Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “language”

Word Nerd Confessions: Random Exploration


Instead of a theme-oriented post I thought I pull out at random what I have collected over the last couple of months. Hope you find a few you can use.

  1. furphy: a false report; rumor

2. mellifluous: flowing with honey; sweetened with or as if with honey

3. yare: quick; agile; lively

4. desideraturm: something wanted or needed

5. supercilious: haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression

6. mal du pays: homesickness

7. perfervid: very fervent; extremely ardent; impassioned

8. garboil: confusion

9. lagniappe: a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus

10. friable: easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly

Ten words that can zip up the most mundane of conversations. Think of the possibilities.

“He seemed to enjoy the lagniappe he received for spending so much money in the store.”

Word Nerd: Special Edition


Girandole: a spinning, rotating firework

Happy Fourth of July!

May you go Fourth and sparkle!

Bard Bits: Overcoming Shakespism


Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?

That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.

How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?

First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.

Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.

And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.

My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.

I can hope.

Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.

Why We Say: from Villain to Windfall


Villains are the bad guys, right? During medieval times when manor houses were kept by feudal lords villains referred to “one attached to the villa” or the manor house. Now a lord, the one who owns the manor house would or should be considered a good guy, right? Wealthy, taking part in civic responsibilities, watching over the land, helping the poor and needy. Apparently not all lords were good guys and villain took on the meaning of bad guy.

Villain - Wikipedia
“Mwah ha ha”

Go to a library and there will be volumes of books just waiting to be read. By why call them volumes? In ancient times books were written on sheets of paper and then rolled up, much like a window shade is rolled up. Ah–“volume” is derived from the Latin volvere meaning “to roll up.” Next time you are feeling the need to read roll up with a volume in your favorite reading spot.

Volume (bibliography) - Wikipedia
Books? Volumes (go for the erudite)

Feeling the last attempt to succeed was a wash out? Thank the nineteenth century British soldiers for this term alluding to failure. As the soldiers practiced their marksmanship by shooting at targets, bad shots were erased by painting over the targets with whitewash. A “wash out” took on the meaning of failure or disappointment.

GAMO PAPER TARGETS, 100 PACK - Walmart.com - Walmart.com
Sometimes our best shot needs a redo

No one wants to be the wet blanket, especially at a party. But why a wet blanket? Well, a wet blanket puts out a fire and a person who is not into the fun zone essentially puts out the good times at a gathering.

More 100 Wet blanket Synonyms. Similar words for Wet blanket.
Wet Blanket goes by other terms, too

Ever go on a wild goose chase? There is no real winner, but it was once considered a game. Riders would follow the lead rider with all the riders following like geese in flight. The leader set the pace and each rider had to follow and repeat the rider’s actions accurately. The game was a chase with no winner which ends up as a wild run with no true outcome.

A Wild Goose Chase!: Morris, Lynne, Morris, Lynne: 9781953177056:  Amazon.com: Books
No doubt there are plenty of variations

Villains, wash outs, wild goose chases–time for a positive saying. How about receiving an unexpected bit of good fortune, such as a windfall? In Old English days people were required to leave the forest timber for the Royal Navy; however, if any trees were felled by the wind they could gather up the storm’s leavings. There you go–bad weather can bring good tidings.

windfall - definition and meaning
When the wind falls a tree does someone yell “timber?”

Which sayings were a surprise to you in their original form?

Word Nerds: Contronyms


I was quite chuffed, having received quite a positive response from my Kangaroo Words post.

And there it was—another strange lexiconical usage of a word. You see “chuffed” (British slang) can mean one is pleased or displeased. It becomes its own antonym. These words are known as “contronyms.”

