Up or Down to You

Up or Down to You

John Musgrave Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk Robb Wilton, that acclaimed and dearly-loved British comedian of the thirties and forties, introduced one of his best wartime monologues with the classic first lines, “The day war broke out, my wife said to me,...
Racing for Definitions in South Africa

Racing for Definitions in South Africa

M. Lynne Murphy Baylor University, Waco, Texas For four years, I taught at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Wits”, as it is known, is one of the two major English-language universities in South Africa, and in the deep,...
BONA PALARE: the Language of Round the Horne

BONA PALARE: the Language of Round the Horne

Some historians of comedy argue that Round The Horne, a BBC sketch show broadcast between 1965 and 1968, prolonged the life of radio as a major medium of entertainment in the UK, at a time when TV was rapidly establishing its regrettable hegemony. Certainly, RTH was...
Dictionaries of Hard Words Come Easy

Dictionaries of Hard Words Come Easy

Ramona R. Michaelis Supervising Editor Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary One of the major problems that faces the lexicographer at the start of a new dictionary is, quite simply, the selection of entries for definition. Of the total English word stock...
All about All

All about All

In the movie Spartacus,1 the Roman general, Crassus, ensures the cooperation of the slave dealer, Batiatus, by making him the following promise: “I authorize you to be the agent for the sale of all survivors.” When Crassus wins the final battle and orders...
Preposition Pollution

Preposition Pollution

Foreigners trying to learn English often have more trouble with our prepositions than with any other feature. But I see and hear so many awkward uses of prepositions lately that I think we all have more trouble with them than with any other feature–and more...
Slayer Slang (Part 1)

Slayer Slang (Part 1)

by Michael Adams Albright College Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS), a recent teen television hit, coins slang terms and phrases in nearly every episode, many of them formed in the usual ways, some of them at the crest of new formative tendencies, and some of them...
Word Words

Word Words

Jon O. Newman United States Circuit Judge We need some new words to describe words. English already has several well known -onym words (from the Greek onyma meaning ‘name’), such as synonym (same meaning), antonym (opposite meaning), and homonym (same...
Darn, Durn, Down, Doon, Damn

Darn, Durn, Down, Doon, Damn

Dwight Bolinger Professor of Linguistics Emeritus Harvard University Minced oaths are etymological landmines, and if I were a better guesstymologist I probably would not tread on this one; but if it is a coincidence it is too good to be true, so here goes....
SIC! SIC! SIC!

SIC! SIC! SIC!

SIC! SIC! SIC! is a regular feature of every issue, in which we rely on readers to send us funny errors made in (thank goodness) other publications. (And those on signs, in form letters, etc., etc. We’re capable of finding the funny errors in our own publication...
From A Dictionary of Interesting Collisions

From A Dictionary of Interesting Collisions

Abasement Flat: Digs hard-up tenants lower themselves by renting. About-facetiousness: earnestness; the reverse of frivolity. About-preface: Epilogue or afterword; an antonym for introduction. Acuwomen: Form of female intuition; shrewdness peculiar to women....
It’s All Double Janglish to Me!

It’s All Double Janglish to Me!

Every Monday on my way to pottery class in a neighboring part of Tokyo I pass a shop selling casual clothes that has an unforgettable name : “Horse Shit.” I’m not sure whether it’s ignorance or wit on the part of the shop’s owner, but I always chuckle when...
Graphic Account

Graphic Account

As code, is how the alphabet Began in use. Visible ink. Cuneiform, which few regret, Did everything most people think Essential in a writing system For three millennia of sale, Gift, loan-could number, name, and list them, Hard copy, should agreement fail. It was so...
Antedate Dictionary Citations

Antedate Dictionary Citations

David Shulman New York City this article originally appeared in VERBATIM vol 2. no. 2, in February 1976 In VERBATIM II, 1, appeared an interesting article on dictionary citations in general. This article, however, is intended to complement it by describing only a...
English English

English English

This originally appeared in Vol. VII, No. 1 I am chuffed as bollocks about a piece I wrote earlier this year in what Americans quaintly describe as The London Times. Depending upon your understanding of the idiom, this means that I am either pleased or displeased,...
Favorite Word

Favorite Word

Recently, the London Festival of Literature ran a contest to determine the UK’s favorite words. Their winners were: 1. Serendipity 2. Quidditch 3. Love 4. Peace/Why (tie) 5. Onomatopoeia 6. Hope 7. Faith 8. Football/Muggle/Hello/Family (tie) 9. Compassion/Home...
Widows, Orphans, and ?–Semantic Holes

Widows, Orphans, and ?–Semantic Holes

Sol Saporta University of Washington (retired) In lectures delivered in Japan in 1987, Noam Chomsky discussed the notion of a ‘conceptual framework’ which he proposed as ‘a common human property’ He suggested that ‘the concepts . . . are available, independently of...
SIC! SIC! SIC!

SIC! SIC! SIC!

