CLEAN AS A WHISTLE: clearly detected and unable to be ignored


The origin of a term is often vague or obscure.    Many of them come into the American English language from rural England or primitive, back-country America where words reflect what one sees or hears.    Such may be  the case with the term clean as a whistle.  The matter is debated (not with much fury I […]

BOOK IT: to depart quickly

book it

Just to prove that American English is alive and growing, let’s look at a term today that just arrived on the scene in the 70’s.   Book it is characterized in the dictionaries as a “student term,” meaning that it derives from student life and has most of its use and meaning in the context of […]

METTLE: courage and fortitude; spirit


I was sitting at a college football game when I heard the parent of one of the players say, This is a good way to test his mettle.” I immediately knew that I had the next word I wanted to post in this blog. Mettle is a word that comes up regularly in conversations, articles, […]

CANTILEVER : any rigid structural member projecting from a vertical support, especially one in which the projection is great in relation to the depth,


I’ve always been fascinated by the cantilever style of staircases.   The first time I noticed the unique character of them was in a mansion owned by friends of ours.  Theirs was a curved, heavily adorned construction, worthy of photos.   More recently, I find that when I visit my gastroenterologist I take the stairs to his […]

BRIO: with vigor, high energy


A conductor of an orchestra must be somewhat of an athlete.   The energy expended during a performance is incredible.  Even the most peaceful, restrained score requires the conductor to demonstrate the muscle and skill to hold back the volume and control the instument.  The conductor is the key to such a performance. But when an […]

CONTEMPORARY: of the present time; modern


I realized the other day that I use the word contemporary a lot.   It’s usually a way of distinguishing between things that are traditional and those that are current.   The range of subjects is massive, from architecture (as in the photo to the right) to language usage. So I found myself asking the question, “What […]