There’s A Word for That: Agnotology

alex atkins bookshelf words

If you have been following any of the crises that United States faces — the claim that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen; the OxyContin epidemic; the denial of climate change — you have a first row seat in the classroom of agnotology. Agnotology is defined as the study of intentional, culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. The word is formed by the Greek word agnosis (meaning “not knowning” or “unknown”) and the word-forming element –ology (meaning “branch of knowledge or science”). Ignorance or doubt is often achieved by the publication of inaccurate of misleading scientific or medical information by corporations, political parties, government agencies, and advocacy organizations. In a sense, culturally-induced ignorance is a more global or systemic version of gaslighting, the psychological  technique (eg, lying, distracting, denying wrongdoing, shifting blame, discrediting, rewriting history, or minimizing feelings or thoughts), whereby an individual in an abusive relationship uses various tactics to manipulate his or her partner to believe a deliberately false narrative of reality causing them to question their sanity.

The term agnotology first appears in book The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know About Cancer (1995) by Robert Proctor, a professor of the History of Science at Stanford University. He writes: “Historians and philosophers of science have tended to treat ignorance as an ever-expanding vacuum into which knowledge is sucked — or even, as Johannes Kepler once put it, as the mother who must die for science to be born. Ignorance, though, is more complex than this. It has a distinct and changing political geography that is often an excellent indicator of the politics of knowledge. We need a political agnotology to complement our political epistemologies.” In a later book, Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (2012), Proctor explains that a academic colleague actually coined the term agnotology: “My hope for devising a new term was to suggest… the historicity and artifactuality of non-knowing and the non-known — and the potential fruitfulness of studying such things. In 1992 I posed this challenge to linguist Iain Boal, and it was he who came up with the term in the spring of that year.”

In The Cancer Wars, Proctor presents two clear examples of how corporations propagate doubt or ignorance: (1) the tobacco industry’s public relations campaign to convince consumers, despite overwhelming medical evidence, that tobacco was not addictive (2) the fossil fuel’s industry public relations campaign to convince Americans and politicians, despite scientific consensus, that climate change is a hoax. Quite often, ignorance is propagated with the illusion that there is a balanced debate. However, since the information presented has been carefully and deliberately manipulated, the competing views do not result in rational conclusions.

A textbook case of agnotology was recently highlighted in the gripping Hulu series Dopesick, based on book of the same title by Beth Macy. In the series, we witness how Purdue Pharma, which made an opioid called OxyContin, used manipulated clinical trials that it sponsored directly to show that it was not addictive, even though the executives of Purdue knew that it was highly addictive. This misleading medical research encouraged doctors to write more than 68.7 million prescriptions a year, creating an opioid epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed families and communities, and cost the country trillions of dollars (that number includes costs of treatment, social services, and law enforcement.) Ultimately, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to conspiracies to defraud the US and violate the anti-kickback statute. The Sackler family, owners of Purde Pharma, were ordered to pay $6 billion to resolve widespread litigation that they fueled the opioid epidemic, ushering in the bankruptcy and end of Purdue Pharma. Further, Johnson & Johnson and three of the largest US drug distributors were ordered to pay $26 billion for their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

In the fascinating essay for BBC Future, titled “The man who studies the spread of ignorance” (January 16, 2016) by Georgina Kenyon, Proctor discusses the modern era of ignorance: “We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise. Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.” Kenyon also interviews another academic who is studying agnotology: David Dunning, then a professor of psychology at Cornell College. Dunning notes the internet is only exacerbating the modern era of ignorance, “While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors.” (Incidentally, Dunning defined the Dunning-Kruger effect in 1999. It is a cognitive bias where people with low ability or expertise tend to overestimate their knowledge or ability. Expressed another way, a person who in incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Donald Trump is often cited as the poster boy of the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

The concept of agnotology was foreshadowed four decades earlier by Isaac Asimov in his brilliant essay titled “A Cult of Ignorance” (Newsweek magazine, January 21, 1980). Asimov writes: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” The essay is a must-read if you are interested in the topic of agnotology (see the link below).

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

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

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

Read related posts: Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Again?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will Be Governed by Idiots
Is the United States a Democracy or a Republic?

For further reading:
bbc.com/future/article/20160105-the-man-who-studies-the-spread-of-ignorance
Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance by Robert Proctor
statnews.com/2019/12/03/oxycontin-history-told-through-purdue-pharma-documents/
medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting#gaslighting-examples
pbs.org/newshour/nation/after-years-of-pain-opioid-crisis-victims-confront-sackler-family-in-court
nytimes.com/2021/09/01/health/purdue-sacklers-opioids-settlement.html
justice.gov/opa/pr/opioid-manufacturer-purdue-pharma-pleads-guilty-fraud-and-kickback-conspiracies
reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/sacklers-will-pay-up-6-bln-resolve-purdue-opioid-lawsuits-mediator-2022-03-03/
nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

 

Words from 2022 National Spelling Bee

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn June 2, 2022, Harini Logan, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, won the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “moorhen”(defined by Merriam-Webster as “the female of the red grouse.” Because there was a tie, the spelling organizers introduced a timed spell-off: whoever could spell the most words correctly in 90 seconds would win. Logan spelled 21 words correctly (moorhen was the last word before the timer went off) versus her opponent, Vikram Raju (12), who spelled 15 words. This was Logan’s fourth time competing in the spelling bee. For her spelling brilliance, Logan won a $50,000 in cash prize, the Scripps Cup trophy, and — of course — bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on her smartphone apps. Each year, the spelling bee begins with more than 11 million students (the cut-off is 8th grade) in local and regional spelling bees; however, only 229 contestants, ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old, reached the national level this year. Incidentally, the second place winner receives $30,000; the third-place winner receives $15,000.

A review of the words used in the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words, venturing into the world of art, antiquity, medicine, zoology, and botany taken from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee in 1994, the competition has attracted more competitors, and more significantly, ones who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.

Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

bebung: a tremolo effect similar to a violin vibrato and produced on a clavichord by sustaining a varying pressure on the key

bourgade: a village of scattered dwellings, an unfortified town

chatoyance: the state of being chatoyant (having a changeable luster or color with an undulating narrow band of white light)

de riguerur: required by fashion or etiquette

escharotic: producing an eschar (a scab formed especially after a burn)

impayable: priceless, invaluable

ineradicable: unable to be removed or destroyed

Micawber: a person who lives in optimistic expectation of better fortune (coined by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield)

noctivagant: going about in the night; night-wandering

obstropolous: a dialectical variant of obstreperous (being unruly or resistant to control)

Pachytylus: a genus of Acrididae that includes several destructive Old World migratory locusts

palapala: writing (Hawaiian word)

phenocoll: a crystalline base used in the form of a salt (as the hydrochloride) as an antipyretic and analgesic

Powys: a Welsh geographic name

pullulation: to germinate or sprout; to breed; to swarm

Senijextee: a Salishan people of the Columbian River Valley in Washington and British Columbia

sirtaki: a Greek circle dance similar to a hora

suffrutescent: a plant with a base that is somewhat woody and does not die down each year

tektite: a glassy body of probably meteoritic origin and of rounded but indefinite shape

wirrah: an Australian spotted food fish

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

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

Read related posts: Why is it Called a Spelling Bee?
Spelling Bee Winning Words
What are the Words and Definitions of 2017 Spelling Bee?
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

For further reading: http://www.merriam-webster.com
usatoday.com/story/sports/2022/06/02/harini-logan-wins-2022-scripps-national-spelling-bee/7492540001/

/www.cbsnews.com/news/spelling-bee-harini-logan-wins-2022-scripps-national/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/06/02/national-spelling-bee-2022-finals-words/

The Enigma of the Letter E

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEnglish spelling is a curious thing; in the following short poem, The Enigma of E, we follow the letter “e” as it wanders enigmatically from the beginning of words to the end of words to evoke such vastly different meanings. Enjoy the journey…

The beginning of eternity,
The end of time and space,
The beginning of every end,
The end of very place.

I stumbled across this delightful curiosity when I visited an antiquarian bookstore and pulled an old dusty book from a forlorn stack of books, hidden from view by another stack of books. Like an old pair of leather shoes, the book was tattered and worn, with a fragile spine that barely held onto to its musty-smelling yellowed brittle pages. The title immediately captured my interest — From Gleanings for the Curious From the Harvest-field of Literature by Charles Bombaugh. The book was published in 1890 by J. B. Lippincott Company that was founded by Joshua Ballinger Lippincott (1813-1886) to initially publish Bibles and books of prayers. Over time, the Philadelphia-based company expanded its catalog to include biography, fiction, poetry, history, and reference books like dictionaries, almanacs, school textbooks, and textbooks on law, medicine, and nursing. The publisher was extremely successful, becoming one of the largest publishers by the end of the 19th century. Following the turn of the century, Lippincott began publishing textbooks and reference books for elementary and high schools. The company continued to grow throughout the decades and was purchased by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. in 1978. The headquarters, a stately Italianate-style brick building, can still be seen today at 227 South 6th Street, overlooking Washington Square.

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

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

Read related posts:  What is the Most Beautiful-Sounding Word in English?
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Common Latin Abbreviations
Words Invented by Dickens

There’s A Word for That: Engastrimyth

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most famous comedians from the 1930s to the late 1950s was a real dummy by the name of Charlie McCarthy. And when I say dummy, I don’t mean he was dumb — he was literally a dummy, like Pinocchio — made of wood. He was a mischievous, wise-cracking boy, dressed in his iconic tuxedo, top hat, and monocle. He was far more famous than his partner, Edgar Bergen who was engastriymyth, or in more common terminology, a ventriloquist — an entertainer who projects his or her voice, without moving the lips, so that it appears that the dummy is speaking. Engastrimyth, pronounced “en GAS tre mith,” is derived from the Greek words en (meaning “in”), gaster (meaning “belly”) and muthos (meaning “speech”). So literally, it means speech coming from the belly. This is the exact same meaning as ventriloquist which comes from the Latin words venter (meaning “belly”) and loqui (meaning “speak”). 

For the Greeks, engastrimyths did not refer to an entertainer with a dummy on his or her lap, but rather the term referred to soothsayers and prophets (like the Oracle of Delphi) who seemed to speak without appearing to speak (eg, projecting the voice of the gods or someone who had died long ago).

Bergen and Charlie made their final appearance in The Muppet Movie, released in 1979. Bergen died soon after filming was completed; Charlie’s final resting place is the Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, D.C.

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

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
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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

What Do You Call Someone Who Loves Words?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThey are out there, numbering in the millions. You know the type — they love working on crossword puzzles, word scrambles (known as anagrams or logogriphs), word searches; or they love playing Scrabble, Wordle, Words with Friends, and so forth. Others who love words collect dictionaries or books about words. All of these individuals embrace epeolatry, the worship of words. The word was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the famous American physician, professor, author and poet, in his thought-provoking book, The Professor of the Breakfast Table, published in 1860. Holmes writes: “Time, time only, can gradually wean us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the thing signified.” The word epeolatry is derived from the Greek words epos, meaning “word”, and -latry from latreia, meaning “worship.” The word is pronounced “ep-i-OL-ah-tree.” Therefore, a person who loves words is an epeolatrist; however there are many other terms for word lovers: armchair linguist, lexicomane, logolept, logophile, logophiliac, onomatomaniac, verbomaniac, verbivore (a word coined by linguist Richard Lederer in the early 1980s), wordaholic, word fanatic, word maven, and word nut. Paradoxically, most of these terms for word lovers are rare and do not appear in most conventional dictionaries. Go figure.

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

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

Read related posts: 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 an Antigram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou are probably familiar with an anagram, one of the most popular forms of word play that recombines all the letters of a word or phrase to create a new word or phrase. For example, “inch” is an anagram of “chin.” The anagram, of course, is at the heart of board games like Scrabble, Clabbers, Boggle, and Bananagrams and puzzles like Jumble and Cryptic Crosswords. An antigram is a type of anagram that is the antonym of the original word or phrase. A classic example of an antigram is “Santa = Satan.” Another one is “funeral = real fun” — which always lightens the mood at a gloomy funeral. Below are examples of antigrams:

adultery = true lady

adversaries = are advisers

butchers = cut herbs

customers = store scum

earliest = arrise late

evangelist = evil’s agent

filled = ill-fed

fluster = restful

funeral = real fun

honestly = on the sly

infection = fine tonic

militarism = I limit arms

misfortune = it’s more fun

protectionism = nice to imports

Santa = Satan

silent = listen

united = untied

violence = nice love

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

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

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: Levidrome: The Word That Launched a Thousand Erroneous Stories
What is a Semordnilap?
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What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order

For further reading: The Game of Words by Willard Espy
Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature by C. C. Tombaugh edited and annotated by Martin Gardner
A Word of Day by Anu Garg
Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole
The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice
A Treasury of Words & Wordplay by Richard Whiteley

Fractured English From Around the World

alex atkins bookshelf wordsFractured English is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a facetious term for inadequate and amusing English as used by non-native speakers.” I suppose you could call them English bloopers. The amusement, of course, is elicited by the incongruity by what the non-native speaker intends their sentence to mean and what it actually means. Generally, the incongruity is caused by incorrect word usage, awkward sentence structure, mixed metaphor, mangled idiom, or malapropism. 

Recently, while browsing the shelves of a used bookstore, I came across a small book titled English Well Speeched Here and Other Fractured Phrases from Around the World (1988) by American journalist Nino Lo Bello. Bello shares some of the actual fractured English signs that he has seen in his travels around the globe. Here are some amusing examples of non-natives struggling with the English language:

Norway (bar): Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.

Tokyo (bar): Special cocktails for ladies with nuts.

Copenhagen (airline ticket office): We take your bags and send them in all directions.

Bangkok (temple): It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man.

Brussels (clothing store): Come inside and have a fit.

Madrid (hotel): If you wish disinfections enacted in your presence, please cry out for the chambermaid.

Rumania (hotel): The life is being fixes for the next few days. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

Sweden (clothing store): Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.

Lisbon (hotel): If you wish for breakfast, lift the telephone and ask for room service. This will be enough for you to bring your food up.

Geneva (business district): The parade will take place in the morning if it rains in the afternoon.

Budapest (zoo): Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food give it to the guard on duty.

Seville (tailor shop): Order now your summer suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

France (hotel): A sports jacket may be worn to dinner but no trousers.

Finland (bathroom, sign by faucet): To stop the drip turn cock to right.

Athens (hotel, sign at concierge’s desk): If you consider our help impolite, you should see the manager.

England (restaurant): Our establishment serves tea in a bag like mother.

Czechoslovakia (carriage rides): Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.

London (sign on restaurant window): Wanted: man to wash dishes and two waitresses.

Majorca (sign outside a shop): Here speeching American.

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

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

Read related posts: What is a Barbarism?
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Difficult Tongue Twisters
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There’s A Word for That: Foofaraw

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt first glance, the word looks like it could be onomatopoeia — perhaps the sound a cat makes when coughing up a hairball (incidentally, the technical term for that ball of undigested hair is trichobezoar, from the Ancient Greek word forming prefix tricho-, meaning “related to hair,” and the Middle Persian word pad-zahr, meaning “antidote or counter-poison.” In ancient times, certain animals — bezoars — were ground up and injected as antidotes for poisons). A good guess, but that is not what a foofaraw is. A foofaraw is making a big fuss over a small matter; you are probably familiar with the synonymous idiom “don’t make a mountain over a molehill.” In etymology, as in nature, birds of a feather flock together: foofahraw attracts other strange sounding synonyms and related words, eg, ballyhoo, brouhaha, hullabaloo  kerfuffle, and williwaw. The secondary definition of foofaraw is adding unnecessary or excessive ornamentation to something (eg, a building, clothing item, or furniture). The word is pronounced “FOO fuh raw.”

Like many colorful words, foofaraw has its roots in American history. The word first appears in the writings of pioneers of the American West (about 1850-1910). The word appears with several variant spellings: froufraw, for farrow, and fofaraw. The word originally referred to baubles and frivolous trinkets, that pioneers used in trade, but sometime after 1930, the word took on a new meaning: making a big fuss over something. Although it is easy to romanticize about life as an intrepid pioneer under the spacious skies of the American West, working the land for food and shelter, life for the early pioneers was brutally difficult. Early settlers could only survive through sheer will and determination and unwavering adherence to the Protestant work ethic. You can see why they needed a word like foofaraw — there just wasn’t anytime for making a big fuss over anything. If you want proof, watch one of the most fascinating historical reality shows on PBS: Frontier House (2002), where the filmmakers selected three modern families to live life exactly like the pioneers who lived in Montana in the 1880s for five months. Each family had to establish a homestead and master the skills of that time: animal husbandry, carpentry, chopping wood, clothes washing, cooking, farming, gardening, harvesting skills, personal hygiene (realize there was no toilet paper), sewing, and soap making. There is no need to provide any spoilers, but let’s just say that all three families struggled to get through the five months.

Let us return to our discussion of the word: so how did the pioneers come up with this strange-sounding word in the first place? Etymologists believe the word is a a mishearing of the Spanish word fanfarron (“braggart”), making it sort of a linguistic mondegreen. Another possibility is that it is derived from the French word froufrou (the rustling sound made by a dress or showy ornamentation) or the French phrase for fou faraud (“a foolish dandy”). So the next time you hear a cat cough up a hairball, don’t make a foofaraw over it.

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

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

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

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: pbs.org/show/frontier-house/

Word of the Year 2021

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. And let’s be frank — 2021 was a disappointing year. It was supposed to be a dramatic improvement over 2020, but instead turned out to be a slight improvement — it’s like lighting up a firework expecting it to shoot up into the sky to dazzle us with explosions of colorful light, only to see it sputter and nosedive, landing with a loud thud.

Across the pond, the editors of Oxford Dictionaries selected the word “vax” as Oxford Language’s 2021 Word of the Year, a selection that is meant to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the preceding year as well as having the potential to have lasting cultural significance. In an interview with the New York Times, Fiona McPherson, a senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “All these other vaccine words increased, but nothing like vax. It’s a short, punchy, attention-grabbing word. And speaking as a lexicographer, it’s also quite a productive one. You see it used in all sorts of combinations to make new words.” Thanks to social media, words can mutate as quickly as the coronavirus. Faster than you can say Dr. Fauci Ouchie or Dr. Fauci on a Couchie, vax spawned the following linguistic combinations: vax cards, vax sites, vaxxed, double-vaxxed, anti-vaxxer, vaxxie, vaxinista, vaxication, and vaxxident.

Not to be out-vaxxed, the editors of Merriam-Webster selected the word “vaccine” as its 2021 Word of the Year. A spokesperson for the venerable American dictionary explained, “For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic. But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.” Lookups of the word increased dramatically in August, when news about the vaccination appeared on several fronts: mandated vaccines, FDA approvals, and the rollout of booster shots. The editors of Merriam-Webster noted: “This new higher rate of lookups since August has remained stable throughout the late fall, showing not just a very high interest in vaccine, but one that started high and grew during the course of 2021.” Runners up included: insurrection, perseverance, woke, infrastructure, Murraya, cisgender, and Meta.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Macquarie Dictionary (the Webster’s Dictionary of Australia) selected “strollout,” a colloquial noun that is defined as the slow rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination program in Australia. The word was coined by Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who tweeted in May 2021: “We don’t have a vaccine rollout, we have a vaccine strollout.” Touche! Managing editor, Victoria Morgan, explained, “At one level it’s got a transparency and a play on words, but at that deeper level, when you think about the significance of it… it’s a really important marker for this time in Australia’s history. Strollout really just shows the people’s dissatisfaction with the vaccine rollout. Maybe this was a way for the public to have their say about it.” Runners up included: brain tickler, menty-b, dump cake, sober curious, wokescold, dry scooping, front-stab, range-anxiety, and hate-follow.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Dictionary.com selected “allyship,” defined as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.” The word allyship is a portmanteau of the noun ally (a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group)” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix that denotes status or condition. The editors elaborate on their selection: “Allyship carries a special distinction this year: It marks the first time we’ve chosen a word that’s new to our dictionary as our Word of the Year. Our addition of the word allyship to our dictionary in 2021 — not to mention our decision to elevate it as our top word for the year — captures important ways the word continues to evolve in our language and reflects its increased prominence in our discourse. Allyship acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021 — and, crucially, how the public processed them. It also serves as a compelling throughline for much of our lexicographical, editorial, and educational work across Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com this year. And while we must acknowledge that efforts at allyship are all too often insufficient and imperfect, the word nonetheless stands out for its role in the path out of the continued crises of 2020 for a better 2022.” Runners up included: critical race theory, burnout, and vaccine.

Collins Dictionary, published in Glasgow, Scotland, selected NFT as its 2021 Word of the Year. NFT is an abbreviation for non-fungible token, defined as “a digital certificate of ownership of a unique asset such as an artwork or a collectible.” Editors saw massive spikes in lookups (11,000%) in 2021. Alex Beecroft, managing director of Collins Learning, explained, “NFTs seem to be everywhere, from the arts sections to the financial pages and in galleries and auction houses and across social media platforms.” Runners up included: climate anxiety, double-vaxxed, metaverse, pingdemic, cheugy, crypto, hybrid working, neopronoun, and regencycore.

For 2021 Word of the Year, Atkins Bookshelf has selected “post-truth,” an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” A related term is post-truth politics that is defined as “a political culture where true/false, honesty/lying have become a focal concern of public life and are viewed by popular commentators and academic researchers alike as having an important causal role in how politics operates at a particular point in history.” The concept of post-truth is very similar to a word coined by comedian Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report in 2005: truthiness, defined as “a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true.”

Keen language lovers will recall that post-truth was Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016. Five years ago, here is what editor Casper Grathwohl said in an interview with the BBC: “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time. We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”

Did you notice that last statement: “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words or our time”? Little did Grathwohl know that after enduring four years of Trump — when the public was bombarded with alternative facts, post-truthism, swiftboating, gaslighting, and big lies on a daily basis — the world would never be the same. Not only did post-truth find its linguistic footing, it found its footing in everyday life. In short, we were collectively shoved down the rabbit hole to the realm of the absurd — the land of anti-vaxxers, insurrection deniers, Trumpers, and QAnon believers. The days when discourse revolved around rational, critical, independent thinking and a shared reality — verifiable truth and facts — are long gone. As Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Guliani (the Mad Hatter in Trump’s Wonderland) remarked, “Truth isn’t truth.” You don’t say? And that’s the crux of the problem in the post-truth world: we have lost our grasp on the concept of the truth and replaced it with cultism and tribalism. The question we face now is: how long will it take us to find a way out? Perhaps that process might be a future word of the year.

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

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

Read related posts:
Word of the Year 2020
Word of the Year 2019
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?

For further reading:
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/arts/vax-oxford-word-year.html

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/30/strollout-chosen-as-macquarie-dictionarys-2021-word-of-the-year
http://www.newsweek.com/oxford-collins-dictionaries-pick-vax-nft-2021-words-year-1653104
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37995600
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics
cc.com/video/the-colbert-report-the-word-truthiness

 

There’s A Word for That: Psithurism

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you search for a list of the most beautiful words in the English language, you will most likely discover several lists that include this lovely word — petrichor, defined as the smell that accompanies a first rain. What a magical word! You can close your eyes and breath in, imagining that wonderful smell. While in that state of lexicological bliss, let me introduce you to another beautiful, magical word: psithurism, pronounced “SITH ur iz uhm,” defined as the sound of rustling leaves or the sound of wind in trees. Lovely. Now if you just asked, “Why haven’t I heard that word before?” the answer is simple: sadly, it is a considered an obsolete word. What a shame. The word psithurism is derived from the Ancient Greek word psithurisma or psithurismos from psithurizo (“I whisper”) and psithuros (“whispering”).

The enchanting sound of wind whispering through the trees was captured beautifully in the poem “A Day of Sunshine” by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one of the most beloved American poets of his day. Longfellow is best known for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and the epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” With Christmas around the corner, it is appropriate to acknowledge that his poem “Christmas Bells” (inspired by his son being injured during the American Civil War) is the inspiration for the the popular Christmas carol titled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The poem “A Day of Sunshine,” inspired by the stunning beauty of New England landscapes, was included in his collection of poems titled Birds of Passage published in 1863:

A Day of Sunshine

O gift of God!  O perfect day:
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!
Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.
I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,
Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.
Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach!
O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song!
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?

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

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

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

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: http://www.hwlongfellow.org
https://poets.org/poem/christmas-bells

Flutternutter, Oobleck, Bit Rot, and Other Neologisms

alex atkins bookshelf wordsSadly, for dictionary publishers, there is no such thing as an up-to-date dictionary, especially in the Google era. As soon as a dictionary is published, overnight three new words have been coined. According to the Global Language Monitor, a new word is created every 98 minutes — adding about 1,000 words per year to the English lexicon. So what is a dictionary publisher to do? Since many dictionaries are now published online, the publisher adds the neologisms in large batches. In October 2021, Merriam-Webster (MW) added 455 new words. On their website, the editors listed some notable new entries under their respective categories. One can instantly note the great impact that the pandemic has had on the English language. There is even a neologism inspired by Dr. Seuss. Here are some of the 455 new English words and their definitions:

Coronavirus-related Words

breakthrough medical: infection occurring in someone who is fully vaccinated against an infectious agent — often used before another noun (as in “breakthrough cases” or “breakthrough infection”).

long COVID: a condition that is marked by the presence of symptoms (such as fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, headache, or brain fog) which persist for an extended period of time (such as weeks or months) following a person’s initial recovery from COVID-19 infection.

super-spreader: an event or location at which a significant number of people contract the same communicable disease — often used before another noun (as in a “super-spreader event”). The term super-spreader originally referred to a highly contagious person capable of passing on a disease to many others, and now can also refer to a single place or occasion where many others are infected.

vaccine passport: a physical or digital document providing proof of vaccination against one or more infectious diseases (such as COVID-19).

Words related to online culture

amirite: slang used in writing for “am I right” to represent or imitate the use of this phrase as a tag question in informal speech. An example: “English spelling is consistently inconsistent, amirite?”

because: by reason of: because of — often used in a humorous way to convey vagueness about the exact reasons for something. This preposition use of “because” is versatile; it can be used, for example, to avoid delving into the overly technical (“the process works because science”) or to dismiss explanation altogether (“they left because reasons”).

deplatform: to remove and ban (a registered user) from a mass communication medium (such as a social networking or blogging website) broadly : to prevent from having or providing a platform to communicate.

digital nomad: someone who performs their occupation entirely over the Internet while traveling; especially : such a person who has no permanent fixed home address.

FTW: an abbreviation for “for the win” —used especially to express approval or support. In social media, FTW is often used to acknowledge a clever or funny response to a question or meme.

TBH: an abbreviation for “to be honest.” TBH is frequently used in social media and text messaging.

Technology-related Words

bit rot: the tendency for digital information to degrade or become unusable over time. This kind of data degradation or corruption can make images and audio recordings distort and documents impossible to read or open.

copypasta: data (such as a block of text) that has been copied and spread widely online. Copypasta can be a lighthearted meme or it can have a more serious intent, with a political or cultural message.

CubeSat: an artificial satellite typically designed with inexpensive components that fit into a cube with a volume of 1 cubic meter. These small satellites are typically used for academic, commercial, or amateur research projects in orbit.

Oobleck: a mixture of corn starch and water that behaves like a liquid when at rest and like a solid when pressure is applied. Oobleck gets its name from the title of a story by Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and is a favorite component in kids’ science experiments.

zero-day: of, relating to, or being a vulnerability (as in a computer or computer system) that is discovered and exploited (as by cybercriminals) before it is known to or addressed by the maker or vendor.

Political Words

astroturf: falsely made to appear grassroots. This figurative use of astroturf (in capitalized form it is a trademark for artificial turf) is used to describe political efforts, campaigns, or organizations that appear to be funded and run by ordinary people but are in fact backed by powerful groups.

vote-a-rama U.S. government: an unusually large number of debates and votes that happen in one day on a single piece of legislation to which an unlimited number of amendments can be introduced, debated, and voted on.

whataboutism: the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse also : the response itself. The synonymous term whataboutery is more common in British English.

Food-related Words

chicharron: a small piece of pork belly or pig skin that is fried and eaten usually as a snack : pork rind also : a piece of food that resembles a chicharron.

fluffernutter: a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow crème between two slices of white sandwich bread.

ghost kitchen: a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises — called also cloud kitchen, dark kitchen.

Goetta: meat (such as pork) mixed with oats, onions, and spices and fried in the form of a patty.

horchata: a cold sweetened beverage made from ground rice or almonds and usually flavorings such as cinnamon or vanilla.

Pop Culture Words

dad bod (informal): a physique regarded as typical of an average father; especially : one that is slightly overweight and not extremely muscular.

faux-hawk: a hairstyle resembling a Mohawk in having a central ridge of upright hair but with the sides gathered or slicked upward or back instead of shaved.

otaku: a person having an intense or obsessive interest especially in the fields of anime and manga —often used before another noun.

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

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

Read related posts: How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
Why Do Some New Words Last and Others Fade?

For further reading: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary

Words Enter the English Language Deviously

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsFor the most part our words come deviously, making their way by winding paths through the minds of generations of men, even burrowing like moles through the dark subconsciousness. Fancied likenesses, farfetched associations, ancient prejudices have acted upon them. Superstition, misapprehension, old fables, mythological taboos, the jests of simpletons and the vaunting imagination of poets have all played a part in shaping them. During their labyrinthine journeys in time and space they have often changed their form, spelling, pronunciation and, especially, their sense.

From You English Words (1962) by British author and naturalist John Moore (1907-1967). Published after WWII, his trilogy (Elmbury, Brensham Village, and The Blue Field) about the countryside was a best-seller for many years. Moore was a prolific author, having published more than 40 novels focused on mostly pastoral themes. Naturally, Moore was a passionate conservationist and warned of the negative impact of technology on rural societies. The John Moore Museum, located in his hometown of Tewkesbury, UK, was established to honor his life and work.

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

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

There’s A Word for That: Sangfroid

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIt’s not a word you hear frequently, although if you saw the recent James Bond movie, No Time To Die, you saw many instances of it. When you first hear it, it sounds like a fancy French dish. If the word is mispronounced (eg, “sang freud”), you might perceive it as an abbreviated form of schadenfreude (that wonderful German word that means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune). To pronounce sangfroid properly, think French — not German: “sahn FRWA or “sang FRWA.” Regardless of how you pronounce it, James Bond, for example, has plenty of it. The word means composure, presence of mind, or calmness in the face of danger of difficult circumstances. Let’s use it in a sentence: James Bond battled his wicked nemesis, employing his customary quick wit and sangfroid. The word is derived from the French word sang, from the Latin sanguis, meaning “blood” and the French word froid, from the Latin frigidus, meaning “cold.” Thus, translated literally, sangfroid means “cold blood.” This is the same concept behind the common idiom “ice water in one’s veins.” A variation of this skips the water altogether: “ice in one’s veins.” That has got to be painful!

Another quintessential example of sangfroid is found in the well-known story of the Miracle on the Hudson. On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1548, traveling from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina collided with a flock of Canadian geese within three minutes of the flight. Although a typical plane engine can survive a bird strike, they are not designed to ingest birds that way up to 14 pounds each. Within seconds both engines exploded, immediately losing thrust — placing the crew and 155 passengers in peril. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his copilot, Jeffrey Skiles, had little time to deal with the crises at an altitude of about 2,800 feet. Within seconds, Captain Sully had to evaluate a nightmare scenario: duel engine failure, low altitude over a densely populated area, slowing air speed, leaking fuel. Captain Sully immediately contacts the tower to alert them of an emergency situation: “Mayday mayday mayday. Uh this is uh Cactus 1539 hit birds, we’ve lost thrust (in/on) both engines we’re turning back towards LaGuardia.” Within seconds, he instructs his copilot to re-establish thrust from the engines (unsuccessful) and turn on the APU (the auxiliary power unit that powers the airplane). Moments later, the tower controllers from LaGuardia and nearby Tererboro (NJ) airport provide Captain Sully with runways as options. Employing complete sangfroid, Captain Sully has considered all the options and made all the calculations and there is only one option that can save the crew and passengers. His succinct response to the tower, which spoke volumes, has been immortalized in print and film for the ages: “We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.” He is offered another runway, and again he responds tersely: “Unable.” About a minute later, amid the cacophony of automated warnings from the plane’s cockpit computer, Captain Sully leveled the plane perfectly (if one engine had hit the water earlier than the other, it could have caused the plane to pivot and break up in pieces) and landed in the icy waters of the Hudson River. All members and passengers survived and were rescued, within minutes, by nearby ferries. A year later, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the main reason that a crash was averted was due to excellent decision-making (utilizing the 4-step recognition-primed decision making process which relies on experience, intuition, and best practices) and teamwork by the cockpit crew. So if you ever forget the meaning of sangfroid, simply think of Captain Sully and the extraordinary sangfroid it took to deliver the Miracle on the Hudson.

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

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

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

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: http://www.nj.com/news/2009/06/cockpit_radio_communication_tr.html
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/images/nytint/docs/documents-for-the-testimony-of-us-airways-flight-1549/original.pdf

There Should Be a Word for That: Bibliodisposophobia

alex atkins bookshelf words

If you are a serious book lover you have probably encountered this predicament: the bookshelves in your bookcases are sagging under the weight of so many books and you just came home with another stack of books from yet another book-buying binge. You have been in denial as book piles begin forming around the bookcases, spilling into other rooms, with every nook and cranny becoming a clever place to store books. You cannot put off the inevitable — it is time to do what many librarians are required to do: deaccession, the formal term for culling or weeding out books. While librarians can use certain metrics to make a decision about what books to weed out (the frequency that a book is checked out, last time the book was checked out, etc.), a bibliophile does not have metrics to fall on because he or she has an emotional and intellectual connection to each book. As any bibliophile fully knows, the KonMari Method of decluttering a bookshelf, introduced by Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2014), is absolutely useless: of course every book sparks joy! Books not only spark joy, they spark critical thinking, new ideas, connections with other books and ideas, deep feelings (like empathy), as well as serving as markers on an intellectual journey. When most bibliophiles attempt to weed their collection of books they encounter the ingrained unwillingness, no — the inability to get rid of a single precious book. Interestingly, there is no formal term for this; however, there should be! Atkins Bookshelf submits a new word for your thoughtful consideration: bibliodisposophobia — defined as the fear of losing books or the inability to discard books.

The word bibliodisposophobia is formed from the Greek word-forming element biblio- (meaning “related to books”), the Old French verb disposer (meaning “to arrange, to order) that is, in turn, from the Latin verb disponere (meaning “to arrange, to distribute”) and the Greek word-forming element -phobia (meaning “panic fear of”). If you happen to Google disposophobia you will find that it is considered a synonym for hoarding disorder. But it is important to note that book collecting (or collecting anything of value, actually) is not the same thing as hoarding. A book collector acquires books in a very intentional and organized way. Many careful considerations are made before a book collector actually purchases a book. Consequently, a book collector will typically organize and display the acquired books in a bookshelf, and then enjoy and admire the assembled collection. A hoarder, on the other hand, collects things impulsively — without any focus, and without any intention of displaying and organizing. The possessions of a hoarder are thrown into a cluttered pile that disrupts the ability to use the space for comfortable living, which leads to problems in relationships and social activities. There now… aren’t you feeling so much better about your book collecting and library?

