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Jul 16, 2023
This week’s theme
Skunk words (words to avoid)

This week’s words

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Relative usage over time

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Words derived from body parts

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AWADmail Issue 1098

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

Sponsor’s Message: “Way better than Wordle.” One Up! is the most marvelous, Machiavellian cure for the summertime blues: No board. No complicated rules. No mercy. Just wicked smart fun that’s guaranteed to ruin any family game night or vacation. A devilish gift. Free shipping. Shop now.

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

Learn a Foreign Language Before It’s Too Late
The Atlantic

The Ultimate Swearword: An Algorithm Has Come Up With the “Best” Expletive Ever
The Guardian

How Manga Was Translated for America
The New York Times

From: Allan E Prentice (allan.e.prentice gmail.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--reflexive

Until you brought up this confusion, I had never heard of reflexive meaning reflective. I have always used reflexive for meanings 1 (unthinking) and 3 (grammatical), and reflective for meaning 2 (thoughtful). I wonder if reflexive meaning reflective is one of those Johnny-come-lately uses. Is there a date for its first usage as such?

Allan Prentice, Eugene, Oregon

The word reflexive as a synonym of the word reflective, in both literal and figurative senses, has been around for some 400 years.

The “unthinking” meaning arose some 200 years after the “thinking” meaning. Both have existed all along since then, though “unthinking” is now more common.

We received messages from readers who called the “thinking” meaning a mistake, an error, a misuse, or worse. Language, though, is nothing if not mistakes, errors, and misuse codified. If we kept the language pure we would be using the word reflexive to only mean capable of turning or bending, i.e. flexible, the original meaning, derived from Latin reflectere (to bend back).

-Anu Garg

From: John Jackson (geonjay gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--reflexive

In the tech world there’s another meaning for this word. One instance deals with the flow of network traffic. Most network traffic is bidirectional -- you send data to a host and you receive data from that same host. Firewalls, though, allow a more trusted network to send data to a less trusted one, but not the reverse. That’s pretty much the main purpose of a firewall.

However, writing ALL of the to/from rules can be incredibly tedious, if not impossible considering how many less trusted computing resources there are (ALL of the internet). So, most firewalls will track outbound traffic connections and automatically allow the return traffic. In this configuration the firewall rules are considered reflexive. I’ve heard that term used to describe a few different tech situations where a system will automatically expect and allow return data.

John Jackson, Groton, Massachusetts

From: Chris Reid (chrisreiduk2 gmail.com)
Subject: Reflexive

In a mathematical context, a relation is reflexive if things relate to themselves. For example, the relation “=” is reflexive since x = x for any number x you care to think of. (i.e. “Things are equal to themselves”). The relation “>” (greater than) isn’t reflexive since numbers aren’t greater than themselves.

Yes, it looks obvious/trivial, so why bother? Here’s math making simple things complicated again. But the fact that “=” is a reflexive relation is used in many geometrical proofs, and other situations.

Chris Reid, Takoma Park, Maryland

From: Pascal Pagnoux (pascal.pagnoux gmail.com)
Subject: Reflexive

In French, the “reflectere” family is even more numerous and frankly quite strange.

On top of your definitions, it includes:

1/ “réflexion”: the act of thinking but also a negative comment. “Il était plongé dans une réflexion” (he was buried in thought). “Il lui a fait une réflexion” (he told him off).

2/ “réflection”, (pronounced the same): the act of reflecting, sending back an image. Jean Cocteau played on this double meaning when writing, “Les miroirs feraient bien de réfléchir un peu plus avant de renvoyer les images” (mirrors would do well to ponder a bit more before reflecting images).

3/ “reflet”: a synonym of reflection but also a flash, sparkle, luminous shine, like in these verses by Charles Trénet: “La mer qu’on voit danser au fond des golfes clairs / A des reflets d’argent”. It’s pretty untranslatable in the same poetic vein (Jack Lawrence, who adapted it in English as Beyond the Sea made famous by Bobby Darin didn’t even try) but the idea, for the purposes of this example, is that the sea reflects silver sparkles.

4/ And of course “réflexe” (reflex) is the impulsive antonym of the profound reflection even though they have the same mother.

Pascal Pagnoux, Saint Gaudens, France

Email of the Week -- Brought to you buy One Up! -- Stealing is the name of the game.

From: Eric Ahrendt (eric grayscaleimages.com)
Subject: Nervy is Contagious

I watch a lot of English Premier League soccer games, and the English commentators all use “nervy” in the sense of “nervous”. But on this side of the pond, I think we mostly use it as “bold”. So when they say, “These are clearly nervy times for the Arsenal left back,” I think, “No, he’s not playing well at all, so he’s NERVOUS, not NERVY.”

What’s more, American soccer commentators -- like Stuart Holden, who played in England -- have adopted the English sense of nervy. Good thing I can tell the difference between a nervy (that is, bold) play and a nervous one, without having to puzzle out which meaning the commentator intended!

Eric Ahrendt, Orinda, California

From: Dave Wilkinson (dswilkinson1954 gmail.com)
Subject: mathematical

As a devoted fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team, I always remind naysayers that there is a mathematical possibility that the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup next year.

Dave Wilkinson, Selkirk, Canada

From: Georgia Baker (georgiab abbeys.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mathematical

I love how Finn from the animated series Adventure Time uses this phrase in the same way one would say “amazing” or “awesome”.

Finn in "Adventure Time"

Georgia Baker, Sydney, Australia

From: Camila Guadalupe Cortea (cami.scout gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moot

Every some years the Rover scouts (ages 18-25) gather in a World Scout Moot, with around 5000 peers from all over the world!

Camila Guadalupe Cortea, Tokyo, Japan

From: Greg Chapin (greg.chapin gmail.com)
Subject: Moot

Whenever this word comes up in a conversation we’re reminded of the episode of Friends where Joey thought the word was “moo”: “It’s like a cow’s opinion ... It’s moo.” (video, 1 min.)

Joey's explanation of the word moot in "Friends"

So whenever someone says, “It’s moot” my wife and I always chime in with “like a cow’s opinion.”

25 years later and it cracks us up every time. What can I say, we’re old.

Greg Chapin, New York, New York

From: Jeff Sconyers (sconyers.jeff gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moot

“Moot” is a technical legal term meaning essentially what your second definition for the transitive verb says: an issue that was relevant to the case no longer is because of a change of circumstances. Contrary to your definition, the issue may or may not have been resolved; for example, class-action claims would become moot if the plaintiff withdraws from the case for personal reasons, whether the underlying claims are resolved or not. The person can’t continue to represent the interests of the class, and so their claims on its behalf become moot. However, another plaintiff with the same claims could revive the case.

Jeff Sconyers, Portland, Oregon

From: Tobias Baskin (baskin umass.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mosey

I have never come across “mosey” to mean to leave quickly. Neither has my wife; both of us read widely. The quote you provide is unconvincing: he might be ambling out slowly and still no one stopped him. Not to carp, we love A.Word.A.Day, but just pointing out our surprise.

Tobias Baskin, Amherst, Massachusetts

From: From: Dan Klein (dklein 21st-strategies.com)
Subject: Skunk words: biweekly

When my boss and I agreed that I would be paid biweekly, we were apparently off by a factor of four!

Dan Klein, Santa Fe, New Mexico

From: Julia Alvarez (alvarez middlebury.edu)
Subject: Dedicated to Anu Garg, who reminds me every day of the words I don’t know

The Words I Don’t Know

for Anu Garg

The list of words I don’t know
keeps getting longer
and longer --

Words I could be using
--piscatory & muskeg, titivate, zaftig,
canthus, ormolu, vatic --
and these just a few of the many
I’ve run across
in the last week of reading --

Words I stumble on --
dialectic, epistemology, etiology --
pardonable in Kant or Heidegger
but not in a page-turner novel,

like biting down on a little stone
in the garden salad I’m enjoying,
sure that I’ve swallowed a filling.

