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Words, Aug. 19

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A reader asks the origin of not all its cracked up to be, meaning "It's disappointing, it doesn't live up to its reputation," as in "Reality is not all it's cracked up to be."

According to American Heritage, crack up was used to mean "to praise" in the early 19th century. The usage survives today only in not all (or not what) it's cracked up to be.

'Tain't Nobody's Business:

"The complex story of a 52-year-old gay professor who struggles with life after the sudden death of his longtime partner comes to the big screen tainted with raw emotion and stunning performances."

Tainted? Those performances must be stunningly bad.

Dailey Parker writes:

"When I hit the 'mute' button on my remote, the TV goes quiet, but the word 'muting' doesn't appear on the screen like it used to. Instead, the word that appears is 'sourdine'. What does that mean? What's going on here?"

Sounds like your TV is bilingual. Apparently sourdine is, or is derived from, an Italian musical term for "mute." As to why your TV should start speaking Italian to you at this point, I can't say. Be thankful it wasn't Finnish, or Javanese. I don't have dictionaries for those.

Fish favor water:

"Study: Wall Street favors GOP."

There's a study that didn't take long. I wonder if somebody got a grant for that.

Baptists big for britches:

"We're seeing people come who probably wouldn't come [with Baptist in the name]," Jones said. "We're busting out of the seams. It's amazing."

As we've noted before, there are no real rules for choosing prepositions in cases like this. You just have to know which one is preferred, a knowledge usually acquired through extensive reading, although some dictionaries provide guidance on prepositions. Here, "busting out at the seams," is correct.

June, however, busts neither out of or out at. She busts out all over.

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