Posted by: episystechpubs | July 19, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Words Whose Meanings Have Changed

Good morning!

In the recent past, I’ve written a lot about how grammar rules change over time. Well, along with grammar rules, the meanings of words also change. A word start out meaning one thing, but that meaning changes because people start using the word in a different way or to mean something new.

I’ve collected the following list from several different websites. I’ve included what each word originally meant and what it means today. Some of the changes in meaning are quite surprising. If you ask me, and I realize you didn’t, some groups are unfairly treated. So, I’ve added a little commentary about the inequitable evolution of some of the words. Hussies, spinsters, and wenches unite!

  • awful: This word started out with a positive connotation. It used to mean “worthy of awe.” Today, we usually use it to mean “extremely unpleasant, disagreeable, or objectionable.”
  • bachelor: The word bachelor used to refer to a young knight. Then it came to refer to someone who had achieved the lowest rank at a university (and today it still refers to BA and BS degrees). It’s been used to refer to an unmarried man since Chaucer’s day. [dbb – Note that there is no negative connotation to the word “bachelor.” More about that later (see
  • cheater:A cheater was originally an officer appointed to look after a king’s or queen’s escheats (land that reverts to the crown when the owner dies without heirs). Mistrust of the king’s cheaters led to the words current meaning: a dishonest person or a swindler.
  • girl: This word used to refer to a child or young person of either sex. Today, it only refers to females.
  • hussy: Believe it or not, “hussy” comes from the word “housewife” (but there have been several sound changes since its origination). Although it’s a little old-fashioned, now it refers to a “lewd or brazen” woman. [dbb – Hmmm, I can’t think of an equivalent pejorative word for a man.]
  • meat: This word used to be used for all solid food. Today, it refers solely to animal flesh.
  • myriad: This word used to mean precisely 10,000. Now, it just means a lot.
  • naughty: Long ago, if you were naughty, you had naught (nothing). Then this word came to mean evil or immoral. And now it means badly behaved.
  • nice: This word used to mean “silly, foolish, simple.” Today, it means “pleasant and satisfying.”
  • pretty:In Old English, “pretty” meant crafty and cunning. Later, it took on a more positive connotation to mean clever, skillful, or able. It was also used to describe something cleverly or elegantly made. Since the 1400s, it has been used to mean good-looking, especially in a delicate or diminutive way.
  • senile: Originally, this word referred to anything related to old age. Now it refers specifically to people suffering from dementia.
  • silly: Originally, this word meant helpless against attack, or defenseless; it was usually used to describe sheep. Then it referred to weak and vulnerable people. More recently, it has come to mean foolish.
  • sly:This Old Norse word used to mean skillful, clever, knowing, and wise. It’s related to “sleight,” as in “sleight of hand,” the magician’s skill at trickery. Today, it means sneaky and deceitful.
  • spinster: Spinster used to be an occupation. It referred to women who spun. Then it came to refer to an unmarried woman, and it had a negative connotation, as opposed to a bachelor. [dbb – I’m happy to report that we rarely hear this word anymore.]
  • terrible: When this word entered Middle English from Anglo-Norman and Middle French, it meant “causing or able to cause terror, inspiring great fear or dread.” It also meant awe-inspiring or awesome. By the 1500s, terrible came to mean very harsh, severe, formidable, and now it means excessive or extreme—in a bad way.
  • travel: This word traces back to the word “travail,” which means “hard work." Today, we might wonder why anyone could call traveling hard work, but a journey used to be much more difficult.
  • wench: This word is a shortening of the Old English word “wenchel” (which referred to children of either sex). It became a word for female children, and then it was used to refer to female servants. Most recently, it has been used pejoratively to refer to a “wanton woman.” [Dbb: Congratulations, modern English speakers, this word is rarely used in any serious sense these days.]

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
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Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
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Posted by: episystechpubs | July 18, 2018

Editor’s Corner: More than chops

At the end of June, I shared some folk etymologies of common animals with you. One of you asked if I might continue with an article on the etymologies of animals but from a different angle. While these are also common animals, the etymologies our coworker was asking about were for pigs/pork, cows/beef, and other critters many folks commonly chow down on. In other words, why don’t we talk about getting some roast cow or feasting on a sheep? Why is it beef and mutton we eat?

This is a very interesting question you ask, and the answer goes all the way back to 1066, when the Normans conquered Britain. Here to give you the full story is an article from The Daily Meal.

