Monday, August 20, 2007

Word Game: The Incredible Shrinking (or Growing) Word

The idea behind this game is to start with a long word and eliminate one letter at a time. Every time you eliminate a letter, the remaining letters must spell another word. (Okay, so it's actually a bit easier to start with a one-letter word and build up to a larger word.) Here are two decent examples: cremated   o created   or create   ora crate   oral rate   coral ate   choral at   chorale a   chorales What's the longest word you can come up with?

Today's Word: defenestrate

defenestrate: to throw someone or something out the window. Apparently, Prague has historically been a center for defenestration — of royalty, of dissidents, of religious leaders, and of unknowns. "Litter defenestration carries a heavy fine on California highways."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Today's Word: pedicular

pedicular: Lousy. A great insult to slip in when one is expecting the word particular. "I've dated a lot of women in my time, but this pedicular date is on in a million."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Today's Word: acerebral

acerebral: without a brain. A wonderful insult that I'm waiting to hear in a presidential debate — even more insulting than "hare-brained."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Today's Word: palimpsest

palimpsest: writing material which is used multiple times after the original writings have been erased or painted over. Also something that shows extreme diversity in layers beneath the surface. "We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. . . . Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light." — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Today's Word: flapdoodle

flapdoodle: Complete and utter nonsense. A synonym of some other great words like poppycock, balderdash, and bullshit. Useful for descriptions of speeches by Tom Cruise.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Today's Word: sesquipedalian

sesquipedalian: of or referring to inordinately gargantuan vocabulary. Sesquipedalian means, literally, "a foot and a half long." It's normally used to refer them thar big words, although I see some room for its use in the pornography industry. "No matter how hard I try, I can get only about 20 pages into Moby-Dick before the sesquipedalian descriptions send me screaming for some Hemingway."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Today's Word: abecedarian

abecedarian: a) arranged in alphabetical order; b) unsophisticated. (Only one of these two definitions may be applied to this blog.) "Joe's OCD was apparent after I pointed out that the last CD in his abecedarian collection was Frank Zappa, and not ZZ Top. The next day he came home with five copies of Afterburner."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Today's Word: mundungus

mundungus: Bad-smelling tobacco. Not derived from dung but from the Spanish mondongo — tripe. "Cigarette smoke is one thing, but the mundungus Percy stuffs in his pipe is the quintessence of malodor!" Proof positive that JK Rowling didn't name the Harry Potter characters randomly, although the total effect of "Mundungus Fletcher" is a bit odd. A fletcher, after all, is a maker of arrows. Some people in this anti-cigarette age may argue that "mundungus" is inherently redundant. After all, doesn't all tobacco smell bad? (Okay, at least after you light it...)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Today's Word: mithridatize

mithridatize: To render oneself immune to poisons by accustoming one's body to small amounts of them and then gradually increasing the dosage. Could be used metaphorically to describe building up a tolerance to just about anything — from your wife's nagging to the constant hum of the starship Enterprise's engines.

Pliny the Elder tells us that King Mithridates VI of Pontus (along the Black Sea) didn't trust anyone. He eventually murdered his mother (matricide), his sons (filicide), and the sister he had married (sororicide and uxoricide), as well as killing his entire harem (outright homicide) to keep them from falling into enemy hands. He was worried that someone would try to poison him, so he came up with the idea of taking small daily doses of known poisons and then gradually increasing the dosage as his body grew tolerant of them.

Eventually, he got fed up with his son's (real or imagined) treachery and decided to kill himself. How did he try to do it? It wouldn't be a good story unless he tried to poison himself. By that time, he had developed a total immunity to any of the poisons he could find, so it didn't work! In the end, he had someone stab him to death.

A mithridate is the antidote to all poisons. Of course, Pliny the Elder somehow neglected to reveal the ingredients of the mithridate. Although Pliny's story is likely fictitious (or at least exaggerated), it's still an interesting tale.

The most famous case of mithridatization is perhaps that of the Dread Pirate Roberts (aka, Wesley) in The Princess Bride. He was able to defeat the Sicilian in a match of wits because he had mithridatized himself against the effects of iocaine powder.

[Edited for formatting and some embarrassing spelling errors, 11/20/09.]

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Often Confused: compose and comprise

I have often caught people trying to use comprise as a synonym for compose. The two words have different meanings. WRONG: A regular Happy Meal is comprised of a cheeseburger, small fries, a toy, and adult diabetes. I don't know why people do this; maybe they just think that "comprise" sounds more intelligent? To comprise means "to be made up of." The whole comprises the parts, not the other way around. An orchestra comprises one conductor, approximately 65 musicians, and some percussionists. The index comprised a full alphabetical reference until Doug tore out the Cs. Unlike compose, comprise never needs the helping verb to be. You can often substitue one verb for the other, but it isn't just a matter of switching out a single word; you have to switch a single, standalone verb and a phrasal verb: My list of enemies comprises wrongdoers, ne'er-do-wells, scallywags, and accordion players. My list of enemies is composed of wrongdoers, ne'er-do-wells, scallywags, and accordion players.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Today's word: illeism

illeism: Reference to oneself in the third person, usually to excess. Two famous illeists are Richard Nixon ("You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore!") and Bob Dole. Dole actually got some help during his presidential campaign to get him to lessen the number of illeisms. That didn't stop Norm MacDonald of Saturday Night Live, of course. After the election, Bob Dole came on SNL with a good attitude and a sense of humor: Norm MacDonald: Aw, come on now, Senator, it's a great impression. Listen to this: [speaking in his Bob Dole voice] "Come November 5th, a lot of people are going to be surprised by Bob Dole, because Bob Dole's gonna win this election!" Bob Dole: [shaking head] Doesn't sound a thing like me. First of all, I don't run around saying "Bob Dole does this" and "Bob Dole does that." That's not something Bob Dole does. It's not something Bob Dole has ever done, and it's not something Bob Dole will ever do! A more recent illeist is Dobby, the house elf. You can find a lot more examples at Wikipedia.