The ‘mare’ in ‘nightmare’

Q: Does the “mare” in “nightmare” have anything to do with the word for a female horse?

A: No, the two terms aren’t related.

The “mare” of “nightmare” comes from mære, an Old English term for an evil spirit that was supposed to settle on a sleeper’s chest and cause a feeling of suffocation.

The “mare” that means an adult female horse was a merging of two Old English words: mearh (horse) and mīre (mare). And in case you’re wondering, the word “horse” also showed up in Old English (spelled hors).

The compound “nightmare,” which first appeared in Middle English writing, originally referred to the evil spirit, not the feeling of suffocation or a scary dream.

Over the years, “nightmare” took on new meanings: first a suffocating feeling, then a bad dream that causes such a feeling, and much later simply a frightening dream.

The earliest example of “nightmare” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from “The Life of St. Michael” (circa 1300), found in The South-English Legendary, a collection of manuscripts chronicling the lives of church figures:

“Þe luþere gostes … deriez men in heore slep … And ofte huy ouer-liggez, and men cleopiet þe niȝt-mare” (“The treacherous spirits … harmed men in their sleep … And often lay over them, and were called the nightmare”).

The OED says “nightmare” in that citation refers to a “female spirit or monster supposed to settle on and produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal.”

In the 16th century, according to the dictionary, the term came to mean “a feeling of suffocation or great distress experienced during sleep.”

The first Oxford example is from the 1562 second volume of A New Herball, a three-book work by the English botanist William Turner: “A good remedy agaynst the stranglyng of the nyght mare.”

In the 17th century, according to OED citations, the term came to mean “a bad dream producing these or similar sensations.”

Here’s an example from The Marriage of Belphegor, a 1675 translation of a work by Machiavelli: “This was no fantastick imagination, nor fit of the Night-mare.”

And in the early 19th century, according to Oxford citations, “nightmare” took on its usual sense today: “an oppressive, frightening, or unpleasant dream.”

This OED example is from a Nov. 29, 1826, entry in the journal of Sir Walter Scott: “Awaked from horrid dreams … I had the nightmare in short, and no wonder.” We’ve expanded the OED citation to add context.

Soon afterward, the dictionary says, “nightmare” took on its familiar figurative meaning: an “oppressive fear; a frightening experience or thing; a source of fear or anxiety.”

The earliest citation is from Sartor Resartus, an 1834 novel by Thomas Carlyle: “Not till after long years … did the believing heart … sink into spell-bound sleep, under the nightmare, Unbelief.”

(Carlyle’s title roughly means “the retailored tailor” in Latin. Sart-, the participial stem of sarcīre, meaning to patch or mend, has given English the adjective “sartorial.”)

Finally, “night hag” is another term for that female demon that supposedly caused a feeling of suffocation. The demon also supposedly caused sleep paralysis, a sense of being unable to move while falling asleep or waking up.

The earliest OED example for “night hag” is from The Birth of Merlin, a 1662 play by the English dramatist William Rowley: “Where no Night-hag shall walk, nor Ware-wolf tread.”

The dictionary’s most recent citation is from the fall 1992 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer: “My friend and I were experiencing … ‘night terror.’ My friend’s were more like the classic variety, complete with a night hag.”

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from Grammarphobia https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2018/01/nightmare.html

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Lesson 350 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Commas

Use commas to separate a series of three or more short clauses. Example: I am working, he is sleeping, and she is singing. (The comma before the conjunction andis optional, but I prefer using it.)
Use no commas in a series when all items are joined by or, and, or nor.
Instructions: Place commas where they are needed.
1. They are eating we are drinking and you are starving.
2. The music began the lights dimmed and the curtains opened.
3. My sister has left home my brother is at school and my mother is baking bread.
4. Jim fished Jeff hiked and I loafed the whole campout.
5. You correct he proofreads but I edit material.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. They are eating, we are drinking, and you are starving.
2. The music began, the lights dimmed, and the curtains opened.
3. My sister has left home, my brother is at school, and my mother is baking bread.
4. Jim fished, Jeff hiked, and I loafed the whole campout.
5. You correct, he proofreads, but I edit material.

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in eBook and Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/01/lesson-350-mechanics-punctuation-commas.html

Lesson 349 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Commas

Use commas to separate a series of three or more phrases. Example: He ran down the hall, out the door, and into the yard. (The comma before the conjunction and is optional, but I prefer using it.)
Use no commas in a series when all items are joined by or, and, or nor.
Instructions: Place commas where they are needed.
1. The rain splashed against the house onto the sidewalk and into the street.
2. Through the trees around the cabin and down the valley roared the wind.
3. College is to gain knowledge to make new friends and to prepare for a career.
4. The cat climbed up the tree and out on a limb and finally onto the roof.
5. Munching on an apple listening to a recording and sitting on the couch Martha looked very happy.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. against the house, onto the sidewalk, and into the street.
2. Through the trees, around the cabin, and down the valley,
3. to gain knowledge, to make new friends, and to prepare for a career.
4. no commas needed
5. Munching on an apple, listening to a recording, and sitting on the couch,

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/01/lesson-349-mechanics-punctuation-commas.html

Can ‘so don’t I’ mean ‘so do I’?

