Category Archives: Words

A General’s Retirement that Launched a Thousand Snowclones

alex atkins bookshelf words“Say what? — What in the world is a snowclone?” you ask. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s begin our story with an American general and a very famous speech. One of the most famous generals in American history, of course, is five-star General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) who played a very important role in the Pacific theater during World War II that led to the Surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. From 1945 to 1951, MacArthur oversaw the occupation of Japan — a period of dramatic political, economic and social change for that defeated country. After that period, MacArthur led the United Nations Command and the South Korean forces in the Korean War. Due to a number of military defeats, and the distrust of other military and political leaders, President Harry Truman decided to relieve MacArthur of his command in 1951. Truman stated: “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President.” Unfortunately for Truman, MacArthur was enormously popular with the public, and Truman’s approval rating sank to one of the lowest ever seen by a U.S. president.

MacArthur made his last official appearance at the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. to deliver his farewell address. It took a while to deliver because it was punctuated by enthusiastic ovations every few minutes. MacArthur finally ended his farewell address with these eloquent thoughts: “I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.’ And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye.” Fittingly, the speech is often referred to as the “Old Soldiers Never Die” speech.

Despite the fact that MacArthur mentions a “popular barrack ballad,” many people think that MacArthur came up with that famous catchphrases on his own, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” However, as he stated, MacArthur was just quoting a well-known soldier’s ballad from the 1930s titled “Old Soldiers Never Die” which, in turn, is a British parody of the gospel song “Kind Thoughts Can Never Die.” The lyrics to the song are: “Old soldiers never die, / Never die, never die, / Old soldiers never die, / They simply fade away.”

Not only did the line become famous and is forever linked to General MacArthur’s retirement, it also inspired an entirely new genre of jokes, known as “never say die” jokes. Lexicographers classify these types of jokes as “snowclones.” The word snowclone was coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum in 2003. He defined a snowclone as a “a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants.” (The term is derived from the concept of multiple words for snow in Eskimo and a pun on snow cones. Linguists can be so clever!) For example, a common snowclone is the phrasal template “X is the new Y” — you can say “orange is the new black” or “50 is the new 40” or “blue is the new black” and so forth. But what makes “never say die” jokes unique is that they often involve clever puns. In short, they are punny snowclones. Here are some of the punniest.

Old academics never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance.

Old actors never die, they just drop apart.

Old anthropologists never die, they just become history.

Old archers never die, they just bow and quiver.

Old architects never die, they just lose their structures.

Old bankers never die, they just lose interest.

Old basketball players never die, they just go on dribbling.

Old beekeepers never die, they just buzz off.

Old books never die, they just go out of print.

Old bookkeepers never die, they just lose their figures.

Old bosses never die, much as you want them to.

Old canners never die, they just get preserved.

Old cashiers never die, they just check out.

Old chauffeurs never die, they just lose their drive.

Old chemists never die, they just fail to react.

Old classicists never die, they conjugate, then decline.

Old cleaning people never die, they just kick the bucket.

Old composer never die, they just decompose.

Old cooks never die, they just get deranged.

Old daredevils never die, they just get discouraged.

Old deans never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old dieters never die, they just waist away.

Old doctors never die, they just lose their patience.

Old electricians never die, they just lose contact.

Old farmers never die, they just spade away.

Old garagemen never die, they just retire.

Old hackers never die, they just go to bits.

Old hardware engineers never die, they just cache in their chips.

Old hippies never die, they just smell that way.

Old horticulturists never die, they just go to pot.

Old hypochondriacs never die, they just lose their grippe.

Old investors never die, they just roll over.

Old journalists never die, they just get de-pressed.

Old knights in chain mail never die, they just shuffle off their metal coils.

Old laser physicists never die, they just become incoherent.

Old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeal.

Old librarians never die, they just check out.

Old limbo dancers never die, they just go under.

Old magicians never die, they just disappear.

