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AWADmail Issue 775

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

Sponsor’s Message: Do you love your mother? Does your mother love words? Then get her a gift she’ll love. We’ll help: we’d like to invite this week’s Email of the Week winner, Pam Kaatz (see below), as well as all AWADers to visit our old’s cool “Make Mom Smile” collection of literate and lovely gifts and gear. SHOP MOM WOW.

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

Trump’s Degradation of the Language
The New York Times

Swearing Makes You Stronger, Psychologists Confirm
The Guardian

Tennessee’s New “Plain Meaning” Bill Masks an Anti-Gay, Anti-Feminist Agenda
The Web of Language

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

Most readers enjoyed the lighthearted characterization of last week’s words as ugly, but some took it personally. A couple of readers unsubscribed and one sent this note:

You are wrong again. It is a Greek word not a Latin one. You pronounce it wrong and then accuse it of being ugly. Learn to respect other people’s words first before you judge. English language borrowed a Greek word to express something for which it had no word of its own, then changed the meaning slightly and completely mangled the pronunciation. After that, we have ignorants like you to judge something to which you have no right. Judge your own words and your own civilisation. If you have one.
-Irini, Athens, Greece (eipnvn.a gmail.com)

We had said it came to us from Latin plethora, from Greek plethore, because that’s the path it took. If you’re looking for alternative facts, there must be some group out there to Make Greece Great Again. At any rate, we won’t judge you to be a representative of your civilization. (Ironically, the name Irini means “peace”, aka Irene and the source of the word irenic.)

That aside, we received lots of thoughtful comments. Many readers sent a spirited defense of this week’s words. They also shared their own suggestions of words they consider ugly (utilize, phlegm, crepuscular, puce, and Trump were among the most common suggestions). Read on for a small sampling of the comments:

I think every writer should have their plethora removed.
-Carl (signup krall.org)

I’ve always liked the word “plethora”. I wanted to use it in my graduate thesis on organic chemistry to describe the huge number of experiments I had done, but my major professor didn’t approve.
-Sue Boettger, Syracuse, New York (sue_boettger yahoo.com)

“Plethora” is a word used most often by high school AP students and recent grads now in college freshman writing classes who think its use will impress their instructors. Take it from me. I could not agree more; don’t use it!
-Robert Fuhrel, Las Vegas, Nevada (robert.fuhrel csn.edu)

What have you got against the word “plethora”? It’s a lovely, soft, feathery word. Think of a thousand pounds of feathers plumping themselves into pillows.
-Eve Burton, Bethesda, Maryland (ebnineteen hotmail.com)

I was SO PLEASED to see that you’d selected “plethora” as an ugly word -- I hate it! It seems to be one of those words that people in the media use all the time because they think it makes them sound more educated, but it reminds me of the feeling of having some sort of fluff stuck to my tongue. I’m surprised at the number of people who like it on the Facebook comments page (I’m stubbornly resisting the pressure from all around to join Facebook.) Another word, recently coined, that’s on my hate list is “trifecta”.
-Kay Moller, Boulder, Colorado (kathryn.moller colorado.edu)

I never thought of plethora as being ugly. I have thought of it, however, as a wonderful woman’s name. “With a gentle sigh, Plethora cast aside her annotated Shakespeare, her willowy figure and auburn hair being all the poetry that a world really needed.”
-Arnold Berke, Washington, DC (berke2 aol.com)

Goodness, how different people are in their perception of beauty! I find the words “myriad” and “plethora” lovely. However .... “Gubernatorial”, now there’s an ugly word, lumbering and pretentious. And “gibbous” is truly nasty, conjuring something slimy and lumpy, not at all fit to be applied to the pallid beauty of the moon.
-Mhairi Gehlhar, Knoxville, Tennessee (mhairi0809 yahoo.com)

Unless there’s a new definition of ugly, I respectfully disagree with the label. I love these words. I am reminded of my youth when dad would open his wallet for mom offering cash for comestibles. If there was a more colorful word for something you can bet my dad was armed with it.
-Julia O’Connor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (mudshark444 gmail.com)

Your theme put a smile on my face. Glad you added that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I was teaching first grade back in the ’60s. At the end of the day, when little ones were tired, I did a fun activity. I would introduce a new word, put up a picture I thought illustrated the word, and have the children guess its meaning. The word was grotesque. The picture was of a lantern fish. The children guessed ugly, scary, frightening, etc. I noticed Cynthia looked puzzled. She was one of the brightest students and offered no response. I asked her what was wrong. Her answer, “Everyone is saying these mean things about him and I think he’s beautiful.” I am now 84 and as you can see I never forgot that.
-Rhana Bazzini, Sarasota, Florida (rhana3 verizon.net)

An ugly word: Famine. I always imagine a mouth stretched wide open as it pronounces the first syllable and as it searches in vain for sustenance. The opposite, too, of plethora coincidentally.
-Yvette Rogers, Honolulu, Hawaii (yvettegrogers gmail.com)

I think plethora is fine when it is used wryly, with a half-smile or a raised eyebrow. Is there any word uglier than “hate”? Even when describing Earl Grey tea, or hazelnuts, which I really don’t like, the word “hate” evokes emotions I’d rather not have near me. Applied to people it is bad, dangerous, without merit.
-Paula Yardley Griffin, Sarasota, Florida (paulasrq gmail.com)

To me, plethora is a warm and comfortable word. You want ugly words? Here are some: Hate, Racism, Intolerance, Belittle, and others of that ilk. Such “ugly” words should be banned from our language. A pipe dream, I know.
-Lynn Cozza Goodman, Portland, Oregon (lrcgoodman gmail.com)

I’ve used (and, despite your week’s theme, have loved) the word “myriad” in my everyday speech all my life. If there is any problem with the word, it is knowing when (or even if) to use the plural. Plus, each time I think of it, for some reason I find my mind sliding into rumination on “decimating a myriad warriors” -- literally, that is -- and in my recurrent conjured image, the soldiers are always Greeks -- armored, though, probably more in the fashion of a Roman Legionnaire -- but then, this image first popped into my head when I was not yet 10, so I suppose I can be forgiven.
-Charlie Cockey, Brno, Czech Republic (czechpointcharlie gmail.com)

I understand it’s a matter of perception. But for me, the word “fructify” in fact gushes in juices into my mouth! The syllable “fru” gives a feeling as if I’m biting off a piece of succulent apple.
-Aditya Devendra Pathak, Bengaluru, India (apathak tce.co.in)

“Trump”. I’d give up all its other uses if no one ever uttered the name Trump ever again!
-Beth Ullman, Northridge, California (beth.ullman gmail.com)
[We received a plethora of nominations for this as an ugly word. Also see, trumpery.]

“Bigly” (though not a “real” word) is something I DEFINITELY do not want to see in print or hear in speech ever again.
-Joan Britton, Portland, Maine (jlindsaybritton gmail.com)

My son commented that his least favourite word was “moist” and said he would be happy if the word could be removed from the dictionary! I felt no adverse feeling toward it at all and was puzzled by such a reaction, yet a quick Google found many others also dislike it.
-Gary Day, Bedford, UK (gary.day mbda-systems.com)

I hate the word “kiddo”. I had a terrible principal who used the word kiddo instead of children/child/student. Totally creeps me out.
-Linda Moeser, Reston, Virginia (linda.moeser fcps.edu)

The word “behoove” became loathsome to me in college in the early ’60s when an irritating dean used it to control women’s behavior.
-Wilma Totton Reever, Cedaredge, Colorado (wmreever tds.net)

This week’s theme brought to mind my daughter’s reaction to the word “phlegm” when she was a child. It just absolutely disgusted her and we tried to avoid using it in order to make her happy!
-Andi Kapplin, Tampa, Florida (andi kapplin.com)

For me, the word is “provider” instead of “clinician” or “physician, nurse, etc.” The term provider takes away our profession, the root of which is profess, and that IS what we do: we VOW to take care of someone else. “Provider” is a word deliberately used to degrade an entire class of people. (I do tend to rant about this -- and I’m a former medical journal editor, never recovered, of course, so I can rant to my heart’s content.)
-Linda Hawes Clever, MD, MACP, San Francisco, California (lindahclevermd gmail.com)

One ugly word that appears more than once in Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” is phthisis. I suspect the disease was equally ugly.
-Jorge Del Desierto, La Paz, Mexico (george_potvin yahoo.com)

It’s not a word but I find myself so annoyed by people (in some areas of Australia) who pronounce the letter H as “haitch”. Who ever gave them that idea? And who is going to let them know how it should be said? It really is UGLY!
-Pauline McCarthy, Salamander Bay, Australia (pmcc3 bigpond.com)

I’d like to stand up for “comestible” as an excellent member of the word community. I think it has a nice crunch which mimics its meaning and is enjoyably antiquated. My least favourite word is “scurvy”. I remember going to a pirate museum when I was small and seeing the exhibit on scurvy; I was so upset by the word that whenever I heard, read, or thought it, I had to say “muffin” as a sort of antidote.
-Clary Binns, Newton, Massachusetts (clarymbinns gmail.com)

“Actually”. Even in my mother tongue, Afrikaans, speakers and writers are actually using it until it actually drives me nuts. I actually once counted and an actually foremost interviewee actually used the word actually 10 times in an interview that actually only lasted 30 seconds.
-Esme Greenfield, Vermont, South Africa (knersis maxitec.co.za)

A really ugly word that is in common use makes me wince each time I hear it, or see it in print. That word is GOTTEN! It is ugly and clumsy, but, depending on context, can be replaced by much prettier words such as Got, Acquired, Obtained, Have or Had etc.
-Bob Freeman, Kadoma, Zimbabwe (hendon zol.co.zw)

A word I particularly dislike is “gobsmack” -- often used in speech in the form “gobsmacked”. I am often driven -- nay, tempted -- to give persons using this word a good hit up in the mouth.
-Ian Fox, Hanoi, Vietnam (a.small.drop.of.ink gmail.com)

The word I can’t stand to hear is “got”. Such a lazy word, and the sound of it just grates on me. People use it in a variety of circumstances, but there are always much more descriptive and better-sounding words that could be used. Please don’t ever try to tell me what you got at the store, or got in your exam. Ugh!
-Gary McCalden, Adelaide, Australia (gary.mccalden adam.com.au)

It mostly depends on the way one pronounces such words, and the emotional atmosphere in which they are used, whether they are beautiful or ugly. Any language will sound ugly if it is militarily barked or used by persons bearing hate. We grew up with caricaturized German in recordings and war movies and it sounds horrible to American ears; but German spoken elegantly and lovingly is a very beautiful and evocative language. Cultural conditioning plays a large role in how we perceive language and words. I do not care for languages with deeply guttural sounds, but I’m sure that, if I were to live in one of them for a while, I would come to love it, as I have with so many others. Many words are not intended to sound beautiful, but they are amusing, like “skink”.
-Christine Whittlesey, Gleisdorf, Austria (christine.whittlesey aon.at)

I’m with Whoopi on this -- the ugliest word is “stupid”.
-Susan Kinapp, Ashland, Oregon (szknapp1977 gmail.com)

I would nominate “genre”. To me it indicates pretentiousness on the part of the speaker. A runner up would be “values”, or “family values”, especially when used by politicians. (Actual translation: “*my* values”).
-Randy Nevin, Sammamish, Washington (randynevin comcast.net)

You asked for our own ideas of ugly words. Mine mostly revolve around the letters U and Q. I don’t know why. I like squirrels, for example. Here is my list of ugly words: kumquat, absquatulate, scurrilous, squander, mogul.
Usage: “The scurrilous mogul squandered his first 100 days and absquatulated to his tower. Pass the kumquats, please.”
-Joel Mabus, Kalamazoo, Michigan (joel.mabus pobox.com)

Perhaps I am the exception, but I cannot find ugliness in any of this week’s suggested words. Indeed, I cannot find an intrinsic ugliness in any combination of the sounds/symbols of words in any language, even those describing bodily functions or atrocities. Where I do find an acquired ugliness is in those words that are used pejoratively to demean or denigrate an individual or group. There are, however, word combinations -- imaginative and even poetical -- which for me possess an intrinsic loveliness. And the same is generally true of the word in most languages for “butterfly”: thus mariposa, papillon, Schmetterling, farfalle, babochka, kupu-kupu, pinpinik, birabiro, pattampucci, to name but a few. Interesting how often these names are onomatopoetically duplicative!
-Arthur Silverstein, Falmouth, Massachusetts (arts jhmi.edu)

If you follow up with beautiful words next week, I remember J.R.R. Tolkien’s selection of the most beautiful word in the English language: cellar door.
-Colin Bundy, Oxford, UK (colin.bundy gtc.ox.ac.uk)

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by Old’s Cool Company -- Make Mom smile :) >

From: Pam Kaatz (kaatz airmail.net)
Subject: plethora

To me this word had been lost to modern English, until the movie The Three Amigos (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short). Now, I know that the intellectual readers of Wordsmith will disagree. When the bandido leader asked his helper how many piñatas were prepared for his birthday party, he phrased his question in a way that became a classic line among those of us who truly understood the humor of the film. “Would you say that we have a plethora of piñatas?” We still say “plethora of ---” then refer to the movie in my family and group of friends. Try it sometime to see if anyone else knows what you are talking about. If you haven’t seen The Three Amigos, give it a try. Then you will understand why my friends laugh when I graciously offer them lip balm or say “look up here” like a bird screaming, or tell them “the German says wait here.” This word today has made me want to see The Three Amigos again, even though I have already seen it a plethora of times. (video, 1 min.)

Pam Kaatz, Denton, Texas

From: Robin Carpenter (analytix valley.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--plethora

When I was in college, decades ago, a friend came up with the term “pleth-load” as an evocative euphemism for “sh*t-load”, also meaning abundance or excess.

Robin Carpenter, Lebanon, New Hampshire

From: Ira Hammerman (sabaira4 gmail.com)
Subject: Comestible

I learned the word “comestible” in the ’60s from the jingle in the Nucoa margarine ad: “It’s the new ubiquitous comestible. It’ so digestible ...” I probably learned “ubiquitous” from the same jingle.

Ira Hammerman, Rehovot, Israel

From: Harlan Feinstein (harlan feinsteins.net)
Subject: comestible

“Comestible” features in an excerpt from the Monty Python “cheese shop” sketch.

O: Ah, hungry!
C: In a nutshell. And I thought to myself, ‘a little fermented curd will do the trick’, so, I curtailed my Walpoling activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some cheesy comestibles!
O: Come again?
C: I want to buy some cheese.

That’d have been a nice theme for a week: MP’s cheese shop sketch. Could have done: curtailed, sallied, infiltrated, purveyance, and comestibles. :-)

Harlan Feinstein, SeaTac, Washington

From: Julian Thomas (jt jt-mj.net)
Subject: myriad

Those of us who were around computers in the 1950s will remember “A Myriabit Magnetic-Core Matrix Memory” presented by Jan Rajchman in 1953. In those days 10,000 BITS (a little more than 1000 of today’s BYTES) was enormous!

Julian Thomas, Rochester, New York

From: Robert S O Harding (rharding upenn.edu)
Subject: Re: comestible

While walking by an arctic bog in Maine with her uncle, a Downeast botanist, my wife asked him whether a black crowberry growing near the trail was edible. “Diana,” he told her, “it’s edible, but not comestible,” a distinction we’ve maintained in our family ever since.

Robert S O Harding, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: plethora and comestible

We may forget that several classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, including Daffy, Elmer, and Sylvester, often struggled with everyday speech, not to mention so-called “ugly”, multisyllabic words. Here, Daffy Duck splutters out two “ugly” tongue-twisters, both meaning “an abundance”, “plethora” and “superfluity”, as an irate Elmer Fudd continues to butcher his “R”s and “L”s in his retort, trying to avoid Daffy’s projectile spittle.

Some Like it Hot... their “combustible” comestibles, that is. Here, in the shadow of a large bottle of Mexicano hot sauce, an animated “hot tamale” embraces a pair of mustachioed, piquant peppers, as two fetching hot-wings look on, taking it all in.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California
plethora comestible
Illustrations: Alex McCrae

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

The text in each box is an anagram of the text in other boxes.

1. plethora
2. comestible
3. myriad
4. nugatory
5. fructify
= 1. a glut
2. food
3. many (italics)
4. empty
5. bore cherry fruit
= 1. lots (try forty+)
2. Big Mac Meal
3. horde
4. picayune
5. fruit
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)   -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

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

Said the philanderer to the señora,
As he tipped his felt fedora,
“When making a pass,
I don’t mean to be crass,
But I’m struck by your stunning plethora.”
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

There’s a plethora of words I abhor:
“Malnutrition”, “indifference” and “war”.
“Homophobia’s” vile,
“Climate sceptics” raise bile,
“Racism” and “poverty” I deplore.
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

Because of the leader we chose
We’ve added to all of our woes:
Threats to our welfare,
Our air and health care --
And a plethora more, God knows.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

The day that we all drive a Tesla
We’ll be rid of our CO₂ pleth’ra.
The penguins will dance
To the polar bears’ chants
Of “Elon is a jolly good fella!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

When an item is labeled comestible,
We’re assured that it’s not indigestible,
But we know the nation’s
Strict rules on our rations
Permit foods we all find detestable.
-Phyllis Morrow, Fairbanks, Alaska (pmorrow alaska.edu)

My cooking is quite detestable.
I fail to make meals comestible.
No matter how hard I try,
My husband does decry,
“This dinner is indigestible!”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

If you visit the Rockies be skeptical
When served a deep-fried round comestible.
An oyster should be
Something pulled from the sea.
It is not some poor animal’s testicle.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

We are in for a frightening period.
Every day he confirms what we ‘fearied’.
With his tweeting and bumbling
our world rep is tumbling.
Since Day One his mistakes have been myriad.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince,
On politics has been quoted since.
His talents were myriad,
Renaissance man sphere he had.
Has Trump heard of him? He does show hints.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

With Odysseus off at The Iliad,
Penelope’s suitors were myriad.
“No touching allowed
Till I’m done with this shroud,”
She announced, “End of story, guys. Period.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

I’d like to amend this week’s story.
All words carry some sort of glory.
Plethora, myriad, comestible
Don’t rate such a negative festival.
The present theme’s quite nugatory.
-Judith S. Fox, Teaneck, New Jersey (Jsfoxrk aol.com)

Brave Achilles was revered in old Greece,
but I’d lief hero-worship would cease,
for the value of the warrior
is infinitely nugatorier
compared to the ones who forge peace.
-Glenn R. Diamond, Highland Park, New Jersey (slartibartfastx yahoo.com)

His judgments he makes a priori;
As a leader the man’s nugatory.
For Vladimir’s pup
May the jig soon be up
And our nation escape purgatory.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Just fructify life, I have found it
My goal, I never denounce it.
But with all due respect
I’m sure I’d elect
To do it but not to pronounce it.
-Anna C Johnston, Coarsegold, California (ajohnston13 gmail.com)

The soufflé, on its rise to solidify,
Would simply not fructify.
It fell from grace
In pastry disgrace,
Which the Chef could not justify.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

When Garden of Eden was made,
It seems some great plans were displayed
For ways we fructify,
Which is the reason why,
Bold Adam made sure Eve was laid.
-Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey (doxite verizon.net)

Says Martian, “Is it rude if I
request that you not fructify?
You astronauts,
we find, are fraught
with features vexing to the eye.”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

In Bible we’re taught to comply,
“To be fruitful and multiply.”
Poor Adam shook his head,
Looked at her, Eve, and said,
“But L-rd, how do you possibly fructify?”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“This crowd will support me and unify,”
Thought Pilate, “If Jesus I crucify.”
But lo and behold,
Once their fevers grew cold
He had helped the new gospel to fructify.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

For those of us who are verbose,
There are few words that we find gross.
I never heard
An ugly word.
(“Sphygmomanometer” comes close.)
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: “Ugly words” deserve ugly puns

“Let’s read lots of poems by Sylvia Plathora ‘nother woman.”

The kid tried setting fire to his spinach; it wasn’t comestible.

Actually, Myriad an entire flock of lambs.

“I prefer Milky Way™; 3 Musketeers™ is too nugatory.”

“I’m pregnant with triplets but I’m fructify know how it happened.”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. -Rabindranath Tagore, poet, philosopher, author, songwriter, painter, educator, composer, Nobel laureate (1861-1941)

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