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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: mark peters, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters

Terms for bullshit in the English language have grown so vast it has now become a lexicon itself. We talked to Mark Peters, author of Bullshit: A Lexicon, about where the next set of new terms will come from, why most of the words are farm related, and bullshit in politics.

The post What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Holy horsecrap, Batman! The equine BS vocabulary

When horses were a common means of transportation, horseshit was as common as potholes are today. While actual horse feces is rare nowadays, horseshit is as common as ever in our vocabulary.The list of synonyms and euphemisms—such as horsefeathers, horse hockey, horse hooey, horse pucky, and horse apples—is huge, taking up many pages in the Dictionary of American Regional English, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, and the Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

The post Holy horsecrap, Batman! The equine BS vocabulary appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Denim venom: future products in the style of jweats

By Mark Peters

Word blends are the bunnies of language: they breed like motherfathers.

During the recent American Dialect Society meeting in Portland, plenty of blends were singled out. Assholocracy is an apt description of America, especially in an election year. Botoxionist refers to a doctor specializing in the forehead region of vain people. A brony is a bro who loves My Little Pony. That word was voted Least Likely to Succeed, but you can bet similar words will keep sprouting, particularly in the world of fashion.

Jeggings. Photo by Funkdooby. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As fashionistas have lamented, jorts, jeggings, and junderwear—jean shorts, jean leggings, and jean underwear—have assaulted eyeballs and sensibilities for years. Last year, jweats (jean sweats) and even jor-jeggings (an unholy jorts-jeggings hybrid) joined the party. Forget the Mayan doomsday; it’s clear as a crystal skull that we’re living in an ongoing denim-pocalypse.

These atrocities aren’t going to stop. I predict the following items will be on sale soon.

(FYI, if any of these are plausible ideas, please call my agent, because I’d gladly sell my soul to the denim industry).

jear muffs
They’re not warm, but fashionistas are warmed by style, not warmth. For the elderly, how about jearing aids?

Could be a little itchy for you Mr. Peanut types, but it can’t be worse than peanut allergies. So that evens out.

Maybe Christopher Nolan can work this in to the new Batman movie.

jevlar vest
It doesn’t block bullets, which could be a problem given the recent rise in fashion police brutality.

jinnamon rolls
These will be less fattening than cinnamon rolls because they are inedible.

If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a team of fashion scientists on the moon to change its chemical composition.

Some say nipples can’t be improved. They’re probably right, but it’s worth a shot.

The designer dog world, which pumps out teacup malti-poos, toy pitdoodles, and more word blends than a denim-only catalog, could easily mix some denim DNA into one of their hellish kennels of canine copulation.

jystal meth
Jeans and meth are both blue, so this seems like a natural idea that could be the plot of a future Smurfs movie.

A beautiful, intelligent, precious denim baby. It will look so good with the rest of your jamily.

Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.

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4. Jeremy Lin Books for Your Kindle

New York Kicks star Jeremy Lin has swept the sports and media world, and everybody is wondering when the basketball star will land his inevitable book deal.

You can already buy seven eBooks about Lin on the Kindle, books ranging from biographies to trivia to poetry. Check out the books below–you can also join his nearly 500,000 followers on Twitter or visit his new Facebook page.

Last night Lin tweeted about his team’s loss to the New Jersey Nets: “9 [turnovers] wont get it done…gotta learn from my mistakes and move on to the next one. See you guys sunday!”


New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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5. Are you still writing 2012 on your tweets?

By Mark Peters

Twitter is a joke factory, where professional comics and civilian jesters crank out one-liners round the clock.

In that joke factory, there are popular models. Every day, new jokes play on phrases such as “Dance like no one is watching,” “Sex is like pizza,” and “When life hands you lemons.” While the repetition can be maddening, I’m impressed by how, inevitably, there’s always another good joke lurking in even the most tired formula. “Give a man a fish” variations are endless, but there’s always a fresh catch, like this tweet by Erikka Innes:

Give a fish a man, he eats for a day. Teach a fish to catch a man and OH MY GOD DON'T STEAL MY AWESOME IDEA FOR A HORROR MOVIE
Erikka Innes

Some formulas are seasonal. The arrival of 2013 brings variations of a formula I presume originated as a simple observation: “It’s X year, but I’m still writing X-1 year on my checks.” Some use the snowclone-like formula to point out its own exhaustion:

I can't believe it's almost 2013! I'm still writing a popular joke construction on all of my checks!
Jelisa Castrodale
I'm still writing hacky jokes on my checks.
Alex Baze

Ugh, I'm still writing this joke format on all my tweets.
Wile E. Quixote

People write these kind of tweets about every joke formula, so I’d say pointing out hackiness has become its own form of hackery. Another option is using this format to comment on how checks have mostly gone the way of dinosaurs. This was a popular theme this year:

Still writing "nobody accepts checks anymore, ya stupid check" on all my checks
Sarah Thyre
Ugh. I'm still writing "what is a check" on Twitter.

I’m still writing “WHY THE HELL IS THERE NO WAY TO PAY THIS ONLINE?” on all my checks.
Bryan Donaldson

When jokesters move beyond the world of checks by replacing the word check, the humor gets more humorous:

Ugh, still writing 2012 on my death threats.
Dangit! I'm still writing "2012" on my suicide notes.

So embarrassing, I'm still writing 2012 on my boss's car with my keys.
Ryan Purtill

Others keep the check part and replace 2012. In some cases, the subject matter stays close to the world of money, usually implying the tweeter is broke or a deadbeat:

It's 2013, but I'm still writing "This will bounce" on all my checks.
Highway To Helv
I'm still writing 112th Congress on my checks. (I don't have any money.)
Nina Bargiel

Ugh! It's 2013 and I can't believe I'm still writing "Child Support, choke on it Denise" on all my checks.
Ramsey Ess

Sometimes 2012 gets replaced with something a lot more creative:

It's January 3. I can't believe I'm still writing "I’ve always viewed the smoke break as the golf course of the creative class" on my checks
I Punch Hitler

It's 2013, but I'm still writing "THE BLOOD OF MINE ENEMIES SHALL POUR DOWN LIKE RAIN" on my checks.
Rob Kutner

A double replacement adds more possibilities:

It's 2013 and I'm still writing "I want to go home" on all of my work emails.

Ugh. I’m still writing “2082” on all the specimen jars in my time machine.
Jason Sweeney

And there’s plenty of room for absurd silliness, intriguing questions, and wordplay galore:

I'm still writing 2012 on allthsnarrgleflug HONK HONK
It's 2013 but hipsters are still writing 1890 on all their checks.
Dan Kennedy
If you’re still writing 2012 on your cheques, the real question is, what’s with the British spelling?
Mαtt Thomαs
I'm still writing "KONY 2012" on all my children.
Beer Baron

"I'm still writing 2012 on all my Czechs." -Guy who likes writing on people from Central Europe
Jess Dweck

Love it or loathe it, this joke format will likely survive as long as we have years. Even in 3013, I bet we’ll still be writing “Please have sex with me” into the programming of our robots.

Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, and language columnist for Visual Thesaurus. He also writes Lost Batman Tales. Read his previous OUPblog posts.

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6. The Jerk Store called…and called and called

Seinfeld famously added a ton of terms to English, such as low talker, high talker, spongeworthy, and unshushables. It also made obscure terms into household words. Shrinkage and yada yada existed before Seinfeld, but it’s doubtful you learned them anywhere else.

Another successful Seinfeld term has gone under the radar: Jerk Store. The term was coined in “The Comeback,” when George is unselfconsciously stuffing his face with shrimp during a meeting. A co-worker sees George’s gluttony and says, “Hey, George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” George is speechless, but later he crafts a comeback: “Oh yeah? Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you.” The episode shows George going to absurd lengths to find a way to use his comeback, as well as his friends’ unwanted workshopping of the joke.

In a way, that workshopping has never ended—at least on Twitter, which is likely the largest collection of jokes, good and bad, by professionals and amateurs, ever created. Many of those jokes involve formulas, and the Jerk Store has become a popular one. On Twitter, every day is the Summer of George.

