Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Words”

Word Nerd Confessions: September 2020


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

oppidan: urban

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)

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.

Word Nerd Confessions: Confused and Misused


Affect or effect? Is it all right or alright? Was it a blatant or flagrant mistake?

This month’s focus is from
100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses & Misuses (American Heritage Dictionary)

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].

Bard Bits: Once Upon a Word


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.

NO SENSE

auger-hole: tiny spot

bension: blessing

bodements: omens

bruited: reported

clept: called

coign: corner

corporal agent: muscle

foison: plenty

hilding: nasty beast or wretch

incarnadine: turn red

Jill: maid, drinking utensil

make boot: take advantage

SOME SENSE

all-thing: wholly

betimes: quickly

broad words: speaking freely

buzzard: worthless person

closet: room

father: old man

firstling: first

half a soul: halfwit

hart: male deer

in a few: briefly

moe: more

mortified: deadened

FAMILIAR ENOUGH

beholding: indebted

cloudy: sullen

complexion: disposition

coz: cousin

estate: social position; condition

free hearts: true feelings

groom: servant

hurlyburly: tumult

in a few: briefly

keep counsel: keep a secret

loose: let go

make to: approach

Word Nerd Confessions: June hi


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.

Which word is a standout for you?

Word Nerd: May


May’s batch is writerly in scope

Scrolling through my collection of gathered words I noticed several had a shared commonality with books, writing, or reading:

pseudepigraphy: attribution of authorship to a writer who did not write it; false inscription–usually refers to religious writings, as in biblical texts; however, fiction writers such as Nicholas Meyer who states he is the editor of memoirs of John Watson (who recounts cases of Sherlock Holmes).

fictioneer: a writer of fiction; a writer of mediocre fiction–does not sound like a compliment.

bibliophage: an avid reader–yup, although I just say I’m a Book Booster

donnish: bookish; pedantic–again, does not sound complimentary

wordie: someone enthusiastic about words–not to be confused with someone who is “wordy” (a talker of extreme verbosity)

sic: so; thus; as written–[sic] which usually means the writer is saying “that’s what they said; it’s not my mistake.

bromide: a trite saying or an aid to produce sleepiness–if a saying is boring enough I supposed someone would fall asleep

What words strike your fancy from this month’s list?

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Having just enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend (actually it was a gotta-get-outta-the-snow escape) I am relaxed and ready with a new outlook that should see me through the rest of winter. Longer days and bluer skies make a difference in maintaining a cheerful outlook. 

As a celebrant of fresher weather ahead, I’ve pulled some words out of storage that produced a bit a happy when first discovered. 

1. kvell: to be extraordinarily pleased; especially to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family.

2. persiflage: light bantering talk or writing.

3. rax: to stretch oneself, as after napping [nite: it took four times for auto-check that “rax” is the word I actually wanted, not “fax” or even “dad”]

4. prevenance: special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.

5. gallimaufry: a hodgepodge;  humble;confused medley.

6. snarf: to eat quickly and voraciously [I didn’t realize this is a legitimate word–it’s been a part of my lexicon ever so long].

7. deipnosophist: a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.

8. oneiric: of or relating to dreams.

9. trangam: an odd gadget; trinket.

10. flaneur: idler; dawdler; loafer [thus definition doesn’t describe the full concept–go here to discover what a flaneur is all about]. 

Word Nerd Confessions: January


Ah, January. Mixed feelings about this calendar month. While I embrace turning the corner into a new year with all that freshness and anticipation that goes with flipping to a new date, I do not embrace how January in our parts is the “definitely winter is here” month. For instance:

Overnight storm compilation. More to come *sigh*

A bit of the doldrums occur in January, what with the cold weather, shorter days, lack of landscape color, and growing stack of assignments to grade as the semester’s close approaches.

SO–

This month’s collection of words calls for amusing, or downright quirky lexicon.

1. pawky: cunning, sly

2. pettifog: to bicker or quibble over insignificant matters

3. jactation: boasting; bragging

4. fecund: creative intellectually

5. appellative: a descriptive name as Reepicheep the Valiant

6. orgulous: haughty; proud

7. remora: hindrance or obstacle

8. fulgrant: flashing like lightning

9. omphaloskepsis: contemplating one’s navel

10. daffing: merriment; playful behavior

Hmm, during the remainder of January I shall endeavor to be pawky in how to approach my doldrums in order to avoid fulgrant irritability that leads to pettifog since an abundance of snow is a remora to becoming fecund.Perhaps I shall become so stoic and earn an appellative name: Cricket the Winter Muse, then again that might entail jactation leading to an orgulous reputation. On the other hand excess winter could cause my resolve to slip into dithering and omphaloskepsis.

Word Nerd Confessions: December


‘Tis December and 2019 is rapidly diminishing. Time to air out the Word Bin and see what needs clearing out to make room for next year’s batch of dictionary delights.

1. nugacity: triviality; insignificance

2. librate: to remain poised or balanced

3. neoteric: new or recent

4. facetiae: witty or amusing remarks or writing

5. obscurantism: the opposition of the spread of knowledge

6. anthophobia: an unnatural fear of flowers

7. frisson: a sudden thrill of emotion

8. guddle: to catch a fish with one’s hands in a river or stream

9. bombinate: to make a humming or buzzing noise

10. perspicacity: a keenness of mental perception

11. alameda: a public walk shaded with trees

12. otiose: indolent; idle; being at ease

13. Delphic: obscure; ambiguous

14. nebulated: having distinct markings as in a bird or animal

15. orgulous: haughty or proud

Now that the Word Bin is a bit tidier I look forward to filling it full once again. Honestly, I’m not sure how some of these words snuck into the company of the others. Guddle? Librate? Frisson? Not sure when those will come up in conversation. Then one never knows. Excuse me while I go chase down these liberated diction.

Come back…I didn’t mean it…

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!

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