Friday, November 22, 2013


I’ve always loved words. Early on, I would remember words I heard on television or radio, or from grown up conversations and try to work them into my own spiel at a later date. Several times, repeating words I heard my father’s friends say in “guy” bull sessions earned me a corner table at the Lifebuoy Soap cafe, with the entree delivered by my mother. If you catch my drift.

My enthusiasm for the sound of words may have contributed to my career choices: semi-professional radio pronouncer and disk-jockey (reinforced by my love of music) and later on, writer of stories, books and doggerel. To this day, I continue my life-long habit of incorporating fun-to-say words into my day-to-day speech. Words such as: marginalia, kumquat and brap-a-dap-a-dap-a-dap.

Etymology, in itself a fun word to wrap your lips around, sounds like it should be the be the study of someone’s dining habits as in “I et last night at Tommy O’s and the night before I et at that Russian sushi joint over on Maybe Street. But, as I’m sure you know, etymology is the study of word origins. 

The internet is a wonderful place, allowing us to dig for information on a wide range of subjects. Occasionally, the excavated facts are even true. This is a great boon to a dedicated amateur etymologist like me.  Here are a sampling of my current favorite words and a brief explanation of their roots. 

·       hornswoggle—meaning to embarrass, disconcert or confuse. Nobody’s quite sure, but  they think it was one of those farcified words settlers in the American West liked to invent to confuse the tourists.
·       bamboozle—A cousin of hornswoggle. To practice trickery—to take advantage of someone. Again, they’re not sure, but think it might have spun off the Scottish word “bumbaze.” If you’ve had a few “wee drops” of single malt and a mouthful of haggis, it’s easy to see how it could evolve.
·       Unctuousa favorite because it’s so perfectly descriptive. It means excessively smooth, suave or smug. With a side order of insincere. The word comes from Middle Ages Latin.
·       Wanker—This one is British slang. Used as a pejorative. Shows disdain for the person described.  It’s roots are 19th century British working-class and derives from a form (ahem) of self gratification. Thus the verb form “to wank.”
·       Snogging—another British slang tongue tantalizer. It mean’s kissing, cuddling and perhaps anything short of actually tummy bumping. The roots are uncertain but first turned up amongst U.K. hipsters in the late 50’s.
·       Pejorative—Expression of disapproval or contempt. Roots are Latin and adapted by the French because it was fun to pronounce through your nose. 
·       Loofah—sounds like it should be some sort of exotic sports chant, doesn’t it? Yes, the Samoans have scored again here at the exfoliation bowl and their fans reward them with their trademark cheer: “loofah, loofah, loofah.” It’s called the vegetable sponge and is the fruit of the Luffa plant. Arabic in origin.

So, now, it’s your turn to etymologize. Remember, if you can dazzle ‘em with footwork, baffle ‘em with B.S. Share a fun-to-say word or two in the comments.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Designing a Coat of Arms

Carolyn J. Rose

A few years before he died, I watched my father using a drill to shave away a sixteenth of an inch of plasterboard in a bathroom ceiling.

My father was a carpenter, so this wasn’t an act of born of ignorance. Rather it was an act of expedience. The exhaust fan almost fit. It was almost time for lunch. He was almost out of patience. Using the drill was quicker than going to the garage for a saw.
“If our family had a coat of arms,” I told him when the fan was in place, “it would have a picture of a man using a drill for a saw.”
“And a picture of a woman holding a drill behind her back while denying she’s done the same thing,” he shot back.

True. I had done that. Several times. I am, after all, my father’s daughter.

A few days ago I recalled that incident and started thinking about what would be on my coat of arms if I had one.
 I doodled a shield on a piece of scrap paper and traced the outline of the Catskill Mountains across it. I was born in those mountains, and they are ever in my mind.
I divided the shield into quadrants and, in the top right one, sketched a grove of white birches between a stone wall and a meandering stream.

In a second quadrant, I drew a camera and a television to symbolize my 25+ years in TV news.

In a third, I roughed out a stick figure holding a drill in honor of my father and to represent all the home repair projects I tackled—some successful and some downright disastrous.

Finally, I drew my husband, my dogs, and a pile of books. Then, in the interest of honesty and full disclosure, I added a sack of cheesy snacks.

I am, after all, still my father’s daughter. And we never met a cheesy snack we didn’t like.

If you had a coat of arms, what would you put on it?