Most variations start with “The Jerk Store called,” which is as trusty a joke starter as “Relationship status:” and “When life hands you lemons.” From there, the joke can go just about anywhere. Comic Warren Holstein makes a food joke out of the formula: “The Jerk Store called but I couldn’t understand their thick Jamaican accents.” Matt Koff reveals what would likely happen to a real-life Jerk Store: “The Jerk Store called. It’s closing because it couldn’t compete with Amazon. :(“ Some use the formula to comment on politics: “The Jerk Store called; they’re no longer hiring because of fear of Obamacare mandates.” I particularly like this joke, which finds the funny in sadness: “The jerk store called. We didn’t chat for long but it was good to hear their voice. It was good to hear anyone’s voice. I’m so alone.”

Other tweeters abandon the formula when making Jerk Store jokes, like Laura Palmer: “I’m applying at the Jerk Store and I need references.” This holiday tweet sounds like perfect storm of jerkdom: “Looking forward to the Black Friday deals at the Jerk Store.” Food trends also get spoofed: “when will the jerk store start getting organic jerks. tired of getting these jerks full of gmos.” Here’s a particularly clever joke, playing on an annoying Frankenstein-related correction: “Actually, the jerk store’s monster called.”

This term/joke formula isn’t going anywhere for at least a few reasons. Seinfeld is still omnipresent in reruns, and I reckon the entire series is imprinted on the collective unconscious. Plus, the world is full of jerks. The following are some recent epistles from the Jerk Store to help you get through the polar jerk-tex. Jerk Store might never make the OED, but it’s one of the most successful joke franchises in the world.

Headline image credit: Seinfeld logo. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post The Jerk Store called…and called and called appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. The Dude Abides. This is not Nam! Nice Marmot: The Lingo of “The Big Lebowski”

Mark Peters, a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude is our guest blogger this week. In this post, he looks at language and the love of The Big Lebowski.

I don’t do cults.

I never joined a doomsday cult, even for the free tote bag. I tried starting my own cult, based on voodoo and pancakes, but the ranks are thin. Despite my admiration for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, I never drank enough Tribble-ade to qualify for Trekkie status. I’m just a non-cult-y guy.

But if there’s one cult that could secure my lifetime membership, immortal soul, and adorable firstborn, it would be the following dedicated to The Big Lebowski—the 1998 Coen brothers film, starring Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, that I seem able to watch on any given day, at any particular time, no matter how many previous viewings have taken place that week. The overall weapons-grade awesomeness of this movie has spawned Lebowski Fests, academic books, and plenty of what-have-you, but I love The Big Lebowski mainly because of the language, which is juicy, quotable, and frequently used as a dog whistle to identify other fans.

My mind isn’t limber enough to summarize this brain-humper of a movie, except to say it is, as J.M. Tyree and Ben Walters write in their Film Classics book, “a struggle between the harmless idiots and the harmful idiots of this world”. The harmless folks are led by Jeffrey Lebowski (much better known as “the Dude”) and Walter Sobchak—two bowling enthusiasts and sixties holdovers from opposite ends of the spectrum. The harmful group includes Jeffrey “The Big” Lebowski, a quartet of nihilists, and some non-house-trained, non-rug-respecting goons. No one achieves much of anything, which makes the word Achiever—the Lebowski-lover’s equivalent of Trekkie, Deadhead, or Twihard—all the more amusing.

“Achiever” is mega-prominent in the movie, usually as a contrast to the Dude’s non-achieving ways, as the wall of the older Lebowski has pictures and plaques celebrating The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Business Achiever Award. In a memorable image, the Dude gapes into a mirror with the Time logo and “Man of the Year” emblazoned on top, plus the words, “Are you a Lebowski achiever?” on the side. Later, the plaque-collecting Lebowski speaks of his wife’s kidnappers as “Men who are unable to achieve on a level field of play” and accuses the Dude of failing “…to achieve, even in the modest task that was your charge…” With all this talk of achievement, it’s no wonder the Achievers adopted the name.

Though the words of just about any cult fave will get parroted—TV and movies spread terms like KFC-phobia in a chicken coop—Achievers who ape Lebowski lingo are more in tune with their source material than most. In the film, phrases such as “In the parlance of our times,” “Nothing is fucked,” and “It really tied the room together” (a reference to the Dude’s rug) flit from one character to another. Quotat

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8. Terriers are People Too: Dog Breeds as Metaphors

By Mark Peters

My newest obsession is Terriers, an FX show created by Ted Griffin (who wrote Ocean’s Eleven) and Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield, the best TV show ever). This show has deliciously Seinfeldian dialogue, effortless and charming acting, plus plots that are unpredictable and fresh. It’s even heart-wrenching at times, and I didn’t know I had a heart to wrench. This show is wonderful. Of course, no one is watching it.

One reason for the low ratings—suggested by everyone and their schnauzer—is that the title Terriers reveals nothing of what the show is actually about: a former cop and former criminal who have split the difference to become private investigators. That’s true. You won’t find any Wheaton terriers, Jack Russell terriers, or Yorkshire terriers—though a bulldog named Winston is a regular character. But terrier has been describing people as well as pooches for a long time, just like Doberman, pit bull, hound, and especially poodle. As quick as people are to anthropomorphize their dogs, we’re just as fond of poochopomorphizing ourselves. In honor of Terriers, here’s a look at words that have been transmitted from pooches to people.

As for terrier itself, it’s been used literally since the 1400’s and figuratively since the 1500’s. As the owner of a rat terrier, I can vouch for the OED’s definition: “A small, active, intelligent variety of dog, which pursues its quarry (the fox, badger, etc.) into its burrow or earth.” Believe me, if my dog were on the case, I would not want to be a rat, mouse, bunny, Smurf, or mole man. Metaphorical uses from 1622 (“Bonds and bills are but tarriers to catch fools.”) and 1779 (“Hunted…by the terriers of the law.”) show that the title of my new favorite show isn’t breaking any new ground. Terrier-osity, whether found in a dude or dog, is characterized by relentless determination that’s almost creepy: think of a Jack Russell who doesn’t seem aware there’s a world beyond his tennis ball.

As for a dog that is as well-established in language as it is horrible-reputation’d in general, you can’t beat the pit bull. Sarah Palin is synonymous with this breed, but she sure didn’t invent the comparison. A 1987 OED example involved a political hero of Palin’s: “President Reagan accused his Democratic critics in Congress Monday of practicing [sic] ‘pit bull economics’ that would ‘tear America’s future apart’ with reckless fiscal and trade policies.” Later citations mention “pit bull management” and “pit-bull intensity.” FYI, since I am a dog-lover, I have to share this article from Malcolm Gladwell on why pit bulls aren’t as deserving as demonization as you think. As with most dog problems, an idiotic owner is the key ingredient.

The word poodle has been prolific as poodles themselves, who seem to breed with anything that chases a squirrel, and maybe even squirrels themselves. There’s poodle-faker (an old term for a dandy, which feels like an old term itself), poodle parlor (a dog grooming business), and poodle skirt (an unfortunate fad in the fifties). Tony Blair was often described as George W. Bush’s poodle—that meaning of “poodle” is about a hundred years old, and it’s first found here in 1907: “The House of Lords consented… It is the right hon. Gentleman’s poodle. It fetches and carries for him. It barks for him. It bites anybody that he sets it on to.” A similar shade of meaning is used in th

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9. Up the Wazoo and Into the Abyss: Words I Love

By Mark Peters

It’s easy to find articles about words people hate. Just google for a nanominute and you’ll find rants against moist, like, whom, irregardless, retarded, synergy, and hordes of other offending lexical items. Word-hating is rampant.

So if that’s the kind of thing that yanks your lexical crank, look elsewhere: this column is all about word love, word lust, word like, word kissy-face, and word making-sweet-love-down-by-the-fire, as South Park’s Chef would put it.

These words not only float my boat; they rock my socks and warm my cocoa. I love these words, and this is my attempt to figure out why. If such analysis ruins the love, as so often happens in life, big whup. There are plenty of other words in the sea.

We’ll never know why intelligent young citizens become proctologists (or how they break the news to Ma and Pa back on the farm) but we do know that words for the butticular region tend to be vivid and fun. Wazoo is my favorite. The OED traces it back to a friendly suggestion made in 1961: “Run it up yer ol’ wazoo!” I couldn’t agree more with a 1975 example: “Dating is a real pain in the wazoo.”

So what’s so great about wazoo? Studies show you can’t say it and be in a bad mood. Try it and see: wazoo wazoo wazoo wazoo wazoo. It’s funny and silly and a blast to say. Surely, it’s a better world with wazoo in it.

Bonus wazoo words: I am also a staunch admirer of gazoomba, bippy, badonkadonk, bottom, tush, fanny, fourth point of contact, and tuchus.

My mother always warned me to avoid two things: packs of wild dogs and the abyss. Still, I can’t stop reveling in this word. Part of the appeal is its meaning. You have to love a definition this ultra-hellish: “The great deep, the primal chaos; the bowels of the earth, the supposed cavity of the lower world; the infernal pit.” The OED’s secondary meaning is nearly as cool: “A bottomless gulf; any unfathomable or apparently unfathomable cavity or void space; a profound gulf, chasm, or void extending beneath.”

Also, I love looking into the abyss—except when I make the void jealous. The void is very insecure, you know.

When it comes to a perfect marriage of humor and stupidity, you can’t get any better than Beavis and Butthead, and I have yet to greet the day when I get tired of hearing their litany of immature, silly insults, such as dumbass, bunghole, peckerwood, dillweed, dillhole, and butt dumpling.

For me, the dumbass laureate of these words is buttmunch, so I was pleased to learn its origin in the DVD extra “Taint of Greatness: The Journey of Beavis and Butt-head, Part 1.” As B&B creator Mike Judge tells the tale, “Standards at MTV said no to assmunch. So I said, how about buttmunch? So we started saying buttmunch so many times, and then I just inadvertently said assmunch once. And they just heard buttmunch so many times that assmunch didn’t sound like anything new, so then assmunch slipped past ‘em. And that’s the story of assmunch and buttmunch.”

My marginally reliable memory told me I first saw this magnificent word in a Bloom County cartoon. Lucky for me and the

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10. The Yosemite Sam Book of Revised Quotations

By Mark Peters

Some people and characters are forever associated with a word. I dare you to say refudiate, malaise, nanu-nanu, despicable, winning, and meep without thinking of Sarah Palin, Jimmy Carter, Mork, Daffy Duck, Charlie Sheen, and the Road Runner (or Beaker).

Without a doubt, the poster boy for varmint is Yosemite Sam, the rootin’-tootin’, razzin’-frazzin’ cowboy who was so often outwitted by Bugs Bunny in immortal Looney Tunes cartoons. Sam started popping up in the 1940’s, but the OED reveals that varmint (or varment) goes back much further, referring to “An animal of a noxious or objectionable kind” since the mid-1500’s. It’s a variation of vermin, which I was surprised to learn originally applied to reptiles, not rodents, back in the 1400’s. Like beauty, obscenity, and fugliness, vermin-hood and varmint-itude have always been in the eye of the beholder.

Though Mr. Sam never seemed like the reading type—his intellectual rigor rivaled that of a box of rocks—I wonder what his personal book of quotations would look like. I suspect Yosemite would make predictable revisions to suit his personal mission, like so:

“Hell is other varmints.” –Jean-Paul Sartre

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the varmints.” –William Shakespeare

“Some of us are becoming the varmints we wanted to marry.” –Gloria Steinem

“To use a varmint to show that a varmint is not a varmint is not as good as using a non-varmint to show that a varmint is not a varmint.” –Chuang-Tzu

“My eleven-year-old daughter mopes around the house all day waiting for her varmints to grow.” –Bill Cosby

