Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Wite \wahyt\ , noun;
1. Anglo-Saxon Law: A fine imposed by a king or lord on a subject who committed a serious crime
2. Anglo-Saxon Law: A fee demanded for granting a special privilege
3. Scottish: Responsibility for a crime, fault, or misfortune; blame
1. Scottish: To blame for; declare guilty of

Wite comes from Old English wita and gewita ("witness"), which derives from Proto-Germanic *witon-. Wite is related to the verb wit, meaning "to know." Wit is part of a family of Germanic words that, along with *witon-, ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European woid- ("to see").

Monday, January 30, 2012


Lazy day posting. Copied and pasted directly from here, which is a great source for correcting common English word errors.
There are five distinct words here. When “affect” is accented on the final syllable (a-FECT), it is usually a verb meaning “have an influence on”: “The million-dollar donation from the industrialist did not affect my vote against the Clean Air Act.”

Occasionally a pretentious person is said to affect an artificial air of sophistication. Speaking with a borrowed French accent or ostentatiously wearing a large diamond ear stud might be an affectation. In this sort of context, “affect” means “to make a display of or deliberately cultivate.”

Another unusual meaning is indicated when the word is accented on the first syllable (AFF-ect), meaning “emotion.” In this case the word is used mostly by psychiatrists and social scientists—people who normally know how to spell it.

The real problem arises when people confuse the first spelling with the second: “effect.” This too can be two different words. The more common one is a noun: “When I left the stove on, the effect was that the house filled with smoke.” When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it.

Less common is a verb meaning “to create”: “I’m trying to effect a change in the way we purchase widgets.” No wonder people are confused. Note especially that the proper expression is not “take affect” but “take effect”—become effective. Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.

The stuff in your purse? Your personal effects.

The stuff in movies? Sound effects and special effects.

“Affective” is a technical term having to do with emotions; the vast majority of the time the spelling you want is “effective.”

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Pot \pot\ , noun;
Campfire dinner in a pot (source)
Pot comes from Old English pott ("vessel") and Old French pot, which both come from a general Low Germanic and Romanic taken from Vulgar Latin  *pottus, which is of uncertain origin.

One of the funny things about language is that two words can be very similar or exactly the same in form and be unrelated. Female and male are unrelated. As are pot the cooking vessel and this pot:
Pot meaning marijuana dates to 1938 and is probably a shortening of Mexican Spanish potiguaya ("marajuana leaves").

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Hotchpot \HOCH-pot\ , noun;
1. The bringing together of shares of properties in order to divide them equally

Kind of reminds me of when your mom makes you pool Halloween candy so everyone gets the same amount. Nobody wins.

This word dates to the late 14th century from Anglo-Norman and Middle French hochepot, which was both a legal term similar to the above definition and a word for "a dish containing a mixture of many ingredients," usually referring to a kind of stew made with minced beef or goose and a bunch of veggies. It's a combination of hoche + pot ("to shake" + "a cooking pot"). Hoche and pot were borrowed into French via Anglo-French from a Germanic source.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Shrapnel \SHRAP-nl\ , noun;
1. Military: A hollow projectile containing bullets or the like and a bursting charge, designed to explode before reaching the target, and to set free a shower of missiles; such projectiles collectively
2. Shell fragments

Riddle me this: What do shrapnel, leotard, silhouette, and boycott have in common?

They all come from someone's name.

Shrapnel is first attested in 1806 from British General Henry Shrapnel, who invented the exploding shell during his time in the Royal Artillery during the Peninsular War. The surname Shrapnel dates to the 13th century and is believed to come from French Charbonnel, a diminutive form of Old French charbon ("charcoal"), in reference to complexion, hair color, or some other quality.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Juxtaposition \juhk-stuh-puh-ZISH-uhn\ , noun;
1. An act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast
2. The state of being close together or side by side

The first time I ever heard this word was in college Russian class. I snickered to myself, thinking that silly Russian lady just made up an English word. Egg on my face.

The word dates to the 1660's from French juxtaposition, which is a combination of Latin iuxta ("beside, near") and French position.

Iuxta is a contraction of *iugista, the superlative of the adjective *iugos ("closely connected"), which derives from the stem of iugum ("yoke") from iungere ("to join"). Iungere derives from Proto-Indo-European *yeug- ("to join") and is also the forebear of English jugular.

French position, like English position comes from Old French posicion, which derives from Latin positionem ("act or fact of placing, position, affirmation"). The Latin term ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *po-s(i)nere, a combination of *apo- + *sinere ("off, away" + "to leave, let").

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Bleb \bleb\ , noun;
1. A bubble
2. Medicine: A blister or vesicle

Bleb dates to the early 1600's and is supposedly imitative of the action of making a bubble with the lips, as are blob and blubber. Also, a bleb is smaller than a blob.

Warning: Do not Google Image search bleb. Ew.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-istan
-Stan is to country names in Central Asia what -ville is to town names in the US. -Stan means "country" and it derives from Persian -stan ("country"), which comes from Indo-Iranian *stanam. *Stanam is literally "where one stands," but it really means "place" and derives from Proto-Indo-European *sta-no- from the base *sta- ("to stand"). *Sta- is also the forbear of English stand via Proto-Germanic *sta-n-d- and Old English standan.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Unary \YOO-nuh-ree\ , adjective;
1. Composed of a single item or element

This word is first attested in 1923 as a chemistry term. It's part of a series of numerical descriptors similar to single, double, triple, etc.. This series is unary, binary, tenary, etc..  It seems that this -ary series is something of a back-formation from ternary and binary, which both pre-date unary by centuries.  

Ternary is first attested in 1430 as an adjective meaning "pertaining to, consisting of, compounded of, or characterized by a set (or sets) or three." It comes from Late Latin ternarius ("consisting of three").

Binary is first attested in 1464 as a noun meaning "a combination of two things; a couple." It's earliest use as an adjective dates to the late 16th century and was a musical term, as in binary measure ("that which has to beats to a bar"). Binary as we, the computer crowd, know it dates to 1948.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Unitary \YOO-ni-ter-ee\ , adjective;
1. Of or pertaining to a unit or units
2. Of, pertaining to, characterized by, or aiming toward unity
3. Government: Of or pertaining to a system of government in which the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of each state in a body of states are vested in a central authority

This word is first attested in 1816 from unit + -ary. Unit dates to the 1560's as "single number regarded as an undivided whole." It's an alteration of unity, which dates to the 1300's from Anglo-French unite, which derives from Old French unite. The Old French word comes from Latin unitatem ("oneness, sameness, agreement"), based on unus ("one") from Proto-Indo-European *oinos.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Shank \shangk\ , noun;
1. Prison slang: An improvised stabbing device
1. Prison slang: To be stabbed, especially in the back

Yesterday's post on shiv got me thinking about shank. Surprisingly, to me at least, it's not in the Oxford English Dictionary! Okay, shank is obviously in the dictionary, the OED lists 54 definitions, not including compound words. BUT, it does not include the prison slang definition I was looking for. So, I get to play etymologist today and offer my theories:

1. It comes from the usage "the slender part between the flattened handle and the bowl of a spoon" because perhaps early shanks were made by mutilating spoons.

2. Another usage "the part of a knife, chisel, etc. which is inserted into the handle" is a more likely culprit.

3. Maybe the verb usage to shank meaning "to stab" came first, based on the definition "to cause to walk off," which could be extended to "to cause someone to go away by killing them."

4. There is a dialectal meaning "the latter end or part of anything", so there could be a connection between that and the idea of stabbing someone in the back.

Now that I look at it, I like #4 the best, but I think all are plausible.

As far as non-slang shank, it comes from Old English sceanca, which is related to a bunch of Germanic words and probably derives from Proto-Germanic *skankon-. *Skankon possibly literally means "that which bends" from Proto-Indo-European *skeng- ("crooked").

Friday, January 20, 2012


Shiv \shiv\ , noun;
1. A knife, especially a switchblade
Prison shivs and shanks (source)
Shiv dates to 1915 as shive ("a razor"). The Oxford English Dictionary lists it as equal to chiv(e), which means "a knife" and is considered "Thieves' Cant," which is a secret language used by thieves, beggars and various kinds of hustlers.  It's a type of argot, which is "the jargon, slang, or peculiar phraseology of a class." Argots are a distinct form of jargon and slang that is generally secretive in nature and lets group insiders speak openly to one another without worrying about outsiders understanding them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


More \mohr\ , adjective;
1. In greater quantity, amount, measure, degree, or number
1. An additional quantity, amount, degree, or number
1. In or to a greater extent or degree; in addition; further; longer; again

This word comes from Old English mara, an adjective meaning "greater, more." It derives from Proto-Germanic *maizon from Proto-Indo-European *meis. In Old English ma ("more") from Proto-Germanic *mais was used for the adverb and noun. Ma initially became mo in Middle English, but it was eventually replaced by more in later Middle and then Modern English.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Quixotic \kwik-SOT-ik\ , adjective;
1. Resembling or befitting Don Quixote
2. Extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable
3. Impulsive and often rashly unpredictable

This word is obviously based on the character Don Quixote from 'The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (or 'El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha' if you speak Spanish, which I don't) by Miguel de Cervantes. Quixote is apparently the Anglicized spelling of Quijote, which means "thigh" and derives from Latin coxa ("hip").

I've never read the book, but this print:
Source: Wikipedia
hung in my parents' house my whole life and I always thought it was interesting. Now my 2-month old is absolutely OBSESSED with it so I just printed off a copy and he's been cooing, smiling, and staring at it ever since. Future art connoisseur? Perhaps.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Mettle \met-l\ , noun;
1. Courage and fortitude
2. Disposition or temperament

Mettle is a variation on metal and the two words were synonyms meaning both "metal" and "disposition" until the spellings diverged in the early 18th century.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Sprat \sprat\ , noun;
1. A species of herring of the eastern North Atlantic
2. A small or inconsequential person or thing
Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
his wife could eat no lean
Put them both together
and they lick the platter clean.

This poem goes back to at least the mid-17th century and calling a person of small stature Jack Sprat goes back to the 16th century. Sprat has a few definitions and a couple different etymologies, depending on what it means.

The oldest definition is "an evil spirit" and it dates to the mid-15th century. The Oxford English Dictionary calls its origin 'obscure' and compares it to scrat, which means "a hermaphrodite" and comes from Old English scratta. Scratta derives from Old High German scrato ("satyr, wood-demon") and/or Middle High German schrat ("goblin, elf"). This etymology does not appear to be connected to the definitions given above.

Both the fish and the "small" definitions come from the same source: sprot. Sprat is a variant of sprot that emerged by the mid-16th century. Sprot is an Old English word that presumably comes from some Germanic source because there are cognates in Frisian, Dutch, Danish, and German. Sprot has all the same definitions as sprat plus "a smelt."

As for where the sprat in Jack Sprat comes from, your guess is as good as mine. I'd guess the latter etymology because connection between "small" and "diminutive." But the former etymology does link up with "elf," so it could go either way.

Ever notice how busy 'Jack' is in fairy tales and nursery rhymes? Find out why here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Doryphore \DOH-ree-for\ , noun;
1. One who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, especially in a pestering manner

This word is first attested in 1952 from French doryphore ("Colorado beetle") from Greek doryforos ("spear-carrier"). The modern meaning is apparently connected with the British diplomat, writer, and politician Sir Harold Nicolson, but I'm not sure exactly why.

This word made me think of those people who love to point out grammatical mistakes on people's Facebook statuses.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Skeezy \SKEE-zee\ , adjective;
1. Sleazy, distasteful
This man has made it into the OED (source)
This U.S. slang word is first attested in 1992 on an online forum of some sort in reference to Freddy Mercury. It's either based on skeeze or a blend of sleazy and skeevy.

Skeeze is first attested in 1989 and is attributed to Sir Mix-a-Lot (of 'I Like Big Butts' fame). It is of uncertain origin (probably because it's a made-up rap word) that is possibly a blend of skank and sleaze. Skank's origin is also uncertain and sleaze is a back-formation from sleazy.

