Boring to Better – WIF Word Alternatives

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28 Boring Word


– Improve Your Writing

Designed and written by my friend Jack Milgram @

Have you ever been in a situation like this?

You’re having a conversation with your friend or colleague. Once it’s over and a couple of minutes pass, thoughts appear in your head. You start thinking something like: “I should’ve said that differently. Using other words would be better.”

And it doesn’t even matter, whether the conversation was friendly, or if it was an argument of some sort. It can happen even after a small talk.

Well, today it’s all about to change.

At Custom-Writing, we care about how you present yourself even in the shortest talk. We also don’t want you to be doubting your conversation skills.

That’s why we’ve gathered 28 the most common words that are just too boring to use. And we’ve selected some alternatives you can use instead.

Those word alternatives will make your speech way more varied and exciting.

It’s going to be equally helpful both for spoken and for written conversations.

You can find all of this goodness in an infographic below.

We’re not saying that you should get rid of those annoying words altogether. But changing things up a little bit will make a big difference.

And again, you won’t ever have to worry about whether or not you’ve made a good impression in that last conversation.

It surely might take some time to get used to. And that’s fine. After all, we’ve been using the same common words each and day over and over again.

However, English has much more to offer. And we all know it well. It’s just become a habit to use the most common words, as it doesn’t require additional thinking. But if the language allows you to express your thoughts in so many different ways, why would you miss this opportunity?

All you need is just a little bit of attention and patience. After some time, you won’t even notice that you’ve upgraded your active vocabulary.

Are you ready for this? Let’s go!

Boring to Better –

WIF Word Alternatives

English as a Language – WIF Fun Facts

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Fun Facts

About the

English Language

With so many languages bouncing around the globe, you would be forgiven for thinking English is just one of many. The following 10 entries look at how a once small language spoken by an island people is now used as a global lingua franca. If Latin had the Roman Empire, then English has the world.

 10. English is the Most Commonly Used Language in the Sciences

SCOPUS, the world’s largest database for peer-reviewed journals, contains 21, 000 articles from 239 countries. A 2012 study found that 80 percent were written entirely in English. That’s not all. For an article to gain entry to SCOPUS, a journal must include an English abstract – even if it is written in another language. This trend in the sciences shows no sign of stopping and in some cases, has even increased.

Most scientists know that research written in aforeign language will likely reach a limited audience. If research is to have a global impact, then it needs to be published in English. This means researchers need to have a level of proficiency which allows them to attend conferences, read research papers and hold discussions, all in English.

A monolingual English approach to science has its drawbacks. A BBC article concerning the stories of the indigenous tribes of Indonesia noted that as indigenous languages decline, it becomes increasingly difficult for scientists to access knowledge that could potentially be lost forever.

9. English in the Publishing World

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), an organization which provides statistics concerning global book publishing, 21.84% of all books published in the world are written in English. This figure is dwarfed compared to the number of periodicals released in English, which makes up a staggering 62.55% of all periodicals published. This seems impressive considering that English only takes second place for largest literate population in the world. The title is actually held by Mandarin Chinese, which boasts a literate population of 794,947,565 people, or 14.68% of the world. In comparison, English only has 572,977,034, representing a mere 10.58% of the world’s literate population.

It seems strange then, that only 4.85% of the world’s information resources are produced in Mandarin. In comparison, English sits comfortably producing 44.29% of global information. The nearest contender is German at 7.60%. The perception of English as a universal language alongside special programs which encourage English proficiency are most likely the reason English stays up on top.

8. English and the Internet

Is English’s dominance on the web coming to an end? It is safe to say that English was probably the first language used online. By the mid-1990s, 80% of the internet’s content was written in English. This is no longer the case, where competition with Chinese, French, German and Spanish has caused English’s presence on the net to shrink to around 30%. Chinese in particular, has expanded to fill this gap, growing by 1277.4% between 2000 and 2010. To keep this in perspective, out of around the 6,000 languages in use, the top ten most commonly used languages on the internet (English, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, German, French, and Malaysian) make up 82% of all content.

English remains dominant with around 800 million users surfing the net, but Chinese stays close with 649 million and Spanish follows with 222 million users. Does it matter which language you speak online? It does when it comes to language inequality. There are huge information vacuums where other languages are left in the dark in favour of more popular ones. For example, Google searches in English return between four to five time more results than in Arabic. Not all languages are considered equal.

7. English is Not the Official Language of the United States

Freelance Writing Promotion from WIF

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Longtime Freelance Writer Gwendolyn Hoff is taking the B2B World by Storm

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More and more business professionals are taking a look at one of the most reliable and punctual producers of quality content/copy on the Internet.





Every one, I mean everybody is looking for that perfect combination of words to:

  1. Sell their product or service
  2. Make their cause more relatable
  3. “I want a 6th grader to understand this”
  4. Entertain the living h*** out of a Google(y) audience


… there are a slug of copywriters out there, most of which are competing for the same clients. It is a dog-eat-dog, don’t blink or you’ll miss it project environment, like a pack of lions fighting over the same water buffalo; the scrawny, the weak, the old are left with the stale scraps. Yuck!

 It’s hard to stand out, but Freelance Writing from Gwendolyn Hoff intends to do so.


Some say that a good old-fashioned work ethic is dead. It may well be, but my Daddy once told me, he said, “Gwen, if you serve people the same ol’ mush day after day, all you’ll do is fill up the garbage can faster.” He was a practical man. “A clean plate is easier to wash.”

I loved my dad.

Think different

Slogan alert:

 “I am not satisfied until you are.”



I’m not just blowing smoke. If it means I need to make revisions until the cows come home, I will.



“So sure, start with a slogan. But don’t bother wasting any time on it if you’re merely going for catchy. Aim for true instead.”

Seth Godin




“Instead of one-way interruption, Web marketing is about delivering useful content at just the precise moment that a buyer needs it.

Search, a marketing method that didn’t exist a decade ago, provides the most efficient and inexpensive way for businesses to find leads.”

David Honegger






Me at Freelance Writing from Gwendolyn Hoff am giving you the chance to hop on the Gwen-train, before it leaves the station or the train fills up; “There are only so many hours in a day,” said a wise daddy Hoff.


  • Direct Response
  • Email Copy
  • Web Content
  • Copy Editing
  • White Papers
  • Landing Pages
  • Case Studies
  • Press Releases
  • Articles
  • Ghost writer


Contact me today and find out out how easy your marketing task will be.

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Reasonable rates – Fixed & Hourly

 Freelance Writing Promotion from WIF

Spelling Puns # 25

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Spelling Puns #25

My son’s spelling test consisted of synonyms of the word incorrect. He was able to write every wrong.


Little Jimmy told his teacher he never saw a hummingbird but he had watched a spelling bee.

The book of incantations was useless. The author had failed to run a spell check.

If you leave alphabet soup on the stove and go out, it could spell disaster.

Image result for alphabet soup


Mickey Mouse gives some people Disney spells.

English teachers can keep a class Spell bound.

Image result for english

Witches are good at spell-ing.


Spelling Puns


# 25

“Weird Al” – Grammar Police

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 Grammar With a Splash of “Weird Al”


“Weird Al” Yankovic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Weird Al” Yankovic

Yankovic performing live in 2010
Background information
Birth name Alfred Matthew Yankovic
Born October 23, 1959 (age 54)
Downey, CaliforniaU.S.
Origin Lynwood, California, U.S.
Genres Parodycomedypolka
Occupations Singer-songwriter, musician, parodist, record producer, satirist, actor, music video director, film producer, author
Instruments Vocalsaccordionkeyboards,theremin
Years active 1976–present
Labels Rock ‘n Roll RecordsCapitol, Placebo, TKScotti Brothers,VolcanoRCA
Associated acts Dr. Demento

Alfred Matthew Yankovic (/ˈjæŋkəvɪk/ yang-kə-vik; born October 23, 1959),[1]better known by his stage name “Weird Al” Yankovic, is an American singer-songwriter, musician, parodist, record producer, satirist, actor, music video director, film producer, and author. He is known for his humorous songs that make light ofpopular culture and often parody specific songs by contemporary musical acts. Since his first-aired comedy song in 1976, he has sold more than 12 million albums (as of 2007),[2] recorded more than 150 parody and original songs,[3][4][5] and has performed more than 1,000 live shows.[6] His works have earned him three Grammy Awards and a further 11 nominations, four gold records, and six platinum records in the United States. Yankovic’s first top ten Billboard album (Straight Outta Lynwood) and single (“White & Nerdy“) were both released in 2006, nearly three decades into his career.

Yankovic’s success comes in part from his effective use of music video to further parody popular culture, the song’s original artist, and the original music videos themselves, scene-for-scene in some cases. He directed later videos himself and went on to direct for other artists including Ben FoldsHansonThe Black Crowes, and The Presidents of the United States of America. In addition to recording his albums, Yankovic wrote and starred in the film UHF (1989) and The Weird Al Show(1997). He has also made guest appearances on many television shows, in addition to starring in Al TV specials on MTV.[1]

“Weird Al” – Grammar Police

World Wide Words issue 881 – WIF Style

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Worl Wide Words

Issue 881



World Wide Words Newsletter 881


Issue 881: Saturday 10 May 2014


1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Kith.

3. Wordface.

4. Busman’s holiday.

5. Sic!

1. Feedback, Notes and Comments

Inflammable Peter Watts followed up last week’s remarks in this section about the confusion inflammable causes: “When checking a tenancy agreement, I found reference was made to the property not being available for occupation due to fire. In such circumstances the property was described as inhabitable. I amended the word to uninhabitable.”

Was this somebody making the same mistake as others have done with inflammable? Or is it a survivor of obsolete language used only in legal English? The latter seems very unlikely, but once upon a time inhabitable did mean uninhabitable, the exact opposite of what it means now. It’s in Shakespeare’s Richard II of 1597: “Even to the frozen ridges of the Alps, / Or any other ground inhabitable.” The word is from Latin inhabitabilis, in which the in- prefix has the sense of “not”. This was taken into French inhabitable with the same meaning (it’s a well-known faux ami or false friend for learners of French). It was borrowed into English in the same sense but fell out of use in the 1740s. On the other hand, English inhabit has always meant to live in, from Old French enhabiter, now habiter; this is from Latin inhabitare, to live in or dwell, in which the in- prefix is like the English in. Around 1600, English inhabitable began to be reanalysed as inhabit + -able and within a century this sense had displaced the older one (presumably after a period of confusion for users).

Marthambles Anthea Fleming emailed, “One item in Dr Tufts’ list of afflictions deserves comment. I think moon-pall can be identified as the belief that the full moon shining on your face when you’re asleep leads to lunacy and probably other afflictions. Eric Newby reported that his fellow sailors on board the Moshulu in The Last Grain Race (1956) wrapped their heads when sleeping on deck on hot nights because they thought the moon sent you crazy. (Certainly it can be very difficult to sleep under a full moon, as I know from camping experiences.)”

2. Kith

We meet this most often now in the set phrase kith and kin. What that means isn’t always obvious. Some use it as no more than a wordy way of describing one’s relatives; for others, it refers also to a wider group of friends and acquaintances. It can also have the sense of a group of people with the same ethnic origin, usually one under a threat of some kind.

As a phrase, kith and kin has been in the language for more than 600 years, the first known user being William Langland in his poem Piers Plowman of 1362. Kith is Old English, cýðð, which meant knowledge or information. It’s closely related to couth, which meant something or somebody known to the speaker. (Uncouth then meant an unknown or unfamiliar person or place but in the fourteenth century came to mean something distasteful and short afterwards an odd, awkward, or clumsy individual; our modern sense of someone ill-mannered or lacking in refinement and grace, came along in the eighteenth century.)

Kith has gone through several stages. Starting with knowledge, it took on the idea of country that’s known or familiar, one’s native land or home. A small further step shifted it from the land to its people, one’s countrymen and women, and one more shift limited it to the group a person knows or knows of, his or her friends, neighbours and acquaintances.

This last sense is still in use, which makes kith and kin a wider group than just kinfolk or relatives but includes a penumbral group shading from close friends to distant acquaintances.

3. Wordface

Vaperology British newspapers have belatedly begun to note the specialised vocabulary that has grown up in the US around e-cigs (more formally e-cigarettes or electronic cigarettes). Smokers of e-cigarettes are vapers (from vapour) and the process is vaping.

World Wide Words and WIF do not endorse smoking of ANY kind

Many vapers are taking them up as an alternative to the traditional sort, for which the retronym tobacco cigarette has been coined. The first generation were disposable items, designed to look like the tobacco sort, and have been nicknamed cig-a-likes. They’re being replaced by second-generation pipes, vape pens, sold in vape shops or vaporiums by specialists called vapologists. These pipes are more expensive to buy but are refillable with a cartridge (a vape tank, clearomizer or cartomizer according to type) which contains a flavoured solution of nicotine called e-juice or e-liquid. That’s turned into vapour by a heating element, the atomiser (shortened to atty). Enthusiasts — called flavour junkies and cloud chasers — like to customise their pipes, all the better to blow killer clouds of pungent vapour while vaping.

4. Busman’s holiday

A recent report in a Bristol newspaper featured a singer who took time out from recording albums to write songs for children. She called this her busman’s holiday.

You are unlikely to have busman in your personal vocabulary, as it’s mostly journalistic headline shorthand. It dates from the 1840s for the driver or conductor of a horse-drawn London omnibus (the conductor was the second man of the crew, who rode inside to collect the fares, a post now almost unknown in Britain).

A busman’s holiday is free time a person spends in an activity that’s much like what he or she does for a living. So a carpenter who spends a weekend repairing a friend’s house or a teacher who works at summer school during the holidays is taking a busman’s holiday.

Having been at the heart of Obama’s two successful bids for the US presidency, Axelrod is probably the most accomplished American political operator enticed to take a busman’s holiday in Britain, but he is by no means the first.
Sunday Times, 20 Apr. 2014. David Axelrod had taken up a post as the Labour Party’s senor political strategist.

Busman’s holiday is originally British, dating from the end of the nineteenth century. It initially spread to other countries through reports of London affairs and then caught on locally. It appeared in the Sunday Times of Sydney, Australia, in May 1896 and the Auckland Star of New Zealand in October 1902. It reached North America in 1909. It’s now known throughout the English-speaking world.

Some writers on etymology have got into a mess trying to explain it.

A typical story appeared in John Ciardi’s A Browser’s Dictionary in 1981: “British drivers of horse-drawn omnibuses, becoming attached to their teams, were uneasy about turning them over to relief drivers who might abuse them. On their days off, therefore, the drivers regularly went to the stables to see that the horses were properly harnessed, and returned at night to see that they had not been abused”. A similar tale is told by William and Mary Morris in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, except that they assert that the most caring drivers, should they have any reason to fear abuse would occur, would sit among the passengers to observe the relief driver’s behaviour. A related explanation was given in the Brownsville Daily Herald of Texas on 2 September 1909: “When a London omnibus driver takes a day off it is supposed that he spends it riding around on the top of a friend’s ‘bus, seeing how he does things.”

Other writers are justly scornful of such sentimental explanations. Anyone who has looked into the history of nineteenth-century London buses will know that their horses were no better cared for than any other working nags and that they were often sweated to death.

The most plausible explanation given by writers who seek to explain matters is that a popular day out among working-class Londoners in the late nineteenth century was to make an excursion by bus. A bus driver or conductor who went on such a trip was said to be taking a busman’s holiday.

However, the earliest examples point to its instead being humorous urban folklore, retold here in all seriousness by an actor:

I shall indeed take a holiday on the Continent off the stage, soon, probably but it will be a “Busman’s Holiday.” The bus-driver spends his “day off” in driving on a pal’s bus, on the box-seat by his pal’s side; and I know that night after night, all through my holiday, I shall be in and out of this hall and that theatre, never happy except when I am watching some theatrical piece or variety entertainment.
English Illustrated Magazine, 1893.

That story is paralleled by one from nearly three decades later:

Few stories of London origin are more familiar than that of the cabby who, regarding his day off as one of his indisputable rights, spent it each week in riding about the City with a fellow cabby in order to keep him company.
Punch, or the London Charivari, 14 July 1920. Punch, a humorous and satirical weekly that became a British institution, claimed to be quoting an unspecified Sunday newspaper and connected the story with busman’s holiday.

This surely confirms that a tale about pally cabbies was as common as the one about friendly busmen and equally likely to be a joke.

Americans of the period seem to have been mildly intrigued by the leisure activities of London busmen. An article from the London Chronicle was reprinted in a Kentucky newspaper:

Recently I came across a really happy omnibus conductor, who knew me by sight, and remarked that it had been a splendid day. He had almost a whole day off, and looked jolly. What had he done? Why, what he always does when on a day off! I had never really believed in the phrase “The busman’s holiday.” It’s true. For that man always gets on the top of another man’s bus and has a good long ride into the country and back. It cured him of insomnia, he said.
The Richmond Climax (Kentucky), 19 Nov. 1913.

We may conclude from all this that busman’s holiday was based on a Londoner’s joke, along the lines of “What does a busman do on his day off? He takes a bus ride with a pal, of course.” Over time, the joke was forgotten but the phrase survived, to become the target of much speculation about its genesis from etymologists separated in time and space from the environment in which it was created.

5. Sic!

• Charlie Cockey found this sentence in a report dated 22 April on the website of KTVB, a TV station in Boise, Idaho. “Quijano admitted to police she’d stabbed her former boyfriend, Santiago Pineda, the day after she did killed him.”

• The following appeared in the online issue of Sporting Life of 1 May, John Lynch tells us. “Fast bowling all-rounder Ben Stokes is also recovering from the broken wrist sustained when he punched a locker in the Caribbean, opening the door for Chris Woakes’ return.”

• This headline over a report of 30 April on Yahoo! News was spotted by Ed Floden: “Maggots found in Whole Foods meat case, health officials say they’re not moving fast enough to fix the problem.” Who isn’t?

• Carolynne Robertson-Dunn found this in a Sydney Morning Herald piece of 7 April: “Other celebrities to have been prevented from entering the US for bad behaviour include Lily Allen, in 2007 after she was arrested earlier that same year for allegedly punching a photographer, Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, footballer Jermaine Pennant and Boy George.”



World Wide Words issue 881 – WIF Style

World Wide Words Issue 848 – WIF Style

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Issue 848: Saturday 7 September 2013



1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Asparagus.

3. Curry favour.

4. Sic!

Not a happy bunny A moment of inattentive editing led me to remove a note in the draft of this piece mentioning the near equivalent US idiom not a happy camper, a term almost certainly deriving from the summer camps to which large numbers of young people are annually despatched, not always willingly. Robert Hart wrote, “The picture that comes to mind is of youths exposed to what they consider the rigors of outdoor life for the first time.” (We don’t have such camps in Britain and so when I first heard the Allan Sherman song about Camp Granada many years ago it took a moment to puzzle out the context.) The excision led to several dozen readers writing to tell me about the US idiom. Thanks; your reward was an automated message because I didn’t have the time to respond personally. The edit also made it less clear that not a happy bunny is mostly British and Australian.

Readers from Britain, Ireland and New Zealand mentioned not a happy chappie, another version in which the last word is a familiar form of chap, a rather dated Britishism for a man (also in the one-time common form of address among familiars, old chap). Chap was originally a slangy term for a customer or buyer, an abbreviation of chapman, a merchant or itinerant dealer. Yet another version that was mentioned, which I think is mainly from the US, is not a happy puppy.

Crack varnish Following up the note about this term last week, Michael Neustadt wrote, “Your explanation of crack varnish as the finest of passenger train cars parallels the common expression, at least among rail fans and rail car owners, for a privately owned rail car as a private varnish.”

2. Asparagus

The name of this delightful vegetable has swung from classical Latin to rustic reinvention and back during its history in English.

It first appears in English around 1000. Its name was taken from medieval Latin sparagus but by the sixteenth century it had come sperach or sperage. It might well have stayed like that had it not been for herbalists, who knew the classical Latin name was asparagus, itself borrowed from the Greek. Their influence meant that that name became quite widely known during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries alongside the older names. Nicholas Culpeper, for example, headed an entry in his herbal of 1653 as “Asparagus, Sparagus, or Sperage”, thus covering all bases.

Non-scholars had trouble with asparagus and did what the medieval Latin writers had done — leave off the unstressed initial vowel, so making it sparagus again. But they went one step further, converting it by folk etymology into forms that seemed to make more sense, either sparagrass or sparrowgrass. The latter form became common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:

So home, and having brought home with me from Fenchurch Street a hundred of sparrowgrass, cost 18d.
Diary, by Samuel Pepys, 20 April 1667.

In the eighteenth century sparrowgrass was so much the standard and polite term that John Walker commented in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary in 1791: “‘Sparrow-grass’ is so general that ‘asparagus’ has an air of stiffness and pedantry”. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was also called Battersea grass, from the name of the London suburb alongside the Thames in whose market gardens it was grown.

During the nineteenth century the wheel turned yet again, in part because of pedagogical opposition to a form considered to be no more than an ignorant mistake, bringing asparagus to the fore and relegating sparrowgrass to what the New English Dictionary rather loftily described in 1885 as “dialect or vulgar” status. This is supported by examples in fiction which attempt to render the voices of lower-class characters:

I remember my lars’ customer, the very lars’ customer that ever I ’ad. He was a Mr. Moses Gluckstein, a city gent and very pleasant and fond of sparrowgrass and chokes.
The War in the Air, by H G Wells, 1908. Chokes are artichokes.

Slavey came in while I was eating it, and caught me picking it up with my fingers. Next morning she says to my missis, so missis told me, “’Ow does master eat ’is sparrowgrass when ’e’s out with company, mum?” says she.
Lord Raingo, by Arnold Bennett, 1926. A slavey was a hard-worked live-in maidservant.

Sparrowgrass is still around, though in print only as a historical reference, and the vegetable is still sometimes called grass in the greengrocery trade.

3. Curry favour

Q From Patrick Martin: As I gave the cat its supper, I said to my wife that I was doing it to curry favour with the cat. Out of curiosity I looked curry up in the two-volume Oxford dictionary to see where this expression comes from. The explanation involved a chestnut horse. This seems a bit far-fetched. Is there a better explanation?

A Believe it or not, the explanation is correct. But then, it’s an odd phrase — why should curry have anything to do with winning the favour of somebody or ingratiating oneself with him?

Its origin lies in a French medieval allegorical poem called the Roman de Fauvel, written by Gervais de Bus and Chaillou de Pesstain in the early 1300s. Fauvel was a horse, a conniving stallion, and the poem is a satire on the corruption of social life. He decided he didn’t like his stable and moved into his master’s house, becoming the master and being visited by church leaders and politicians who sought his favour.

There are several layers of meaning in his name: fauve is French for a colour variously translated as chestnut, reddish-yellow, tawny or fawn. A close English equivalent is the rather rare fallow, as in fallow deer, an animal with a brownish coat (it may be that uncultivated ground is also said to be fallow because it looks that colour). Fauve is also a collective name, originally les bêtes fauves, for a class of wild animals whose coats are tawny, such as lions and tigers, and hence ferocious wild animals (the fauverie in a French zoo houses the big cats). In the poem, the name Fauvel can moreover be glossed as fau-vel, a veiled lie, but it is actually a partial acronym of the initial letters of the French words for six sins: flatterie, avarice, vilenie, variété, envie, and lâcheté (flattery, avarice, depravity, fickleness, envy and cowardice). His colour also evokes the old medieval proverbial belief that a fallow horse was a symbol of dishonesty.

The poem was well known among educated people in Britain, who began to refer to Fauvel, variously spelled, as a symbol of cunning and depravity. That soon became curry Favel. This curry has nothing to do with Indian food (a word that came into English only at the end of the sixteenth century via Portuguese from Tamil kari, a sauce or relish) but is another ancient word from a French source, still common in English, which means to rub down or comb a horse. The idea behind currying Favel is that the horse was highly susceptible to flattery, figuratively a kind of stroking.

For people who didn’t know the poem — then, as now, that was almost everybody — Fauvel or Favel meant nothing. Favour seemed much more sensible a word and by the early part of the sixteenth century popular etymology had changed it and so it has remained ever since.

4. Sic!


• Stewart Kramer and Jonathan Domash of California independently sent in a sentence from a flyer for the 99ONE Healing Crusade: “99ONE bringing the love and power of God to hurting people.”

• “Those clumsy California kids,” commented Jack Shakely, having seen a headline in the Los Angeles Times on 30 August: “Scores Fall at Schools in the State.”

• Department of inanimate expansion. Anne Umphrey submitted this line from the police log in the Concord Journal for 29 August: “A caller reported the buses near the intersection of Route 117 and Plainfield Road have overgrown.” (It turns out the caller said “bushes”.)

• Richard Atkinson sent a picture of an item from a leaflet that the Australian Labor Party sent to voters. Alongside a big green tick mark it promised “Better Schools so every child no matter where they go to school or where they has access to a quality education.”

• The Yellow Duckmarine tour bus company is defunct, as Jenny Drayden learned from the Liverpool Daily Post of 23 August: “All the staff and the vehicles have been repossessed.”

• Sandra Barley found a science item on the website of the Charlotte Observer, dated 2 September, which said that alkalinity “exacerbates the Stalinization of fresh water”. The what? The story came from the Cary Institute site, which has “salinization”. Aha! Automatic spell checking at work.

World Wide Words Issue 848 – WIF Style

World Wide Words Issue 846 — WIF Style

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Worl Wide Words

Issue 846



Issue 846: Saturday 24 August 2013



1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Whiffler.

3. Crack shot.

4. Sic!

Parcel “If you are in the habit of reading antiques catalogues,” Anthea Fleming wrote, “you may come across the term parcel-gilt in descriptions of silver items. It means partly gilded, as in a silver figure wearing gilded drapery, or a silver cup gilded inside. I don’t know why this expression is used.” I can help there: it comes from an ancient adverbial sense of parcel, in the sense of “part, partly, partially; to some degree, to some extent”. It’s recorded from the fifteenth century, parcel-gilt itself from 1453.

Lemniscate Several subscribers, either in puzzlement or devilry, queried my instructions about cutting the doughnut. For example, Gareth Williams: “If you lay a doughnut on the board, put the knife vertical against the inside edge of the hole and cut downward .. nothing happens because the point of the blade is now stuck in the chopping board.” It would have been better if I had written, “Take a sharp knife and hold the blade so that its edge is exactly above the inside edge of the doughnut. Cut vertically downwards …” I am reminded of my university physics professor, a Shakespeare scholar who always prefaced his notes on practical sessions with “Bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague the inventor.” Kathleen Dillon registered a complaint: “You are responsible for my having to buy a new bathing suit. I tried to follow your instructions about cutting a doughnut and ruined half a dozen of them, which I had to eat before they became stale.”

Agog again From Peter Armstrong: “I sometimes wish that we English speakers and writers had the use of an accent or other diacritical mark. This morning I was reading your update on agog and wondered why your correspondent was saying ‘it’s happening by way of agape’. How in the world does agog’s meaning get influenced by the word used to express theological love? Ah, my kingdom for an accent.” The two are indeed among the more remarkable homographs in the language: one from Old Norse, the other from classical Greek.

Not cricket? Several readers essayed a translation of the cricket item in the Sic! section two weeks ago, which I mentioned here last week. You may recall that the original read, “On three occasions, thick inside edges avoided the stumps and raced to the fence, while a brace of airy heaves into the leg side somehow dissected the outfielders.” This is from Bruce Laidlaw: “The batsman mishit the ball three times (the ball in each case clipping the edge of the bat) yet still scored four runs each time as the ball went behind him all the way to the boundary; the batsman twice hit the ball hard upwards and to the left, the ball falling between fielders so none could catch or stop it. The implication is that the batsman was lucky, scoring twenty runs by hitting the ball five times to the boundary from bad shots.” Cricket-savvy readers have suggested dissect has taken on a specific meaning; Ricki Barnes explained, “It refers to a ball being hit into the air such that it ends up between a number of fielding positions. Strictly it should refer to more than two fielders. With two, you may instead hear the phrase bisecting the field.” Dissect presumably came about as an error for bisect but has become accepted as what H W Fowler called a sturdy indefensible, since to literally dissect outfielders certainly wouldn’t be cricket! We may now consider this subject closed.

2. Whiffler

Students of Shakespeare will know of whifflers from Henry V:

The deep-mouth’d Sea,
Which like a mighty Whiffler ’fore the King,
Seems to prepare his way.

Whifflers went in front of a procession to clear spectators from its path. In early times, they would have been men-at-arms, wielding their customary weapons such as javelins or swords to keep back the mob. By the time of Shakespeare, they had taken on a formalised role and by the next century had degenerated into being merely part of the ritual of events such as civic parades. They survived until the middle of the nineteenth century in the procession of the London craft guilds to the Guildhall banquet on Lord Mayor’s Day, in which young freemen called bachelor whifflers carried flags to lead each guild. They lived on to about the same date in Norwich:

In that of the Corporation of Norwich from the Guild-hall to the Cathedral Church, on the Guild-day, the whifflers are two active men very lightly equipped … bearing swords of lath or latten, which they keep in perpetual motion, “whiffing” the air on either side, and now and then giving an unlucky boy a slap on the shoulders or posteriors with the flat side of their weapons.
The Vocabulary of East Anglia, by Robert Forby, 1830.

In an entry written a century ago, the Oxford English Dictionary finds the word’s origin in the Old English wifle for a spear or battleaxe. But as whiffle also referred to the wind when it blew in puffs or slight gusts, or veered or shifted about (it became a figurative way to describe a shifty or evasive person), it would be as reasonable to assume that it referred to the continual waving of their weapons to encourage hangers-on to stand back. Whifflers in action would certainly have raised a constant whiffle of wind, as Robert Forby implied with his use of whiff, to blow lightly (this last word is also the source of the word in the sense of a brief or faint smell, as in “a whiff of perfume”).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Thomas Ratcliffe, a contributor to Notes and Queries, recalled this variation:

The art of the whiffler-waffler is still known, though I have not seen the practice for a number of years. Whiffling-waffling was common when I was a boy, and many boys could give very creditable exhibitions of the art. … Some men were great experts, making the stick twirl in the hands round and about all parts of the body round the head, behind the back, under the thigh, the whiffling-waffling being done as easily with the left as with the right hand. When the exhibition was put of doors the stick was sent whirling high, the performer dancing round a considerable circle before catching it at the right moment of its descent.

We are irresistibly reminded of a drum-major with his mace leading a band in a parade. There certainly seemed to be a skill to whiffling, to judge from George Borrow, who lamented in The Romany Rye in 1857, “The last of the whifflers hanged himself about a fortnight ago … from pure grief that there was no further demand for the exhibition of his art, there being no demand for whiffling since the discontinuance of Guildhall banquets.” The modern drum-major may not have his genesis in the ancient passage-clearing art of the whiffler, but parallels persist.

3. Crack shot

Q From Mark Brown, US: Where did the term “crack shot” originate? The short answer to your question is England, but I suspect that may leave you feeling a bit short-changed. Fortunately I can supply some more on the whys, hows and whens of the term as well as the wheres.

The obvious first guess is that it’s an imitative word for the noise made by a pistol or rifle. Unlike most first guesses in etymology that’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not the whole story.

Around 1500, crack is recorded as a Scots term for loud boasts or brags, which in the following century became much more widely known in England. After it spread south it started to mean the subject of a person’s boast, something that was claimed to be first-class or excellent. This might be a preeminent flock of sheep, the best room in a hotel or a person who was a superbly accurate shot. This last sense appeared at the very beginning of the nineteenth century in a long-forgotten comic playlet that featured a duel:

That’s my friend — you subpoenaed him to attend. I’m dashing Bob, his second, — a crack shot and a crack whip. Take your ground, Colonel.
Modern Sharpers, by an unknown author, in Flowers of Literature For 1804, London, 1805.

However, the term is presumably older in speech. It was taken to the New World by colonists and is first recorded there in the 1820s.

What makes the word particularly relevant to pistols at dawn is that the boasting sense of crack derives from Old English cracian, to make a sudden sharp noise. It is indeed the same word as the one for the noise a gun might make. It’s also where we get cracking from, in the sense of something very impressive or effective (“it was a cracking good film”).

Incidentally, you may see similarities between the boasting sense of crack and the Irish term for enjoyable conversation, news, gossip and general fun. You would be right, as they’re the same word. But crack first took on this sense in the eighteenth century in Scots. It appeared in Ireland only in the 1950s, having been taken from Scotland into Ulster. The Irish Gaelicised it into craic, said the same way. This was reborrowed into English in the 1970s, latterly for commercial reasons linked to the growth of Irish pubs and bars.

4. Sic!


• Seen by John Peck in the Marks and Spencer store in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, a set of four “serial bowls”. He suggests the great advantage is that one only has to do the washing up every fourth day.

• Neil Hesketh urged, “Don’t mess with US Navy women.” He had spotted a report on NBC News about NASA and the Navy practicing retrieval of splashed-down spacecraft: “Unlike in past recovery efforts, the Navy doesn’t plan to use helicopters to retrieve Orion. Instead, a wench will pull the spacecraft into the Arlington’s well deck.”

• On 5 August, Pattie Tancred tells us, The Economist reported on the burger made from laboratory-grown meat: “After sizzling in a pan for a few minutes under the watchful eye of a British chef, two pre-selected tasters, a nutritional scientist and a food writer, dug in.”

World Wide Words Issue 846 — WIF Style

World Wide Words Issue 845 – WIF Style

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Worl Wide Words

World Wide Words




1. Feedback, Notes and Comments

Agog Dharmachari Padmavyuha wrote, “I think you’re right about this ‘new’ usage of agog being confused with goggle, and I think it’s happening by way of agape (which has the same flavour of meaning as goggle, and which I suspect people are probably hearing in their heads when they use agog that way). I’m most used to it in agog with anticipation, which invokes the spirit of spaniels everywhere.” James McCrudden added, “When I was a child at convent school in the early 1950s in Australia I often heard teachers say to an excited pupil ‘here he is all agape and agog’. I later found that agape and agog was in common use. Sometimes aghast, agape and agog. It’s definitely not rare.”

Sic! Many readers, as unversed as I am in the esoteric jargon of cricket, were aghast (or perhaps agape or agog) at one item in the Sic! section last week. The primary reason for including it was the reference to a ball dissecting fielders. Terry Walsh commented, “Bizarre as it might appear to the uninitiated, to the cricket aficionado it is not only a poetic, but also a perfectly intelligible description of two different types of successful hit. I leave it to those better versed than I am to write with a translation, as, of course, they will.” Nobody has yet, which will disappoint all those readers who have contacted me to ask what the devil it could possibly mean.

2. Lemniscate/lɛmˈnɪskət/

Take a doughnut (not a traditional British one, but an American one with a hole in the middle). Lay it on a chopping block. Take a sharp knife and hold the blade vertical, positioning it so that its edge is exactly above the inside edge of the doughnut. Cut vertically downwards to split the doughnut in two. If you examine the cut ends of the pieces, you will find the smaller one has a cross-section like a figure eight or an infinity sign. You have just created an imperfect example of a lemniscate, a type of mathematical curve.

Lemniscates were named by the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, who published a description of them in 1694. He took their name from the Latin lēmniscātus, decorated with ribbons, for no very obvious reason we can now understand except that perhaps the curves looked like ribbons tied into a bow. He is remembered for his studies of one member of the set in particular, now called the lemniscate of Bernoulli. The one in your doughnut (which is an approximation to the geometric shape called a torus) is the lemniscate of Booth, named for James Booth, a nineteenth-century mathematician of Irish birth who worked in the same field.

To attach Booth’s name to it is to deprive a Greek mathematician of the fifth century CE named Proclus of the credit for discovering it. He called Booth’s curve a hippopede, a horse fetter, because it looked like a device for hobbling a horse’s feet.

Outside mathematics, lemniscate frequently takes on mystical or occult undertones because of the associations of the infinity symbol with the Tarot and the teachings of the Russian spiritualist Madame Blavatsky.

The cosmic lemniscate, or sidewise figure-eight, the symbol of infinity, hovered like a halo above the Magician’s head, and about his waist was clasped a serpent devouring its own tail: the worm Ouroborus, a symbol of eternity. All things in all space and time — that was the grandeur of the concept for which this modern Magician strived.
God of Tarot, by Piers Anthony, 1989.

3. Part and parcel

Q From Malcolm Ross-Macdonald, Ireland: Has the parcel in the stock phrase part and parcel anything to do with the parcel handled by the Post Office? I recall resellers of war-surplus goods in the 1940-50s breaking their inventory into parcels that would have required a 3-ton lorry to shift.

A The Post Office kind of parcel (which Americans would prefer to call a package) is a very specific sense of a word that has had a large number of meanings down the centuries.

In its widest sense it can mean an amount or quantity of something, an extremely wide-ranging usage — you can have parcels of land, for example. The OED illustrates its variety over the past couple of centuries with these: parcel of work, parcel of weather, parcel of nonsense, parcel of spray, parcel of rogues and parcel of shares. It can mean a quantity of a commodity offered as a single transaction, a lot, so a tiny package of diamonds offered for auction and your three-tonner load of equipment are both parcels.

All of these in various ways perpetuate the first sense of a parcel as being a constituent or part of some larger whole, a portion or division. This reflects its origins: parcel has come to us via Old French from the post-classical Latin particella, a part or portion.

That makes part and parcel a tautology, since both words in effect mean the same thing. English loves this kind of doublet: nooks and crannies, hale and hearty, safe and sound, rack and ruin, dribs and drabs. Many derive from the ancient legal practice of including words of closely similar meaning to make sure that the sense covers all eventualities: aid and abet, fit and proper, all and sundry.

Part and parcel is a member of this second group — it appeared in legal records during the sixteenth century. We use it to emphasise that the thing being spoken about is an essential and integral feature or element of a whole:

“Do you believe in an afterlife?” “I believe that the energy we have as living human beings is still part and parcel of the universe at some level and makes a difference.”
Financial Times, 6 Jul. 2013.

US English has the mildly humorous variant passel — deriving from a nineteenth-century pronunciation of parcel and often preceded by whole — suggesting a largish group of people or things (passel of problems, passel of accusations, passel of experts).

4. Sic!


• “While walking in AbbeyDore in Herefordshire,” wrote Pete Sinclair, “we saw a plaque over a gate at the church: ‘ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF CAPT R.C.B. PARTRIDGE, M.C. C. de G. KILLED IN ACTION SEPT 28 1918 BY FRIENDS IN SOUTH WALES’.”

• Gerald Etkind found this headline over a story dated 10 August on the website of the Athens Banner-Herald of Georgia: “Man asked to clean up after dog pulls gun.”

• I quote from an article in The Independent on 12 August about the Australian general election: “On the campaign trail and addressing a Liberal Party event in the city of Melbourne [opposition leader Tony] Abbott said: “No one — however smart, however well-educated, however experienced — is the suppository of all wisdom.”

World Wide Words Issue 845 – WIF Style

World Wide Words Issue 844 – WIF Style

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 World Wide Words Issue 844Issue




1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Velleity.

3. Agog.

4. Sic!


Pony up Readers pointed out that a number of competing theories exist for why pony should have become associated with money. We may disregard the one that says £25 was the cost of a small horse in the eighteenth century, as that would have been a hugely inflated price. David Coe reminded me of the widely believed story that it derives from the days of the Raj, when the 25-rupee Indian banknote was said to have had a picture of a horse on it. Nobody, so far as I know, has ever found an example of such a note. (The same applies to monkey, slang for £500, which is said to have derived from the 500-rupee note.)

