Category Archives: Words

There’s a Word for That: Decemnovenarianize

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe definition of the word decemnovenarianize is to act like a person of the nineteenth century; a person who behaves in such a manner is aptly called a decemnovenarian. It is certainly a mouthful; the word is pronounced “dee sem no vuh NAR yan eyes.”

In the 21st-century — call it the “digital era” or the “Google era” — why would anyone want to act like a nineteenth century person? That person would be clueless about modern communication, i.e., texting, snapchatting, emojis, textese, etc. So archaic. So boring. Outside of an actor, for example, playing the role of a character in Victorian England, there isn’t much need for such a word in everyday language. That it is why the word, as lovely as it sounds, is an obsolete word and rarely found in dictionaries — even online dictionaries. The only place the word shows up in print, in the 21st century, is in Erin McKean’s Weird and Wonderful Words, a delightful collection of obsolete words, published in 2003.

But perhaps we have been too hasty with regard to the word — rather than leaving it forlorn in the language vault to collect dust, we should bring it back as an eloquent synonym for a Luddite: “Don’t be such a decemnovenarian — use your freaking phone to text or call me back!” or “Don’t be such a decemnovenarian — use the “find my iPhone” app instead of tearing your house apart looking for your phone!” What the Dickens, fine fellow, the word just might make a comeback!


Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
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There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: Weird and Wonderful Words by Erin McKean.

What Medical Specialists Think of the Health Care Act

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt a press conference in February, President Trump stunned health care pundits, reporters — and pretty much all of America — with this jaw-dropping remark, “Now, I have to tell you, [health care is] an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Duh. If you have ever been to a hospital and had to deal with the red tape from doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies — it makes building a wheelchair with glue and popsicle sticks while blindfolded like child’s play. So why not ask the witty (and punny) medical specialists what they think of the Affordable Health Care Act (AKA TrumpCare)? Here is how they weighed in on this complex legislation:

The allergists voted to scratch it, but the dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.

The gastroenterologists wanted to throw up, but the neurologists thought the politicians had a lot of nerve.

The obstetricians felt they were all laboring under a misconception. Ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted.

Pathologists exclaimed, “Over my dead body!” while the pediatricians retorted, “Oh, grow up!”

The psychiatrists thought the whole idea was insanity, while the radiologists could see right through it.

The hematologists were so angry they just saw red, while otolaryngologists just shook their heads in strong disapproval.

The surgeons were fed up with the cuts and decided to wash their hands of the whole thing.

Gynecologists, on the other hand, thought it was all a bunch of hoo-haw.

The ear nose and throat specialists didn’t swallow it, and just wouldn’t hear of it. The pharmacologists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow, and the plastic surgeons said, “This puts a whole new face on the issue”

The podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the urologists were pissed off at the whole idea.

The anesthesiologist thought the whole plan was a gas, but the cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say no.

Ultimately, the proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the assholes in Washington.

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Rare Names of Baby Animals

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEveryone knows the name for a baby dog (puppy) and a cat (kitten) — and who doesn’t love adorable puppies and kittens… But we digress. In the English language, notorious for its idiosyncrasies, you will not be surprised to learn that there are several names for baby animals (or their young) that are quite rare, and perhaps a little strange; for example, a baby hare is a leveret; a baby cockroach is a nymph; a baby hawk is an eyas, and a baby salmon is a smolt. Next time you turn on the kitchen light and see baby cockroaches scattering about, impress someone by yelling out “Oh, look at all those frightened nymphs running for cover!” Be prepared for an Anderson Cooperesque eyeroll (Google it, if you don’t know get the allusion). Here is a list of some rare and common names of baby animals. How many do you know? (name of animal, followed by specific baby animal or youth name):

