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

From Boring to The Bomb – WIF Grammar

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From Boring to The Bomb

– WIF Grammar


World Wide Words Issue 840 — WIF Style

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Issue 840: Saturday 13 July 2013



1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Gist.

3. Fly in the face of.

4. Sic!

Loophole Lots of people asked whether there was a link between the old Dutch verb that I mentioned, lûpen, to watch or peer, and loupe, a small magnifying glass that is typically used by jewellers and watchmakers. It appears that there isn’t. Loupe was borrowed into English from the French word of the same sense about a century ago. It has been suggested that its source lies in the old German word luppe from the Rhine region, meaning a shapeless mass of material. In French, it early on meant a mass of pasty iron from the smelter ready to be hammered. This seems to have been flattish and round and led to its meaning a kind of sebaceous cyst and a knot or bur on a tree before it took on its modern sense about 1680. To pre-empt any query about cantaloupe, that’s named after Cantaluppi near Rome, where it was first cultivated in Europe after being imported from Armenia.

Duct tape: I have been roundly told off for implying last week that gaffer tape and duct tape are related. Wayne Simpson wrote, “They are definitely not the same thing, as any motion picture lighting technician (such as me) or grip will tell you. Gaffer’s tape (with or without the apostrophe) is cloth tape, not vinyl; the adhesive is more friendly and doesn’t leave the disgusting residue that duct tape does. It’s meant to be removed without destroying what it was attached to (though you shouldn’t use it on wallpaper).”

Fornication I got my Latin inflections confused last week, as many readers told me. I wrongly said that fornacis is an adjective, but it’s the genitive of fornax, a furnace.

Nosopoetic “While nosopoetic may have lost out to pathogenic,” Shayna Kravetz commented, “its half-sibling nosocomial is alive and kicking. This refers to an illness arising from a stay in hospital and is sometimes seen as a synonym for iatrogenic (caused by doctors), although it’s not quite the same. With the rise of various treatment-resistant pathogens, nosocomial infections are a hot topic in medicine. This word has been earning its money for the last two decades or so.”

“My education as a health economist began in 1972,” Peter McMenamin emailed, “and I soon encountered the concepts of nosocomial infections and iatrogenic diseases. But the word that fascinated me was pathognomonic. A pathognomonic symptom was one whose presence meant that a particular disease was present beyond any doubt. And the reason medicine is so complicated is that there are very few diseases that have pathognomonic symptoms.”

Harry Lake wrote, apropos of another word in noso-: “Some years ago, doing a translation from Dutch into English, I needed to know the English for the Dutch smetvrees, which means an irrational fear of dirt or germs but appeared to have no direct equivalent in English. I looked it up in the Van Dale Dutch-English Dictionary, and there it was: hosophobia. Hosophobia? Never heard of it. It turned out that the entry should have read nosophobia, which is of quite a different register in addition to meaning something else. (I have since found mysophobia, which is more accurate but very rare, unlike smetvrees, which every Dutch person understands.) Wondering how this error might have come about, I recalled that someone had told me that Van Dale worked with handwritten slips, and it occurred to me that in all likelihood the handwriting of whoever had written the word nosophobia had had an uncommonly — if only slightly — long vertical in the n. And nobody had checked the entry …”

What is most intriguing about Mr Lake’s story is that a search of Google Books finds a number of examples of hosophobia, most of which have authors with Dutch-sounding names. Entering smetvrees into Google Translate gets hosophobia as its English equivalent. The error in the Dutch dictionary seems to have had some small influence on the English language, but no longer, as the entry was corrected in the 1999 edition.

2. Gist

There are three senses of gist in the Oxford English Dictionary. We’re not concerned with the obsolete sense of a right of pasture for cattle (from Anglo-Norman agister, to pasture animals) nor the equally obsolete one of a stopping place or lodging (from old French giste, in modern French the more familiar gîte for a furnished holiday home). This one is the essence or substance of a speech or text.

It evolved out of the legal language in medieval England after the Norman Conquest at a time when court cases were recorded in French. There was a fixed phrase, cest action gist, in which gist is from Latin jacere, to lie, via Old French gesir, to lie. Its literal translation was this action lies. It didn’t mean that the accusation was untruthful (though we may guess that many of them must have been), since the original Latin verb could also mean “be situated”. It meant that sufficient grounds existed for continuing with the action. This sense of lie is still known in legal English.

