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Mar 21, 2021
This week’s theme
Places that have given us multiple toponyms

This week’s words
Roman matron
Canterbury tale
Trojan horse
Kentish cousins

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
Words borrowed from Yiddish

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AWADmail Issue 977

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

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

Language, Please! Salty Feminist Stitch Book Is Too Much for Michaels.
The New York Times

How to Kill the English Language
The Spectator

From: Robert L Wilson (rwilson wisc.edu)
Subject: Coventry

There is a very nice community where people retire to, not far from my home, that is named Coventry. From when that opened some years ago I have been repelled by the idea of sending one’s parents to Coventry. But so far as I can see, neither the management nor the occupants have thought of that interpretation, and far be it from me to give them that negative idea.

Bob Wilson, Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by Wise Up! + FREE Smarts Pills = unHappy Holidays!

From: Curt Abbott (cabbott183 gmail.com)
Subject: Robert Heinlein wrote a short story “Coventry”

Robert Heinlein wrote a short story “Coventry” about an area where citizens of the United States who could not or would not be integrated into society were sent following the Second American Revolution. I have since proposed setting up a similar area for those who refuse to wear masks.

Curt Abbott, Warwick, Rhode Island

From: Helen Moody (moodwick swcp.com)
Subject: Sent to Coventry

This from a friend, Lynne Richardson, Coventry born and bred:

Being “sent to Coventry” was used a lot when I was a kid ... in Coventry! I could never understand why I might be sent there, when I already LIVED there.

Helen Moody, Corrales, New Mexico

From: Kevin W. Parker (kevin.parker wap.org)
Subject: Coventry for cell phones

These days when I bring a device like a cell phone into the house after handling it outside the house, I will set it aside for several hours to allow any viruses onboard to expire. I refer to this as sending the device to Coventry, which rather confused my boss when I explained to him why I didn’t answer my cell phone at the time.

Kevin W. Parker, Greenbelt, Maryland

From: Wilma Totton Reever (wmreever gmail.com)
Subject: Coventry, Colorado

Our father was born in Coventry, Colorado, on the Western Slope of the Rockies in 1919. Since it was really only a designated crossroads in an isolated rural county, we now know that naming it Coventry was not recalling the English countryside, but a tongue-in-cheek description of its bleakness. The only remnant of the town is a weathered abandoned frame building.

Wilma Totton Reever, Cedaredge, Colorado

From: John Walker (john.walker ozemail.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--coventry

“You can always tell a Coventry kid by the shamrock in his turban.” This was commonly heard in the city in the 1950s. The city had been savagely attacked in WW2, and there was a serious shortage of workers to rebuild it. Large numbers of Irish immigrants came to the rescue of the reconstruction of the roads and infrastructure, while public transport was the almost exclusive realm of Indian migrants (remember India was granted independence in 1947, and many Indians were awarded British citizenship due to their loyalty to Britain in the war). The driver was always a Sikh, and the ticket collector a Hindu! Thus, at the time, Coventry kids were said to wear a shamrock in their turban!

John Walker, Bonny Hills, Australia

From: Christopher Joubert (chris_joubert hotmail.com)
Subject: Coventry, Stellenbosch

Another example is the French verb limoger (to dismiss) from the practice of sending incompetent French generals to the town of Limoges during WW1.

Christopher Joubert, Cambridge, UK

From: Janine Harris-Wheatley (janinehw20 gmail.com)
Subject: Plan B

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the rights of the people by the gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. -James Madison, fourth US president (16 Mar 1751-1836)

And if the power-hungry minority finds that the gradual encroachment of rights through voter suppression and manipulation of the truth is not working for them, then they can always resort to Plan B and attempt a violent and sudden usurpation.

Janine Harris-Wheatley, Tottenham, Canada

From: NC Whitakers (ncwhitakers gmail.com)
Subject: overachievers vs high achievers

Uh-oh, you said, “Let’s just call such people overachievers.”

