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December 22nd, 2004

Holiday Open House in the judge's chambers

by Barbara Wallraff

The end of the year is a time for reflection -- for stepping back from the details and looking at the big picture. In that spirit, may I tell you a few things about Word Court that I don’t ordinarily have the chance to explain?

Readers keep asking me and asking me certain questions -- good ones, which deserve an answer. But if I’ve already answered a given question within the past year or so, I don’t want to repeat myself. You probably don’t want me to either. So many language mysteries, so little space! You can, however, find past columns on my Web site, at www.wordcourt.com. (Come visit, click on the door to the “library,” and you’ll see me pointing at the newspaper archives.) The archive headings are now short descriptions of all the questions in each column. So it’s simple to find out whether Word Court has already covered things you’re wondering about.

Here are a few of the questions that readers ask me most often: Does a person “graduate high school” or “graduate from high school,” or does the school graduate the person? The answer is: “Graduate high school” isn’t good English, but either of the other two phrasings is fine. For more on this subject, please see the column dated Nov. 19, 2003. What’s with the phrase “gone missing”? Answer: It has come to us from British English. See Dec. 24, 2003. Is “got” ever good English? Yes. See Dec. 31, 2003. When is it correct to say “you and me,” and when is “you and I” right? That’s easy! Just experimentally leave out “you and,” and you’ll know whether to use “me” or “I.” For instance, you wouldn’t say “She sent a letter to I,” so don’t say “She sent a letter to you and I.” (This trick won’t work for “between you and me” -- but that, not “between you and I,” is always right.) See March 24, 2004. What’s the difference between “bring” and “take”? There is a difference, but it’s more complicated than you might think. See April 28, 2004. These dates, by the way, reflect when my syndicate released the column; they’re not necessarily when your paper published it.

Readers also often ask me to send them personal responses. Believe me, I love answering people individually. But if I let myself do it very often, I’ll never get my next column written -- or my next book.

That book will give you another chance to see your name in print, if you can help me with it. It’s about words that people have coined for fun or just because. Are there any words you use with your family or friends that don’t appear in dictionaries? What are they, please, and what do they mean? Alternatively, do you know any “word fugitives” -- things you think there ought to be a word for but you don’t know what the word is? Do tell. If you’ll be patient until the book comes out, about a year from now, I may be able to help you come up with the word you want. Or just be patient for a month or so, and I’ll report in this column on some of your hitherto privately circulated words.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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