Category Archives: Words, phrases & expressions

It’s as cold as …


As Glosso approaches its tenth birthday in ten weeks’ time, we’re publishing the ten most popular posts again in weekly installments, with some extra tidbits and updates thrown in. We start with a perennial winter Glosso favorite, posted again today when it’s as cold as #*%$ here in the frostiest of US winters (and I mean that metaphorically more than literally).

Today we’re throwing in another cold simile: can you guess whose frigid pen wrote these words back in 1850? “It was as cold as Blue Flujin, where sailors say fire freezes.” See appendix below for the answer. Continue reading

It’s Talk Like Shakespeare Day!

It’s National Talk Like Shakespeare Day!* Please teachest me to speaketh like Shakespeare, I heareth thee cry. You probably do already: if you say things like “send him packing”, “as good luck would have it”, “more fool you”, “neither here nor there”,  “mum’s the word”, or “the be-all and end-all”, then you’re doing pretty well in the Shakespearean language department: he was responsible for either coining or popularizing all those phrases.  Anyway, has’t no fear: Glossophilia cometh to the rescue, and we’re about to guide you through your online toolkit of Shakespearean-speak gadgets. Among Glossophilia’s favorites is Shmoop’s own Shakespearean Translator, which is just like Google Translate: Type anything into the box and “see it translated into super-authentic Shakespearean English”. Then there’s the Shakespeare Insult Kit, whose author Jerry Maguire (sic) was or is an English teacher at Center Grove High School in Greenwood Indiana. You’ll sound like a true Shakespearean villain when you hurl those concoctions out there. Another Glosso favorite is Shakespeare’s Words Thesaurus: “This is the opposite of the Glossary. When consulting the Glossary, you know the word and you want to find out what it means. When consulting the Thesaurus, you know the meaning and you want to find out which Shakespearean words express it. How would he say ‘arrogant’ or ‘companion’?'” Did you know that there’s a William Shakespeare Glossary on CliffNotes? And one on SparkNotes too? There’s a plethora of Shakespeare glossaries and dictionaries out there — and I mean plethora in its truest sense – to help you on your talk-like-Shakespeare quest. Here are just some of them … Continue reading

Choate, couth and cognito


Originally posted in 2015.


Disingenuous seems to be the word of the week at 21C: we’re all at pains to avoid seeming or being it in our work as publicists. But as one of my more literary colleagues pointed out: why don’t we use the word ingenuous* more often — i.e. without the “dis-” in front of it? Is there even such a word, and does it mean the opposite of disingenuous? (See below to find out.) And are there other words like this whose obvious opposites don’t seem to exist? Continue reading

I think you mean the opposite …

Glosso’s last post was about words that don’t sound like what they actually mean (at least not to me); an example is prosaic, which I think sounds quite poetic, but means – in a general sense – commonplace or unromantic. But that doesn’t mean I use it wrongly; it just sounds wrong. Today we’re looking at ten words that are commonly used to mean the opposite of what they really (or historically) mean. I’m sure you can think of others; please add them in the comments section below. Continue reading

Words that sound like their own antonyms

Do you ever get that jarring feeling when a word sounds as though it should actually mean the opposite – or at least something very different? Three words that always make me stumble mentally are “prosaic”, “urbane”, and “bucolic”. To me, “prosaic” has a poetic, imaginative quality, perhaps because of my optimistic view of language and prose being generally artistic. “Urbane” sounds to me more like what “prosaic” actually means: straightforward, matter-of-fact, unimaginative. Is it because the second half of the word makes me think of banal? The heavy, earthy sound of that weighted second syllable (which itself has ruinous implications) doesn’t quite evoke that lofty sophistication it’s meant to denote. And isn’t “bucolic” the ugliest and most inappropriate way of describing a scene of rustic idyll  – conjuring up instead (in my mind, anyway) images of phlegm and disease? Perhaps it’s the back end of the word again: colic. Or its similarity to “bubonic”, which exists only to describe the worst plague in human history.

Can you think of other words that have been lumbered with fake identities but still manage to masquerade their way successfully through conversation and literature?



“Anniversary”: years in a word

Originally posted in August 2011.


It seems an opportune moment, as we approach a significant date that history will never forget, to look at the meaning and derivation of the word “anniversary” — a word that will be on everyone’s lips over the coming weeks and days. It’s a word that many feel the need to qualify – wrongly – with the word “year”, even though the notion of year is inherent in the definition of the word itself. Do a Google news search on the phrase “10-year anniversary”, and hundreds if not thousands of results come up, none of them really correct. Continue reading