Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Horse Puckey

Horse Puckey: Unsatisfactory person, service or set of remarks.

It has been suggested that the term horse puckey is a variant of horse hockey. That sounds suspiciously like polo. I think that the term is mostly used to indicate the deposits made when horses do doo what they do; usually applied to a person or set of arguments. Example: The president shoveled out another bunch of horse puckey at his press conference today, leading the press and onlookers to observe carefully where they stepped next.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Divisive: Creating dissension.

In very recent times I have been hearing the word pronounced, notably by President-elect Barack Obama, as if it should rhyme with missive. There is some disagreement among nabobs, but most seem to think it should rhyme with the first syllable of bicycle. Maybe not the best example; leads one to think of the word divicycle. That could work; means a split icicle? A bicycle built for one-half? Click on the title to see Bartleby's take.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Dingus: Thingamabob.

Spoken by Humphrey Bogart as Samuel Spade referring to The Maltese Falcon in the movie of that name. Probably comes from the German word for thing. Very handy when you are trying to name something and can't quite remember the word you need. "Say, did anybody see my dingus? I know I had it when I came in."

Click on title for more info.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Prolific: Vastly creative.

I have been hearing the word prolific used to mean widespread or involved in many situations. I think this is a prolific mistake proliferated by the prolix.

Click on title for more info.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Nitter: Chattering of a cat's teeth upon espying a bird or other prey out of reach. Some think it may be instinctive in preparation for biting the bird. It seems to me counterproductive since the intended prey can hear the nittering and fly away.

I learned this word long ago and am surprised that I can not find it on the web used this way. I would like to hear from anyone who knows more about it. Click on title for a description in the middle of a cat-oriented site of the chattering activity.

Natter: Talk aimlessly. (Click word for further details)

A word made famous by the notorious U.S. Vice-President Spiro Agnew. I suppose that nitter-natter would be to talk aimlessly to a bird you are trying to catch. I wonder if that would apply to British boys chasing birds in Maiden Lane.

Friday, December 26, 2008



Peccaries, or javelinas abound in the southwest deserts. They are not pigs though they resemble them. The problem with peccaries is that they are more or less lovable and people feel sorry for them because they are being ousted from their natural territory by suburban development and could starve. So kind and sensitive people feed them.

Whenever people feed wild animals, the animals lose their fear of humans. In pack animals like peccaries, this can create serious problems. Javelinas (Spanish for spear, referring to their sharp incisors) usually travel in groups, sometimes quite large. If upset, they can charge and hurt or kill dogs, babies or even adult humans. This is very rare but documented.

It is better for the human community for members to avoid feeding javelinas, just as it is better not to feed raccoons or bears. Feeding them contributes to their dependency on human largesse and reduces their ability to forage for themselves. There is not universal agreement on this, but it could be said that feeding wild animals contributes to their domestication and that assumes considerable responsibility to the feeder to maintain support for the now dependant yet still dangerous animals. Click on title for detailed information.

Thursday, December 25, 2008






I've been hearing the term shortfall a lot during this season of economic turmoil and flop. It set me to wondering about other words made with 'fall'. It occurred to me that if you have a shortfall in your landfall there is likely to be a lot of fallout from your sailors and you may fall from grace with the sea.

Click on title for definitions of shortfall. Click on each of the other words listed above for definitions. Note especially the abundance of possibilities for the word 'fall':

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Goozle: Loose skin in the front part of the neck, exemplified by S. Z. (Cuddles) Sakall.

Urban dictionaries offer some saltier definitions which I will leave you to discover for yourself. Click on title to see my Ezine article: I've Got You Under My Chin.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lol, Loll, Lolly

Lol, Loll, Lolly:

Lots of words and acronyms begin with the letters lol. As I write this I am lolling around licking my lollypop and lol at this lollapalooza of a lulu. Click on title for much more.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fair Dinkum

Fair Dinkum: The real thing.

Fair dinkum is Australian slang used variously to mean genuine, true, etc. I use it mostly as a positive intensifier; "Now that's a fair dinkum gazebo you got there, mate." Click on title for further definitions from Wiktionary.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Twinkle: A blinking light, From German -zwinkern.

