Tag Archives: definitions

Mother matters

Two of my favorite sitcoms this season are The Middle on ABC and Raising Hope on Fox. Perhaps it’s because they’re as real life as can be, especially when it comes to the mother roles. I also like ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s Parenthood because they reflect the humorous imperfections alive in families.

This morning I pulled the Parade magazine out of the cellophaned supplements and smiled to find featured the four mothers on these shows. In “The Mom Squad,” the actresses playing popular TV mothers give their takes on motherhood.

Whether or not you’re a mother, I think you’ll see a little bit of yourself in one or more of the characters the actresses portray. I know I did.

“A type A anxious mother . . . a little nuts, a little stubborn.”

“She likes to eat. She likes to drink. She loves her kid, but she’s not focused on being the World’s Greatest Mom . . . She’s not reading the mommy blogs, but she has this gooey center.”

“Works because her family needs the money. But in other ways she’s a lot like Lucy in I Love Lucy—she freaks out about stuff, tries to overcontrol situations, and does harebrained things. And her husband is this calming, sensible force who says, ‘Let’s chill.’”

“A stay-at-home mom, but the kids are getting older and she’s trying to work out who she is now that they don’t need her so much.”

(Another favorite quote from the article is one in which actress Martha Plimpton describes the twins who play her granddaughter on Raising Hope. She says, “the little fat behind the neck is like a fine foie gras.”)

So which modern TV mother are you? Or maybe you’re more of a traditional TV mother like June Cleaver or Edith Bunker. Or a mod 1960s or ‘70s mother like Samantha Stevens or Shirley Partridge. Which one do you wish you were and why?

While we’re on the subject, notice I said TV “mother,” and not “mom.” I have a little peeve about this and what better day to air it than on the eve of Mother’s Day? Notice it’s not Mom’s Day. Mom is a name. Mom is not a noun. In my view, someone is not a mom. She’s a working mother, a stay-at-home mother, a single mother or simply, a mother. Madison Avenue is the worst offender, often producing ad copy that says a product is “preferred by moms.” (Such a claim is also backward for this day and age.)

Some dictionaries have acquiesced a bit, but most define “mom” as informal for “mother.”

In my opinion, it’s all right to refer to “my Mom,” but to use “mom” to refer to any woman with children is sloppy speech. Same goes for “dad.”

Why? Because I said so.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio

Pretty it up

Call me one lucky word nymph. I say how much I love words and how they’re used and people send give me their treasured dictionaries. I say how I much I love SweeTarts and people think of me when they see the candies in stores. I publicly fear coming up dry and people send me suggestions for topics.

I received many blessings this Easter, including SweeTarts and other goodies. One gift is something you and I will be able to enjoy together in weeks and months to come.

Get ready to enjoy picks from Hugh Rawson’s A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk: Being a Compilation of Linguistic Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for Artful Users of the English Language, a treasure that came my way thanks to a very special Easter Bunny.

I’ve wanted to write about euphemisms for some time; in fact, I noticed that I had jotted it down on a pad where I park blog ideas, just before I received the book. I had been separating euphemisms from political correctness in my mind in hopes of sharing some subtleties. I’ll do this later, after I’ve had time to delve into 312 pages of euphemisms A to Z. Already I’ve come upon some gems. Doubletalk merits its own discussion altogether. It’s an art often disparagingly attributed to politicians but made famous by comedic greats Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar. Or maybe that’s doublespeak. I’ll look into that.

This dictionary might be my favorite yet; I see great utility. There’s another one out there that looks interesting: A Dictionary of Euphemisms: How Not To Say What You Mean by R.W. Holder, which could be of value to those practicing in the field of crisis communications.

While I’m at work on this, what are some of your favorite euphemisms?

(So far, mine might be “embroider the truth.”)

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Stack’em high

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day. Sunset on Shrovetide. Whatever you call it—if you call it—it’s here. 

In many Christian denominations, tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, traditionally a season of fasting, prayer, reflection and a healthy measure of self-denial.

But tonight we feast. Whether attending a pancake supper in a church hall, as I will, or stumbling along Bourbon Street in one last bender, trading bare flesh for shiny plastic beads, as others will, this is our last hurrah.

The upcoming Lenten season may be for Christians, but nearly every religious faith seems to observe periods of solemnity and fasting, either preceded by or followed by fun and feasting.

For some people I know, Lent is do-over time for failed New Year’s resolutions. For others, it’s a slim-down for swimsuit season. For retailers, it’s a time for chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps that have been out since February 15th to grow stale on the shelves, as Easter won’t come until April 24th.