Words hiding behind
multisyllabic disguises --
hedonism, epicurean, in flagrante delicto --
their euphemistic curtains drawn on the act
of having a good time.

Latin colonizers
putting down roots
in our native tongues,
invasive species taking over
the linguistic landscape
of plain-spoken English,
the a prioris and ad hocs and prima facies --

Words I memorized long ago
in high school SAT drills,
words I know I know
if five possible meanings didn’t come along
to confuse me --

Contumacious, for instance, or lothario,
enervate which I still confuse for its opposite.
and then there’s chthonic.
Why should anyone know what chthonic means?
Too many better things in this world to name!

But I’m gluttonous, voracious, edacious.
I don’t want to miss one single nibble of nuance --
words like arrows hitting the bullseye
of an otherwise fleeting thingamajig,

Words like the lighted pointer a lecturer uses
(there’s probably a word for that little pointer?)
to pinpoint the tiny ring on the finger
of the odalisque
in a famous painting,

or to single out a faint star --
Rasalgethi or Pulcherrima --
whose names I won’t look up
in my unabridged dictionary

until I’m done looking up
at the real McCoys in the magnified night sky
on the dome of the planetarium.

Julia Alvarez, Middlebury, Vermont

A Mathematical Moment
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: mathematical and mosey

Our word mathematical took me back to Pythagoras. His theorem confirms the relationship between the three sides of a right (angle) triangle. His Pythagorean brotherhood’s mathematical, religious, and philosophical principles influenced both Plato and Aristotle. Centuries later (c. 4th century BCE), Euclid published his Elements treatise, securing his status as “the father of geometry”.

Former PGA (now LIV/Golf) player Dustin Johnson, could arguably wear the crown of king of the pro tour mosey-ers. His characteristic loping, easy stride, no matter what challenges he faces, never appears to change. In the heat of a match, Dustin seems to merely be taking a casual stroll in the park. Our Froggy, more observed in hop, skip and jump mode, on occasion has been known to mosey. Here, case in point... exiting stage right.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Skunk words (words to avoid)
1. Reflexive
2. Nervy
3. Mathematical
4. Moot
5. Mosey
= 1. Your fixed movements
2. Determined, overt
3. Evokes arithmetic
4. Was shaky
5. Smooth slow walk
= 1. Ruminative
2. What’s shaky
3. Knows of arithmetic
4. Vexed, seems odd too
5. Merely move slow, trek
= 1. Er... savvy work?
2. I liked meme re: skittish mood
3. Wow! Sure-shot, exact
4. Hmm...no nod yet
5. Leave fast
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz) -Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.



I leapt up, as if buttons were pressed,
And “Bravo-ed!” along with the rest.
This reflexive ovation
Expressed my elation
Which would not be denied or suppressed.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com

Her reflexive reaction was quick:
“Your cologne is so strong I feel sick!”
She’s a sensitive sort,
And I’m sad to report
That these two on their date did not click.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

So hungry was he, in his passion
He acted in reflexive fashion.
Grabbed the plate with both hands,
Heeded no reprimands,
And devoured in five seconds his ration.
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

At times I can be more objective,
And look at things from new perspective.
But then my decision,
Will have no precision.
I act on an impulse reflexive.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“I’ve been called the world’s greatest detective;
Why, I do so myself. Its reflexive,”
Said Sherlock. “You’ll hear
The occasional jeer,
But don’t heed Moriarty’s invective.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


That funambulist, nervy young dolt,
Trots that wire like a frolicsome colt.
One missed step, one false skip;
Just one stumble or trip,
And he’ll come down to earth with a jolt.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

The gambler is nervy and bold,
No matter the hand he may hold.
He’ll bluff his way through,
Which takes guts to do --
He’ll win when the rest of us fold.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Lack of Vitamin C leads to scurvy ...
Lack of confidence may make you nervy.
But who would have guessed
Or has ever assessed
How a nice normal guy becomes pervy!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

On his blind date shy Ned was so nervy
That his stomach flipped all topsy-turvy.
But before poor Ned fled,
To the waiter he said,
“You can tell her, I came down with scurvy.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“In Tahiti,” said Bligh, “girls are curvy,
But to ask them out now would be nervy.
To get what you crave,
You should shower and shave,
Eat some fruit, and recover from scurvy.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Mathematical to the degree
That our hair lengths all had to agree,
Father’s rigour bore fruit
That he could not dispute --
And our therapist sure earned his fee.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

A mathematical genius was he.
When his “e” didn’t equal “mc”,
He was fully prepared.
That “c” had to be squared.
Albert Einstein then did that for me.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

Mathematical skills he had lacked,
For this guy couldn’t add or subtract.
How often he’d failed
When sums were entailed!
He’d lost count of that number, in fact.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“Enough with the nonsense mathematical!
I need romance, not someone fanatical!
All that stuff’s highfalutin!”
Said poor Mrs. Newton.
“From science we need a sabbatical!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


I’ve considered the point that you moot,
And decided in favour. Your suit
May proceed. You complain
Of abuse. But refrain
From addressing your boss as “You brute!”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Does she love me? The question is moot.
I confess that I don’t give a hoot.
It’s not to my taste
That a woman is chaste,
And wears men’s pajamas to boot.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

The couple had argued all night.
Oh, it was a terrible fight!
The point now is moot;
They’re wiped out, to boot,
Though both still insist they were right.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Said Donald, “To Russia I’ll scoot;
That’ll make the indictments all moot.”
“My friend,” answered Vlad,
“Da! Come stay! Ve’ll be glad!
Till ze oligarchs give me ze boot.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Here in Cornwall we mosey -- a lot!
Anybody who doesn’t’s a clot.
“Just relax. Play it cool.
What’s the urgency, fool?
Have a pasty; slow down; loose the knot.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Your future appears to be rosy,
But forgive me if I’m being nosey.
There’s a truth you must face.
Life is just like a race.
To win it you can’t simply mosey.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

I once knew a gal name of Josie,
Who was known to mix in and be nosy.
The rumors she spread
Caused trouble ahead,
And then she was quite quick to mosey.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Thank ya ma’am, sure was nice gittin’ cozy,
But back to the range Ah must mosey,”
Said the cowboy. “Ah’ve heard
A discouragin’ word
When Ah’m late, fer mah boyfriend gits nosy.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


“Your muscles von’t get big by zemselves. All day long you must flex und reflexive you vant to be like me,” Arnold advised the young bodybuilders.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“A lot of fake pocketbooks are smuggled in un-nervy-tton’s label,” said the customs inspector.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Numbuhs nauseate me, mate,” said the New Zealander. “I simply find mathematical.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Moot-wice when it’s time for your solo,” said Old MacDonald to his cow.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“I’m not in ze moot tonight, Adolf,” said Eva Braun as the Allies closed in.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The vet told the farmer that Bossie’s laryngitis was the reason she was moot.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Rarely did Curly, Larry, and Mosey eye to eye.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Ons Jabeur: Tunisia's Pride & Joy
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Ons Jabeur: Tunisia’s Pride & Joy

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur has taken the tennis world by storm with her power, finesse and grit, while keeping opponents guessing with her arsenal of deft groundstrokes. She’s much loved by her fans and peers alike. Her stated mission has been to inspire young girls (and boys) in the Arabic world to take up the game of tennis and always dream big. As you read this, Jabeur may well have already been crowned 2023’s Wimbledon women’s singles champion. If not, we can be certain that she gave it her all.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

Every student needs someone who says, simply, “You mean something. You count.” -Tony Kushner, playwright (b. 16 Jul 1956)

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