Amy Livingston mentioned another story, that pony is a shortened form of the Latin words legem pone (in the second, the vowels are roughly as in English hot and met), the first two words of the fifth part of Psalm 119. Its first line is “Legem pone mihi Domine viam iustificationum tuarum” (“Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes”). The Oxford English Dictionary says that this used to begin the psalms at Matins on the 25th day of the month. It became linked in particular with 25 March, the first quarter day of the year, and hence to the settlement of debts. The OED adds that it became used “as an allusive expression for payment of money or cash down”. It appears for the first time in Thomas Tusser’s A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandry of 1570. The OED has no citations after 1694, which is a century before pony starts to be recorded in its monetary sense. Caution is needed because of the gap, but as pone was said very much like pony, the abbreviation of legem pone followed by creation of the noun and verb seem so probable as to be almost inevitable. It’s notable that in many of the early examples the word is spelled poney, implying that its users knew it was not the same word as pony.

This may have blended with the idea of a pony being a small horse and by extension a small amount of anything. This can be traced back to the early eighteenth century, when pony is first recorded in the sense of a small measure of alcohol. This sense is still known. Walter Frank pointed out: “in Australia a pony of beer is the smallest measure available.” Larry Larson wrote, “A quarter-size keg of beer is referred to as a pony keg in the US.”

Further to my mention of Spanish as a slang term for money, Nick Humez commented, “The shortage of hard currency in the American colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was so acute that Spanish dollars (8-real coins) circulated, many of them booty from privateering, and were widely used in lieu of, and even in preference to, British money. If so, there may be even earlier attestations for Spanish than Grose awaiting discovery on both sides of the pond.” Emery Fletcher added, “I think you’ll find that in the US, actual Spanish-coined silver dollars were in use as late as the last decades of the nineteenth century, possibly even more recently in the Southwest. Around here in New Mexico, pony up the Spanish might have sounded contemporary into the 1940s.”

2. Velleity/vɛˈliːɪtɪ/

This is mere inclination, a wish or desire that lacks the strength to overcome personal inertia. It is the ultimate inaction, far more so than procrastination, which is merely the postponement of action you know to be necessary. If you make a new year’s resolution to get fit but never even look into joining a gym, that’s velleity. If a notion to write a novel intrigues you, but you do nothing about it, that’s velleity.

Congress often contents itself with enacting “velleities” such as the wish in the 900-page Dodd-Frank financial reform act that “all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services … (that are) fair, transparent, and competitive.”
The Virginian-Pilot, 7 Jun. 2012.

If the wish is father to the deed then velleity is childless. It is the impotent relative of volition, using one’s will. Surprisingly for two near opposites, velleity and volition share an origin. Both are from the Latin irregular verb velle, to will or wish, though volition comes directly from volo, I wish. The English word benevolent is from the same verb, literally well-wishing.

You’ll not find it much used, as it’s restricted to those with large vocabularies or the readiness to browse the less travelled pages of dictionaries.

3. Agog

Q From Gordon Keen: I am all agog to discover the derivation of agog.

A Neatly put …

It comes, like much of our language, from French. Middle French had gogue, entertainment, fun or amusement. From this developed en gogues, in good humour. English took it in and gave it a home, but changed the first element to on and then to a-, at the same time shortening the unpronounced ending.

It’s not a word that many people know or use. Standard dictionaries say it has the sense that you’re using — eager or curious to hear or see something. All agog (“I was all agog to discover who the new Dr Who would be”) has an air of bouncy immature anticipation about it that makes it difficult to use in serious contexts.

Looking around, I discovered that because it is uncommon but rather a fun word to throw out, agog is having serious identity issues. Typical of recent usage was a headline in the Irish Times in 2011, “Americans left agog at confused cruelty of Irish abortion law”. To me, agog can’t mean “astonished”, but its entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, revised in 2012, says it now can. There’s also the alliterative compound agog and aghast, or aghast and agog, which seems destined to become a set phrase:

The discovery that Frankie Dettori had failed a drugs test, at Longchamp in September, left his peers agog and aghast.
The Independent, 15 Nov 2012.

This feels quite wrong — agog for me lacks the implications of shock and horror that accompany aghast. Might its users have been confusing it with goggle?

Incidentally, a related Middle French form was à gogo, uninhibitedly or joyfully, probably formed from gogue by reduplication. This is still in the language and appeared in Paris in 1952 in the name of the nightclub and pioneering discotheque called the Whisky à Gogo (that is, Whisky Galore, presumably from the film of the book of the same title by Compton Mackenzie). The entertainment format became fashionable and it and the name were brought into English, leading to the modified version a-go-go appearing all over the place during the 1960s as a fashionable creation.

4. Sic!


• “A nice homonym appeared in the Express and Star of Wolverhampton on 2 August,” Alan Harrison reported. “The valuables stolen in a burglary included a ‘cygnet ring’.”

• A story of 2 August in the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, California about a sandwich contest at a market caught the eye of Kitty Fries: “Janet Swenson, a 52-year-old resident of Fallbrook, brought a filet mignon goat cheese sandwich to the table. ‘It’s something you can drink with a beer or cabernet,’ Swenson said.”

• Jane Irish Nelson came across this sentence in Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (in which Killer is a poodle): “Killer gave the officers the evil eye as they walked past him gnawing on a doughnut-shaped rawhide.”

• Peter Mortimer found this cricket report on the BBC website on 3 August: “On three occasions, thick inside edges avoided the stumps and raced to the fence, while a brace of airy heaves into the leg side somehow dissected the outfielders.”

World Wide Words Issue 844 – WIF Style