Interview with Lisa McLendon

Lisa McLendon

Grammarist is pleased to introduce Lisa McLendon, aka "Madam Grammar." Please introduce yourself and provide some background information. I’m Lisa McLendon and I teach editing and writing in the journalism school at the University of Kansas. Before this job, I was a newspaper copy editor for 12 years, and before that, I completed a Ph.D. in Slavic linguistics. What inspired you to starting writing your blog, "Madam Grammar?" I wanted to demystify grammar and usage, bust a few … [Read more...]

Brand spanking new

  The phrase brand spanking new means to be entirely new or recently created, and was first recorded in 1860. It evolved from the compound word brand-new and the phrase spick-and-span. Also, spanking, while the main definition is to hit someone on the butt, can also mean to move quickly. So one might say that a brand spanking new object was created quickly or appeared very fast. In truth, no one knows quite how it was coined or what it originally referred to. This idiom is not … [Read more...]

Embed vs imbed

Imbed is just a variation in spelling of embed, which means to put something inside something else, usually deep so it will not come loose. Its derivatives include embedded, embedding, and embedment. The spelling variation continues through all forms: imbedded, imbedding, and imbedment. (The last imbedment is almost obsolete.) The e spelling is so preferred that it is advisable to use simply to avoid having your readers think you misspelled. Examples Apple’s plans to embed its own Sim … [Read more...]

Gait vs gate

  A gait is a way of walking, either an individual's particular way of moving from one place to another, or an animal's pace of moving, such as a trot, gallop, or canter. It can be used as a verb to train an animal to walk a certain way. Incidentally gait did come from gate, which meant way. While gate, which is an opening in a barrier, usually a fence, came from the Norse gat, which meant opening. Gate can also be a verb, meaning to put a gate in something. In Britain it can mean … [Read more...]


  Effete is an adjective describing something as feminine or effeminate. An alternative definition is for something to lack effectiveness, to not have strength or bravery or to be unable to act. Its derivatives include effetely and effeteness. In the seventeenth century, effete meant being past the childbearing years, or to not be fertile. One can see the transition of this to other topics, so that governments and armies were not fertile, or ineffective. Examples Dinesh Gundu … [Read more...]

Debark or disembark

To debark is to disembark, which is to get off of an airplane or ship or other mode of transportation. Both can also be the act of removing someone or something from the same vessels. Both have noun forms of debarkation and disembarkation, which refer to the location the person debarked at. Additionally, one can debark a tree, or remove the bark from a tree. One would then be a debarker. Examples Four Smith County Jail trusties, equipped with chainsaws and straight-draw shave tools, which … [Read more...]


To fuddle is to make disoriented or confused, especially with liquor. It used to mean to be drunk, and one could be a fuddler if one drank a lot. Today the term is used rarely and usually with a full knowledge the term is outdated. To befuddle someone is to confuse or stupefy, as if he or she were drunk. It is mush more common than fuddle. It makes the noun befuddlement. A person or object can be a befuddler. Examples Corporate America is currently caught up in a torrid infatuation … [Read more...]


Agitprop is political propaganda, usually art or literature with the sole purpose of persuading people to believe a certain set of ideals, originally Communism. It was coined in 1935 as a blend of the Russian words agitatsiya (agitation) and propaganda, and more specifically the shortened name of the Agitation and Propaganda Section of the Communist Party. Agitprop can be used as a noun or adjective. Examples “I suppose the closest it comes to, as a genre, is agitprop. Without doubt our … [Read more...]


A calumny is a lie about a person told to ruin their character. It is also the name of the act of lying about someone. It is synonymous with slander. Though when someone is falsely accused of a crime, calumny is a more appropriate word. Its plural is calumnies. It also makes the adjective calumnious, the adverb caluminously, and the verb caluminate. The verb form appears as caluminated and calumniating, and makes the noun calumniation. One can also be a caluminator. Examples The Head of … [Read more...]

Bath or bathe

Bath is a noun that can mean many things, including a cleansing of the body, a contained liquid used to wash the body, a bathroom, bathtub, or a financial setback. One can take a bath, have a bath, or soak in a bath. The plural is baths. However, never does this word mean to have a bath or to wash. All forms are pronounced with the short a sound. A blood bath is a massacre where lots of blood is split, so much that people are soaked in it. This can be literal or figurative. The verb to wash … [Read more...]

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