My Honors English teacher wife would comb your hair if you used the pejorative overachiever in her class. What you would learn and should be using is high achiever!

She explained this difference in one of the first lessons in all new classes. Students were relieved to understand why they dislike being labeled overachiever, as if it is something shameful. She expects them all to excel and become high achievers in her class. Plus students love learning this new (SAT) word pejorative. More than one parent conveyed to her how they themselves had been corrected and schooled at home on their misuse of the pejorative word overachiever.

Whit Whitaker, Ashe County, North Carolina

From: Eleanor Forman (eefwww yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Roman matron

A Roman matron was not only dignified; she was impeccably virtuous. Thus the tales of raped women killing themselves over the disgrace, however blameless they might be. The highest honor was, upon death, to have the word UNIVIRA (one-man-woman, i.e., a woman who had only been married once) as the inscription on one’s tombstone. When Cato the Younger’s wife had given him three sons (Romans who had three sons had special privileges, as having done their patriotic duty to repopulate Rome), he divorced her so she could give his friend sons. Once the friend had died, she begged Cato to remarry her (even without sex, since she was past childbearing, which was the justification for sex) so all would know she had not done anything shameful to have been divorced by him and could claim to be Cato’s wife on her tombstone. See Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book II, lines 326ff. which I read in the original in college.

Eleanor Elizabeth Forman, New York, New York

From: Denise Thorn (denisethorn gmail.com)
Subject: Canterbury tale

I am really surprised by today’s given meaning for the term Canterbury tale. I think this must be an entirely transatlantic take on Chaucer’s work! I have certainly never come across the usage in the UK.

Many years ago I was a student of English and gave The Canterbury Tales a close reading. From what I recall there is quite a variety of material and while some of it is fantastical, this is not true of every story in the collection. Well, I think your reference may have spurred me to return to the book to check this out, so thank you! (I suspect I’ll need a translation to hand this time.)

Denise Thorn, Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland

When we write the definition of a term, it’s based on how it’s used in the language today, not how we feel about it or how it started out originally. Words change, meanings evolve, and the current definition of the term Canterbury tale is no reflection on the merits of The Canterbury Tales. For another example of this, see the term magdalene.

It’s an etymological fallacy to insist that a word should mean today what it meant originally (or have the same spelling or pronunciation as when the word was coined). As an example, today a quarantine can be of seven days or more or fewer, not necessarily 40 days, even though that was the original meaning of the term (from Italian quaranta: forty). It may be useful to think of a lexicographer as a reporter rather than a law-giver.

-Anu Garg

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Heathrow Tales

Heathrow Tales: A parody of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, from Punch, Apr 2, 1975.

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Judy Purvis (judypurvis921 gmail.com)
Subject: Kentish cousins

Or, as Jeff Foxworthy put it, “If your family tree does not fork, you miiiiight be a redneck.”

Judy Purvis, Durham, North Carolina

From: Peggy Issenman (peggy peggyandco.ca)
Subject: Kentish cousins

The Canadian equivalent would be Capers, those born in Cape Breton where everyone is related.

Peggy Issenman, Halifax, Canada

From: Abid Zaidi (syednaqi514 gmail.com)
Subject: Kentish cousins

I live in Malaysia, my brother and my cousins live in India, my sister lives in the US, and we all have a WhatsApp group which I named “Villains of Faith” for another reason altogether.

But today was the day I modified that name of the group to “Kentish cousins”.

Although we all are first cousins but still live distant in time and space.

Abid Zaidi, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Coventry and Kentish cousins

Bovine Blues
Here, two Brit cattlemen chew the fat, as a bemused, studly bull looks on, pondering why he’s been ostracized from the herd. Seems, of late, that Mr. Bull has been too eager to please his harem of ready-and-willing cows. Farmer John wants his prime progenitor to cool his hoofs... and his raging libido, for a spell.