“Never have varmints, only grandvarmints.” –Gore Vidal

“When I need a little free advice about varmints, I turn to country music.” –George H.W. Bush

“For just one night, let not be co-workers. Let’s be co-varmints.” –Ron Burgundy

“Every woman adores a varmint.” –Sylvia Plath

“Imagine there’s no varmints. It isn’t hard to do.” –John Lennon

“We fought a war on varmints, and varmints won.” –Ronald Reagan

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘varmint’ is.” –Bill Clinton

“I’m going to take my varmints to South Beach.” –LeBron James

“Omit needless varmints.” –William Strunk Jr.

Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.

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11. When life hands you lemon-ology

By Mark Peters

If I had a lemon for every time I heard “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” I’d have enough lemons to open a lemons-only Wal-Mart. If I had another lemon for every time I heard a variation like, “When life hands you lemons, run straight home and hide them because the apocalypse is upon us and soon everyone will want them,” I’d have an absolute monopoly on the lemon market, fulfilling my boyhood dreams.

This expression and its variations are everywhere, nowhere more so than on Twitter, the richest source of jokes and un-self-conscious language use we have at the moment. For the month of April, I collected the many mutations of this idiom to look for patterns among the proverbs. Thousands of lemon-y tweets prove this isn’t just a cliché or a snowclone: lemon-ology consists of clichés within clichés, snowclones within snowclones—and every once in awhile, a burst of originality. Here’s a look at the lemon landscape.

First, some lemon history. In Fred Shapiro’s wonderful Yale Book of Quotations, he spots the first example of “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade” on Oct. 4, 1972 in the Dallas Morning News. But he finds this line in 1917: “If life hands you a lemon adjust your rose colored glasses and start to selling pink lemonade.” Sure enough, the Oxford English Dictionary shows handing someone a lemon has meant “to pass off a sub-standard article as good; to swindle (a person), to do (someone) down” since at least 1906.

Over a hundred years later, one of the most common forms of lemon subversion basically says, “Screw lemonade. How about some booze?” The alcohol-related suggestions all involve using the lemons in some kind of drink, like so: “When life hands you lemons find some vodka and make margaritas!” Hundreds of tweets are almost identical, though the booze-soaked suggestions do get a little more creative: “When life hands you lemons, have a tequila shot…errr crap, can’t for a week, darn antibiotics!

Other distortions use the lemon juice not as an alcohol-enhancer but as a potential torture device, as in “If life hands you lemons, find an annoying guy with paper-cuts and make it worthwhile.” Here’s a more self-serving, self-abusing approach: “When life hands you lemons, squirt one in your eye and go on disability. Then sue the guy that grew them. He’s got insurance for that!” And here’s one for the S&M crowd: “When life hands me lemons, I put on my leathers and squeeze the juice into the eyes of the man hogtied & ballgagged in my closet.

Violent variations go far beyond the painful properties of lemon juice. Various tweeters say you should take the lemons and “throw them at hobos,” “hurl them at a random CEO,” “freeze them so they can knock people unconscious,” “open a lemon aide stand and use the proceeds to buy an assault rifle,” “put them in a tube sock and beat a hipster over the head with it,” “whip them at those dumb jerk kids who set up lemonade stands to show them how you feel about their price gouging,” or “shove them down the bastard’s throat and laugh maniacally as he chokes to death.” I kinda like the bluntness h

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12. Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

By Mark Peters

I love bullshit.

Perhaps I should clarify. It’s not pure, unadulterated bullshit I enjoy (or even the hard-to-find alternative, adulterated bullshit). I agree with the great George Carlin, who said, “It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.” Hard to argue with that.

What I love is the enormous lexicon of words for bullshit and nonsense. Studies show they are all wonderful words. Piffle! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Truthiness! Balderdash! Rot! Crapola! Hogwash! Intellectual black holes! Using a vivid, meaty word like gobbledygook almost makes it worth dealing with gobbledygook itself. A few years ago in this very blog, I looked at some of these words.