Inclimate Weather Affects Defense the Most “You try to go in the gym and emulate as many activities as you can, but it’s still not the same.” State College coach Jeff Kissell, in the State College Daily News, March 30, 1999. [Submitted by Bill Simon III,...
Verbatim Sampler

Verbatim Sampler

The World According to Student Bloopers Richard Lederer Concord, New Hampshire [Excerpt] One of the fringe benefits of being an English or History teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following...
On Blue Moons, and Others

On Blue Moons, and Others

Nature has favored us with a single large satellite with two felicitous peculiarities: It always turns the same face towards us, and it appears exactly the same size in the sky as our sun. The latter property makes a total solar eclipse, if we are fortunate enough to...
What’s the French for “Fiddle de dee”?

What’s the French for “Fiddle de dee”?

What’s the French for “Fiddle de dee”? Margaret of Scotland, Wife of Louis XI, provides an answer for Lewis Carroll Here’s a question to explore, A query Alice merely parried When she was examined for The right to wear the crown she carried, And to be a...
New Blood in the Namestream

New Blood in the Namestream

John Tittensor Goudargues, France The most respected mechanic in the village of St. Martin d’Ardèche, not far from where I live, is called Monsieur Salaud. And in another nearby village the job of mayor is held down by the amiable Madame Bordel. Perfectly...
I May Already Be a Wiener

I May Already Be a Wiener

Gary Wiener Pittsford, New York As a startup on my computer I have this soundbite: Homer Simpson, down on himself as usual, in dubious assessment of his self-worth, saying, “I am a WEE-NER.” Homer surely evokes a good chuckle from his audience, and best of...
Classical Blather

Classical Blather

What is so rare as a day in June? And what is so common asa rhyme for it? Speakers of English through the century seem tohave delighted in the sound of the double o, rotund and warm,gently terminating in the soft glide of the n “as if it wereloath to...
Winter 2000 Back Issue

Winter 2000 Back Issue

Where Did He Put The Pen of My Aunt? Navajo Revealed David C. Cates Maplewood, New Jersey Intricate miracles underlie even ordinary events like sunshine, eyesight, and air. Yet their ordinariness seems to stifle the kindling of wonder. This may be the point of a...
The Art and Technique of Citation Reading

The Art and Technique of Citation Reading

Laurence Urdang Editor, VERBATIM The uninitiated often wonder where lexicographers find the words they list and describe in the dictionaries they compile, edit, and revise. Nonprofessional and unprofessional dictionary compilers may often get them from secondary...
A Bestiary of Adjectives

A Bestiary of Adjectives

Darwin, Desmond Morris, and David Atten-borough, to mention but three, teach us that man is just another animal: a hairless primate distinguished by uniquely complex language patterns. In DNA terms a human being is more than 95 percent chimpanzee. Does that explain...
Identity and Language in the SM Scene

Identity and Language in the SM Scene

For the past seven years, I have been studying the process of identity formation among SM/radical-sex practitioners living in and around New York City, in preparation for my doctoral thesis in cultural anthropology. Among the first things that I noticed when I started...
Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article

Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article

Bruce D. Price Word-Wise New York, New York Have you noticed a new “clunk-clunk” sound in the English language? Phrases such as “patient starter package” for sample? “Drug dosage forms” for pills? “Health cause” for...
Certain Somebodies

Certain Somebodies

“There was a certain man…” begins many a parable; yet the identity of the man is anything but certain. Monty Python’s reluctant messiah in The Life of Brian, dropped by a joyriding space buggy onto a Jerusalem Speakers’ Corner, tries to...
Byte Bonding, Bit-bangers, and BLOBS

Byte Bonding, Bit-bangers, and BLOBS

The mechanisms involved in the processes of word formation have been well documented by linguists; the wit, creativity, imagination and ingenuity displayed by the vernacular is inexhaustible. Magazines and newspapers, songs and screenplays all yield innumerable gems....
Intolerable Intolerance, Redux

Intolerable Intolerance, Redux

EX CATHEDRA In Volume 1, Number 3 of Verbatim, Laurence Urdang, in an article entitled “An Intolerant View of Intolerance” wrote: “I consider myself–as, I am sure, everyone regards himself–a tolerant human being: I try to avoid prejudice in all...
Assing Around

Assing Around

The word ass appears in American slang in multiple ways with multiple meanings. It has a rich and varied history and can signify anything from good to bad to more. A mildly transgressive word, ass is not quite as serious as shit or fuck–it is more of a humorously...
A Backhanded Pardon

A Backhanded Pardon

“My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.” Queen Elizabeth I, as told by Aubrey When Oxford first appeared at Court, He blushed to hear a loud report Behind him as he bent his knee Before Elizabeth, and she Must have shown she too had heard By uttering a witty...
Bats as Symbols

Bats as Symbols

In the United States and Europe, bats tend to be considered creatures of ill omen–it is assumed that there must be something wrong with a mammal that wears fur but flies through the air. What is worse, most bats fly at night, thus proving they are up to no good....