Kilts, Kith, and Kin
In these days of increased interest in family lineage sites like Ancestry and 23andMe, or viewing Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS-aired show, Finding Your Roots, most “searchers” are more than eager to trace their kinfolk through the mists of time. But in this awkward scenario, the McIntoshes of Yonkers, NY, appear slightly gobsmacked to suddenly find the McIntoshes of Glencoe, Scotland, unannounced, at their doorstep. Ancestry be damned!

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

Pangraph (contains all words from this week)

This man, who made a career of telling Canterbury tales, raping Roman matrons, giving jobs to every Kentish cousin (well, the ones who didn’t despise him), and possibly acting as an unwitting Trojan horse for Russia (because he doesn’t have the wit to be a witting one), must be sent to Coventry.
-Ray Wiss, Greater Sudbury, Canada (portray vianet.ca)

Anagrams of This Week’s Words
This week’s theme: Places that have given us multiple toponyms
1. Coventry
2. Roman matron
3. Canterbury tale
4. Trojan horse
5. Kentish cousins
= 1. unhealthy ostracism, strong resentment, (verb) pay no attention to - shhh!
2. majesty, VIP
3. novel-like
4. computer hacker’s malware
5. incestuous
     1. Coventry
2. Roman matron
3. Canterbury tale
4. Trojan horse
5. Kentish cousins
= 1. Reject on a veto
2. Matriarch
3. Yarn or story
4. Consultant?
5. Her bonus kinsmen
-Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz) -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.


“Hello, Charlie! Why looking so glum?”
“I’ve been told I must move.” “Where to, chum?”
“Coventry. I’ve been told
That I’m out in the cold,
And yet no one will tell me how come.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, Cornwall. UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

Because of her cumbrous rotundity,
folks might have consigned her to Coventry.
But she was reprieved
when people perceived
the lass’s surpassing jocundity.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Within the Republican tent,
Her anger at Trump did she vent.
When Trump she denounced,
Liz Cheney was bounced;
To Coventry then she was sent.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Praised for her roles as a drama queen,
She made it her real-life mien.
Soon clubs barred her entry,
Friends sent her to Coventry;
She was licking her wounds when last seen.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Turns out Covid’s a well-chosen name, you see --
To avoid it, we’re in self-imposed COVentry!
I realize there’s no
Similarity, tho --
The linkage just sort of jumped out at me!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

“If we’re careless up here where you’ve summoned me,”
Warned the girl, “I’ll be sent off to Coventry.”
“But our thirst we can slake,
For precautions we’ll take,”
Said the boy, “with the fruit of this rubber tree.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Though Yahweh has sent us to Coventry,”
Sighed Adam, “I still can’t help lovin’ thee.”
“You’re sweet as an apple,”
Said Eve, “Come, let’s grapple;
That fig leaf won’t long hide your husbandry.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Dignified at all times is their code
When in public -- maternal their mode.
But their secret desire
Is “set men on fire”;
At home, Roman matrons get rode.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

Roman matron becomes the ideal
Of womanly virtue, not surreal.
She’s the finest, she’s the best
The ne plus ultra, above the rest.
Calpurnia, the one who can heal.
-Gary Muldoon, Rochester, New York (gmuldoon kamanesq.com)

Although she seems only to be
the waitress who serves us our tea,
when she takes off her apron,
a true Roman matron
emerges miraculously.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

She supported the arts as a patron,
And was thought of as our Roman matron,
But beneath her façade,
She’s a pea in the pod,
Who liked housework and sported an apron.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

Said Phyllis, “By wearing an apron,
A woman’s a true Roman matron.”
Answered Betty, “You freak!
That’s a bunch of mystique!
Our amendment will save housewives’ bacon!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The policeman, his face grim and pale,
Said, “Your honour, please keep him in jail.
I can’t prove that he lied --
And believe me, I’ve tried,
But we’ll get past his Canterbury tale.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

You’re in court and your lawyer’s a creep.
He goes on and goes on and you weep.
His Canterbury tale
Won’t keep you out of jail.
All it does is put jurors to sleep.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

My ex-boyfriend was somewhat a bore,
Though his good traits I did not ignore.
But his whines and his wails,
His Canterbury tales,
Explain why he’s my boyfriend no more!
-Sondra Landin, New York, New York (sunnytravel att.net)

Whenever a story she’d tell,
On details she tended to dwell.
Each time without fail
Her Canterbury tale
Made listeners suffer through hell.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“Your uncle is here,” our mom said;
We kids in response moaned in dread.
We’d let out soft wails
At his Canterbury tales,
Until saved by the clock: time for bed!
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (powerjanice782 gmail.com)

As POTUS, we heard him unveil
All manner of Canterb’ry tale.
“Inject bleach! Shine a light!
That’s how Covid we’ll fight!”
Did you see Dr. Birx turning pale?
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

When he saw the term he thought, “Of course!
Who hasn’t heard of a Trojan Horse?”
At some time we’ve all tried
To hide somewhere inside
Something; a handy nearby resource.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

Some gift-bearing men who were Greek
Delivered a present unique:
A great Trojan horse,
Containing, of course,
The power much damage to wreak.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

It may never have happened, of course;
Homer’s tale of the Greeks’ Trojan horse,
but it made good PR
for that damned Trojan War.
Virgil’s version in Latin lent force.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

This free app she found on the net,
was hyped to be a weight-watcher’s pet.
In truth a Trojan horse,
it stole without remorse
all her funds -- left her with endless debt.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

“Vith my help you vill triumph, of course,”
Said Putin, “and be Trojan horse.”
“That’s the art of the deal,
Vlad, so let’s start the steal,”
Answered Donald, “no need to use force.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Some research I did much behooved
My family tree. Now it’s improved!
My head’s all abuzzin’;
I found Kentish cousin,
Queen Lizzie, umpteen times removed!
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

I do like my dear Kentish cousins;
I know I have dozens and dozens;
Their cooking’s exquisite,
And when I come to visit,
They lay out their finest guest muslins!
-Sondra Landin, New York, New York (sunnytravel att.net)

Before he had even begun
to count all the money he’d won,
dozens and dozens
of strange Kentish cousins
approached him. He’s still on the run.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

The DNA testing revealed
Some relatives Dad had concealed.
We found several dozens
Of new Kentish cousins --
Surprises such testing can yield.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

It’s true sister can’t marry brother.
Poor Oedipus hooked up with mother.
Kentish cousins, it’s said,
Are still kin, but can wed,
For they get along well with each other.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

When you’re wealthy and old, Kentish cousins
Are found at your door by the dozens.
Your smiling young wife
In their dream sticks a knife:
“Here’s your legacy: coffee and muffins.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Did you hear about the group of witches that planted a weeping willow? They called it their Coventry.
-Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina (jde31459 gmail.com)

A dignified woman was mortified when the newspaper published a photo of her wandering around. The caption was, “Roman matron”.
-Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina (jde31459 gmail.com)

Said Nancy Reagan with an adoring look in her eyes, “I know you’ve always been faithful, never a Roman matron.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Said Hegel, “I told Immanuel Canterbury tales of how he thinks the mind works.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“All this shouting about the Greeks is enough to make a Trojan horse,” sighed Hector.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Superman became frustrated after scammers claimed to be Clark Kentish cousins.
-Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina (jde31459 gmail.com)

The heiress asked NYU’s Dean of Admissions, “Kentish cousins get into the School of the Arts if they have no talent?”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Kerfuffle Royale
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Kerfuffle Royale

The dust has yet to settle in the wake of Oprah’s bombshell interview with Harry & Meghan, revealing Brit Royals’ racism and Meghan’s confession that she’d contemplated suicide. Here, I’ve returned to the scene of the tense tête-à-tête as the dark cloud of “The Firm” (aka “The Institution”) looms over the royal couple and the Queen, with one of her prized corgis, looks down from on-high.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. -Hans Hofmann, painter (21 Mar 1880-1966)

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