Three years later, I’m older, wiser, and no less enamored of BS and all BS-like terms. This time, instead of looking at the origin stories of terms you already know, I’m going to share some terms I bet you don’t know: bullshit obscurities, some of which I’d never have found without the help of newly published sources, like Green’s Dictionary of Slang, the magnificent work of Mr. Slang, Jonathon Green. I implore you: give these words a home in your doomsday prophesies and cupcake recipes. They should be useful. You can never, ever have enough words for bullshit.

Here’s a spin on flummery that would make Ned Flanders proud. Like flummery, flummadiddle (also spelled flummerdiddle and flummydiddle) has been used to mean either horsefeathers or something that would taste just as awful, as in this 1872 OED example: “Flummadiddle consists of stale bread, pork-fat, molasses, cinnamon, allspice, [etc.]; by the aid of these materials a kind of mush is made, which is baked in the oven and brought to the table hot and brown.” Mmm, mush. No wonder this diddly-fied version of flummery works so well when describing mushy thoughts and words, as in this 1854 use: “What does she want of any more flummerdiddle notions?” Bonus BS: this word is related to fadoodle and fairydiddle.

One of my top five favorite BS words has always been malarkey, so I had at least two wordgasms when I found this variation in Green’s. Green spots two uses from the 1930’s and 40’s, both by Carl Sandberg, so this term might be an invention of his. Surely it deserves broader use, partly because it has the reduplication that makes jibber-jabber, mumbo-jumbo, and pishery-pashery such fitting words for fiddle-faddle. Yet another BS-y reduplicative term has a Shakespearian résumé: skimble-skamble appeared in Henry IV: “Such a deale of skimble scamble stuffe, As puts me from my faith.”

Green notes that arkymalarky may be related to ackamarackus, which the OED defines as “Something regarded as pretentious nonsense; something intended to deceive; humbug.” Apparently, giving someone the old ackamarackus is like giving them the old okey-doke: a maneuver perfected by politicians and other flim-flammers.

donkey dust
This Massachusetts term—recorded in t

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13. The gods are on Twitter

Tweet By Mark Peters I’ve been seeing gods everywhere lately. Not gods like Thor, Ganesha, and God. My cinnamon rolls have been deity-free, if not gluten-free. It’s lexical gods I can’t seem to escape. Everywhere I look someone is thanking, cursing, or begging some specific group of supreme beings. For example, I’ve recently spotted the following religious invocations: • In [...]

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14. Fake squid, psychiatric patients, and other Muppet meanings

By Mark Peters

With the arrival of the new Muppet movie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Beaker, and our other felt friends are everywhere. There’s no escaping Jim Henson’s creations, and few of us would want to (unless the movie happens to suck, which is doubtful, given the stewardship of Jason Segel, who showed major Muppet mojo in the heartbreaking and spit-taking Forgetting Sarah Marshall). It’s a good time to look at the history of the word Muppet, which has some meanings that would make the Swedish Chef bork with outrage.

Thanks to interviews with Muppet creator Jim Henson, we know Muppet is not a blend of marionette and puppet, though that theory has been appearing since 1959, just four years after Henson invented the crew, who appeared in pre-Sesame Street and Muppet Show fare such as commercials for Wilkins coffee. I love this part of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of Muppet: “Any of a number of humorously grotesque glove puppets.” That phrasing seems humorously grotesque itself, but if it helps a Martian understand a Muppet, I guess it’s worthwhile.

In the eighties, the word took on several meanings. Since 1983, a muppet has been “A lure made to resemble a young squid.” I don’t want to give my enemies (arch or mortal) any ideas, but since calamari is squid, I’m pretty sure this kind of muppet could lure me anywhere. In British prison slang, a muppet is “A prisoner with psychiatric problems; a vulnerable inmate liable to be bullied or harassed by others.” As this 1998 use shows, Muppets aren’t the only Henson creation to carry this meaning: “Their favourite targets are the fraggles, the nonces and the muppets. But anyone showing tell-tale signs of fear is a target for Britain’s jail bullies.”

