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Tag Archive: words

Oct 22

Note to self, save this

I adore saving snippets of wisdom and examples of colorful language, so much so, that I keep a notebook full of them.

I save newspaper clippings with interesting words highlighted in yellow and scraps of paper with “notes to self” scribbled in the margins.

On my computer desktop, I have a folder entitled, “Interesting sayings to save.”

Certainly, we all have our own little quirks and foibles. Apparently, this is one of mine, and, for the record, I am keeping it.

Other people have their own peculiarities, too. For example, just the other day I read about some folks who are compulsive painters. They have repainted their living rooms six times and their bedroom, eight. They save paint swatches like I save words. They get up early or stay up late to repaint a hall, baseboards, a ceiling, or furniture.  A month or two later, they repaint it again.

My husband says they are losing square footage in their house by adding lots of layers of paint.

Not for me to judge, though, because my collection of sayings and words continues to grow.

Some years ago, I saved a column written by Barbara Shelly in the Kansas City Star. The headline caught my attention because it said,” Flapdoodle discourse is on the move.” Her commentary explained that once a reader had emailed her and advised, “Please tone down your inflammatory flapdoodle.” She has used the word ever since.

I loved flapdoodle and now, finally, have a place to use it—here!

Another scrap of scribbling I saved has to do with the difference between two French phrases, “déjà vu” and “jaimais vu.” Most of us have heard of “déjà vu,” that means “already seen,” but have you heard of “jaimais vu?” I hadn’t.

Jaimais vu means when we stare at something familiar and have absolutely no recollection of it at all.  Happens to me all the time. Someone says, “Oh, sure, you’ve seen that, you’ve been there, or surely, you remember that.”  I don’t.

My old friend Tom Ladwig, journalism professor and author, cherished colorful words just like I do. Two of his favorites are saved on my computer—“widdershins” and “pettifogger.”

I haven’t found too many uses for these words, but they do roll off the tongue nicely and are fun to pronounce.

Widdershins means “in a contrary or counterclockwise direction.”

Pettifogger means a petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer, or one who quibbles over trivia.

It has come to my attention that lots of other people enjoy words, too.

Merriam-Webster Online conducted a search recently to find out the top 10 favorite and most interesting words. You can bet I saved those.

Here’s what they found out.

“Projects like this remind us once again of the deep level of interest that people attach to the words in their language,” says John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster.

The No. 1 favorite word in their survey was “defenestration”—a throwing of a person or thing out of a window.  I have to wonder why so many people even knew that word.  Must be lots of people throwing things out of a window!

Serendipity came in No. 2, and onomatopoeia was No. 3. Finishing in the No. 10 spot was flibbertigibbet—meaning a silly, flighty person.

Morse added, “Using language can be a little like serving up a meal, with words as the ingredients. I think people were sharing with us their favorite ingredients—the ingredients that add spice and flavor and a personal touch to their everyday use of language.”

I understand exactly what Mr. Morse is saying and would only add this, “Although I have a plethoria of aphorisms, I won’t be persnickety about them and will not become discombobulated if they cause a kerfuffle.

Aug 27

Short words make people say what they really mean


“There is strength and force in short words, words that blast and boom, throb and thump, clank and chime, hiss and buzz and zoom. There is grace and charm in short words like lull and hush and purr. There are short lush words like dank, muck and drench; and short dry ones like crisp, parch and husk…give me words that pry and push, that slash and hack, that cut and clip, that chip and saw. Words are fun to fuss with, to stir and mix, and make work for you.” (Written decades ago by H. Phelps Gates of the Christian Science Monitor.)


My sentiments exactly, Mr.Gates. We could have used you during the Presidential Campaign of 2004.

Never have I heard such words as I did during Election ‘04.

Soon, I came to realize that politics, indeed, has its own language. Some of that language is new this time around.

Did you notice, too? Perhaps not; slick words do tend to roll glibly over us.

You may have missed some of them.

Oh, those silver-tongued devils!

Although determined to learn this exotic new language, I am forced to admit I do not speak their tongue well.

Increasingly, however, I became intrigued by the words which peppered the campaign’s printed and spoken language (as though we know what those words mean).

Am I the only one who ran for the dictionary?

At any rate, they were all doing it–the news media, pundits, and countless authors, each with a brand new book filled with weighty analyses and theory.

So, I experimented with this phenomenon by watching all the major television networks and cable news networks, listened to talk radio, and bought or borrowed the latest political books.

I was so hooked I rarely cooked. (Forgot to mention broadcasters tend to rhyme, badly. I might add.)

 I also noticed during my poll of pundits and politicians that they tended to use

 alliteration a lot.

Hence, my Primer for those Puzzled by Politics, Perturbed by Pundits,

 and Perplexed by Pontificators.

Note: alliteration was done mostly by telegenic (looking good on TV) news talk show hosts.

In light of all this, unabashedly, I offer a primer for the pained patrons of Politics 2004:

  • culpable—You are acting guilty no matter what you say.
  • soporific statement—Sleep-inducing, boring speech.
  • “having said that..”—Do you have to keep saying that?
  • “I need a little time to get my arms around it”—I have no idea what you are talking about and I have to get my research guys to figure this out.
  • bloviate –Not in most dictionaries. Did Bill O’Reilly make this word up?
  • conundrum—Why don’t they just say “riddle”?
  • exculpatory—Likely to prove someone is innocent, even though guilt is assumed first!
  • copacetic—Excellent or good. Pundits can’t possibly come right out and say anything is “good, can they.”
  • duplicitous—Deceitful, dishonest. What they would really like to say: “You double-dealing, two-faced, blankity, blank, blank. You get the idea.
  • opined—To express an opinion.  Ok, I can use, this one, but when I hear “opined.” I keep thinking of “pining away for a lost love”. Too much
    Emily Dickinson perhaps. Never mind.
  • impolitic—Unwise, misguided, ill-advised. What they really are saying is that they just don’t know how to get along with those in power!
  • illiberal—Narrow-minded, small-minded. “Bigot” would work nicely.
  • egregious—extraordinarily bad, flagrant. I actually like this word and may start to use it!
  • poseur—Someone who dresses or behaves to impress others. The word is French. Hmmm.
  • odious—Loathesome, detestable. Translation: that guy stinks!
  • conterminous—Having a common boundary. Could we say “contiguous” instead because I know we all learned that in fifth grade social studies.
  • vitrial, contentious, ingrate, contumacious—Hateful and nasty, touchy, ungrateful, stubbornly disobedient. How about just saying the guy is as jerk?
  • illuctable–unavoidable(At first, I swear they said electable.)
  • inveigh—To speak angrily in criticism. For example, “I am not being difficult, I am inveighing.”
  • inexorable—unalterable, unavoidable, relentless, unchangeable. “The exchange between Chris Matthews and Zell Miller on MSNBC was inexorable.” Personally, I think “entertaining” described it best.
  • perfidy—deceit. As in exit polls, perhaps.
  • Try checking these out for yourself: fatuous, desultory, pleonexia, and impunity. (I jotted these down in just one day listening to talk radio. Have a dictionary nearby when you listen. I’m warning you!  Talk radio is great fun, granted, but one has to have a thesaurus handy.)

My all-time favorite is this wonderful word, “bollixed.”  Turns out, it means “messed up.”

It is actually a corruption of a Gaelic word. If you have been “bollixed” by someone that means that person has gone out of his/her way to mess you up.

Aristotle is credited with saying that “man is by nature a political animal”, and he said that a long, long time ago.

Not looking for much to change on that point, but I have come, to agree with Charles De Gaulle. America sort of liked him.

Remember? That was when America liked France, too.

De Gaulle said this about politics and all that goes with it, “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

And perhaps too serious a matter to be left to the pundits and pronouncers of news.

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