There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian

atkins-bookshelf-wordsAn ultracrepidarian is a person who criticizes beyond the scope of their competence; a person who comments on a subject without sufficient knowledge that subject. The word is a derived from the Latin phrase, “Ne supra crepidam judicaret” that literally translated means “beyond the sandal,” but generally means “let him not criticize above the sandal.” Here is the historical context to this interesting phrase: in ancient Roman times, a famous artist named Apelles was drawing a person and started with the feet and sandals first. By chance, a shoemaker happened to be passing and looking at the drawing, criticized Apelles for not drawing the latch of the sandal correctly. The artist deferred to the shoemaker’s legitimate criticism and corrected the drawing. But the shoemaker did not stop at the sandals, he then began to criticize the way the artist drew the legs. At this point, Apelles got angry and shouted at the shoemaker, “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam judicaret!” (Shoemaker, not above the sandal!”). Although Pliny recorded this initial phrase in Natural History (Book 35), later Latin writers modified the phrase to “Ne supra crepidam judicaret.” Essayist William Hazlitt was the first to use the word, ultracrepidarian, derived from the original phrase as recorded by Pliny, in a letter written in 1818, and later in 1819. 

Related word: Philistine, a person uninformed in a specific area of knowledge.

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

For further reading: ISMs: from Autoeroticism to Zoroastrianism by Gregory Bergman, Adams Media(2006).

There’s a Word for That: Sheeple

atkins-bookshelf-wordsSheeple are people who mindlessly follow a trend or mass movement. Individuals who do not think on their own and do not form their own opinions, accepting as factual anything reported in mainstream media. The word is also used to refer to people who are conformists or submissive.

The word is a portmanteau (two individual words combined to form a new word) — composed of the words “sheep” and “people.” The word first appeared in print in an article in the Emory University Quarterly in 1950. The word  has been connected to John Brunner’s science fiction novel, The Sheep Look Up, published in 1972, that predicts the destruction of the environment in America. In the novel, people are compared to sheep and the cover features an illustration on people looking at the heavens while wearing stylized gas masks with curved sheep’s horns in the back. The word reappeared in the Wall Street Journal in an article in 1984. Despite its appearance in print and its use on the web (particularly in the comment sections of political stories that are rife with mudslinging), the word is not included in the print edition of the OED (perhaps the word rubs the editors the wrong way), but found in several American dictionaries, such as the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th Edition).

For further reading: Urban Dictionary by Aaron Peckham, Andrews McMeel Publishing (2005), American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th Edition), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011).

Poop Deck

Defintion: Noun. The highest deck at the stern (rearmost part or aft) of a ship or boat.

Etymology: Much to the dismay of curious children, the nautical term has nothing to do with excrement (from seagulls or any other creatures). The nautical term is derived from the Latin puppis which means stern. A ship is pooped when large waves crash over the stern while the it is running before the wind in a gale. This is a dangerous situation because the ship’s speed is the same as the following sea, that can cause a ship to lose steerage way and becoming uncontrollable. This can lead to the flooding and eventual sinking of the ship. A related phrase, “to be pooped” that means to be exhausted or overcome, is derived from the nautical term.

For further reading: Ship to Shore: A Dictionary of Everyday Words and Phrases Derived from the Sea by Peter James, McGraw Hill (2004). Dictionary of American Slang: 4th Edition edited by Barbard Kipfer, Collins (2007).



Definition: Noun. A false or deliberately misleading story.

Etymology: From the French word canard (duck) and derived from the French expression vendre un canard a moitie (to sell half a duck) that means to swindle a buyer with a false story.

For further reading: Je Ne Sai What? A Guide to de riguer Frenglish for Readers, Writers, and Speakers by Jon Winokur, Dutton (1995).