What is a Feghoot?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhat in the world is a feghoot? A type of owl? A musical instrument? Don’t try looking in a dictionary, because it is one of those wonderfully quirky words that is not found in any dictionary — not even the exhaustive Oxford English Dictionary. A feghoot is a humorous short story or vignetter that ends in a pun of a proverb or well-known phrase. In short, a feghoot is a punny story. The father of the reshoot is American science fiction writer Reginald Brenor (1911-1992), who wrote under the pseudonym “Grendel Briarton” (an anagram of his name). Brenor had developed the idea for the punny story but didn’t have a name for it. One day he was playing Scrabble with his wife and arranged his letter tiles alphabetically: EFGHOOT. His wife noted that if he transposed the first two letters he ended up with a silly word: FEGHOOT. Eureka! Brenor had the name for his punny stories.

Brenor (writing as Briarton) introduced the world to the feghoot in a series of stories titled “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot” that appeared in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1956 to 1973. Over the years, Briarton wrote hundreds of feghoots which also appeared in other popular magazines, including Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Amazing Stories. Soon other famous authors, like Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, and Stephen King, caught the feghoot bug and began contributing punny stories. There have been two collections of Briarton’s feghoots — both are rare and very expensive.

Below is an example of a classic feghoot that ends with a clever pun on a well-known idiom from James Charlton’s shorter collection of feghoots, titled Bred Any Good Rooks Lately?

Flowers for Pachyderm by Mark Strand

As Franz Kafka awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a raging bull elephant. He charged around his room with his trunk sticking straight up and making loud trumpeting noises. The picture of the lady in furs came crashing down, the vase of anemones tipped over. Suddenly afraid that his family might discover him, Franz stuck his enormous head out of the window overlooking the courtyard. But it was too late. His parents and sisters had already been awakened by the racket, and rushed into his room. All of them gasped simultaneously as they stared at the great bulk of Franz’s rump. Then Franz pulled his head and turned toward them, looking sheepish. Finally, after an awkward couple of minutes in which no one spoke, Franz’s mother went over and rested her cheek against his trunk and said, “Are you ill, dear?” Franz let loose a bloodcurdling blast, and his mother slipped to the floor. Franz’s father was about to help her but noticed the anemones tipped over on the table. He picked them up and threw them out the window, saying, “With Franz like this, who needs anemones?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Bred Any Good Rooks Lately? by James Charlton, 1986.

Words from 2021 National Spelling Bee

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn July 8, 2021, Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from New Orleans, Louisiana, won the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “murraya”(defined by Merriam-Webster as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals”). For her spelling brilliance, Avant-garde won a $50,000 in cash, a trophy, and — of course — bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on her favorite apps. Notably, she is the first Black American to win the competition in the Spelling Bee’s 96-year history; she is the second Black champion, following Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica who won the competition in 1998. Unlike most spelling competitors who begin training as early as kindergarten, Avant-garde began training two years ago, studying words for about seven hours each day, and competed in 18 spelling tournaments to get to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

A review of the words used in the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words, venturing into the world of art, antiquity, medicine, zoology, and botany. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee in 1994, the competition has attracted more competitors, and more significantly, ones who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. This year the event featured 209 contestants ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane — most can only be found in unabridged or specialized dictionaries. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.

Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

murraya: a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees

retene: a crystalline hydrocarbon isolated from pine tar, rosin oil, and various fossil resins but usually prepared from abietic acid and related compounds by dehydrogenation

neroli oil: a fragrant pale yellow essential oil obtained from flowers chiefly of the sour orange and used as a flavoring and in cologne

Nepeta: a plant of a genus that includes catnip and several kinds, cultivated for their spikes of violet or blue flowers

fewtrils: things of little value; trifles

fidibus: a paper spill for lighting pipes

haltere: one of a pair of club-shaped organs in a dipteran fly that are the modified second pair of wings and function as sensory flight stabilizers

athanor: a self-feeding digesting furnace that maintained a uniform and durable heat and was used by alchemists

depreter: a finish for a plastered wall made by pressing small stones in the soft plaster

consertal: of an igneous rock, of a texture in which the irregularly shaped crystals interlock

psychagogic: attractive, persuasive, inspiring; of or relating to psychagogy

duchesse: a chaise lounge with arms that was popular in 18th century France

thanatophidia: venomous snakes

ambystoma: a genus (the type of the family Ambystomidae) of common salamanders found in America and characterized by amphicoelous vertebrae, short prevomers, and internal fertilization

theodolite: a surveyor’s instrument for measuring horizontal and usually also vertical angles

ancistroid: shaped like a hook; resembling a hook

chrysal: a transverse line of crushed fibers in the belly of an archery bow beginning as a pinch

cloxacillin: a semisynthetic oral penicillin used to treat bacterial infections.

regolith: unconsolidated residual or transported material that overlies the solid rock on the earth, moon, or a planet

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.merriam-webster.com
http://spellingbee.com
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/09/scripps-national-spelling-bee-2021-zaila-avant-garde-becomes-first-african-american-winner
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/zaila-avant-garde-spelling-bee-winner.html

Most Misspelled Words by State

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEach year, the experts at AT&T turn from surreptitiously finding ways to hike up your mobile phone bill and turn to examining data from Google Trends to determine the top searches for how to spell specific words by state. If you have read stories over the past few years about the dumbing down of America, then a review of this list will only confirm your worst fear — the same people (from 11 states, mind you) who do not know how to spell the word “every,” “which,” or “believe” are the same ones who go to the voting booths every few years to vote for President and their congressmen. (We are so doomed!) Naturally in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, the most misspelled word in America was “quarantine” (often misspelled as “corn teen”) and “coronavirus” (often misspelled as “caronavirus”). Below is the list of the most misspelled words by state from the past year. Which word surprises you the most?

Alabama: which

Alaska: eighty

Arizona: which

Arkansas: receive

California: separate

Colorado: quarantine

Connecticut: quarantine

Delaware: government

District of Columbia: succeed

Florida: pharaoh

Georgia: favorite

Hawaii: every

Idaho: piece

Illinois: coronavirus

Indiana: quarantine

Iowa: favorite

Kansas: multiplication

Kentucky: favorite

Louisiana: which

Maine: watch

Maryland: favorite

Massachusetts: quarantine

Michigan: coronavirus

Minnesota: quarantine

Mississippi: every

Missouri: quarantine

Montana: every

Nebraska: believe

Nevada: quarantine

New Hampshire: definitely

New Jersey: coronavirus

New Mexico: favorite

New York: definitely

North Carolina: exercise

North Dakota: believe

Ohio: favorite

Oklahoma: which

Oregon: quarantine

Pennsylvania: coronavirus

Rhode Island: separate

South Carolina: which

South Dakota: believe

Tennessee: quarantine

Texas: confident

Utah: definitely

Vermont: coronavirus

Virginia: favorite

Washington: quarantine

West Virginia: coronavirus

Wisconsin: quarantine

Wyoming: quarantine

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: http://www.attexperts.com/news/each-states-most-commonly-googled-misspelled-word

What is a Dittogram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBefore we get to the dittogram, let us set the stage by traveling back to the Middle East in the 6th to 10th Centuries, the crucible of the three major religions and the development of the Bible. Since FedEx Office and desktop scanners did not exist back then, European Jewish scribes made copies of the Old Testament Bible by hand — that is, writing out each word, letter by letter, sentence by sentence. It was long, tedious, and painstaking working, taking up to fifteen months to copy a Bible. At that time, the Bible was not the unified book we recognize today — quite the opposite: it was a collection of scrolls covering a wide range of genres (poetry, history, narrative, wisdom, lament, and apocalyptic literature) written by many different authors. In fact, the word bible is derived from the Greek word biblia, meaning “many books.” All of these stories were transmitted from generation to generation via the oral tradition for more than a thousand years until they were finally written down. Fortunately, archaeologists have discovered and identified some of these early sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex, and the Leningrad Codex. The scribes worked from this collection of scrolls, written in Hebrew, to create copies of the Old Testament, or the Torah. Unlike God, the scribes were not perfect and introduced two types of errors. In the field of linguistics or textual criticism, a dittogram (or dittography) is defined as a letter, word, or phrase that is accidentally repeated by a copyist or scribe. For example, a scribe who was copying the ten commandments, could have accidentally written: “Thou shalt not not commit adultery.” Oops. Of course, the scribe could also do the opposite, and leave out a word, known as haplography; for example: “Thous shalt commit adultery.” Yikes! (However, a wonderful example of a Freudian slip!)

So now that you have been introduced to the dittogram via those mischievous scribes, we can fast forward to the present where you will now be introduced to the dittogram in the realm of word play. In this context, a dittogram is defined as a sentence with consecutive homonyms (words with similar sounds but different meanings). Although the term might be foreign to you, you are no stranger to the dittogram because you have probably uttered your fair share of them. For example, if you have ever been to a restaurant and requested, “We’d like a table for four,” then you just used one: “for” and “four.” Congrats! Below are other examples of dittograms for your enjoyment and inspiration.

My roommate said that she knew you.

His cash cache is under the mattress.

You can write right after the bell rings.

That loud noise annoys me every morning.

The student read red books only.

A grisly grizzly wandered into the cabin.

Our hour spent together was so memorable.

Shirley surely can run fast.

He could smell the odor from afar: “The nose knows,” he said.

She enjoyed reading the novel novel.

The soccer score was two to two.

The zoo opened a new gnu exhibit.

The foul fowl ran around the pond.

Tom will marry merry Mary next month.

The children were lost in the maize maze.

The whole hole was left exposed.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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There’s A Word for That: Nubivagant

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are an adrenaline junkie you could be described this way. However, even if you are risk averse, you could also be described this way. Although this adjective has a rather harsh sound, nubivagant (pronounced “noo buh VAH gent”, it does have a rather lovely meaning: “wandering in the clouds”. The word is formed from the Latin word nubes (meaning “clouds”) and vagant (meaning “wandering”). The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in writing in 1656. Although the English language is constantly expanding, it does shed words from time to time, and this is one of its victims. The word is rarely used except in books of rare, archaic words. But given the fact that so many people participating in airborne activities like flying planes and ultralights, hang gliding, parachuting, paragliding, skydiving, and wing suit flying, the word nubivagant certainly deserves a comeback.

When was the last time you were nubivagant?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
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Why Is It Called a Glove Box?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you have been in a car, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Can you see if there is [name of item here] in the glove box?” And you know exactly where that is: the storage area on the passenger side of the car. However, if you say that in front of a car aficionado, they will quickly correct you, “You mean the glove compartment, don’t you?” Indeed “glove compartment” is the proper term although the term “glove box” (or “glovebox”) is used interchangeably. In different parts of the U.S., the glove compartment is known as a “cubby” or “cubby hole” (Minnesota, Wyoming) or “jockey box” (Idaho). When scientists or medical professionals uses the term glovebox, they are referring to either a box that contains gloves (similar to a tissue box, with a slit at the top that dispenses gloves, rather than tissues) or a sealed bio-safe glass container that allows a user to slip their arms and hands into gloves to manipulate an object in a separate atmosphere to prevent contamination (you’ve seen these in the movies, for example, when scientists are working with a dangerous contagion).

To understand the origin of the term, we need to step into the time machine and travel back to the early 1900s when  the transportation industry was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to engine-powered cars. The Packard Motor Car Company of Warren, Ohio founded by James and William Packard, introduced an early automobile, aptly called the Packard Model A. The Packard was powered by a single-cylinder engine and looked much like a horse-drawn carriage (the buggy-style body was even built by Morgan and Williams, an established carriage-maker); however, the standard splash board (used to prevent mud from splattering the occupants) was replaced by a large storage box, resembling a wide wooden locker, which was intended for parcels or any items that needed to be protected from the elements. The very first Packard built in 1899, known as “Old Number One” is on display at Packard’s alma mater, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Packard Model A was considered a luxury vehicle, selling for $2,600 (about $82,000 in today’s dollars) that competed against several other early automobiles priced from $375 to $1,500. Since many of the early automobiles were open carriages, lacking side windows and a hard top, and did not have a heating system, a driver’s hands would get very cold and numb as they were exposed to the rush of cold air. The antidote: driving gloves, of course!

Using Google Ngram Viewer we see that the term “glove compartment” makes its first appearance in 1901 and really takes off in the 1930s. One of the most notable persons to popularize the term glove compartment was the incomparable Dorothy Levitt (1882-1922) —  a woman way ahead of her time. Although not a well-known name like Amelia Earhart (1897-1939) Levitt was a true trailblazer: she was an accomplished race care driver, pilot, and equestrian, holding many world records throughout her career. Her employer, the Napier Car Company, promoted her many victories and supported her mission to encourage women to drive cars, which in the early 1900s was quite revolutionary (remember that white women did not have voting rights until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919; Black women had to wait for that same right until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965). In 1909 she published a book, titled The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Want to Motor, that promoted independence and female motoring. Levitt covered all the important aspects of driving, maintenance, attire, and manners. The first eight chapters of her book included these topics:

(1) The car: it’s cost, upkeep and accessories
(2) The all-important question of dress
(3) The mechanism of the car
(4) How to drive
(5) Troubles: how to avoid and mend them
(6) Hints on expenses
(7) Motor manners
(8) Tips: necessary and unnecessary

In chapter two, Levitt provides advice about gloves and where to store them (note, the particular model of car she drove had the glove compartment under the seat of the car):

“Regarding gloves — never wear woollen gloves, as wool slips on the smooth surface of the steering-wheel and prevents one getting a firm grip. Gloves made of good, soft kid, furlined, without a fastening, and made with just a thumb, are the ideal gloves for winter driving. 

You will find room for these gloves in the little drawer under the seat of the car. This little drawer is the secret of the dainty motoriste. What you put in it depends upon your tastes, but the following articles are what I advise you to have in its recesses. A pair of clean gloves, an extra handkerchief, clean veil, powder-puff (unless you despise them), hair-pins and ordinary pins, a hand mirror and some chocolates are very soothing, sometimes!”

So the term glove compartment or glove box is an anachronism, a lexical vestige from the the early days of the automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. The residents of Minnesota, Wyoming, and Idaho have it right — after more than a century, it is time to consistently use a more generic term like “cubby” or something like “accessory compartment” or “dashboard compartment” or even “dashboard box.” (This is especially aimed at the new generation of writers of owner’s manuals!)

