Category Archives: Words

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


There’s A Word for That: Blatherskite

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEver listened to a person talk at great length, and as you nod while listening politely, you realize none of what they say makes sense or is meaningless? Well, there a word for that kind of person: blatherskite. Pronounced “bla THUR skite” the word is a portmanteau of the English word blather, derived from the Old Norse blathr meaning “talking nonsense” and the Scottish word skite meaning “a contemptible person.” The word was popularized by the traditional Scottish song “Maggie Lauder” which was frequently sung by the soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. “Maggie Lauder,” a song about a piper, was written by Frances Sempill (1616-1685) and first published in 1729 in Adam Craig’s Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes. Here are the first verses of the song (note that blatherskite was initially spelled “bladderskate”):

Wha wadna be in love
Wi’ bonnie Maggie Lauder?
A piper met her gaun to Fife,
And speir’d what was’t they ca’d her;-
Eight scornfully she answer’d him,
Begone you hallanshaker!
Jog on your gate, you bladderskate,
My name is Maggie Lauder.

The secondary meaning of blatherskite is foolish talk or nonsense. If you have watched a news clip of a Trump rally, you will instantly recognize blatherskite from um… a blithering blatherskite. There are many colorful synonyms for blatherskite, including the wonderful whimsical word “jabberwocky” introduced by Lewis Carroll in his classic work Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) published in 1871. Other euphonious synonyms include: babble, balderdash, claptrap, gabble, gibberish, gobbledygook, jabber, nonsense, poppycock, prate, prattle, and twaddle.

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://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Maggy_Lawder


There’s A Word for That: Myrmidon

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIn the world of politics, a leader often surrounds himself with loyal subordinates who are unscrupulous and unquestioningly carry out whatever order they are given. These types of individuals are often referred to as henchmen. But there is an even better word: myrmidon. The word, pronounced “MER ma don,” comes to us from Greek mythology. In the Iliad, Homer describes the Myrmidons as soldiers that were commanded by Achilles on his adventure-filled journey to Troy. The Greek word myrmidons is derived from murkekes meaning “ants.” In Metamorphoses, Ovid describes Myrmidons as simple worker ants who toiled on the island of Aegina located near Athens.

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


Words That Illustrate the Irregularities of English Spelling and Pronunciation

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language is fascinating for so many reasons. On the one hand, it has many rules for spelling, pronunciation, and grammar; on the other hand, it breaks those rules. For example, let’s focus on the irregularities of spelling and pronunciation. In the English language, due to major linguistic and social events over 1,000 years, spelling is not consistently phonetic: there are letters that are either not pronounced or pronounced. This irregularity in pronunciation affects about 25% of the million words in the English language; however, within that 25% subset are approximately 400 of the most frequently used words, known as sight words, because they cannot be spelled phonetically and thus have to be learned “by sight.” Examples include: been, come, could, does, enough, eyes, have, one, said, some, there, they, though, very, would, and you.

There have been many attempts to reform spelling in the English language, beginning with A Plea for Phenotype and Phonography by Alexander Ellis in 1815. Another notable work was the poem “The Chaos” by Gerard Trenite published in 1920. Writers who love words but are irked by the many irregularities of spelling have developed neologisms to illustrate the irregularities of English spelling and pronunciations. The most famous example is the word “ghoti” attributed to George Bernard Shaw in support of the efforts of the Simplified Spelling Society but actually introduced by Charles Ollier in a private letter, dated December 11, 1855. The word “ghoti” is pronounced “fish” when broken into its distinct sounds (known as phonemes): “f” from “touGH”; “i” from “wOmen”; and “sh” from “naTIOn.” Words like these are known as “absurd spellings” or graphological deviants in the world of lexicography. The most famous use of “ghoti” is by James Joyce in his inventive but inscrutable work, Finnegans Wake, published in 1939.

Another wonderful graphological deviant is the word “iewkngheaurrhpthewempeighghteaps” which is pronounced “unfortunates.” Here is the pronunciation of the word with each phoneme:
u from vIEW
n from KNow
f from touGH
o from bEAU
r from myRRh
t from PTHisis
u from EWE
n from coMPtroller
a from nEIGH
t from liGHT
e from tEA
s from PSalm

So devilishly clever. So the next time you use the word unfortunates in writing, go ahead and use the graphological deviant version to leave the reader scratching their head in bewilderment.

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 Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

For further reading: How to Torture Your Mind by Ralph Woods
https://theconversation.com/the-absurdity-of-english-spelling-and-why-were-stuck-with-it-44905
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_spelling_reform


Adventures in Rhetoric: Epistrophe

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAn epistrophe (pronounced “uh PI struh fee”) is a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a sentence or clause. If you listened to Reverend Al Sharpton’s powerful, poignant eulogy to George Floyd on June 4, 2020, you will have heard a masterful use of epistrophe: “you had your knee on my neck.” Sharpton delivered his eulogy from an all-white podium that was a replica of the pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. used when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Like King, Sharpton is a gifted orator who follows in the tradition of inspiring Baptist preachers who speak with commanding voices and fully connect with their audiences. Both men begin their speeches in a slow, measured pace to draw you in and then gradually build to a passionate crescendo, utilizing evocative language and rhetorical devices like repetition, alliteration, and metaphors. Here is an excerpt highlighting the use of epistrophe (italics added):

“People across economic and racial lines started calling and getting in and we flew out of here… and when I stood at that spot, reason it got to me is George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter then the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life, it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks. That’s the problem no matter who you are. We thought maybe we had a complex, T.I. [referring to an American rapper who was in attendance], maybe it was just us, but even blacks that broke through, you kept your knee on that neck. Michael Jordan won all of these championships, and you kept digging for mess because you got to put a knee on our neck. White housewives would run home to see a black woman on TV named Oprah Winfrey and you messed with her because you just can’t take your knee off our neck. A man comes out of a single parent home, educates himself and rises up and becomes the President of the United States and you ask him for his birth certificate because you can’t take your knee off our neck. The reason why we are marching all over the world is we were like George, we couldn’t breathe, not because there was something wrong with our lungs, but that you wouldn’t take your knee off our neck. We don’t want no favors, just get up off of us and we can be and do whatever we can be!”

