This exchange is usually related to someone feeling a bit ill, and someone noticing it. Why “under the weather” not “in the weather” or even “weathering through it?” The idea goes back to the situation of when a new recruit on a ship gets seasick. Hanging out and over the rail can involve facing the wind, so it makes sense to get out of the wind by crouching under the bulwarks or getting under the weather. Perhaps the next time you’re feeling queasy consider ducking down and nodding your head “yes.”
Up to Scratch
Who would have thought meeting someone’s expectations would have developed from not throwing a punch too soon. In older prize fighting days a line was marked on the ground and the fighters met there. However, if either one stepped over the line they would be disqualified since they were expected to meet up to the scratch.
Up to Snuff
Speaking of being up to scratch, there is also being up to snuff–no fighting involved. This saying stems from how the sense of smell is one of our most sensitive senses. Think about when you have a cold, the sense of smell is dampened. Therefore, if someone is feeling well then it means they can sniff well or is that they are up to snuffing.
They say upper society is the upper crust. Crust of what? Bread. At that time in history the best part of the bread was the crust, so those of the upper class could afford the best, especially bread. And if the best of the bread is the top part of the bread then the upper class, the top of society is the upper crust.
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.”
Some say (including the hubs) “nerd” is derogatory. I’m of the opinion a nerd is less of an insult and more of an endearment, or at least an acknowledgement of pursuing a passion with zeal, that others might not embrace. For instance, the movie The Nutty Professor, had the singular inventor trying to prove his “flubber” invention. Deemed eccentric, the professor for all his nerdy qualities became a hero. All those computer geniuses (now CEOs and billionaires) were no doubt shuffled into the nerd nomenclature in their tinkering phase. I see “nerd” as an alternate spelling of “clever,” besides the assonance of “Word Nerd” is cool sounding.
Onward to this month’s batch of words—although if you want to jump in with your thoughts about nerds, I am much interested.
1. bight: a bend in the river or the shore of the sea.
2. limb: to portray with words; describe.
3. comity: mutual courtesy; civility
4. sobriquet: nickname
5. epizeuxis: a literary or rhetorical device that appeals to or invokes the reader’s or listener’s emotions through the repetition of words in quick succession. An example:
6. inanition: lack of vigor, lethargy
7. juberous: uncertain; undecided;dubious
8. aroint: begone as in “Aroint thy, scalawag!”
9. legerity: physical or mental quickness; agility
10. doddle: something easily done. Fixing the flat tire wasn’t a problem at all—it was a doddle.
11. blatherskite: someone given to empty talk.
12. spang: directly; exactly
13. butyraceous: containing or resembling butter.
14. cachinnate: to laugh loudly or immoderately.
15. illation: an inference; a conclusion
16. totis viribus: with all one’s might
17. ambivert: a person between an extrovert and an introvert*
18. caduceus: dropping off early as in The leaves were noticed to have a caduceus departure this autumn.
19. mardy: grumpy, sulky
20. clement: mild in disposition; compassionate
*this word, ambivert, solves the puzzle of designation. A few within my circle have often contemplated how to most accurately describe our situation of being known as social, even boisterous, yet reluctant at joining large gatherings. Suggestions have included “high-functioning introvert” or “gregarious hermit.” The classification of “ambivert” seems acceptable, although the desire to write with either my left of right hand suddenly becomes immediate.
What words leapt out at you as keepers this month?
May I get personal? An ambivert perhaps you are? (Yoda syntax is less intrusive)
As we close up the “S” section of Why We Say certain phrases there will be found some interesting sayings to explore.
Spitting Image: When someone says, “He’s the spittin’ image of…” there is an understanding the reference is the two people are very similar in appearance. In fact, there is such a remblance that their “spit” is alike. This might stem from how sons wanting to resemble their fathers would act like them, right down to “spittin'” like Dad.
Spruce Up: To “spruce up” indicates someone is changing their clothes, their appearance for the better. “Spruce” means “like the Prussians,” which comes from the French word for Prussia, Prusse.” To “spruce up” then, is to dress like a Prussian.
Stamping Ground: Sometimes known as “stomping ground,” the term refers to a known, familiar area, where people congregate. In actuality, animals, such as deer, that gather in familiar areas, do so often enough to leave the imprints of their stamping hooves, creating a stamping or stomping ground.
