Blog Profile / Wordmall

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:406
Posts / Week:0.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

French fried vs. French fry

Roger Funkhauser wrote to me at and asked. “Is it more proper to use ‘ice tea’ instead of ‘iced tea’ or doesn’t it make a difference?" It should definitely be iced tea. It has to be the past participle form. Ice tea would be made from ice. Show More Summary


Bill from Merritt, Michigan, mused on the word scale, which can encompass diverse meanings from relative size to the covering on a fish to a musical progression. As with many words having multiple meanings, though the spelling is identical, the origins may have absolutely nothing in common. Show More Summary


Gifford Haddock asked about a word that appears in Acts 26:14. The word is goads, and it appears in this context: “ And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you...Show More Summary


Fred asked about the word foist. It shows up in settings such as this: “Don’t let them foist their shoddy goods on you.” In this sense, it means to palm off or surreptitiously force items on someone. “To palm off” is quite accurate because the word originally meant to conceal a token in your hand or fist and then make it appear as if by magic. Show More Summary

Just Call It A Couch!

Mike from Cadillac called in a question that has come up before: why is a certain piece of furniture called a davenport? My immediate thought was that it must have been manufactured in Davenport, Iowa, but I was mistaken. It has all sorts of cousins. Show More Summary


Kevin asked about the connection between stuffing oneself with food (gorge) and the narrow opening between hills (gorge). They definitely are connected. In each case a throat shape is involved. The word probably came from a Latin word, gurgulio, which meant the windpipe. Show More Summary

You’re Smart, but That Smarts!

Phil from Traverse City asked about the connection between smart (intelligent), and something that smarts (hurts). Oddly enough, both meanings attach to the same word. Tracing the meaning through the centures by using the Oxford English Dictionary makes things clear. Show More Summary

Umlaut or Diaeresis?

Carol from East Bay asked about the double dots used above some vowels, such as Häagen-Dazs. Though they look identical, there are two different elements that use these dots: the umlaut and the diaeresis. The umlaut [Ger. changed sound] is strongly Germanic and changes the sound of a vowel. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Melody asked about the word castigate. It means to correct, to rebuke, to subdue. It comes from the Latin verb castigare, to correct or reprove. In turn, that came from the Latin adjective castus, pure. Related forms are castigation, castigative, castigator, and castigatory. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Doug from Traverse City asked about the word raunchy. Originally, it meant sloppy and unkempt. It then came to mean bawdy and off-color. Most dictionaries declare that its origin is unknown. It first shows up in print in the 1930s, and it may have been Army-Air Corps slang—a reference to an improperly worn or cared-for uniform. Show More Summary


10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

In the last couple of weeks, a few listeners have expressed an interest in particular homophones—words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Dave from Traverse City called in with pray and prey. Pray came from an Anglo-Norman word that developed from Latin. Show More Summary

Senior Citizen Spelling Bee

10 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Sponsored by the Traverse Area District Library:


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Tanya asked about the word indolence. These days, it is a classy way of saying laziness, sloth, inertia. Lethargy, languor, and torpidity are upper-level synonyms. The literary level is represented by hebetude. The strange thing is that indolence originally meant without pain. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Mark asked why we use the word shot in the phrase a shot and a beer. Shot comes from an Old English word— sceot —that described a darting, rapid motion. When most Americans drink from a shot glass, they do not sip delicately; they throw the contents back quickly, swallowing in one go. Show More Summary


11 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

“Twere is a contraction of a form of the verb to be. In full, it is written as it were, a subjunctive form. I bring it up because it is used in a scene in the Coen Brothers’ movie, Hail, Caesar. In that scene, a movie director becomes...Show More Summary

Unisex Names

12 months agoAcademics / Linguistics : Wordmall

Kelly from Harbor Springs asked for a word denoting a name that can be used both for boys and for girls, citing his own name as an example. Existing examples include Avery Brooks and Avery Winter; Bailey Chase and Bailey Hanks; Cameron...Show More Summary

Exasperate & Exacerbate

Last week, I listened to a speaker confuse the words exasperate and exacerbate. “This will only exasperate the problem,” he said, actually meaning exacerbate. It’s becoming a common mistake, primarily because the pronunciation is so close. Show More Summary


One of the delights of Christmas grazing is fudge. While I was indulging in that substance the other day, neighbors Alexandra and Danielle Arens asked where the word came from. Fudge is a soft candy made from chocolate chips, sugar, butter, and condensed milk. Show More Summary


Crystal Frost commented on a ruling given by a local judge in a recent hearing, noting that he displayed an admirable vocabulary. One of the words that she found impressive was nugatory. This was the context: “ Important to the analysis...Show More Summary

Ambiguous and Ambivalent

Fern asked about ambiguous and ambivalent. The two contain the root ambi -, which means both. Ambiguous also leans on the Latin agere, to drive, resulting in the literal meaning “driving here and there.” Ambivalent contains the Latin valere, to be powerful, leading to the literal meaning “equal in power.” Ambiguous applies to something external. Show More Summary

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