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AWADmail Issue 1102

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

How Hip-Hop Changed the English Language Forever
The New York Times

Mali Demotes French, Language of its Former Colonizer, in Symbolic Move
The Washington Post

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

What words would you like to retire? I asked our readers this week. Messages poured in. Most ire was directed at awesome. Also, at adjectives such as super, cool, unique, amazing, terrific, that have faded in intensity like the word great. Read on for a selection of reader comments on such semantic bleaching.

I predict you’ll hear from many dozens of others, if not hundreds or even thousands, who lament the overuse and watering down of the word awesome. I miss the power it once conveyed. I miss its potency. I was once complimented, “This is an awesome cup of coffee.” “No!,” I replied. “It’s excellent, or it’s delicious, perhaps. Maybe even unsurpassed. But a cup of coffee can never be awesome. Niagara Falls is awesome. The Grand Canyon is awesome. The stars overhead on the high desert at night, they are awesome! But not a cup of coffee.” Dear me! I have become my dad. At least I don’t loudly argue grammar or science with television commercials!
-Mark MacLeod, Champaign, Illinois (prairielark hotmail.com)

Just sharing that you’re not the only one frustrated with insipid words such as nice. For example, 40 years ago George Carlin, another master wordsmith, completely and inimitably agreed, also taking on fine and great. Worth your 3½ minutes.
-Brian Hoffman, Greenfield, Massachusetts (kabeyun mac.com)

Could all the guests, all the hosts, all the audiences, all the family members, all the fans, and practically every section of people you can think of, please stop being wonderful?!
-Sarma Rampalli, Narsapur, India (rbrsarma gmail.com)

I unsubscribed from Radiolab because the journalist introducing the show used “like” 16 times in the 90-second intro: “It was like really great to like see these kids like interact so like intelligently with people they’d never met, like they like asked interesting questions and like didn’t interrupt and it was like so encouraging ...” And on and on and on. Terry Gross on NPR does it now, too. I can’t listen to her anymore. I wrote to Radiolab, with a transcript of this ridiculous introduction and they wrote back and said that they “like to keep the man-on-the-street feel of their interviews.” I said, “She isn’t a man on the street! She is a journalist!!”
I have stopped listening to all radio because of this. And I don’t have a television. If journalists start writing the way they talk I’ll be forced to read only classical literature. Which wouldn’t be, like, bad.
-Susan Edsall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii (sjedsall gmail.com)

There is a cooking show that is followed by a program about building small living quarters. Both are filmed in England and are fun, even educational, to watch. However, both of these hosts will use some words to the point of distraction: “Amazing!” “Fantastic!” “Perfect!” “Incredible!” We just may hurt ourselves with the ensuing eye rolls.
-Alice Davis, Blacksburg, Virginia (glalice earthlink.net)

Surreal. I don’t believe most people even know the association with its origin. 100% overused.
-Robert Whatmough, Concord, New Hampshire (rj-mw comcast.net)

I began noticing the ubiquity of thrive a year or so ago and watched it reach its culminant phase in the last several months. Financial services firms, our local YMCA, and all manner of nonprofits, restaurants, churches, and healthcare organizations, everyone wants us to thrive. I’m hoping we’ve all thrived enough now and can look forward to leaning into and unpacking the next big thing.
-Jeff Disch, St. Paul, Minnesota (jeffdisch icloud.com)

The overused word of the year is absolutely, a four-syllable replacement for a simple yes response.
Diner: May I have some ketchup?
Waitress: Absolutely!
-Lawrence Moore, Folly Beach, South Carolina (lawrence5m bellsouth.net)

Overused adjective: unique or, even worse, very unique.
-Debra Kerr, Chicago, Illinois (deb art.org)

How about the use of the word perfect.
“What is your name?” “Steve.” “Perfect.”
“What is our reason for your stay here at the Holiday Inn?” “Business.” “Perfect.”
There is nothing perfect about a conversation. Responses like “very good” or “excellent choice” would be more appropriate.”
-Steve Wright, Roseville, California (papasteve41 icloud.com)

Two words that have lost meaning to me are brilliant and genius. If every person who writes a song or performs in a play can potentially be brilliant then they are really only nice; if every creator (“She’s a genius!”), invention (“It’s pure genius!”), and decision (“Genius move!”) can be described that way, then it’s really just “interesting”.
-Andrew Causey, Evanston, Illinois (drewland512 gmail.com)

The word guest. I got angry at the Post Office when the clerk said “Next guest, please.” The clerks at my drugstore use the same phrase. I am a customer. Not a guest.
-Louis Phillips, New York, New York (louisprofphillips gmail.com)

Overused word: like. I don’t like it.
-Marilyn Kagan, Providence, Rhode Island (busybeadermarilyn aol.com)

Incredible. Phenomenal. Perfect. And the exclamation point. Awesome used to lead the list, but, incredibly, it’s been overtaken by phenomenal! Which I think is just perfect!
-Greg Smith, Takoma Park, Maryland (gpsmith igc.org)

Stunning is a ridiculously overused word. The way it is flung about we should all be walking or lurching about in a state of permanent concussion.
-Judith Judson, Pittsford, New York (jjudson frontier.com)

Every problem is a crisis these days. Budget crisis, gender crisis, energy crisis, climate crisis, election crisis.
-Carl Hutchinson, Sutton, Massachusetts (quando.omni.flunkis.moritati gmail.com)

Email of the Week -- Brought to you buy One Up! -- The wickedest word game in the world.

The adjectives adorable and sweet are so overused I mentally delete them every thousandth time I see them. When connected with the British royal family, I do a double delete. And while most overused words appear to be adjectives, don’t get me started on mom. Moms for this and Moms for that. Do these women have any other self-identifying markers?
-Susan E. James, La Canada, California (searex earthlink.net)

Please may we retire iconic? Space telescopes, historical figures, acting professionals living and dead, automobile styling trends from sixty-five years ago -- iconic all?
-Richard Derus, Long Island, New York (rrmdd yahoo.com)

I imagine the next level must surely be overcrowded, given that we are bombarded with ads offering to help us improve our business, investing, hearing, sεx life, sports betting, air frying, gardening, workouts, and countless other aspects of our lives by taking them there.
-Torrence Hammond, Oak Park, Illinois (torrence.hammond fernwoodllc.com)

Fascist: current meaning “anybody whose views differ from mine.”
-Andrew Lack, Oxford, UK (ajlack brookes.ac.uk)

My college English professor, reminding us that we are in an honors class, said if we used the word very in our papers we would get an F.
-Andrea Jensen, Springfield, Virginia (frostedgroove gmail.com)

Incredible and its synonym unbelievable are being stripped of their original meanings, flogged in the political marketplace, and then nearly beaten to death by those who mean to say “superb” or “remarkable”, or even “noteworthy”. Hopefully, they will someday recover their formerly unambiguous clout, especially in the context of testimonial proceedings. “She made an incredible witness!” What does that mean these days?
-David Wiggins, Redondo Beach, California (dwiggins252 gmail.com)

Over the past year, the word unprecedented has been used in far too many Australian news bulletins, and also by politicians and others making excuses for why something has, or indeed hasn’t, happened. Initially, it was related to Covid numbers, but now it’s used for everything! It’s a fairly meaningless word, plus it’s rarely fact-checked. Let’s ban it!
-Paul Brassil, Sydney, Australia (pvbrassil gmail.com)

Create: It’s used for actions ranging from opening a new file to making a shopping list and assembling Ikea furniture.
Grab: grab a shower (not a thing one can actually grab), grab coffee (won’t it spill at the sudden motion?), grab lunch (where are your table manners?)
Tragedy/tragic: sometimes it’s just sad.
Beyond sheer annoyance, the underlying problem with these overused words is that they lose their inherent meaning. There’s no word left to express a real act of creation, such as the prehistoric first flute; the urgency to grab the cat before it knocks over that candle; or the truly tragic nuclear accident in Japan.
-Kate Daly, Langhorne, Pennsylvania (hammerwaterkate gmail.com)

Many of today’s overused words seem to spring from some infernal centralized marketing department: hack, curate, bespoke, and genius. As in “Use this hack to review our curated collection of bespoke tee-shirts - it’s genius!” Sigh...
-Rick Mead, Sebastopol, California (rick656 icloud.com)

I have a very fun time reading AWAD. It has led to an exponential growth in my vocabulary. It is literally the most unique newsletter of its kind. I find it interesting that Anu’s writing is (paradoxically?) surprisingly plain, devoid of unnecessary adjectives, never grandiloquent, but always clear.
-Ed Vitz, Kutztown, Pennsylvania (ed.vitz gmail.com)

From: Patrice Curedale (patrice.curedale gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--culminant

How about “culminant criminal” for he who shall not be named.

Patrice Curedale, Woodland Hills, California

From: David Policansky (davidpolicansky gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--culminant

No amount of belief makes something a fact. -James Randi, magician and skeptic (b. 7 Aug 1928)

Thank you for quoting the great (or do I mean culminant?) James Randi in saying that no amount of belief makes something a fact. Sadly, for too many people, no amount of fact changes their beliefs.

David Policansky, Nantucket, Massachusetts

From: Linda Wexler (linda.wexler nielsen.com)
Subject: Reprehensible

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive, and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered. -Jean Piaget, psychologist (9 Aug 1896-1980)

The quotation from Piaget is so apropos in light of the reprehensible headlines here in Tampa today, where students “will be reading only excerpts from William Shakespeare’s plays for class rather than the full texts under redesigned curriculum guides developed, in part, to take into consideration the state’s Don’t Say Gay laws.” (Ref.) Welcome to the “FREE” State of Florida.

Linda Wexler, Palm Harbor, Florida

From: Don Ross (anaortic gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ostrobogulous

adjective: Unusual; bizarre; risqué or indecent.

At last, a single word to describe a former president.

Don Ross, Sydney, Australia

From: Molly Wills (molly.wills gmail.com)
Subject: Ostrobogulous

You wrote: “Coined by writer Victor Neuburg (1883-1940). ... Earliest documented use: 1951.”

If Neuburg coined ostrobogulous, how is its earliest documented use after his death? Please clarify. Wordsmith lovers want to know.

Molly Wills, Toronto, Canada

Even though Neuburg coined the term, the earliest documented use comes from a third party after Neuburg’s death. Not all coined terms are immediately documented or published, especially if they are used in informal settings or in close circles.

The earliest documented use of this word is in a 1951 memoir by Arthur Calder-Marshall, a friend of Victor Neuburg. Neuburg was a poet and even though he published many collections, the term is not found in his poetry. Apparently, Neuburg used the term among his friends, as shown by this earliest documented use:

“Ostrobogulous was Vickybird’s favourite word. It stood for anything from the bawdy to the slightly off-colour.”
Arthur Calder-Marshall; The Magic of My Youth; Rupert Hart-Davies; 1951.

-Anu Garg

From: Robert Burns (robertburns oblaw.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ostrobogulous

Rejected as defective in design, DNA, and need. The creation and perpetuation of this word is irresponsible linguistics and should be a criminal offense.

Robert Burns, Ocean Beach, California

Eric Gill ... Au Naturel
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: ostrobogulous and reprehensible

The word ostrobogulous brought to mind English artist Eric Gill (1882-1942), a creative dynamo... sculptor, engraver, draftsman, typographer. He was a man of deep Christian faith who sculpted many liturgically themed works, mostly large-scale high-reliefs in limestone. Yet, he was also consumed by his carnal urges and the erotic, which was reflected in his sculpting and printmaking, where he pushed the envelope of propriety for his late-Victorian times. Gill was notorious for wearing a loose-fitting smock while atop his scaffold, sculpting public commissioned works... sans underwear. For Gill, this was liberating and completely natural.

VP Harris Tells It Like It Is
Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has a penchant for reinterpreting and even erasing African-American history, and more pointedly, the inhumanity and brutality of slavery. Recently, VP Kamala Harris admonished Republican revisionists, particularly DeSantis, who claimed that slavery had its benefits, in that slaves were acquiring valuable life-skills that could be useful down the road. Hmm... the road to further exploitation and dehumanization? VP Harris did not mince words in her dressing-down of bigot DeSantis.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Adjectives
1. Culminant
2. Perficient
3. Reprehensible
4. Nondescript
5. Ostrobogulous
= 1. Treetop
2. He’s skillful (archaic)
3. I.e., the boss subjects women (#MeToo)
4. Uninspiring
5. Indecent, perverted
= 1. Topmost
2. Decisive influence, how able
3. Errant, this seems corrupt
4. Just boring, sheeplike
5. Indecent
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz)
This week’s theme: Adjectives
1. Culminant
2. Perficient
3. Reprehensible
4. Nondescript
5. Ostrobogulous
= 1. I strike big, hit top of the table
2. Succeeds now
3. Deserves triple censure, jeers
4. Plain, thin
5. Uncommon
= 1. Being just atop hill
2. With competence
3. Results in crime, issues
4. Of another kind
5. Obscene, perverted
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com) -Josiah Winslow, Franklin, Wisconsin (winslowjosiah gmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.



When you’re culminant, buddy, beware!
You can only go downhill from there.
At your zenith, you ride
On the crest, but the tide
May well turn -- I suggest you prepare.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

He’s the culminant scholar in class;
All the others he’ll always surpass.
He’s brilliant and yet
He’s not teacher’s pet,
For the kid’s a self-satisfied αss.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

I remember our Riverview Park;
Sixty years of it! There was a lark!
The Pair-O-Chutes glide
Was the culminant ride
And just two at a time -- like the Ark!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

“With Anna, Siam will be culminant;
Very modern, to no one a supplicant.
But all that I know
She insists has to go,”
Sighed the king. “What to do? Is a puzzlement.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Find a man who can get the job done!
One who sees a thing through once begun.
A chap who’s perficient,
Not merely efficient;
Get a bloke for whom deadlines mean fun!
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

She read her performance review.
It said she excelled, which was true.
“I may be perficient,
But I’m not omniscient --
How much is the raise I am due?”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Said the Lord, “It’s nice being omniscient,
But at some things I don’t seem perficient.
Why won’t people be good?
I keep saying they should,
But at tempting them, Satan’s efficient.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Used to be reprehensible men
Were locked up for long years in the pen’.
But no longer. These days
Their deplorable ways
Mean they might get the top job -- again.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

As a husband you are reprehensible,
And you treat me in ways indefensible.
But to me it’s now clear,
I’m a masochist, dear,
And for me you’ve become indispensable.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

His actions I’d call reprehensible,
His dastardly deeds indefensible.
He’s often in court
But still has support --
Electing this man isn’t sensible!
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Republicans, won’t you be sensible?
Don’t vote for someone reprehensible!
Do you really believe
That your pain he’ll relieve?
It’s like swearing allegiance to fentanyl!
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Nondescript? Means you don’t catch the eye.
You’re ignored, overlooked -- which is why
People rarely suspect
Those they always neglect --
It’s the perfect disguise for a spy.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

When formal interrogations began,
Cops ignored the nondescript man.
But behind his humdrum face,
were many leads in place;
And none got wise to the grand gameplan.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

You could not call the gal nondescript.
No, the fast-movin’, blonde, swivel-hipped,
Dancin’ babe on that stage
(Indeterminate age!)
Was mem’rable! (Also loose-lipped!)
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

Her blind date she’d call nondescript.
“He’s just not my type,” she had quipped.
But, by evening’s end,
Her view she’d amend,
For over that guy, she had flipped.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Says Stormy, “When Donald had stripped,
What I saw was at best nondescript.
At that flab and that shaft
I took one look and laughed;
For six figures, though, kept my mouth zipped.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Ostrobogulous in the extreme,
Miss Mae West html made salacious her theme.
Trademark ‘Come hither!’ smile,
She was frank -- “Who needs guile?
You waste valuable time when you scheme.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Ostrobogulous creatures we knew
We would see at the regional zoo.
And we took great delight
Upon viewing the sight
Of the mandrills with bυtts that were blue.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

The side shows at carnivals are
So often just weird and bizarre,
Ostrobogulous acts.
They are odd to the max.
With Siamese twins as the star.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“’24 stands to be ostrobogulous,
News dropping like bombshells on top of us.
Repubs want a felon?
I can’t get my melon
Around that,” says George Stephanopoulos.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


“Alas,” fretted Hamlet, “mine uncle hath married my mother. Shouldst my mother I henceforth culminant?”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Being friendly will take a ghost only so far, young man. Catch me my dinner!” said his mother as she sent Cas-perficient-o bring her some fresh seafood.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Wrapping your tail around that branch again is reprehensible,” Mowgli told the monkey.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The farmer said his errant chicken’s behavior was reprehensible.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Monsieur le directeur, weel you make zees film for our studio?” “Nondescript ees merde.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“When it comes to my criminal behavior, bury your heads in the sand!” shouted the ostrobogulous former President.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Raining on Trump's Parade
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Raining on Trump’s Parade

Last week’s news image of a dejected Trump leaving a DC courthouse in a downpour inspired this scenario of him caught up in the rising tide of indictments, where from his warped perspective, he’s essentially thinking: “Bring it on!” Curiously, his devoted base seems indifferent to the charges. They don’t seem concerned about the civil and criminal accusations against their leader. As he once boasted, he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave and his cult members would still vote for him.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

The Supreme Ethical Rule: Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself. -Felix Adler, professor, lecturer, and reformer (13 Aug 1851-1933)

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