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Posts Tagged ‘words’


A malaprop could be described as saying the wrong thing at just the right time. Malapropism is the act of using an incorrect word in place of one that is similar in pronunciation. The word malaprop (or malapropism) comes via Mrs. Malaprop, a character in the Richard Brinsley Sheridan comedy "The Rivals" (1775). Mrs. Malaprop habitually misused words. Ultimately the word came from the French mal à propos, meaning "inappropriate." Malapropism is also referred to as Dogberryism, named after Officer Dogberry in Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing" (1599). Mrs. Malaprop and Officer Dogberry made the same kind of speech error. Here's an example from each character.

Mrs. Malaprop said, "Illiterate him quite from your memory." (obliterate)

Officer Dogberry said, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (apprehended)

Children very often make this kind of error because of their limited frame of reference. Children have been overheard talking about songs they sang at "vocation Bible school" (vacation), songs such as "Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear" (cross I'll bear) and "Lead on, O Kinky Turtle." (O King Eternal)

Here are some malaprops, along with the appropriate word/s.

He's a wolf in cheap clothing. (sheep's)

It was a case of love at Versailles. (first sight)

He's got one of those sight-seeing dogs. (seeing-eye)

In Algiers, they spend most of their time at the cash bar. (casbah)

A fool and his money are some party. (soon parted) As you will see in the comments to this post, I accidentally did my own malaprop by originally saying that the correct wording was "soon partying." 🙂

For all intensive purposes he skipped the meeting. (for all intents and purposes)

All's fear in love and war. (fair)

To each his zone. (own)

Agreed, no more negotiating — it's a dumb deal. (done)

It's a long road to hold. (row to hoe)
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Grammar and Spelling

Being a language teacher, I am obviously interested in grammar. I know that the word grammar chills the blood of many people, as they entertain thoughts of struggling with grammar in school. But honestly, vocabulary alone is not enough to allow us to communicate our thoughts so that others can comprehend them. We cannot just string words together with no order. To quote William B. Bradshaw, "Grammar, regardless of the country or the language, is the foundation for communication — the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likelihood of understanding the message's intent and meaning. That is what communication is all about."

This is particularly true in writing, where the clarifying impact of vocal intonation is missing. Let me demonstrate....

Lets Eat Grandma

I'm sure that Grandma would prefer clearer communication that would help her avoid being the victim of cannibalism. There would have been no problem when the suggestion of eating was said aloud, but the written form needs to reflect that pause, hence the comma.

This next one on punctuation is a bit more subtle.
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Ever Heard of Sniglets?


Back in the 1980's a comedian named Rich Hall regularly featured what he called sniglets as part of his routine. He said a sniglet is "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should." He created some of his own and solicited more from his fans. These he assembled into books that are still available on amazon.com

There was even a Sniglets game put out by Milton Bradley which is still available on both Amazon and eBay:

Sniglets Game

I have none of the books, but I've had a collection of sniglets in my files for over a decade. Here are the ones I have:

Accordionated - adj. Being able to drive and refold a road map at the same time.

Aeroma - n. The odor emanating from an exercise room after an aerobics workout.

Aquadextrous - adj. Possessing the ability to turn the bathtub faucet on and off with your toes.

Arachnidiot - n. A person, who, having wandered into an "invisible" spider web, begins gyrating and flailing about wildly.

Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at 3 in the morning and cannot be cast out.

Begathon - n. A multi-day event on public television, used to raise money so you won't have to watch commercials.

Bovilexia - n. The uncontrollable urge to lean out the car window and yell "Moo!" every time you pass a cow.

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Burgacide - n. What you call the desperate action of a hamburger leaping to its death through the holes in the Bar-B-Q grill.

Carperpetuation - n. The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

Charp (charp) - n. The green, mutant potato chip found in every bag.

Combiloops - n. The two or three unsuccessful passes before finally opening a combination locker.

Crummox (noun): The amount of cereal leftover in the box that is too little to eat and too much to throw away

Darf - n. The least attractive side of a Christmas tree that ends up facing the wall.

Deodorend - n. The last 1/2 inch of stick deodorant that won't turn up out of the tube, and thus cannot be used without inducing lacerations.

Doork - n. A person who always pushes on a door marked "pull" or vice versa.
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There’s a Word for That?!


Being a teacher of both French and German has unique challenges, but also distinct advantages. I tell my students that the English language came about in the following way — some Angles and Saxons were living in what is now England and put a form of German into a bag; the Normans invaded, conquered, and added a form of French to the bag; it all got shaken up over time, and out came English. That's overly simplified, of course, and I do go over the society structure that explains why certain categories of words are Germanic and others are more French. It helps my students to see how we can have so many words in our language that resemble either the French or German words they are learning.

The blending of those two languages is what helps to give English the breadth and depth of verbal possibilities. Exactly how large is our English vocabulary? Here's some information from the site of the Oxford Dictionaries:

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.... This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.

You would think that, with a vocabulary that large, we would have ways to express just about anything. Through the years the English language has borrowed many words that add a certain je ne sais quoi to our vocabulary. Some borrowings are used well, and others, unfortunately aren't. I cringe every time I hear various faux pas.

An expression that many love to use is coup de grâce, which literally means "a blow of mercy," that kindly ends suffering. In essence it means "a mercy killing." The correct pronunciation is basically /coo-duh-grahs/. (Please note that the p at the end of coup is silent and the c in grâce is pronounced like an s.) When (mis)pronounced /coop-duh-grahs/ it means "a cup of mercy." When (mis)pronounced /coo-duh-grah/ it means "a blow of fat" (gras, with a silent s). And a merciless killing happens each time a person says /coup-duh-grah/, which is "a cup of fat"!

Ok, I know that I'm a French teacher and that most listeners don't catch those subtle nuances, but still! Why use a word, only to misuse it?! I actually have to admit a bit of Schadenfreude (joy at someone else's misfortune) when I hear someone trying to impress others by using coup de grâce, only to unwittingly hit them with a cup of fat.

Recently my dear wife sent me a link to a site with 38 Wonderful Foreign Words We Could Use in English on mentalfloss.com. Some of the meanings and uses of the words were humorous, and others I could have happily lived out the rest of my days without ever seeing. I decided to do some websearching to see what other words I could find. The more I found, the more I knew I wanted that to be the topic for this week.

I'm posting my favorites in alphabetical order. Some of the expressions give fascinating glimpses into the culture of the people who speak that language. It's strange to think that some ideas are important enough they would have a succinct way of expressing them! I hope you enjoy at least some of these as much as I did.

Age-tori (Japanese)
To look worse after getting a haircut

Appel du vide (French)
It is literally "the call of the void." It's the expression used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places, for example when close to the edge of a cliff or atop the Eiffel Tower.

Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist

Betsubara (Japanese)
Loosely translates to "extra stomach." It is generally used to describe a woman who always has room for dessert.
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What’s UP?

Recently Becka and I rented and watched the Disney Pixar movie UP and enjoyed it immensely. Whoever wrote the script really understood little boys. Then this past week I received an e-mail from a long-time friend about the word up and thought it would make a good blog post. After tidying up and reworking the e-mail, I'm posting it to up the educational value of my blog.

I'm fairly certain that the only two-letter word in English that could be a noun [n], verb [v], adjective [adj], adverb [adv], preposition [prep], and also an abbreviation is up. And no other two-letter English word has more meanings. You will have to be up on your grammar to recognize what part of speech up is each time it is used. To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look up the word up in the dictionary. In a small dictionary, it takes up almost 1/4 of the page and can add up to about thirty definitions.

Don't mess up as you use this word. Using it correctly is up to you.
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