Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:356
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive


Art asked about the word pension, which in our day is an agreed-upon payment made to a retired employee. At various times since the 14 th century, it has meant · payment made to retain loyalty – almost a bribe; · payment made to an artist...Show More Summary

Rump Parliament

Wes Schulz reminded me last week that he has long been a fan of the exotic word callipygian. It means having shapely buttocks, and it is based upon the ancient Greek word for rump, ? ? ?? (pyge). It is also part of the name of the classic statue seen above, The Callipygian Venus. Show More Summary

Vent Your Spleen

Brad Schnaidt wrote, “Can you explain the source/origin of the phrase ‘vent your spleen’? Does it have something to do with the old (and currently being revived) medical treatment of blood-letting? Thanks for your help, and I am an avid...Show More Summary


Randy from Traverse City was intrigued that the meaning of the word icon went without much protest from the sacred to the secular. Icon came from the Greek ?????, where it meant likeness, image, portrait, semblance, and similitude. Ultimately, it tracks back to the verb ??????, to be like. Show More Summary

Things That Are Noxious in the Night

Stella wrote to ask if the word noxious is indebted to the Latin word for night, nox. “Since primitive times,” she reasoned, “night and darkness have been seen as dangerous.” Noxious means harmful, poisonous, and unwholesome. It comes from the Latin noxa, harm or injury. Show More Summary


Penny asked if the word cant is just another word for slang. That’s one of the meanings of the word—a provincial dialect so peculiar that it constitutes vulgar slang—but it’s not the exclusive meaning. In fact, cant is most often described as jargon—specialized words used in a certain profession ( legal jargon ) or by a definable group. Show More Summary

Into or In To?

Tim asked when to use into as one word and when to use in to as two words. If there’s any connection to direction or motion in the sentence, definitely use into, the single word. · We used to sneak into the theater through an emergency door. Show More Summary


Kelly asked about idioms, wondering if they should be treated like slang or nonstandard English. Not really. An idiomatic expression is one that the people in a given language or region understand even though it makes little sense if the words are parsed literally. Show More Summary


Clarence found this in the January 31 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Twice this month, the White House has publicly grappled with the politically fraught language of terrorism.” Clarence asked about the word fraught in that sentence. Show More Summary


Mike from Cadillac challenged me to come up with some words that we could use if they actually existed. Rather than taking time out to make some up during this very busy season, I’m going to cheat and offer some that I wrote in an article a few years back. Show More Summary

Gimbol and Gimbal

Doug from Traverse City called in to ask about a word that he encountered in his reading. After he had hung up, I realized that I didn’t know precisely which word he intended. It was either gimballed or gambolled. If it was gimballed, it means fitted with a gimbal. Show More Summary


Greg from Thompsonville, Michigan, encountered the word warren a couple of times in the last month. The first instance occurred in an email from a friend who had visited Nepal. He wrote, “ Kathmandu was a loud and busy tourist city... Show More Summary

Tic-Tac-Toe, Anyone?

David asked about the hashtag, a symbol used in various social media. He expressed confusion because he had learned it as the pound sign. The function of the hashtag is to turn the un-spaced words that follow a hash sign (#) into a searchable link. Show More Summary


Roger asked about the word hack, which has been prominent in the news since North Korean hackers breached Sony’s computer files. To those outside the avid computer community, it means gaining access to a computer’s content illegally....Show More Summary


Bill from Maple City asked about the word contrite. From the context of what he was reading, he figured that it meant sorry. In popular use, that’s true, but it can also range up to an industrial-strength level of remorse. In its original sense, contrite referred to a physical state. Show More Summary

Near Miss or Near Hit?

David from Traverse City called to complain about the use of near miss in place of near hit or near collision. If I am slavishly literal, a near miss is actually a hit: “I nearly missed you with my car, but I finally managed to bring...Show More Summary

Something Akin to Kinship

Mike from Glen Arbor, Michigan, asked if the words kin and akin are connected. Indeed, they are. They come from a cluster of Germanic, Scandinavian, and Dutch words that meant to produce, to engender, to beget. In turn, those words are related to the Greek ????? (genos), which would show up in a word like generate, and the Latin genus. Show More Summary

Comprise & Compose

The following sentence appeared in an editorial in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on Sunday, November 23, 2014: “Safe Harbor, comprised of 23 area churches that open their doors to the homeless during the winter months, has said the group can’t continue indefinitely.” My quibble is with the wording comprised of. Show More Summary


A listener who wished to remain anonymous asked if I knew the name of the syndrome in which a person sneezes when suddenly exposed to light. I didn’t, but I found it online. It’s called photic sneeze reflex. There’s some confusion about its cause, but here are links to a couple of articles that take a stab at an explanation. Show More Summary

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Evelyn wrote to say that she had come across a strange and unfamiliar word last week while browsing through the offerings in her local library’s semi-annual book sale. The word was quassation. The word is strange and unfamiliar to most of us because it is obsolete. Show More Summary

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