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The Court Record

Language columns by Barbara Wallraff,
from The Atlantic Monthly and Atlantic Unbound

Word Court
From The Atlantic Monthly

June 2004
"overstating" versus "understating" the importance ... symbolic snakes ... and more.

April 2004
"Reduce" versus "lower" ... The correct usage of "carrot and stick" ... and more.

January/February 2004
"Robin's-egg blue" or "robin's-egg brown"? ... Is "ice cream" a word? ... and more.

November 2003
What are "airborne vermin"? ... "buttock" or "buttocks"? ... and more.

September 2003
The meaning of "mortified" ... "gone missing" or "is missing"? ... and more.

June 2003
Is "crowbar" racist? ... "vice-president" or "president of vice?" ... and more.

April 2003
Can not vs. cannot ... can one "inspire confusion"? ... and more.

January/February 2003
How long has a "first-generation American" been in this country? ... use of the colon in fictional dialogue ... and more.

November 2002
"man" vs. "gentleman" ... "impactful"? ... and more.

September 2002
"Art" vs. "Artwork" ... "ours'"? ... and more.

May 2002
"Surveil" vs. "survey" ... "quote/unquote" ... "gone fishing"? ... "one of the only" vs. "one of the few"

March 2002
"Entrée"/"Starter"/"Main Course" ... "Crescendo" vs. "Climax" ... the non-military "General."

January 2002
"It's" ... born and "bred" ... "Jell" vs. "Gel."

November 2001
"Democrat" as an insult ... pronunciation of "sorbet" ... "feeling froggy."

September 2001
"Nude, nuder, nudest" ... proper pronunciation of "culinary."

May 2001
"The proof is in the pudding" ... "might" or "may" ... address etiquette.

March 2001
e ... the redundant hypersuperlative ... dee or day.

January 2001
Gild the lily ... more rare ... short-lived.

November 2000
Aren't I? Thin-sliced or thinly-sliced. Co-chairs.

September 2000
As well as. Thought-provoking or provocative. The passive not. One pant or a pair of pants?

April 2000
Isn't it ironic? The the. Crisp and crispy.

February 2000
Good friends. Would have. Alleger or allegator.

January 2000
The devil is in the details. Redundant politeness. Anglo America.
Word Fugitives
Barbara Wallraff's acclaimed Atlantic Unbound column is back—in print! Send us your fugitive words.

July/August 2004
"Misalinement" ... "pandephonium" ... and more.

May 2004
"number-mumblers" ... "empty-fest syndrome" ... and more.

March 2004
"wishful linking" ... "devious ex machina" ... and more.

December 2003
"rolling roadblock" ... "temporary inanity" ... and more.

October 2003
"roadentaphobia" ... "mamamorphosis" ... and more.

July/August 2003
"sage fright" ... "onthewaylaid" ... and more.

May 2003
"Yakasses" ... "Please cover your mouth" ... and more.

March 2003
"Missing the gravy boat" ... "tome-deaf" ... and more.

December 2002
"magbalae" ... "niblings" and "auncles" ... and more.

October 2002
"toast-haste" ... to "Cosby" ... and more.

July/August 2002
"Two-footed" ... "antergy" ... and more.

June 2002
"Redundunces" ... "karmaclysm" ... and more.

April 2002
"Rebounder" ... "bawlderizer" ... and more.

February 2002
"Catsnap" ... "dialexia" ... and more.

December 2001
"Losthrophobia" ... "idiosynamajig" ... and more.

October 2001
"side defects" ... "uhopia" ... and more.

July/August 2001
"Dial or mash?" ... "concretinism" ... and more.

June 2001
"Male-pattern badness" ... "Orthinology" ... and more.

April 2001
"Selfism" ... "Offsprung" ... and more.

February 2001
The debut (in print, at least) of a new Atlantic column.

Archived features:

Word Police (January - June 2000)
Do you have what it takes to be a Word Police officer?

Original Word Fugitives (November 1998 - December 1999)
Is there a word for ...? Track down words that don't yet exist -- but should.

Browse a read-only archive from the Word Fugitives conference in Post & Riposte:

When you're not, you're not

An uncompliment


Now presenting

Worn in both senses

How awkward

Insignificant other

Got your thinking cap on

Male hysteria

His 'n' hers

Move it up

Take that


Term limits

What happened

No B.S.

Loyal to losers

Well seasoned

Virtual smirtual

Give it the old heave-ho

Just folks

Older and wiser

From bad to worse


Loves women

That creeking sound




The shape of things to come

Ms. Daughter, Mr. Son

Sans slash

Below expectations

Name relations

Return to sender

Sharply pointed

'Do you know?' 'Do you?'

Things to put PINs in

Self-inflicted punishment

You must remember this

Ms.'s moxie


He or she and you and you and you

A pretty puzzle

The very picture

Not my specialty

Froggie went a-courtin'

I'm glad for you

When you're not, you're not


About face

World traveler

Pacific time

Always tired

Not a cuckold

The fox and the grapes

What are you looking at?

Don't call her "Miss"

Joint decision

Bad actor

Foreign sympathizer

Outliving one's child

Dot dot dot

Blank mind, blank page

Everything's relative

Pass the Kleenex

Hooray for selfishness!

Counting room

Better-than-best friend

What's your leisure?


Hey you!


Sloppy shopping

In-laws once removed


A follicular challenge

Mr. & Ms. Apt

Realty Check

Fore and aft forenames

Criminal license

This part's still good

Relative position


Non-romance language

Vote here

Open-door policy

Mr. and Mrs. Velcro

None of the above

Um uh er uh

Elegant as well

Martha's concerns

One for all of us

"Soul" mates

Lumpy driveway syndrome

That is despicable

What's your inclination?


A tight squeeze

Doing double duty

Are you all right?

Finders keepers

The opposite of sin

That which moos

The joy of pets

Nephlings? Auncles?

Wouldn't ya know it!

To yesterday, to day, and to morrow

Are you a homophone?

Water! Give me water!

A sustainer of sustainability

Darling, sweetie pie, honey

Now you see it

A new balance

Fair game

The opposite of "synergy"

Honest + fair + sound

Ripe young age

A disagreement among friends

Shock of the old


A post-holiday preposition

Furby and friends

Terminological miscues

How humiliating!

Cut and paste

A finisher of sentences

A conversion of memories

That crashed feeling

Words with diametrical meanings

Synonymous with 'synonym'

From the USA

Between the sidewalk and the curb

No one we know

Someone who knows what another person should do

The "commercial 'a'"

Dub-ya dub-ya dub-ya

Shoelace fitting

Puns that use hypertext links

Fear of Christians

Product names used generically

When the rich turn the middle class against the poor

Writer's equivalent of "articulate"

Copyright © 2001 By The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.