When the French took over England, there became two ways of saying a whole lot of words, and from a gastronomic standpoint the French won out (as they usually do). This is likely because the lower-class Anglo-Saxons were the hunters (so we get the animal names from them), and the upper-class French only saw these animals on the dinner table (so we get the culinary terms from them).

So the Anglo-Saxon pig became the French porc, which was Anglicized to pork; the Anglo-Saxon cow became the French boeuf, which became beef; and sheep became mouton, (later mutton). Even chicken got a new culinary name: pullet, which is the Anglicized version of the French poulet, and is now only used to refer to a young hen. All of those French terms are still the French words for those animals (as well as their meat) today. As for fish, we most likely still call it fish because the French term for it, poisson, is too close to the English word poison.

The reason behind calling deer meat “venison” is slightly more complicated, but still has to do with the Norman Invasion (deer in French is cerf, which doesn’t sound much like “venison”). According to Yahoo, the word venison derives from the Latin word venor, meaning “to hunt or pursue.” Following the invasion and the establishment of the Royal Forests, any hunted animal was called “venison” after it was killed; because more deer were hunted than any other animal, the name stuck.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 17, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Busting One’s Chops

I think when most of us hear the word chop, we think of karate chopping or maybe pork chops. Today, I thought we’d look at other “chop” uses in our language. First, from the Grammarist, the two idioms: bust one’s chops and lick one’s chops.

The idiom to bust one’s chops has two meanings. First, bust one’s chops may mean to exert oneself, usually said when one has put a lot of effort into something. Second, bust one’s chops may mean to nag or criticize someone in an annoying fashion, often by exercising a petty amount of authority over that person. The word chops has a secondary meaning that is not familiar to many English speakers. Chops may mean the sides of the face.

To lick one’s chops means to anticipate an upcoming pleasure or to relish something. The expression lick one’s chops may literally mean to lick one’s lips or it may be used metaphorically. Again, the word chops in this case means the sides of the face, derived from the Old English word chaps meaning jaws.

While I’m familiar with these idioms, I started wondering where pork chops come from. Do they come from around a pig’s mouth? I don’t know, since I’m not a butcher or pork eater. Here’s what the piggy map says:

So, a porker’s chops are on his or her back—not part of the face.

Of course, I couldn’t stop there, so I had to look for some more chop-related idioms. On the Free Dictionary website, I found these:

  • chop logic

To argue in a tedious or pedantic way. I can’t stand the way he chops logic! You can’t have a conversation without him turning it into some tiresome fight!

  • flap (one’s) chops

To chatter or blather. Quit flapping your chops—I need some quiet so I can think! Whenever Charlie starts to flap his chops, I can’t get in a word!

  • chop and change

To continually change one’s course of action, to the confusion or irritation of others. Primarily heard in UK, Australia. When we chop and change this much, it frustrates our customers. We need to set a schedule and stick to it.

And you know me…I still couldn’t stop! I was thinking about choppers (helicopters) and a different kind of “hog” or “chopper”: a motorcycle. Where did those definitions come from? Here are some vague etymologies for chops (the side of the face), and choppers, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

  • chops (n.)
    "jaws, sides of the face," c. 1500, perhaps a variant of chaps in the same sense, which is of unknown origin.
  • chopper (n.)
    1550s, "one who chops," agent noun from chop. Meaning "meat cleaver" is by 1818. Meaning "helicopter" is from 1951, Korean War military slang (compare egg-beater); as a type of stripped-down motorcycle (originally preferred by Hells Angels) from 1965.

And now, it’s time to go! As my mom used to say, “chop chop!”

Okay. One more item. From Wikipedia:

"Chop chop" is a phrase rooted in Cantonese. It spread through Chinese workers at sea and was adopted by English seamen. "Chop chop" means "hurry" and suggests that something should be done now and without delay.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 16, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Do you call in sick or call out sick?

I recently heard someone use the term, “call out sick,” meaning to call your employer to say you’re not coming to work because you are ill. I have never heard the phrasing “call out sick.” I’m used to hearing and saying, “call in sick.” I found this Grammar Girl article and it appears that this is a reginal saying. This map shows where the wording is common. And some people say, “call off sick,” which I have never heard either.

red=call in sick

yellow=call out sick

green=call off sick


The article also mentioned that some people noted working for different companies in the same city, and “call in sick” was said at one company and “call out sick” was said at another company, which could be the result of corporate culture or traditions affecting reginal differences.

Jackie Solano | Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.542.6711 | Extension: 766711

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 13, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Intuitive Grammar

Good morning, and happy Friday!