The words on the page do not do justice to the extremely uplifting and powerful delivery by Sharpton: it’s breathtaking to behold. You will note that the speech It is interrupted by several standing ovations. You can listen to the speech here.

Sharpton returned to the pulpit a few days later on June 9, 2020 to deliver another passionate eulogy for George Floyd’s final memorial service in Houston, Texas. Once again, Sharpton employed the epistrophe several times, for example: “wickedness in high places!”

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
What is a Pleonasm?
What is a Rhopalic?
The Wisdom of Cornel West
Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech
Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King


What To Do When You Find a Typo in a Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksHave you ever been reading a book, perhaps a classic novel or a recently published book, and come across a typo? WTF? It’s annoying isn’t it? You just paid $18 to $30 for the book and the publisher clearly skimped on proofreaders (or should we say “poofreaders”?). Dedicated readers and book lovers have a few options. You can hurl the book across the room, sending it crashing into the wall. As it falls to the floor in a crumpled mess you curse the author and the publisher using an appropriate Shakespearean curse like “Thou paper-faced rampallians who have conceived of such wretched, weasel-like typos! Get thee to the blasted inferno of Hell!” Sure it feels good, but the sense of satisfaction is fleeting. The typo is still in there, taunting you, haunting you…

Another option is to photograph the page and email the jpeg file to the publisher along with a note pointing out the error. There is a deeper sense of satisfaction with this option because now, at least, you have the hope that it will be corrected in a future printing. And when you confirm that a later edition is corrected, you can take credit for it.

But there is a third option: you can visit the kindred souls at Book Errata (bookerrata.com) that keep a comprehensive list of book and their errors that really annoy readers and bibliophiles. Incidentally, errata (the plural of erratum, derived from the Latin word errare meaning “to err”) is defined as an error that occurs in printing or writing. In publishing an errata is a list of corrected errors that is appended to a book, either as an additional page or as an individual page that is slipped in (known as an errata slip). An erratum is also known as a typo, short for typographical error. The Book Errata community maintains the fascinating Corrigenda List, a list of every book that has been published with typos. Corrigenda, as you may have surmised is another Latin loanword: corrigendum (singular form) is derived from corrigere meaning “bring to order,” defined as something to be corrected, typically a typo in a printed book. When you click on the name of the book in the Corrigenda list, you can view every single typo listed by page number. Books are rated as: “single error, slightly sloppy, sloppy, very sloppy, and horrendous.” The best aspect of Book Errata is that book publishers actually pay attention to this website. Many books that are listed now have the rating of “no errors” because they have been corrected based on the eagle-eyed readers’ feedback.

Let’s take a closer look at a classic novel that is rated “very sloppy.” What’s truly surprising is that the novel is a classic that has been around for 400 years (in fact, since it was first published in 1620, 2020 is its 400th anniversary). The novel? Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, specifically the edition published by Ecco in 2003 (translated by Edith Grossman). Here are some of the egregious typos:

Page 163, 170: “Accompanying them were two men on horseback and two on foot; the ones on horseback had flintlocks, and those on foot carried javelins and swords [versus] …for this was the man holding the flintlock…and those on horseback put their hands on their swords, and those on foot grasped their javelins” Correction: consistency

Page 172, 195: “…took the basin from his head and struck him three or four blows with it on his shoulders and smashed it an equal number of times on the ground until he had shattered it. [versus] I have the basin in the bag, all dented… they see it as only a barber’s basin, they do not attempt to obtain it, as was evident when that man tried to shatter it, then left it on the ground…” Correction: consistency

Page 281: “…even though he has no knowledge of [ ] wife’s adultery…” Correction: his wife’s

Page 824: “His large, dappled horse appeared to be a Frisian…” Correction: Friesian

Page 830: May may Barabbas go with you…” Correction: May appears twice

For crying out loud! Isn’t 400 years enough time to get a freaking proofreader to get this classic novel published correctly? Are we tilting at windmills, here?!

So why are there so many typos, especially in recently published books? The truth is, there are less proofreaders today in the digital world than in the good ol’ days when authors typed their manuscripts (with typewriters — remember those?). In short, books are published faster, skipping many steps in the traditional publishing process (manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines, etc.) As Virginia Heffernan explains in an article for The New York Times: “For readers who find humanity in orthographic quirks, these are great times. Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere…. Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.”

We should note that dedicated book collectors actually look for and want printing errors in the books they collect because they often establish the first edition and first printing of a book. Paradoxically, the more errors the first edition contains, the more valuable the book. Take, for example, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that includes eight egregious printing mistakes. The value of a first edition?  As of this writing, there is one for sale on AbeBooks for $190,538!