"I knew you before you were a twinkle in your father's eye."
Not to be confused with tinkle, as in the sound of a wind chime.
Click on title for more from onelook.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Sarahbrate: To ponder a matter in the manner of Governor Palin; To have a party in honor of same.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Soft Soap and Smarmy

Soft Soap and Smarmy: Soft soap is a term for flattery, especially when it includes fake praise intended to persuade, or get a favor. Smarmy refers to the appearance of smugness or insincerity. A smarmy smile may bring to mind an insincere preacher such as the one Burt Lancaster portrayed in Elmer Gantry. Joel Osteen comes to my mind. George W. Bush has been advised by his handlers to try to avoid smirking, a characteristic gesture of smarminess.

Click on the title of this article for the Wikipedia definition of Soft Soap and use the link below for the Merriam-Webster definition of smarmy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Plinth: A base on which a statue or monument is seated.

It used to be that people would put their idols or sweethearts on a pedestal. In these days of reasonableness and equality, maybe a plinth will do. "Oh, my darling, I admire and love you so much I have put you on a plinth."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Some remarks suggest the opposite of what they say. Examples: “to tell
you the truth“, “I’ll be perfectly honest with you“, and “let me be
frank”. When a person starts a comment with one of those phrases, I can
only suppose that they are informing me that they never tell the truth
but, just for this once, they are planning to do so. Either that or
they are getting ready to lie through their teeth and are trying to
take the edge off of it by denying it in advance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ghost Cord




Veeblefetzer is a concocted word, attributed to Mad Magazine, meaning, roughly, any gadget or object which is unnecessarily complicated or whose function is largely unnecessary or foolish. Examples of its use:

My veeblefetzer broke and I can't find the right dreetspreel to fix it with.
Ah, the veeblefetzer of my dreams has just come up on eBay!
How's your veeblefetzer today, old man?
I'll show you my veeblefetzer if you'll show me yours.

Click on title for more information.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Having Said That

Having Said That: but, however, on the other hand, er, um, ahem.

"Having said that": is a more refined way of saying "but", causing you to appear to be more important than you really are. It goes well with huffing and puffing, tweedling your mustache, harumphing and keychain twirling. Having said that, I canter off, top hat atilt, into the glowing sunset. Harumph.

Sunday, December 14, 2008



This word crops up mostly in advertising and instructions on food items. An example from a spicy chicken frozen entrée package:

1. Cut a slit in film cover.

2. Microwave on HIGH 4 minutes.

3. Let stand 2 minutes.
Carefully remove as PRODUCT will be hot.

I presume using the word product instead of naming the substance simplifies copy writing but it sounds institutional and impersonal; creates a feeling of distance. It would be better to see the name of the product thus: Carefully remove Spicy Chicken. It will be hot, hot, hot!

A good approach for the word product: Never use it when it simply substitutes for something you can name. Even if it saves you time and money.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Elder Wisdom Circle

Elder Wisdom Circle is a free service on the web which offers the opportunity for anyone to get advice on any subject from selected Elders. Elders are 60 years old or older. Legal issues, medical matters and financial advice are not given because of the terms of the charter. That does not mean that you cannot ask those kinds of questions, simply that the answers will not include specific advice that should come from a professional.

Each letter is answered individually by an elder or a group of elders, usually within a week. The more carefully you ask the question with pertinent details, the more complete an answer will be received.

Typically, the elder or group will share information from their own personal experience and may include links to websites that can provide thorough information relating to the question or problem.

If you click on the title of this article you will be taken to the homepage of Elder Wisdom Circle where you can read examples of letters sent and answered, and you may send in a request for help with any problem that bothers you.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Below is a list of stories, poems and songs I have translated into Esperanto:

Araby by James Joyce
This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
Eveline by James Joyce
The Open Door by Saki
Haiku by Jack Wilson
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
Sing a Song of Sixpence - Anonymous
The Plot Against the Giant by Wallace Stevens
Mary Had a Little Lamb - Anonymous
The Mouse by Saki
Fog by Carl Sandburg
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Jerome Kern
P is for Peas by MFK Fisher
Pardon Me O God by Robert Frost
Turn Right by Jack Wilson
About Moore’s Visit to the Circus by Elizabeth Bishop
Sumer is a cumin in - Anonymous
The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
The Witness by Jorge Luis Borges
You Will Know that I Love You by Teddy Fregoso
Girl from Ipanema by Antonio Carlos Jobim et al

These translations can be found by clicking on the title of this article.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Brand: Identifying characteristic pattern.

Pundits today seem to be branding everything from political parties to anyone who has an identifiable method of operating, a reputation or a declared set of ideals. During elections I hear newsfolk saying such things as -The so-an-so party is losing its brand-. (I think we could use a so-and-so party.) Brand has become so pervasive it appears to be a fad. If reporters were subjected to a hot-iron branding of their flanks every time they used the term unnecessarily, the fad would soon end.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Gershwin and Ravel

George Gershwin was a songwriter of popular music, a talented pianist and entertainer and wished to be a great classical composer. He had some success in that field with his folk opera Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F.

He was something of a playboy and didn’t always tend to his assigned tasks. He didn’t finish Rhapsody in Blue till the day before it was to be premiered and there was no time to write out all the sheet music the orchestra needed. This was the job of Ferde Grofé, later to become well known for his Grand Canyon Suite. Grofé knew he would never be able to finish the copying chores so he gathered the orchestra together and asked them if they knew the names of all the chords in music. Of course they did. So instead of writing everything out, he simply wrote the names of the chords over the notes of the melody. Everybody understood and went right into rehearsal and the premiere went off beautifully. That was the start of using chord symbols such as A, B minor, etc. A set of symbols was soon developed and standardized and now musicians frequently use what are called fake-books which have only melodies and chord symbols.

Gershwin spent a lot of time in France along with writers and painters of the time. He met the great composer Maurice Ravel, best known for his Bolero. Gershwin asked if he could study music with Ravel the master. Ravel said no. Gershwin asked why. Ravel said that Gershwin was a first-rate Gershwin; there was no point in him becoming a second-rate Ravel.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If You Will

If you will: if you wish to call it that.

"If you will" is found at the end of remarks to indicate that the speaker has no conviction and that it is up to the listener to decide for himself whether or not the speaker has any business on the platform. If you will avoid its use, you will make multitudes happy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

By and Large

By and Large:

Idiom: Generally, usually, mostly.

"By and large" is a phrase which makes the speaker appear asleep at the wheel. It contributes the idea that something is usual, but it sounds false to my ear and distracts me from the point the speaker is trying to make, or perhaps trying to evade. I would like to see it consigned to a by and large dumpster.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


This word, along with "vehicle" is often used by police when speaking
to the press. It tends to emphasize the distance between the human
policeman and the human suspect by de-personalizing the latter, and the
former. Example:

“An individual was seen entering the establishment wearing a disguise
and carrying a weapon. He was seen to perpetrate a felony in said
establishment after which he entered his vehicle and drove away. The
officer nearest responded to the alarm and pursued said individual in
said vehicle and apprehended same.”


Several people saw Mr. Jones go into the bank wearing a stocking over
his head and carrying a gun in his right hand. The tellers and
customers saw him take money at gunpoint and observed him get into his
blue Thunderbird and drive off. Officer McGinty, who was cruising in
the closest patrol car picked up the alarm and followed Mr. Jones’ car,
pulling him over and arresting him. He has been read his rights and
will be charged tomorrow with armed robbery.

The police administration probably instruct officers to be vague in
order to keep citizen awareness of details low so that potential jurors
will not have a picture in their minds about the incident. But surely
communication can be made more natural without doing any harm.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


"Don't that beat the bugs a bitin'" is a term I have used all my life
to mean something similar to "well I'll be diddly doggoned", or it
don't seem hardly possible". I assumed that I had heard it at my
mother's knee, or maybe elbow and that she had heard it in her southern
Ohio town near Kentucky. I imagined it to be a common folksy saying in
those parts. I asked her about it when she was very old. I was shocked
to find that she had never heard the phrase. Before entering this post
I thought I had better check the web to see if such a phrase exists.
The only thing I found was a post I had made four years ago and had
forgotten about, asking if anyone had heard it before. No one had, but
it was suggested that it was part of a very large body of similar
phrases starting with "don't that beat...). I have seen it linked to
Li'l Abner. From a Google search: "Don't that beat the bugs
a-fightin'?", an article by Wilbur W. (Bill) Mayhew,UCR Professor
Emeritus of Biology. Doesn't quite have the same flavor.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Quality Time

One of the most widespread terms in recent history is “Quality Time”. The speaker of this phrase is indicating that he plans to cram meaningful and memorable activities into the short period of time he is willing to allot to his child, spouse, parent, relative, friend or associate. Since he is unwilling to provide quantity, he will substitute intensity.

Time is quality time. Just being together, side by side, doing nothing, not talking is as rewarding as riding the Big Flop at a theme park or any other exciting activity. Unrushed, unplanned time, just together. It is the ‘together’ that counts.

It may not qualify as the worst euphemism of all time, but it legitimizes neglect. I prefer not to use it

Ice Tunnel



Thursday, December 4, 2008



Much like ‘product’ the word 'assets' is being used to make individuals and collections generic instead of identifying them personally. Military commanders use this term to include human beings who are useful in military operations.

By calling them assets instead of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen (or is it airpeople?) the speaker removes the flesh and blood, the emotions and families of people who are being sent into situations where they are in danger of being killed.

I think it is best to avoid the word 'assets' when speaking of people, whether in a military or business context.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Training Cats

Training cats is like juggling three balls made of Jello or sorting wet noodles by hand; they go off in all directions at once. There are ways to indicate what you want them to do or refrain from doing, but the results depend a lot on the willingness and intelligence of the cats.

Of course, you don’t ever want to hit them and any correction must be done at the very moment of the infraction or the cats won’t make the connection and will be bewildered about what you want. One approach is to make a noise of disapproval just as the cat is where you don’t want it to go; as it is just getting there. I have found that they respond to a hissing sound. I start with a quiet “ssssssssss” then gradually increase the loudness. Clapping hands once is startling and effective. Nothing will be very effective the first time, but after a while the cats, if they are smart enough, will recognize that certain places and actions are not allowed. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to go there, but they will be looking out for signs of disapproval. It is also true that they may get used to certain behaviors on your part and ignore them when earlier they would find them startling.

I have a smart cat (for a cat) and another one whose brainpower may be limited. The latter cannot learn or will not obey. I haven’t figured out whether she is just dumb or simply willful. I have learned to accommodate her for the most part, but will still insist that she not play with or chew wiring and stay on her side of the kitchen counter. I do this mostly with a squirt gun. The water is harmless (except to books and papers) and after a few squirts, the cats respond to the sound of my picking it up; they dash for the hills, (the bedroom).

One of the biggest problems with cats is scratching. People used to solve this problem by de-clawing the cats. It is still done but is much frowned upon by humane societies since it is very painful for the cats and has been compared to cutting off the first knuckles of a person’s hands. Most people these days keep their cats inside because of the danger of the cat picking up rabies or other diseases by catching infected mice. A de-clawed cat that accidentally gets outside is helpless without claws.

I have several scratching boards and cylinders which the cats use regularly. They can hide inside or scratch on the outside. I trim their claws regularly; just the tips. They have done very little damage with their claws.

Ultimately you will have to realize that the cats are limited and you will have to adapt to their peculiarities. Just think of them as teen-aged humans covered with ever-falling fur.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008





"Literally" literally means in actuality, not figurative but real. I
hear news commentators and others use the word often merely as an
intensifier. I find it grating and sometimes ludicrous, sometimes
reducing clarity. Some linguists call this type of word a “contranym”.
Some speakers use it to mean what it meant in an earlier time, some use
it to mean the opposite of its earlier meaning. We don’t complain when
a person replaces "literally" with “really“, as an intensifier.
However, it almost never improves a sentence even if it is used to mean
“actually“, just as “actually“ and “really” usually make a sentence
windy and do not improve understanding. Intensifiers generally add
little but wind to a sentence.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Quantum Leap

Physicists have observed that electrons have the remarkable ability to jump from one orbit to another without existing in the in-between space. First they sit on one orbit, then, sit in another. That is a “quantum leap“. The distance can barely be measured. To use the term “quantum leap” to mean making a giant jump is to demonstrate that you don’t know where the term came from. In addition to that embarrassment, you are using a cliché and making your speech sound brainless.

I think it is better not to use it unless you are talking about the physics phenomenon, (or the TV program) which, with any luck, you will almost never do. One can reasonably use the term to mean a sudden shift, but few people will understand what you mean. Better to find a simpler term.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Smartest State

The state rankings were announced in the "Education State Rankings 2006-2007," released by Lawrence, Kan.-based Morgan Quitno Press, an independent research and publishing company.

Vermont retained its title as the nation's smartest state for the second year, while Arizona held the title of being the lowest-ranked of the 50 states.

The Smartest State Award is based on nearly two dozen elementary and secondary education indicators from Education State Rankings, an annual reference book comparing the states in education-related categories. The 2006 award measured states in areas as instruction expenditures, teacher-pupil ratios, graduation and dropout rates, and proficiency in reading, writing and math, the publisher said.

