Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Feb 3, 2019
This week’s theme
Words that have many unrelated meanings

This week’s words

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
Words made with combining forms

Send a gift that
keeps on giving,
all year long:
A gift subscription of A.Word.A.Day or the gift of books
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share

AWADmail Issue 866

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

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

Gutting US Foreign Language Education Will Cost Us for Generations

Sound of Native Languages in Parliament to Mark Win for Indigenous Canadians
The Guardian

Language Expert Says English Global Dominance Could Be Threatened by Technology

From: Brien Holmes (bocknobby gmail.com)
Subject: gob

Thought I would share my note to my daughters this morning after reading the posting on gob. “You’d have looked at them in disbelief.” -- so very true ... in fact, you would have been gobsmacked.

My note:
I had always thought that the moon landing and space exploration would have been the significant events to shape culture of future generations, but it has been the mobile phone and all its features. Such technology developments have contributed to the election of Trump and others whose staff have discovered ways to exploit the technology to acquire power; perhaps commercial applications will dominate the next decade.

Am curious if Jared Diamond is working on a revised version of his book: “guns, germs, steel, technology” to explain how different societies and constituencies in those societies are able to exploit their access to the technology. Have seen a few books and papers in the past few years about the impact of technology but, at least the ones I have read, it seems the progress of technology eclipses the discussion.

Brien Holmes, Orangeville, Canada

From: Rick DeHaven (metarick verizon.net)
Subject: gob

I was a gob in Vietnam. I liked the word. The way I was treated in the places I was stationed after that gives credence to the definition. Sailors and dogs keep off the grass, sign in Norfolk, VA. When I got out it was obvious to me when I dated a girl then that the parents thought Gob, I better hide my daughter from this one. Now if asked about the past, I just say, “I am an old salt.”

Rick DeHaven, Little Creek, Delaware

From: Ralph Allison (ralph thebiggreenie.co.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gob

Gob is also used as a verb in Britain, as in to spit.

Ralph Allison, Kent, UK

From: Richard Koek (rutchie101 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gob

Back in the 80s, we gobbed on the bands that we liked. Physically and denotatively, to gob on something meant you spat on it, but the connotative (and perhaps arch in hindsight) meaning was that you admired it, e.g., “I’d gob on that!”

Richard Koek, Perth, Australia

From: Christopher Albertyn (chrisalbertyn me.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gob

It also means a blob of phlegm. That’s how it’s used in South Africa.

Christopher Albertyn, Toronto, Canada

From: Shannon Deep (deep.shannon gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gob

This entry brought me great joy. “Gob” is also a regional name for whoopie pies (soft sandwich cookies), and it’s what we grew up calling them in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A hometown friend’s mother visited a French bakery, and upon seeing the case of macarons, informed the proprietor and baker that “in Pittsburgh, we call these gobs.” It’s a now favorite story and long-running joke in our group of friends about all the different things Pittsburghers think are just fancy gobs.

Shannon Deep, New York, New York

From: Felicity Hannay (fhannay comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gob

The word “gob” has at least one more common unrelated meaning besides the ones you included. It is the empty space from which coal has been removed in an underground coal mine, or the same space filled with mine waste. On a webpage called Kentucky Coal Education, I found the following definition in a glossary of coal mining terms:

Gob - The term applied to that part of the mine from which the coal has been removed and the space more or less filled up with waste. Also, the loose waste in a mine.

Felicity Hannay, Golden, Colorado

From: Donny Anderson (via website comments)
Subject: skelf

I learned this poem in school in Scotland over 75 years ago.

You’ve hurt your finger? Puir wee man!
Your pinkie? Deary me!
Noo, juist you haud it that wey till
I get my specs and see!
My, so it is -- and there’s the skelf!
More ...

Donny Anderson, Olmsted Falls, Ohio

From: Laurence Henry (englishopportunities yahoo.de)
Subject: shingle

Shingle is also the military/culinary nickname for the toast component of creamed chipped beef on toast: sh_t on a shingle, due to the appearance of this breakfast staple. This is often abbreviated SOS, as in “Oh no! SOS again!”

Laurence Henry, Wettenberg, Germany

From: David Mezzera (damezz comcast.net)
Subject: Shingle

I’m reading your post today in bed -- I’m recovering from the shingles!

David Mezzera, Vallejo, California

From: Chris Papa (doxite32 gmail.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--shingle

The viral infection herpes zoster, which affects nerves and manifests as a very painful rash is called shingles. It is caused by the chickenpox (varicella) virus which remains inactive in the body, only to reactivate with age.