So if car owners are not storing driving gloves in the glovebox, it begs the question: what do people actually store in there? Typical items include the vehicle’s owner’s manual, car registration, proof of insurance, napkins, pen, notepad, straws, hand sanitizer, tissues, and receipts. The editors of Hotcar magazine, however, wanted to find out what were some of the weirdest things people kept in their glove compartments. Here are some weird items:

Cremated ashes of a relative
$80,000 hides inside the owner’s manual
Note to a car thief
Bottle of holy water

What’s in your glovebox?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Want to Motor by Dorothy Levitt
Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile by DK Publishing
Drive: The Definitive History of Driving by Giles Chapman and Jodie Kidd
http://www.hemmings.com/stories/2015/01/12/first-ever-packard-leaves-lehigh-university-for-first-preservation-work-in-85-years
http://www.hotcars.com/things-people-kept-in-their-glove-compartments/

Colorful Slang Words from the Playground

alex atkins bookshelf wordsRemember the days back in elementary school — and long before smartphones were ubiquitous — when kids dreaded being called a “momma’s boy,”, “doofus,” “tattle tale,” or a “teacher’s pet”? Or how about the panic that swept over kids when threatened with a “noogie” or a “titty twister”? Ah, the innocence of youth… Those terms, of course with the benefit of hindsight, were tame compared to the cruel taunts that middle school and high school kids use these days — especially emboldened by the anonymity that social media imparts which takes bullying to an entirely new level.

Nevertheless, regardless of the generation, slang arises out of a need to define new things and situations that conventional or formal language does not address; moreover, it functions as a way to develop group identity, highlighting social and contextual understanding. Slang words, unlike conventional terms, are so memorable because they are so vivid and inventive. Children can be particularly clever and playful when it comes to creating new words, as Chris Lewis, who created the Online Dictionary of Playground Slang (ODPS), has found. The ODPS, which contains more than 3,000 terms from around the globe, now resides in the vast virtual repository of the Internet Archive. In 2003, Lewis published The Dictionary of Playground Slang which contains more than 1,000 “disgusting expressions.” As you thumb through the book, the reader cannot help notice that a majority of terms are related to sex, bodily secretions, and appearance — the topics that um… titillate children and adolescents. Here are some highlights from The Dictionary of Playground Slang:

arse-over-head: tripping

brainfart: when person loses their train of thought

checks: a word used when a person just farted and is proud of it

dibber-dobber: a tattle-tale

fleggy: spit that includes mucous

grundy (or undie grundy): pulling the waistband of a victim’s underpants and letting it snap to cause pain

jesus boots: sandals

lunchbag: a person without any friends; a loser

make a mud baby: to defecate (also, release the hounds, clip a steamer, drop off the kids)

nadgers: testicles

peanut smuggler: a girl that is not wearing a bra

swamp donkey: an unattractive person of the opposite sex

tagnuts: a piece of excrement that sticks stubbornly to the buttocks or anal hairs

After reading this list, one can’t help but think: “Out of the mouths of babes…”

Which slang words do you remember from your childhood?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: web.archive.org/web/20040419005809/http://www.odps.org/glossword/index.php?a=list&d=4

Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

alex atkins bookshelf words

Every day in your writing and speech you use clitics. “Hold on there,” you respond indignantly, “that’s a word that sounds really lewd. I’m not sure what clitics are, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never used them.” I hate to sound accusatory, but you just used four of them. You see, a clitic is a morpheme that functions like a word but is not spelled or pronounced completely. The morpheme is always phonetically attached to a word, known as its host. If the morpheme is attached before its host, it is known as a proclitic; if it is attached after its host, it is known as a enclitic. The word clitic is derived from the Ancient Greek word klitikos meaning “inflectional” from enklitikos meaning “lean on.” For the purient-minded or linguistically curious, you might be asking: “Hmmn, is klitikos also the origin of the word clitoris?” That’s a very good question. The word clitoris is actually derived from another similar-sounding Ancient Greek word kleitoris, from klieo (“shut, to encase”) or from kleis (“a latch or hook” used to close a door). Those Ancient Greeks were so clever.

One of the most famous proclitics appears at the beginning of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” published in 1823. The first line of the poem is considered the best known verse ever composed by an American poet: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house.” ‘Twas, of course, is a contraction —albeit archaic and rare — of “it was.” More common examples of proclitics are: c’mon (come on); d’you (do you); ’tis (it is); and y’all (you all). Enclitics are far more common because they occur in contractions that are used quite frequently; examples include: can’t (cannot); haven’t (have not); he’ll (he will);  I’m (I am); I’ve (I have); they’re (they are); and we’ve (we have).

So there you have it — this fascinating, arcane linguistic gremlin that is lurking in everyday speech and writing. Unlike you — now that you have been enlightened — people who use them are blissfully oblivious to its name, nuances, and etymology. So the next time you encounter a person using clitics, casually ask him or her “Are you aware you use a lot of clitics?” You will be pleasantly amused by the bewildered expression on their face. And if you are feeling devilish, you can add with a smirk, “Speaking of clitics, have I ever told you about the etymology of clitoris?”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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What is a Rhopalic?

There’s A Word for That: Hypocorism

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou probably aren’t aware of this, but you have engaged in hypocorism — not just once, put hundreds or thousands of times in your life. “No way!” you respond indignantly, “I confess I don’t know that means, but it sure sounds like something really terrible — and I am not guilty.” Chill. The definition of a hypocorism, pronounced “hi POK uh riz uhm,” is a pet name (formally known as a hypocorisma). The secondary definition is the practice of using a pet name. So if you have a loved one, like a spouse, partner, child, or a pet, you have indeed engaged in hypocorism — using terms like “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Babe,” “Darling” “Mom,” “Dad,” and so forth. Another form of hypocorism is a diminutive; for example taking a name like Robert and turning it into Bobby or William into Billy. The third definition of a hypocorism is speaking in baby talk. So if you have a baby or a pet, chances are high (as in 100%!) that you have engaged in hypocorism. And just like you can use baby talk to name things (e.g. “woof woof” for dog or “yum yum” for food), you can also use baby talk to create pet names like “Nana” for Grandma, or “Papa” for Grandfather.

Hypocorism is one of those fascinating words in the English language that sounds really bad (it sounds very similar to “hypocrisy”), but actually represents something very sweet. You can blame the harsh sound of the word on the Greek word forming elements. The Late Latin word hypocorisma is based on the Greek word hypokorisma from hypokorizesthai meaning “to call by a pet name or endearing name” that, in turn, is derived from hypo- meaning “under, less than, or beneath” and korizesthai meaning “to caress.” Related words are hypocorisma (a pet name), hypocoristic (descriptive of someone who uses pet names; endearing), and hypocoristically (descriptive of the use of pet names).

So what are some of the most common pet names that people use? Excellent question. In 2012, a UK poll asked 1000 Brits to share the pet names of their spouse or partner. Over 60% respondents admitted to using pet names. Here is their top ten list of pet names:

1. Darling
2. Babe/Baby
3. Love
4. Sweetheart
5. Gorgeous
6. Honey/Hun/Honeybunch
7. Sweetie/Sweetie pie/Sweets
8. Angel
9. Sugar/Sugarplum
10. Boo

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: https://11points.com/11-popular-pet-names-couples-not-actual-pets/

The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns 3

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe pun, of course, is a much maligned form of humor. Noah Webster, in his first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines the pun as “an expression in which a word has at once different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation; a low species of wit.” Sigmund Freud, in his seminal work Wit and Relation to the Unconscious (1917), added: “Puns are generally counted as the lowest form of wit, perhaps because they are cheaper and can be formed with the least effort.” Sounds like the father of psychoanalysis suffers from pun envy. In an article for the New York Times, Joseph Tartakovsky posits: “Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion.” Punsters will counter that if the pun is the lowest form, then it is the foundation of all wit. Known for his razor-sharp wit, comedian Oscar Levant declared: “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you don’t think of it first.” Take that, Noah and Siggy! On the other hand, legendary British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (“Master of Suspense”) believed just the opposite: “Puns are the highest form of literature.” Proving that you don’t have to be a psycho to take a stab at a good pun!

For punsters, the internet, serves as a giant sandbox, where they can all step in, gluttons for punishment, and hurl puns at one another, howling with devilish glee (and not a single groan!) that only a true paronomasiac can appreciate. In 2014, Benjamin Branfman published a book of 250 puns titled The Little Book of Giant Puns. The following year, he published a sequel, The Rather Large Book of Puns containing 515 puns. Here are some of the best of puns or the worst of puns, depending on your perspective (pun purists will note that some of these are not technically puns, but rather clever wordplay). Some have been edited for brevity.

I just ate a liver sausage — it was literally the wurst.

Balloon prices have increased recently due to inflation.

If aromatic candles irritate you then you might become incensed.

There was once an artist who made sculptures out of electric cords because he needed a creative outlet.

My friend painted a fish that was hundreds of feet long. But since the canvas was small, the fish wasn’t to scale.

Two horses got married. Their friends gave them a bridal shower.

Never go to war with apes because they are masters of guerrilla tactics.

The other day I saw a monk’s apprentice working in a fast-food kitchen. He was a friar.

The ocean is slowly eroding many beaches. Sadly the future of the coastline is not a shore thing.

Japanese carp are very shy fish — they’re koi.

Illiterate people have a hard time playing the clarinet because they cannot reed.

What’s your favorite clever pun?

Read related posts: Top Ten Puns
Best Pi Puns
The Best of Puns, The Worst of Puns

For further reading: The Rather Large Book of Puns: Over 500 Excellent and Original Pieces of Wordplay by Benjamin Branfman,  CreateSpace, 2015.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Coronavirus Edition

alex atkins bookshelf wordsGerman, like English, can create long compound words from many parts of speech; however, the difference is that English words tend to be short and hyphenated (eg, “fact-check”) while German words tend to long and combined without any hyphens or spaces (eg, “Trittbrettunsterblichkeit”, which translated means “immortality achieved by riding on someone’s coattails.”) But it is German’s basic structure that encourages words to be formed by combining several words together without any connectors. A German reader simply  breaks down each part to derive its figurative or literal meaning. For example, in English you would write, “the card from the automat of the steam-powered ship traveling on the Rhine.” However, in German, you would simply write “Rheindampfschiffautomatenkarte.” Since necessity is the mother of invention, every language around the globe has has had to introduce new words to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and related topics. According to Christine Mohrs, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for the German language, Germans have coined more than 1,200 new coronavirus-related words. Many languages grow by using loanwords, words borrowed from another language. German, for example, borrows words from English that will be evident in some of these neologisms. Here are some of the interesting words that Germans uses to discuss coronavirus related things (literal translation in parentheses), although not all will make it into the official German dictionary:

Anderthalbmetergesellschaft: social distancing (“a meter and a half society”)

Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung: certificate of disability

Ausbruchsgeschehen: outbreak events

Ausgangsbeschränkung: lockdown (“exit restriction”)

Behelfsmundnasenschutz: face mask (“makeshift mouth nose protection”)

Coronatestzentrum: corona test center

Coronasuperverbreiter: corona super spreaders

Ellenbogengesellschaft: elbow society

Frischluftquote: fresh air quota

Fussgruss:  safe hello (“foot greeting”)

Gesichtskondom: face mask (“face condom”)

Impfstoffnationalismus: vaccine nationalism

kontaktlose Zustellung: contactless delivery

Mindestabstandsregelung: social distancing (“minimum distance regulation”)

Mundschutzmode: face mask (“mouthguard fashion”)

Notfallkinderzuschlag: emergency child allowance

Onlineparteitag: online party conversation

Präsenzveranstaltung: face-to-face event

Salamilockdown: partial lockdown, a lockdown that happens in slices (“salami lockdown”)

Spuckschutzschirm: face mask (“anti spit screen”)

telefonische Krankschreibung: telephone sick leave

Wirtschaftsstabilisierungsfonds: economic stabilization fund

Zoomfatigue: burnout from overuse of zoom conferences (“zoom fatigue”)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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:
https://www.owid.de/docs/neo/listen/corona.jsp
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/germany-words-pandemic-long/2021/02/26/6f73330e-7835-11eb-9489-8f7dacd51e75_story.html

What’s the Difference: Information vs. Knowledge

alex atkins bookshelf wordsConsider these two sentences: “The Internet is a great source of information” and “The Internet is a great source of knowledge.” Although some people use the terms information and knowledge interchangeably, there is a definite distinction. Information (from the Latin informatio meaning “concept, outline, idea” and informare meaning “to instruct, educate; give form to”) refers to facts or data (in the form or words, numbers, or symbols) that is obtained through written works (books, magazines, newspapers, Internet, etc.) listening (conversations, interviews, lectures, etc.) or direct observation (experiment, documentary, etc.). Facts can be presented in a specific way (organization, structure, context, etc.) to be useful for a specific purpose (e.g., census data). The salient characteristics of facts are availability, relevance, completeness, accuracy, and validity. Note the last two, while something can be considered information, it may not necessarily be true (e.g. consider the following information: “The Earth is flat” or “Men did not land on the moon in 1969” or “The recent election was stolen via fraudulent mail and absentee ballots and manipulation of voting machines” or “A cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotted against former President Trump.”)

On the other hand, knowledge (from the Middle English knowlechen meaning “admit or show one’s understanding” and Latin gnoscere meaning “get to know” and Greek gnosis meaning “understanding, inquiry”) refers to the conclusions, insights, or skills discovered, deduced, or distilled from experience, education, intuition, or the study of information — or all four. These insights, in turn, can assist in making appropriate decisions and taking specific actions.

Expressed in simpler terms, while information is the presentation of facts and figures, it is the processing of those facts and figures that leads to knowledge, specifically the understanding of a subject. Although it is easy and inexpensive to transfer information (through any printed or digital presentation of facts), it is more difficult and more costly to transfer knowledge (it is difficult to replicate insights gained from intuition, experience, and study). And finally, all information is not necessarily knowledge; however all knowledge is information.

Let us explore some related terms:

erudition: Profound learning beyond the understanding of most people.

genius: A person possessing extraordinary intelligence or skill.

intellectual: endowed with the ability to reason and understand objectively, particularly abstract or academic matters.

learning: Knowledge that is acquired by study.

pansophy: Universal knowledge.

sage: A wise person.

sapient: The possession or ability to possess wisdom.

savant: A person of learning, especially someone versed in literature or science.

wisdom: Superior understanding and judgment based on broad knowledge.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Plato on Idiots and Ignorance
Plato’s Warning: Ignorance Will be the Source of Great and Monstrous Crimes
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots
Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States

For further reading: When is a Pig a Hog? by Bernie Randall
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/19/which-republicans-think-election-was-stolen-those-who-hate-democrats-dont-mind-white-nationalists/
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2020/12/why-do-so-many-republicans-believe-the-election-was-rigged-the-answer-isnt-hard/
http://www.bbc.com/news/53498434

There’s A Word for That: Lychnobite

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you know someone who works in the medical profession or public safety (like a nurse, doctor, EMT, police officer, fireman, etc.) then you probably know a lychnobite. A what? Although it sounds like a pejorative term, a lychnobite is simply a person who works at night and sleeps during the day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans work the dreaded night shift.

