Category: Grammar Notes

Story Behind ‘The Real McCoy’:
Was It Whiskey or Ingenuity?

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Dr. Ben Carson on a TV show brought up the name and memory of inventor Elijah McCoy as the derivation for the phrase “The Real McCoy,” which is used to signify that something is genuine, the real deal (another phrase worth investigating), and generally a word construction signifiying authenticity.

Elijah McCoy

Eljiah McCoy was an engineer of African-American descent who invented, among other things, a lubrication method that facilitated train travel. He also developed designs for an ironing board, a lawn sprinkler, and other devices. His oil-drip cup, the device that facilitated lubrication on trains, was quickly ripped off and employed by competitors using their own variations. His original design, according to legend, however, remained “The Real McCoy.”

That is just one explanation for how the phrase “The Real McCoy” came into existence. Another namesake for the phrase — which I find interesting as a one-time bon vivant of alcoholic beverages (I am Irish, after all) — is a smuggler named Willy McCoy, who brought Irish Whiskey into the U.S. during prohibition. His whiskey reportedly became famous as “The Real McCoy.”

I’ll drink to that, but iced tea only in my teatotaler days.

Categories: Grammar Notes

‘Out of an Abundance of’…Idiocy

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I’d never vote for the guy, but I must say that “Bernie Sanders is right!” (to copy a much-used and -abused construction from “Blazing Saddles”).

Every nation should copy Sweden, not because it’s what The Bern thinks is the perfect socialist society (which it’s not, being instead a highly capitalistic but highly taxed nation). It’s because Sweden was the only nation that got the pandemic response correct: Do as little as possible except take those in most danger out of harm’s way. Sweden now has herd immunity, which is far superior to any vaccine, which at best will be 50 percent effective and which 40 percent of Americans say they’ll never take.

Recent studies (see today’s Wall Street Journal) affirm that, in the U.S., those states and communities that locked down the hardest ended up killing off the most people by percentage of population, while those that did the least lost the least. Hmmmmm….

Which brings up my headline about “an abundance of,” which throughout the pandemic was used by politicians with “caution,” to signify, “We’re going to save your life by locking you up at home.”

(Now critics will point out that Sweden had more deaths than its neighboring countries, such as Norway, which locked down, but remember, Sweden has perfected Bernie’s “Medicare for All” approach by rationining health care: If you’re too old and too expensive to keep alive: “Here’s some morphine. See ya later.”)

The next time someone says they’re doing something for you out of “an abundance of” whatever, run as quickly as you can and do just the opposite of what they’re proposing.

Categories: Grammar Notes

Origins of ‘Black Friday’

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I always wondered why a super-sale event would bear the name “Black Friday.”

Thanks to my friends at, I now have an answer, to wit:

In the 1950s, Philadelphia would host the annual Army-Navy football match on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Fans would begin arriving the day before, thronging to shops and eateries and you name it. Store owners were overwhelmed, and soon began complaining about Black Friday — the deluge of shoppers and lookie-loos that they could barely handle.

There ya go. However, the Army-Navy game is no longer held on the Saturday after T-Day, so we’re left just with Black Friday. Nationwide.

Categories: Grammar Notes

‘If I Were They’


It’s rare that I come across someone in life who knows how to correctly form a conditional “if” clause. You often hear, “If I was rich (or fill in the blank),” uttered without a clue to the grammatical mistake they just made.

mo-ne-davisConditional “if” clauses always take the plural form. (I know, some jackass out there will find some web reference disputing this, but he, she, it and they will be wrong.)

Thay’s why, tonight while I was watching the “KIDSCAST” of the Little League World Series Hawaii-vs.-Virginia game, I was surprised to hear Mo’ne Davis — the designated ESPN “analyst” — say, “If I were they,”  using the conditional perfectly.

I say “surprised” only because I hear people in all walks of life — high, low, medium — butcher the conditional so regularly. Most people would probably have quipped, “If I was them,” or inching closer to correct usage, “If I were them.” The problem is them. Was/were is not an action verb and doesn’t take the objective (them) but retains the subjective usage (they).

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Categories: Grammar Notes News

How Did GIF Ever Become JIF?

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Answer: Ignorance? Snobbery?


GIF (or Graphics Interchange Format) is a file compression standard that allows images to load more quickly on a webpage.

Note that the word graphics uses a hard “g” sound, not a soft “g” or “j” sound. To this day, though, the web cognoscenti (snobs, in other words) insist that the word should be pronounced JIF.

Prove why. There’s nothing in the originating words to support a “j” sound.

Or, better yet, who cares? If they want to JIF themselves, let them.

Categories: Grammar Notes

The English Is Clear, But Are They Serious?

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This is what I get for living in a city that rolls up its sidewalks at 7:30 a.m. every morning (after they unroll at 7:29) and that goes completely dark on Easter and Christmas (i.e., every bar and restaurant shuts down):


Driving around Riverside (Calif.) this Easter Sunday, I saw a temporary wall encircling a new establishment, with the announcement: “Rising Soon: Donut Bar,” so I figured it would be a donut shop,  you know, with coffee and stuff.

Then it hit me. At the very end of the wall was the photo shown here: A glass of beer with donuts! Are they serious? Are they onto something new, or just plain nuts?

Find out at (And no, I’m not getting free fat pills to promote their new shop.)

Categories: Grammar Notes

What Is a Shibboleth?

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By most accounts, shibboleth is an interesting word, whose concept seems to cross most, if not all, cultures.

dictionary-for-shibbolethAccording to Wikipedia, a shibboleth is “any custom or tradition, usually a choice of phrasing or even a single word, that distinguishes one group of people from another. Shibboleths have been used throughout history in many societies as passwords, simple ways of self-identification, signaling loyalty and affinity, maintaining traditional segregation, or protecting from real or perceived threats.”

However, the best take on this biblical word comes courtesy of Jonah Goldberg in his National Review column, “Shibboleth Is a Fun Word.”

Categories: Grammar Notes News

Beating the Super Bowl Addiction

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I won’t be among the 12 percent of football fanatics who call in sick Monday morning with a Super Bowl hangover.

super-bowl-adThat’s because I refused to watch the game. The two teams were rigged by the NFL, who selected officials carefully so as to throw the championship games to New England and Los Angeles. That’s my gut read. Even if there were no conspiracy (but there was), both teams advanced on bad calls, or lack thereof, that would otherwise have guaranteed a genuine Kansas City-New Orleans match-up.

So I refused to watch in protest. However, days before the game, I correctly predicted (again, my NFL conspiracy theory) that the Patriots would win late on a questionable call. Which is exactly what happened when (as I saw on ESPN replay) officials didn’t call pass interference on New England on a fourth quarter touchdown pass. Sure, one Patriot player knocked the ball out of the receiver’s hands, but before that the other defenseman was clearly holding him.

Anyway, now that I’ve skipped a Super Bowl, I am free of any desire to see another one. What a waste of time — and hype, and deceit.

Categories: Grammar Notes

v. versus v versus vs. versus vs

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Like the subtitle to my site, “If it weren’t for the exceptions, English wouldn’t have any rules,” the abbreviation of versus is a wide open field, except maybe in legal terms. Even there, whereas v. is standard in American law, other countries that use English prefer v without the period.

gavel-grammarsource-blogThen, for those who prefer the vs. version, the period also appears to be optional, as does italicization.

When all is said and done, the most important point to remember is you probably don’t want any legal issues involving your name and either v or v.

Categories: Grammar Notes