Top states after Vermont, which earned the title for a second straight year, were Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maine, the publisher said. Arizona was preceded by Nevada, Mississippi, California and Alaska in the bottom tier.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Friday, November 28, 2008


Esperanto was developed by L. L. Zamenhof in the late nineteenth century as a universal second-language. His idea was that everyone would benefit if Esperanto were to be adopted by all as a second language so that people who did not speak each other's national language could communicate easily with each other. In this way, scientists, artists, diplomats and merchants could make their ideas and needs known to each other without the aid of translators.

Esperanto is easier to learn than a national language and efforts are made to keep it from changing much so that users can communicate well regardless of their own cultures. As to the number of fluent Esperantists, estimates vary widely from about 250,000 to 2 million. There has been some energy devoted to getting the United Nations assembly to adopt Esperanto so as to save millions of dollars on translations. Some interest has been shown by the U.N. but people think highly of their own languages and don't want to go international, even though they belong to an international organization.


Janet Napolitano is currently the democratic governor of Arizona, a
conservative state which voted for its own senator John McCain for
president. Napolitano is being tapped for the leadership of Homeland

Upon her departure, Jan Brewer, republican secretary of state, will
assume the governorship. Napolitano has had her finger in the dike of
conservative legislation. With Brewer in the saddle, that flood will
likely flow. There are democrats in the state assembly but not enough
to prevent the right from flowering. It has been suggested that Barack
Obama offer Jan Brewer a spot in his administration, thereby showing
bi-partisanship and freeing state attorney-general Terry Goddard, a
democrat, to fill the governor's chair for the remaining two years of
the current term. This should be enough to keep the balance till the
next election, at which time, Goddard would be a likely candidate.



Once upon a time there was a planet in a distant galaxy whose inhabitants all had perfectly proportioned bodies. Everyone was beautiful and had all the curves in the right places, but no one was happy because they longed to meet people who were different. So they sent to earth for men and women to bring back to their planet to marry. But these people on earth who were not perfect became perfect as soon as they landed on the magnificent Planet Xanadar.

So the Xanadarians could only find imperfect people if they came to earth to live. Many of them did that and they became movie stars and rock stars and fashion models and they all married imperfect people and lived happily ever after. Well, not the movie stars.

So if you want to be happy, either you go to Planet Xanadar and become perfect, or send the person who wants you to be perfect there and he or she will see how unhappy the perfect people are and will come back and fall madly in love with you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008





Until recently I have seldom heard the word substrate used in speech; now it is common.; how did we say it before?


Definition: ▸ noun: any stratum lying underneath another.

How did we say it before?


Is there another word for synonym?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



Definition: Unusual-looking brass musical instrument used in bands for mid-range tones similar to the french horn. Its forward-facing bell made it ideal for marching bands. It was famously used by Stan Kenton in a brace of four, adding considerable volume and excitement, not to mention visual interest, to the band's expression.



Tongue-twisting nickname of Los Angeles disc jockey, Alex (pickupacoupleabucks) Cooper.

Try saying it very fast 10 times in a row.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008



Definition: A term previously not needed, created because of the
existence of a later word.

Example: Acoustic guitar. Before electric guitars came to pass, all
guitars were acoustic so the term was not needed; "analog watch" and
"film camera" are retronyms.

What is your favorite retronym?

(Thanks to Ed Kearns for the suggestion)





Definition: Acceptable, conforming to norms.

Adjective used by a teacher in a Simpsons episode to indicate that an unfamiliar word (embiggen) was a genuine word.

Anyone can make up such a word easily. Pick an ending that indicates the part of speech; in this case, ‘ent’, an adjectival ending, and add some nonsense syllables that sound plausible.

If you come up with any interesting ones, post them along with a definition and any other information you think interesting.


-insegrevious. (aka insegrievious)

Adjective coined by Los Angeles radio comedian and disc jockey Gary Owens in the 1960’s.

Definition: Negative exclamation.

Example: What a perfectly insegrevious bowl of mashed potatoes..

Monday, November 24, 2008


How did we say it before the pundits on television and elsewhere starting using the word "infrastructure"?

I don't remember ever hearing or seeing this word until perhaps a decade ago and now it is hard to think of a sentence that involves the idea described by the word without using it. Is there a single word to use instead?

Here is a definition from

noun: the stock of basic facilities and capital equipment needed for the functioning of a country or area
noun: the basic structure or features of a system or organization

How did we say it before?