Q: There’s a grammatical quirk in northern New England in which a negative is used affirmatively: Example: “I love it when the leaves turn in the fall.” … “Oh, so don’t I. It’s my favorite time of year.” Any ideas where that might have come from?

A: You’re right that this quirky use of “so don’t I” is peculiar to New England. A native Bostonian would understand it immediately as meaning “so do I,” while a Californian would probably hear just the opposite—“I don’t.”

The linguist William Labov has said this use of “so don’t I” represents a “reversal of polarity,” a kind of construction in which “negative comes to mean positive or positive negative.” (From his 1974 paper “Linguistic Change as a Form of Communication.”)

Labov, an expert in the fields of sociolinguistics and regional variation, says the usage is common to eastern New England. It has also been called “the Massachusetts negative positive,” and research has shown that it extends into Maine.

He and his colleagues conducted a study in which subjects were given this question: “Somebody said, I like liver and then somebody else said, So don’t I. What do you think he meant?”

A majority of those from outside eastern New England interpreted the answer in the negative: “I do not.” But all the native New Englanders interpreted it as positive: “I do too.”

As Labov notes, “So don’t I has risen to the level of an overt stereotype in eastern New England.” However, “most outsiders are puzzled by the apparent contradiction between the positive so and the negative n’t.”

The usage consists of the adverb “so,” followed by a negative auxiliary verb (“don’t,” “didn’t,” “can’t,” “couldn’t,” etc.), and a noun or pronoun subject.

It’s always spoken in response to an affirmative statement. And despite the negative “-n’t,” the speaker is being affirmative too.

Labov notes a similarity with a “tag question” that’s another form of reverse polarity: “Don’t I though!”

Another similar usage has been noted by the Yale University linguist Laurence R. Horn. In Smoky Mountain English, someone who responds to a suggestion or invitation by saying, “I don’t care to” actually means “I don’t mind if I do” or “I’m pleased to.”

As Horn writes, this usage is as likely as “so don’t I” to be “misinterpreted by outlanders.” (From his paper “Multiple Negation in English and Other Languages,” 2010.)

Jim Wood, another Yale linguist, argues that there’s a shade of difference between a New Englander’s affirmative “so don’t I” and a straightforward “so do I.” A speaker who responds with “so don’t I,” he says, is correcting an assumption.

In his paper “Affirmative Semantics with Negative Morphosyntax” (2014), Wood uses the following exchange to illustrate his point. Speaker A: “I play guitar.” Speaker B: “Yeah, but so don’t I.”

Here Speaker A seems to imply he’s the only one (that is, in the relevant context) who plays the guitar. Speaker B’s response sets him straight, and can be seen as meaning “It’s not true that I don’t play the guitar too.”

Wood, as a native of southern New Hampshire, has firsthand experience of the usage. He (along with Horn, Raffaella Zanuttini, and others) collaborated on a broad-ranging language study, the Yale Diversity Project, which researched several dozen usages in addition to “so don’t I.”

The study found that “so don’t I” had been recorded as far north as York, ME, as far south as New Haven, CT, and as far west as Erie, PA.

You can read more online about the Yale study’s “so don’t I” research, and see a map plotting its usage.

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from Grammarphobia https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2018/01/so-dont-i.html

Lesson 348 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Commas

Use commas to separate a series of three or more numbers. Example: He called for numbers 3, 6, 9, and 12.
Instructions: Place commas where they are needed.
1. In the Bingo game the winning numbers were 7 21 35 46 and 72.
2. My combination for my lock is 3 54 and 26.
3. He said that his lucky numbers were 7 11 13 and 99.
4. The numbers 14 27 58 79 and 38 won the lottery.
5. I like mixed greens with numbers of 20 50 and 100 on them.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. 7, 21, 35, 46, and 72.
2. 3, 54, and 26.
3. 7, 11, 13, and 99.
4. 14, 27, 58, 79, and 38 won
5. 20, 50, and 100

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/01/lesson-348-mechanics-punctuation-commas.html

Lesson 347 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Commas

Use commas to separate a series of three or more words. Example: I dropped my pencil, papers, and books. (The comma before the conjunction and is optional, but I prefer using it.)
Use no commas between two or more words usually thought of as being one item. Example: We ate hamburgers, pork and beans, and potato chips.
Use no commas in a series when all items are joined by or, and, or nor.Example: You dance and sing and play well.
Instructions: Place commas where they are needed.
1. I have seen many gold silver and copper mines.
2. People in the United States can travel by air rail or water.
3. The girl waved leaned over and fell into the pool.
4. My wife likes a meal of a glass of grape juice a fresh salad and spaghetti and meat balls.
5. At the resort we can hike and swim and ski all we want.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. gold, silver, and copper
2. air, rail, or water
3. waved, leaned over, and fell
4. a glass of grape juice, a fresh salad, and spaghetti and meat balls. (Spaghetti and meat balls are considered one item.)
5. no commas needed

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in eBook and Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/01/lesson-347-mechanics-punctuation-commas.html

Black (or African) American?

(Note: We’re repeating this post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It originally appeared on March 21, 2010. However, usage changes, so we’ve inserted an update indicating the latest preferences.)

Q: I was reading an article in the New York Times that used “black American” and “African American” interchangeably. Is there a proper time for using one term or the other?

A: In general the terms “black American” and “African American” are synonymous.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), for example, defines “African American” as a “Black American of African ancestry.”

The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) have similar definitions.

Definitions aside, debates about the nomenclature of race are nothing new. How accurate, or appropriate, is the term “African American”? How meaningfully connected to Africa are most black Americans anyway?

The linguist John McWhorter, for instance, has argued in The New Republic that the “African” part should be dropped. He is, he says, a black American.

But you don’t have to look hard to find other opinions. Keith Boykin of The Daily Voice, a black news organization, has this to say:

“I don’t care if you call yourself Negro, colored, African American or black (in lower case or upper case). … The true diversity of our people cannot be fully represented by any one term.”

We recently came across an interesting and fairly exhaustive analysis of this subject by Tom W. Smith, whose article “Changing Racial Labels: From ‘Colored’ to ‘Negro’ to ‘Black’ to ‘African American’ ” ran in The Public Opinion Quarterly in 1992.

Smith (who, by the way, capitalizes all racial terms throughout his article) sets out to discuss “changes in the acceptance of various labels, not the creation of new terms.”

He notes that “colored,” “Negro,” “black,” and “African” were all “established English terms for Blacks when America was first settled. ‘African American’ was in use at least as early as the late 1700s.”

The dominant label in the mid- to late-19th century, he writes, was “colored,” which was accepted by both whites and blacks. But “colored” was too inclusive, because it covered “not only Blacks but Asians and other non-White races.”

Consequently “Negro” began to replace “colored” as the favored term in the late 19th century, in a movement that Smith says was “led by such influential Black leaders as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois.”

By the 1930s, he says, “Negro” had supplanted “colored,” which had begun to seem antiquated.

“But as the civil rights movement began making tangible progress in the late 1950s and early 1960s,” Smith writes, “the term ‘Negro’ itself eventually fell under attack.”

Thus “black,” like “Negro” before it, according to Smith, was seen as “forward-looking” and “progressive,” besides appearing to promote “racial pride, militancy, power, and rejection of the status quo.”

So “black” became ascendant in the 1970s, though it briefly competed with “Afro-American,” which was popular among academics.

But for the most part, from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, “the position of ‘Black’ was virtually unchallenged,” Smith writes.

This all changed in December 1988, when the National Urban Coalition proposed that “African American” replace “black” as the preferred term.

The goal “was to give Blacks a cultural identification with their heritage and ancestral homeland,” Smith writes.

“Furthermore,” he says, “it was seen as putting Blacks on a parallel with White ethnic groups.” By using a term based on culture and homeland, blacks were redefined “as an ethnic group rather than a race.”

This distinction – race versus ethnic group – is important, because “racial differences are viewed as genetically based and thus as beyond the ability of society to change,” Smith writes.

“Racial prejudice and discrimination have greatly exceeded ethnic intolerance,” he adds. “On balance, America has a better record of accepting and fairly treating ethnic groups than it does racial groups.”

Smith also touches on the criticisms of the “African American” label, which many people feel “calls for identification with a culture to which almost no actual ties exist.”

In addition, the term “has the classic ‘hyphenated American’ problem.” Whether or not there’s an actual hyphen, he notes, ethnic compounds like “German-American” sometimes have been “regarded as symbolizing divided loyalties.”

Smith, who was writing in 1992, says that “among those with a preference, ‘African American’ has grown in acceptance although ‘Black’ still is preferred by more Blacks.”

A usage note in American Heritage (the fourth edition was published in 2000) points out that “African American,” despite its popularity, “has shown little sign of displacing or discrediting black, which remains both popular and positive.”

[Update, Jan. 15, 2018: American Heritage dropped the usage note from its fifth edition. “African American” is now overwhelmingly more popular than “black American,” according to our searches of the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the News on the Web corpus, a database of articles from online newspapers and magazines.]

Does  any of this really matter? Smith quotes DuBois as saying: “The feeling of inferiority is in you, not in a name. The name merely evokes what is already there. Exorcise the hateful complex and no name can ever make you hang your head.”

“Yet names do matter,” Smith says. “Blacks have successively changed their preferred term of address from ‘Colored’ to ‘Negro’ to ‘Black’ and now, perhaps, to ‘African American’ in order to assert their group standing and aid in their struggle for racial equality.”

“While symbolic, these changes have not been inconsequential,” he adds. “For symbols are part and parcel of reality itself.”

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from Grammarphobia https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2018/01/black-or-african-american-2.html