The Vocabula Review

April 2008, Vol. 10, No. 4 Friday, December 19, 2014


Letters to the Editor
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The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to editor@vocabula.com. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.

Praise and Criticism


An excellent piece! However, guerrilla is spelled incorrectly (twice, so no accident). (OK, OK, there are respectable sources that claim "guerilla is an acceptable variant." There are also respectable sources that claim "infer" is acceptable when you mean "imply." Balderdash. I am not a prescriptivist, but there are limits.)

Also, as guerrilla is a diminutive of the Spanish guerra, war, there seems no reason to assume (as the author does) that the word passed through French on its way to Spanish — especially since guerra is also the word for war in Italian.

The American Heritage Dictionary vaguely attributes the word to "Germanic origin." But irrespective of the word's long journey from Indo-European, I would think the likely immediate source is the Latin bellum gerere, to wage war.

Keep up the great work!

Dave Appling

In his article The Folk Art of Error in the March edition of Vocabula, Professor Battistella certainly illustrates his title by telling readers that the totally Spanish word guerrilla is French.

If one is going to pontificate, it always helps to insure that pontifical knowledge is available to one.

Guerra is the Spanish word for war; its most familiar diminutive is guerrilla whose prime meaning is "little war."

Its secondary meaning in English is a warrior engaged in guerrilla tactics.

The French word for war, guerre, like its Spanish cognate, does derive from the same word, Norman French werre.

By the way, the same root gives us our English word war.

Around 1050 CE, modern English war was spelled wyrre and werre. All these forms descend from an Old High German verb werran, "to cause unrest."

Professor Battistella must be docked 5 marks for careless error.

Bill Casselman

Other Observations


My sister and her partner are having an argument over the following: "To piss in your pants" or "To piss your pants." I've seen both but prefer the use of the preposition. What's your verdict?

A. David Wunsch

RHF replies: I hate the word p-i-s-s; not altogether sure why, but I do. But I, too, would — were I ever to say or even think the phrase — use the preposition; good personal hygiene demands it.


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