So if you find a typo in a book, be an Errata Superhero: head over to the Corrections and Omissions page and type in the title, author, publisher, publication date, page number, error and submit the form. The website also includes the contact information for all the major book publishers and their many imprints in case you are really annoyed and want to give the publisher a piece of your mind. Either way, you can take great satisfaction of joining the ranks of the Book Errata warriors, dedicated to obliterating annoying typos from the pages of notable books. Onward!

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: Why Study Literature?
Why Read Dickens?
The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America
What is a Classic Book?

For further reading: http://bookerrata.com/index.html
rarebooksdigest.com/2016/07/05/mistaikes-in-books/
opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/the-price-of-typos/


There Should Be a Word for That: Bingegrief

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou know the feeling well. You find a fascinating series and you binge-watch it through however many seasons exist (six to eight if you’re lucky) on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Once you’re deep in the narrative you feel emotionally connected with the characters, and you are transported to another world, cherishing every moment, and anticipating every new episode to see where the story will take your cherished characters. You can’t wait to finish each season — but a funny thing happens as you reach that last season. You slow down, and want to cherish each episode, knowing full well that the show will come to its inevitable conclusion. After the show’s finale plays, and the credits begin to scroll, you feel the bliss draining from your body, replaced by a profound sadness. You can’t believe that the show is over and you have to say to those wonderful characters.

Interestingly, there is no word for this; however, clearly, there should be! Atkins Bookshelf offers a word for modern times: bingegrief. Bingegrief is defined as the sadness that you experience after binge-watching a show that you thoroughly enjoyed. The word, pronounced “binj GREEF,” is a compound word (combining the words “binge” and “grief”). The common evolution of compound words in the English language is that they begin hyphenated and then over time, the hyphen is dropped (do you remember “pigeon-hole”, “e-mail” and “chat-room”?). Consider that back in 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary dropped the hyphen from about 16,000 compound words for their two-volume print edition. So mate, let’s just dispense with the lexicological courtship and get right to the marriage of two words. And now, let’s use this new word in a sentence: “I was overwhelmed by bingegrief on Monday morning after binge-watching Money Heist over the weekend.” O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Depending on the quality and length of a series, bingegrief can be very pronounced — like losing a friend or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. And just like real grief, bingegrief can paralyze you with sadness and ennui for days. If you are a fan of Netflix or Amazon Prime, especially during the extended quarantine imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, you know that bingegrief is a “thing;” but for the skeptics out there — there is actually science that explains this common feeling.

In an interview with NBC News, clinical psychologist Renee Carr explains, “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine. This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When bing-watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine. The neural pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as the addiction to binge-watching. Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.” This intense addiction to dopamine explains why 61% of viewers regularly watch between two to six episodes of a show in one sitting, according to a survey conducted by Netflix. People are sitting on the couch and shooting up with six hours of compelling series, like Money Heist. That same survey indicated that 73% of viewers reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. So you can imagine what happens in the brain when the delivery of dopamine comes to a screeching stop: sadness, ennui, resulting in a mad scramble to go online and seek out the next series to binge — typing “Shows to watch like Money Heist…” into Google, like a junkie, trembling with withdrawals, waiting for the next hit. I can hear that haunting melody…. O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Since humans are such social creatures, we also tend to bond with characters that we like or that we identify with; psychologists call this “identification” or “parasocial interaction.” This identification is stronger when both the character and their particular situation is similar to our own. In “wishful identification” the viewer is able to imagine being in the situation of the character and identifying with the protagonist’s success or power, and caring about what happens to the character. Thus, watching a show is both pleasurable and affirming, increasing the viewer’s self-esteem. Psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva explains that all of this experience becomes part of our life experience: “Our brains code all experiences, be it watched on TV, experienced live, read in a book or imagined, as ‘real’ memories. So when watching a TV program, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as when experiencing a live event. We get drawn into story lines, become attached to characters and truly care about outcomes of conflicts.”

Naturally, after binging a show, viewers have to say goodbye to these characters, and that is when they begin feeling sad. Clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer explains the science behind bingegrief, which is an example of situational depression — similar to the mourning we experience when we lose someone close to us: “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing. We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.” Interestingly, a study conducted by the University of Toledo found that binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. Part of the reason is that viewers are substituting virtual relationships for real human relationships as well as the isolation that comes from binge-watching alone.

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.

For further reading: Words for Emotions That Don’t Have Names Yet
How Many Emotions Are There?
There Should Be A Word for That: Bibliorts

For further reading: http://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-happens-your-brain-when-you-binge-watch-tv-series-ncna816991
mashable.com/article/why-we-feel-lost-after-a-tv-binge/
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-hyphen-1/thousands-of-hyphens-perish-as-english-marches-on-idUSHAR15384620070921


Is it Fate or Destiny?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsMost likely, you are familiar with the following phrases: “it was his or her destiny” and “his or her fate is sealed.” The key words here, of course, are fate and destiny. So what is the difference between fate and destiny, young Padowan? Aren’t they the same thing? Yes and no. Both words refer to what happens to a person in his or her life; however there is a subtle difference in meaning. Fate is an inevitable and often predetermined outcome, often a bad one resulting in death or destruction. For example: “The fate of the Titanic was sealed when its radio operator did not pass on a message warning about dense ice fields to the captain.” Destiny, on the other hand, suggests an invincible power that controls human life and the universe. For example: “The dedicated student triumphed over tremendous hardship, focused on his education, graduated from college with honors, and went on to be a successful writer, fulfilling his destiny.”

