Monday, November 13, 2017


I always hesitate when spelling South Carolina’s capital or the South American country bordering Panama. Is it Columbia or Colombia?

The U.S. city is spelled with a u. Columbia is a poetic, 18th-century term used for the United States and is depicted as a female. Though the term fell out of favor as the personification of the United States, it pops up across the country today, from the nation’s capital to a river in the Pacific Northwest, from an Ivy League school in New York to a film studio in California. Heck, it is even part of the nomenclature of a recording label, a line of sportswear and a space shuttle. Columbia is a New Latin term, based on the surname of an explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492. It means “Land of Columbus.”

The country famous for its coffee is spelled with an o. Colombia also derives its name from Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer. In Spanish, however, his name is Cristóbal Colón.

Both the city and the country germinated from the surname of the same person, but the city is spelled using the root of his anglicized name (Columbus) rather than its Spanish counterpart (Colón).

In short, sometimes it is spelled Columbia, and sometimes it is spelled Colombia. Never, however, is it spelled Cloumbia.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cleaning Up a Major Oil Spell

We drill for it. We fill our cars with it. We distill it in a, um, crude manner. We install filters for it. We mull over building pipelines to carry it. We call it black gold, informally. We spill it. In a nutshell, we do all sorts of –ll things to it. No bull. Oh, I forgot one: We misspell it. You know what it is.

Take dead organisms and add heat, pressure and time — lots of time — and you’ve got oil. Sometimes, however, you come across a sorry substitute. When that happens — every 3,000 miles, three months or four letters — you should change your oil.

That headline opener petro-fies me. The writer made like a large storage container for viscous liquid derived from petroleum and tanked.

It is my understanding that one should not rig oil with a fourth letter.

An initial l, like water, is vital for life, forms lakes and can be found in glaciers, but a second l, like water, doesn’t mix with oil.

Including two wasn’t a slick idea. I’m agitated. I’ll calm down, I’m sure, when oil is said and done.

So let’s get it done. Try removing the last letter.


We’ve struck oil.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Masquerading as a Word

Be yourself.

Screw that.

That advice, banal as it may be, is worth following 364 days of the year. But not today. Not on All Hallows' Eve. Put on (or take off) whatever you want, to be whoever (or whatever) you want to be. The possibilities are endless. Well, almost.

At the risk of upsetting the sensibilities of anyone in today's easily offended climate, I'd like to count down a half dozen costumes that need to be deep-sixed. Let's make like thin ice supporting a polar bear and get cracking.

This may have been clever the first time it was implemented (was that by Jim Halpert on The Office?), but no longer. It's lazy.

Avoid the white bed sheet with two eyeholes, which is as basic as basic gets. It's the costume equivalent of a college course called Introduction to Introductions. I'd love to see a ghost — just not this ghost.

Don't dress as you do in real life. If you're a surgeon, don't wear scrubs to the Halloween party. If you're a member of the Queen's Guard, forgo the red tunic and bearskin hat. If you're Aaron Judge, don't wear a Yankees uniform. You get the idea.

Getty Images

Don't paint "SOY BOMB" on your chest and attempt strange, robotic gyrations while the music plays. Don't walk around holding a bottle with "TIGER BLOOD" scribbled across a strip of masking tape. Don't wear a tux and pair it with a paper bag on your head that reads "I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE."

Axel Schmidt/AP

If you wear a yellow shirt, you're wearing ... a yellow shirt. It's not a costume. Don't claim to be a lemon. This same principle applies to purple shirts and grapes, green shirts and limes, and so on.

Pay no attention to the dog with the leafy hat and natty bow tie. Zero in on the penultimate line. That's where an error made like a ghost and manifested. T comes right before U in the alphabet — and in the word glaringly misspelled here.

Too bad, on this day of dress-up, the writer couldn't mask his costumes.