Sleazy as an adjective dates to the mid-1600's and is of unknown origin. There is a noun sleazy that is unrelated which is an abbreviation for Silesia, the Latinized form of a place name in east Germany.

Skeevy apparently originated in the 1970's in Philadelphia and was taken from Italian schifare ("to loathe").

Friday, January 13, 2012


Paraskevidekatriaphobia , noun;
1. Fear of Friday the 13th

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, triskaidekaphobia means "fear of the number 13" and comes from Greek tris + kai + deka + phobia ("3" + "and" + "10" + "morbid fear") and is first attested in 1911.  Paraskevidekatriaphobia is not included in the OED, but from other sources (...cough*Wikipedia*cough...) it comes from adding the Greek word Paraskevi ("Friday") to dekatreis ("13") and phobia to get "morbid fear of Friday the 13th.
Superstition surrounding Friday the 13th appears to be a modern invention, with little to no references to it before the late 19th century. The origin is not really known, but there are plenty of superstitions about the number 13 - mostly because 12 seems to be such a good number that 13 gets the shaft. There are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, etc. Friday is also unlucky, and has been considered so since at least the 14th century. We've carried this into modern times by calling stock market crashes and other disasters Black Friday if they happen to fall on the last day of the working week. Black Friday is also the biggest shopping day of the year, right after Thanksgiving, but some might call that a particular kind of disaster as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Mascara \ma-SKAR-uh\ or \ma-SKAHR-uh\ , noun;
1. A substance used as a cosmetic to color the eyelashes and eyebrows
The word mascara dates to the 1890's from Spanish mascara ("stain, mask"), which derives from the same source as Italian maschera ("mask"). That source is Middle Latin masca ("mask, specter, nightmare"), but before that the origins are uncertain. It may come from Arabic maskhara ("buffoon") from sakhira ("to ridicule"). Alternatively, it may have come from a Germanic source similar to English mesh that was later influenced by Provençal, Catalan, and/or Old French words. Another possibility is Occitan mascara ("to blacken, darken") from mask- ("black") which is believed to come from a pre-Indo-European language.

Using mascara goes back much, much further than the 1890's. In ancient Egypt people used kohl to darken their lashes, eyes, and brows as far back as 4000 BCE. Mascara similar to what we use today was developed in the 1800's by a chemist named Eugene Rimmel (sound familiar, ladies?) using a new invention: petroleum jelly. While revolutionary, petroleum jelly mascara was extremely messy and has long since been replaced by oil- and wax-based products.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Screed \skreed\ , noun;
1. A long discourse or essay, especially a diatribe
2. An informal letter, account, or other piece of writing
3. Britain: A fragment or shred, as of cloth
4. Scotland: A tear or rip, especially in cloth
5. Scotland: A drinking bout

This word is first attested in 1315 and it's a variation on shred, which comes from Old English screade. Screade comes from West Germanic *skraudas, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *skreu- ("to cut, cutting tool"). *Skreu- is also the forebear of shroud via Proto-Germanic *skrud- ("cut"), West Germanic *skruthan, and Old English scrud ("a garment, clothing").

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Foot \foot\ , noun; 
My baby's little feet! (credit)
Foot comes from Old English fot from Proto-Germanic *fot, which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *ped-. The plural form of foot is feet which, like tooth/teeth is a result of i-mutation.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Birr \bur\ , noun;
1. Force; energy; vigor
2. Emphasis in statement, speech, etc.
3. A whirring sound

This word is first attested in 1325 from Old Norse byrr ("favoring wind"), which derives from Germanic *burjo-z from beran ("to bear").

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Pigtail \PIG-teyl\ , noun;
This word dates to the 1680's as "tobacco in a twisted roll" from pig + tail. The meaning "braid of hair" arose in the mid-1700's when it was a fashion among soldiers and sailors. Somewhere along the line it became this:
Adorable (credit)
The origin of pig is uncertain, but it probably evolved from Old English *picg and originally meant "young pig," as opposed to "adult pig," which was swine. *Picg was really only used in compound in Old English, and the usual word for "pig" was fearh, which is related to furh ("furrow"). Furh derives from Proto-Indo-European *perk- ("dig, furrow"), which just so happens to be the forebear of pork via Latin porc-us ("pig").

Tail comes from Latin tægel, from Proto-Germanic *tagla-, which derives from Proto-Indo-European *doklos based on *dek- ("something long and thin").

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Ochlocracy \ok-LOK-ruh-see\ , noun;
1. Government by the mob; mob rule; mobocracy

This word dates to the late 16th century from French ochlocratie, which derives from Greek okhlokratia, which is a combination of okhlos + kratos ("mob" + "rule, power, strength").

Friday, January 6, 2012


Argot \AHR-goh\ or \AHR-guht\ , noun;
1. A specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class or group of people, especially that of an underworld group, devised for private communication and identification
2. The special vocabulary and idiom of a particular profession or social group

This word dates to 1860 from French argot which meant "the jargon of Paris rogues and thieves" and earlier "the company of beggars," which derives from the Middle French definition "group of beggars." Before that the origin is unknown. The best English equivalent is cant, which dates to 1709 as "insincere talk" from the earlier slang definition "whining of beggars." It derives from Old Northern French canter ("to sing, chant"), which comes from Latin cantare, related to canere ("to sing").

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Churlish \CHUR-lish\ , adjective;
1. Boorish or rude
2. Of a churl; peasantlike
3. Stingy; mean
4. Difficult to work or deal with, as soil

Churlish derives from late Old English cierlisc ("of or pertaining to churls"). Churl comes from Old English ceorl ("peasant, freeman, man without rank") from Proto-Germanic *kerlaz. In Middle English churl had different meanings, including "man of the common people," "a country man," "husbandman," and "free peasant." By 1300 it had evolved to mean "bondman, villain" or "fellow of low birth or rude manners." By the late 14th century churlish had come to mean "deliberately rude."

Churl is not alone in its transition from something like "common man" to "rude." Boor and villain have also taken the same route.

Boor dates to the 13th century from Old French bovier ("herdsman"), which derives from Latin bovis, the genitive of bos ("cow, ox"). The word fell out of use in English for a while, but was re-introduced via Dutch boer in the 16th century. Boer come from Proto-Germanic *buram ("dweller, farmer") and, like bos, ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *bhu-. The negative connotation doesn't appear in print until the 1560's as boorish and comes from the notion of 'clownish rustics.'

Villain dates to the 1300's as "base or low-born rustic" from Anglo-French and Old French villain, which derives from Middle Latin villanus ("farmhand") based on Latin villa ("country house"). Villa comes from Proto-Indo-European *weik- ("clan").

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Chaos

Oh, English. What a strange and wonderful language. Read this 1922 poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité ALOUD to get the full effect. Reading it in your head is too easy!

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles. 

Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire."
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with "darky."
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess--it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation--think of psyche--!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying "grits"?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with "enough"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup."
My advice is--give it up!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Turnip \TUR-nip\ , noun;
Source: Wikipedia
This word dates to the 1530's as turnepe from turn + nepe. Here, turn comes from the shape - it's as if it was formed on a lathe. Nepe is the Middle English word for turnip from Old English næp, which derives from Latin napus ("turnip").

Monday, January 2, 2012


Pussy \POOS-ee\ , noun;
1. A cat, especially a kitten
Pussies are weird. I prefer dogs. (source)
Pussy dates to 1699 and is a diminutive of puss. It means "cat", but it was also used to mean "rabbit" in the 18th century. Pussy as a term of endearment for a woman or girl pre-dates the "cat" definition by almost 150 years. The slang meaning "female genitals" dates to at least 1699, though is likely much older like any other coarse slang. Puss is a pretty common word in Germanic languages and several non-Germanic Proto-Indo-European languages as well. In all the languages it either means "cat" or it is a call to attract a cat.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Babalaas \BA-buh-las\ , noun;
1. A hangover

Happy 2012! Anyone having a babalaas today?

This word is a South African colloquialism from Afrikaans babalaas, which comes from Zulu bhabhalazi, the stem of ibhabhalazi ("hangover").