Steal One’s Thunder: Nope, this is not about Thor or his hammer. This is about Dennis the playwright, who in 1700 invented a machine that duplicated the sound of thunder. This was no doubt handy for plays needing some celestial angst. Unfortunately, the machine proved so successful that others coveted it, essentially “stealing his thunder.” Today, taking one’s due away is like taking away their ability to make some noise about themselves. Just ask Thor about when Loki took his thunder away.
Stickler: Familiar with Rabbit from Winnie-the-Pooh and how he is a bit of a fussbudget about getting it all exactly right? He would be considered a stickler. In Middle English stightlen means “to set in order.” Sticklers had the role of making sure all was set to rights at duels, that the rules were followed. Today, someone who is determined to make sure all is as it should be is a “stickler” for rules.
Stogie: Cigars, like them or despise them have come a long way from their first form. Stogies are from the Conestoga wagon, built in the Conestoga valley in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The wagon drivers would roll up tobacco leaves and roll them up to smoke when on long trips. Conestoga is a bit of a mouthful, so it became shortened to “stogie.”
Stumped: Can’t figure it out? Don’t have an answer? You might be stumped. If you are stumped, you are outwitted. If you are playing cricket you would be the pitcher having succeeded in hitting the wicket or “stump,” thus outwitting the batter.
Traditionally the month of September signifies the end of summer vacation and the return to school. September 2020 is the year of trying to attempting to educate during a pandemic. This month’s list seems to reflect an opinion on that essential issue. It’s indeed peculiar how the words happened to line up in this theme.
barmecidal: giving only the illusion of plenty
operose: done with or involving much labor
elide: to suppress; omit; pass over
slubber: to perform hastily or carelessly
outre: passing the bounds of what is usual or considered proper; unconventional; bizarre
horripilation: a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear; goose bumps
strepitous: boisterous; noisy
chutzpah: audacity; nerve
peripeteia: a sudden turn of events
mythomane: a person with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating
fettle: state; condition
blench: to shrink; flinch
cacoethes: an irresistible urge; mania
moil: to work hard; drudge
muzz: to confuse (someone)
moue: a pouting grimace
fardel: a bundle; a burden
succedaneum: a substitute
lassitude: weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate; lack of energy; listlessness
stonking: used to emphasize something remarkable, exciting, or very large (thanks to Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews inspiring use)
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.
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.
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.
Affect or effect? Is it all right or alright? Was it a blatant or flagrant mistake?
Using the right word correctly is part art and part science. Knowing the word’s definitions is a start.
Affect: transitive verb 1. simulate, as in “He affected a suave demeanor with his knowledge of lexicon usage.” 2. to show a liking for, as in “She affects huckleberry gelato.” 3. to tend by nature, as in “We read how the weather affects health.”4. to imitate or copy: “Spenser, in affecting the ancients, writ no language (Ben Jonson, Timber) 5.to have an influence on as in “The rain affects the tourist economy.” 6. to attack or infect, as in “Pollen can affect allergies in spring.”
Affect: noun 1. feeling or emotion, as in “The music was selected for its thrill of affect.”2. obsolete
Now that affect is squared away, let’s get effect squared away:
Effect: noun 1. a result, as in “Every negative comment has a lasting effect on the final vote.” 2. influence, as in “The child’s laughter had an immediate effect on the crowd.” 3. advantage, as in “The teacher used the rainbow as a positive effect of the rainstorm.” 4. a scientific law 5. a condition on full force, as in “The hands free cell phone policy goes into effect July 1.” 6. creating an impression, as in “The tall ceiling effects the sense of dimension.” 7. basic meaning, as in “He said he would never return, or words to that effect.”
Why are affect and effect confused and misused? For one, they sound the same and are nearly spelled the same. However, affect is a primarily a verb, while effect is primarily a noun (it can be used as a verb as in producing a result: “The change is primarily effected by the mixing of breeds.”
No wonder there is confusion. Try to remember if it is an action (affect/verb) or a noun (effect), as in “The abundant harvest affected the workers in a way of relieving them of worry for the upcoming winter, which created an lasting effect of peace and assurance.”
Affect/effect is a major contender for the confused and misused category. Here are a few other entries:
All right/Alright. All right is the correct and accepted spelling, at least formally. Some confusion may arise since words like, altogether and already are in use and accepted, which seems to clear the usage of alright—but it’s not correct. We don’t say “meese” for the plural of moose because we say geese for the plural of goose.
Blatant/Flagrant. These are not interchangeable. Blatant means noisy or fail to hide while flagrant focuses on the intended wrongdoing. While blatant is often used to mean “obvious,” this is not an accepted usage. The sentence, “Sam admitted to his blatant lie” should be changed to “Sam admitted to his flagrant lie” since flagrant refers to being offensive rather than it being unpleasantly loud. Although if Sam screamed his lie at the top of his lungs maybe it is a case for being a blatantly flagrant fib.
Capital is the official recognized city government.
Capitol is a building where the state legislature convenes.
Complement completes, as in “The added mushrooms complements the stew ingredients.”
Compliment is to praise, as in “The diner complimented the chef’s ability to create a sumptuous lamb stew by adding mushrooms.
A council is an assembly of people who deliberate, while counsel is advice. I imagine those involved in the council receive counsel regarding their decisions.
Fewer/less. Ah, the quick checkout dilemma. Fewer is used when counting things, as in “There were fewer than five pizza slices.”Less is used in reference to mass of measurable content, as in “There is less than a quart of ice cream left.” So when at the grocery store and you are looking to quickly checkout with your handful of items, select the line that has the sign stating, “15 items or fewer.”
PET PEEVE ALERT
A. Hopefully it won’t rain on Saturday’s picnic.”
B. “It’s hoped it won’t rain on Saturday’s picnic.”
Which is the correct sentence? If you chose B you would please the lexiconical folk. If you selected A, you are among the majority. While A is most frequently used, it is not considered acceptable by grammarians—not really clear on why, but as in the way of most of our language. Note:once it becomes widely used it becomes accepted, just look at how “their” is now embraced as a singular pronoun instead of a plural one. I had to finally let my teacher red ink dry on that one.
Inflammable/flammable both mean easily ignited. Nonflammable indicates not being able to catch on fire. Don’t let the “in” prefix fool you.
Irregardless—don’t go there. This is a blunder. It might be a blend of irrespective and regardless but it is nonstandard, so walk away. Stay with regardless.
UPDATE: Webster’s Dictionary has acquiesced and has recently added irregardless to the dictionary—I wonder if usage or peer pressure is the deciding factor.
Lay/Lie. Quick and easy: lay is a transitive verb and takes a direct object (noun) (think what was laid)—“He laid the letter (what) on the desk.”
Lies is an intransitive verb and does not take a direct object, as in “Auntie lies down after working in the garden.” There is no noun, direct object—lie is the stated verb of action. *Sigh* I’m still working on this one.
PET PEEVE ALERT
“I could literally scream until I am red in the face the way people pop literally into their sentences.“
Nope. Literally used as an intensive is incorrect since it means to be taken in truth. If I screamed until my face turned red I best be heading to the ER for a possible heart attack commencing, because that is a fairly intense reaction. I should be using virtually or figuratively instead. The next time you hear a sentence like, “I laughed so hard I literally thought my insides would burst” I suggest one of the above substitutes or maybe a dust pan.
And last of all is the old favorite: A principle is a statement or belief of truth and a principal is the leader of the school—think of him as your pal, who wants to impart truths while you are at school.
Hopefully this cleared up some of the confusion; irregardless if I muddled up the explanations, I literally tried so hard to make it clear that my brains nearly fried.
I wouldn’t lay, um, lie about my intended affect on your attaining greater knowledge.
[Ha—Wordpress has yet to perfect their auto correct].
It’s been flung about how Shakespeare created around 1,700 words, some which we still use today, such as luggage, eyeball, and alligator. Unfortunately, many of the words used in Shakespeare’s time have changed meaning over time. And some of his words simply make no sense to our modern ears.
This month we shall partake in enjoying learning about words that are about words or using words.
1. conlang: an artificially constructed language used by a group of speakers, as opposed to one that has naturally evolved–for example Klingon.
2. linguaphile: a language and word lover.
3. polysemy: a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation. For example, cleave means to separate and it can mean bring together. [semantics can be tricky on polysemic words]
4. sesquipededalian: given to long words.
5. epiphonema: a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said.
6. contramine: a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings–let’s return to cleave, how it can mean “split” or “put together.”
7. breviloquent: speaking or expressed in a concise or terse style; brevity of speech.
8. quidnunc: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip; a gossip or busybody.
9. voluble: characterized by a ready and continuos flow of words.
10. lacuna: a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument.
Words about words. I love how sesquipededalian is the manifestation of its derivative. And what about quidnuc? Why doesn’t that one pop up more in more English village novels? I can’t help but be amused that breviloquent is not brief in formation. Definitely not a descriptive of Polonius. It’s also such a score to provide one exemplar twice, as in contramine and polysemy.