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All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2020 Evan Morris & Kathy Wollard. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

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Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


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May – June 2015

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Just under the line again. It’s spooky, isn’t it? Especially because in real life I’m pathologically early for everything. I used to show up at my job every day at least 1/2 hour before my shift started.

Thanks again to all the folks who have subscribed or contributed over the past few months. It’s been a huge help.

As usual, we seem to have skipped spring again this year and plunged straight into summer, with all its attendant horrors. I hate summer. Hate. We went for a walk down our road one evening about a week ago. (Actually, Kathy walks and I sort of hobble/shuffle along.) Just as we turned around to go back, I saw one of the local honor students driving his daddy’s pickup down the middle of the road at us at an insane speed. So I stepped off the side of the road to play it safe, lost my balance (quelle surprise), and landed face down in a drainage ditch, which happened to lie close to, and directly downhill from, a pig pen (with real pigs). I am never going outside again.

Then again, indoors has its own problems. We don’t watch a lot of TV around here, certainly nowhere near the national average of twelve hours a day or whatever (more like six hours a week, in fact), but I’ve noticed that there seems to be some sort of grand conspiracy afoot to prevent me from even approaching a proper patriotic level of grazing in the Vast Wasteland. No sooner do I start watching a show by myself (i.e., a show Kathy shuns) than said show is cancelled. Abruptly and with no hope of return.

It happened recently with an NBC show called Allegiance, which centered on a young CIA analyst who discovers that his parents are evil Russkie spies. It was, I’ll admit, a howlingly silly show, but it grew on me, right up to when they cancelled it after only five, yes five (of 13), episodes. This being the internet age, they let you watch the remaining episodes of the season online, but it still stings.

Not that this hasn’t happened before; a few years ago I was watching a sci-fi thing called The Event, which was not only very silly but occasionally completely incomprehensible. It finished its first season with a truly shocking cliffhanger. And was then cancelled. Before that there was some weird thing about aliens in a Florida swamp. Cancelled. And some time-travel dinosaur thing I barely remember. Kaput. C’mon, guys, if I can suspend my disbelief to watch your shows, at least wrap up the story line before you kick me to the curb. Right now I’m watching (on NBC — yes, I’m a slow learner) American Odyssey, which I think is kinda a blend of Homeland, Three Days of the Condor, The Bourne Identity and Homer’s Odyssey. It’s OK, but I try not to be too enthusiastic or look directly at the screen so they won’t notice me watching and cancel it.

Speaking of TV, how is it that the simpering soap opera Downton Abbey grinds on for six years, i.e., at least 40 episodes, while the brilliant Wolf Hall is crammed into only six episodes by the BBC? The two books by Hilary Mantel on which it is based (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) together top 1000 pages. They could easily have gone with 12 episodes, maybe even two seasons, and had far fewer viewers looking stuff up on Wikipedia trying to follow it. As is, it was like watching a long trailer for a wonderful series that will never be made. But the idiotic Game of Thrones is bulletproof. Oh well, I was halfway through Wolf Hall (the book) when the series started, so I guess I’ll just finish reading the books.

Elsewhere in the Vast Wasteland, I was not a huge David Letterman fan for the last ten years or so (although I will say that the show was far better on NBC), but I was quite sad when he closed up shop. End of an era, blah blah, but true. He really was the last great broadcaster, the end of a line that stretched back to Dave Garroway (whom I, obviously, only vaguely remember). Conan’s too frantic and arch, “the Jimmys” are utter ciphers, and Stephen Colbert seems too tightly wound, a really bad choice to succeed Dave. But I am often wrong, so there’s that.

Once again, your support is always deeply appreciated, and is most conveniently accomplished by subscribing.

And now, on with the show…

Pub, Tavern, Saloon, etc.

Tee many martoonies.

Dear Word Detective: When our forefathers arrived in America some of the first buildings they built must have been “pubs,” “taverns,” and “inns.” Then, as they headed out west seeking their fortunes, suddenly they wanted to drink in “saloons.” These days we mostly cannot be bothered with any of those places and drink in “bars.” Is there a difference between all these places, and why the sudden switch to “saloons” and then “bars”? I’m parched now, time for a drink. Cheers! — Pete Ivkovic.

Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place. My complete ignorance of all things alcoholic is unmatched in North America. What can I say? I just never got into drinking. Of course, that didn’t stop me from writing a column for a bartending magazine for several years, so fasten your seatbelts.

I thought the first sentence of your question might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but you’re right. Evidently, the first Europeans to land in North America were deeply into drinking. There was said to be more beer aboard the Mayflower than there was drinking water, even the Puritans loved a good snootful, and, according to the official Colonial Williamsburg website, folks there were hammered pretty much 24/7. Who knew?

“Tavern” is one of the older of the terms you cited, and first appeared in English in the 13th century meaning “a place where wine is sold to the public.” English had borrowed “tavern” from the Old French “taverne,” which in turn was derived from the Latin “taberna,” meaning “a shed constructed of boards, a hut, workshop.” That “taberna,” by the way, eventually also gave us the English word “tabernacle,” which is a definite step up from “hut.” Today “tavern” is exclusively used to mean “drinking establishment,” and, at least in the US, “tavern” has a somewhat more refined connotation than “bar.”

“Bar,” perhaps the most basic term for such places, dates to the late 16th century and comes from the barrier or counter over which drinks are served. This is the same “bar” as in common use meaning “long rod or barrier” and comes from the Latin “barra,” meaning “barrier.” A similar railing or bar separates lawyers, et al., from the public in courtrooms, and aspiring lawyers must pass a “bar exam” to join their ilk.

“Inn” comes from the Old English “inn,” probably related to our preposition “in,” and originally meant simply “house.” By the 14th century, “inn” meant “lodging house,” usually offering drinks as well. Today many places with “Inn” in their names are merely bars putting on airs.

“Pub” is simply short for “public house” (dating to the early 17th century), an establishment that is licensed to sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises by the public (as opposed to private clubs, etc.). In the US, “pubs” ordinarily also serve food.

“Saloon” (early 18th century) is an Anglicized form of the French “salon,” originally meaning a large reception room or hall, often in a hotel. That “big room” meaning has been carried over into “saloon” used to denote private railroad cars, large automobiles, or deluxe cabinsĀ  on ocean liners. “Saloon” meaning “place for drinking” dates to the mid-19th century. “Saloon” does imply a larger establishment than a simple “bar,” but the words are otherwise interchangeable.

As to why “tavern” and “inn” sound cozy to us, but “bar” seems seedy and “saloon” reeks of cowboys and breaking chairs, we can probably thank Hollywood. All these terms are essentially synonymous.

Replicate / Duplicate

Kinda like the Mona Lisa done in crayon.

Dear Word Detective: I have noticed, while listening to TV, that almost everybody now uses “replicate” instead of “duplicate” no matter what they are replicating or duplicating. I always tended, perhaps incorrectly, to use “replicate” when one was talking about a physical structure like, say, a boat model. But I used “duplicate” when I duplicated a paper (on a duplicating machine perhaps!). Are these synonyms and interchangeable or is there a real difference between them? — John Sellars.

Well, “replicate” is cooler, y’know. Reminds folks of “replicants,” the artificial humans in the 1980 film Blade Runner, which was the first known use of the term in that sense. (The Philip K. Dick book on which the movie is based, “Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?”, used the more familiar sci-fi term “android”). Back in the 17th century, however, “replicant” meant simply “new applicant.”

“Duplicate” and “replicate” are considered synonyms, but they do have slightly different meaning in some uses.

“Duplicate” first appeared in English in the 16th century as an adjective meaning “double” or “of two corresponding parts,” as well as a noun meaning “exact copy,” and then as a verb (in the early 17th century) meaning “to double, to multiply by two” or “to create an exact copy” of something. The root of “duplicate” is the Latin “duplicatus,” past participle of the verb “duplicare,” combining “duo” (two) and “plicare” (“to fold or turn back,” also the source of our English “ply”).

“Replicate,” which can, like “duplicate,” be a noun, a verb and an adjective, arose a century or so earlier from roots parallel to those of “duplicate.” In this case it the root was the Latin “replicare,” meaning “to repeat” (“re,” meaning “again,” plus our friend “plicare,” to fold or turn over). In Latin, “replicare” meant to fold, bend back, unroll or, metaphorically, to “turn something over in one’s mind, to consider”). In post-Classical Latin it meant “to repeat; do again,” and that meaning carried over when the verb “to replicate” first appeared in English in the 15th century. In practical use thereafter, it overlapped to a great extent with “duplicate.”

All of which brings us back to “duplicate” versus “replicate.” The shade of difference between the words in modern use lies in the slightly “after the fact” or “in a different form or context” sense that “replicate” carries. If I run the minutes of a meeting through a copy machine as soon as it adjourns, I’d usually say I “duplicated” them. If, however, I mistakenly feed them into the shredder, not the copier, I’m faced with a late night of trying to “replicate” them from chopped paper and my memory. Similarly, a “replica” (which has largely replaced “replicate” as a noun) of a ship will probably be a detailed, but much smaller, model. “Replicate” implies an attempt to re-create an object, action, etc., at some remove of time, space or purpose. As such, it contains a bit more wiggle room than “duplicate.” This makes it ideal for TV commentary, where a bit of vagueness implies good judgment and moderation.