The word is pronounced “LICK no bite” It is derived from the Ancient Greek word lukhnos (meaning “lamp”) and bios (meaning “life”). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word is considered obsolete; the first recorded use of the word was in 1727.

So if lychnobite is obsolete, what is the modern term for a person who works during the evening and sleeps during the day? Excellent question. The most common term is “night owl,” based on the fact that owls that are nocturnal creatures, sleeping by day and hunting for food at night. Although the night owl is perfectly adapted by evolution for nocturnal living, the human being is not. Numerous studies indicate that the night shift interferes with the human body’s circadian clock. This leads to fatigue, decreased attention (ADHD), decreased cognitive abilities, sleepiness on the job, crankiness, disruption with the body’s metabolic process, and increased vulnerability to disease (like heart disease and cancer). And if that isn’t enough, people who work night shifts are more likely than day-shift workers to get into car crashes and become victims of caffeine, alcohol, and smoke abuse.

Other options for lychnobite are: night worker, night-shift worker, night person. Urban Dictionary lists a related term, vampire hours: when a person is awake all night and sleeps all day.

What other synonyms can be added to this list?

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=vampire%20hours

What is a Tautonym?

atkins bookshelf wordsWords like wishy-washy or mumbo-jumbo, or any words that contain two identical or similar parts (a segment, syllable, or morpheme), are called tautonyms. In linguistics another term for these is rhyming compounds, a subclass of a larger class of words known as reduplicatives. A reduplicative is a word created by reduplication, defined as the process in which the entire word or the stem or root of the word is repeated exactly or with a small change. There are three classes of reduplicatives: (1) Full reduplication of the base word (e.g., “bye-bye,” “goody-goody,” and “bunny-wunny”; with respect to the last word, linguists refer nonsensical words as “motherese,” “caregiver speech,” “child talk,” or “child-directed speech”).  (2) Partial reduplication of the base word, with only a change in the first consonant (e.g., “boogie-woogie” and “fuddy-duddy”). (3) Partial reduplication of the base word, with only a change in the root vowel (e.g., “ding-dong” and “flip-flop”). 

In many cases, the first word of a tautonym or rhyming compound is a real word while the second part (often nonsensical) is invented to create a rhyme and to create emphasis. Most tautonyms begin as hyphenated words and through common usage eventually drop the hyphen to become single words. Regardless of their hyphenation, they underscore the playfulness of the English language. Below are some common tautonyms (many function as nouns and verbs). If you enjoy writing challenges, try writing a single sentence that uses many or all of these words; however, it cannot turn out to be mumbo-jumbo.

argle-bargle: nonsense; heated argument

argy-bargy: heated argument

arsy-varsy: head over heels

boob-tube: television

boogie-woogie: blues-style music with a strong, fast beat; a dance to pop or rock music

chick flick: a movie primary for women

chiller-killer: a refrigerated heat exchange system

crisscross: intersecting straight paths or lines

dibber-dobber: a tattle-tale; a snitch

dilly-dally: to waste time through indecision or loitering

ding-dong: the noise made by a bell; in the UK, slang for a woman’s breast; a noisy argument; an idiot

ding-a-ling: a foolish person

fancy-schmancy: elaborately decorated to impress

fiddle-faddle: a trademarked name for popcorn

flimflam: nonsense; to swindle

flip-flop: a light sandal; backward handspring; abrupt reversal of a position or policy

fuddy-duddy: a fussy or old-fashioned person

gewgaw: cheap, showy jewelry or thing

hanky-panky: improper behavior, typically sexual in nature

harum-scarum: impetuous

heebie-jeebies: a state of nervous fear, anxiety

helter-skelter: disorder or confusion; in disorderly haste

higgledy-piggledy: in a disorderly manner

hobnob: to mix socially, particularly with those of high social status

hocus-pocus: meaningless activity or talk, often to draw attention away from something

hodgepodge: a motley assortment of things

hoity-toity: snobbish

hokey-pokey: trickery; a song that describes the movements of a dance performed in a circle

hotchpotch: a motley assortment of things; a mutton stew with vegetables

hubba hubba: a phrase to express enthusiasm or approval

hubble-bubble: a hookah, an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water

hubbub: chaotic noise created by a crowd of people; a busy, noisy situation

hugger-mugger: disorderly; secret

hullabaloo: a commotion

hurdy-gurdy: a musical instrument that makes music by rotation of a cylinder that is studded with pegs

hurly burly: busy or noisy activity

itty-bitty: very small

jingle-jangle: the sound that metallic items make

knickknack: a small object, often a household ornament, of little or no value

lovey-dovey: extremely affectionate or romantic

mishmash: a random assortment of things

mumbo jumbo: language or ritual causing, or intending to cause, confusion

namby-pamby: weak in willpower, courage or vitality

niminy-piminy: very dainty or refined

nitty-gritty: the most important details about something

okey-dokey: OK

pall-mall: a 16th century game in which a wooden ball was drive through an iron ring suspended at the end of an alley

pell-mell: in a rushed or reckless manner

ping-pong: table tennis

pitter-patter: the sound of quick light steps; to move or make the sound of quick light steps

prime-time: the time period when most people watch television

razzle-dazzle: showy, noisy activity designed to impress

riffraff: undesirable people

roly-poly: plump

shilly-shally: failing to act decisively

singsong: the repeated rising and falling of a person’s voice as they speak

skimple-skamble: senseless, gibberish

so-so: neither very good nor very bad

super-duper: very good

teeny-weeny: very small, tiny 

teeter-totter: a seesaw

tick-tock: the sound of a clock ticking; making a ticking sound

tighty-whities: snug white briefs worn by males (variant: tight-whiteys)

tittle-tattle: light informal conversation for social occasions

tohubohu: utter confusion, chaos

tootsie-wootsie (also toots-wootsy): a term of endearment

topsy-turvy: upside down; in a state of confusion

voodoo: followers of a religion that involves witchcraft and animistic deities

walkie-talkie: portable two-way radio

wigwag: to move to and fro

willy-nilly: whether one likes it or not; haphazardly

wishy-washy: weak, feeble, lacking character

yada yada (or yadda yadda): used as a substitute for a longer predictable story; boring language

zigzag: a line or course with abrupt right and left turns; veering alternatively to right and left

Are there any other tautonyms missing from this list?

Read related posts: What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254220098_Just_a_Load_of_Hibber-Gibber_Making_Sense_of_English_Rhyming_Compounds

Synonyms for Book Lover

atkins bookshelf wordsMany book lovers are also word lovers. Or expressed another way, most bibliolaters are also epeolatrists. Naturally, the largest share of synonyms for book lovers are based on the Ancient Greek root word biblos, meaning “book,” and biblion, meaning “paper” or “scroll.” Below are some delicious words that bibliophilists and logolepts can savor:

abibliophobia: the fear of running out of things to read

biblet: a book or library

bibliobibuli: someone who reads too much

biblioklept: a person who steals books; a book thief

bibliolater: a person who loves books

bibliolatry: the love of books; book worship

bibliomane: a person who loves books and reading

bibliomaniac: a person who is obsessed with collecting books

bibliophagist: a voracious reader

bibliophile: a person who loves books or collects books (or both)

bibliophilist: a book lover

bibliopole: a person who buys and sells rare books

bibliosmia: the aroma of a book; the act of smelling books

bibliotaph: a person who hoards books (often unread); books are stored, keeping them from use

bibliotecha: a list of books in a catalog

book-bosomed: a person who always carries a book

bookman: a person who loves books or reading

booktrovert: a person who prefers the company of fictional characters to people in real life

bookworm: a person devoted to reading and study

epeolater: a person who loves words

epeolatry: worship of words

fascicle: a volume; one of a number of books forming a set or series

finifugal: dislikes endings; someone who avoids reading the end of a novel

incunabulum: a book printed before the year 1500

introuvable: a holy grail book; a book that cannot be found

librocubicultarist: a person who reads in bed

logolept: a person who is very interested in words; person obsessed with words

logolepsy: a fascination or obsession with words

omnilegent: having read everything; characterized by encyclopedic reading

philobiblist: a lover of books

princeps: a first edition of a book

rarissima: an extremely rare book or manuscript

scripturient: an author; a person who has a passion for writing

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry

There’s A Word for That: Parvanimity

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIt sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? Parvanimity, however, is defined as small-mindedness or meanness (the antonym, in this case, would be magnanimity). It is derived from the classical Latin root words parvus (from parvi-, meaning “small”) and animus (meaning “mind” or “soul”). The word is pronounced “PARVE ah nim e tee.”

The word was introduced by Robert Boyle (162-1691), an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, physicist, and chemist; he was also fascinated with theology. Boyle is considered one of the founders of modern chemistry. Published in 1661, The Skeptical Chymist is a seminal work in the field of chemistry. Boyle introduced the word parvanimity in his work A Free Discourse Against Customary Swearing; and a Discursive from Cursing (1647): “To all this I must add, that when once it is noted, that the apprehension of being derided for retracting is the sole obstacle that stands between your reaction and of great important a change as your conversion, they will justify your parvanimity of great, that you deserve derision for so poorly fearing it; and so you will fall into that contempt you would decline, by your very shunning of it.” [Also found in The Works of the Honorable Robert Boyle, Volume 6, published in 1772.]

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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

Choosing the Exact Word (Le Mot Juste)

alex atkins bookshelf wordsI had the incredible opportunity to meet the great British writer and intellectual John Fowles many years ago. We discussed our shared fascination with the English language and the writer’s search for the exact word — le mot juste, as the French express it (incidentally, the phrase is pronounced “luh moh ZHYST”). You don’t have to read very far into a Fowles novel to quickly recognize he possesses an expansive vocabulary — far beyond the average vocabulary of 50,000, common to a high-school/college educated speaker. So if you read Fowles, you will want a dictionary by your side; by the end of the novel, you will have learned several dozen fascinating and fancy words (some, from different languages, since Fowles readily draws from all the romance languages). No doubt, Gustave Flaubert, a very precise writer who introduced the term “le mot juste,” would be suitably impressed.

I love words. As proof of this profound lexicological affection, I own over a 1,500 word reference books (adding several each month; the more obscure, the more treasured). One of my favorite thesauri is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (now in its third edition) which happens to contain one of my favorite essays on choosing the exact word. The essay, titled “In Search of the Exact Word” is written by Richard Goodman, an assistant editor at Random House and teaches creative nonfiction writing. The essay is also found in his book The Soul of Creative Writing, published in 2008. With a bit of sleuthing in the Flaubert corpus, Goodman finds that Flaubert first introduced the term le mot juste in a letter to Sainte-Beuve, a critic, that can be found in a collection of his letters, La Correspondance de Flaubert; Etude Et Repertoire Critique (1968), edited by Charles Carlut. Goodman writes:

“I found Flaubert uses the expression just twice. He writes the critic Sainte-Beuve, “If I put ‘blue’ after ‘stones,’it’s because ‘blue’ is le mot juste, believe me.” In the other instance, he says there has to be a rapport between le mot juste and le mot musical, that is, between the meaning and the music of a word…

Flaubert does say, though, that, “all talent for writing consists after all of nothing more than choosing words. It’s precision that gives writing power.” He also says that, “perfection has everywhere the same characteristic: that’s precision, exactness.” He says he spends hours looking for a word. He expressed the struggle this way: “I am the obscure and patient pearl-fisher, who dives deep and comes up empty-handed and blue in the face.” And at another point, he writes a friend that he spent three days making two corrections and five days writing one page. Practically anything Flaubert says about writing and art is interesting, even if you disagree with him, though you are constantly reminded, as Henry James points out, that “he felt of his vocation almost nothing but the difficulty.”

Mark Twain was memorably good at seizing the exact word, too. Most humourists are… Their humour often depends on a choice of word; in fact the whole laugh can rest on a single word choice. When someone interviewed Evelyn Waugh for the Paris Review, they asked him about the process of creating a character. He said, “I regard writing not as an investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language.” If you read the books of the comic writers just with this idea in mind — S.J. Perelman, Thurber, Twain, Waugh, even Woody Allen — you’ll see how often the laugh comes from a single, well-chosen word placed exactly where it’s liable to generate the loudest laugh. Of course, Twain wrote perhaps the most famous line about this particular topic ever written, “The difference between any word and the ‘right’ word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

What is the exact word? I think what we usually mean by that is a word that not only conveys precisely what you, the writer, want to say, but also does it in an unforgettable way, a dramatic way, either because of its juxtaposition to its surrounding words or because it’s employed in a fresh way, or both. Something else, too, I think: when it surprises, it’s usually a surprise that doesn’t come out of a vacuum. It communicates resoundingly, because somewhere the reader understands the word well enough to appreciate its use.”

If you have an opportunity, you should read Goodman’s entire essay (it runs about seven full pages). It is full of wonderful and pithy insights that are sure to delight any logophile.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts:  What is the Most Beautiful-Sounding Word in English?
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Common Latin Abbreviations
Words Invented by Dickens

What Are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?
Favorite Words of Dictionary Editors

For further reading: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus compiled by Christine Lindberg
The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman 

Adventures in Grandiloquence: Laurence Urdang

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are an avid reader, you have probably come across a few writers who possess a very large vocabulary and pepper their writing with big or fancy words when perhaps simpler words would suffice. So what do you call this use of big words (or what people call “SAT words”)? The best term is lexiphanicism, defined as the use of pretentious phraseology. Another term that word lovers like to use is “sesquipedalian loquaciousness.” That term is made up of two really big, fancy words: sesquipedalian (meaning “having many syllables, or use of long words”) and loquaciousness (meaning “excessive talking”). Of course these terms are technically archaic and, um, sesquipedalian. There are three other words that exists in most dictionaries: grandiloquence (or its adjectival form, grandiloquent), meaning “a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language.” The second is magniloquence, defined as the use of ornate, flowery language to convey simple things. Finally, the word fustian is defined as pompous or pretentious writing or speech.

Whether it reflects a genuine high level of erudition or simply showing off (let’s call it verbal pretentiousness), the effect is the same — it has you reaching for the nearest dictionary (which is not necessarily a bad thing — after all, that’s how you expand your vocabulary). Consider that the English language has more than one million words. The average high-school educated English speaker knows about 45,000 words (as high as 60,000 when including proper names and foreign words). David Crystal, a linguist and world-renown expert on the English language, provides these estimates of how many words people know: a person starting school: 500-6,000; a person without a formal education: 35,000; a high-school educated person: 50,000; a college-educated person 50,000 to 75,000. Thus, the grandiloquent speaker or writer is typically using words outside the more commonly used 75,000 words.