Oh, and if you are wondering if there is an antidote or solution to bibliodisposophobia, you will be thrilled to learn that there is. Most psychologists (who happen to be bibliophiles) all agree: simply buy more bookcases or buy a larger house and keep building your library. Either solution is far easier than having to weed out books from your library. Happy shopping…

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

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

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

 

What is a Feghoot?

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

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

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

Flowers for Pachyderm by Mark Strand

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

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

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

Read related posts: Top Ten Puns
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For further reading: Bred Any Good Rooks Lately? by James Charlton, 1986.

Words from 2021 National Spelling Bee

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

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

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

murraya: a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees

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

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

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

fewtrils: things of little value; trifles

fidibus: a paper spill for lighting pipes

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

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

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

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

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

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

thanatophidia: venomous snakes

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

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

ancistroid: shaped like a hook; resembling a hook

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

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

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

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

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

Read related posts: Why is it Called a Spelling Bee?
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For further reading: http://www.merriam-webster.com
http://spellingbee.com
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/09/scripps-national-spelling-bee-2021-zaila-avant-garde-becomes-first-african-american-winner
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/zaila-avant-garde-spelling-bee-winner.html

Most Misspelled Words by State

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

Alabama: which

Alaska: eighty

Arizona: which

Arkansas: receive

California: separate

Colorado: quarantine

Connecticut: quarantine

Delaware: government

District of Columbia: succeed

Florida: pharaoh

Georgia: favorite

Hawaii: every

Idaho: piece

Illinois: coronavirus

Indiana: quarantine

Iowa: favorite

Kansas: multiplication

Kentucky: favorite

Louisiana: which

Maine: watch

Maryland: favorite

Massachusetts: quarantine

Michigan: coronavirus

Minnesota: quarantine

Mississippi: every

Missouri: quarantine

Montana: every

Nebraska: believe

Nevada: quarantine

New Hampshire: definitely

New Jersey: coronavirus

New Mexico: favorite

New York: definitely

North Carolina: exercise

North Dakota: believe

Ohio: favorite

Oklahoma: which

Oregon: quarantine

Pennsylvania: coronavirus

Rhode Island: separate

South Carolina: which

South Dakota: believe

Tennessee: quarantine

Texas: confident

Utah: definitely

Vermont: coronavirus

Virginia: favorite

Washington: quarantine

West Virginia: coronavirus

Wisconsin: quarantine

Wyoming: quarantine

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

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

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

What is a Dittogram?

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

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

My roommate said that she knew you.

His cash cache is under the mattress.

You can write right after the bell rings.

That loud noise annoys me every morning.

The student read red books only.

A grisly grizzly wandered into the cabin.

Our hour spent together was so memorable.

Shirley surely can run fast.

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

She enjoyed reading the novel novel.

The soccer score was two to two.

The zoo opened a new gnu exhibit.

The foul fowl ran around the pond.

Tom will marry merry Mary next month.

The children were lost in the maize maze.

The whole hole was left exposed.

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

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

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There’s A Word for That: Nubivagant

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

When was the last time you were nubivagant?

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

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

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There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in your glovebox?

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

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

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

Colorful Slang Words from the Playground

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

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

arse-over-head: tripping

brainfart: when person loses their train of thought

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

dibber-dobber: a tattle-tale

fleggy: spit that includes mucous

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

jesus boots: sandals

lunchbag: a person without any friends; a loser

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

nadgers: testicles

peanut smuggler: a girl that is not wearing a bra

swamp donkey: an unattractive person of the opposite sex

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

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

Which slang words do you remember from your childhood?

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

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

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

Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

alex atkins bookshelf words

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

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

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

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

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

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There’s A Word for That: Hypocorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: https://11points.com/11-popular-pet-names-couples-not-actual-pets/

The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns 3

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

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

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

Balloon prices have increased recently due to inflation.

If aromatic candles irritate you then you might become incensed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite clever pun?

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

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

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Coronavirus Edition

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

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

Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung: certificate of disability

Ausbruchsgeschehen: outbreak events

Ausgangsbeschränkung: lockdown (“exit restriction”)

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

Coronatestzentrum: corona test center

Coronasuperverbreiter: corona super spreaders

Ellenbogengesellschaft: elbow society

Frischluftquote: fresh air quota

Fussgruss:  safe hello (“foot greeting”)

Gesichtskondom: face mask (“face condom”)

Impfstoffnationalismus: vaccine nationalism

kontaktlose Zustellung: contactless delivery

Mindestabstandsregelung: social distancing (“minimum distance regulation”)

Mundschutzmode: face mask (“mouthguard fashion”)

Notfallkinderzuschlag: emergency child allowance

Onlineparteitag: online party conversation

Präsenzveranstaltung: face-to-face event

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

Spuckschutzschirm: face mask (“anti spit screen”)

telefonische Krankschreibung: telephone sick leave

Wirtschaftsstabilisierungsfonds: economic stabilization fund

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

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

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

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

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading:
https://www.owid.de/docs/neo/listen/corona.jsp
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/germany-words-pandemic-long/2021/02/26/6f73330e-7835-11eb-9489-8f7dacd51e75_story.html