The common name, shingles, has nothing to do with a shingle, but is descriptive of the common distribution of the rash, following the cutaneous nerve path which wraps as a band about half the torso. It thus resembles a belt or girdle, in Latin cingula, thus, “shingles”.

After trying to help suffering patients with this disease over many years in practice as a dermatologist, I am much relieved that a preventive vaccine is now available.

C.M. Papa, MD, Colts Neck, New Jersey

From: Denis Toll (denis.toll outlook.com)
Subject: shingles

Would one shingle be a herpe zoster? Shingles in this sense is one of a rare group of plural nouns that have no singular, some others are loggerheads, trousers, scissors. In fact its plurality is rather questionable since it’s a corruption of cingulus which is a singular word in Latin.

Denis Toll, Aberdeen, Scotland

From: Audie Finnell (via website comments)
Subject: shingling

In early Kentucky history, land speculation gave rise to many inept or unscrupulous surveyors whose surveys would sometimes overlap the adjoining property. This came to be known as “shingling”, and the violated property was said to be “shingled over”, obviously calling to mind the way roof shingles overlap.

Audie Finnell

From: Shannon Quignon (squignon pasco.com)
Subject: Shingle Springs

Near to where I live is a town called Shingle Springs and, up until today, I never understood why they wanted to be known for roofing. With the fourth and fifth noun definitions I am now confident that they aren’t excessively proud of their roofing abilities. Thanks!

Shannon Quignon, Roseville, California

From: Joel Mabus (joel.mabus pobox.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shingle

Note tacked to the contractor’s shop door: “Despite what his shingle reads, ‘Joe, The Ready Roofer’ isn’t up to nailing shingles today, as he is down with the shingles.”

Joel Mabus, Portage, Michigan

From: Vikram Hukmani (vikhuk engineer.com)
Subject: plenum

We in the air-conditioning industry use the plenum a lot, as a “return air” path to recirculate the room air back to air conditioning equipment... mainly in offices and commercial establishments. The space above the drop ceiling is dead space normally and used a plenum. In data equipment rooms, it is space below the raised floor.

Vikram Hukmani, Baltimore, Maryland

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

Worth noting that def 1 [an assembly with all present] and 4 [air duct] are both frequently filled with hot air!

Julian Thomas, Rochester, New York

Email of the Week brought to you by One Up! -- Playing mind games just got serious >
From: Alfred Fedak (alfred alfredfedak.com)
Subject: Plenum

In the world of the pipe organ, the term plenum has another more technical meaning. It refers specifically to the bold chorus of sound one tends to associate with the pipe organ as it plays loudly, as in a Bach Prelude and Fugue, for example. The generic term plenum, or organo pleno, describes a combination of organ stops (called a registration) consisting of “principal” tone (i.e., basic organ tone) sounding at various pitch levels simultaneously: at the unison, at octaves above (and sometimes below) unison pitch, and crowned by high-pitched “mixtures”, which sound at pitches several octaves and fifths above the written pitch. In the best instruments this produces a chorus of musical tone which is at once sturdy, clear, and brilliant.

Alfred Fedak, organist & composer, Albany, New York

From: Debbie James (via online comments)
Subject: Rede

The Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred “the Unready” (978-1016) nicely illustrates this term. He made a series of poor choices in his struggles with the invading Danes and the epithet (which actually means ill-advised) is a satirical joke on his name which translates as “well-advised”. That delightful pastiche of English history “1066 and All That” says that when the Danes invaded, Aethelred was unready for which the Danes fined him “Danegeld”. When the Danes came back for more “Danegeld” he was unready all over again.

Debbie James, Cape Town, South Africa

From: Melvyn Minnaar (min0003 mweb.co.za)
Subject: Rede

A wonderful word, with multiple meanings in Afrikaans, some traced to Dutch, and widely used. It is also employed in numerous portmanteaus.

It can mean a lot of things - from “reason” (ability to reason, think, understand, common sense), noun and verb, to “speech” (oratorio, sermon, address). One delightful extension is “redekawel” -- flippant argumentation, “chop logic”, the boisterous pronunciation giving it away.

Another Afrikaans meaning is “roadstead”, even “anchorage”.

