Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 770

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

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

Why Do We Swear More Readily in French?
The Connexion

Netflix Has a New Translation Test to Avoid Subtitle Fails

From: Thomas E Haberfelde (thomas.e.haberfelde lmco.com)
Subject: Entomology vs Etymology

There is a great XKCD cartoon on this. Superheroes can be so confusing at times!

Thomas Haberfelde, Orlando, Florida

From: Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo (contrabarbie gmail.com)
Subject: Entomology in news

Thank you for Wordsmith! I remember when you first started Wordsmith and my friend Tom Eberhard at UMass, Amherst, turned me on to a A.Word.A.Day. In honor of this week’s theme, I give you this: Elderly couple donate life’s work - $10M worth of insects (CBC).

Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo, Seattle, Washington

From: Nora Francis (narf shaw.ca)
Subject: etymology/entomology

I have had fun recently telling my doctor that “I have been experiencing -- read my lips -- I have had formication.” Fun.

Nora Francis, Vancouver, Canada

From: Suzanne Reynolds (suzr21 gmail.com)
Subject: Etymology vs entomology

Entomology has an N, like an ANT -- that’s how I always remember!

Suzanne Reynolds, Houston, Texas

From: Stanley W. Brown (stanley.w.brown dartmouth.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--earwig

This brought back delightfully horrific memories of Rod Serling’s 1972 Night Gallery episode in which a lustful Laurence Harvey plots dastardly murder by an earwig, only to have himself driven mad by the creature boring through his own brain. The television play is under the ento- and etymologically-challenged title The Caterpillar (25 min.).

Stan Brown, West Lebanon, New Hampshire

From: Ian Gordon (awad ipgordon.me.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--earwig

A lot of the procedural dramas I watch, such as the NCIS franchise, use “earwig” to mean the covert in-the-ear two-way radio they sometimes wear when under cover.

Ian Gordon, Surrey, UK

From: Bruce Romano (bruce.romano fcc.gov)
Subject: earwig

I have also heard it is used the same way as earworm -- for a song snippet that takes up residence in the brain.

Bruce Romano, Washington, DC

From: Michael David Rohr (michael_rohr_ab61 post.harvard.edu)
Subject: earwig

No discussion of earwigs is complete without a reference to the major part they play in one of the 20th century’s greatest novels, Finnegans Wake.

Michael David Rohr, Montclair, New Jersey

From: Richard Davis (tisbd hotmail.com)
Subject: Earwig

As my late father often remarked:

What did the earwig say as it fell off the wall?
... ‘ere we go!

Richard Davis, Mill Valley, California

From: Robert Peterson (bpeterson montana.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadfly

I love your stuff and have been a longtime subscriber. Just so you know, the fly in your photo is a flower fly. The adult flies can be important pollinators and the immatures are predators of aphids and other small insects. So, it is by no means a gadfly.

Robert K. D. Peterson, PhD, Professor of Entomology, Vice President-Elect, Entomological Society of America, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Thanks for the correction. We’ve replaced the image now.
-Anu Garg

From: Patricia Sharp (nanasharp hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadfly

I’ve always known that a gadfly, especially a corporate gadfly, was someone who is an investor and hangs around board meetings and intrudes on their proceedings.

Pat Sharp, San Francisco, California

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Gadfly

Like his distinguished predecessor of antiquity, Socrates, the Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich also liked to cause trouble for the establishment of his country, in this case Stalin’s dictatorship. An enfant terrible among his contemporaries, Shostakovich thumbed his nose at the party hacks while pretending to be loyal to the prescripts of Bolshevik culture.

His score for the film The Gadfly, therefore, may be viewed as a flippant joke, illustrating the dubious loyalty he bore toward the so-called socialist realism in musical composition, as dictated by the acolyte Zhdanov and his sainted master, which manifested itself in tuneless marching songs suited to the vocal chords of little children in the Young Pioneer movement. Even its famed Romance may be interpreted as both a piece of shallow sentimentality as well as a sarcastic spoof of its superficial attractiveness. Thankfully, dictators will never learn.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Sam Long (gunputty comcast.net)
Subject: puce

In one of Stan Freberg’s skits in his famous comedy recording “The United States of America”, he has George Washington complaining to Betsy Ross about the flag Ross (is supposed to have) designed.

Look at the colors you chose.
The best you could do, I suppose.
A peppermint stripe with royal blue,
The same as the British colors, too.
Now how will we tell whose side is who?
Look at the colors you chose.

Why couldn’t it have been puce?
Lavender over chartreuse?
Or possibly some exotic shade
A delicate orange, mauve, or jade,
Instead of the choice that has been made?
Why couldn’t it have been possibly cinnamon?

She replies: “Everybody wants to be an art director ...” (video, 3 min.)

Sam Long, Springfield, Illinois

From: Eleanor Elizabeth Forman (eefwww yahoo.com)
Subject: puce

I was once asked by the Amazing Kreskin to think of a color, which he would divine by supposedly psychic means. He failed to guess puce, even after a number of tries. I couldn’t give away by unintentional tiny signs when he was “warm” since I wasn’t sure what color it was!

Eleanor Elizabeth Forman, New York, New York

From: Jon von Gunten (jon globescope.us)
Subject: puce

So much for getting definitions from friends and relatives. As a kid, I was told puce was similar to chartreuse!

Jon von Gunten, Los Angeles, California

From: Sean Duggan (sean.duggan gmail.com)
Subject: Puce

What always comes to mind for me for puce is Joe Wise’s I Love to Color (video, 5 min.) song.

Sean Duggan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

From: Victoria Reed (vreed mfa.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--paparazzo

For many years, I only ever heard the plural form of the word, paparazzi, in the media and popular culture. In 1993, however, The Simpsons aired the episode “Rosebud”, in which Montgomery Burns visits Maggie Simpson in her sandbox and she offers him her pacifier. He takes it and puts it in his mouth when a photographer pops out from behind the fence and snaps his picture. “Damn you, paparazzo!” Burns says. The line seemed especially witty at the time for its use of the singular paparazzo.

Victoria Reed, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: paparazzo and earwig

paparazzo earwig
Illustrations: Alex McCrae
My satiric take on the Hollywood paparazzi set is frankly not that far-fetched, showing the symbiotic dance between celebrity figure and photographer, where it was not uncommon for an aggressive paparazzo to secret themselves behind a hotel lobby potted palm or hide up in the canopy of a poolside tree to capture the big-bucks, celeb “money shot”.

I would submit that my “earwig” illustration speaks for itself. To co-opt an oft-used discouraging word from the president himself... “Sad.”

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. earwig
2. gadfly
3. puce
4. paparazzo
5. ecdysis
= 1. I’d gazed
2. crazy
3. purple
4. gossip
5. face away
    -Josiah Winslow, West Allis, Wisconsin (josiah12301 yahoo.com)

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

“There’s earwigging at Trump Tower!
Obama’s abused his power!”
Trump’s libelous lies
He never denies,
But spreads like manure by the hour.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Trump’s tweet on O’s wiretapping
Has got an official rapping.
Sources made clear, big,
There was no earwig.
It’s just the President snapping.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Why on Earth would your phone calls I earwig?”
Obama asked Trump, in a clear dig.
“To you I don’t listen,
Not much am I missin’,
I’d rather a six-pack of beer swig.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

It’s so sad when a government lies
and upon its own people sets spies.
How to deal with a liar?
Keep his feet to the fire!
It behooves us all to be gadflies.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

A tiresome type is the gadfly.
His harassments are surely a tad sly.
But if I had to choose
to wear anyone’s shoes
to prick consciences, Sir Gad is my guy!
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

Some say that a gadfly’s a bad fly,
but it’s often a righteously “mad” fly.
We are urgently in need
of and surely should heed
ev’ry voice that’s a “We-have-been-had!”-fly.
-Glenn R. Diamond, Highland Park, New Jersey (slartibartfastx yahoo.com)

Resistance means folks being gadflies
With middle fingers to all the bad guys.
But that’s not all,
We need the tall wall
‘Round the wicked Black House of SAD! lies.
-Charles Harp, Victoria, Canada (texzenpro yahoo.com)

There’s a gadfly who’s known to us all,
Who finds constant ways to appall.
Does he have such thick skin?
Or believe his own spin?
I’d just like to click “Reinstall”.
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

Names of colors are really abstruse.
A liqueur gave its name to chartreuse!
Cochineal is red,
Makes me scratch my head --
Don’t you think that bug juice should be puce?
-Phyllis Morrow, Fairbanks, Alaska (pmorrow alaska.edu)

When fellow with drinking abuse,
With excess would really cut loose,
Then would reel about,
With indiscreet shout,
Which painted his wild face all puce.
-Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey (doxite verizon.net)

The wife, who was naively obtuse,
Sued her husband for spousal abuse.
He had a strong yen:
Peppering food with cayenne,
Which rendered her a sick shade of puce.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

“For your cheating you have no excuse,”
Said Hera one morning to Zeus.
“Stay away from those nymphs.
Don’t take even one glimpse
Or I’ll punch those blue eyes till they’re puce.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

We pity the poor paparazzo.
‘Twas rumored the lady was hot, so
he spent a whole week
for one quick little peek,
just to learn that the rumors were not so.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

To my cat I’m a large paparazzo
As he sits in his cardboard palazzo.
My camera phone clicks
As his fur coat he licks.
I’ll be Instagram’s Pablo Picasso.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Ecdysis! Emperor has no clothes.
With his edicts we’re led by the nose.
Who is the loser?
Who was the chooser?
American freedom I suppose.
-Amy Marcus, Victoria, Canada (amarcusx gmail.com)

There was a quite a comely young miss
Known to engage in ecdysis.
Yes, Gypsy Rose Lee
Was legendary
For all who burlesque reminisce.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Late one night in a tall New York edifice
There occurred a most frightening ecdysis.
A man with a billion
Revealed he’s reptilian.
We humans now stand at a precipice.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: More puns to bug you

The Donald claims Trump Tower was wiretapped. Earwig go again.

I said, “It will take me two days to get there” and my host replied, “Gad, fly!”

The judge decided to wear the same dark-red briefs and re-puce himself.

The southerner said of Hemingway’s style, “Paparazzo tersely.

Finding her teen daughter and boyfriend nude, the mom said, “What the ecdysis mean?!”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Email of the Week (Taught to you by One Up! - Yes, you “can” buy smarts.)

From: Antonio Christopher Dittmann (dittmann.antonio comcast.net)
Subject: “I now pronounce you ... compound words.”

I have come up with a theory, and just a theory, that goes like this: Words are inherently “serial monogamists”. As the language develops, with the usual feedback loop of common parlance becoming a standard usage and, sometimes vice versa, certain words “get married” into compounds: “stand” and “by” dated for a while as separate words. Then, in a secret wedding unheralded by any published banns, they became “standby”. If history is any judge, this marriage is on the skids, as are all such compound marriages. Someday, inexorably, they will once again become “stand” and “by”, separated by a space, but no doubt remaining close friends. And who knows? They may get married again.

Two recent examples I encounter frequently in my own writing are: “alot” (which my spell-checker always redlines -- the former Ms. “Red” and Mr. “Lines” -- as incorrect), and “moreso” (which also gets redlined these days). In fact, when I was a lad, both of these words had enjoyed connubial bliss in the way I have written them here. Now, almost without exception, modern spell-checkers (yet another marriage that happened while no one was looking) reject both, insisting on “a lot” and “more so”.

Moreover (a pair that has grown old but remained married despite occasional dalliances by both parties), there seems to be no seminal event that causes the separation: these changes seem to get downloaded into editors’ heads while they sleep, and voila, the divorce is decreed without even the courtesy of a “this is to inform you ...” letter to the previously married parties and their loved ones. Perhaps this is because editors, like many others, know that sooner or later this pair is bound to reconcile and get hitched up again. (Sadly, “hitch” and “up” have never decided to make a go of it and head to the altar.)

Which leads us to a brief word about morphology -- very brief: The most common formation seems to be verb + preposition. Interestingly, it seems that marriage (compounding) occurs only when the verb partner is in the present tense. Examples abound of verb + preposition combinations that use the past tense of the verb and, consequently, are never subject to marriage. Perhaps it’s because the verb partner has already passed? (Ooooooh!) An example from British English is one of my favorites, “done by”, as in “be done by as you did”. Other examples abound, such as the “hitched up” used in the preceding paragraph. You can get walked on (but never shall they be “walkedon”. Pity, that.) and walked through, but in the latter case, the tendency to turn verb phrases into nouns takes over: “We’re doing a walkthrough of the new house.” You actually covered this phenomenon in an AWAD series about a year ago.

Lastly, there is the complication of the “living together” phenomenon. The verb and preposition decide to give it a try before calling it a potentially permanent thing, so they go through a “hyphenation” engagement: Stand by, as a noun phrase (i.e., a way of flying cheaply) was briefly “stand-by” before finally bowing to prevailing social mores and making it legal, “standby”. I’ve seen this spelling used as a verb, but I insist on calling it a grammatical error. Other such examples are readily available.

By no means do I wish to imply, however, that hyphenation is a necessary middle step to conjugation. Some phrases get joined up, and later pulled apart, without ever going through a brief period of hyphenated usage, and as the language journalist Lynne Truss observes, the poor hyphen is headed for the punctuation scrap heap. How we shall form multiple-word adjective phrases without them is beyond me, but the ingenuity of common parlance will no doubt come up with an answer. It’s likely to be one purists like myself won’t like, but it will most certainly be an answer. So just in case you’re in the market for discontinued “objets classiques” that will appreciate over time, keep any hyphens that cross your desk, and consider having one or two of them bronzed or gold-plated. The economy being what it is, you never know. There might be an options market in the damned things just around the corner!

Antonio Christopher Dittmann, Vashon, Washington

One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines. -Emile Zola, writer (2 Apr 1840-1902)

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