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Loan me your ears

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"But a couple of weeks ago, Bank of America decided not to loan Abrams the money she needs to buy the $120,000 house."

Lara Penn writes: "I was taught in school that loan was a noun and not a verb. Is the Arkansas Times promoting some new kind of Obamatalk?"

I don't know the president's position on loan v. lend. Or Newt's or Mitt's, for that matter. I guess we'll find out during the debates.

I personally agree with Success With Words: "The use of loan as a verb is well established and can't be classed as an error. But lend is still preferable."

Feeling a little out of whack, Stanley Johnson started wondering if it's possible to be in whack. He writes that "When I turned to my dictionaries I encountered a certain amount of unhelpful circularity. ..." Circularization is one of the dangers of looking things up, and if it can happen to Mr. Johnson it can happen to anybody. (A confession: I'm always a little intimidated by letters from Mr. Johnson, as he clearly knows more about words than I do. I'm trying to keep this a secret from the editor, so don't anybody mention it. He'll never see it here.)

Random House says that out of whack is an informal term for "not in proper condition," but we already knew that. RH is unhelpful as to where the expression comes from. The Word Detective says the verb whack first appeared in the early 18th century, meaning "to strike sharply" and was probably formed in imitation of the sound such an action would make. For reasons unclear, whack came to mean also "a fair share." Still later, and still murkily, "in fine whack" came to mean "in good order." And then the positive sense was driven out by its opposite, "out of whack." The "half-empty" perspective won out, apparently, and "half-full" retired from the field. There's no reason one couldn't bring it back, couldn't declare that one felt in full whack, except that people would look at one funny.

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