Melvyn Minnaar, Cape Town, South Africa

From: Tad Slawecki (tslawecki limno.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--rede

I once suggested to our hiring lead that we create a recruitment ad/poster for our engineering firm along the lines of:

Ken you rede and wright?

ken - verb tr.: to know
rede - verb tr.: to advise
wright - verb tr.: to build

I thought that it would stand out in the crowd of recruiting booths at job fairs and attract quirky candidates from a background perhaps not dissimilar to mine. This may be exactly the reason the suggestion was not adopted.

Theodore A.D. Slawecki, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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

In German the word rede means “speech”, as in Martin Luther’s famous Tischreden (table talks). In these conversations he followed up his views on church dogma in detailed rebuttals, expatiating on various issues resulting from his challenge to Catholicism.

The German word Rat, meaning advice or counsel, is very likely a cognate of Rede. Rathaus, for instance, means town hall, consisting of Rat for advice and Haus for house.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Martin Østerberg (fattig pengemand.dk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--rede

In Danish we have the word redegør meaning to explain or cast light on a subject. The ending of the word, gør, translates to do or make.

Martin Østerberg, Denmark

From: Layne Marshal (layne.marshal shaw.ca)
Subject: Pique

One of the things that irks me about so many websites is how, like AWAD, contributors from the US are listed by city and state, e.g., Houston, Texas, while those from elsewhere are listed by city and country, e.g., Toronto, Canada. For a site that prides itself on word meanings, perhaps you could show the same attention to places as well. If you must list other country names for the hoi polloi, perhaps they can be the third name on the list, along with USA.

Layne Marshal, Campbell River, Canada

We do pay attention to place names. We have devoted some 30 weeks, just to toponyms (see here). But that’s not what you meant.

We don’t list USA after readers who are from there because we’re also based there. For the somewhat similar reason, postage stamps from the UK do not mention the name of the country (guess where stamps got started?).

So why do we list names of states for readers in the US? To disambiguate. While there’s only one Campbell River in Canada, in British Columbia, it’s different around here. We are very frugal with place names and reuse/recycle the same name in multiple states (besides Texas, you’ll find a Houston in more than a dozen states ).

That said, there are some places named Canada in the US. When we include a comment from a reader from one of those places, we may have to include the country name to avoid confusion.

-Anu Garg

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: gob and skelf

Brouhaha on the briny! Avast AWAD maties... behold a rip-roarin’, high-seas smack-down. A steamed sailor, seemingly at the end of his rope, stuffs his yappy crew-mate with a gobful of fish. Ironically, weapon of choice... a smallmouth (smallgob ?) bass, Ha! OK, quibblers out there. I do realize that the smallmouth is a freshwater species. I plead cartoonist license on this one.

gob skelf
Here’s the skinny on this cartoon scenario. A rather skelf young woman finds her body image majorly transformed, her thin frame reflected back at her in an amusement park funhouse mirror as zaftig/plus-sized... a distorted image of her actual slender, “skelf-ish” body type.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

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

Words that have many unrelated meanings
1. gob
2. skelf
3. shingle
4. plenum
5. rede
1. lump, gunk
2. hand sliver
3. new sign, mend the roof
4. assembly
5. relate the agenda
     Words that have many unrelated meanings
1. gob
2. skelf
3. shingle
4. plenum
5. REDe
1. lump
2. shred; a thin gentleman
3. sign
4. had everyone assembled; a gulf
5. network
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

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

A gob: a large amount of something
Defines both the left wing and right wing.
Could be large or a lump
Or a rather plump chump?
Trump: a large glob of a dumb thing.
-Joe Budd Stevens, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

The fridge said, you are on milk running low;
the sugar stock-out added to my woe.
I thought, sipping bitter tea,
why couldn’t the blessed IoT
open its gob the day before or so?
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Though he’s really a terrible snob,
He’s a pro at inciting a mob.
To lampoon him in skits,
Alec Baldwin’s face fits
With that squint and a tightly pursed gob.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

A large mirror stood on a glass shelf
So The Don could admire himself.
“I’m the leader of all,
Who will build that damn wall,”
But his image reflected a skelf.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

I wish he would shut his fat gob.
He’s a skelf, and a fool, and a slob.
His ethics are bent,
His morals are spent,
And he’s just not the man for the job.
-John Willcocks, Indianapolis, Indiana (johnwillcocks comcast.net)

In the White House there sits quite a skelf,
thinks of no one, excepting himself.
Seems that Roger, his pal,
Cohen, Mattis, et al.,
have turned out to be elves on the shelf!
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

