Tag Archives: weird word of the week

In the news (May 2)


The weird word of this week is kakistocracy. Do you live under the regime of a kakistocracy? You might well have done at some point in your life: see below for the definition …

In the news this week: a bad reaction to bad grammar awards; bad spelling in DC; bad English words in Chinese; good punctuation etiquette amongst Harvard’s prefrosh (don’t ask); and some exotic emoticons.

*   *  *

There’s a bit of a backlash against the Bad Grammar Awards, whose shortlist this year includes offenders such as the UK’s NHS, Tesco and Tristam Hunt; only in their sophomore year, the awards are coming under fire at The Guardian. “Academic linguists have left the rest of us easy prey to nonsense and ashamed of our English when we should be celebrating our extraordinary mastery of a language which really is ours. No matter how we say our words or which words we use, we native speakers form a collective democracy of experts. Unaware of this and every other revelation of modern linguistics, Hodgkinson, Gwynne, Gove and all the other know-nothing know-it-alls happily continue to peddle their sneering, condescending, dismissive, misanthropic, elitist, made-up twaddle.”

*   *   *

Why is it that some English words are controversial in China? Three writers for the People’s Daily newspaper, who are leading the crusade against “zero translation” and helping fuel the national debate, blame “a lack of pride and confidence in one’s own culture and language, which leads to blindly worshipping anything Western”. The BBC reports.

*   *   *

According to a report in the Daily Caller, the Board of Elections in Washington DC can’t spell — or perhaps they’re taking a “Liberterian” approach to language. Caleb Brown, director of multimedia at the Cato Institute, noticed the spelling error on a voter registration form in the District of Columbia. “Thank you. Will follow up with the appropriate staff about making a correction,” DC tweeted in response.

*   *   *

The Harvard Crimson decodes the punctuation of texting. “Hundreds of high school prefrosh will be coming to campus this weekend, phones in hand, thumbs at the ready. In high school, texting was all about the abbreviations and acronyms. … Now, these prefrosh are at Harvard, and at Harvard, it’s punctuation that matters.” Prefrosh? Don’t ask — I don’t know …

*   *   *

If you’re looking for some unusual emoticons but want to use only “real” characters in your prose, mental_floss offers 16 characters from other languages that might just do the trick. Who knew, for example, that the Cyrillic zhe with diaeresis above it looks like a butterfly?

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: kakistocracy: n. a system of government in which the rulers are the least qualified, least competent or most unprincipled citizens. From the Greek kakistos, meaning “worst”.


In the news (April 25)


Words, language and usage have been all over the news this week. Read about a nifty word-changing browser extension, India’s election slogans, vocab in the new SAT, a swearing ban in Russia, the demise of cursive script, and more …

The weird word of the week is jobation. See below for its definition.

*   *   *

“If you’re a cool-headed, fair-minded, forward-thinking descriptivist like my colleague David Haglund, it doesn’t bother you one bit that people often use the word “literally” when describing things figuratively. If, on the other hand, you’re a cranky language bully like me, it figuratively bugs the crap out of you every time.” That’s Will Oremus on Slate’s “Future Tense” blog, in his piece describing the new Chrome browser extension that replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively”on sites and articles across the web, “with deeply gratifying results.”

[This reminds me of one of my favorite Tweeters — Stealth Mountain — who sends a tweet to everyone on the web who types the words “sneak peak”, telling them, literally, “I think you mean ‘sneak peek'” … ]

*   *   *

The revised SAT won’t include obscure vocabulary words any more, the New York Times reports. “One big change is in the vocabulary questions, which will no longer include obscure words. Instead, the focus will be on what the College Board calls ‘high utility’ words that appear in many contexts, in many disciplines—often with shifting meanings—and they will be tested in context.”

*   *   *

Is cursive handwriting slowly dying out in America? PBS Newshour looks at the history of “joined-up writing” and asks about the future of this art form. “With young thumbs furiously pounding out abbreviated words and internet slang while texting and with fingers flying across keyboards writing emails, reports and, yes, even news articles, the act of taking a pen and carefully crafting notes and letters is occurring less frequently in the modern world.”

*   *   *

The BBC looks at India’s colorful election slogans. Yes, they can too.

*   *   *

The Russian parliament’s lower house has passed a ban on swearing (or what the Americans call cursing) in films, music and other works of art. The BBC reports.

*   *   *

Ever wondered where the expression “bite the bullet” came from? Or “cold feet” or “go with the flow”? Buzzfeed gives us 36 unexpected origins of everyday British phrases.

*   *   *

Urszula Clark on the British Council blog asks “which variety of English language should you speak?”. The results of Clark’s research show “how dynamic, fragmented and mobile the English language has become. At the same time, the influence of traditional gatekeepers of ‘standard’ English, such as the BBC, is weakening.”

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: jobation. Noun: (chiefly British): a scolding; a long tedious rebuke or reproof. “It is difficult for me to justify to myself the violent jobation which my Father gave me in consequence of my scream, except by attributing to him something of the human weakness of vanity. — from Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, 1907.


In the news (April 11)


An endangered species?

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky …

The weird word of the week is incarnadine: see definition below. And in the news this week: a grammatical bank robber; a grammatically incorrect and insolent student; no freedom for the Eskimos; some extinct and endangered names; and some bananarama …

*   *   *

An English teacher who received a rude, expletive-filled letter from one of his or her disgruntled students took a red pen and returned it with corrections. The closing comment? “Please use your education appropriately. Proofreading takes five minutes and keeps you from looking stupid.” The Telegraph (and lots of other publications) had the story.

*   *   *

There isn’t an Inuit word for freedom; the closest they come is annakpok which means “not caught”. The BBC included this fact in its freedom season.

*   *   *

Bananas: did you know that a bunch of bananas is called a hand and that individual bananas are called fingers? I didn’t either … But mental_floss did.

*   *   *

Do you know anyone called Fanny, Gertrude, Gladys, Margery, Marjorie, Muriel, Cecil, Rowland, Willie, Bertha or Blodwen? Probably not — at least not in the UK — since they are now all “extinct” in that county. None have been recorded in the latest record of births. Clifford, Horace, Harold, Doris, Norman and Leslie are all endangered, so think about them when you’re next naming a baby, if you want to keep those names alive. The Telegraph reports.

*   *   *

A bank robber in Denver seems to have left his (or her) mark with grammatically immaculate demand notes. Local law enforcement officials have named the suspect (who is still on the lam) the ‘Good Grammar Bandit’.  “It’s well punctuated, there’s proper sentence structure, the spelling is correct,” FBI Denver spokesman Dave Joly told ABC News. “He did a nice job.”

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: incarnadine: adj – 1. flesh-colored; 2. crimson or blood-red.

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my  hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”
— Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II

In the news


The weird word of this week is hederigerent. See its definition below.

In the news this week: a language error by the Ukrainians; some poetic abstract nouns that no longer exist; bad spelling in the baseball stadium; and getting your spelling and punctuation right when you’re in court …

*   *   *

Shortly after taking power, Ukraine’s new government made the unforced error of revoking a 2012 law granting the Russian language an official status (alongside Ukrainian) in regions where Russian-speakers predominate, according to an article in The Economist.

*   *   *

mental_floss brings us 14 abstract nouns that once graced our language but eventually became obsolete. Terribility and fewty: how have we managed without you?

*   *   *

A Red Sox fan doesn’t seem to mind showing a baseball stadium how bad her spelling is. Deadspin helped her bad spelling go viral.

*   *   *

Watch your ps, qs, spaces and dots — especially if you’re making a legal claim for collateral from a company going bankrupt. In a recent bankruptcy court ruling, a creditor lost its security interest in the assets of a bankrupt company because it left two periods and one space out of its paper work. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story.

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: hederigerent: adjective, “bearing or ornamented with ivy”. Etymology is unknown.

In the news (March 28)


Cockney rhyming slang courtesy A Salt and Battery on Facebook this week

The weird word of the week is galimatias: see its definition below.

That Gerund Is Funky … In the news this week: a deadly spelling error; sign language in Italy and dogs; the true meaning of grammar; and some ever enjoyable Yank-Brit differences.

