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Jan 16, 2022
This week’s theme

This week’s words
black swan
lame duck

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Relative usage over time

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AWADmail Issue 1020

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

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From: Gail Snyder (aussiegail gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

I’m concerned about the growing threat of Corvid deniers. I am confident that the crows, ravens, jays, and magpies found here in Central Oregon where I live are real.

Gail Snyder, Bend, Oregon

From: David Brad St.Cyr (brad2468 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

Ok, so, I don’t think the govt replaced ALL the birds in the US, but have added a few. See Bionic Bird and The Drone Bird Company.

David Brad St. Cyr, Orangevale, California

From: Janet Llerandi (ozz usfamily.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

I have a 20-year-old parakeet who is very happy, sings a lot, goes around his cage, and feeds his toy birds and we share almonds. He bites on one end and I have the other end in my mouth. We play with him, he loves my son too. He’s the happiest little birdie ever. He has vitamin drops in his water every day and a healthy diet.

Janet Llerandi, St Paul, Minnesota

From: Dan Dieterich (Ddieteri uwsp.edu)
Subject: Black swan

Thank you, Anu, for exposing the REAL truth about birds. You have saved all of us birders in the Audubon Society an enormous amount of money we’ve been wasting on birdseed. I look forward to your exposé about what those biotronic doohickies have been doing with our birdseed all these years. I suspect that the government sells it back to birdseed companies and uses the money to make more drones.

Dan Dieterich, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

From: Georgene Thompson (gardengals yahoo.com)
Subject: FACTS about BIRDS

I am going to cease and desist in feeding the BIRDS immediately. They have been looking in my windows! And they attract CATS (Covert Action Technology Systems) to my yard. These CATS are skulking around the perimeter of the house, INTERFERING with radio and TV signals! I KNEW it. Thank you for giving us the FACTS!

PS: Thanks for having a delightful sense of humor in this troublesome time. It is rare to find things that make me laugh as much as you do.

Georgene Thompson, Reading, Pennsylvania

From: Peter Collum (collum1947 gmail.com)
Subject: Jan 10 intro

Absolutely brilliant. You have made my day.

But no, I won’t take down my bird feeders. Drones gotta eat too.

Peter Collum, Chemainus, Canada

From: Doug Gagne (gahdnah gmail.com)
Subject: Monday’s entry

This is pure brilliance! (Or should I say it’s a Brilliantly Illuminating Rational Discourse -- B.I.R.D. -- on the liars and deniers of Covid. I subscribe for less lofty, but scintillating nonetheless, etymology and word usage, not to mention the quotations.

Doug Gagne, Hollis, New Hampshire

From: Jen Rieger (riegerjm gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

While I do believe in Covid, I am saddened to see that Wordsmith would choose to get political and opine (not very humorously I might add) in what I thought was intended to be a daily email devoted to the JOY of words. I have read this email every day for years. To be honest, it offers a brief respite from much of the other crαp in my inbox.

Jen Rieger, St Louis, Missouri

Email of the Week --Brought to you buy The Official Old’s Cool Education -- “How do you get down from an elephant?”

From: Naomi Joyner (gma_naomi yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

Perhaps the conspiracy nutters should watch out for falling bird feathers, since a feather falls at the same rate of speed as a rock when dropped into a vacuous mind.

Naomi Joyner, Houston, Texas

From: Lee Entrekin (harpo mindspring.com)
Subject: Black swan

This reminds me of the adage: To prove that not all crows are black, you don’t have to examine all crows. Just find one white crow.

Lee Entrekin, Old Fort, North Carolina

From: Gareth Stevens (gareth.stevens1 me.com)
Subject: black troops

An old French friend told me how, because his southeastern French village was liberated by black troops, he thought, until his late teens, that all Americans were black.

Gareth Stevens, Thiensville, Wisconsin

From: Bill Venables (bill.venables gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

For the aboriginal people of Australia, who have occupied the land for at least sixty millennia, the saying might have been a “white swan”. There are no swans indigenous to Australia that are NOT black. So black swans were not really “discovered in Australia in 1697” -- they had been known here for millennia before then.

Bill Venables, Dutton Park, Australia

From: Robert A. Rushton (reloquent gmail.com)
Subject: Black swans and computers

The main flow of most computer programs is relatively simple. There’s input, a bit of processing, and then some output. But most of a software engineer’s effort is spent handling errors and their recovery. It is difficult and time-consuming to design software that handles all possible errors correctly. The rarer the error, the more severe the consequence. In this discipline, black swans are the rule, not the exception.

Robert A. Rushton, Brookline, New Hampshire

From: Alex Merseburger (alexmerse0 gmail.com)
Subject: Black swan - White housefly

Here in Italy we say a white housefly (Musca domestica).

Alessandro Merseburger, Verona, Italy

From: Nicolas Ribet (nickribet gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--black swan

I hate to point out that BIRD is actually a backronym as you have taught me, Anu... Or should I say Argot Neologism Unifier?

Nick Ribet, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, Aotearoa/New Zealand

From: Hugh Parsons (whiteknuckleturning outlook.com)
Subject: gowk

The words gawk and gawp have exactly the same meaning as gowk when referring to human activity and, in the course of a twenty-five-year career as a firefighter, I and my colleagues and those in other emergency services endured (and still do) an uncountable number of those who gawk/gawp, known as gawkers or gawpers. When driving they are usually known as rubberneckers, and while doing so the resultant distraction means that often they inadvertently become the target of other gawkers/gawpers, thereby ensuring the continuation of the species.

Hugh Parsons, Raumati South, New Zealand

From: David Malone (david.frogprints gmail.com)
Subject: Gowk

In the NE of England it is used for an apple core. A saying used historically by the children of poorer families was “Gie us ya gowk”, meaning, Would it be possible for me to eat your apple core after you have finished with the rest.

David Malone, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

From: Regina Harrison (onebirdlife gmail.com)
Subject: Cuckoos

I don’t know about other cuckoos, but the North American species does in fact sit still and stare glassily for long periods of time, waiting for something edible to come by. It’s what makes cuckoos so difficult to spot in the field if they aren’t calling -- without movement, they blend right in to the visual field of branches and twigs.

Regina Harrison, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Sam Long (gunputty comcast.net)
Subject: lame duck

A lame duck is not to be confused with a ruptured duck, the colloquial name for the Honorable Service Lapel Button, a pin awarded for honorable Federal military service between 1925 and 1946, and worn on the lapel of a uniform or civilian clothes by recently-discharged servicemen.

Sam Long, Springfield, Illinois

From: Brenda J Gannam (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)
Subject: henpeck

Since peck is another word for a kiss, albeit brief and light, usually on the cheek or forehead, perhaps being henpecked is not such a bad thing?

Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York

From: Stannous Flouride (stanflouride yahoo.com)
Subject: Henpecking

Read it somewhere: “When a husband says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. There’s no reason to henpeck him about it every six months.”

Stan Flouride, San Francisco, California

From: Amy Metnick (amy.metnick gmail.com)
Subject: Henpecked ... or domestic tribulation

Until I retired in 2019, in one of the courses I taught at my college, Intro to Literature, I often began with Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle: A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809). Early in the story, we learn that Rip was a “hen-pecked husband”: mild mannered because his disposition was “rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation.” (Don’t you just love this metaphor?)

Many students weren’t familiar with the term henpecked. I tried to explain the literal avian origin behind this figurative expression, but it didn’t always transfer. So I cut to the chase: “Rip is whipped.”

“Aha! Got it.”

I miss reading that story. Time for a reread.

Amy Metnick, Margaretville, New York

From: Sara Hutchinson (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)
Subject: henpeck

The word henpeck reminds me of when we kept a small flock of chickens, six hens and a rooster. The hens were Rhode Island Reds, and the rooster, Perkins, was a Plymouth and much smaller. I always felt sorry for Perkins because his ladies bullied and pecked him. One day Perkins escaped the yard and ran headlong into a truck on the roadway, which killed him. My husband claimed that Perkins, heady with freedom, was just not paying attention. I always felt that Perkins’s demise was suicide as a result of the treatment he was getting.

Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware

From: Bill Woodward (bill.woodward bnigroup.biz)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--henpeck

In German, the idiom (slowly becoming old-fashioned) for a henpecked husband is a Pantoffelheld -- the hero of the slipper, i.e., hubby getting whacked on the head by his Frau.

Bill Woodward, Scottsdale, Arizona

From: Frederick J. McCutchon (fjm wbwpc.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ostrichism

You point out that ostriches are not cowards. I agree, and believe that they can indeed kill a lion. Male ostriches can be very aggressive, especially when their necks are red in their time of rut.

My life has been quite adventurous, but the closest I ever have come to death, in my 66 years, was during a sedate tour, by truck, at a wildlife game preserve in the Texas Hill Country.

I was in the back seat of the truck, its engine idling as we looked at a few ostriches nearby. My window was down.

One of the ostriches, carried on his massive thighs, came right up to the truck and started swaying his head back and forth. He was picking a fight.

He was so close I reached out to push his neck back. (Dυmb human.)

Before I could even blink, his right leg came up to strike me, with his massive front claw on the front end of that leg. He put a 2” dent in the side of the truck. His leg was already back on the ground by the time I had time to blink.

If the truck had been just a couple of inches lower, he would certainly have cleaved my head. We were hours from any medical facility.

The whole encounter lasted only a few seconds, but I have relived that moment of foolish recklessness many times, every time I see or read “ostrich”.

Your post sure brought it back; I felt it again in my body as I recalled it.

Fred McCutchon, Corpus Christi, Texas

From: Jill Ferguson (pamojamama gmail.com)
Subject: Birds

Our parakeet, Jade, is far too noisy, messy, and ill-tempered to be a machine. If she were spying, she probably wouldn’t report back to the government.

Jill Ferguson, Columbia, South Carolina

Let’s say you are chatting with someone over texting. You don’t know if it’s a human or a smart chatbox. How do you find out? You could ask them to do a large calculation, say 4928384 x 914205. A chatbox would return the results in a split second, a human is going to take longer, even with a calculator.

Except when it’s a smart chatbox. It would just sit there twiddling its digits for some time and then return the product to you. Now you think it’s a human.
It’s possible to program a machine to be noisy, messy, and ill-tempered.
-Anu Garg

Fowl Play
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Fowl play and ostrichism

Anthropomorphized Mother Hen is cutting no slack with Papa Rooster, getting on his case for the slacker he appears to be. Clearly, he qualifies as a henpecked hubby, yet he seems unmoved by Mama’s constant pestering, mumbling choice expletives under his breath. Hmm... we can see who wears the pants in this family.

Granted, real ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand in an act of denial or fear. But in my cartoon world, where all is possible, they really do. Here, the monster coronavirus threatens a trio of vaccination deniers, who ignore the stark reality that remaining unvaxxed is flirting with the possibility of grave illness, or worst case scenario, a preventable death.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


Birds are this week’s theme
1. Black swan
2. Gowk
3. Lame duck
4. Henpeck
5. Ostrichism
= 1. Hmm be remarkable
2. Cuckoos
3. Weak
4. Heckles, nitpicks gents
5. Withdraws, hides
     1. Black swan
2. Gowk
3. Lame duck
4. Henpeck
5. Ostrichism
= 1. Best pick
2. A schmuck
3. Lacks work
4. Nag men
5. Hide low
     Good afternoon! This week’s theme is birds!
1. Black swan
2. Gowk
3. Lame duck
4. Henpeck
5. Ostrichism
= 1. BCE God knew best
2. Leer at ref
3. Cosh weak top-dogs
4. Hound him Miss, no?
5. Male chick winks at risk
-Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz) -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.


A Covid denier named Juan
Spewed all the same lies as the Don.
Just before dying,
He still was denying:
“It’s rare as the fabled black swan.”
-Peter Weston, Houston, Texas (pvweston2 gmail.com)

A black swan in your life? Goodness sake!
Are you sure that it isn’t a fake?
It danced into your room
And portends gloom and doom?
You tell it: “Go jump in a lake.”
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

The black swan remarked to the white crow:
“I’ll bet there’s a FACT that you don’t know.
People think we are fake
So, what will it take
To convince folks that we are not so?”
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

The contagion has been a black swan:
Alpha, Delta, and now Omicron.
It’s a wrecking-ball virus
Much like Miley Cyrus;
Though frightful, we must carry on!
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

His classmates were terribly cruel
And called him a gowk back in school.
As time went along
He proved them all wrong --
This billionaire’s hardly a fool.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“He’s a gowk, he’s a jerk, don’t go near him!”
Said my folks but I just didn’t hear ‘em --
So I married that guy
And it seems he and I
Have discovered some lifelong love serum!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

With Mantle and Maris and Ford,
The Yanks were an unrivaled horde.
When led by Ralph Houk,
At their exploits we’d gowk;
Now they lose every year, and we’re bored.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

He lost, but that loathsome lame duck
Continued just running amok.
Not even his friends
Know where this all ends.
He’s worse than just merely a schmuck.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

When our leader became a lame duck,
at the Capitol, crowds ran amok.
Did failed re-election
incite insurrection?
Searching for truth? Best of luck!
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Americans sometimes are stuck
With leaders considered lame duck.
They’re on the way out
And losing their clout --
The last one we had ran amok.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

The orange-y lame duck was booed
As he left the White House with his brood.
And the source of the boos?
Not the right-wingers, whose
Loud voices yelled out “You were screwed!”
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

Said Oberon, “Here’s the game, Puck;
Titania we’ll make a lame duck.
You’ll go find a flower
With magical power
To make her love some inane schmuck.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The lucky man who married me
I did not henpeck constantly.
In fact, not at all.
I suppose one would call
That living marriage blissfully.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

She henpecks her husband all day.
He answers, “Whatever you say.”
She thinks he’s a dear;
In fact, he can’t hear --
Their marriage survives in this way.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Many weddings, I sadly project,
Won’t succeed when a wife does henpeck.
If a nagging, shrill spouse
Can be heard in a house,
Seems the union they’ll quickly then wreck.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

To escape from a wife who would henpeck,
One day ‘round the world would John Glenn trek.
“People say that I’m brave,
But it’s just my man cave,”
He explained. “Here, she doesn’t my Zen wreck.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

To keep what’s unwanted at bay,
ignore it. ‘Twill soon go away.
Combine optimism
with fine ostrichism.
Refuse to get into the fray!
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Ostrichism is not the Queen’s way
Since she is making Prince Andrew pay.
All his titles must go,
As he hangs his head low.
He rues meeting Epstein, I would say.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

That ostrichist won’t watch the news,
Preferring instead just to snooze.
His head’s in the sand,
Exactly as planned --
“A blissful existence I choose!”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Some people the truth cannot face.
They hide in their very safe space,
And will use ostrichism
To flee all realism.
No thought for the poor human race.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

To justify rank barbarism,
Empires employ ostrichism:
“Their religion and race
Mean they’re lacking God’s grace;
They will thank us.” (Wow! That’s optimism.)
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Jack Black swan-dived into the pool, splashing the other celebrity guests.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“When I signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black swan major strides towards equality,” said Lyndon Johnson.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

At his jousting tournament, the monarch’s adoring Cockney fans shouted, “Gowk-king, gow!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“If you don’t want to end up lame, duck when he shoots,” said Dick Cheney’s former hunting partner.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“It’s very lame duck-ing your responsibilities,” his wife groused.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“I refuse to go see that heath-henpeck in To Kill a Mockingbird,” said the evangelist.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“This special ostrichism-y way of limbering up each morning,” said the Wizard to Dorothy.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The Blunder Down Under
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: The blunder down under

World’s number-one-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic’s refusal to get a Covid vaccine has created quite the kerfuffle Down Under. Australia has denied him entry. Hopefully, Aussie officials will stick to their guns and send anti-vaxxer Djokovic packing, making a firm statement about the importance of vaccines. He is getting his day in court. Not the tennis court. Ha! UPDATE: An ultimate decision on Djokovic’s fate, whether his visa would be restored, and whether he’d be permitted to play in the Australian Open as the number one men’s seed (starting this Monday), should come down this weekend. Stay tuned.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

Be kind to thy father, for when thou wert young, / Who loved thee so fondly as he? / He caught the first accents that fell from thy tongue, / And joined in thy innocent glee. -Margaret Courtney, poet (1822-1862)

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