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Dec 4, 2006
This week's theme
Desserts used metaphorically

This week's words

“You have to fall in love with hanging around words.” ~John Ciardi
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with Anu Garg

Holiday season is the time for fun, frolic, and food. And the best part of food is desserts. The etymology of the word points at the time dessert is served -- at the end of the meals. The term derives from French desservir (to clear the table).

The English language has countless terms about food that are used metaphorically but this week we are offering just desserts. Enjoy these cherry-picked words -- they are made from 100% natural letters -- no artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, or preservatives. These are organic, fair-trade, and they have zero calories.

A note about the term for a reward or punishment that is deserved: "just deserts". It's from a little-known word, desert (deserving), from Old French deservir (to deserve). The reason we mistakenly believe it's "just desserts" is partly owing to the pronunciation:

dessert (di-ZUHRT), as in "fat-free dessert"
desert (DEZ-uhrt), as in "the Sahara"
desert (di-ZUHRT), as in "to desert the army"
desert (di-ZUHRT), as in "to receive just deserts"

On to today's word...


(FLUHM-uh-ree) Pronunciation Sound Clip

1. Any of various desserts made of flour, milk, eggs, etc.
2. Empty compliment; complete nonsense.

[From Welsh llymru, from llym (sour or sharp). Originally, it was a kind of porridge or pap, made by soaking oatmeal in water for a long time, until it has turned sour.
How did we get from Welsh llymru to English flummery? That's to do with how the Welsh "ll" sounds to others: variously as thl, chl, shl, fl, etc. In this case, it's fl. For the same reason the surname Lloyd is sometimes spelled as Floyd. Also see flummadiddle.]

"Fox Broadcasting Co. aired its highly advertised special 'Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?' NASA, viewers were told, faked the Apollo missions on a movie set. Such flummery should not warrant a response."
Michael Shermer; Fox's Flapdoodle; Scientific American (New York); Jun 2001.

See more usage examples of flummery in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.


I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand. -Baruch Spinoza, philosopher (1632-1677)

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