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Sep 19, 2021
This week’s theme
There’s a word for it

This week’s words
felix culpa

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A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

Helsinki’s Mayor Thinks English Should Be the City’s Official Language
The World

How to Say What You Need to Say in Another Language
The New York Times

The Travails of Teaching Arabs Their Own Language
The Economist

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: felix culpa

You have a head-on collision that results in broken bones and hospitalization. Sounds truly awful. Yet, looking back you say that it was the best thing that ever happened to you. Life works in strange ways. We received many stories of happy accidents this week. Below is a selection.

Also, in some of the stories it may have been a happy accident for the person writing, but not so happy for the rest, so we feel ambivalent about those, but we include some of the stories below anyway. Read on.

Had a client get in an auto accident, moderate injuries but nothing too serious. Went to the hospital for X-rays and a serious heart condition was revealed and treated before any adverse consequences came of it.
-Nicholas Clekis, Charleston, South Carolina (clekislaw clekis.com)

My felix culpa was a head-on collision in 1975, when I was 20, which nearly took my life (not my fault, btw). I learned early not to take any moment of my life for granted, to keep my body in good working order, and if I really want to do something, to just go ahead and do it, because I never know when the chance might be suddenly taken away from me. I celebrate that day as a second birthday, which, in a way, it was.
-Vicki Righettini, San Diego, California (vickir javalinux.net)

When the web boom went bust in 2002, I lost my staff editing position. Turned out I could double my salary as a freelancer. That in turn helped me retire sooner.
-Howard Baldwin, Lake Oswego, Oregon (baldwin.howard gmail.com)

I was driving my Volkswagen Bug to work one day in 1976 when, going around a blind curve, a Buick hit me head on. My sternum was broken, making it difficult for me to breathe, and I was in the hospital for nine days until my lungs were working right again. This was very painful, and I was regularly dosed with Demerol. It worked. I’d been trying to stop smoking for more than two years and had not succeeded. In the hospital, when breathing was a challenge, smoking never entered my mind. By the time I was done with the Demerol, I’d gone through nicotine withdrawal without noticing it.
I’ve never smoked again. This was 45 years ago and now I’m 79 and in very good health. The wreck might have killed me if the Buick had been going 10 mph faster. Instead, judging from the number of contemporaries who have died from smoking-related diseases, it likely added at least a decade to my life.
-Tom Stites, Newburyport, Massachusetts (tom tomstites.com)

This happened to a friend of mine, not to me. But it’s a felix culpa I will never forget. In 1977, my friend and her husband had planned a trip to Europe. The day before leaving, they went for their usual walk on the rocky beach near their Los Angeles home. Her husband fell and broke his leg, and they had to cancel their trip. The flight they would have been on was the Pan Am plane destroyed in the runway collision at Tenerife; the deadliest accident in aviation history.
-Dorothy A. Daybell, Wilmington, North Carolina (ddaybell usc.edu)

I was an airman subsequently commissioned an Air Force second lieutenant and scheduled to be sent to Texas on 3 January. Because of the Christmas holidays, I could not be processed in time to make the trip, so my activation was deferred to February. I was upset with the delay; one of my buddies took me with him to a USO. That evening I met the woman who would be my wife! We have had sixty-eight wonderful years together, four children, eleven grandchildren, and are expecting our twelfth great-grandchild in January!
-Joel Berg, PhD, Henderson, Nevada (jbergx gmail.com)

At the end of my second year of BSc at university I was involved in a motor vehicle accident which disabled me and prevented me from taking up vacation employment which helped me finance my studies. As a result I opted to continue part-time and find employment on campus so I had some income but could continue studying. A position as a part-time technical assistant came up and I enjoyed the work so much and became so interested that I changed my course from Nutrition & Dietetics to Microbiology. To this day and now retired I have never regretted this change and have enjoyed a most interesting and fulfilling career as a hospital microbiologist.
-Cynthia O’Keefe, Geelong, Australia (cybeireans2 optusnet.com.au)

In my freshman English grammar course at my university, I made a C. I switched to Greek in the classics department. And Greek pretty much solved my problem with legalistic English. I learned that clergymen, lawyers, and the like knew you couldn’t split an infinitive in Greek or Latin and somehow that ruling got carried over into English grammar and our educational system.
The serendipity was that I fell in love with Greek and majored in it. My wife smilingly calls me her Greek freak. That serendipity also led me into becoming an author, an editor, a manager over editors, a publisher, and corporate officer. And years later when “happy downsizing” occurred, that freed me to write at this point more than a million published words. So if ever anyone has given thanks for a C in English, it might just be me. :)
-Johnnie C Godwin, Gallatin, Tennessee (johnniegodwin aol.com)

Reminds me of a story, apparently from the Taoist Zen Buddhist tradition, about a farmer who has successive experiences for which his neighbors either congratulate him or express their sorrow. In each case he responds, “We’ll see.” Two examples that have stuck with me are that the farmer’s son breaks his leg and can’t work, so the neighbors express their sympathy. He says, “We’ll see.” Then soldiers come to conscript the young men of the village into the military and they pass over the son with the broken leg. The farmer’s response to the neighbor’s congratulations is still “We’ll see.”
-Gary P. Brown, Hammondsport, New York (revnor aol.com)

I totalled an old car in what I called my “happy crash”. The car was 18 years old, so it was about time to replace it. Nobody was hurt. The insurance paid more than I thought it was worth, and I got a replacement that was in better condition.
-Norm Samuelson, Prescott, Arizona (norm normsamuelson.com)

I was a tourist at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich when the disastrous attack on the Israeli athletes occurred. The next day, amid the sadness and uncertain effect on the Games, I asked a German woman to help me understand it. She is now my wife.
-Jack Shoulders, Sarver, Pennsylvania (slojak aol.com)

On May 5, 2019, on a motorcycle excursion with friends I had an accident that resulted in my month-long hospitalization, sustaining injuries that subsequently prevented me from starting a food business. When I felt ready and fit enough to pursue that project, the pandemic hit, further postponing it. Had I not had the accident and sustained the injuries, I would have ended up in a disastrous financial predicament as experienced by many restaurant owners. Although that unfortunate experience was quite tolling and hard on me, I consider it a felix culpa, I’d suppose. Don’t you think?
-Mehrdad Dalamie, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (mjdalamie gmail.com)

In all hell it raised, this pandemic was felix culpa in one regard: in the past I’d already asked to work remotely, to no avail. After a few months of forced remote work however, our company decided that everybody should work remotely... permanently! ~:D
-tao, Setúbal, Portugal (kreelah gmail.com)

Before traffic and crowds became too excessive, I used to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park at least once a year. One of the few disturbing aspects of a Smokies trip was the frequency of seeing the Confederate flag from Tennessee and North Carolina roads near the park. However, on the first trip to the Smokies after the horrific 9/11 attacks, the only flag seen flying in the area was the Stars and Stripes. For this Air Force veteran, it was a welcome example of how the terrorist attacks were felix culpae for a resolute national unity.
-Denny Beck, Grand Rapids, Michigan (smokiescat gmail.com)

I watched on Netflix this weekend a documentary about Bob Ross, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed. Bob Ross was the TV personality who did 30-minute paintings on PBS TV for over 11 years. His quotation is: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
-Sandra Speizer, Speizer, New Jersey (sandra.speizer pseg.com)

In Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, when Arjuna visited Lord Indra, his father, Urvasi makes sexual advances to Arjuna, but Arjuna does not agree to it, telling she is like mother. Urvasi says, in their heavenly world, no such things. Still Arjuna did not agree and Urvasi cursed him to be bisexual for some time. This helps him during ajnaathavasam (exile in incognito). Hence the saying “Urvasi sapam upakaram” (Blessing in disguise or felix culpa).
-Job Pottas, Muvattupuzha, India (jobpottas gmail.com)

Felix culpa is the central idea of Paradise Lost, written by John Milton explicitly to be the epic poem of Christianity and England. Sin, even while regrettable, leads to something good. After Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, they are promised a “paradise within, happier far”: in other words, Puritan self-discipline, as exemplified in the execution of Charles I and the installation of a Puritan government. Felix culpa has sometimes become a kind of “the more you spend, the more you save” paradox: God’s grace can forgive sin. So, good Christians, prove you are on God’s side by sinning abundantly, in order to cause more forgiveness. In Paradise Lost John Milton’s Adam even wonders if he should rejoice that he sinned, instead of repenting!
-Mark Trevor Smith, Seattle, Washington (mts231f gmail.com)

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, claimed a felix culpa in that her having been brought to America as a slave enabled her to be brought by her captors to Christ. Incredible logic by today’s standards -- I still find it hard to fathom how people who were forced into any religion would maintain fealty to that religion upon being given liberty.
-Paul Smethers, Nashville, Tennessee (paul.smethers nashville.gov)

I don’t recall ever hearing this expression before, but I am well aware of the concept. My grandmother always called a felix culpa “a blessing in disguise”. Can’t tell you how often this comes to pass, but it is often.
-George Whiting, Cambridge, Massachusetts (gfwhiting comcast.net)

This makes me think of the playwright Jean Kerr quoting her mother: “Sometimes I wish I would get a blessing that is not in disguise.”
-Laura Burns, Galveston, Texas (laurab12 sbcglobal.net)

Felix culpa: the cat ate my homework.
-Joel Mabus, Portage, Michigan (joel.mabus pobox.com)

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: felix culpa

“Seawater had protected us, at least after Duke William, and his invasion was a felix culpa, since it bound Britain into European civilisation and prevented us from becoming part of south Scandinavia.”
Bruce Anderson; The Depths of Tranquillity; The Spectator (London, UK); Sep 15, 2018.

I suppose, with the example cited, this should be considered a maxima culpa -- at least for some people.

As for the usage example, the writer presumably refers to William the Conqueror whose ancestors themselves had come from Scandinavia and, with their fast-moving longboats, conquered even such lands as Sicily, an island fairly distant from the north of Europe.

In any case, what’s wrong with being Scandinavians, in my opinion the most civilized and progressive nations of the entire European continent?

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Christian Paul (cfp prodigy.net)
Subject: Felix culpa

My Latin is a little rusty, since I last sat in Mr. Christopher’s class in June 1967, but I’m pretty sure the plural of felix culpa must be felices culpae, not felix culpae, since felix is an adjective, and adjectives decline along with the nouns they modify. Maybe someone with more current data on the dead but beautiful language of the ancient Romans knows better.

Christian Paul, Mission Viejo, California

When we shared the term felix culpa, we presented it as how it appears in the English language, not where it came from. For the same reason we pluralize the term chaise longue as chaise longues, and not how it is in French (chaises longues), where we got it from. For the same reason we pronounce the word mosquito as (muh-SKEE-toh) instead of how it’s pronounced in its source language, Spanish (mos-kee-to). And so on.

It’s an etymological fallacy to insist that words must continue to follow the rules of their source language even when imported into another language. In general, it’s best not to apply too much logic to anything human, including languages. And words, borrowed or not.

-Anu Garg

From: Carlos Ben-Ari (carlosba 017-net.il)
Subject: glossolalia

I understand that your honorable former president did donate some very good examples, in the Twitter realm.

Carlos Ben-Ari, Kfar Saba, Israel

From: Charles Steele (c-steele onu.edu)
Subject: Glossolalia

I’m probably the 47th person to send you this

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
-Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

Charles E. Steele, Jr., Leyte, Philippines

Email of the Week -- Brought to you buy One Up! -- Steal Two Today.

From: Jeff Reardon (jeff.reardon post.harvard.edu)
Subject: Sinisterity cartoon

The accompanying cartoon ends with the young man resorting to an appeal to nature to defend left-handedness: He asks, “What if it’s NATURAL?” This leaves the other person able only to reply with, “There’s NO proof of that!”

The implication here is that what’s natural is good, and if sinisterity (“the handedness that dare not write its name”) were, in fact, natural, then it would be good. In the case of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights in general, the embarrassingly unfounded arguments for the position that these rights were not natural were typically framed using the notion that sexual orientation was “a choice”. And even nowadays, I occasionally hear well-meaning, supportive allies casually defend things like same-sex marriage rights by mentioning that “people are born (LGBTQ)” or that “it’s not like it’s a choice.” Yet the underlying logic there is lacking.

There are multitudes of “natural” things that are perfectly awful and abhorrent, with the disclaimer that this varies to a large degree based on how one chooses to define “natural” at that moment, based on which biases and prejudices happen to be influencing one’s thoughts most significantly that day. A few things that I would consider to be “natural” that I don’t particularly care for include

house centipedes (I know, “they’re the good ones,” but... no)
poison ivy
intestinal parasites
mold growing on my raspberries
half of a worm in my apple
pain and suffering
violence and aggression

But, more importantly, even if being LGBT were a choice: why would it matter? Would that change people’s minds about whether they should treat other human beings with dignity and respect? Choosing to practice an organized religion, and which religion that is, is also a choice, and yet the undesirables never seem to try to delegitimize religion on the basis of one choosing to be, say, an evangelical Christian -- not that there would be anything wrong with that...

Jeff Reardon, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: sinisterity

Suspicion of evil intent by left-handed people is clearly a case of the right-handed majority oppressing the left-handed minority.

The pianist Paul Wittgenstein, having lost his right hand in World War I, commissioned concertos from such famous composers as Maurice Ravel, and performed them to great acclaim (video, 9 min.).

Famous left-handed artists include many painters, from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Rubens and Vincent van Gogh.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Mary Kaye Bates (via website comments)
Subject: sinisterity

My Aunt Mildred was born in the early 1900s, and she was left-handed. They tried to force her to use her right hand in school. (It didn’t work.)

Mary Kaye Bates, West Palm Beach, Florida

From: Bob Richmond (rsrichmond gmail.com)
Subject: sinisterity

My wife’s left-handed sister, born in 1944, was told by a grade school teacher that she was possessed by the devil. This in a supposedly enlightened northern city, not in the rural south. She’s entirely left-handed, not cross-dominant.

Most snail shells are right-handed, but there are left-handed species. (If you point the spire up, the shell opens on the left side). The left-handed lightning whelk is called Sinistrofulgur perversum.

Bob Richmond, Maryville, Tennessee

From: Cynthia Jay (cjay589 mac.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sinisterity

In Bavaria in 1932, my eight-year-old brother was punished for being left-handed and forced to use his right hand. This was often blamed for tragic confusions and troubles he grew up with when we had left newly Nazi Germany and we were back in New York. Sinisterity sounds strangely appropriate.

Cynthia Jay, Hintongton, New York

From: Michael Hobbs (birdmarymoor frontier.com)
Subject: Sympatric

Sympatric and allopatric are also very important in understanding the evolution of new species. Sympatric species evolve from a common ancestor in a given locale, that is, they diverge for non-geographic reasons such as specializing in different food sources, versus allopatric species which diverge due to geographic separation, for example, populations that settle at the same elevation on two sides of a mountain range and diverge over time because they very rarely come into contact with each other.

Michael Hobbs, Kirkland, Washington

Presidential Sinisterity
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: sinisterity and glossolalia

As a natural lefty, I couldn’t resist coming up with a cartoon that spoke to our word sinisterity. Let’s face it, it’s a right-handed world out there! Yet since lefty Pres. Gerald Ford occupied the Oval Office, four other southpaws have followed: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Us lefties, historically, have been regarded as shifty sorts. Tell that to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Holler in the Holler
For generations, in some rural evangelical churches there’s been a mind-boggling and dangerous ritual of preaching while handling venomous snakes. Practitioners of this tradition often cite the Gospel of Mark (16/8)... “and they shall take up serpents” to justify this risky ritual. Glossolalia often plays a part in these church services.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: There’s a word for it
1. felix culpa
2. glossolalia
3. sinisterity
4. sympatric
5. spuddle
= 1. SIRI mishap led to profit
2. i.e. silly chatter
3. exit classy left-handers
4. wild opossum
5. weak gesture
     This week’s theme: There’s a word for it
1. felix culpa
2. glossolalia
3. sinisterity
4. sympatric
5. spuddle
= 1. disaster ends happily
2. illogical speech
3. left deft
4. same territory/exist
5. lamish work; I wuss out
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com) -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

This week’s theme: There’s a word for it
1. felix culpa
2. glossolalia
3. sinisterity
4. sympatric
5. spuddle
= 1. error which is sweet, paradox
2. mystical religious “fit”
3. left-hand-use skill
4. same spot
5. tepid style
     This week’s theme: There’s a word for it
1. felix culpa
2. glossolalia
3. sinisterity
4. sympatric
5. spuddle
= 1. is rapt fault
2. we’re Pentecostal
3. is lefty, southpaw
4. skirmish is coded hostile, merger
5. is idly lax
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz)

Make your own anagrams and animations.


“Your birth wasn’t planned,” her dad grins,
“but it chanced to be one of our ‘wins’!”
She demurs, “As a rule, Pa,
a true felix culpa
would likely have given you twins!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Felix culpa describes her first-born.
At first, she was confused and forlorn,
But she knew only joy
From her new baby boy.
A mom’s label she’s glad to adorn.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

A real felix culpa occurred,
When Eve with the serpent conferred.
This led to the Fall --
And once and for all
A need for redemption it spurred.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Her blind date just wasn’t so hot,
And she cared for him not a jot.
But, after a cool thaw,
It was felix culpa,
That she and he did tie the knot.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

A couple was learning the waltz,
But forgot that three beats it exalts.
The two’s felix culpa
Gave rise to the polka;
One dance and you’ll need smelling salts.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The high priest, in his ritual regalia,
Swept aside all the paraphernalia,
And, in ecstatic trance,
Bade the zealots, “Come, dance!”
And exhorted with screeched glossolalia.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

“I think our new neighbors must be
from some foreign country,” says he.
“Both nightly and daily, a
strange glossolalia
comes from their dwelling, you see!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

The Spirit can move folks to speak
In some sort of language unique.
When English words fail ya,
Then this glossolalia
Allows Pentecostals to peak.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“When we’re fresh out of sheer glossolalia,
With alternative facts we’ll regale ya,”
Kellyanne told the press.
“Then threats, insults -- oh, yes!
We’ve got lots of great paraphernalia.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

A left-handed pitcher’s dexterity
Brought him fame and a lot of prosperity.
Sandy Koufax by name,
The best in the game,
His asset was his sinisterity.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

As a youngster so filled with sincerity,
He tried to do “right” with dexterity.
Persevere though he might,
He just still could not write,
He’s a creature of plain sinisterity.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

Said Bernie, “I speak with sincerity
Of billionaires’ rank sinisterity.
About wealth in Vermont
We’re all quite nonchalant;
We count mountains and trees as prosperity.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The polar bear lives in the cold;
The penguin does too, we behold.
But what’s really strange,
Each has his own range --
Sympatric they’re not, we are told.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Said Ilsa, “Hold on to your hat, Rick,
For again by some freak we’re sympatric.”
The Germans wore gray,”
He responded. “Sam, play,
For she’s here, once again in blue fabric.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The farmer who lived in the dell
seemed not to be feeling so well.
“I’m just a bit muddled,”
said he as he spuddled.
“Perhaps I should rest for a spell.”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Her son tends to spuddle about,
Yet she refused to throw him out.
So, now I ask you,
Just what would you do?
Out of love, keep housing the lout?
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

In the garden, grandpa would spuddle,
For at times, his brain would muddle.
But, Grandma was wise,
And did supervise,
Then gave her old spouse a cuddle.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

When it’s time after romance to cuddle,
Men typically make just a spuddle.
“Football season’s begun!”
They announce on the run,
And imagine themselves in the huddle.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


The all-rodent jury found Felix culpa-ble of first-degree mouseslaughter.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

In the Odd Couple, Oscar thought Felix culpa-ble of many annoying antics.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Forced to issue a product safety recall, the cosmetics company warned its customers, “Our lip glossolalia, don’t use it.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Said Natasha to Boris, “You turn me on, you sinisterity-bitty villain.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Pat invented a video game based on himself. He called it, Simpatric.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Is sympatric’s day a legal holiday in America? I didn’t get the day off.
-Ray Pasinski, Downers Grove, Illinois (rayomic yahoo.com)

“You’re leavin’ Ireland, are ya? Your mobile will need a new sympatric,” said the travel agent.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

When the potato farmer was asked what his favorite variety is, he replied, “Any ol’ spuddle do.”
-Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina (jde31459 gmail.com)

Getting a grip
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Getting a grip

Some baseball historians have argued that the expression “getting the upper hand” arose from the sandlot baseball pregame ritual of alternating grasping hands-over-hands, climbing up the bat barrel, with the “fist” ending up closest to the nub of the bat getting first at-bat. Here, the three primary Afghan-based jihadist factions left in the wake of the US’s evacuation vie for the upper hand in what will be undoubtedly a protracted and bloody war. The evacuating US military were forced to leave a massive amount of materiale behind. Louisville Sluggers* included?
*Most venerable and famous US baseball bat manufacturer, based in Louisville, KY.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams. -Jeremy Irons, actor (b. 19 Sep 1948)

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