Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “vocabulary”

How Cliché: the “C” list continues


Carry Coals to Newcastle: to do something unnecessarily. The expression stems from Newcastle-upon-Tyne located in northeastern English. Henry III granted Newcastle a charter to mine coal. Becoming a major coal center, they would not be in need of coal as it would be unnecessary. Similar sayings are found in other countries, such as in French it is said to “carry water to a river.”

Image: grammarmonster.com

Cold Comfort: of little consolation. Although it is not known the origination of the expression, Shakespeare liked it enough to insert in a few of his plays such as The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart: just because someone seems unresponsive, that does not men they can’t express emotions. It’s thought Vincent Lean contributed the saying in a 1902 collection of sayings. Another interpretation is a person can be both rational and compassionate.

Image: desginbundles.net

To Pour Cold Water On: to discourage enthusiasm or pleasure. This saying dates back to Roman times from Plautus who said “They pour cold water on us.” Cold water can definitely dampen an otherwise good time.

Come Off It: be realistic, no fooling around. This American slang term comes from the 1900s and stem from the action of coming down from a higher place, such as dismounting from a horse, with the idea of being on the same level as the other person standing on the ground.

Cool As A Cucumber: composed, not rattled. It’s true: cucumbers are cool. It’s believed the inside of a cucumber is 20 degrees cooler than the outside air. Since this expression can be dated to 1732 writer John Gay, who wrote “I…cool as cucumber could see the rest of womankind,” one wonders how they figured, or even decided, to see if a cucumber was really all that cool.

Crazy As A Loon: unconventional behavior noted. There are different thoughts on this saying. Granted, the cry of a loon is quite unnerving. There is also the idea that the behavior of a loon is considered unconventional when flocks of loons seemingly fly erratically at each other over a frozen pond. This gives way to the expression of being “loony,” but in fact this loony refers to “lunar” or the phases of the moon. And we all know how a full moon can influence behavior.

Cry One’s Eyes Out: weep in extremity. Although it is not possible to actually cry until one’s eyes fall out, it may seem so in the throes of an emotionally draining situation. In a 1705 play, The Careless Husband, a line stated, “I could cry my eyes out.” The saying is sometimes referred to as “Crying one’s heart out.”

Image: Time.com

To Curry Favor: attempting to extract a means of getting ahead. In the sixteenth-century there was a satirical romance involving a horse named Fauvel who represented cunning. To groom or curry the horse indicated someone was hoping to enlist its use. Fauvel became “favel” and eventually became “favor” over time.

Cute As A Button: appealing in appearance. “Cute” is derived from the 17th century “acute” which meant, shrewd, ingenious, and even clever. Somehow, the word transferred to meaning “attractive in a dainty manner” perhaps being associated with buttons which are small and for the most part, attractive.

Image: Cardly.net

Stay tuned as the “D” section is set for next time another batch of clichés are explored.

Word Nerd: December


It’s December, the last month of the year. Getting through another tough year might involve celebrating and celebrating might also involve some appropriate words.

nimiety: excess, overabundance

galimatias: confused or unintelligible talk

pharaonic: impressively or overwhelmingly large, luxurious, etc.

foozle: to bungle; play clumsily

effulgent: shining forth brilliantly; radiant

specious: apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible

brummagem: showy but inferior and worthless

encomium: a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly

terpsichorean: pertaining to dancing

shivoo: a boisterous party or celebration

So, celebrate this last month of a challenging year, and let’s hope the new year brings new hope and healing.

Word Nerd: September


Ah, September. The slow farewell to summer as school begins and the beaches close. This batch of words focuses on learning as the transition from beach bags to school bags takes place.

  1. willyard: obstinate; willful (not all children, or adults, are joyful about attending classes)
  2. obsteperous: noisy, clamorous, or boisterous (have you ever entered a kindergarten class on the first day?)
  3. crankle: to bend; turn; crinkle (lots of paper, paperclips, pens and such to crankle in fall)
  4. pother: a heated discussion, debate, or argument; fuss; to do (let’s hope these are avoided)
  5. hebetude: the state of being dull; lethargy (this might be the case after a couple of months of vacation)
  6. antediluvian: very old, old-fashioned or out of date; antiquated (some students might feel this way about their teachers)
  7. tirrivee: a tantrum (students and teachers might throw one or two of these depending on how classes go)
  8. swivet: a state of nervous excitement, hast, or anxiety; flutter (applies to both students and teachers on the first day of school)
  9. faineant: idle; indolent (these moments do happen-to teachers as well)
  10. amity: friendship; peaceful harmony (getting along is a key goal)

If not attending school, do any of the above work for you in your situation?

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 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.

Word Nerd: January


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:

“Jane, Jane, Jane—you are my favorite epizeuxis.”

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)

Word Nerd Confessions: December


Oops–forgot about November’s word collection. The best solution is to double up. Here we go:

  1. scilicet: to wit, namely

2. doover: a thingamabob; thingamajig

3. unctuous: excessively smooth, suave, or smug

4. dilly: something or someone regarded as remarkable

5. withershins: in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially contrary to the apparent course of the sun or counterclockwise: considered as unlucky or causing disaster.

6. mondegreen: a word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of another word or phrse, especially in a song or poem.

7. bolide: a large, brilliant meteor, especially one that explodes; fireball.

8. egalitarian: asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, economic, or social life.

9. bellicose: inclined or eager to fight; aggressively hostile; belligerent; pugnacious.

10. fain: gladly; willingly.

11. whinge: to complain; whine.

12. fomet: instigate.

13. evanescent: vanishing; fading away; fleeting.

14. mirabilia: marvels; miracles.

15. obfuscate: to make obscure or unclear.

16. tome: a book, especially a very heavy, large or learned book.

17. plaudit: an enthusiastic expression of approval.

18. rodomontade: vainglorious boasting or bragging; pretentious, blustering talk.

19. sinistrality: left-handedness.

20. bight: a bend or curve in the shore of a sea or river.

I am delighted and amazed at the amount of words that are out there that I had no idea existed, but they say so well what needs to be said.

Favorites this round:

whinge–sounds like a combination of wind and whine, for those times when a simple sniffle just won’t do.

mirabilia: amazing wonders need such a word

tome: a big book needs such a term

rodomontade: bragging sounds like something worth bragging about with this word

Found any new favorites?

Word Nerd: November


This month is a mixture of archaic and contemporary. How do some of the cool words of the past slip out of usage?

  1. iwis: certainly (obsolete)

2. crepuscular: of, relating to, or resembling twilight; dim; indistinct.

3. mizzle: to rain in fine drops; drizzle; mist (I am so finding a way to use this in a story)

4. sagacious: having or showing great mental discernment; wisdom (I know this one, but haven’t yet found a way to insert it into any conversation)

5. gree: the prize for victory

6. zephyr: a gentle, mild breeze (so adore this word)

7. tantivy: to ride at full gallop

8. quiddity: the essence of something; its essential nature

9. soniferous: making or producing sound

10. chunter: to mutter

11. cavil: to raise trivial objections

12. hypethral: open roof (like the Globe theater!)

13. stownlins: secretly; stealthily

13. lunker: something unusually large for its kind

14. hypermnesia: having an unusually precise memory

15. cleek: to grab something unexpectedly; snatch

Such a preponderance of dictional expression! Which cleeked your fancy?

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)

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?

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