Early in the eighteenth century gist shifted from meaning that an action was admissible or sustainable to referring to what the action was actually about. The phrases “the gist of the action” or “the gist of the indictment” were common:

Mr Sturgeon, the surgeon, depos’d, That being sent for, he came to Mr. Crispe at Coke’s about Eleven, found him wretchedly cut in seven places … It will be too tedious to describe the other Wounds, only that on the Nose, because it was the Gist of the Indictment.
The Historical Register, 1722.

It took another century for this usage to extend beyond the legal world to mean in everyday language the essence of some speech or text.

3. Fly in the face of

Q From Jonathan in Tokyo: While recently reading an article on the BBC about one of the latest pop stars over here in Japan, I came across the phrase fly in the face: “Her quirkiness and imperfections fly in the face of the conventional view of Japanese culture.” Being an English teacher myself, I anticipate my students asking me to explain the phrase and be asked its origins. It’s something I have never thought about and so I wondered if you could shed some light on the matter.

A You’re in good company, as I suspect few English speakers have stopped to wonder why we should have this odd expression. I must confess to never having done so myself.

The idiom usually refers to something that appears to deny the truth of a statement or belief (“Their actions fly in the face of their claim that they are looking to avoid civilian casualties”). Rather less often, it describes a person who defies someone else or shows disrespect for someone or something (“He is above all a tease. Like Gore Vidal, he likes to fly in the face of received opinions.”) There’s also the much less common and relatively recent derivative fly in the teeth of, which is, I think, solely American.

The first version, from the 1550s, was to fly in a person’s face and its literal meaning was of a dog that attacked by springing at a person. Very early on, it acquired the figurative sense of verbally attacking someone who disagreed with your opinions or your actions, decidedly getting in their face. This is now rare but not yet obsolete:

Don’t fly in their face with it. Don’t try to browbeat them with your point of view.
Independent on Sunday, 9 Aug. 1998.

It’s not clear from the record when the impersonal form took over, but it was at least a century ago.


4. Sic!

• Richard Kuebbing found that the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 7 July asserted, about the crash in San Francisco of the Asiana flight 214, “All have been unaccounted for among the 307 passengers and crew, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel.”

• Liz Moynihan emailed: “Our local newspaper, the SanTan Sun News in Chandler, AZ, had this headline in the July 6-19 issue: ‘Chandler City Council to address urban chickens’. I have a feeling the sheep and cows might demand equal time.”

• On 10 July, the Femail section of the Daily Mail website had this tagline: “Shorts can be chic: And you don’t have to be a twenty-something to pull them off.”

World Wide Words Issue 840 — WIF Style

World Wide Words Issue 834 — WIF Style

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World Wide Words

 Issue 834: Saturday 1 June 2013





1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Argosy.

3. Possessives with verbal nouns.

4. Barber’s cat.

5. Sic!


Adoxography Erik Midelfort commented, “I enjoyed your entry and thought I might tell you that the Renaissance had another word for it: the mock encomium, in which the writer might laud silly things like a flea or a bit of dust. The classic of the genre was Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Praise of Folly (1516). You mentioned Erasmus but erroneously claimed that he had written something in 1556, which was 20 years after he died. [A typing error for 1536. Apologies.] You get into another bit of trouble on the origins of the word because the Greek word (doxa) did not mean primarily ‘glory’. That was the common meaning in the Bible, but the root meant something more like ‘opinion’, or ‘belief’, or ‘what seems to be true’.” Hence, as Allan Paris pointed out, our orthodox (conforming to generally accepted rules or beliefs), which derives from doxa, opinion, preceded by orthos, straight or right.

Short end of the stick “I would have surmised,” Alan Weyman wrote, “that getting the short end of the stick conflated getting the wrong end… with getting the short straw.” This last idiom is from the ancient selection method of drawing straws randomly from a set, which usually committed the person choosing the shortest one to an onerous or undesirable task. However, the expression is relatively modern, with the first example I can find being from the New York Times in 1904. This suggests it couldn’t have contributed to the creation of short end of the stick.

2. Argosy

This was the name of a magazine which my eldest brother brought home when I was a child. Its cover featured a line drawing of an ancient vessel in full sail, which linked the word and the craft for me.

The etymological link is with the modern Croatian port of Dubrovnik, which was called Ragusa until after the Second World War. Together with Venice, on the other side of the Adriatic, it was an important Mediterranean trading port in the sixteenth century. A ragusa came to mean a ship from Ragusa and this was twisted by the English into argosy.

By Shakespeare’s time, it had become established as the term for a merchant ship of the very largest size, especially those of Venice and Ragusa, which is why Portia is able to say to Antonio at the end of the Merchant of Venice, “Unseal this letter soon; / There you shall find three of your argosies / Are richly come to harbour suddenly.”

Much later, argosy became a figurative way to speak of a rich supply of a material or something with valuable contents. It was given as a title to a literary digest, notably to the American pulp magazine published by Frank Munsey in 1882, but rather earlier to an English journal created by Alexander Strahan, which was revived in 1926 and was the one that I saw about 1948.

There’s no connection with the story of Jason and the Argonauts, who sailed on the ship Argo in search of the Golden Fleece.


3. Possessives with verbal nouns

Q From Matthew Brand: I was wondering if you could help me with a grammatical matter that has recently been vexing me. When a pronoun is immediately followed by a verbal noun, should it be an ordinary pronoun or a possessive pronoun? Take this example I found in Alice Montgomery’s biography of Katy Perry: “Now scarcely a day went by without them being mentioned in the press.” Shouldn’t it be “their being mentioned”?

A This is a tricky one, not easy to understand or explain.

The construction has been the subject of scholarly disputation for about the past three centuries. A verbal noun, also called a gerund, is the present participle of a verb (ending in -ing) used as a noun. Examples may help to explain the ways these -ing forms are used. In “Fred is driving home” or “Fred has been driving all day”, driving is a participle, part of a compound verb. In “The driving instructor told Fred to stop the car”, it’s a participle acting as an adjective. In “Driving is hard work” it’s a verbal noun — it’s acting like a noun, but has active implications like a verb. Take another example: “Hunting otters is outlawed”. Hunting here is a verbal noun which has both noun force (the concept of hunting) and verb force (the activity of hunting).

The verbal noun was known in Latin, hence its alternative name of gerund, which is from gerundum, fittingly the gerund form of the verb gerere, to do. But eighteenth-century grammarians who tried to analyse English grammar on Latin models were baffled by this dual nature of the English verbal noun and the way it was commonly preceded by a noun or preposition in the possessive.

To made matters more awkward, many writers used possessive and non-possessive forms, sometimes even in the same text. In a letter in 1867, Lewis Carroll wrote “in hopes of his being able to join us” (the verbal noun being preceded by his, a possessive pronoun) and also “I suppose the music prevented any of it being heard” (being again, but this time with it, a non-possessive pronoun).

There was a notable debate about this in 1926-27 between W H Fowler, who had just published his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, and the Danish etymologist and grammarian Otto Jespersen. Fowler argued that the possessive pronoun should be used in every situation but Jesperson refuted him with copious counter-examples, commenting that Fowler was an “instinctive grammatical moraliser”. Grammarians have since then exhaustively researched the verbal noun and have come to an understanding of it that unfortunately hasn’t universally reached student textbooks.

What has become clear is that the distinction between an -ing form as a verb and as a verbal noun is rather artificial and that there’s no easy test for which construction is the right one. Good writers follow unconscious rules in deciding whether to use the possessive before a verbal noun, rules they’ve developed from their experience of using the language.

Current style books (such as Robert Burchfield’s third edition of Fowler) attempt to codify practice by providing a detailed list of these rules. One is to use the possessive with proper and personal nouns and with personal pronouns but not with impersonal ones. In your case that would lead to the correct version being “their being mentioned” and explains why Lewis Carroll used both forms, his first being personal and the second impersonal. Another rule often put forward is that personal nouns aren’t put into the possessive if they’re plural (“Girls chasing boys is nothing new” versus “Annie’s chasing boys is nothing new”, though the only way that you can tell in the first example that girls isn’t in the possessive is that there’s no apostrophe after the s).

However, the rules are much less well observed now than they were a few decades ago, so that a sentence like “I have unhappy memories of him screaming at me” doesn’t strike most of us as wrong in the way that it would have done for Fowler. This is part of a move towards informal modes of expression in which possessives are less common.

As an illustration, the late William Safire wrote about verbal nouns in his On Language column in the New York Times in February 1994. He gave the examples “It’s a matter of women being exploited by men for centuries”, “the cliché about love being blind” and “Liberals did not appreciate the President lecturing them”. He asserted that they were all incorrect. I’d argue the opposite for the first two, as would Dr Burchfield, on the basis that the first contains a plural noun (women) and the other an impersonal one (love). The third should be possessive by the rules but both forms feel right to me, perhaps because president is an insufficiently personal noun.

4. Barber’s cat

Q From Mike Lean, Australia: I’ve come across the phrase wet and windy like the barber’s cat. Can you tell me anything about it? Why would a barber’s cat be so? Does it relate to a particular cat of fable or legend? Initial researches have yielded nothing.

A That’s a very old-fashioned expression, once known throughout the Anglophone countries, though not I think in the USA. It was popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but we rarely come across it now. Deputy Willie O’Dea alluded to it in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, on 26 September 2009: “There is no point coming into the House acting as the parliamentary version of the barber’s cat. We know what components made up that creature.”

I’ll bet few readers could tell Mr O’Dea what those components were. Looking into its history is complicated because one part of it was considered to be “an expression too coarse to print”, as John Camden Hotten commented in his Slang Dictionary in 1864. The form that he refused to print was “full of wind and piss, like the barber’s cat”. One meaning, surely the one Mr O’Dea had in mind, was of a uselessly and unnecessarily loquacious person. That sense was made explicit in this early appearance, though in a carefully euphemised version:

He should be the very last man in Dundee to call any one a windbag, for it is a well-known fact that, among his own class as well as among those who he says are “sometimes called the working classes,” he is generally considered the very Prince of Windbags. Indeed, it is often remarked about him that he is all wind and water, like the barber’s cat.
The Dundee Courier and Argus, 8 Sep. 1877.

Another version was as poor as a barber’s cat, which was expanded to refer to somebody who was half-starved, sickly or weak, though some later slang researchers said that it meant no more than that he was thin. Curiously, all dolled up like a barber’s cat is also on record, as is as conceited as a barber’s cat. Give a cat a bad name, it seems, and you can insult him as much as you like.

It was low slang of the working classes, so its early history and origin are unclear. J Redding Ware argued in his Passing English of the Victorian Era in 1909 that it might be a corruption of the term bare brisket, which he said was “also used for a thin fellow, the brisket being the thinnest part of beef”. This is imaginative but too much so to be acceptable. More plausible was the hypothesis that a cat in a barber’s shop would find little to eat and so be poor or ill-served, an idea expanded much later to explain your version of the phrase:

As he walked back he said to Mathews: “Do you know the expression — wet and windy, like the barber’s cat?”
”I know it well,” Mathews confessed. “Why the barber’s cat, I wonder?”
”A consequence of frugality,” the poet explained. “Its staple diet is hair and soapsuds.”
Strumpet City, by James Plunkett, 1969.


5. Sic!

• Terry McManus found an article on The Independent’s website on 26 May about an exhibition at the British Library which mentioned “David Cameron and Tony Blair in calculated open-necked shorts and casual wear visiting the troops in the field.”

• A feature piece on the local DeLorean Automobile Club in the York Sunday News of Pennsylvania was sent in by Bill Schmeer: “The car was manufactured by the DeLorean Motor Company in Northern Ireland, which went bankrupt in 1982.”

• David Luther Woodward forwarded an extract from a front-page story in the Madison News-Record, North Carolina, for 30 May: “25 percent of net profits will be allocated to the superintendent of the county administration unit to be exasperated solely for the use of Hot Spring Elementary School.”

• Elena Cicinskaite recently visited the Yorkshire Museum of Farming. In the section about the work of the Women’s Land Army in the Second World War she found an object captioned thus: “Bicycle Lamp with a ‘black out hood’ to stop light being invisible to German bomber pilots above.”

 World Wide Words Issue 834

— WIF Style