Interview with James Harbeck

The Grammarist is proud to introduce, James Harbeck, author, speaker and taster of words. Please introduce yourself and provide some background information. I’m James Harbeck. I make my living as an editor, writer, and layout designer. I blog as a word taster and sentence sommelier. I have a BFA, MA, and PhD in drama (theory, history, criticism) and am working on an MA in linguistics. I run, I sing, I cook, I ski, I occasionally act, I love to travel, I take pictures. Your blog, … [Read more...]


A blitzkrieg is a rapid or intense attack of any kind. Its abbreviation blitz is more common. Blitzkrieg is also a verb that can be used in the forms of blitzkrieged and blitzkrieging. It must be used with an object. A blitz can also be a team play in American football. It has the same meaning of an intense attach, usually on the quaterback. Blitzkrieg comes from the German for lightning warfare and was coined for the Nazi style of swift, overwhelming attack. Examples Some half million … [Read more...]

Much vaunted

To vaunt is to brag or boast about something. A common form is much vaunted followed by an object, meaning the object has been talked of a lot. Though it is commonly seen with a hyphen, the correct form is without. Archaicly a vaunt was a singular boast. Examples Authorities vaunt the "success" of Tunisia's political transition, pointing to the adoption of a constitution and a "national dialogue", following political assassinations and attacks on security forces which rocked the country … [Read more...]

Rend or rent

To rend something is to rip it into pieces. It changes to rent in the past tense and in the (uncommon) past participle. Rend has a figurative definition of tearing as well, which allows for a heart to rend in literature and for a sound to rend the air. The word can also be used without an object. Rend is an old word with its first known use being before the twelfth century. Examples If we’re talking a physical match between the two, the Alien would tear the Predator to pieces. The Alien … [Read more...]


Paraphernalia are specific objects needed to do a specific activity. It can also be defined as personal belongings. It is a mass plural, but can be used as singular or plural in a sentence. Derivatives of paraphernalia include the adjectives paraphernalian and paraphernal. History The original definition of paraphernalia was anything belonging to a bride beyond her dowry, borrowed directly from the Latin. It was in the late eighteenth century that the definition changed to its current … [Read more...]


Matrix has many meanings. It can be a pattern created by lines crossing to make spaces. It can be a surrounding structure in which something develops. This can be a set of conditions, a situation, or an actual structure. A matrix is also a diagram showing the line of command in an organization. Another definition of matrix is a mold in which something is cast. In Mathematics it is chart of values that is treated as one entity and has certain rules. The plural form of matrix can … [Read more...]

Whirling dervish

A dervish is a Muslim of particular religious order. They are known for their worship rituals which require the dervish to spin very fast causing his clothing to fan out in a circle. The men wear large circular skirts to capitalize on this effect. To call something a whirling dervish is to say that object or person resembles a spinning top or is wild in its movement. An object can also just be a dervish. The term twirling dervish is technically correct, as a dervish could be described as … [Read more...]

Cause celebre

A cause celebre is something that garners a lot of public attention, usually a famous incident or legal case. It literally means famous case in French. Also, In French it is spelled , but the accent marks are usually omitted in English, as shown by the ngram below. It is grammatically correct either way. The plural is causes celebres or causes célèbres. Examples The cases of Rojo and Slimani became Sporting’s cause célèbre of the summer, the hierarchy outraged at perceived … [Read more...]

Devil is in the details vs. God is in the detail

The idiom the devil is in the details means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. An older, and slightly more common, phrase God is in the detail means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. The devil version of the idiom is a variation on the God phrase, though the exact origin of both is uncertain. Below is an ngram comparing the two. Examples The … [Read more...]


Aberrant describes something as deviating from the norm. It makes aberrance, aberrancy, and aberrantly.  Several other forms derive from aberration, which is the object that is deviating from the norm. It makes aberrational and a rare form is aberrative or tending to deviate from norms. Examples Durst family outcast Robert Durst’s aberrant behavior surfaced again in July, when he allegedly urinated on a cash register and candy rack at a Houston CVS store. [Commercial Observer] Various … [Read more...]

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