Old mathematicians never die, they just disintegrate.

Old milkmaids never die, they just lose their whey.

Old ministers never die, they just get put out to pastor…

Old musicians never die, they just get played out.

Old number theorists never die, they just get past their prime.

Old numerical analysts never die, they just get disarrayed.

Old owls never die, they just don’t give a hoot.

Old pacifists never die, they just go to peaces.

Old photographers never die, they just stop developing.

Old pilots never die, they just go to a higher plane.

Old plumbers never die, they just go down the drain.

Old policemen never die, they just cop out.

Old printers never die, they’re just not the type.

Old programmers never die, they just move to a new address.

Old programmers never die, they just decompile.

Old programming wizards never die, they just recurse.

Old prostitutes never die, they just fake away.

Old quarterbacks never die, they just pass away.

Old sailors never die, they just get a little dinghy.

Old schools never die, they just lose their principals.

Old scots never die, but they can be kilt.

Old sculptors never die, they just lose their marbles.

Old seers never die, they just lose their vision.

Old sewage workers never die, they just waste away.

Old skateboarders never die, they just lose their bearings.

Old sailors never die, they just get a little dingy.

Old statisticians never die, they just get broken down by age and sex.

Old steelmakers never die, they just lose their temper.

Old students never die, they just get degraded.

Old swimmers never die, they just have a stroke.

Old tanners never die, they just go into hiding.

Old teachers never die, they just lose their class.

Old trombonists never die, they just slide away.

Old truckers never die, they just get a new Peterbilt.

Old typists never die, they just lose their justification.

Old white water rafters never die, they just get disgorged.

Old wrestlers never die, they just lose their grip.

Old yachtsmen never die, they just keel over.

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

Best Pi Puns
The Little Pun Book

For further reading: The Cunning Linguist by Richard Lederer
Soldiers’ Song and Slang of the Great War by Martin Pegler

http://www.jimpoz.com/jokes/oldNeverDie.html
https://gcfl.net/archive.php?funny=7733
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.humor/h9nqCCO20QQ


Words That Form Other Words by Taking Letters Away

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAlthough the English language has more than one million words, only about thirty words possess a very unique quality: you can successively take a letter away — while leaving the other letters in the exact same order — and they form a different word. This is called a successive letter subtraction word puzzle. Here is an example:

“startling”

Subtract the “t” and you get “starling”

Subtract the “l” and you get “staring”

Subtract the “a” and you get “string”

Subtract the “r” and you get “sting”

Subtract the “s” and you get “ting”

Subtract the “g” and you get “tin”

Subtract the “t” and you get “in”

Finally, subtract the “n” and you get “i” [the pronoun, “I”]

Fun isn’t it? OK, so now that you understand this form of word puzzle, what are some other words that can do this? And please, no cheating — what’s the fun if you let Google do all the puzzle solving.

Answers appear below.

 

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Here is a list of words that form a unique words, when you successively remove one letter at a time.

cleansers: cleanses, cleanse, cleans, leans, leas, las, as, a

discusses: discuses, discuss, discus, discs, diss, dis, is, i

drownings: drowning, downing, owning, owing, wing, win, in, i

grandeurs: grandeur, grander, grader, grade, grad, rad, ad, a

groupings: grouping, groping, roping, oping, ping, pig, pi, i

paintings: painting, paining, pining, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

piercings: piercing, piecing, pieing, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

prattlers: rattlers, ratters, raters, rates, rats, rat, at, a

prickling: pickling, picking, piking, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

restarted: restated, restate, estate, state, sate, ate, at, a

scrapping: crapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

shoppings: shopping, hopping, hoping, oping, ping, pig, pi, i

sparkling: sparking, sparing, spring, sprig, prig, pig, pi, i

spinnings: spinning, pinning, pining, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

splatters: platters, latters, lattes, latte, late, ate, at, a

splitting: slitting, sitting, siting, sting, ting, tin, in, i

spritzers: spritzes, sprites, spites, sites, sits, its, is, i

stampeded: stampede, stamped, tamped, tamed, tame, tam, am, a

stampedes: stampede, stamped, tamped, tamed, tame, tam, am, a

starlings: starling, staring, string, sting, ting, tin, in, i

startling: starling, staring, string, sting, ting, tin, in, i

strapping: trapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

stringers: stingers, singers, singes, sines, sins, ins, is, i

stringier: stingier, stinger, singer, singe, sine, sin, in, i

switchers: switches, witches, withes, withe, wite, wit, it, i

tramplers: trampers, tampers, tamers, tames, tams, tam, am, a

trampling: tramping, tamping, taping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

trappings: trapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

wrappings: wrapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

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

Read related posts: 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?

For further reading: Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole
https://www.quora.com/What-eight-letter-word-can-have-a-letter-taken-away-and-it-still-makes-a-word


The Person Behind the Word: Maverick

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBeing branded (pun intended) a maverick can either be a compliment or denigration, depending upon your perspective. The primary definition of a maverick is an independently-minded person; one who bucks the status quo, as it were (sorry, could’t resist). Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable uses the term “masterless man” — leave to the Brits to be so dramatic. The secondary meaning of a maverick is an unbranded calf or yearling. Because of this, some people mistakenly believe that the word is derived from the horse; however, the word is actually an eponym, based on a real American — you certainly wouldn’t recognize him if you saw his photo in a history book, but you certainly know his surname: Samuel Maverick.

Maverick was well-known in Texas during the mid 1800s (he was born in 1803 and died 1870), where he was a respected Yale-educated attorney, politician, landowner, and rancher. Maverick, was of course, the original maverick because he refused to brand his cattle, much to the consternation of nearby ranchers. Language maven, William Safire shares one explanation provided by J. David Stern who wrote Maverick Publisher: “Old man Maverick… refused to brand his cattle because it was cruelty to animals. His neighbors said he was a hypocrite, liar, and thief, because Maverick’s policy allowed him to claim all unbranded cattle on the range. Lawsuits were followed by bloody battles, and brought a new word to our language.” As early at 1867, ranchers called any unbranded cattle “mavericks.”

The term eventually drifted into the realm of politics. Safire continues: “Maverick drifted into the political vocabulary around the turn of the century; McClure’s magazine mentioned the occasional appearance of a ‘maverick legislator.” The simplicity and aptness of the metaphor made it both durable and universally understood.” In this context, it means a person who is unorthodox in his or her political views and is disdainful of party loyalty. The maverick is truly a man without a brand. Safire notes that being a maverick in the world of politics can either be a virtue or a vice — and many notable politicians have been mavericks at some point during their notable careers.

Reviewing the troubling state of partisan politics in America today, one would hope that there were more mavericks serving in Congress today.

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Read related post: The Person Behind the Word: Chauvinism
The Person Behind the Word: Sandwich

For further reading: Safire’s New Political Dictionary by William Safire


Word of the Year 2019

alex atkins bookshelf words“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot, “and next year’s words await another voice.” To that observation, we can add: this past year’s words also define the language, the conversations, or more accurately, the zeitgeist of the year. Each year, editors of major dictionaries review the stats on their respective websites to spot dramatic spikes in word lookups to determine which words capture the interest of the public. They develop a list and then debate which one merits the distinction of “word of the year.”

For 2019 Word of the Year, the editors of Oxford Dictionaries selected climate emergency. Climate emergency is defined as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.” The editors explain their rationale for choosing this word: “Usage of the phrase climate emergency increased steeply over the course of 2019, and by September it was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year. The word climate has been central to 2019 overall, and features in a number of prominent phrases, but climate emergency stands out for a number of reasons. Statistically speaking, this represents a new trend in the use of the word emergency. In 2018, climate did not feature in the top words typically used to modify emergency, instead the top types of emergencies people wrote about were health, hospital, and family emergencies. These suggest acute situations of danger at a very personal level, often relating to the health of an individual. Emergency also frequently occurs, as in the phrase state of emergency to indicate a legal declaration of an acute situation at a jurisdictional level. But with climate emergency, we see something new, an extension of emergency to the global level, transcending these more typical uses.” While climate change sounds passive, the term climate emergency accurately evokes the impending global catastrophe. The editors of OED tip their hat to the editors of The Guardian that stated that “climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown” should be used to describe the global impact of climate change. Words that made the shortlist, that are closely related to climate emergency included: climate action, climate crisis, climate denial, eco-anxiety, ecocide, extinction, flight shame, global heating, net-zero, and plant-based.

For 2019 Word of the Year, the editors of Merriam-Webster selected they. They is a pronoun that is used used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary (neither entirely female nor entirely male). The editors noted that they was the most frequently looked up word on their website. Senior editor, Emily Brewster, elaborates: “Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think go, do, and have) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users. But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for they grow dramatically. In 2019 the increase in lookups for they was so significant and sustained that it stood out from all the other top lookups when we went to analyze the data. People were clearly encountering this new use and turning to the dictionary for clarity and for usage guidance. Words that made the shortlist included: quid pro quo, impeach, crawdad, and the (after The Ohio State University filed a trademark application for the word as part of their name).

For 2019 Word of the Year, the editors of Dictionary.com selected existential. Existential is an adjective defined as “(1) of or relating to existence. (2) of, relating to, characteristic of philosophical existentialism; concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices. The word, entering English in the late 1600s derived from the Latin verb existere (meaning “to emerge, to be”), is often used when the fact of something’s or someone’s very existence is at stake. So we speak of an existential threat (a threat to human beings and nonliving things, such as an ideology or country), or an existential crisis (What is my purpose in life? What is the meaning of life?). The editors explain their choice, “Existential, as a word and theme, was prominent in discussions of topics that dominated 2019: climate change, gun violence, and democratic institutions. It also popped up in lighter stories in popular culture, signaling its place in the cultural zeitgeist. [Moreover,] Existential inspires us to ask big questions about who we are and what our purpose is in the face of our various challenges — and it reminds us that we can make choices about our lives in how we answer those questions. Words that made the shortlist included: polar vortex, threatened species, vulnerable, endangered, manifesto, screed, white supremacy, stochastic terrorism, mass shootings, exonerate, purview, and quid pro quo.

For 2019 Word of the Year, Atkins Bookshelf has selected disinformation. Disinformation is defined as “false information deliberately and sometimes covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to obscure the truth or influence public opinion.” If you are a student of literature, you know that disinformation is at the heart of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. The novel grew out of his experience of fighting in the Spanish civil war. Orwell believed that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” When the book was published in 1949, no one imagined that Orwell’s cynical and dark vision could become reality — and yet, here we are. In a brilliant essay in The Guardian about the legacy of Orwell’s 1984, Dorian Lynsey writes: “Nineteen Eighty-Four remains the book we turn to when truth is mutilated, when language is distorted, when power is abused, when we want to know how bad things can get. It is still, in the words of Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, ‘an apocalyptical codex of our worst fears.’ The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: newspeak, Big Brother, the thought police, Room 101, the two minutes’ hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2+2=5 and the ministry of truth… In 2016, the world changed. As Trump took the White House, Britain voted for Brexit and populism swept across Europe, people took to talking anxiously about the upheavals of the 1970s and, worse, the 1930s.” Orwell could never have imagined the power and reach of the Internet, making it even easier for extreme ideologues, commentators, ideologues, political organizations, and foreign governments to plant well-coordinated disinformation campaigns to impact critical issues such as gun violence, healthcare, immigration, women’s rights, democracy, climate crisis, rape, and sexual harassment.

One of the most prominent individuals engaged in disinformation is considered to be the most powerful individuals in the world: President Donald Trump. And the disinformation began right on Day One; Lynsey explains: “January 2017. Another man stands before a crowd, which is not as large as he would like, in Washington DC, taking the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States of America. His press secretary says that it was the ‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.’ Asked to justify such a preposterous lie, the president’s adviser describes the statement as ‘alternative facts.’ Three years later, according to The Washington Post, Trump has made more than 15,413 false or misleading claims (as of December 10, 2019).

Trump is a prolific one-man Twitter disinformation machine, dispensing a steady stream of untruths, rants, conspiracy theories, and insults to his more than 67 million followers. Lynsey assesses Trump this way “It must be said that Trump is no Big Brother. Nor, despite his revival of such toxic phrases as ‘America First’ and ‘enemy of the people’, is he simply a throwback to the 1930s. He has the cruelty and power hunger of a dictator but not the discipline, intellect or ideology… The president also meets most of the criteria of Orwell’s 1944 definition of fascism: ‘Something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘fascist.’… It is truly Orwellian that the phrase ‘fake news’ has been turned on its head by Trump and his fellow authoritarians to describe real news that is not to their liking. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani accidentally provided a crude motto for Versionland USA when he snapped at an interviewer: “Truth isn’t truth!”… During a speech in July 2018, Trump said: ‘What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.’ A line from Nineteen Eighty-Four went viral: ‘The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.'”

Despite Orwell’s warnings, modern society let it happen: we now live in a world filled with disinformation and lies — and it takes a great deal of effort to find the truth. The role of independent critical, analytical thinking has never been more important; to quote one of Orwells’ greatest admirers, Christopher Hitchens: “It matters not what you think, but how you think.” Lynsey concludes his essay this way: “In its original 1949 review [of 1984], Life correctly identified the essence of Orwell’s message: ‘If men continue to believe in such facts as can be tested and to reverence the spirit of truth in seeking greater knowledge, they can never be fully enslaved.’ Seventy years later, that feels like a very large if.

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

Read related posts:
Word of the Year 2018

Word of the Year 2017
Word of the Year 2016

How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words Related to Trump

For further reading:
https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2019/
https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year
https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-year/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/19/legacy-george-orwell-nineteen-eighty-four
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/19/truth-isnt-truth-rudy-giuliani-trump-alternative-facts-orwellian


Origins of “Talk Turkey” and “Quit Cold Turkey”

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAs Turkey Day approaches, curious minds ponder turkey related phrases, like “talking turkey” or “quitting cold turkey.” So why do we single out the poor turkey and imply that they are frigid? (Around this time of year we should pity them for the sacrifice they must make. No wonder those unfortunate beasts cower at the very mention of Thanksgiving Day. ) We don’t say, “I quit my Netflix binging cold monkey” or “I quit my addiction to Fortnite cold salamander.” Those statements sound so amazingly weird, don’t they?

Although they have different meanings, “talking turkey” means talking frankly and seriously while “quitting cold turkey” means quitting something suddenly and completely (typically used in context of a bad habit like smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs), both phrases are closely related. Let’s step into the time machine and visit the early 19th century to learn how these phrases came about.

First, if you are American, you can take pride that both are true Americanisms (made in the USA!). The earliest recorded appearance of either phrase, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is in the early 1800s. Specifically, “talking turkey” appears in 1824 referring to speaking affably or frankly: “So that, all things considered, I hope neither the Indian, whom the Yankey could not cheat in the division of their game (a turkey and a buzzard)… will accuse me of not talking turkey.” So how did turkeys getting linked with talking — especially since they gobble? Lexicographers surmise that when settlers and Native Americans went hunting for wild turkeys, at the end of the hunt, they had to divide the spoils. If one of the hunters said, “talk turkey for Indian,” that meant that the Native American received a turkey. (Certainly, the Native American did not want to hear the settler talking buzzard.) Another explanation for the phrase was that the settlers encountered Native Americans, they often asked about the supply of wild turkeys; that is to say, they came to “talk turkey.” Finally, turkeys, being social birds (running around in flocks), came to represent individuals engaged in conversation. Gobble! Gobble!