Here’s a list to get a better idea:

bolt – to secure; to run away

cleave – separate, adhere

clip – fasten, detach

custom- usual, special

dust – add fine particles, remove fine particles

enjoin – prescribe, prohibit

fast – quick, unmoving

fix – restore, castrate

garnish – enhance (e.g., food), curtail (e.g., wages)

give out – produce, stop production

handicap – advantage, disadvantage

left – remaining, departed from

mean – average, excellent (e.g., “plays a mean game”)

out – visible (e.g., stars), invisible (e.g., lights)

put out – extinguish, generate (e.g., something putting out light)

quite – rather, completely

ravel – tangle, disentangle

sanction – approve, boycott

screen – show, hide

table – propose (in the United Kingdom), set aside (in the United States)

unbending – rigid, relaxing

weather – withstand, wear away

Talk about shades of ambiguity! Then again it keeps people on their toes to pay closer attention to the context to better understand the content.

Bard Bits: Seasonal Sonnet


I tend to inundate my students with Shakespeare’s sonnets as part of our poetry unit. For one, sonnets often show up on the AP exam. For another, Shakespeare knows how to rock the sonnet. He saw what Petrarch has done with the Italian sonnet, smoothed and improved it to the point where he owns it. When someone says “sonnet” Shakespeare is what comes to mind. He tended towards taking what someone else had created and reshaped it so that it was his claim. It wasn’t plagiarism then, only genius.

This month’s Bard Bits recognizes how Shakespeare mastered the metaphor. Many of his sonnets dealt with aging out and Sonnet 73 captures the autumnal drift into winter with thoughtful reflection.

Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Captured this photo yesterday. Mehap’s I render this to be a new season:
Finter—when the trees have not shed their leaves before the first snow falls

Why We Say: from Pleased as Punch to Rule of Thumb


As we progress through our sayings and expressions it becomes clear that some of these truly make sense and others are needing to be shelved forever in the vault of forgotten. For example:

Pleased as Punch: Punch and Judy shows were once upon a time (supposedly) funny little puppet theatres where Punch, the male protagonist, after a bit of schtick ends up whacking Judy, the female lead with a stick and felt quite pleased about the outcome. Umm, not politically, socially, ethically correct. Then again, some have problems with Bugs Bunny humor, but we don’t say Pleased as a Bunny, so we won’t go there.

Point Blank: the center of a French target was once white or blanc. In order to hit the bullseye a person had aim directly at the target, so to hit the “point blanc” one had to be direct without missing or be right in front of the target in order to hit the coveted mid mark.

Pop Goes the Weasel: not the most popular song these days, but perhaps the line “That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel
will ring a bell. I remember my jack-in-the box used to play that tune and then “POP” out came Jack, usually surprising us and eliciting a shriek of laughter. The weasel in these case is not the chicken rustler critter but it is the slang for pocketbook. Then again if you listen to the song, the critter does take precedence over the pocketbook. It is a strange little ditty.

Anyone know this tune?

Pulling One’s Leg: This one makes sense. In order to trip someone up, a person might pull on their trouser or actual leg to see them stumble. This is supposed to be hilarious. Causing harm to others is traditionally funny. See the above for how funny Punch and Judy shows are.

Quack: Why are medical practitioners of dubious ability referred to as “quacks”? Not because a person is referring to their remedies as being “ducky” or wonderful in a sarcastic way, it’s a reference to the Dutch word kwakzalver which refers to salves. “Quack” is an abbreviation and also refers to the noise a person makes touting the benefits loudly, just as a duck makes a big noise for its small size.

Rhyme or Reason: If something does not make sense, the saying, “There is no rhyme or reason” might pop up. This refers to how poems, even though they might always be clear in meaning will most likely have rhyme or at least some meaning be derived from studying it. To lack rhyme or reason means the situation is fairly confusing. My AP students will undoubtedly relate to this saying when we get to our poetry unit.

Rule of Thumb: If measuring comes into the conversation and someone mentions “rule of thumb” then be aware that the measurement refers to the thumb’s first joint which is supposed to be an inch. I don’t know about you, but that surprised me–now I want to start measuring thumb joints.

A Better "Rule of Thumb" For Insurance? - The Free Financial Advisor
Are all thumb joints equal?

That leads up up to the “S” category and soon we will be through with Jordan Almond’s Dictionary of Word Origins. If you have enjoyed this monthly feature, let me know in the comments and I will scout out another book and keep plying your brains with unnecessary but interesting trivia of why we say why we say.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: