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Nov 26, 2023
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Self-referential words

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AWADmail Issue 1117

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

Much as It Galls the French, English Has Become Europe’s Cultural Lingua Franca
The Guardian

What Is ‘Marriage Language,’ and Are You Speaking It?
The New York Times

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Self-referential words

This week I invited readers to share their favorite self-referential words as well as those that go out of their way to not be so. Below is a selection.

But the biggest response was to double-barreled names. Personal stories filled with creative solutions poured in. Whether choosing to blend, hyphenate, invent, or maintain separate surnames, they show the evolving nature of naming traditions in society.


I always thought it was funny that shorter is longer than short, and shortest is longest of all.
-Dan Handalian, San Bruno, California (dan faludi.com)

The paradox of prosody: The word “dactylic” is an amphibrach, but the word “amphibrach” is dactylic.
-Anne Geyerr (via website comments)

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Four is the only number in the English language where the number of letters matches the number. I propose that we adopt a more logical counting vocabulary:
a, bi, tri, four, quint, sexant, heptade, eightent, novenarie, decenniumt, decenniumta, decenniumtbi, ... , decenniumtnovenarie.
Still trying to figure out 100.
-Steve Scarborough, Eugene, Oregon (sscarbor1 comcast.net)

Diminutive = small. Hah.
I heard this piece of writing advice a long time ago: “Do not use a big word when a diminutive one will do.”
-Dave Shelles, Acworth, Georgia (writesdave gmail.com)

I love your theme for the week. My father used to say with an ironic laugh, “I never make absolute statements!” ... rather like non-hyphenated.
-Daphne Harwood, Vancouver, Canada (daphwood gmail.com)

My husband’s last name is self-referential: Mann. It’s not self-referential for his mother or sisters, however. We didn’t double-barrel when we got married. I did think hard, though, about trading in my 12 letters for his four.
-Paul R. Schierenbeck, Cambridge, Massachusetts (paulschierenbeck gmail.com)

I’ve always wondered why “abbreviation” is such a long word.
-Roy Green, London, Canada (greenrr hotmail.com)

It has always felt odd to me that “a part” should mean “joined with some whole” even though the word itself is divided, while “apart” means “separate” even though it’s one joined word.
And then there’s the classic “driveway” where one parks, and “parkway” where one drives.
-Christine Dashiell, Corvallis, Oregon (christine.dashiell gmail.com)

My favorite is: Why is phonetically not spelled phonetically?
-Reed Schimmelfing, Northampton, Massachusetts (reedschim yahoo.com)

To my ear mellifluous certainly is what it claims to be.
-Bill Pease, San Diego (peasewmj gmail.com)

One of the best T-shirts I ever saw read: “Is anal retentive hyphenated?”
-Joe Pearlman, Sunnyvale, California (jepearlman sbcglobal.net)

My favorite autological or self-referential word is hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, meaning: relating to long words.
-Craig Fairhurst, Ridgewood, New York (teacher94 verizon.net)

My fave, which gets a chuckle whenever I see it on a sign, is “Self Storage”. Ok, so these units are for me to store myself? Keep me away from a capitalistic society in which I buy so many things I have no more room in my house for keeping them.
-Mary Conner-Righter, State College, Pennsylvania (connerrighter gmail.com)

Double-barreled names

My wife let me keep my surname.
-Peter Collum, Chemainus, Canada (collum1947 gmail.com)

My own experience of three marriages: in the first, she took my surname. In the second and third, they kept their own surnames. That was fun, especially when someone would phone to ask for Mrs P. Or better, when they asked for Mr D! Unless it was necessary, we never corrected them.
-Allan Prentice, Eugene, Oregon (allan.e.prentice gmail.com)

When we married, we took the simple route: my wife kept her surname and I kept mine. But then: what to name the kid? My wife had the idea of choosing a word -- an inspirational, evocative word -- as the child’s surname. Cool thought but we couldn’t come up with a good one. (“Light”? As somebody said, if we later had twins we could name them Bud and Miller.) So we went double-barreled, and although this gave us three different surnames in the family, the kid loves it.
-Mike Vargo, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (mikevargo aol.com)

I was once married to a man whose last name was Adam. We took Gannam Adam as our surname. We joked that if we had twin boys one day, we would name them Adam Gannam Adam and Gannam Gannam Adam.
We thought the boys would have a lot of fun with that! However, we never had twin boys.
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

My grandfather was the head of a large and prosperous industrial family here in the UK. He actually declined a title offered to him for donating to Lloyd George’s political party. Like Lloyd George, whose real name was David Lloyd George, he took to including his middle name Cecil in his signature to distinguish the Cecil Wrights from other branches of the Wright family. My father, born in 1887, continued the tradition. I was then born in 1951. My mother was my father’s third wife. In 1956/7 my half brother, being 40 years older than me and a director of the family firm, decided that our name should be hyphenated. My father agreed. In those days, a hyphenated name was a signifier of high status.
As a shy and only child, I grew up embarrassed by the surname. The 1960s was a time of huge social change of course. Being inclined to the arts, I identified with the cultural outpouring from working-class roots. In part, this may account for my erratic and downwardly mobile life.
-Antony Cecil-Wright, Southampton, UK (antony.cw gmail.com)

My son has the name Jean-Christophe. He lets his friends call him J-C but insists that I call him by his full name since I am responsible for his long moniker. “Use all the letters, Dad,” he likes to say. This came about because of a deal I made with his mother. She has only one brother who only has one son while I have two brothers with three sons between them, so my last name is not likely to fade in this country as much as hers. Thus we agreed our son would have her last name. In exchange, though, I insisted on selecting the first name with her having veto power. Since she is from a Scottish background and I from a French-Canadian background, after many exercises of her veto of hyphenated first names we settled on Jean-Christophe.
-Eric Boutin, Azilda, Canada (eboutin2000 yahoo.ca)

Hyphenated surnames may no longer be the exclusive domain of the rich and royal. But there are some combinations that should never be used. We have all seen memes of engagement and wedding announcements with cringeworthy name combinations. Examples include Gorey-Butcher, Hardy-Harr, Looney-Ward, Moore-Bacon, and Poore-Sapp. These are some SFW examples. There are many others.
-Robert A. Rushton, Brookline, New Hampshire (reloquent gmail.com)

With no input from me, Uncle Sam decided to add my married name and a hyphen when I had my passport renewed somewhere around 1990. I am not happy with this addition. I consider it pretentious and cumbersome. Married name Coulter, maiden and professional name Long.
-Mary Jo Long-Coulter, Bellingham, Washington (mjcoulter70 gmail.com)

Southern girls have double-barreled given names before they’re married (Mary Ann, Peggy Sue, etc); Northern girls after marriage. (Smith-Jones, Throckmorton-Talliferrio). Old (1970) Southern aphorism.
-Ronald Wilson, Demorest, Georgia (r.lee.wilson gmail.com)

After a short-lived first marriage I decided not to surrender my maiden name again. So when I wed for a second time (50 years now and still going strong), I became Hochberg-Simmons. Then they invented computers. My name is too long now for the allotted space on many forms so I go from D. Hochberg-Simmons (my official name as a notary) to H. Simmons (two middle initials?) to Hochberg-Sim!
I never know how it will end up!
-Dottie Simmons, Bridgeville, California (simmonsville gmail.com)

When my wife and I married, we decided to make a new last name. We tried various blends of our names and came up with the name Estavia. To make sure it wasn’t a last name already, we checked various genealogy websites. So now we are the Estavia wives. And, yes, we had to get our names legally changed, which we did.
As an aside about other cultures, one of my nieces married a man from Sierra Leone. The father’s culture has a naming ceremony on a baby’s 8th day of life. Babies are first given the name of the day they are born, so his first name was Echo, the name for Thursday. Then they are given the middle names of both of their grandfathers. When they are with one grandfather they are called his middle name, when they are with their other grandfather they go by his middle name. I don’t know what happens if both grandfathers are present. He also got a couple of other meaningful names.
-Que Areste Estavia, Seattle, Washington (queness66 gmail.com)

When my daughter, Allison, and her wife, Laura, married, they did not want to take each other’s last names or hyphenate them. They wanted something of their own and to pass on to their children.
So, they created the name Jalik from an acronym of their names and an extra letter that was between their surnames alphabetically. The judge who had to approve their name changes just loved this.
J: letter between
A: Allison
L: Laura
I: Ingram
K: Koons
-Kathy Koons, Oviedo, Florida (kathykoons mail.com)

When my wife and I got married, we each kept our own last names, and when we had children gave them both our last names without a hyphen, my wife’s first and mine second. My wife’s last name starts with a B, mine with an R. The kids realized that they could use that to be towards the front or the back of a group situation by either hyphenating with my wife’s name first, or just using mine. They all ended up marrying people from cultures who used a double last name. When the grandkids show up, we’ll see what happens.
-Norman Rabek, Burnsville, North Carolina (nrabek gmail.com)

This topic always reminds me of Dean Skylar and Christine Ledbetter, who battled Florida law and won the right to give their children the surname Skybetter.
-Vandy Beth Glenn, Decatur, Georgia (vandy.beth.glenn gmail.com)

I was trying to move on from an ex-husband but I’d published as an academic using his name. So I tacked mine on, but continued to include his for purposes of still being found by searches. I intended to drop his eventually but I quite liked being the only one in the world.
-Jenny Firth-Cozens, Aberdeen, UK (jenny.cozens gmail.com)

From: Akram Najjar (anajjar infoconsult.com.lb)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--monosemous

Overheard in a play:

Why do you call him Bianco?
That is his name.
Ah, I see you are a master of the single entendre.

Akram Najjar, Beirut, Lebanon

From: Marian Nicholson (marian.j.nicholson gmail.com)
Subject: Working in the EU

When working in the EU, where English (as a second language) is often the norm, I try to find monosemous words; and if that is not possible, I select words to use in their primary meaning. Never metaphors!

Marian Nicholson, London, UK

From: Vinay Kashyap (kashyap.vinay gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--monosemous

Your illustration of a Monosemous Express got me thinking. Such a train, if limited to one stop, cannot go anywhere else, yes? So either never leaves the station, or if it does, loops the loop and comes right back, a la amusement park rides. I think they should rename them all. The Giant Monosemous Wheel. Monosemous Mountain. American Monosemous. Monosemous Falcon. Monosematopia.

Vinay Kashyap, Stoneham, Massachusetts

From: S.W. Farnsworth III (swfaalaw earthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--double-barreled

Actually, the barrels on the gun can be side-by-side or over-and-under. But regardless of which configuration, both are called double-barreled shotguns.

S.W. Farnsworth III, Memphis, Tennessee

From: Jonathan Harms (jonathan.harms slu.edu)
Subject: double-barreled questions

Designers of surveys are routinely advised to avoid asking double-barreled questions, i.e., questions that touch upon more than one issue but allow for only one answer.

Jonathan Harms, St. Louis, Missouri

From: Gary L. Kay (readglkay gmail.com)
Subject: Saving exolete

The word exolete is exolete. Save the word! Put it to use in your letters, blogs, memos, contracts, and novels.

I promise to do my part in reinvigorating the delicious vocabulary you provide into more common usage: “Kozlo’s exolete arguments wearied his opponents but still resonated with his followers.” ~ from A Small Water-Planet, a work in progress by G.L. Kay.

Gary L. Kay, Talent, Oregon

From: Johnny Mustard (johnnymustard oldscoolcompany.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pentasyllabic

The word fifteen-lettered has 15 letters and seventeen-lettered has 17. The word odd has an odd number of letters, while even has an even number of letters. There’s still some truth and justice in this world!

But “ten-lettered” has eleven letters. There is no god!

Johnny Mustard, Newport, Rhode Island

From: David Franks (david.franks cox.net)
Subject: Pentasyllabic

It would seem that hexasyllabular, heptasyllabulated, octasyllabulational, and nonasyllabulatiated would also be self-referential, given the chance.

David Franks, Washington County, Arkansas

From: Margaret Weston (maggieweston42 gmail.com)
Subject: Pentasyllabic

We have four children, and unaware at the time each was named, we later realised that each in turn was named with the number of syllables according to their birth sequence viz Mark, Michael, Benjamin, and Felicity. Should we have had another daughter we joked that we would have called her Serendipity (for sure!)

Margaret Weston, Runanga, New Zealand

What's in a name?
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: double-barreled and exolete

Regarding my take on our word double-barreled, perhaps a suspension of disbelief might be in order, as my 1st Women’s Double-Barreled Names Convention is a total fiction. Yet bringing together the Brit actress Helena Bonham Carter, UK queen consort Camilla Parker Bowles, and former NY senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a fun exercise in uniting three renowned double-barreled women from diverse walks of life.

Fleeting Words
The word exolete got me sleuthing for quirky words that have long fallen out of wide use. I arrived at these two mindbenders, uttered by our out-of-touch(?) professor. Let’s revive these words by using them at every opportunity.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Self-referential words
1. Monosemous
2. Double-barreled
3. Exolete
4. Pentasyllabic
5. Back-form
= 1. One label defines it
2. Two chambers
3. Become stale, harden
4. Poem rule
5. Make sleek word by suffix or letter loss
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)

= 1. Clear, no murk
2. Tandem, twin
3. Be obsolete, feeble
4. Uh like “laboratory”
5. Selected words less affixes/morphemes
= 1. No double-entendre here. Lol!
2. Seek two top desires
3. Flak archaic meme bomb
4. 5 syllables
5. Reset a term (w/o suffix)
-Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz) -Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.



Monosemous words make it quite clear
That they mean what they say. There’s no fear
That the slick or the sly
May subvert and apply
Double meaning. We know what we hear.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

That word’s monosemous and so
Has only one meaning, you know.
Now isn’t that dandy?
It ought to prove handy --
I’ll use it when it’s apropos.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“Oh, Anu!” exclaimed Polyphemus,
“You have found my lost love, Monosemous!
Just one meaning, one eye
Make us sad, it’s no lie;
Up from Earth we wish Scotty would beam us.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Double-barrelled, my shotgun and I
Are a pair. Me, an upper crust guy --
Hyphenated, of course --
It, employed to enforce
All my rules against poaching -- just try!
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Our surnames we ought to combine;
A hyphen could join yours and mine.
We’d be double-barreled --
How ‘bout it, dear Harold?
I think Goldberg-Schwartz would sound fine.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

A pair of twins, gaily appareled,
At Christmastime went out and caroled.
But they made such a din
That a cop ran them in
For “Disturbing the Peace -- Double-Barreled”.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Some words have become exolete;
They’re no longer heard on the street.
And since they’re passé,
If you use them today,
With incomprehension you’ll meet.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

It seems words -- just like people -- can die.
The rest of us never ask why
“Exolete” fades away
We don’t use it today.
It became obsolete -- so have I!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

Anu’s words are sometimes exolete,
But what good does it do me to bleat?
Although words that are old
Leave most humorists cold,
We who write for AWAD are elite!
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Though not lacking a much shorter word,
I prefer that I clearly be heard
Using words that sound smart,
That are lofty like art
And pentasyllabic, not slurred.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

I think that it’s really a shame;
He’s stuck with that awful, long name.
It’s pentasyllabic
And probably Slavic --
His parents deserve all the blame.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

When an AWAD word’s pentasyllabic,
I say, “Anu, you’re quite a smart aleck.
This will take me all day,
And I write for no pay!
Where’d you find this word - up in the attic?”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


The verb back-form, for your information,
Was derived from the term back-formation.
An exemplar supreme,
This defining lexeme
Is deserving of all admiration.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Use “burgle” the verb if you must;
This term, though, I view with disgust.
Someone back-formed this word,
Which to me sounds absurd --
I don’t think my ears can adjust.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“I’ve kept all the words in this sack warm,”
Said Anu. “It’s time to attack, Norm.
Their shape you will tailor;
The great Norman Mailer
Will make portmanteaus, and he’ll back-form!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


“In de rear of dese pants monosemous splitting,” the overweight Jamaican complained to his tailor.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“My poor stunt double-barreled around the track too fast and his chariot crashed,” lamented Charlton Heston.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“With that fancy new divorce lawyer my exolete me alive,” worried the rich philanderer.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Hi guys, I’m back-form the dead,” announced Lazarus.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“You students in the back-form a line and go to your next class!” the teacher shouted.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Keep your language simple,” said the linguist. “Re-pentasyllabic choice in your words.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“You must find it within yourself to re-pentasyllabic-ally overlong limerick,” the priest urged the guilt-ridden AWAD contributor.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Oh, to have a lodge in some vast wilderness. Where rumors of oppression and deceit, of unsuccessful and successful wars may never reach me anymore. -William Cowper, poet (26 Nov 1731-1800)

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