Case in point: Laurence Urdang (1927-2008), American lexicographer, editor and author of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966). Over the course of his career, Urdand wrote and edited more than 100 dictionaries. Consequently, he developed an extraordinarily large vocabulary. In the introduction to The New York Times Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused & Mispronounced words, Urdang wrote a paragraph to summarize the book, to display (in a tongue-and-cheek fashion) his impressive vocabulary:

This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaftwhose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.

Can you translate this passage to simple English? What is your favorite grandiloquent author and specific passage?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts:  What is the Most Beautiful-Sounding Word in English?
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Common Latin Abbreviations
Words Invented by Dickens

What Are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?
Favorite Words of Dictionary Editors

What are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language is vast, containing more than a million words and growing at a rate of several thousand words each year. However, most English speakers have a vocabulary that is substantially smaller: generally between 20,000 to 35,000. Every once in a while, through reading or conversation, you come across a word that stands out; you think to yourself “that is such a beautiful word.” Many logophiles keep lists of what they consider to be beautiful words. For example, in 1932, to publicize the publication of one of Funk & Wagnalls new dictionaries, founder Wilfred Funk published a list of what he considered, after a “thorough sifting of thousands of words” the ten most beautiful words (in his words, “beautiful in meaning and in the musical arrangement of their letter”) in the English language. (Incidentally, there is a word for that: euphonious — a euphonious word is a beautifully-sounding word; interestingly, euphonious is itself… euphonious.) Here is Funk’s list of the top ten most beautiful words in the English language:

chimes
dawn
golden
hush
lullaby
luminous
melody
mist
murmuring
tranquil

More recently, the editors of BuzzFeed cast their net into the vast ocean of the Twitterverse to find out what people considered the most beautiful words in the English words. They came up with a great list of “32 of the most beautiful words in the English language.” The list should be published with some caveats. One of the words, hiraeth, is actually Welsh. A few are actually neologisms (relatively new words that are in the process of entering common use) and will not be found in traditional dictionaries. Nevertheless, read the list and see how many you know (the definitions will be added in a few days). The challenge is to start using them in conversation and in your writing. If you want a greater challenge: try writing a clever sentence using all 32 words.

aquiver
mellifluous
ineffable
hiraeth
nefarious
somnambulist
epoch
sonorous
serendipity
limerence
bombinate
ethereal
illicit
petrichor
iridescent
epiphany
supine
luminescence
solitude
aurora
syzygy
phosphenes
oblivion
ephemeral
incandescence
denouement
vellichor
eloquence
defenestration
sonder
effervescence
cromulent

What do you consider to be the most beautiful words in the English language?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts:  What is the Most Beautiful-Sounding Word in English?
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Common Latin Abbreviations
Words Invented by Dickens

For further reading: https://englishlive.ef.com/blog/language-lab/many-words-english-language/
https://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/bob-ombinate

There’s A Word for That: Throttlebottom

alex atkins bookshelf words“What is a throttlebottom?,” you ask. No, it is not a type of fish — although you are close, since it is a type of bottom feeder. A throttlebottom is a wonderful-sounding (rich in consonance) derogatory term for a harmless incompetent person in public office. Think President Trump or just about anyone in his shit-show administration. Where should we begin to review the incompetence: the spectacular bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a sustained shutdown, bringing about the country’s worst recession, double-digit unemployment, the closing of thousands of businesses, nationwide protests over systemic racial injustice and police brutality, suppression of voting, allowing foreign powers to influence the Presidential election, the corruption of the news industry, obstruction of justice, the disregard and dismantling the Constitution’s system of checks and balances, the debasement of the presidency, disdain for immigrants and the poor, the general corrosive effect on democracy… we could go on. Come to think of, when you consider the 170,000+ deaths due to COVID-19 pandemic, one would have to disregard the adjective “harmless” in the definition of throttlebottom.

The word throttlebottom is an eponym, named after a literary character. It sure sounds Dickensian, doesn’t it? But nope, surprisingly, the character is an entirely 20th-century creation: Vice-President Alexander Throttlebottom from the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing by George Kaufman and Morrie Risking; score and lyrics by George Gershwin. Of Thee I Sing, opened on Broadway in 1931 and was the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In this political satire, a presidential candidate, John Wintergreen, runs for office on the theme of love. As a publicity stunt, his political party sponsors a beauty contest wherein Wintergreen will marry the winner. However, Wintergreen falls in love with a staffer, Mary Turner, and marries her. The contest winner, Diana Devereaux, sues the president for breach of promise. The French ambassador declares that Devereaux is a related to Napoleon and that her jilting is an offense against France. Congress impeaches the president but then learns that Mary is pregnant. The Senate refuses to impeach an expectant father; however the French ambassador demands that President give up his baby or France will sever ties to the U.S. Mary delivers twins which compounds the offense against France. The ambassador is ready to declare war, when the President remembers Article 12 of the Constitution: if the President is unable to fulfill his duties, his obligations are assumed by the Vice-President. Consequently, VP Throttlebottom agrees to marry Devereaux. The chorus sings “Of Thee I Sing” and they all live happily ever after.

Commenting on the merit of Of Thee I Sing, the 1932 Pulitzer Prize Committee noted, “[The play] is not only coherent and well-knit enough to class as a play, but it is a biting and true satire on American politics and the public attitude towards them.” Fast forward seven decades when the drama critic of The New York Times wrote the following about the 2006 musical revival: “[It is] a trenchant little musical satire… the laughter that greets the show today is tinged with surprise at how eerily some of its jokes seem to take precise aim, from decades back, at current affairs.” You don’t say?!

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens

What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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

What is the Longest Place Name in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you happen to live in the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan or Truth or Consequences, New Mexico — you are fully aware of the annoyance of having to write out these really long city names. But these names with about 20 letters are merely child’s play when you consider the longest place names in the world that have more than twice that number.

So what is the longest place name in the world? That distinction goes to a hill located near the tiny township of Porangahau, New Zealand: Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu — containing 85 letters! Imagine filling out an address form online. Translated from Maori, an Eastern Polynesian language (it originated as early as 1280), into English it means: “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.” How romantic. Understandably, this mouthful of a name is often shortened to a name with only seven letters: Taumata. So how do you pronounce the township’s long name? Take a deep breath; here we go: “Toe-mah-tah-fah-kah-tah-ngi-hah-nga-kaw-oh-oh-aw-ta-ma-te-a-too-ri-poo-ka-ka-pee-kee-mow-nga-haw-raw-noo-koo-paw-kai-feh-noo-ah-kee-tah-nah-tah-hoo.”

The second longest place name in the world belongs to a small town (population: 3,107) located in in the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, United Kingdom: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch — containing 58 letters. Try fitting that address on a business card. Translated from the Welsh into English it means: “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” How religious. For practical reasons, the locals have shortened the long name to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG. The 58-letter name is a real challenge to pronounce; but if you want to give it a shot, here is the official pronunciation: “Lan-vire-pool-guin-gil-go-get-u-queern-drop-ool-lan-dus-ilio-go-go-goke.” The name was initially coined by a resident (a tailor, by trade) in 1869 as a publicity stunt so that the town would have the longest name of any British railway station. Clearly, he succeeded and much to his surprise, the name stuck.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Unusual Town Names in America
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Lost in Translation: Untranslatable Words 3

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt the heart of clear communication is diction: choosing the right word. Many times we stumble in a conversation because we cannot find just the right word. We think or say out loud: “I wish there were a word for that.” Of course, the English language is always growing, a magpie that borrows a word from this language or that. But sometimes, foreign language words and phrases do not get absorbed into the English language for whatever reason. Bookshelf looks at some fascinating words and phrases from around the globe that express ideas in a very unique way or cannot be translated with one English word. Here is a tasty sampling of the global lexical smorgasbord.

flaneur: French – “a person of excruciating idleness who doesn’t know where to parade his burden and ennui” (from a dictionary of low language published in 1808); also, a man who saunters around examining society

Him il-utaat kullu firaan: Arabic – literally: “the dream of all cats is all about mice” which means that someone has a one-track mind.

Denizen dues yilanasarilir: Turkish – literally: “if you fall into the sea, hold onto a snake” meaning that if you are in a difficult situation, you will accept help from anyone.

Gonul: Turkish – literally: “heart” but it has a deeper meaning: it refers to the energy of your inner self, a part of which is shared with every human being that evokes concern for the welfare of others.

Shibui: Japanese – the aesthetic of a person or thing that is only revealed over time.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: In Other Words by Christopher Moore

 

Adventures in Rhetoric: Hypozeuxis

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou are probably familiar with the hypozeuxis but just don’t know it. Don’t worry — it is not a medical condition. A hypozeuxis (pronounced “hi PUH zook sis”) is a rhetorical term for a series of brief parallel clauses, where each clause has its own subject and predicate. The word is derived from the Greek word hypozeugnynai that means “to subjugate or to put under the yoke.” Perhaps the most famous hypozeuxis is Julius Caesar’s proclamation to the Roman Senate, reporting his victory at the Battle of Zela (47 BC): “I came; I saw; I conquered.” If you studied Latin, you will recall that early lesson: “veni, vidi, victi.” In Ecclesiastical Latin, that phrase is pronounced “vee-nee, vee-dee, vee-kee”; however, in Classical Late Latin, the “v” is pronounced as a “w”, so Caesar would have pronounced it “wee-nee, wee-dee, wee-kee.”

Another well-known hypozeuxis is from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons (often referred to as “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech) on June 4, 1940 regarding the successful evacuation of more than 300,000 soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk in France (May 26 to June 4, 1940): “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills.”

If you’re curious, the opposite of the hypozeuxis is the zeugma, also referred to an a syllepsis. In a zeugma (pronounced “ZOOG muh”), a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence that are understand differently in relation to each. An example of a zeugma is: “He took his hat and his leave.” The verb “take” is understood in two different contexts: “he took his hat” and “he took his leave.” Another example of a zeugma is: “He held his breath and the door for me.” Here the operative verb is hold and understood in two different ways: holding one’s breath, and holding a door open.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
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Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches/

The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns 2

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe pun, of course, is a much maligned form of humor. Noah Webster, in his first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines the pun as “an expression in which a word has at once different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation; a low species of wit.” Sigmund Freud, in his seminal work Wit and Relation to the Unconscious (1917), added: “Puns are generally counted as the lowest form of wit, perhaps because they are cheaper and can be formed with the least effort.” Sounds like the father of psychoanalysis suffers from pun envy. In an article for the New York Times, Joseph Tartakovsky posits: “Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion.” Punsters will counter that if the pun is the lowest form, then it is the foundation of all wit. Known for his razor-sharp wit, comedian Oscar Levant declared: “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you don’t think of it first.” Take that, Noah and Siggy! 

For punsters, the internet, serves as a giant sandbox, where they can all step in, gluttons for punishment, and hurl puns at one another, howling with devilish glee (and not a single groan!) that only a true paronomasiac can appreciate. Here are the best of puns or the worst of puns, depending on your perspective (pun purists will note that some of these are not technically puns, but rather clever wordplay).

A punster sent ten puns to friends with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

I have a few puns about unemployed people, but none of them work.

It’s hard to explain puns to a kleptomaniac because they always take things literally.

A backward poet writes inverse.

A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited by police for littering.

A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class — it was a weapon of math disruption.

A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: “Keep off the Grass.”

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused novocaine during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.

“I have a split personality,” said Tom, being frank.

In a democracy it is your vote that counts. In a feudal system it is your count that votes.

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationery.

She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

When life gives you melons, you’re dyslexic.

The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was referred to in the news as “a small medium at large.”

The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. Your fly might be open.

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in it. Eventually it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

I dreamt I was swimming in an ocean of orange soda but I realized it was just a Fanta sea.

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says “Dam!”

Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: “You stay here; I’ll go on a head.”

Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I’m positive.”

Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

The priest made holy water by boiling the hell out of it.

What’s your favorite clever pun?

Read related posts: Top Ten Puns
Best Pi Puns
The Best of Puns, The Worst of Puns

For further reading: www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/opinion/28Tartakovsky.html?_r=0
http://www.sarcasmsociety.com/sarcasm.html
http://www.punoftheday.com

There’s A Word for That: Coulrophobia

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere’s a memorable line in Stephen King’s novel It (published in 1986) that perfectly captures the junction between coming of age and facing mortality: “Being a kid is learning how to live and being an adult is learning how to die.” In the novel, and in the 2017 film adaptation, if you happen to come face to face with Pennywise the Dancing Clown you will quickly learn the latter. King’s horror novel taps into the uncommon fear of clowns; of course, Pennywise is not your typical birthday party variety clown — he is an outlier: a creepy, homicidal sociopath. This discussion leads to our question for the day: what is the word for fear of clowns?

Clownophobia is an acceptable word; however, the technical word is coulrophobia, defined as the irrational or extreme fear of clowns. The word is pronounced “coal RA fow bee ah.” The editors of Oxford English Dictionary (OED) determined that the base word coulro is of arbitrary origin combined with the Greek suffix phobia meaning “fear of.” The word was recently added to the OED in March 2020, citing the first use in a 1997 Usenet newsgroup article titled “34 Reasons Why You Should Hate Clowns.” Douglas Harper, editor of the Online Etymological Dictionary, agrees with the editors of the OED with respect to the base word. He writes: “Coulrophobia looks suspiciously like the sort of thing idle pseudo-intellectuals invent on the internet… perhaps it is a mangling of Modern Greek klooun, meaning “clown,” which is the English word borrowed into Greek.” So from this, can we conclude that coulrophobia is the sort of bastardized word that is formed when lexicographic novices clown around with the English language?

So now that we understand the etymology of coulrophobia, let us explore a new question: how prevalent is fear of clowns? According to a survey conducted in October 2016 by Chapman University, 7.8% of Americans are coulrophobic. Another study noted “Fear of clowns is a phenomenon known for more than several decades and related to the increased use of clowns as negative characters in horror movies and TV shows.” Thanks a lot Pennywise! A poll conducted by Vox in October 2016 found that people ranked their greatest fears in this order: (1) government corruption (2) clowns (3) terrorist attack (4) a family member dying (5) climate change (6) heights (7) dying.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2016/10/11/americas-top-fears-2016/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00431-016-2826-3
https://www.sciencealert.com/americans-are-more-afraid-of-clowns-than-climate-change
https://www.etymonline.com/word/coulrophobia