I like Lent. In fact, this being one of the latest start dates I can remember, I am eager to get started. I don’t always give up one particular thing per se. I have a favorite daily devotional I’ll read. I’ll think twice before doing anything to excess. I’ll try to introduce more quiet into my day to listen for, well, I’m not sure.

I only today looked up “shrove” because I realized I had no idea what it meant. The first definition I saw said that it was the past tense of “shrive.” I didn’t know what that meant either. Another referred to Shrovetide, which was unfamiliar.

1. n shrove, the first day of Shrovetide.
2. n Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Shrovetide, when people traditionally eat pancakes.
3. n Shrovetide, the three days before Ash Wednesday

Shrive [Shriven, imperfect or Shrove, past tense]
1. v to hear or receive the confession of; to administer confession and absolution to
2. v to confess, and receive absolution

Shrive, shrove, shriven, whatever. Aunt Jemima and I are stepping out tonight.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Holidays

The award goes to…

Last night’s Academy Awards  can be summed up in one word: “amazing.”

I’m not talking about the production or the fashions or the performances. I’m talking about the word I’m voting most overused.

Heard on the red carpet:

“This is an amazing night.”
“You have an amazing figure.”
“We’re going to have an amazing time.”
“It’s great to be in the company of these amazing actors.”
“Just look at all these amazing people.”
“You look amazing.”
“Your earrings are amazing.”

I’ve noticed this adjective with an appropriately limited definition has gone epidemic (so has “viral;” that’s why I say “epidemic.”). But if there were any doubt, all anyone would have to do to confirm the diagnosis is watch the Oscars.

The awards program itself was sprinkled with “amazing.” Admittedly, I’d find just being in the Kodak Theatre on such an occasion amazing. So I’ll cut some slack to those who say it feels amazing to be up on that stage to receive a statue.

My point is, let’s save “amazing” for the truly amazing, as we’ve talked about doing with other overused adjectives. Not for earrings.

This morning’s online headlines illustrate this point.

“Jennifer Hudson is amazing in orange at the Oscars”
Oscars: Amazing gowns offer red-carpet options”
Oscars Best Dressed! Check out the Amazing Academy Awards (this one also notes how amazing Celine Dion looks post-twins.)

I even found a recipe for “Amazing Academy Award-winning Appetizers.” How amazing can a pig in a blanket be, unless perhaps it involves a live pig?

Even the JCPenney commercials played along last night: “We make it affordable; you make it amazing.”



Filed under All Things Wordish, Beauty and Fashion, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Rants and Raves

Much ado

It makes me sad when I hear a really interesting word, begin to adopt it into my own vocabulary and then, nearly overnight, hear it thrown about willy-nilly, having lost its distinctive meaning.

This makes me think about the first girls to wear Ugg boots. I still don’t own any because, by the time I became aware of them, they had already saturated the fashion scene and were being worn in places where they have no use, such as at formal events or in the desert Southwest.  There’s a narrow window in which to enjoy something novel before it’s over- or mis-used.

We were watching a morning news program yesterday, a story about a Tacoma, Washington, boy having been sent home from school for wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. The Seattle-based reporter ended the piece, naming the incident a “kerfuffle.” I said to my husband, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’” Just then, our local news anchor said, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’”  The horse is out of the barn.

“Kerfuffle” isn’t a new word and, from what I understand, the British adapted the Scottish “cerfuffle” and made it theirs long ago. It’s just that we don’t hear it all that often. It’s fancy and delicate and best saved for special occasions, much like Grandmother’s white lace tablecloth.

Whereas “kerfuffle” has long referred to commotion, fuss, brouhaha or misunderstanding, it seems many are using it almost euphemistically, to trivialize more heated or violent incidents. One literary blog elaborates.

Other words describing social conflict have evolved over time.

I remember studying the word “altercation” for a vocabulary test in grade school. The definition I memorized was “a wordy quarrel.” Webster’s defines it as a “noisy argument.” News writers and broadcasters now use “altercation” to describe a fist fight, even an incident involving gunfire. They also describe a barroom brawl as a “melee,” a term that has typically referred to combat situations.

As we’ve observed here lately, there is a place for language evolution, though I’m sad to see distinctive words become watered down through overuse. Perhaps there’s also a place for Grandma’s lace tablecloth for Tuesday’s hamburgers; just don’t get ketchup on it.

I missed the Uggs boat and, clearly, my new favorite word is aboard a train that has left the station.

It’s just a simple observation. I won’t make a kerfuffle out of it.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Beauty and Fashion, News, Rants and Raves

Morpheme drip

On October 15, National Dictionary Day Eve, I came out with my confessions of being a dictionary dweeb. Since then I have received a variety of dictionaries from some thoughtful readers. One day soon, we will get into A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, which I received from a reader in Alaska (make of that what you may; we’ll need to see if “refudiate” is listed).

In the 10/15 post, I recalled the first dictionary I ever had, The Harcourt Brace School Dictionary, which I used in the fourth through sixth grades. I thought I had it around here somewhere but it was not be found among my childhood artifacts. I will say it again, I loved that dictionary. And yesterday I discovered that everything I know about grammar, spelling and word usage came from that primer. Which explains a lot.

My mother sent me the old dictionary for my birthday. It still smells the same as it did in 1970.

It seems that, when I went on to junior high, I passed the Harcourt Brace on to my younger brother, who wrote his name in it three times, along with a phone number and a note that said, “If not home, call back in 2 or 3 hours.”

Prior to that I had doodled all over the cover and inside pages. My friends had scribbled,  Monica loves XXX, several times, and I had crossed out all the XXXes. There were small illustrations near some of the definitions, where I had written the names of people I didn’t like. One illustration is of a peccary and, even today, I couldn’t have told you what a peccary is without consulting the definition: either of two wild animals of tropical America, like pigs with sharp tusks. I won’t say whose name I wrote under that.

The real nuggets are found on the first 65 pages, before the definitions of words beginning with A.

Pronunciation keys, spelling charts, abbreviations, basic dictionary skills, age-appropriate etymologies, parts of speech, idioms, they’re all in there, along with a section on Spotting the Troublemakers. There are sections on variant spellings and pronunciations, regional pronunciations and British and American spellings.

It’s good to know that during these years, I wasn’t spending all my time reading Tiger Beat and pinning Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy posters up on my walls.

So class, who can tell me what inflectional forms are? The inflectional forms of a word are forms changed by adding a morpheme. What’s a morpheme? I need a refresher myself. I can’t even make out Wikipedia’s explanation. Expect a post on morphemes soon. Perhaps you’d like to write it.

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Lest we become urban rubes

At the risk of stirring the good Mr. Webster to spin in his grave, I thought today we might observe his birthday—and National Dictionary Day—with a visit to a more unconventional resource, the online Urban Dictionary.

Given that the Urban Dictionary exercises very few quality standards, I realize this might offend lexicographic purists. Even so, for the sake of balance, we might consider it beneficial, while remaining true to our values, to also remain current with the popular language and slang of our times.

I perused a sampling of the definitions contained within the online Urban Dictionary and immediately came upon one I related to. Post block syndrome (PBS): Similar to writer’s block, only in the context of social networking sites. Unable to come up with post-worthy content.

Here are a few more I found amusing:

Pre-festive: The state of premature holiday celebration by means of decorations, singing, or costume. You might say my blog post of yesterday was pre-festive.

Tongue typo:  What happens when you know perfectly well what you want to say but it comes out wrong. Not to be confused with a tongue taco, the ability to twist one’s tongue into the shape of a taco shell.

Auto incorrect: When the auto-correct feature on your iPhone tries to correct your spelling, but instead changes it to words that just don’t make sense with what you’re typing.

Lap flaps: The flaps found inside magazines that fall out onto your lap.

Finally, here’s one that went over my head for years. My son says it sometimes when we’re talking (or, I suppose, when I’m talking). That’s crazy: The perfect response when you haven’t been listening at all. It works whether the other person has been saying something funny, or sad, or infuriating, or boring….

Well, those are just half a dozen of 5 million definitions contained in the Urban Dictionary. If you have a few spare minutes after properly fêting Noah Webster, check it out. Or go in and add a definition of your own. That’s allowed. Obviously.

Please remember, Word Nymph doesn’t post on Sundays. She’ll be overcoming a bad case of PBS. See you Monday (maybe).

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Confessions of a dictionary dweeb

Allow me to be the first to wish you a Happy Dictionary Day Eve.

Yes, tomorrow is National Dictionary Day, the occasion on which we celebrate the birthday of American lexicographer Noah Webster. I’m giving you advance notice so you’ll have a chance to buy all your Dictionary Day decorations before the party stores run out.

Noah Webster was born October 16, 1758, on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut. At age 15, he entered Yale College, graduated in 1778 and later studied law. He also fought in the American Revolution.

Having learned mostly from text books produced in England, Noah believed American students should learn from American text books.  In 1783, he wrote his own textbook, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which was used for more than 100 years in U.S. schools. It is believed Benjamin Franklin used this book to teach his granddaughter to read.

In 1806, Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the first truly American dictionary. He then wrote his famous An American Dictionary of the English Language, for which he learned 26 languages.

There is so much more to know about Noah Webster. I encourage you to devote part of your Saturday to learning more about him.

You already know I like dictionaries. Here on the blog we’ve taken lessons from The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate and A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Somewhere I have the first dictionary I remember owning. It was a big fat Harcourt Brace that I was required to purchase in fourth grade, the first year I attended public school. I loved that dictionary. Here in my office I have a two-volume Funk & Wagnalls. I am not so sure I even own a Webster; I have gotten so accustomed to looking up words online.

In college, before the board games Pictionary or Dictionary Dabble were invented, we played our own version. One person would choose an obscure word at random from the dictionary, write down the definition on a slip of paper, while the other players made up their own definitions and wrote those on slips of paper. The person who was “it” would read all the definitions aloud and the group would try and guess the real definition. Good times.

Okay, so I’m a dictionary geek. I’m the one you’ll see camping out at the party store, buying up all the Word of the Day toilet paper.

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Vulgarity N through Z

…continued from yesterday

The following words and phrases have been picked from the second half of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1787, for your amusement and use.

Nicknackatory:  a toy shop

Nick ninny:  a simpleton

Old Roger:  the devil

Oliver’s skull:  a chamber pot

Peppered:  infected with the venereal disease

Queer rooster:  an informer who pretends to be sleeping, and thereby overhears the conversation of thieves in night cellars

Rabbit catcher:  a midwife

Roast meat clothes:  Sunday clothes

Scotch fiddle:  the itch (Scrubado has the same definition)

Slush bucket:  one who eats much greasy food

Smicket:  a woman’s smock or shift

Stallion:  a man kept by an old lady for secret services

Stewed Quaker:  burned rum with a piece of butter, an American remedy for a cold

Timber toe:  a man with a wooden leg

Uphills:  false dice that run high

Wife in water colours:  a mistress or concubine

There you have it. Thirty-three words and phrases from the days S’s looked like F’s.

Now go out there and confuse your friends and colleagues with your new vulgar tongue.


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Vulgarity A through M

Some time back, while researching for a blog post, I became aware of a book that I later ordered but didn’t read until now. I might have mentioned it. It’s called A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose.

The book itself was published for the first time in 1787, and there is text within that is much older.

One reason I didn’t read this book in earnest until now is that the print quality is so poor that it’s hard on the eye. But the content is so intriguing that I decided to adjust my glasses and give it some focus.

I’m glad I did.

It was written to compile, according to the preface, “the vulgar allusions and cant expressions that so frequently occur in our conversation and periodical publications…”  The entries are also described as “Pedlar’s French” and “burlesque phrases.” Well, I wasn’t around in the 18th century, but I can’t imagine some phrases ever appearing  in common language or publications. I can tell you a good number of the so-called “quaint allusions” used in that period are as shockingly vulgar as anything one would hear or read today. If you want to read these, you are going to have to purchase the book. But be aware–there obviously was limitless tolerance for certain varieties of ethnic and gender slurs 223 years ago.

It also struck me how many terms that I thought were fairly modern were common so long ago. I’d be too embarrassed to cite examples. 

The dictionary entries aren’t all dirty; some truly are quaint.

So I thought I’d share a few with you. Wouldn’t it be fun to drop one or two into ordinary conversation at work today and see what kind of reaction you get?

Today I’ll be giving the highlights from the first half of the alphabet. If you like them, join me tomorrow for the second half.

Brisket beater:  a Roman Catholic

Clicker:  one who proportions out the different shares of the booty among thieves

Cock-a-whoop:  elevated, in high spirits, transported with joy

Dot and go one:  to waddle, generally applied to persons who have one leg shorter than the other

Flesh-broker:  matchmaker

Frosty face: one pitted with the smallpox

Gollumpus:  a large, clumsy fellow

Hang an arse:  to hang back or hesitate

Hop the twig:  to run away

Huckle my butt:  a hot drink made with beer, egg and brandy (Five dollars to the first person I hear order that at Applebee’s)

Humdurgeon:  an imaginary illness

Irish legs:  thick legs. It is said of the Irish women that they have a dispensation from the Pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.

Join giblets:  said of a man and woman who cohabitate

Kickerpoo:  dead

Leaky:  about to blab, as one who cannot keep a secret

Liquor one’s boots:  drink before a journey

Moon-eyed hen:  a squinting wench

To be continued…


Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading