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Archive for the category “Words”

Word Nerd Confessions: January


I really like the time around New Year’s. Turning the calendar page, fresh start, anticipating what’s ahead, knowing that the midpoint of the school year has arrived and I’m ready to return for second semester.

It’s also a time I feel the need to tidy up: closets, projects, pantry, and my email gets a sound once over. This month’s feature of Word Nerd gets an extra dose of cleaning up. Some of these words have been lingering in the queue for over two years. Time to dust them off and send them out in the bright new year of 2019.

*This became the word one year in my AP Lit class. It found its way merrily into many an essay.

*I do so like this one. However, I feel a bit snooty when I insert it in a sentence.

*A personal favorite. I do so cringe when people say “a small, little”–it’s small or little. And don’t say “very unique” around me either. Yes, real estate blurbs are the worst offenders.

*footle and gleek must be pals

*As a child I remember a comic strip called “The Katzenjammer Kid’s”–they were naughty little trouble makers. Ah, they obviously caused their parents distress.

This word is supposedly obsolete, yet I think it could catch on once again. Bumper sticker stuff: Experience Esperance.

Well, my word closet is a bit less crowded. I hope you picked up a couple or a few new words to carry you into the new year.

Any favorites from the list? As for the usual challenge of creating a sentence with all the words (20!)? Only if you are up for it.

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Word Nerd Confessions: December


[somewhat hummed to Tannenbaum]

December. Oh, December. How colorful, your days are bright. With evergreen and flashy lights, your lengthy nights are cozy bright. December. Oh, December. Your passing will soon bring June.

Don’t get me wrong. December is fairly pleasant, considering all the snow that must be dealt with. Decorations, festivities, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Break. I like December much more than January. But that is next month. This month let’s focus on the bright, brilliant, and happy of the Christmas month.

And this last word is to bring in the new year…

Word Nerd Confessions: November


Fall has officially set up its presence. The aspen, birch, and maple trees disrobed within a week’s span with the help of couple of brisk windstorms. Temperatures hover around freezing, and the sun offers minimal light with little warmth and disappears shortly around 4 pm. The preparation for winter is underway. The Hubs threatens to put on the snow tires since black ice is fact of life not to be ignored. I understand his concern, but snow tires seems to invite or acknowledge snow. We already had a flurry of snow that had the grace to be embarrassed enough by its early arrival and leave by the next afternoon.

This month’s words reflect my ambivalence towards fall: do I mourn the passing of summer or prepare for winter with my usual reluctance? Or do I just accept it knowing spring is not that far away?

So–how do you feel about fall?

DOWO: The “C” List


Onward we travel into the Dictionary of Word Origins, adventuring in the land of “C.”

What is the phrase “carte blanche” all about?

It once was the custom for officials, or personage of importance, to provide a trusted subordinate with blank paper with their signature. These signed documents could then be used as necessary. “White paper” doesn’t quite sound as impressive as the French translation carte blanche. “Just sign here,” takes on another meaning.


Why is the feline in Alice in Wonderland known as a Cheshire cat?

Alice probably didn’t realize that the cat she came to know in her dreamy adventure was sporting a grin that emulated the cheeses sold in the Irish Cheshire Country. These cheeses were molded to look like cats with very wide grins. Hmm, think there is a connection between Cheshire cats and why we say “cheese” tight before our picture is taken?

Image: pngmart.com

Why is something that is a hint called a “clue?”

In middle English a ball of thread was known as a “clew” or “clue” and when applied to the story of Theseus, the way out of the maze was how he followed an unrolled ball of thread. Hint, hint the thread of logic is quite clear here in this story of how he unraveled his escape plan. Then again, what if the Minotaur was smarter?

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How is a disappointed person “crestfallen?”

Roosters carry into a fight their bright red coxcomb or crests upright, signaling their readiness and awareness The losing rooster runs from the fight with a drooping crest. Not having seen a rooster fight (or having a desire to do so) I remain a wee bit skeptical on this one.

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What is meant to “curry favor?”

In Middle English “horse ” is  favel, and to “curry” a horse is to groom it with a special comb. The results are usually a sleek looking horse. The idea here is for someone who hopes to makes a impression will do something noticeable like a groom hoping to catch his master’s attention might curry the favel. Sometimes the attempt is quite obvious.

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The Challenge: Can you create a sentence with the above sayings? Give it a try…Or at least one saying:

Word Nerd Confessions: October


No sooner than I share out some of my treasured lexicon than they multiple whilst my back is turned. Scamperous little verbiage. Well, let’s shake out their nest and see what we can find:

bravura

When we jump out and wildly applaud the artist shouldn’t we be shouting “bravura” instead of “bravo”? Hmm, needs investigating…

plantigrade

I didn’t realize we had this in common with bears.

pellucid

Okay, next excellent essay I grade shall have the distinction of “pellucid”–that should rock the writer…

turophile

Cheese, Grommit.

stanchless

Oh, yes. This perfectly describes the high school hallway conversations between classes.

scrutator

I can see why this one is not in popular use.

sennight

Nope. Never heard of this one. Fortnight, yes. Sennight nope. Does the senate meet in a sennight?

 

DOWOs: the “B” list


If new to DOWO, it stands for Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond, which is a new source for exploring all those words, expressions, idioms, and clichés that abound in our language having thoroughly explored our previous source Why We Say.

If you were here last month around the fifteenth, you know we have already covered the “A” list. We are now off exploring the “B” list:

Why is the four year degree called a “bachelor’s” degree?

Originally a bachelor was a soldier, a man neither old enough or wealthy enough to lead into battle under his own banner, and was considered to be inferior in status. When colleges became more popular, to distinguish between the levels of study and awarded degrees, “bachelor” was the indicated inferior to that of “doctor.”

No mention of how “master” came to be, and it is of note that a “master” is lower than a”doctor” designation, yet “master” does carry more significance than a “mister” status.

How did “taking the back seat” come to mean taking a lesser position?

British Parliment dictates that those members of the majority part take the front seats while those in minority are relegated to the back, or are told to do so. In case you are wondering if it is “back seat” or “backseat” here is the discussion:

Where did the term “bankrupt”come from?

In Italy money-changers placed money available to loan on a banca or bench. If unable to continue in business, the bench would be broken or banca  rotta. The broken bench became synonymous with the broken money lender and both were banca rotta or “bankrupt.”

What is a “bare-face lie?”


To tell a lie without having show your face is much easier than having to face someone and tell a lie, as in trying to keep a straight face while communicating a big fat fib.

Why is an airship called a “blimp?”

It was almost called “A-limp.” In 1914 England began testing airships, and of the two designs the “B-limp” rose to usage. Why “limp?” It was non-rigid–but you guessed that right?

What is meant by “once in a blue moon?”


Blue moons supposedly never happen, which was the original saying. However, moons can appear blue when seen through volcanic explosion ash, so maybe, just maybe a blue can be seen–but just barely. They are fairly rare and their appearance may only happen once in a person’s lifetime.

Why does a person “bone up” for exams?

The Bohn publishing printed up study aids for students which were referred to as a “Bohn up” later becoming a “bone up” as a play on “bonehead” meaning a person who wasn’t smart (because you must have a thick skull and no brains if you need extra help studying).

What is meant by “getting down to brass tacks?”

In early England draper shops the draper placed brass tacks along the counter to aid in measuring off material. When a customer was ready to purchase cloth the draper would get the desired stock down to the brass tacks to measure off and complete the transaction.

Where did the term “bus boy” come from?


The Latin term omnibus means “for all.” An “omnibus boy” was a lad who did a bit of everything, and it became shortened to “bus boy.”

Which saying totally made your day, tweaked your paradigm, or prompted you to immediately want to run out and share with someone?

DOWOs: the “A” list


Having expended all the interesting expressions found in Why We Say, and not wanting to disappoint fans, I have found another source for expressions origins, which is appropriately titled Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions, and Cliches We Use by Jordan Almond. For posting purposes DOWO shall suffice.

I have been merrily marking choice entries to share. Look for new DOWOs around the 15th of each month.

Let’s start off with a few “A” list entries:

Why does “A-1” mean the very best?

London Marine insurance firms created a registry of ships and their cargo designating the condition through alpha/numeric sequence. An “A” rating meant the ship was perfect, and a “1” meant the cargo was perfect.

So if you are “A 1” it might be safe to say you are ship shape [you will just have to wait patiently for that reference].

What is meant if something or someone is found to be “above board?”

Dishonest gamblers and magicians (not that they are considered dishonest) often create their tricks or sleight of hand out of sight underneath the table or board. What can’t be seen can’t be trusted, which means if all is performed out in the open it is “above board.”

Performing his card tricks in front of the appreciative crowd, the magician was flushed with his success of dazzling them all with his above board feats of card sharpery.

What is an “Adam’s apple?”

Going back to the Garden of Eden we find Eve offering Adam fruit, which is traditionally thought to be an apple. Maybe being caught by God snacking where they weren’t supposed to caused Adam to choke on his apple bite, thus that bit of stuck fruit is referenced as “Adam’s apple.”

So did Eve swallow hers first or did she not take a bite? Hmm…

Why does “alcohol” mean “spirits?”

Actually “alcohol” means “eye paint.” Both Egyptians and Arabians prepared a black powder to paint eyelids which in Arabic is called al koh’l. Eventually the process of extracting the essence of product from the vine through a charcoal filter became known as “alcohol.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

What is meant by “running amuck?”

This has nothing to do with gallivanting around in a mud puddle. In Malay, where the phrase originated, it meant someone under the influence of opium or other stimulants would become so excited they would rush around in a dagger-led frenzy stabbing people and yelling “Amoq! Amoq!” or “Kill! Kill!!”

I, for one, will think twice before attributing this description. Especially to emus.

Word Nerd Confessions: July


I do indeed love words. Discovering a new-to-me word makes my day shine a bit brighter. I store that word away, like a hamster discovering a tasty morsel, I grab it up and stuff it in my little pouch for later. And what’s so cool, is how that word pops out out of my pouch unexpectedly in the right place, in the right way. Well, mostly. I tend to suffer from cacoepy–that’s another post in of itself.

I have been storing up words ever so long I need to do something with them. They are absolutely stacking up and creating a bit of dilemma of storage. My plan is to trot out a few choice words each month. If you have a word to share, please do.

armamentarium

I long to use this word, yet fear my tongue would trip dramatically over its pronunciation.

flexitarian

This is me! I’m thoroughly perplexed by all the varieties of eating preferences these days, not relating to locavore, vegan, and such–but veggies with a tad of animal (just a tad) is fine and dandy.

transmundane

As a Who-ligan, I can relate to going where no person has gone before. Warm up the tardis, Doc.

benedict

Are you kidding me? Do people know about this one? Did they tease Cumberbatch when he got married?

Why We Say: #35 (finale)


Alas–we have come to the last page of Why We Say. Over the past couple of years I trotted out some of the odd little expressions we say enhanced by the odd little explanations of this odd little book published in 1953. Some of the explanations were as amusing of the featured expressions.

And so, the last four entries consist of:

Worsted

While worsted sounds like a judgmental critique, it’s actually a material, a fabric made from wool and is used in tailored garments such as suits, carpets, gloves, and other clothing. It is known for its ability to be resilient and recovery well, meaning durability and wrinkle-resistant. We may not go around speaking great volumes about worsted, it is notable that it is actually the name of the town it originated from: Worstead, England. Incidentally, the archaic reference of worsted is “stuff.” I wonder if the Right Stuff  meant NASA space suits were wool.

 

Yankee
Here are some theories about this word that is a slang reference to Americans:
1. It is derived from “yonokie” which is supposedly Indian (tribe not designated) for “silent” and this would be a bit of  joke since the English were considered quite talkative.
2. Another theory is that “yankee” comes from “yengee” a form of “English” or “Anglais.”
3. There is also the thought it is a corruption of “Jannee” which is a form of John in Dutch, since many settlers in the New York area were of Dutch origin.

Researching to verify the theories proposed by Why We Say leads to the conclusion no one really knows how and where the saying originated.  If you know, drop me a comment. In the mean time, enjoy this cartoon:

Yellow (as in coward)
To be yellow is to be associated with being a coward, or to be weak. We look to France for one source, which claims the doorways of traitors were painted yellow. (Yikes, I once painted our house yellow. Whatever did our neighbors think?). Another source says Spain because those being executed for treason were given robes of yellow. (No yellow robes in my wardrobe).

I associate the expression “yellow-bellied” with Yosemite Sam. Alas, I could not find a clip where he utters the phrase “Why, you yellow-bellied coward!” but I did find one where he dances and thought that merited a post.

 

It’s been a fun run with this feature. Not wanting to disappoint followers and fans, I have found another source. Stay tuned…

 

 

Why We Say #30: torture, tickling, and toeing the line


 

“This is my lucky day!”

Finding some extra cash, just when a bill is due. Getting that perfect parking spot when running late. Hearing that number called out, the one that matches your ticket stub–these and more examples make someone shout out: “This is my lucky day!”

Surprisingly enough, Napoleon started this expression. He isn’t generally known for his luck. After his defeat, it was discovered he owned a book listing lucky and unlucky days for starting battles. Maybe he got his days mixed up for Waterloo, which has its own expression: “I met my Waterloo,” meaning I met my undoing.

 

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image: Wikipedia

Through Fire and Water

“I’m telling the truth–so help me, I am. I’d go through fire and water to prove it.” Heard those words before?

Lying can definitely have its consequences. Telling lies back in Olde England had mortal consequences. If thought to be untruthful, a person could be given two tests. The first involved walking over nine red-hot plowshares. If there still remained some doubt after hot-footing it, then a person would be bound up and dumped in the river. If the person survived the drowning by untying all the binding then he or she had to be telling the truth, since surviving fire and water has to be through Providence.

Tickled to Death

“Well, I’d be tickled to death to house sit your place for a week and take care of your plants and three dogs.” This particular expression alludes to being so pleased that it’s an absolute delight. And be delighted to the point of laughter is pleasant. Who doesn’t want to laugh? Laughing is great fun, right? Then again sometimes what makes us laugh can also be painful.

Tickling, that paradox of pain that makes us laugh, was once considered a form of Chinese torture. The victim would be tickled without mercy. That’s right, dying from laughter. When a person says he or she is tickled to death, maybe second thoughts of what they are really saying should be under consideration.

Image result for tickled to death

image: Etsy

Toeing the Line

This might be a regional expression or one that is outright too old-fashioned to mention, but I do say it or hear it from time to time. Letting someone know he or she needs to get things just right and not go beyond expected boundaries makes sense when applying this saying as it derives from when boxers had to step up to a designated mark on the floor as they faced up before fighting each other. Not that I expect to knock anyone out, but I do appreciate everyone that know where things stand. Hmm, is that like drawing a line in the sand? Gotta look that one up.

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