steamers". Nice try - and slightly worrying at the same time, honey.)
Its actual meaning is "an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole". Its origin is uncertain, but the commonly accepted story is that it was coined in 1962 by one Jackson W. Granholm (not a paddle steamer captain) in an article for computer magazine Datamation.
Synonyms include jury rigging, Heath Robinson and makeshift. Work-around, another computer-related term, isn't quite a synonym, as it refers to a solution that gets around a problem without actually fixing it. A kludge, on the other hand is a fix - of sorts.
One theory says the word's derived from the German adjective klug, meaning "smart" or "witty". In which case, someone's being ironic. Personally, I hear resonances of words like fudge, clubbed (together), smudge and glugged (up). If my theory's correct, that makes kludge a cousin to words like smoosh (a combination of squash, mash and mush).
That would also put kludge in a class of words called phonesthemes, where a particular sound or sound sequence suggests a certain meaning. You can hear it in words like glisten, glimmer and glare, where the "gl" sound suggests vision. Think also of the abundance of words with "sn" at the start (snicker, snort, sniff, snore, etc) that refer to nasal functions and noises.
From the "there's a name for that too" file comes the phrase "contrastive reduplication".
Let's start with bog standard, garden variety reduplication, which you charmed your parents with as a child, you little monkey. Examples include choo-choo, yum-yum, and moo-moo. Pretty self explanatory, yes?
Contrastive reduplication is the adult version of this game. It's when you're inviting friends over for lunch and you say, "We'll make a tuna salad and you bring a salad salad."
In the words of a Boston University academic, contrastive reduplication is "a kind of clarifying construction that usually means something like 'the prototypical thing, not one of the slightly non-prototypical things one might otherwise have called by this name.' "
No? Then try this two-minute clip of comedian Micky Flanagan. It'll clear things up.
You've read this adjective many times (sometimes preceded by words like "deadly" and almost always followed by nouns like "warfare", "struggle" or "conflict"). But what does it actually mean? Most commonly it's used to mean "deadly and internal".
Some people, however, insist that its true meaning is simply "internal" (the "inter" prefix is surely the giveaway here). However, history is not on their side.
In its first recorded use in English, in 1663, "internecine" meant "fought to the death". About a hundred years later, when he was writing his famous dictionary, Samuel Johnson defined the word as "endeavoring mutual destruction". He took as his cue the prefix, meaning "between, among". But according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, he misunderstood: "inter" was actually being used in its less common guise as an intensifier. Johnson was such a compelling authority, that his new meaning was widely accepted, and gradually shifted over the years to become "relating to internal struggle". That's the restricted meaning some people still insist on.
But meanings are given by accepted usage, not by personal preference. Today, "internecine" is most widely used to mean internal and destructive, and the Oxford English Dictionary, for one, offers that definition. On that basis, the US Civil War was an internecine struggle, but WWII wasn't - it was merely destructive. We'll stick our necks out, in that case, and assert that to talk about deadly or savage internecine warfare is to flirt with redundancy.