Socrates famously taught: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Taking a moment to reflect on your life, is it fate or destiny? Share your reflections in the comments section.

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: The Meaning of Life by Peter Gay
The Meaning of Life by Joseph Campbell
The Meaning of Life by Mortimer Adler
The Meaning of Life by Norman Vincent Peale

Where to Find the Meaning of Life
Life’s Most Important Questions


Experience is the Mother of Wisdom and Other Idioms About Mothers

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesOne of the most recurring themes in literature is motherhood. It represents birthing, the creation of new life, the profound love of and care for another, or the development of feminine spirituality. Motherhood is also an enduring symbol, especially in religion and mythology: mothers are depicted as beautiful, powerful goddesses of creation that are often associated with the ocean, moon, nature, and safety of children. In Christianity, some of the most important figures are mothers: Eve (the Original Mother), Sarah (mother of Isaac), Rebekah (mother of Jacob and Esau), Jochebed (mother of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam), and Mary (the Madonna). In Eastern mythology, the mother is a creation goddess: in one tradition, the oceans were created by her uterine waters. As a fertility goddess, she rules over nature and controls the harvests. Generally speaking, however, a mother’s love represents the apotheosis of love (although, don’t write that in a Mother’s Day card, because it sounds like a COVID-related illness; incidentally the word apotheosis is form the Greek word apotheoun which means “to make a god of”); that is to say, it represents love as the ideal form: unconditional, pure, self-less, wise, comforting, unwavering — and at times it can be fierce and protective.

The concept of motherhood is not only intertwined with literature and mythology, it is also part of the English lexicon. We find that the word “mother” in many idioms that evoke the symbols and meanings we have discussed. For example, when we talk wisdom, learning from our mistakes, we say “Experience is the mother of wisdom” not “Experience is the father of wisdom.”

To honor of the mothers around the globe and through the generations who have exemplified the ideals of love for their children, for their families, for their communities — especially through the troubling trials and tribulations unleashed by the deadly coronavirus, Atkins Bookshelfs presents the idioms about mothers that remind us of the eternal significance of their contributions:

at one’s/his/her mother’s knee

Diligence is the mother of good luck

everyone and his/their mother

expectant mother

Experience is the mother of wisdom

A face that only mother could love

He that would the daughter win, must with the mother first begin

Like mother, like daughter

mama’s boy

maternal instinct

mother country

mother hen

mother house

mother’s little helpers

mother lode

mother’s milk

mother of pearl

Mother Nature

The mother or all [something]

mother tongue

A mother has eyes in the back of her head

Necessity is the mother of invention

old enough to be one’s mother

swear on your mother’s grave

sweet Mary, mother of God

Tied to his/her/your mother’s apron strings

Tiger mother

You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Your mother!

What other idioms about mothers should we include?

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 Borgesian Conundrum?
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey

What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
The Most Annoying Business Phrases

For further reading: Oxford Dictionary of Idioms
https://www1.cbn.com/family/six-amazing-moms-in-the-bible
https://science.jrank.org/pages/10304/Motherhood-Maternity-History-Religion-Myth.html
https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/mother

 


Test Your Creativity with This Clever Thinking Puzzle

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAfter weeks of sheltering in place you may have exhausted all the ways of killing time — binge eating, binge watching Netflix shows, binge watching silly pet videos on Youtube, scrolling through mind-numbing social media posts, and so on. You can practically count the cells in your brain dying by the hour. Would you like to kick-start your brain and test your creative thinking? Let me introduce you a really fun brain-building word game you can play and share with your friends. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the obscure and overlooked ditloid. A ditloid is a curious and clever puzzle — something that would have greatly amused Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. Specifically, a ditloid is a word game in which a phrase, term, title, quotation, proverb, or fact must be deduced from numbers and abbreviations in the clue. Here are some examples (answers in parenthesis):
60 = S. in a M. (60 seconds in a minute)
99 = B. of B. on the W. (99 bottles of beer on the wall)
7 = A. of M. (7 Ages of Man).
You get the idea. 
The word game was named after the following puzzle: 1=D. it L. o I. D. (1 Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), by the Daily Express, a London newspaper. This word game is also referred to as a “linguistic equation” or “numerical phrase.” 

The most famous ditloids — indeed, the ditloids that launched a thousand ditloids — were created by puzzle master extraordinaire Will Shortz, former editor of Games magazine and current crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, puzzle master on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and author of more than 100 books on puzzles. (Incidentally, he is an avid puzzle book collector, owning more than  20,000 puzzle books and magazines). Shortz introduced the word game, which he initially called an “Equation Analysis Test” , in the May-June 1981 issue of Game magazine. Since this was the time before the birth of the Internet, the puzzle was circulated the old fashioned way; Shortz elaborates: “Some anonymous person had retyped the puzzle from Games (word for word, except for my byline), photocopied it, and passed it along. This page was then rephotocopied ad infinitum, like a chain letter, and circulated around the country. Games readers who hadn’t seen the original even started sending it back to Games as something the magazine ought to consider publishing!” Interestingly, this “photocopied” list still gets forwarded, albeit as an image file in chain emails.