The use of “taking turkey” slowly changed in meaning from talking affably to talking plainly or directly. We see this use in Dialect Notes from 1903: “I’m going to talk turkey with him and see if I can’t get him to mend his ways.” Over a period of about two decades, a variant of “talking turkey” arose: “talking cold turkey.” To talk cold turkey meant getting straight to the point, without delay or mincing words. The Random House Dictionary of American Historical Slang cites this entry from 1920: “Now tell me on the square — can I get by with this for the wedding — don’t string me — tell me cold turkey.” And from a 1922 letter from American poet and journalist Carl Sandburg: “I’m going to talk cold turkey with booksellers about the hot gravy in the stories.” LOL — Sandburg talking turkey!

Shortly after, the meaning of cold turkey morphs into “stopping suddenly” and is applied to addictions. The OED cites an article in the Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C., 1921) that states: “Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon … are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, they [drug addicts] are given what is called the ‘cold turkey’ treatment.” Well, thank you very much for that etymological contribution Dr. Simon!

So now you can dazzle your guests by talking turkey at Thanksgiving dinner with this fascinating etymology of “talking turkey” and “cold turkey.” And can you please pass the gravy…

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

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There’s a Word for That: Lagniappe

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEver walk into a store and purchase something, and as you conclude your purchase, the merchant thanks you with a small gift? Perhaps you bought a pair of shoes, and you get a free pair of socks; or you walk into a See’s Candies shop and get a free candy after obtaining your chocolate fix (in addition to the free sample)? It happens to be a lovely unexpected gesture that has an equally lovely word: lagniappe. The word is pronounced “LAN yap,” derived from the South American Spanish phrase, la yapa or la ñapa, meaning “a free extra, but inexpensive, item” or “a little extra” — in other words, a small token of appreciation. The word was initially introduced in Louisiana, since it was once part of the Spanish Empire. However because the word’s spelling has been influenced by French, it is mistakenly considered a Cajun French or Louisiana Creole French word.

In America, the custom of lagniappe goes back to the mid to late 19th century when street merchants would give their customers a small gift with their purchase; for example, a vegetable vendor might give a customer a free bunch of cilantro or green chili peppers. Legendary American novelist and humorist Mark Twain was enamored with the word. In his popular book, Life on the Mississippi, published in 1883, Twain writes: “We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — ‘lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — “Give me something for lagniappe.” The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely.”

So the next time a merchant rewards you with a small token of appreciation, turn around and say, “Well, thank you kind sir (or madam) for the thoughtful lagniappe!” and watch the bewildered expression on their face. Priceless.

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

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


There’s a Word for That: Galeanthropy

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEvery Halloween one will witness a predictable number of people, especially children, dressed as cats. Who hasn’t looked at a photo of a 4-year-old dressed as a kitty cat and purred “adorable?” However, all that adorableness flies (or jumps) out the window — and is replaced with deep concern — when a person harbors the delusion that he or she is a cat. Excluding the most dedicated feline cast members of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, the most well-known human cat is New York socialite, Jocelyn Wildenstein, affectionately known as “Catwoman” (and pejoratively known as “The Bride of Wildenstein”) due to the many cosmetic surgeries she has undergone to look like a cat. Google her — truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Naturally, the English language has a purr-fect word for this: galeanthropy which is defined as the mental condition of a person who believes that he or she is a cat and adopts feline habits and mannerisms (what one could call “cat-titude”). The word is derived from the Ancient Greek words galee (meaning “weasel”) and anthropos (meaning “humanity”). The word is pronounced “Ga lee AN thra pee.” So now, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Meow.

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