Said Santa one day to an elf,
“Put Pinocchio back on the shelf.
Some new government rules
Made by Democrat fools
Say that wood can give children a skelf.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

I took my shingle down one day
My desire to work went away.
Though my clients were sad,
They told me they were glad
That now I have more time to play.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

The paint on his shingle is flaking
While his passel of lies is breathtaking.
And it seems quite astounding
Such recovery’s confounding
His bone spurs are no longer aching.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

“After college I’ll hang out my shingle,”
Thought the girl, “I need work, being single.”
So piano she taught
Until one day she caught
A young maestro whose hands made her tingle.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (janicepower25 gmail.com)

“Perhaps I should take down my shingle,”
Is the thinking this year of Kris Kringle.
“For Trump’s making noise
That I’m importing toys,
And it’s making his tweet finger tingle.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Our chief, absolutely hell-bound
on having his way, held his ground.
Responding, our plenum,
sans plan to agree on,
stood firm. What to do? Shut us down!
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

The skull is a great place for matter;
The owner could be mad as a hatter;
It might make one bitter,
But please, stay off Twitter;
Don’t reveal the plenum is empty, by chatter.
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

Said Churchill at Parliament’s plenum,
“It is full of vipers and venom.
So I will slip away
For a much needed stay
At my ancestral home, Blenheim.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

I’m retired, Anu, and wear denim
While I’m writing my anti-Trump venom.
But an AWAD convention
Would get my attention;
To speak, I’d suit up for the plenum!
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Intelligence chiefs had their say
About the threats we face today.
But Trump’s decreed
Their expert rede
Has absolutely no cachet.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Driven by unceasing greed was Horatius.
His desire to extort money was voracious.
His family tried to share a rede
And diffuse his mercenary need.
His ambitions were ended by a “con” audacious.
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

Motivated by ego and greed
he ignores wise, experienced rede.
From that dubious vote
he’s the bone in our throat
and he’s wholly unsuited to lead.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

As he galloped along on his steed,
Lancelot would give Arthur this rede:
“Sire, search for the Grail,”
He’d exhort, “You shan’t fail!”
Then he’d get Guinevere drunk on mead.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Puns which may have un-relayed meanings

The sailor’s can of Niblets exploded, resulting in corn on the gob.

Don Rickles skelfully antagonized members of his audience.

A roofer’s favorite book is “Sex and the Shingle Girl”.

People got hot at the last few HVAC conferences because someone didn’t plenum very well.

Our president cannot read and should not rede.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: James Ertner (jde31459 gmail.com)
Subject: a potpourri of hodge-podge words

As the mama turkey said to her young son, “Don’t gob-ble your food!”

To scale back on expenses, the department store buyer purchased a large shipment of off-the-skelf items.

Did you hear about the group of unmarried roof tilers that liked to party a lot? They were swinging shingles.

If you don’t feel like expressing any emotion, just plenum (plea numb).

The plaintiff asked to have the word rede defined, but the judge said to rede de fine print.

Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina

From: Richard S. Russell (RichardSRussell tds.net)
Subject: An Amusing(?) Punctuation Tale

I have Guy Syndrome when it comes to shopping, so my wife just tells me what she wants for Xmas, and I jot it down on a list. One of the things she asked for was lottery tickets. Onto the list it went. A couple of days later I get an email from her headed “Xmas List” with only a single-line message: “scratch off lottery tickets”. So, figuring that she had finally run into a real mathematician who had explained to her what a scam they are, I dutifully crossed them off the list.

Come Xmas day, we opened our presents, and after we’re all done, surrounded by crumpled wrapping paper and empty boxes, she says “Hey, didn’t you get me any lottery tickets?”

“Why, no, you told me you’d changed your mind and didn’t want them.”

“I did no such thing!”

So we dug out the email, and I pointed to her explicit directions.

“You dope!”, she said. “Those were the KIND of lottery tickets I wanted.”

So here’s what I learned in English about verbs and adverbs:

(1) If they’re each performing their normal role in the sentence, treat them as separate words: “Scratch off your ticket and see if you won.”

(2) If they’re being amalgamated into an adjective, join them with a hyphen: “Get me some scratch-off lottery tickets.”

(3) If they’re being used as a stand-alone noun, weld them together as a single word: “You know those scratchoffs are a complete ripoff, right?” (Also note how I used “ripoff”.)

Richard S. Russell, Madison Wisconsin

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders. -Walter Bagehot, journalist and businessman (3 Feb 1826-1877)

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

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith