Saturday, January 31, 2009




Friday, January 30, 2009


Wave Goodbye: In the U.S.- palm away; wave fingers. In Italy- palm toward; wave fingers.

The American wave good-bye that accompanies the words, "bye-bye" presumably means something like "have a nice trip". The Italian wave accompanies the word "ciao" meaning "come back soon".

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


Mung: Unpleasant goo. A bean. Mongolian money.

As a young adult, in my lexicon of low (Mad Magazine) and high (New Yorker) humor, I often found the word mung indispensable to describe any yucky stuff. I later discovered that a bean of that name and its sprouts were much favored by hippies and Chinese frugal gourmets. It is also the currency unit in Mongolia. Still mung to me.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Linchpin: Device for holding a wheel on an axle.
Keystone: Mainstay.

Linchpin or keystone can be used to describe a critically important person who is a part of a larger unit. Steve Jobs has had to leave Apple, at least for awhile, due to health issues. It is widely thought that he holds the company together and that after a period of buttressing, Apple will have to go out of business if Steve Jobs does not return.

It does not speak well of a leader that he leaves his unit helpless when he is not there. A good leader develops his unit so that it is healthy whoever leads it after he is gone. I have read that John McCain's squadron fell apart after he left. If he had developed it properly it would have become self-sustaining and it would not matter much who was in charge.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Too Clever

Too clever by half: British intensifier.

Alec Guinness in The Captain's Paradise exhorts his wife to avoid the African port city his ferry docks in: Too picturesque by half. Meaning: Dangerous.

The reason it is dangerous in his eyes is that he keeps a mistress there and his wife might run into her. In fact, she does.

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Lorgnette: Glasses or Opera glasses on a stick

The lorgnette evokes images of Margaret Dumont being self-important in a Marx Brothers movie. It is hard to imagine John Wayne using a lorgnette.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009


Comingle: Mix

1. (intransitive) To mingle with others; to cause to become mingled.
2. (transitive) To mix.

Mingle: Mix

Mix: Comingle.

So why not just say mix, or at most, mingle?


Saturday, January 24, 2009


Pank: Breathe hard

panking pole: a pole used to knock fruit off trees at harvest time.

Hanky-Panky: Breathe hard into a kleenex with a long pole?

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Friday, January 23, 2009


Littoral: The edge of a continent or island.

Littorally speaking, I would be lyin' if I said it was not simba-lic.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009


Triphthong: Three vowels in a row. Example: gaiety.

I have noticed that people often pronounce the word diphthong as dip-thong rather than as dif-thong. I suppose that they will have three times the trouble pronouncing triphthong.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Pfeffernüsse: Pepper nut cookies.

My family celebrated Christmas with the usually assortment of food, including Pfeffernüsse. I did not know it meant pepper nuts nor that it had an umlaut over the u. They were round balls of rather short pastry with ground up nuts and a somewhat licorice taste, covered with white confectioner's sugar. They were a bit of a mess to handle. They were not home made. Somehow the word reminds me of the joke attributed to Baron Munchausen. "My", but you are looking effervescent tonight!" "Did you ever see me ven I ever vasn't?"

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Lug: As a verb, to shlep; as a noun, something sticking out.

Lug those lug nuts over here, you big lug.

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Monday, January 19, 2009


Sunday, January 18, 2009


Schlub: Schmendrick

A schlub is a stupid person, clumsy, an oaf, at least in the opnion of the speaker. I had a brother-in-law who, at the age of 12, considered everyone a schlub. His dog he called Mun, which is Yiddish for poppy seed. Why he called his dog a poppy seed I don't know, but then I'm only a schmendrick in his eyes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Lingerie: Women's underclothes, literally: Linen room.

As a kid, I always heard the word pronounced lon-jher-ay. I was amazed one day to hear Art Linkletter pronounce it lang-jayr-ee. How could he be so dumb? I later learned that that was correct for the French pronunciation. So, being flexible, I began to pronounce it that way, even to the nasal n and the swallowed r.

Now I hear tell that it is gauche to pronounce adopted words as if in their original language, and I suppose, droit to pronounce them in the standard way the uneducated English speaker would do. Well, I guess I’d rather be droit than gauche but it hurts.

