Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Words”

Word Nerds: November


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November is Thanksgiving month. I do relish Thanksgiving: food, friends, family and no huge commercial hype. Thanksgiving involves a banquet of good times, good food, good company. In connection with bounty I offer a cornucopia of words this month, a hodgepodge to feast upon. Enjoy!

hyetal: relating to rainfall

pococurante: indifferent

forgetive: creative; inventive

paraph: the flourish after one’s signature

flubdub: pretentious; putting on airs

congeries: a collection of parts in one mass

vitiate: to impair the quality of something; spoil

causerie: an informal chat or talk

improbity: a lack of morals or honesty; perseverance

arctophile: a collector of Teddy bears.

Image result for a collection of teddy bears

squiz: to peer at quickly and closely.

anodyne: anything that relieves pain or distress

kyoodle: to bark or yelp noisily or foolishly; yap

embosk: to hide amongst greenery

exoteric: commonplace; suitable to be communicated to the general public

Isn’t that a succulent succotash of wordage? Got your appetizers, main course and dessert all in one place. What do you propose dining upon?

Suggested Menu

Appetizer: “squiz” as in glancing over the table for particular favorites

Salad or Soup Course: “exoteric” so as to appeal to even the bland dietary needs of Aunt Polly

Main Course: “congeries” because they are in season and are filling without creating havoc digestion wise leaving room for dessert

Dessert: “paraph” since they are individual and provide a unique aftertaste

After dinner the following can be available:

Anodynes due to the kyoodling of Aunt Polly’s poodles which always vitiate the meal; however, one can endeavor to pococurante the noisome nonsense and savor the causerie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Word Nerd Confessions: October


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I might have mentioned it before that my heritage harkens back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since that discovery I have grown more aware of all that is Scottish. This month I favor words that have Scottish roots. I might have to dedicate a post to famous Scots. I do enjoy listening to David Tennant and his broguish wit.

Who has the knack for Scottish wit and bravado? The Doctor, of course.

grumphie: a pig

hooly: gently

sennachie: a storyteller

blellum: an indiscreet talker

atweel: surely

shavie: a trick or a prank

I’ve come across other Scottish words in my readings of authors such as D.E. Stevenson and Allan MacKinnon that leave me puzzled to the point of setting my book down and searching out its meaning.

One of the words that stumped me was “ken.” Sentences like, “I ken your meaning,” really threw me. Context sleuthing pointed me towards understanding, but I finally looked it up and got this from dictionary. com:

verb (used with object),  kenned or kent, ken·ning.

Chiefly Scot.

  1. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with (a person or thing).
  2. to understand or perceive (an idea or situation).

Scots Law. to acknowledge as heir; recognize by a judicial act.Archaic. to see; descry; recognize.

To “ken” something means to have a deeper understanding that just a mere acknowledgement. It’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well out of its cultural context–I ken that some words do better in their home language.

What Scottish words have you come across? Better yet, which of the above is one you are adopting? I’m leaning towards grumphie, as I do enjoy Guinea pigs. Then again, tossing out hooly at the right instance could be satisfying.

Why We Say: Oh, “G”


Why are jokes considered a “gag”?
The term is originally from the days (as is today) when actors would toss in an ad libbed line to throw another actor off his own lines. Often this change up in the script would stop the actor from talking as effectively as being gagged and silenced. Isn’t the hope there is a gag reel why we buy the DVD?

Why does someone “run the gamut” ?
“Gamma” is the last note on the Guido d’Arezzo music scale with “ut” representing the first note sung. If someone goes through the “gamut” they are basically going from one end to the other.

Image result for getting your goat expression
Don’t horse around with my goat…

What is meant by “getting someone’s goat”?
Apparently in the horse racing world a nervous horse in the gate can be calmed by the presence of a goat. Unscrupulous owners might try to turn the race towards their favor by taking their rival’s goat. That’s baaadd business.

How is “being on good footing” an indication of rank with someone?
During the reign of England’s King Henry VIII a person’s social standing could be measured by his shoe. Peasants typically wore small shoes, being insignificant on the grand scale of social importance. The closer to the king, the larger the shoe. Hmm, wasn’t Henry known to be of dubious sole and a heel?

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If the shoe fits?

Why do we call idle chatter “gossip”?
In earlier times godparents were called “God-sibbs” with “sibb” meaning “related.” Godparents were usually selected among distant relatives who, it is said, when they met at gatherings, such as christenings, were known to exchange news and tidbits. These idle chatter became associated with God-sibbs and slipped into “gossip.”

How did “guy” come into use?
The British expression “guy” refers to someone who is not respected from the revolutionary Guy Fawkes, who lead the 1605 Gunpowder plot. In America, the term comes from the circus reference to the “guy wire” the main wire that holds up the tent which meant refer to who is in charge when one asks for the “main guy.” Today “guy” is more or less a general term for people.

Well, “G” that’s it for this month for another round of Why We Say based on findings from the Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions, and Cliches We Use by Jordan Almond.

Word Nerd Confessions: August


August—I barely got to know July. August is the wind down month of summer. July is mostly vacationing and relaxing and reading and visiting–lots of ongoing “ing” things in July.

August whispers “school” a little bit louder as each calendar day flips by. I like school, teaching, my students–I just like summer vacation to last a bit longer.

This month’s words represent an assortment of ideas related to the last month of summer.

ken: knowledge, understanding, or cognizance; mental perceptions (I have a ken that school is starting sooner than later at this point of summer).

tub-thump: to promote something or express opinions vociferously (There are those who tub-thump whether school should start in August or in September).

velitation: a minor dispute or contest (See above concerning school start times).

grok: to understand thoroughly and intuitively (This is from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein–I grok that summer is special due to its ephemeral nature).

ferly: something unusual, strange, or causing wonder or terror (The August fair usually has a ferly–like those weird vegetables that show up in displays–you know, the zucchini that resembles Richard Nixon or the monstrously large rabbit in the 4H competition).

mump: to mumble; mutter (I’m trying not to mump about summer dissipating).

brontide: a rumbling noise heard occasionally in some parts of the world, probably caused by seismic activity (A brontide was reported last August on the 31 as families stampeded Walmart to purchase school supplies before started after Labor Day).

makebate: a person who causes contention or discord (Who wants to be the makebate who meets people in the store and says, “Only 9 days until our first staff meeting).

calescent: growing warm; increasing in heat (The first week of school usually produces calescent classrooms due to the school not bothering to install air conditioning because heat exhaustion helps retain information. At least that’s what the theory must have been when they built the school).

littoral: or or relating to the shore of a lake, sea, or ocean (This is not to be confused with “literally,” as in “I will literally be littoral, grabbing last minute beach time before school starts).

prima facie: plain or clear; self-evident; obvious (Yes, my denial of the inevitability of school starting soon smacks of prima facie realization).

ineluctable: incapable of being evaded; inescapable (The ineluctable red calender circles indicate the end of summer and the start of staff meetings).

fillip: anything that tends to rouse, excite, or revive; a stimulus (Labor Day weekend is definitely a fillip, in terms of celebrating one last weekend without grading essays).

rutilant: glowing or glittering with ruddy or golden light (those rutilant summer evenings after the last rays of the sun radiates through the trees–*sigh*).

totsiens: until we meet again; goodbye (See ya, summer–totsiens, for now).

And what summer-flavored word might have been your favorite? Pick two or three…

Why We Say: E batch


This month’s Why We Say is a batch fresh from the “E” section.

Eavesdropper

Going back to the Saxon days of England, a person could not build right to the property line since it was mandated that there needed to be space for the drip that rolled off the eaves. This became the “eavesdrip” and someone who leaned near the eavesdrip could hear what was being said in the next house, making them an “eavesdropper.” Maybe this is where the expression of being a “drip” originates from.

Electricity

What does amber have to do with electricity? Dr. William Gilbert, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s physician in 1601, decided to call the effect he produced when rubbing amber with a cloth “electric,” which comes from elecktron, Greek for amber. What this has to do with QEI, I’m not sure–it might be too shocking to conjecture.

Etiquette

Should you find yourself time traveling back to the royal court of France, you might be handed a card of instructions informing you how to behave. This card or ticket or estiquet eventually became “etiquette” or the rules of social behavior. So does one receive a ticket from the polite police if one does not follow the rules posted on the estiquet?

Bonus!

At no extra charge are a few specials from the F” chapter:

Farce

The Latin farcire means “to stuff” and the early religious plays often were stuffed with jokes and comedic scenes which led to humor that was obvious which came to be known as a “farce.”

Going Through Fire and Water

In early times people often had to prove themselves, usually their innocence, by going through some sort of trial. An example of going through fire was having to walk barefoot across hot coals or carrying a red-hot bar. A water test might involve sticking a hand in boiling water. Today, going through extremes, might feel like an endurance test of fire and water.

Fit as a Fiddle

Actually, this should be “fit as a fiddler.” Yeah, playing for a dance all night would take a bit of stamina.

(Old) Fogey

At one time the English word “foggy” meant “fat” or “moss-grown.” The Scotch transferred “foggy” into “fogey” to mean disrespect towards an old man who did not keep up with the times. I suppose moss can grow on a person who doesn’t keep up with change fast enough.

Need more fantabulous “F” sayings? Come back next month. I’ll even throw in some “G” selections.

Word Nerd Confessions: July


Summer is its own special time, especially July. It’s solidly summer: weather is warmish but not too uncomfortable, events are happening–outdoor concerts, craft fairs, and the like, the lake is tolerable not freezing, school is distant past and not a threat on the horizon.

July requires its own set of vocabulary:

serotinal:pertaining to or occurring in late summer (must be related to serotonin–that feel good chemical in our brain).

phub: to ignore (a person or one’s surroundings) when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device (I admit to phubbing when at the park or beach–tuning out people to cocoon in my little bubble of perceived solitude–is this a bad thing though?).

tzimmes: fuss; uproar; hullabaloo (when temps get too warm crankiness arrives and tzimmes is a fitting word).

ergophobia:an abnormal fear of work; an aversion to work (self explanatory).

benighted: intellectually or morally ignorant; unenlightened (unfortunately, there is evidence of this behavior when out and about during summer, especially seen at the beach–oh my–do my students who are life guards have interesting days).

paseo: slow, leisurely walk or stroll (summer evenings when the temp drops a tad and the sun has just disappeared on the horizon, a paseo along the boardwalk after dinner is a lovely way to start/end the evening).

craic: fun and entertainment, especially good conversation and company (often precededby the–English derived, as in “wisecrack”).

solitudinarian: a person who seeks solitude; recluse (me, that’s me–give me a hammock, a book, and a soft breeze and I’ll be a-phubbing for hours).

deracinate: to remove or destroy utterly; extirpate (related to above as in socializing?)

ariose: songlike (“The ariose breeze filtering through the stand of pines added an extra appreciation of the fine quality of this July day.”)

biophilia: a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life form (but not when they are benighted or phubbing).

sabulous: sandy or gritty (beach wear side effect)

cynosure: something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc. (blue lake, hot day)

pasquinade: a satire or lampoon, especially one posted in a public place (like Taming of the Shrew as a performance in the park–good times having Shakespeare as a summer performance).

joyance: joyous feeling; gladness (that overall summer mood)

hygge: adj.--cozy and comforting; noun–the feeling of cozy and comforting (some may associate this with winter, but being snug in a backyard hammock with a cool breeze playing about is indeed cozy and comforting).

petrichor: a distinctive scent produced by rainfall in dry earth (there is a word for that amazing smell right after the rain hits the hot sidewalk–word nerdiness points!)

Heiligenschein: the ring of light around the shadow cast by a person’s head, especially on a dewy sunlit lawn; halo (you know that photo, the one where you notice that strange glow around the person’s head -“whoa, I didn’t know you were an angel! Look at your halo!)

viator: wayfarer or traveler (got my bags packed and my ticket to go)

vade meecum: something a person carries about for frequent or regular use (a book, of course–summer is prime reading time).

So that’s a batch of summertime words. There are some fabulous ones that I’m determined to slip into casual conversation.

“I see you got your vade meecum ready.

“Wow! Smell that petrichor!”

“Yup, me and the hubs got our bags packed–we’re just a couple of viators ready to hit the road.”

“Nothing like a well-done pasquinade to get a person laughing.”

“These summer concerts have a certain cynosure about them, don’t they?”

What two words are you going to work into a conversation?

Why We Say: D-zone


Continuing on with the exploration of everyday words and phrases that may baffle, irritate, or even amaze us, is a selection from the “D” chapter of Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond.

Dessert

We save the last course of a meal as “dessert” which comes from the French word desservir: to clear the table. The practice was to remove the table cloth to serve the last course. Today we remove the dinner plates to make room for that sweet end to a good meal.

Desserts spelled backward is stressed. Don’t stress out about eating desserts.

Dirt Cheap

No surprise here–dirt is cheap because it’s free. That is, unless you decide to have it delivered from one of the schmancy garden places.

Dog Days of Summer

Those really hot searing days that pop up during summer? The ones where being outside is misery? The Romans blamed those toasty times on the stars–Siriusly. That would be Sirius, the Dog Star. It was thought that Sirius got a bit hotter due to its rising with the sun. Those hot dog days were called cuniculares dies.

Double-Cross

I think of Jimmy Cagney when I hear “double-cross.” Actually I think of Bugs Bunny imitating Jimmy Cagney saying “you dirty double-crossing rat.” Then again. Monty Python gets it right as well:

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What’s it mean? In prize fighting, if a fighter intentionally lost a fight he “crosses up” both the spectators and those who bet on him. If he wins after the cross up he affects his manager and those who bet on him to lose. The two cross ups make for the “double cross.” Why Jimmy Cagney says it is a bit perplexing, although one could argue he is a bit of a fighter.

Down a Peg

The British Navy had a custom in which the ship’s colors were raised to recognize visiting dignitaries–the higher the colors, the greater the honor. Taking the colors down a peg indicated a decrease in honor.

Dressed to the Nines

Old English is responsible for this one. Someone who was “dressed to the eyne” was dressed “to the eyes” which is basically being dressed “up to the ears” something we just don’t say, even though logically we basically are.

Dressing Down

Having dressed up (to the ears) it makes sense that taking off clothes would be “dressing down.” Not so. A butcher preparing beef for market will slice the animal’s carcass. In the same manner, a person who receives a tongue lashing full of cutting remarks is getting a “dressing down.”

This…

Not this…

Dude

One of the most obsequious words going. This word stems from dudde, the Middle English word meaning “to dress.” Later down the road, an Easterner who went West in a fancy outfit discerned an attitude by the Westerners. Basically “dude” is a smash up of “dud” and “attitude.” Somehow that works for the Simpsons.

Tune in next month for more explanations, descriptions, and epiphanies.

Word Nerd Confessions: June


Still sweeping out the collection of words drifting about in the corners of my word collecting bag.

Speaking of bags:

1. musette: a small leather or canvas bag with a shoulder strap, used for carrying personal belongings, food, etc.

2. saggitate: shaped like an arrowhead

3. literam: letter for letter; literally

4. gerontocracy: a government in which old people rule (I’m not making this up!)

5.  dundrearies: long full sideburns or muttonchop whiskers

6. bedizen: to dress in a showy or tasteless manner.

7. suspiration: a long deep sigh (a favorite–note the italic–but how to use it in a sentence?)

8.  quodlibet: subtle or elaborate argument or point of debate, usually on a theological  or scholastic subject.

9. instauration: renewal; restoration; renovation

10. fenestrated: having windows (this is such a cool word–I get extra nerdy upon hearing “fensteration” or “fenestrated” in a sentence).

11.  epistemic: of or relating to knowledge or the conditions for acquiring it.

12. oblivescence: the process of forgetting (more and more my life is this word)

13. crump: to make a crunching sound, as in walking over snow, or as snow when trodden on (I fully intend on finding a way to apply “crump” in a story–it’s too amazing of a word to leave sitting on the bench waiting for wordplay).

14. fiddle-footed: restlessly wandering

15. objurgate: to reproach or denounce vehemently; upbraid harshly; berate sharply (sounds close to regurgitate–throwing up angry words?)

And that’s May’s edition of Word Nerd.

May no one objurgate upon your quest towards epistemic persistence as you crump along the path of knowledge which could render a suspiration of frustration (not to be confused with fenestration, although not finding an open window when needed can be frustrating) upon finding yourself stuck in a gerontocracy in which the leaders tend towards bedizen attire evidenced by their dundrearies. Ignore the proclivity towards quodlibets with these politicians and pack up your musette and go on a fiddle-foot tour of nature to achieve instauration from worldly concerns. Celebrate oblivescence of worldly matters. Celebrate the little joys such as the finding of  sagittate treasures upon nature’s path. The literatim of life does not have to be dreary–crump on to finding contentment!

Crump twice–Word Nerd points…

Why We Say: Old Words, New Meaning


Immersed in the study of Hamlet, I currently have to pause in our scrutiny of the emo Dane to explain an old word that Shakespeare uses that now has new context. Elizabethan slang is a study in itself. “Get thee to a nunnery” and “You are a fishmonger” as well as “Are you honest?” have a subtext if their own.

Moving to the present–

There are some words that used to mean one thing, however, due to current usage have evolved differently in connotation and denotation. These are standouts from an article by the Mirror:

ADDICT

In Roman times addicts were broke folk given as slaves to the people they owed money to. 

It comes from the Latin addictus, which meant “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor”.

In the 1600s it was used in the sense of giving yourself to someone or some practice.

AWFUL

In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

BROADCAST

It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

CUTE

Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s. 

But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”. 

And, bizarrely, the original sense of “dainty” was “worthy and substantial”.

FANTASTIC

If you’re thinking of telling your beloved how fantastic they look today, think again.

Unless, that is, they look like a Hobbit or an Avatar (whatever floats your boat).

The 14th century meaning is “existing only in imagination”, from the old French term “fantastique”.

It was not until 1938 that the word was first used to mean “wonderful or marvelous”.

MATRIX

You may be thinking of Keanu Reeves in his 1999 hit sci-fi movie. But in reality “matrix” comes from the 14th century French word meaning “pregnant animal”.

It went on to mean “womb or source”. Eventually in 1555 it was adapted to mean “a place where something is developed”.

NERVOUS

In the 1400s a nervous person was actually “sinewy and vigorous” – as the Latin word nervus applied to both sinews and nerves.

By 1665 nerves were better understood and by 1734 the term meant “suffering a disorder of the nervous system”.

By 1740 it meant “restless, agitated, lacking nerve” and it then became a widespread euphemism for mental illness – forcing the medical community to coin “neurological” to replace it in the older sense.

“Nervous wreck” was first used in 1899.

NICE

Derived from the Latin nescius meaning “ignorant”, the word began life in the 14th century as a term for “foolish” or “silly”.

It soon embraced bad qualities, such as wantonness, extravagance, cowardice and sloth.

In the Middle Ages it took on the more neutral attributes of shyness and reserve.

Society’s admiration of such qualities in the 18th century brought on the more positively charged meanings of “nice” we know today.

I won’t even address how “literally” is so wrongly used today. Some pet peeves are best kept quiet.

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Reader’s Digest is a fave to browse while in the numbing hold pattern of doctor office waiting or gym treadmill walking. I came across an article by Bill Bouldon, that cheered my lexiconal heart, one that involved new words that fit the times.

athlelargy: when the call of the recliner wins over the call of treadmill

blamestorming: the process of trying to pinpoint who is the reason for failure

cellfish: that person who make public their private phone conversations to all within listening range

destinesia: when you forget where you were going

ephinot: while it seemed like a bright idea it truly is not

fauxpology: the fake apology

illiteration: the mistaken knowledge of rhetorical devices

metox: taking a break from updating on social media

nonversation: meaningless chatter

pregret: knowing full well the course of action you are about to take is going to one of regret–but do so anyway

*sonergy: the energy that suddenly bursts from within upon seeing the sun after a period of gloomy weather

textpectation: the waiting for a text reply

*uberjoyed: getting a ride with a driver who gets you to your destination with expediency and courtesy

*my contribution

What new words can you think up that fill the bill for our changing times?

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