A reader, Christa M., recently mentioned that she “…intuitively just seems to know how to write correctly most of the time.” She says, “It sounds awkward if it’s wrong.” This intuitive knowledge of grammar is common among native speakers of every language. In fact, a study from the University of Liverpool in the UK found that children as young as six years old use instinct to know when something doesn’t sound right.

At some point, most of us studied grammar in school. We learned all kinds of rules about “parts of speech” and about how to correctly put words, phrases, and sentences together. But when you’re writing or speaking, you rarely rifle through your memory bank to come up with a rule to help you figure out how to construct a sentence. Instead, you rely on instinct. And that instinct comes from absorbing an enormous number of example sentences throughout your life. Young children may not have as many example sentences to draw from, but they have enough to start making assumptions and using their instinct.

The problem with learning grammar by hearing people speak is that if the sentences you hear in your home or community do not follow standard grammar rules, your instincts may lead you astray; you may be breaking rules you’re not even aware of. So, along with learning a language by hearing, experts claim that we learn a language by reading. The more we read, the better our intuitive grasp of a language. Reading is another way to absorb those example sentences. Whether you read news feed, fiction, self-help books, or even comic books, you are absorbing example sentences. Ahem…texts and tweets may not be as helpful.

None of this is meant to imply that studying grammar is pointless. Studying can help you understand why a rule exists or how rules work together; and for many of us, the “why” is very important. But even if you don’t care about the “why,” you should care that you’re following the standard rules of English grammar in your professional writing. So, when your gut tells you a sentence you’ve written is not right, trust your instinct. Revise the sentence or ask someone else to review it. Or, if you’re a Symitar employee, send it to us at Symitar Documentation Services and we’ll review it. We’re really friendly, and we’re here to help.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 12, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Summertime, Part 2

Hello, and happy Thursday!

Today I have the other five words from the article “9 Words for the Wild and Carefree” for you. Again, if you would like more information about each of the words, click the link above.

  • lightsome (adjective) free from care: lighthearted

  • kamikaze (adjective) having or showing reckless disregard for safety or personal welfare

The adjective kamikaze has its origin in a weather event: in the 13th century, Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, tried to conquer Japan by sending out great fleets of ships—on two separate occasions. Both times, the efforts were thwarted by storms, which the Japanese took to be protection from the gods. They dubbed their inclement salvation kamikaze, "divine wind." Six and a half centuries later, during World War II, Japanese members of a special air corps assigned to make suicidal crashes on targets were called kamikaze, after the storms that had saved the country from their 13th century would-be invaders. English speakers readily adopted both the noun, which refers to those Japanese pilots or the planes they flew, and the adjective, which can describe kamikaze pilots or people or things having or showing reckless disregard for safety or personal welfare.

  • slaphappy (adjective) buoyantly or recklessly carefree or foolish: happy-go-lucky

  • insouciant (adjective) lighthearted unconcern: nonchalance

  • hellbender (noun, slang) one who is exceedingly reckless or otherwise extreme

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 11, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Summertime!

Summertime, and the living is easy…at least that’s what the song says! In the real world, it is hot as blazes and some of us spent too much time in the sun without our hats. (I had a hat, I just left it on the dining room table.)

Beth Y. shared a great article with me called “9 Words for the Wild and Carefree,” and I thought it was perfect for these summer days. Today I’ll share the first four with you; tomorrow you get the next five. Merriam-Webster goes into more detail for each word, but here you get the abbreviated version, along with some of the pictures illustrating the words. Enjoy!

  • daredevil (adjective) recklessly and often ostentatiously daring

  • madcap (adjective) marked by capriciousness, recklessness, or foolishness

Your thinking cap helps you think and your madcap makes you mad—as in "like the Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland," not "angry." Although madcap is more familiar as an adjective, Shakespeare liked the noun version of this word, which in fact never applied to a literal cap, but referred to a madcap person: "Come on, you madcap; I’ll to the alehouse with you presently; where, for one shot of five pence, thou shalt have five thousand welcomes" (The Two Gentlemen of Verona). As an adjective the word typically describes schemes and antics and zany movie plots.

  • happy-go-lucky (adjective) blithely unconcerned: carefree

  • foolhardy (adjective) foolishly adventurous and bold: rash

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 10, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Cut and Dried

Dear Editrix,

I just heard a person in this video say, “It’s not always cut and dried.” I always thought I was hearing “cut and dry” and so now I’m wondering which one is it and what does it mean? Is a cut and blow dry from a barber supposed to be simple or something?

Curious in California

Dear Curious,

Here’s what I found on this topic. First, from The Grammarist:

The phrasal adjective cut and dried describes things that are (1) prepared and arranged in advance, or (2) ordinary or routine. The phrase’s exact origins are mysterious, but it seems to date from the early 1700s—when it was used in roughly the same manner as today—and it presumably comes from agriculture.

Cut and dried is often written cut and dry, which isn’t a serious error because dry works as an adjective with essentially the same meaning as dried.

The phrase can take hyphens when it precedes what it modifies—for example:

It appears to be a cut-and-dried tale; noble activists and caring government come together to do something positive. [The
Daily Star

When I tell people that I study engineering, they often assume it is a cut-and-dried trajectory. [WSJ]

This hyphenation is normal for phrasal adjectives that precede what they modify, but we can also think of cut and dried as a pair of coordinate adjectives separately modifying their noun, in which case there is no need for the hyphens.

When the phrase is a predicate adjective, as below, there is no reason to hyphenate it:

“I thought it was pretty cut and dried,” said Ms. Long, who is a registered nurse. [NYT]

Second, some synonyms from Merriam-Webster:

average, common, commonplace, everyday, garden-variety, normal, ordinary, prosaic, routine, run-of-the-mill, standard, unexceptional, unremarkable, usual, workaday

Speaking of synonyms, here is a one-liner someone sent me:

“I own the world’s worst thesaurus. Not only is it awful, it’s awful.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 9, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Using Two Hyphens Instead of an Em Dash

In my previous post about parenthetical phrases, I talked about commas, parentheses, and em dashes. This week, I’ll discuss the once-common practice of using two hyphens instead of an em dash.


Typewriters don’t have em dash keys, so typists used two hyphens to visually approximate an em dash.

This practice declined in popularity along with the typewriter itself. However, the double hyphen is still used in some situations where a true em dash is not available (for example, in ASCII-encoded text).

Monospaced Fonts

Most fonts are “proportional fonts,” meaning that some characters are wider than others. For example, a capital letter W is usually wider than a lowercase letter l.

In proportional fonts, em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens can are easily distinguished by their varying widths. An em dash (—) is as wide as the letter M, an en dash (–) is as wide as the letter N, and a hyphen (-) is about half as wide as an en dash.

In monospaced fonts, such as Courier New and Lucida Console, every character is the same width. Although these fonts do have an em dash character, it’s hard to tell it apart from the en dash and the hyphen.

Although I couldn’t find an applicable rule in any of our style guides, if you’re using a monospaced font (for example, if you’re writing a screenplay), I think you would be forgiven for using two hyphens to help the reader’s understanding.

Use an Em Dash the Rest of the Time

Whenever you’re using a proportional font (which is most of the time), forget the double hyphen—use an em dash instead.

In Microsoft® Word and Outlook, if you type two hyphens (without spaces before or after), they’re automatically replaced with an em dash.

Alternatively, you can hold down the Alt and Ctrl keys, and then press on the number pad.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. The message,
together with any attachment, may contain confidential and/or privileged information.
Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.

Posted by: episystechpubs | July 5, 2018

Editor’s Corner: A Little More About Acronyms and Initialisms

Good morning. I hope you had a happy 4th. It was so nice to have a day off in the middle of the week! Time to get back to work. 😊

We’ve written many Editor’s Corner articles about acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms are abbreviations that are pronounced like words (NASA, PETA, MADD) and initialisms are abbreviations that are pronounced by saying each letter (FBI, PTA, SEDB).

When you use an acronym or initialism that is not commonly known, the JHA rule is to spell it out the first time and put the abbreviation in parentheses. After that, you can use the abbreviation alone. For instance, you might need to spell out Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) the first time you use it, but almost everyone knows that FBI stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation, so you do not need to spell out each word even on the first mention.

What I want to focus on today, however, is whether you should use an article (the, a, an) when using an acronym or initialism in your writing.

First, let’s talk about acronyms. Because they are treated like words, you usually do not need to use an article. You would write, “NASA was established in 1958,” not “The NASA was established in 1958.” The exception to this rule is when the acronym is used as an adjective, as in “The PETA protestors blocked the road and stopped traffic.”

On the other hand, most initialisms are preceded by an article, as in “The FBI launched the investigation in January.” But sometimes they are not, as in “Angela is taking a course in CPR.” Whether you use an article before an initialism is determined by established usage. Sorry I can’t give you a black or white rule to follow; but if you’re not sure, check a trusted resource. The first resource we check here at JHA is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). If you do not have access to CMOS, a quick internet search, should give you the answer you need.

Someone probably should have thought twice about this oxymoronic acronym:

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

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