antelope, calf

badger, cub

bear, cub / whelp

beaver, kit

bobcat, kitten

buffalo, calf

camel, calf

caribou, fawn

cat, kitten

cattle, calf

chicken, chick

cockroach, nymph

cougar, kitten

coyote, puppy

deer, fawn

dog, puppy / pup / whelp

duck, duckling

eagle, eaglet

eel, elver

elephant, calf

elk, calf

falcon, eyas

ferret, kit

fish, fry

fox, cub / kit

frog, tadpole / polliwog

giraffe, calf

goat, kid

goose, gosling

grasshopper, nymph

hare, leveret

hartebeest, calf

hawk, chick / eyas

horse, foal / colt / filly

kangaroo, joey

leopard, cub

lion, cub / whelp

mink, kit

owl, owlet

oyster, spat

peafowl, peachick

pheasant, chick

pig, piglet/ porkling / gilt  /  shoat

pigeon, squab / squeaker

pike, pickerel

possum, joey

rabbit, kitten

rat, pup

rhinoceros, calf

roe deer, kid

salmon, parr / smolt

seal, calf / pup

sheep, lamb

skunk, kitten

spider, spiderling

swan, cygnet

termite, nymph

tick, nymph

tiger, cub / whelp

toad, tadpole

wallaby, joey

walrus, cub

weasel, kit

whale, calf

wolf, cub / pup / whelp

zebra, foal

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There’s a Word for That: Saudade

atkins-bookshelf-wordsEver miss someone so deeply that it leaves you profoundly sad and nostalgic? The Portuguese have a word for that: saudade (pronounced sou DAH duh). Saudade is defined as a deep emotional state of a pensive, sad longing for a loved person or something that is absent (think of a childhood pet); or a profound longing for something that is unattainable (think of Gatsby and his beloved Daisy); or an acute sense of a moment slipping away (think of a special occasion, like graduation or a wedding). It is not the same feeling as melancholy, which has no obvious or specific cause.

The Portuguese word is derived from two similar sounding words: the Latin word solitat-, the stem of solitas meaning “solitude or loneliness” and the Portuguese word saudar, meaning “to salute or greet.” Leave it to Brazilians to capture the emotion in a song from the early 1960s — “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl From Ipanema,” music by Antonio Carlos Jonim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes translated into English by Norman Gimbel). In an essay for The New York Times titled “Brazilian Yearning and Imminent Loss” film and music critic Stephen Holden observes that the famous Brazilian song is “a potent distillation of the concept of saudade, a feeling of melancholic nostalgia that characterizes so much Brazilian music. ‘And when she passes, he smiles, but she doesn’t see,’ goes the wistful punch line. Longing for the unattainable, and an acute sense of the moment’s slipping away: That’s saudade.”

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There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
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What is the Pinocchio Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThere are so many lies coming out of Washington D.C. — each day alternative facts, fake news, misrepresentations, and misstatements are colliding with one another at such a dizzying pace, like atoms colliding, resulting in a spectacular explosion of bullshit that blocks out even the tiniest glimpse of reality. Even seasoned White House correspondents are scrambling for different ways of referring to all this bullshit by using different euphemisms like balderdash, baloney, booty chatter, bull honky, bunk, canard, cock and bull story, codswallop, concoction, crock, falsehood, fib, fiction, fish story, flapdoodle, hogwash, hokum, hooey, horse manure, inveracity, jiggery-pokery, malarkey, misrepresentation, misstatement, moonshine, piffle, pish posh, poppycock, prevarication, prevarication, rubbish, stretcher, tall tale, twaddle, untruth, whopper. Whew! All of this lying would even make Pinocchio’s little wooden head spin.

Speaking of Pinocchio — when discussing lies and lying, psychologists refer to the Pinocchio effect. No, the Pinocchio effect does not refer to the lengthening of the nose described in the famous children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881) by Carlo Collodi (otherwise most politicians could not fit through standard doorways without turning sideways). In science, the Pinocchio effect describes the increase in temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the corner of the eye when a person lies. In a pioneering study conducted in 2012, researchers at the University of Granada, Emilio Gómez Milán and Elvira Salazar López, used thermographic cameras to measure temperature on the face of human subjects. When a person performs considerable mental effort (eg., being interrogated or lying), the overall temperature of his or her face drops (except around the nose and corner of the eyes); however, when a person experiences anxiety, overall face temperature rises. The researchers elaborate: “When we lie about our feelings, the temperature around our nose raises and a brain element called insula is activated. The insula is a component of the brain reward system, and it only activates when we experience real feelings (called qualias). The insula is involved in the detection and regulation of body temperature. Therefore, there is a strong negative correlation between insula activity and temperature increase: the more active the insule (the greater the feeling) the lower the temperature change, and vice versa.”

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Utterly Unique Words

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe editors of are fond of diving into the depths of the sea of words, looking for truly dazzling and unique treasures to haul up to the surface. Here are some recent discoveries that they titled “utterly unique”:

dreamt: this past tense of dream is the only verb in English to end with “mt”

hydroxyzine: one of only two words in the English language that has an X, Y, and Z in alphabetical order; refers to a versatile medication that reduces activity in the central nervous system; specifically, it acts as an antihistamine and sedative. (Incidentally, the other word is xyzzor, a nematode worm. Gross!)

queue: a line; it is the only word in English that is pronounced the same if you remove the last four letters.

syzygy: The alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line; most commonly the Earth, Sun, and Moon; the only word in the English language that contains three “y”s.

tmesis: the insertion of one or more words between a word, compound word, or a phrase (eg, abso-freaking-lutely, fan-bloody-tastic, legend-wait for it-dary); the only English word that begins with “tm.”

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For further reading: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole
A Word A Day by Anu Garg

Phrases That Cannot Be Translated Literally

alex atkins bookshelf phrases“Most of the world’s languages have phrases or sentences that cannot be understood literally,” writes lexicographer Richard Spears. “Even if you know all the words in a phrase and understand all the grammar… the meaning may still be elusive. A phrase or sentence of this type is said to be idiomatic.” American English, being so idiomatic, causes a lot of confusion for second language learners. Imagine their horror when they hear that someone is “trying to bury the hatchet” with another person; or a person states “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” The actual meaning of those phrases is lost in translation; of course, English speakers know they have nothing to do with hatchets or horses. But how is an English language learner supposed to know that?

The English language, however, does not have a monopoly on phrases that when translated literally seem, well idiotic. Just ask the translators involved with the Open Translation Project, who translate TED Talks into over 100 languages. They were asked to share their favorite idiomatic phrases, or phrases that cannot be translated literally. Use at your own peril (idiom followed by literal translation, followed by actual meaning):

German Idioms
Idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Translated literally: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
Actual Meaning: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.”

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
“I only understand the train station.”
“I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.’”

Die Katze im Sack kaufen.
“To buy a cat in a sack.”
That a buyer purchased something without inspecting it first.

French Idioms 
Avaler des couleuvres.
“To swallow grass snakes.”
“It means being so insulted that you’re not able to reply.” 

Sauter du coq à l’âne.
“To jump from the cock to the donkey.”
“It means to keep changing topics without logic in a conversation.” 

Se regarder en chiens de faïence.
“To look at each other like earthenware dogs.”
“Basically, to look at each other coldly, with distrust.” 

Les carottes sont cuites!
“The carrots are cooked!”
“The situation can’t be changed.”

Swedish Idioms
Det är ingen ko på isen
“There’s no cow on the ice.”
“There’s no need to worry. 

Att glida in på en räkmacka
“To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.”
“somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.”

Det föll mellan stolarna
“It fell between chairs.”
“It’s an excuse you use when a person was supposed to do something, and forgot to do it.”

Russian Idioms
Галопом по Европам
“Galloping across Europe.”
“To do something hastily, haphazardly.”

На воре и шапка горит
“The thief has a burning hat.”
“He has an uneasy conscience that betrays itself.”

Хоть кол на голове теши
“You can sharpen with an ax on top of this head.”
“He’s a very stubborn person.”

The idiom: брать/взять себя в руки
“To take oneself in one’s hands.”
“to pull yourself together.”

Portuguese Idioms
Quem não se comunica se trumbica
“He who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.”
“He who doesn’t communicate gets into trouble.”’

Quem não tem cão caça com gato
“He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.”
“You make the most of what you’ve got.” Basically, you do what you need to do, with what the resources you have. 

Empurrar com a barriga
“To push something with your belly.”
“To keep postponing an important chore.”

Pagar o pato
“Pay the duck.”
“To take the blame for something you did not do.”

Polish Idioms
Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
“Did an elephant stomp on your ear?”
 “You have no ear for music.”

Bułka z masłem.
“It’s a roll with butter.”
“It’s really easy.”

Z choinki się urwałaś?
“Did you fall from a Christmas tree?”
“You are not well informed, and it shows.”

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