Maybe You Could Use a Third Opinion


They say there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, yet there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Which pithy bit of folksy wisdom do we go with? I guess all we can do when we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma is follow the advice of Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”


Filed 12/10/10

‘Tis the Season to Get Jelly


addage (ăd′-əj) noun. The ten pounds of fat you put on at the start of winter.

Yes, another word I made up. Not to be confused with adage, an old saying, which I didn’t make up. Now, some may blame holiday feasting for the added pounds, but I suggest there’s more to the story. Call it winterizing yourself with an on-board emergency larder of lard for the cold and food scarce days of winter.

Bears and squirrels fatten up for winter, why not people? We’re mam­mals just like them. Not exactly like them, people don’t have fur. On the other hand bears don’t have grocery stores. Though grocery stores have dumpsters and bears are inveterate dumpster divers. I’ve heard about half the fresh produce offered by grocery stores doesn’t sell and gets tossed into dumpsters. I imagine for a bear a dumpster is one great big pic-a-nic basket.

Filed 12/3/10

Buzzword Pet Peeve


Slightly Annoying Words and Phrases

  1. I’m out
  2. It is what it is
  3. like
  4. goes
  5. who dat
  6. male/female
  7. on steroids

1. I don’t know about you, but “I’m out” just sounds like a rude version of “good-bye” where you don’t wait for a return.

2. Gee, I thought it was what it wasn’t. Thanks for the correction.

3. Younger people, like, use this word, like, all the time. It’s like they can’t, like, make up their, like, mind what they, like, really, like, mean. Using like like that seems to say it is only like what it is.

4. Another word usage by younger people where “goes” means ’says.” As in, “Jill goes, ‘I didn’t.’ Then Ann goes, ‘You did.’ Then…” This usage has to go.

5. What dat spose to mean?

6. This is tv news-speak, as in “A 26 year-old male fell to his death…” A male what? A male chimp? Don’t you know what species it was? We’re talking about humans here, so “man” is the word to use. Same goes for female, i.e. woman.

7. It used to be “on acid,” then “on crack,” then “on meth.” Buzz phrases, almost always annoying.

That’s it. I’m out.

Filed 11/30/10

How Many Quote Marks Do You Use When Quoting Someone Quoting Someone Quoting Someone?


“The young people think the old people are fools—but the old people know the young people are fools.”

The above is dialog spoken by Miss Jane Marple from The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. How do we attribute the quote? One might be inclined to attribute Agatha Christie as she wrote it. Yet that would imply she agreed with the sentiment of the quote, even though she might not. Authors put words in the mouths of their own creations they’d never agree to them­selves. I mean, if some character said “I love killing people” you wouldn’t quote the author as saying “I love killing people,” would you?

Which means we’d need to attribute the quote to the fictional Miss Marple. Though in the story Miss Marple was herself quoting her Great Aunt Fanny. So then, which fictional character gets the credit? How many degrees of separation need we include? I guess the correct attribution would be…

—Jane Marple quoting her Great Aunt Fanny in The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.

All that aside, is the sentiment in the quote accurate? Old people should have a better perspective on the young, what with having once been young themselves. On the other hand, the young have never been old.

Filed 11/11/10

In the Language of Homer


d’oh (d′-ō) interjection. Exclamation indicating frustration, disappointment, failure, and/or pain, often used sarcas­tically or in jest.

When you consider them, inter­jections are a little odd as words go. What do they really mean, after all? They’re things we say which are shorthand exclamations for something else. An interjection is kind-of a sentence all in itself. “Ouch!” pretty much means “That hurts.” “Golly!” often as not means, “I’m surprised” or “I’m impressed.”

Thing about interjections, can you use them in a sentence at all? Or rather, can you use an interjection in a sentence without a comma? Gosh, I can’t. Gee, can you? Try using any of the following: ow, gosh, wow, gee, golly, jeepers, ouch, ooh, oops, sheesh, zowie, gadzooks. And of course we mustn’t forget, d’oh!

Then there are words that can be both interjections and something else. Take the word rats for instance. As in, “Rats, my lunch was eaten by rats.” Though I imagine the most common interjection, one we use daily on the telephone is hello.

Filed 11/3/10

Votes Are Like… Everyone Gets One


“Democracy is just a fancy word for pooling a country’s ignorance and unleashing it wholesale on its citizens.”

Norton I, Emperor of the United States (AKA Joshua Abraham Norton)

How much stock we should put in the ideas of a “lovable old humbug,” as Mark Twain called him, is hard to say. Still, the sentiments are not all that different from those of famous curmudgeon, or joyous libertarian if you’d rather, H.L. Mencken.

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignor­ance. No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Does any of that sound familiar, the second sentence in particular? Let’s rephrase it as you may have heard one time or another,

“Nobody ever went broke overesti­mating the vulgarity of the American people.”

Or perhaps you’ve heard it as,

“Nobody ever went broke underesti­mating the intelligence of the general public.”

Whether these are misquotes or paraphrases of Mencken or just other things the man wrote I couldn’t say. People sometimes repeat themselves with variations on a theme. I know I have.

Filed 10/16/10

Tweak It to Death


duhjustment (də jŭst′ mənt) noun. The act of altering, repairing, or replacing the wrong part of a system which wasn’t the problem in an attempted repair.

Like replacing a perfectly good car battery when the alternator was the problem. Or replacing the light bulb and then finding the reason there was no light was the lamp wasn’t plugged in. Or cutting down the already too short leg of a wobbly table.

Which reminds me of what my dad would say, “No matter how many times I cut it down, it’s still too short.”

It’s related to proper diagnostics. If you don’t know what’s wrong you can’t fix it. Moreover, if you don’t know how it works at all you have a hard time trying to figure out what’s wrong with it.

It’s the downside of modern technology and modern life. I mean, how many of us really know how all the hi-tech stuff we use works? Like a computer, for instance. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had problems with mine before. And have made many a duhjustment trying to get it to work properly again.

Should all else fail I resort to the old standby remedy employed on all misbe­having machinery. I bang on it. Of course, like the old gag goes, you have to know where to hit it.

Filed 9/4/10

Spikey Clean


spick-and-span (spĭk ən spăn′) adj. 1. Neat and clean; spotless. 2. Brand-new; fresh.

So then, spick-and-span means neat and clean. Nobody ever uses only one, as in “This room is so spick” or “This room is really span.” They always go hand in hand like Siamese twins, which one guesses might account for the hyphens.

Though one wonders if one means neat and the other means clean. Can your house be span without being spick as well? I mean, if you’re neat and not clean, organized and dirty, are you spick or span?

Now I suppose we might learn something from the word’s derivation which comes from the Dutch spik­splinter nieuw meaning “spike-splinter-new”. How that means neat and clean, your guess is as good as mine.

Filed 7/29/10

Dirty Pigs Are Cool


Do these old expressions make sense?

Make a beeline.
Sweat like a pig.
Lie like a dog

A beeline is supposed to be straight and fast. Have you ever watched bees? They don’t go all that straight and fast as far as I’ve observed. More like a zig-zag meander. Though if you them upset them and they swarm maybe it’s a different story. In which case you make a beeline out of there lickety-split.

Next, pigs don’t sweat. Or so they say. That’s why they wallow in the mud, to cool off. To be honest, I don’t know what animals sweat like people. Dogs pant and horses lather. Is that sweat? I dunno. I also don’t know the difference between a pig a hog and a boar. Though I guess none of them sweat.

In my experience, outside of tall tales and jokes dogs don’t talk. So how could they lie? Besides, dogs don’t have a reputation for dishonesty. A dog is man’s best friend, right? That’s why we name some Fido, from the Latin fidelis, faithful.

Filed 7/8/10

Loose Lips Sink Slips


Folks who speak a good deal in public are bound to make the occasional gaff. Politicians are no exception to the out­spoken sometimes tying their tongues and logic in knots. Still, you have to wonder about the thinking behind the following statements:

“Things are more like they are now than they have ever been.”
—Gerald Ford

“The streets are safe in Phila­del­phia — it’s only the people who make them unsafe.”
—Frank Rizzo, mayor of Philadelphia.

“There are two kinds of truth. There are real truths, and there are made up truths.”
—Marion Barry, mayor of Washington

“A zebra does not change its spots.”
—Al Gore

“We’ve got to act wisely and otherwisely.”
—Allan Lampart, mayor of Toronto

One imagines mayor Rizzo could make the streets of every city safe, just keep people indoors. But then things wouldn’t be more like they are now than they have ever been otherwisely. A truly made up truth if ever there was one. Still, even if what I’m saying doesn’t make sense, I can always use one politician’s out:

“I stand by my misstatements.”
—Dan Quayle

Filed 6/3/10

The People’s Choice


demagogue (dəm′ ə-gŏg) noun. 1. A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace. 2. A leader of the people in ancient times. [Greek demos, common people + agogos, leading.]

This word, like the type of poli­tician it defines, goes way back. In fact, Aristophanes (446-386 B.C.) defined demagogue thusly: A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Of course, one man’s demagoue is another’s leg-tingling inspirational speaker, and one man’s prejudice is another’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” But for my money the best definition comes from my favorite acid-tongued curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, who wrote a demogogue is…

“…one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.“

Filed 5/25/10

Recycling Oscar Wilde


“The only way to rid yourself of temptation is to yield to it.”
—Oscar Wilde

An epigram, a paradox, irony? What­ever it is, it’s the kind of thing Wilde was wild for. He used them quite a bit. As in “I love talking about nothing, father. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”

Many wits like to play at this game, half-wits, too. Being one or the other I’ll give it a go with the following. I’ll start with my own line, or epigram, or whatever. That’s followed by a snippet from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest which forms a sort-of reply.

Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism.

Jack: Is that clever?

Algernon: It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilized life should be.

Jack: I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever now-a-days. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

Algernon: We have.

Jack: I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?

Algernon: The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.

Jack: What fools!

Filed 5/14/10

Son of the Return of the Department of Redundancy and Repetition Department Redux II


Here is another short list of a few more repetitious redundancies yet again:

End result
Prior history
Exact replica
Viewing audience
Free giveaway
Added extra
Added bonus
Extra bonus
Dead and gone
Over and done

Then there’s this run-on phrase that’s in the same vein, “at this point in time.” Maybe I’m nitpicking, but you really don’t need the “in time” tacked on the end. If you just say “at this point” the point in question is a time point, isn’t it? Still, the whole phrase is more or less a longwinded way to say “now” or “yet” anyway. And with that, this entry is now truly over and done.

Filed 5/3/10

Fix That Affixed Prefix


predundant (prē dŭn′ dənt) adj. When a prefix which should change a word’s meaning doesn’t change the meaning at all.

You’ve likely gotten junk mail from some bank saying you’ve been pre-approved for a credit card. What exactly does pre-approved mean? The prefix “pre” means prior to or not yet. So pre-approved means not yet approved. Notice the word not. Which would make it not approved rather than already approved. Wouldn’t approved before applying simply be approved, not pre-approved?

Which leads us to another confus­ing term, pre-fabricated. Seems to me something fabricated is already built. So what is pre-fabricated? Wouldn’t something pre being fabricated be not yet fabricated, in other words unfab­ricated? I mean, built is built and done is done. Then there’s flammable and inflammable which mean the same thing, combustible.

This mightn’t apply to flooring where finish has another meaning, a protective coating. In which case pre-finished is meaningful as it is custom­ary to apply the finish after the floor is laid. So then pre-finished is flooring finished prior to laying. Though really if you just called it finished it would mean the same thing. After all, furni­ture without a finish is called unfin­ished. Furniture with a finish isn’t called pre-finished, just finished. Or actually it’s usually not mentioned at all, it’s simply furniture.

Filed 4/26/10

Animal Adages


“Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”  —Robert Heinlein

Many a quote or adage involves animals and trying to get them to do things. Often the futility of getting dumb beasts to do things they can’t or won’t do. Though it might not be the beast is so dumb, rather trying to get said creature to behave against its nature is foolish. Take for instance these two old saws…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I’m fairly sure you can’t teach a dog, no matter its age, to sing. Though I have seen dogs howl along to music, though I wouldn’t classify such vocalizations as singing. Which recalls the story of Dr. Johnson’s reaction to certain dog tricks…

“The question the spectacle of a dog walking on its hind legs brings to mind is not how well is it done, but why.”

Filed 4/12/10

Getting the Real Poop on the Poopdeck


Sometimes you can infer where a bit of old-fashioned slang came from if you know what the word originally meant before it became slang. Often the original meaning is long lost as nobody uses it any more, though the slang lives on. Here’s one example…

scuttlebutt (skŭt′-əl bŭt) noun. 1. A drinking fountain on a ship. 2. For­merly, a cask on a ship holding the day’s supply of drinking water. 3. Slang. Gossip; rumor. [scuttle, hatch + butt, cask]

So you ask yourself, where do co-workers gather to exchange the latest juicy bits of gossip or rehash the latest episode of some popular TV show. At the water cooler. Then you ask, what’s the old-time version of the water cooler for a sailor. A scuttlebutt. Put two and two together and you can easily see how scuttlebutt came to mean gossip.

Filed 4/2/10

Howdy, Mate


blurd (blŭrd) noun. A word which means one thing to the English and another to Americans.

The word pissed is a blurd. To a Brit it means drunk and to a Yank it means mad. Then again, mad to an American often means angry and to the English means insane. Which is how you can be mad with rage while being angry with rage is redundant. Now I suppose “raving mad” would work in both senses of mad, though usually it means wildly insane on both sides of the pond. People rarely call you raving angry, though they might speak of angry raving.

Then there’s jumper. Stateside that’d be some suicidal sort on a building ledge. In merry old England it’s a knitted top, called a sweater in the US. What I don’t know is what an Englishman might bring an American who asked for jumper cables. A bungee cord?

The Brit’s biscuit is the Yank’s cookie. I think what Yanks call a biscuit is called a scone on the right side of the Atlantic. Then again, U.S. corn is maize in the UK where wheat is corn. Though if the main grain of the land were rye or millet, then they would be corn. So a corn biscuit… I give up.

As Winston Churchill famously said, England and America are “Two nations divided by a common language.”

No more true than this story where an Englishwoman craving a cigarette shocked her American host by saying, “I could murder a fag.” If you find that amusing, you might try this quiz.

Filed 3/15/10



fauxcabulary (fō kăb′-ū lâr-rē) noun. Words and terms coined to be amusing or satirical and not found in a diction­ary.

Word play is a favorite pastime of wags and gagsters, pundits and punsters, and boys and girls of all ages. One word playtime activity is making up new words. When such neologisms are just for fun, they’re fauxcabulary words. Or at least they are here since I made up the word.

One method of coining fauxcab­ulary words takes the form of combining two words creating a port­manteau word taking on the meaning of both. Like Fauxcabulary, a combi­nation of faux and vocabulary. A faux­cabulary word can also be created by changing a syllable in the middle of the word…

claustrofauxbia, the fear of getting trapped in an imaginary box, or maybe the fear of mimes.

On the web a favorite trick is using proper names in such combinations for satirical purposes. It shouldn’t be hard finding any number of combinations containing Obama and Limbaugh around the political part of the blogo­sphere. Obamanation and Lamebaugh are only the beginning. For us, for now, that’s the end.

Filed 2/5/10

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