Globe Insiders

To grammar’s house

Wait, there’s a word for that?

People walk over a world map engraved in marble in Lisbon September 14, 2011
Jose Manuel Ribeiro/REUTERS/File
What are those invisible lines between countries called again?

“To Grammar’s House” is a regular column by the Boston Globe copy desk on the style and language used in the newspaper.

When you work on a news copy desk, you read a lot of new stories every night. Because of the volume, there’s always bound to be a certain number of errors, misspellings, and grammatical problems. And then occasionally, there’s just something downright bizarre.

In the aftermath of Moammar Khadafy’s death, his family and advisers were fleeing all over the place, mostly heading for other countries. One story that came across the news wire described it this way:

The adviser said that Khadafy’s hunted son, Seif al-Islam, was also on his way to Mali, traveling across the invisible line separating Algeria from Niger.

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It’s too bad there isn’t a word in the English for these invisible boundaries. Wait, there is?

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Of course there is. We changed it to something like “the Algeria-Niger border.”

This got me to thinking about other strange ways to refer to common things. Here’s a few we came up with on the desk, both actually found in copy and imagined. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Ink-to-word conversion device — Pen

Spike-tipped orbs — Acorns

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Woody tree extension — Tree branch

Assistive climbing mechanism — Ladder

Elongated yellow fruit — Banana

Modesty-preserving fabric coverings — Clothing

Modesty-defying fabric coverings — Teenage daughter’s clothing

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Manmade surface to speed transportation — Road

Grid of numbers to track the year — Calendar

Invisible gas that surrounds us all the time — Air