Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 727

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

Sponsor’s Message: “Old’s Cool” sums up our philosophy of life in a neat little turn of phrase - old school with a shot of wry, served neat. In that spirit, we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Alexa DiNicola (see below), as well as all fathers, grandfathers and family men everywhere 20% off - through midnight tonight - just be sure to use coupon code “dad”. SHOP NOW.

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

Roald Dahl’s “Gobblefunk” Words Get Their Own Dictionary
Public Radio International

Why We Need to Lose Biased Words Like ‘Mistress’ for Good
The Guardian

Documents that Changed the World: Noah Webster’s Dictionary
UW Today

From: Joan Saxton (jsaxton6505 gmail.com)
Subject: Elections

Random thought: The Disney movie about the presidential election will be called “Lady and the Trump”.

Joan Saxton, San Francisco, California

From: Linda Peace (linda.peace gmail.com)
Subject: trump

I wonder how many Americans know that in England the word “trump” also refers to fart.

Linda Peace, Kirklevington, UK

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Last week’s words

I have been writing for more than 22 years. While it would be obvious to anyone in which direction I lean, it’s the first time I have spoken out so clearly in a presidential election.

Why now, knowing fully well that this would alienate some readers and we’d lose many of them? We lost about 500 subscribers this week, but some things are too important to worry about that.

That’s why people who are usually apolitical and indifferent to American elections have spoken out. People as diverse as the physicist Stephen Hawking, Anne Frank’s stepsister, and Pope Francis.

Some readers wrote that they were no fans of Trump themselves, but still I shouldn’t have spoken out. I wonder what they would say when the next generation asks how someone like Trump rose to power? I knew his Hitleresque tendencies, but I thought it was best to stay quiet? Or that I didn’t know he was like this?

As the statesman and writer Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

If nothing else, the cast of characters who have approved or endorsed Trump -- the KKK, Putin, and Kim Jong-un -- speaks a lot.

See Trump at his usual ugliness and contrast it with our neighbors to the north.

Ultimately, the number of Americans who are decent people vastly outnumbers those who are inspired by Trump’s racism, nativism, jingoism, and misogyny. That’s my hope for this Nov.

From: John Hughes (jfhext gmail.com)
Subject: nitty-gritty

Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you’ve only founded a superstition. If you test it, you’ve started a science.
-Hal Clement, science fiction author (30 May 1922-2003)

Today’s quotation from Hal Clement cheered me. Harry Clement Stubbs (Hal Clement was a pen name) was my chemistry teacher in high school, and each year’s students were surprised -- awed -- to learn that Mr. Stubbs also wrote science fiction. Mr. Stubbs was never a dynamic or flashy teacher, but had a wonderful knack for transmuting the complexities of chemistry into the commonplace of experience. It’s been nearly 50 years, but I can still clearly remember him explaining that most snow disappears through sublimation rather than melting, and why salting icy sidewalks was effective.

John Hughes, Providence, Rhode Island

From: Chris Clarke (ccandec btinternet.com)
Subject: Nitty-gritty

I think that you may find that this expression actually comes from the slave trading days. I think that when they were clearing out the bodies of the slaves who had died on the transatlantic crossing that they called them nitty gritty.

Chris Clarke, Sudbrooke, UK

Many readers wrote about this story, but there’s no evidence for it. The earliest citation we have for this term is from 1940, which is quite a while after the last slave ship sailed. Until we have documentary evidence linking the term to this or any other theory (see the next three comments below), we’ll just have to settle with saying: Origin unknown.
-Anu Garg

From: Sonya Cashdan (shcashdan aol.com)
Subject: nitty-gritty

An exceedingly unpalatable, but quite vivid, meaning of “nitty-gritty” was one I picked up over six decades ago in the south: the eggs of head lice are called “nits”; if one’s head was itchy from lice and nits, or if the nits were so plentiful as to be palpable when one scratched, then touching them -- or the arduous process of ridding oneself of them -- was called “getting right down to the real nitty gritty.” Such a use would fit perfectly in any description of this year’s “political campaign”.

Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California

From: Alexandra Halsey (alexandra.s.halsey gmail.com)
Subject: blag

Perhaps “blag” was orally derived from “blackguard”, which is colloquially pronounced “blaggard”. The meaning of “blag” certainly relates to “blackguard” in sense as well!

Alexandra Halsey, Seattle, Washington

From: Michael Welsh (mwelsh luc.edu)
Subject: blag

I believe the word “blag” is a shortened form of the name “Blagin” after the Russian pilot Nikolai Blagin, who was responsible for the tragic crash of the Maxim Gorky. Blagin was stunt-flying his fighter around the giant aircraft on a propaganda flight and collided with it. His name became synonymous in Russian for a dangerous showoff.

Michael Welsh, Palatine, Illinois

Email of the Week - Celebrating OLD’S COOL Dads everywhere. Get your authentic on HERE.

From: Alexa DiNicola (photosynthetic.430 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blag

Before today’s AWAD, I only knew this word as the tongue-in-cheek creation of webcomic artist Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame). In 2006, he started using “blag” as a deliberate mispronunciation of “blog”. The term stuck, at least among the comic’s fans, to the point that the xkcd official blog is found at blag.xkcd.com.

Alexa DiNicola, Madison, Wisconsin

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--prowess

From Flanders and Swann:

“Now if it were gin, you’d be wrong to say yes;
The evil gin does would be hard to express;
And besides, it’s inclined to affect my prowess --
Have some Madeira, m’dear.”

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Andrew Cochrane (cochrane.ad gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fetid

I remember bumping into the suggestion that the word fetid may stem from the asafoetida plant. Used in Indian cooking -- it has a other names like in Dutch duivelsdrek (the devil’s poop). Could this have been where the Latin word was derived?

Andrew Cochrane, Cape Town, South Africa

Well, it’s the other way around. Asafetida is derived from Latin, with a little help from Persian aza (gum). So asafetida is, literally, stinky gum.
-Anu Garg

From: Terence P Trout (terence.trout ntlworld.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fetid

Brilliant, you run a site dedicated to words yet manage to misspell both “foetid” and “odour”.

Terence P Trout, Nottingham, UK

The words are spelled wrong? But I had scrutinized the draft! Not to rationalize, but both you and I are wrong. We should go back to the original “foetide” and “odur” instead of the modernized versions.
-Anu Garg

From: Dave Marks (dmarks gate.net)
Subject: Condign Will

Condign is George Will’s favorite word. When I saw it was today’s word, I knew it would be cited in a quotation from Will.

Dave Marks, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

From: Charles Kowalski (c_kowalski yahoo.com)
Subject: condign

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this word outside of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, when Pooh-Bah politely turns down a chance at martyrdom:

“And so, although I wish to go,
And greatly pine to brightly shine
And take the line of a hero fine,
With grief condign, I must decline.”

Charles Kowalski, Kanagawa, Japan

From: Dharam Khalsa (dharamkk2 gmail.com)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

The anagram to the right is comprised of the letters in all five words below, plus the heading:
1. nitty-gritty
2. blag
3. fetid
4. prowess
5. condign
1. essentials
2. cheat, steal, beg
3. having ill odor (i.e., dead wildfowl, or sty)
4. top strength, grand power (by gift)
5. right punishment to fit the crime
The text in the right box is an anagram of the text in the left.
Dharam Khalsa, Espanola, New Mexico

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

Let’s get to the real nitty-gritty
The Donald will never admit he
Has fingers so small
But I don’t care at all
For his heart is the thing itty-bitty.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Some candidates wrap in the flag,
Others tend to finagle and blag;
But that guy with weird hair
Does more than his share.
His hateful remarks make me gag.
-Linda Lewis, Branson, Missouri (fcblinda gmail.com)

There’s a guy who has kidnapped the husting
and keeps trumpeting statements disgusting:
Things that he said and he did
grow ever more fetid
but fans close ears and nose and keep trusting!
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Propriety doesn’t allow us
to show certain personal prowess
in public, we know.
This we have to forgo,
or society’d soon disavow us.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Though some have disputed his prowess
The candidate still tries to wow us
“There’s no problem there”
Except for his hair
And those tax returns he won’t allow us.
-Adam G. Perl, Ithaca, New York (adam pastimes.com)

The toes of the church ladies curled
At the prayer that the Donald unfurled
“Oh Lord, please endow us
With sexual prowess
Sufficient to screw the whole world.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Don’t talk of sexual prowess,”
The young bride began to now fuss.
She chided her groom,
As they reached the bed room,
“Here is your chance to wow us.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Roses are red. Will thou be mine?”
Were written inside each Valentine.
The boys made passes
At all the lasses,
And wooed them with words condign.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodth snet.net)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Here’s what’s hapunning

It was the real nitty-gritty when she fashioned a sweater using needles made of pumice.

An Internet scam might redirect you to the perp’s blag.

I hate the odor of cheese and wish Greek salads weren’t Feta’d.

This one using the long ‘e’ pronunciation came from author Bill Thompson, a friend for 58 years:
Some fetid animals can smell worse than fish.

When you use your boat to push ours, don’t stern us... prowess.

Most prison food is condign punishment.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Language is the apparel in which your thoughts parade in public. Never clothe them in vulgar and shoddy attire. -George W. Crane

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith