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Oct 8, 2017
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Words that sound taboo, but aren’t

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AWADmail Issue 797

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

An Argument Over the Evolution of Language, with High Stakes
The Economist

After Brexit, EU English Will Be Free to Morph into a Distinct Variety
The Guardian

From: Leah Palmer Preiss (curiouser mindspring.com)
Subject: Cocksure

When I saw today’s word, I just had to send you this! It was my painting in January for the Year of the Rooster. I don’t know why I didn’t get cocksure in there, because it sure describes the Cockalorum!

Your themes lately have been a real hoot-- much needed levity in these crazy times -- thanks!

Leah Palmer Preiss, Raleigh, North Carolina

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

When I saw “cocksure” listed as a word that sounds taboo but isn’t, I immediately thought of Hamlet IV: 5, Ophelia (singing):

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door.
Let in the maid that out a maid
Never departed more.
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie, for shame!
Young men will do ‘t, if they come to ‘t.
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, “Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.”
He answers,
“So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.”

Eleanor Elizabeth Forman, New York, New York

From: Dave Bogdon (davebogdon comcast.net)
Subject: FML

I’m pretty sure fmylife.com is where that student at the engineering fair got FML.

Dave Bogdon, Brush Prairie, Washington

From: Paddy Wakk (paddywakk hotmail.com)
Subject: modern world

Your anecdote brought to mind a conversation I had with my teenage son when I asked him about a term I had heard. It had a sexual meaning that he did not want to discuss with his mother so he said in a very exasperated tone, “Mom, this is what UrbanDictionary.com was invented for! Look it up yourself.” It turned out to be a good (and interesting) resource that I have used many times over the years.

Patricia Wilcox, Newark, Delaware

From: Scott L. Sammons (sls4ak hotmail.com)
Subject: Mild bits from science fairs

My closest analog deals with a science fair competitor in junior high school who won the local competition with a statistical solution citation in his abstract as using the Pidooma Method. At the regional competition he was challenged to explain the Pidooma Method. To which he cheekily replied Pidooma = Pulled It Directly Out Of My A**. He was promptly dropped from the competition, but I have cited his ingenuity ever since. Forty two years later and it still seems valid.

Scott L. Sammons, Anchorage, Alaska

From: Mark Sandson (sandsons aol.com)
Subject: PFM

My son encountered a similar phrase when he was in Navy flight school. When a fellow student didn’t know the answer to a technical question on an exam, he answered, “PFM” (Pure F---ing Magic”).

Mark Sandson, Del Mar, California

From: Kathleen Jowitt (k.jowitt unison.co.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cocksure

The other day it occurred to me that, since my middle initials are A. F., I’m literally Kathleen af.

My little brother nobly took on the task of explaining to my parents what “af” stands for these days (they’d heard “as found” or “all faults”, but not “as f***”) and that it’s generally considered to be a good thing.

Kathleen af Jowitt, Surrey, UK

From: Gary Muldoon (gmuldoon muldoongetz.com)
Subject: cocksure

The most famous use of the word is from Lord Melbourne, said of a historian, Thomas Macaulay: “I only wish that I was as cocksure of any one thing as he is sure of everything.”

Gary Muldoon, Rochester, New York

From: Hugh Hyatt (hugh.hyatt gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cocksure

When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 Oct 1869-1948)

This was actually from John Brinley’s screenplay for the 1982 film “Gandhi”. There’s no evidence I can find that Gandhi actually said or wrote this. Ronald Reagan misattributed part of it in a 1984 speech to the UNGA, and John S. Dunne misattributed it all in his 1991 book “The Peace of the Present”. I updated the Wikiquote entry for misattributions to Gandhi to reflect this.

Hugh D. Hyatt, Upper Holland, Pennsylvania

We’ve added a note with the quotation now. Thanks.
-Anu Garg

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

Pudor, Latin for “shame” is the root of “pudenda”, the female genitalia, the German word for which is “Scham”, cognate with English “shame”. I have to say that I don’t altogether understand why one’s genital organs, male or female, should be a source of shame.

Sam Long, Springfield, Illinois

Email of the Week: Fight against tyranny and ignorance with One Up! -- Words are the mightiest weapon of all, ever.

From: Carol Pike Bauer (cacckicarol me.com)
Subject: titter

When my daughter was in high school, she and some friends from her drama class put on a play on their own initiative. One of the lines had the lead character use the expression, “you tittering twit”. Through many rehearsals he had the cast in stitches as he could not master this line and instead kept saying, “you twitterin tit”. That was many years ago but we still refer to it with laughter.

Carol Pike Bauer, Torrance, California

From: Alexander Nix (revajnix yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--titter

Or as the late great Frankie Howerd would say after another innuendo-laden monologue, “Titter ye not!”

Alexander Nix, Cambridge, UK

From: Charles Cole (seecee913 gmail.com)
Subject: titter

I remember my adolescent imagination spinning when I first tried to figure out what was happening when I read about a courtroom scene in which “a small titter ran through the crowd.”

Charles Cole, Evanston, Illinois

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

The Roman general Fabius of the third century BC resorted to delaying tactics against Hannibal of Carthage in the Second Punic War, instead of engaging him in direct confrontation that he was sure would lead to the Romans’ defeat (if for no other reason than the enemy’s use of elephants). Later this successful tactic (known as “scorched earth campaign”), used against Napoleon in Russia, inspired, at the turn of the twentieth century, a British society of radicals to bring about socialism by peaceful means instead of revolution. They decided to adopt their name from that of the aforementioned general.

Any resemblance to taboo words is due to the poverty of human language. There are only so many words to go around, whereas the thoughts are infinite.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Karen Herron (karen.bloggs gmx.net)
Subject: Five Mild Language-bits

Being of German origin, I learned English as a second language. When I met my English husband (54 years ago), he was shocked a few times at my expressions, and I was corrected by him on several occasions for the word cocksure, which I had learned to mean, as you explain, “arrogantly or presumptuously overconfident”. The other meaning of the word cock was certainly not taught at my school.

Another word that he said a lady should not use was bastard after I pointed to a dog and said it was a bastard (of mixed breed), which in German is quite acceptable. Not used as a swearword amongst humans.

However, the worst incident occurred when I used the expression “bugger”. I had learned this word at my posh office in England-- “cheeky bugger”, “silly bugger”. My husband insisted I get the dictionary out and check the true meaning of the word. Of course, he was right and I never again used this expression, even if it seems to be used widely by others.

Karen Herron, Hamburg, Germany

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: cocksure and titter

Ruminating upon the word “cocksure”, I recalled the tale of Chanticleer, the pompous, cocksure rooster, whose hubris, along with the crafty, cajoling machinations of Reynard, the wily fox, made for quite the cautionary narrative in both Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (1390) and later, Scottish bard Robert Henryson’s The Taill of Schir Chanticleir and the Foxe (circa 1480s).
Both medieval British wordsmiths owe a huge debt of gratitude to the ancient Greek fable-spinner, Aesop, and his tale of “The Fox and the Crow”.
Trump, with his obsessive compulsion to tweet, for me as an inveterate birder, has sadly given the word “tweet” -- that was once merely a fun generic word for avian vocalization -- a bad name. The perpetually chatty little American bushtit has a distinctive little tweet that I’ve aptly described here as a “titter”; I’d contend, quite befitting of its slightly “suggestive” name. Ha! titter
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

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

1. cocksure
2. pudency
3. menstruum
4. titter
5. cunctative
= 1. curt
2. virtue
3. can cut putty
4. snicker
5. dense commute
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)

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

R Nixon was cocksure and thick,
He burgled his way up a crick,
He lied and he swore
‘Til we got real sore,
Trump’s not Richard, but he’s still a Dick.
-Tom Slakey, Santa Clara, California (tomslimericks gmail.com)

If someone could find a shock cure
For being arrogantly always cocksure,
Jolt that cortex prefrontal
Just enough to disgruntle,
Then our world might become more secure.
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

A world-class self-booster is he,
A rooster who struts shamelessly.
I can’t endure
This cocksure boor
(Whose coxcomb one clearly can see).
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Madame Defarge, the knitter,
evoked a furtive titter.
But Lucie didn’t know, did she?
Ma’am’s knitting was the key
to the next head under the “slitter”.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

The old Frenchman with affect cocksure
Had intentions so grossly impure.
The fair femmes he would chase
Thought he was a disgrace,
As he wooed them with “Je t’aime toujours.”
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

Hugh Hefner, the king of l’amour,
Now with angels is not so cocksure.
They’re nude but it stings
To be slapped with their wings
When he stares at them like a voyeur.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Afraid of the archbishop’s scrutiny
The priest wrote a novel with pudency.
The book didn’t sell
So he said, “What the hell,”
And now porn’s what his Sunday School students see.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (janicepower25 gmail.com)

Spring break! Fellow students were nude, ‘n’ she
wanted to join them, so prudently
took off her hat
and her shoes, and said “That
oughta prove that I’m through with my pudency!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Now, few old-time pirates had pudency,
And that caused a lot of disputancy.
And when it got rank
Some thug walked the plank,
Could e’en be the captain, in mutancy.
-Anna C. Johnston, Coarsegold, California (ajohnston13 gmail.com)

I’ve never been guilty of pudency.
At the beach wearing trunks seems like lunacy.
Some guys keep it housed
So they don’t look aroused,
But at my age it all dangles uselessly.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

She strums with a passion that’s off the chart.
The menstruum of music must melt her heart,
‘Cause her rhythms hormonal
Are damn near trombonal --
And this minstrel,:when menstrual, just falls apart.
-Phyllis Morrow, Fairbanks, Alaska (phyllismorrow1 gmail.com)

Mother, to my house when you come,
Be sure to bring your menstruum.
Since you’re not very keen
On the way that I clean,
So clean it yourself, then do, mum.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

For Trumpians nothing is worse
Than America growing diverse.
Our nation as menstruum
Doesn’t make sense to ‘em,
Grudges are more fun to nurse.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

As a regular hopeful submitter,
I cannot be considered a quitter.
With my lim’ricks I’ve sought
to encourage deep thought
or at least an occasional titter.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

So much about Trump makes me titter.
He’s a jerk, does nothing but twitter.
Let’s get a replacement,
T’wont be a debasement.
Maybe Mike should be the Pence hitter?
-Joe Budd Stevens, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

When he flew in to put on a show,
He threw paper towels like a pro.
“I do nothing wrong”
Is the name of his song.
Then he titters and adds up his dough.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

Maria, her voice sounding bitter,
Said, “What gave it away was her titter.
As Fidel told Batista
It’s hasta la vista,
For, Arnold, you knocked up the sitter.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Procrastinating is my style.
I’ll get to the work in a little while.
To progress I haven’t much to give.
At forward movement I’m cunctative.
But backwards, I’ll go the extra mile.
-Vara Devaney, Damascus, Maryland (varadevaney att.net)

Most words give delight, or a thrill;
Most words you send fill that bill;
But once in a while
You send something vile
Like “cunctative” -- one bitter pill!
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

When it comes to how long I will live,
I hope that it takes a cunctative
Time for me to depart,
Since I know in my heart
That I have so much more left to give.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (loscamil aol.com)

‘Tis said, he who dithers is lost!
Unlike Caesar, who Rubicon crossed.
No cunctative gene
stopped his coup d’état mean--
soon Caesar, dictator, was tossed.
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

If “4” is of 2 + 2 summative,
It’s time to do gun control substantive.
What happened in Vegas
Should no longer plague us.
Dear NRA: Stop being cunctative!
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Puns which you may want taboo

Having been wakened at 5 am, I remarked, “That cocksure is loud.”

Go to a church, find a pudency if the Holy Spirit moves you.

When setting a table, women carefully arrange the napkins but menstruum.

Instead of thither and yon, the comedian’s material ran titter and yawn.

By the end of All About Eve, viewers hated the cunctative had become.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. -John W. Gardner, author and leader (8 Oct 1912-2002)

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