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A closer look, real and unreal

Earlier I wrote of words we use that are not real. I must add a couple to that list: alot and awhile.

There is no word spelled alot; it is two words, "a lot" (just think “a whole lot” to keep them separated). Awhile is also two words, "a while" (think “a long while” to remind yourself).

One word that is real in itself, "hopefully," is often misplaced. If I say, “Hopefully, Mary will arrive by noon,” I am actually saying, Mary will arrive with high hopes in her heart, when what I probably wanted to say was, "I had hope Mary would arrive by noon."

If we use “hopefully,” it needs to modify the correct verb: "She stood hopefully by the window, anxious to see his car."

To balance this discussion, we should look at some words that are real, but that many people think are only fictional. A "kerfuffle" is a fuss or bother when people have different points of view; it has been used since the early 19th century. In a similar situation, you might experience "cacophony," a mixture of horrible sounds.

If you like name calling, you might say someone is a "ragamuffin," a person in dirty and scruffy clothes. And if you say someone is a "whippersnapper," he is a young person who’s too confident and perhaps cannot stop questioning or correcting his parents.

"Tomfoolery" is defined as foolish or silly behavior; this definition also applies to just "foolery."

Another word, "foolscap," may have the implication of “an idiot’s headwear,” but it actually refers to a type of inexpensive writing paper.

Most of us know, perhaps intimately, the term "potbelly." And we are familiar, at least in books, with the use of a "boiler." However, are you aware of the simple and unrelated word "potboiler?" It is a literary piece or work of art that is of poor quality, done quickly and for the purpose of making a living by catering to the taste of the populace.

And last, "gobbledygook," a word that comes from the sound of a turkey, was created in the 1940s. It speaks of words that are nonsense or have no meaning. It also applies when people use too many technical terms so others cannot understand.

I am hopeful this post has been more than gobbledygook for you!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net