*   *   *

U.S. authorities missed several chances to detain Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for his terror training, thanks partly to a deadly spelling error. On one occasion, Tsarnaev, thought to be possibly armed and dangerous, was set to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database. NBC News reports.

*   *   *

When most people write about grammar (especially when they’re listing or testing for “grammatical errors”), are they really talking about grammar — or something else? Rob Reinalda sets us straight on Huffington Post. Thank you, Rob; I’m so glad someone finally wrote this important article.

*   *   *

Deaf dogs are learning sign language in Nebraska, according to Nebraska.tv.

In Italy, where its inhabitants’ characteristic hand gestures and physical gesticulations are almost as important as the language itself — to the extent that they have their own dictionary and every Italian understands their meanings, the local sign language for the deaf isn’t legally recognized. The BBC reports on this strange anomaly.

*  *  *

Anglophenia gives us five tiny U.S. phrases with opposite meanings in the UK. Like table, and bills

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: galimatias. n. nonsense; gibberish; confusing or meaningless talk.

“Easy at first, the language of friendship
Is, as we soon discover,
Very difficult to speak well, a tongue
With no cognates, no resemblance
To the galimatias of nursery and bedroom,
Court rhyme or shepherd’s prose,”

— from W. H. Auden’s For Friends Only



In the news (March 21)


Only one news item makes the TGIF cut this week. And the weird word of the week is facinorous: see below for its definition.


A big piece of news this week – so big that it has its very own TGIF post: AP has decided to remove the distinction between over and more than. As Poynter reports, “AP Stylebook editors said at a session Thursday that “over” is fine when referring to a quantity; you don’t have to change it to “more than.” The news elicited a gasp …”


Facinorous: adjective meaning atrociously wicked, detestably bad. From the Latin facinora.

In the news (March 14)


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky … Words and language in the news this week include a hilarious video about foreign language pronunciation, angst in Germany over an unusual invasion, a slip-up in the supermarket, an interview with Julian Barnes, and an embarrassing spelling mistake.

And find out below the definition of this week’s weird word of the week: engastrimyth …   Continue reading

In the news (March 7)


Words and language in the news this week (and for the last couple of weeks; Glosso is catching up after a short vacation …): a Hollywood “Insta-bee”; the power of words in online dating; an age-old linguistic battle examined; what’s the difference between ladies and women in sports?; the stories of words; and, last but not least, it was National Grammar Day …

This week’s weird word of the week is dasypygal. See below for what it means.  Continue reading

In the news (Feb 7)


That Gerund Is Funky …

Language and usage in the news this week: an unfortunate subtitle fail by the BBC, an unusual style guide, a Superbowl ad that needed an edit, and further discussion about just how important French really is. Plus, this week’s weird word of the week …

*   *   *

Oops! In a subtitling blunder, the BBC rang in the Chinese New Year by welcoming its viewers to the “year of the whores”, as The Independent gleefully reported.

*   *   *

Continuing an ongoing argument about the importance of French and whether it’s a language in decline, Zach Simon in the Huffington Post writes a rebuttal to John McWhorter’s piece in The New Republic entitled, “Let’s Stop Pretending That French is an Important Language.” As Simon points out: “As the 9th most-spoken language in the world, it’s not as though French is going to go the way of Cherokee anytime soon.”

*   *   *

One of my favorite articles of the year so far is this critique – an amusingly positive one — by The Guardian of Buzzfeed’s style guide, which the internet giant decided to share with the world this week. More on style guides are to come in an upcoming Glossophilia post.

*   *   *

“Less bottles”? Really? Shouldn’t she have said “fewer bottles”? As Slate reported, Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream ad could have done with a good edit.

*   *   *

This week’s weird word of the week:

Callipygian: adjective: having beautifully proportioned or finely developed buttocks. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “1800, Latinized from Greek kallipygos, name of a statue of Aphrodite at Syracuse, from kalli-, combining form of kallos “beauty” + pyge “rump, buttocks.” Sir Thomas Browne (1646) refers to “Callipygæ and women largely composed behinde.”