Shortz’s inspiration for the word puzzle came from Morgan Worthy’s AHA! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking, published in 1975. Worthy introduced the Formula Analysis Test that had a slightly different construction: M. + M. + N.H. + V. + C. + R.I. = N.E. (Maine + Massachusetts + New Hampshire + Vermont + Connecticut + Rhode Island = New England) and 1 B. in the H. = 2 in the B. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). Worthy, in turn, was inspired by obscene graffiti in a college bathroom; Worthy explains in his book, “I first became interested in aha! thinking ten years ago while a graduate student at the University of Florida. Part of the graffiti in the men’s room of the psychology building was a cryptic formula someone had written in large letters on the wall. I was intrigued by this little puzzle and, of course, had occasion to be reminded of it from time to time. Finally, one day, the answer (yes, obscene) suddenly came to me. It happened that I was studying creativity at the time and I realized that my response to solving the graffiti puzzle was very like the ‘aha! effect’ about which I had been reading… I constructed a test of times similar in principle to the one I found on the rest room wall.” In order to develop his Formula Analysis Test, Worthy followed this criteria: the puzzles do not require special information or a large vocabulary, the puzzles cannot be solved by step-by-step process, and each puzzle is relatively easy in that it is short and contains few items. Based on research by Worth, scores on solving these type of tests are not correlated significantly with I.Q. scores, but rather validated tests that measure creative thinking.

Without further ado, here are the original 24 word puzzles, the Equation Analysis Test, created by Shortz. Give it a shot, and see how many you can solve. The answers are presented below. And no cheating (i.e., using Google to solve the equations). Remember, solving the puzzles is not about being smart — it is about being creative. So clear your mind, put some music on, chill, and let the letters and numbers speak to you… and be sure to share this with your friends, to see how they do.

1 = W. on a U.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
7 = W. of the A.W.
8 = S. on a S.S.
9 = P. in the S.S.
11 = P. on a F.T.
12 = S. of the Z.
13 = S. on the A.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
24 = H. in a D.
26 = L. of the A.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
57 = H.V.
64 = S. on a C.
88 = P.K.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
1,001 = A.N.

Let me know if you enjoyed these word puzzles and if you would like to see more of them.

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 for Superior Persons
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
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For further reading: Aha! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking by Morgan Worthy
Will Shortz’s Best Brain Busters by Will Shortz

http://thebiggamehunter.com/main-menu-bar/mechanical-puzzles/mechanical-puzzle-collectors/shortz-will/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditloid
https://www.braingle.com/news/hallfame.php?path=language/english/meaning/equations.p&sol=1

http://www.greenleecds.com/rgbest/NumAKey.pdf
https://www.puzzlemuseum.com/singma/singma5/LANGUAGE/NUMPHRAS.DOC

Answers here.


What is a Barbarism?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhat is a barbarism? If you answered “anything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth” you are pretty close. If you look up “barbarism” in the dictionary you will find the following definitions: “absence of culture or civilization” and “extreme cruelty or brutality.” However, in this case, we are interested in the definition of barbarism in linguistics. In this context, barbarism is defined as (1) an incorrect word; (2) a mispronunciation of a word; or (3) a badly formed word (eg, a word formed from elements of different languages). The Greeks used the term barbarism to describe foreign words that were incorporated into Greek speech or writing; they viewed these terms as a corruption of their language. (The Greeks would be apoplectic if their native language were English, which is a linguistic magpie, borrowing words from just about every language around the globe.)

A perfect example of a barbarism is when Kiarra, from the show everyone loves to hate, The Batchelor (Season 24), described what was in her goody bag: “…and inside of it [the bag] was like a cute pajama linger ree set.” What she meant to say, of course, was lingerie, which is pronounced “LAAN zher ay.” Makes you wonder how she would pronounce faux pas? Perhaps, the most famous barbarism was the tweet heard around the world on May 31, 2017. President Trump famously tweeted: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” The word “covfefe” was a mistyping of “coverage.” Unable to be accept responsibility for any mistake, Trump later claimed that the wording of that tweet was intentional. However, the word quickly entered the English lexicon: a covfefe is defined as a social media mistake. Adrienne LaFrance, a journalist for The Atlantic, wrote: “Covfefe remains the tweet that best illustrates Trump’s most preternatural gift: he knows how to captivate people, how to command and divert the attention of the masses.” Yeah, and look how that worked out with the coronavirus pandemic…

Here are some other examples of barbarisms [correct word in brackets]:

He putted the book on the shelf. [put]

Hand I the phone. [me]

The husband and wife had four childrens. [children]

Watching people die of COVID-10 is heart-wrenching. [heart-rending]

Breathalyzer [the combination of two different languages: English and Greek]

Very similar to a barbarism is a catachresis, which is defined as a word that is used in an incorrect way. Catachresis appear frequently as mixed metaphors (also known as malaphors) and wrong words in an idiom. For example, “The characters were like pawns on a checkerboard” [chessboard] or “That last comment was the straw that broke the elephant’s back” [camel].

Another similar term is solecism. While a barbarism is a mistake in morphology (how words are formed and their relationship to one another), a solecism is an error in syntax (the set of rules that define sentence structure). In other words, a solecism is a grammatical mistake. A double negative is a common solecism: “There aren’t no cups nowhere” [anywhere] or “I ain’t got no money” [don’t… any].

A related term is malapropism. A malapropism is the use of the wrong word for comedic effect; the mistake can be unintentional or intentional. The word is based on a fictional character, Mrs. Malaprop, from the play The Rivals (1775) by Richard Sheridan. Here is an example of a malapropism: “I have punctuation because I am never late!” [punctuality]. 

Another related term is spoonerism, named after William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), the Warden of New College, Oxford, who often switched the corresponding vowels or consonants between two words in a phrase. For example, “The Lord is a shoving leopard” rather than “The Lord is a loving shepherd” or “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” rather than “Three cheers for our dear old queen!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please LIKE and FOLLOW (via email or WordPress Reader) or share with a friend. The coronavirus quarantine is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What is a Pangram?
What is a Malaphor?
What is a Semordnilap?

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For further reading:
http://www.newsbreak.com/news/0NtwFUR2/the-bachelor-season-24-hannah-ann-and-kiarra-mispronounce-fiasco-and-lingerie-fans-go-on-roasting-spree
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covfefe


There’s a Word for That: Filipendulous

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEach day you turn on the TV and hear the same grim news about the coronavirus pandemic: in hospitals across the nation, patients are fighting for their lives — they are hanging by a thread. On Main Street in cities across America, businesses are fighting for their survival — these businesses are hanging by a thread. You see the trend here? Hanging by a thread. Well, there’s a beautiful-sounding word for that: filipendulous (pronounced “fi li PEN duh luhs”) from the Latin filum (meaning “thread”) and pendulum (meaning “hanging”) from pendere (“to hang). The earliest use appear in 1743 in Accounts of the Thirteen Cities of Ememeer by J. Gingell: “Beneath the accumulated weight of gossamer the filipendulous city began to crumble, and so the lesson of the spiders was revealed, for indeed did it become obvious that all had been forever suspended over the chasm of their own destruction.”

Related terms: Sword of Damocles, hanging by a hair, at the end of his/her rope, barely clinging to life, barely holding on, running out of time, running on fumes

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please LIKE and FOLLOW (via email or WordPress Reader) or share with a friend. The coronavirus quarantine 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

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There’s a Word for That: Meraki

alex atkins bookshelf wordsHave you ever been moved profoundly by a musical or theatrical performance and you turn to your companion and say, “Wow — that was so beautiful, she really put her heart and soul into that performance!” There’s actually a word for that: meraki, a modern Greek word, pronounced “mer EE ki” or “mer AH ki.” When one says that a person is doing something (a creative endeavor or even a mundane task) with meraki it means that it is being doing with intense passion, mastery, and pleasure — and in doing so, a person puts his or her soul into the product of that work. Such a person is a meraklides (male form) or merakloudes (feminine form). In colloquial modern Greek, a meraklis or meraklous is someone who is deeply interested and committed to an endeavor that is very difficult or unusual. The word meraki is derived from the modern Turkish word merak that means intense curiosity or passion to learn.

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: http://www.quora.com/What-do-the-Turkish-loanwords-merak-and-meraklı-mean-in-your-language


What is Sealioning?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen you initially hear the term sealioning, it evokes the image of a group of dedicate volunteers on a boat, somewhere in the ocean not too far off the coast, attempting to rescue sea lions or waving flags at passing ships raising awareness about the plight of sea lions. However the true meaning of sealioning is as noble: it is a form of online harassment or trolling. This is how sealioning works: the troll (the sealion) targets an individual (the target) and pretends to be ignorant about a specific topic or issue. The sealion repeatedly asks the target questions or to provide specific evidence, while remaining polite and pretending to be sincere. The goal is to provoke the target to lose his or her temper and write an angry response. At this point, the troll responds as the insulted or aggrieved party. And just like real sea lions, trolls often work together as a group. (Incidentally a group of sea lions is called a colony when they are on land; in the water, they are called a raft; during breeding season, they are known as rookery; a group of females in a male’s territory is called a harem.)

“So what’s the real harms in asking a lot of detailed questions?” you ask. In an enlightening essay titled “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions” included in Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online (2017) published by the Berkman Kelin Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard University, Amy Johnson elaborates: “[A long series of questions] may seem like a well-intentioned search for answers. It’s not—it’s a simplified example of a rhetorical strategy called sealioning. Sealioning is an intentional, combative performance of cluelessness. Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning — often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points — with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences. [The responses from the target range] from lengthy explanations to pointing to logical fallacies in the questions themselves, from calling out the sealioning to ignoring it. It is these responses that the sea lion seeks to shape — and it is here that multiple harms occur.” The multiple harms can be minor, like short-term annoyance, wasted energy, and the opportunity cost of time spent. But there are larger social harms, like when the target is now skeptical of all future questioners and is likely to engage in online discussions. This results in reduction of constructive discourse as well as reducing the opportunities of individuals to learn from one another. Johnson argues that sealioning attacks informal teaching; she writes: “Informal teaching undergirds mediated communication. Informal teaching is an unacknowledged foundation of technoutopian dreams from telegraphy to the present: by learning through iinteractions with each other, we will achieve universal understanding and eliminate conflict And to some extent, this happens. At any one moment, informal teaching — about everything from platform norms and literacies to life experiences — bridges the hugely diverse skill sets and histories of people online.”

So now you understand the harm of sealioning, but we are left with one question: how in the world did this form of trolling end up being called sealioning? The term is based on a specific comic strip titled “The Terrible Sea Lion” (published September 19, 2014) from the web-based comic book Wondermark by David Malki. In the six panels of that comic strip a couple is discussing marine mammals and the wife mentions that she doesn’t care for sea lions. All of a sudden a sea lion appears and requests “a civil conversation about your statement.” And the seal lion is persistent: he shows up repeatedly: at their dinner, at their bedside in the evening, and at breakfast in the morning. The sea lion says, “I have been unfailingly polite, and you two have been nothing rude.” So there you have it: the worst form of sealioning — from an actual sea lion. What is the world coming to?