I wish I could come up with a good moral for this story. When in Rome talk with your hands, when in America, talk like an idiot?

Friday, January 16, 2009


Spume: Lots of bubbles.

I came across this word in a poem, The Dancers Dressed in White, from her book American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander. She related a line of dressed-in-white dancers to spume running to the shore. Her stunning poetry stimulated Barack Obama to ask her to write and recite a poem to enlighten the people of the world at his inauguration. She is only the fourth poet to be so honored. Alexander is a black woman. Of the four poets, two have been black women, two white men. When she delivers her poem, I expect that it will create great waves of spume and sparks. She is a brilliant poet.

Spumante is bubbly wine.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


.gif: A file extension for a graphic format, often animated.

For years I have been in an ongoing tussle with friends over the pronunciation of the format .gif. I thought naturally enough that it should be pronounced with a hard g since it stood for graphical interchange format.

By some serendipity now forgotten, I came across some information which shocked, shocked me and which I quote:

“The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

I cried, Nooooooo!, but I then read on.

It seems the term was invented by a team of software engineers (soft g ), or geeks (hard g ) who were inclined to program endlessly to the neglect of their nutrition. Their solution: peanut butter. The brand: Jif. I was mortified. Now I am stuck with both an odious pronunciation and a ridiculous explanation.

To make it worse, someone pointed out that if I insisted on the hard g what would I suggest for .jpeg? Jfeg? (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

Jiffy: A measurement of time used in scientific applications.

Click on title for detailed info about .gif.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Reminiscent of Macaroons

I entered the small cabana one early day,
Got dressed for the beach, took out the canvas chair,
Arranged my post on the boardwalk, poured latté
And sat to watch the bathers take the air.

The old ones fussed, all sputters and feathers and gears.
The very young shouted out “you’re it!”
Teens beheld imaginary mirrors,
Wiggled and tussled, then flopped for a bit.

A seaworthy blossom of a girl zephyred by,
Reminiscent of macaroons. Her
Everlasting love striding beside.
Satisfied for now, I folded my chair,

Packed up sights and smells for later traces,
Back in the world of measured lines and spaces.

Jack Wilson

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Torque: Twisting action.

I hear car people talking about foot pounds of torque. Not quite understanding, I looked it up. I still don't understand. Why should my car be doing the twist? And why should that be a selling point? What is causing this twist to occur? To what device is it applied? Does it make the car go faster or smoother? Does it make the car happier if it has more twist than the other cars?

At the Peppermint Lounge, Chubby Checker invented a dance he called the twist in 1960. It was all the rage for a few years and created a great deal of income for chiropractors. Vanity Fair had a recent interesting article about the phenomenon.

In the world of Damon Runyon, a twist is a young woman. This may refer to her appearance as she walks away from the speaker, or I suppose it could have to do with a woman twisting a man around her little finger, or having twisted logic, but it is foolish to try to analyze slang. However, I have never heard of a woman being referred to as a torque. The Peppermint Torque? She torqued me around her little finger? Well, this all puts a new torque on things.

Click on title if you are in the mood for an overwhelming essay on the word. If you want just a little bit, click on the word.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Succotash: Corn and lima beans mixed. Any mixture.

From Narraganset for corn. The word has always seemed funny to me, and, it appears, to the writers of the Daffy Duck cartoons. Daffy is known for his expletive: Sufferin' Succotash, spoken with a lisp and considerable spray.

I think it would be an interesting challenge to a songwriter to include the word in a romantic ballad.

"My singular passion
Is for you with cash and succotash, and,
if not too much to ask, in Paris fashion".

Readers are invited to improve on that ditty.

Click on title for info.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Spangler: Name of candy and actor.

I picked up a box of candy with the name Spangler on it. That struck me because the only time I had ever heard that word was as the first name of an actor. His full name was Spangler Arlington Brugh. He was a movie star in the days when names like Frances Gumm were changed to names like Judy Garland so as to sound more normal to the audience. Spangler's name was changed to Robert Taylor.

Curious, I did a search on the word Spangler. I discovered that it is the name of a candy manufacturer. I had already figured that out. Arlington is the national cemetery and a city in Texas. Brugh is a name, rare.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Mandible: Lower jawbone

Ah mandible, who could make up such a word? I haven't heard tell of it yet, but I am watching for a movement favoring the change to to the non-sexist persondible. It will never catch on. It used to be that a person could create a new word; coining. In the days of villages, one could make up a new word and all would be agog. Today in the age of information where Google knows what is going on in every village, it is usual to find that someone, somewhere, already made up the gem you thought you created. Mandible is a scientific word, not a poetic one. It is hard to think of the translators doing the King James Version of The Bible and coming up with the phrase: mandible of an ass. There is a time to mandible and a time to jawbone.

Click on title for detailed info. Click on word to see Amy Grant's mandible.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Preterite: Having gone before.

This term is not used much in English anymore, and just as well. It used to be what we now call the past tense, grammatically speaking. But that was long ago and Now my consolation Is in the stardust of a song. Where was I..

My predicament is that I get preterite and predicate mixed up. I think I understand what the word preterite means, but predicate is one of those clinkers that gets more confusing the more it is defined. I predict that one day I will give up on predicating my predicament on the preterite.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009


Sockdolager: A huge blow that finishes a fight. John Wilkes Booth waited for that word (in the form of sockdologizing) to be spoken by an actor on stage. When the audience laughed loudly, he shot (sockdologized) Abraham Lincoln.

Also used to mean something very good, excellent. "That's a sockdolager of a knockwurst, meinherr."

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Adopt A Pet

At Arizona State University, a professor, his wife, students, staff and other faculty members rescue abandoned cats on campus, have them neutered, have their shots brought up to date and care for them in private homes until they can be adopted. The group is called Mildcats. If you are looking for a pet, click on the title for information about the adopt-a-pet program near you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Beg the Question

Begging the Question: A form of circular reasoning in which the conclusion is
the same as the premise, therefore nothing is proved.

The term is commonly misused by reporters and commentators to substitute for 'raises the question'. Presumably this incorrect usage is designed to impress the listener/viewer with the fact that the commentator is highly educated while proving otherwise. That raises the question; why are our commentators so ignorant?

Reporters and expert opinion peddlers hang out with politicians a lot, so that could explain it.

Click on the title for a tedious excursion into the evidence for the above claims.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fist Bump

Fist Bump: A greeting of sorts similar to a high five, deriving ultimately from the handshake. Signifies something akin to 'Whoopee!'.

The high five and its precursor, the 'gimme five' have been around for a long time as efforts to exuberate the mere mortal handshake. Though it seems to please children, athletes and presidential families, it looks to me that the high five is a slap and the fist bump is a punch. These gestures remove the warmth and personal aspect of a handshake and substitute actions which are usually evidence of anger and dominance. We are pretty much stuck with them now. Click on title for Time Magazine's take on the Obama fist bump.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Quotidian: Ordinary, everyday, daily, diurnal.

Quotidian is a great word for impressing in-laws or getting out of a date:

"Hey, how about dinner tomorrow night?"
"Sorry, I'm overwhelmed with the quotidian."
"Gosh, I didn't even know you were sick."

(If the word gosh offends you, fill in with a suitable euphemism).

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Diurnal: Daily


Saturday, January 3, 2009


Doofus: Stupid oaf.

Some suggest that doofus comes from the German word for dumb; doof. Maybe so. Seems more likely to be a made up word which sounds funny. It is associated with students and is rarely heard today; seems to have peaked in the 1930's. At least one dictionary opines that doofus may have been constructed from doo-doo and goofy. In any case, anyone using it nowadays runs the risk of having it applied to himself.

Friday, January 2, 2009


End-to-End: To line up.

If all the economists in the world were laid end to end they'd never reach a
conclusion. --George Bernard Shaw

If all the pretty young things at the Vassar debutante ball were laid end to
end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. --Dorothy Parker

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Click for College quotes:

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Contumely: A severe insult. "I heap contumely upon you, foul varlet." I suppose it is possible that there have been nice varlets, but I have never seen it expressed. They may have been nice before receiving all that contumely.

Click on title for word origin.