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 Borgesian Conundrum?
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey

What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
The Most Annoying Business Phrases

For further reading: cyber.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.harvard.edu/files/2017-08_harmfulspeech.pdf
http://wondermark.com/1k62/


It’s Greek to Me: From Pan to Pandemic

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most common questions that people search today is: what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? If you are familiar with Greek roots, you know the key is in the prefix. An epidemic is an infectious disease that occurs in a community or specific area. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “upon a district” from the Greek roots epi (meaning “upon or among”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). A pandemic, on the other hand (hopefully one you have washed thoroughly for at least 20 seconds) is an infectious disease that occurs in an entire country or all over the world. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “all people” from the Greek roots pan (meaning “all”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). For example, the coronavirus began as an epidemic in Wuhan, China and as it spread across Europe and eventually all around the globe, it became a pandemic.

The prefix pan- is an extremely useful Greek root to know because it unlocks the meaning of so many words. Here is a list of some interesting words that use the root-word pan (some are not found in most printed dictionaries):

panacea: a cure of all illnesses

panarchy: a universal realm (chiefly poetic term)

panatheism: belief that god(s) do not exist and thus nothing can be correctly considered holy or sacred

pancratic: knowledge of all subjects

pandemonium: noisy and wild confusion; chaos

panegyric: a public speech that praises someone

pangender: encompassing all genders

pangenesis: A hypothetical mechanism of heredity proposed by Charles Darwin that states that each part of the body continually emits its own type of small organic particle (gemmules) that aggregate in the gonads, contributing transmissible information to the gametes

panharmonic: universal or general harmony

panhellenic: concerning or representing all people of Greek origin; concerning or representing all fraternities and sororities

panhumanism: the concept of an affiliation with all mankind through a legislative structure that allows all economic and technological development for the benefit of all people 

panjandrum: a person who claims to have great influence or authority

pansophia: universal wisdom

pantheism: belief that the universe is a manifestation of God

pantheon: a group of respected, important individuals

pantisocracy: a utopian society where everyone has equal position and responsibility

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 Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
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For further reading: The Greek and Latin Roots of English by Tamara Green
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins by Bob Moore
en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_words_prefixed_with_pan-


There’s a Word for That: Brobdingnagian

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are a fan of Jonathan Swift you will recognize this mouthful of a word and its meaning. The word brobdingnagian (pronounced “brab ding na GEE an”) means enormous or incredibly huge. The word was coined by Jonathan Swift in his famous novel Gulliver’s Travel, published in 1726, meant as a satire of travel tales and human nature. In the novel, Lemuel Gulliver sets off on a voyage on the sailing ship Adventure. On his second voyage he encounters Brogdingnag, a land that is populated by human giants, known as Brogdingnagians, who stand about 72 feet tall. Naturally, in a land of giants everything is, well… gigantic.

In an earlier voyage, Gulliver lands on the island of Lilliput, where the inhabitants, the Lilliputians, are tiny, standing  less than 6 inches tall. So the antonym of brobdingnagian is lilliputian, meaning very small or trivial. The word is pronounced “lile PYOO shen.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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


My Favorite Words – Dan Rather

atkins-bookshelf-words

Dan Rather is an American journalist who has won Emmy and Peabody awards for his work as news anchor for the CBS Evening News for 24 years. He initially ended his broadcast with the word “courage” but received a great deal of criticism, so he changed it to “That’s part of our world tonight.” Rather was also a frequent contributor to 60 Minutes. He has written eight books, including Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News (2013) and What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (2017). Rather discusses his two favorite words that evoke memories of his parents:

My two favorite words carry strong associations with my parents. When you think about it, they were the first people to teach me the use of language, so I guess it stands to reason that my favorite words remind me of them. My father’s word was “courage,” a word that meant a lot to him beyond the dictionary meaning: coming from his mouth it was a one-word pep talk in tough times. A fine old word — ”take heart” — and a benediction I continue to invoke (but no longer on the CBS Evening News). My father tried all his life to give his children the things we’d need, not just dinner on the table but tools for the future. Courage — the word and the spirit — he gave us aplenty. On my best days, I hope I’m worthy of my father’s legacy, at least a little.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, there was a field or vacant lot that my mother always called a “meadow.” It was the most beautiful word she knew. Mother was strong and gentle, and “meadow” has a strong and gentle sound: the stretch of the short e and the long o clipped off. For my mother, the word conjured images of sunshine and peace, of nature that didn’t threaten even if it wasn’t altogether tamed. Those images fit my mother, too.

Read related posts: My Favorite Words – Robert Ludlum
My Favorite Words – Simon Winchester
My Favorite Words – Steven Pinker

My Favorite Words – David Foster Wallace

For further reading: Favorite Words of Famous People by Lewis Frumkes


How Many Ways Can You Pronounce -Ough?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe letter sequence “-ough” occurs many times in the English language; however, it is the one sequence that has the most number of pronunciations depending, of course, on the word. See if you can properly read this sentence: The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through snow that all the way up to his horse’s houghs, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, he thought only of his work, determined to be thorough. How did you do? Not as is easy you thought? Let’s find out why.

Although “-ough” consists of vowels and consonants, in most cases the “gh” is silent, producing a vowel sound. Incidentally, the word vowel is derived from the Latin term vocalis, meaning “vocal.” Vowels are critical, therefore, in the pronunciation of words. Over the centuries, as the English language evolved, how vowels were pronounced changed, playing havoc with the English language — this affected not only how a word was pronounced, but how it was spelled. The greatest period of change, the transition from Middle English to Modern English, occurred in England between 1350 and 1700; this period is known as the Great Vowel Shift, a term coined by linguist Otto Jespersen.

Below is a guide to how the ten words are properly pronounced:

rough: “ruff”

lough: “lock”

ploughman: “plowman”

through: “threw”

houghs: “hocks”

though: “thoe”

hiccoughed: “hik upped”

coughed: “coffed”

thought: “thawt”

thorough: “thur oh”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

For further reading: https://www.dictionary.com/e/s/ough/#ough


There’s a Word for That: Psephology

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere’s a lot of it going around right now. Particularly in an election year. What are we discussing? The malicious coronavirus? Annoying political ads? Close — but no. What we are discussing is psephology, defined as the statistical and sociological analysis of election results and trends. The word, pronounced “see FA la gee,” is derived from the Ancient Greek word psephos, meaning “pebble,” a reference to the pebbles used by citizens of Ancient Greece to cast their votes. By extension, a psephologist is one who studies elections results.

A related word is psephomancy, pronounced “see FO man see,” is the prediction of the future by casting or drawing pebbles or beans. In most cases the stones, which are marked with special characters or symbols, are placed in a bag, mixed, and then drawn out at random or thrown out.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. 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


What is the Meaning of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesYou’ve probably heard this little chestnut a million times: “a stitch in time saves nine.” WTF? Nine what? And who the heck stitches time? Does this assume you are some sort of seamstress/theoretical physicist (a cross between Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein) who can gather up the time continuum, feed it through a sewing machine, and place a neat hem stitching to hold it together? Or this something that requires “Back to the Future” gear, like the DeLorian DMC-12, C6 2.9L with built-in Flux Capacitor? This is some pretty trippy stuff. One can imagine counterculture psychedelic guru Timothy Leary discussing this proverb: “I can explain it to you — but it will blow your mind, man! Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Before we head to outer space, let’s begin our journey of discovery on terra firma. Many proverbs originated in the Enlightenment, a time when people were less focused on psychedelic trips and more focused on intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention practical improvements in everyday life — hence the proliferation of wisdom via memorable proverbs. Proverbs from those times often use rather dated diction, sentence structure, as well as refer to antiquated practices and contexts. This particular proverb checks two of those boxes: it has an odd sentence structure and refers to sewing (not obsolete, of course, but who sews these days?). So to answer the first question posed at the outset, nine refers to stitches: a stitch in time saves nine stitches. The unusual structure is that the sentence is truncated (the removal of key words) and missing punctuation that would help to clarify it: so re-written in modern English, it would appear as: “A stitch, completed in time (i.e., now), saves having to complete nine stitches later.” Much clearer, right? And that re-written form of this metaphorical epigram (the technical rhetorical term for this type of proverb) gets to its true meaning: don’t procrastinate! That is to say, fix it now, while the problem is small and manageable before it gets to be a real cluster fuck! See — those early Europeans knew a thing or two about life!

Now that we understand the meaning, let’s trace its origins as best we can, thanks to two old proverb reference books. The proverb first appears in England in 1732 as noted in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern Foreign and British: “a stitch in time may save nine.” The proverb next appears in print over a half century later in Bartlett Whiting’s his seminal work, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, published in 1797. Time and travel across the pond have modified the proverb a tiny bit: “a stitch in time saves nine” as it is recorded in an early American journal. It is in the formal journal, that we get some insight into the diction. Fuller enlightens us: “Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine; many a little will make a mickle. This little artiface, I imagine, was contrived purposely to make the sense abide the longer in the memory, by reason of its oddness and archness.” To be more specific, the proverb uses a half, or imperfect rhyme (rhyming “nine” with “time”) in order to make it more memorable.

There are several other proverbs that address procrastination, for example: “There’s no time like the present” and “An ounce of presentation is worth a pound of cure.”

Sewing class is now dismissed.

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

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey

What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
The Most Annoying Business Phrases

For further reading: Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases by Bartlett Whiting
Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs by Thomas Fuller
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-stitch-in-time.html


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 writers never die, they just change their punctuation.

Old yachtsmen never die, they just keel over.

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: 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.

 

==============

 

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 Macquarie Dictionary (the Webster’s Dictionary of Australia) selected cancel culture. Cancel culture is defined as “the attitudes within a community which call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from a public figure, such as cancellation of an acting role, a ban on playing an artist’s music, removal from social media, etc. usually in response to accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment.” The committee also considered eco-anxiety, ngangkari, and thicc. The People’s Choice, as voted on by the people of Australia, selected robodebt as Word of the Year. Robodebt is defined as “a debt owed to the government by a welfare recipient, arising from overpayment of benefits calculated by an automated process which compares the recipient’s income as stated by them to the government with their income as recorded by the Australian Taxation Office, a debt recovery notice being automatically generated and send to the welfare recipient.” Runners up included: eco-anxiety, anecdata, and whataboutism.

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
https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/resources/view/word/of/the/year/2019


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…

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