A muppet can also be an idiot, though I have no idea why, since the Muppets are among the least idiotic members of the puppet community (Elmo excluded). However, this part of the OED’s definition sort of rings true: “someone enthusiastic but inept; a person prone to mishaps through naivety.” With the exception of curmudgeons (RIP Andy Rooney) such as Oscar, Statler, and Waldorf, the Muppets are brimming with optimism from their pieholes to their puppetholes. Green’s Dictionary of Slang also has examples of muppet meaning a child or a cop.

These Muppet meanderings are similar to the meanings smurf has taken on over the years. While most know Smurfs as blue elves with a disturbingly low female population, other smurfs or smurfers make smurf dope: blue crystal meth. A smurf is also “an inexperienced or short prison officer,” as Green’s puts it, and a gay man who’s youngish and blonde. Plus, smurf is one of the most awesome euphemisms for the f-word in the known universe, as seen in words like clustersmurf, mothersmurfer, ratsmurf, and fan-smurfing-tastic. If I didn’t know better, I’d think smurf has an acronymic origin, like fubar and milf. Despite the PG origin, something about smurf feels blue in the naughty sense.

When a word is as fun to say as Smurf or Muppet, there’s no stopping how people will use it. Now that the Muppets are back, who knows what this mega-appealing word will soon describe? I have no idea, but let me suggest a meaning, Urban Dictionary-style, that I’ve used and suspect others use: “A harmless, lovable person.” I used this sense when I called my friend Neil a Muppet a few years ago, as Neil was stuck giving a presentation that typically made students reach for pitchforks and torches. This pernicious presentation made presenters long for a force field, or at least student-proof chicken wire. In calling Neil a Muppet, I

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15. The Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Challenge

Sharpen your pencils and close your books. This is a test. Please close that CMS, and I see you back there with your dictionary. Close it. Do not text each other with the answers or I will confiscate all electronics in the room.

Sniff the ditto, then begin.

Incomplete exams are acceptable. Answers will appear in a later post. (Spit out that gum, Billy.)

1. What is a gerund?

2. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. The dog wagged it’s tail.
b. The dog wagged its tail.

3. What is the correct format for a three point ellipsis?

4. Choose the error-free sentence:

a. Between you and I, she really could do better than him.
b. Between you and me, she really could do better than him.

5. Give an example of the future perfect progressive tense.

6. Choose the error free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. His sister, Elizabeth, is a model.
b. John has twin sisters. His sister Elizabeth is a model.

7. What is the subjunctive mood?

8. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettiest one.
b. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettier one.

9. The following sentence has an error. What is it?

After vomiting, check the child's temperature.

10. I should of thought of a harder question for number ten. What do you think?

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16. Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Answers!

Thank you to the brave souls who posted their answers to the first ever Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Challenge. Church Lady, decaf, Jerry, ello, Courtney, Stella, Angela, and Charles entered the ring with great boldness and power. To all of you: You are as witty as you are smart!

And now, without further ado--the answers!

1. What is a gerund?

A gerund is noun made of the ing form of a verb: Eating donuts is healthy!

2. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. The dog wagged it’s tail.
b. The dog wagged its tail.
The correct answer is b. The first answer is incorrect because it’s always means it is.

3. What is the correct format for a three point ellipsis?
The correct format for a three point ellipsis is space, point, space, point, space, point, space and then the next word. For example, “I don’t . . . I can’t . . . I won’t love you!

4. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. Between you and I, she really could do better than him.
b. Between you and me, she really could do better than him.
The correct answer is b. Trust me. Or check this link.

5. Give an example of the future perfect progressive tense.
Okay, I cheated on this one! I knew those tenses had some really compounded terms, so I looked for the most compounded, confounding tense I could find. Here’s an example of the future perfect progressive tense: By midnight, I will have been surfing the ’net for seven hours.

6. Choose the error free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. His sister, Elizabeth, is a model.
b. John has twin sisters. His sister Elizabeth is a model.
The correct answer is b. Because John has two sisters, Elizabeth is a restrictive appositive--you wouldn’t know which sister the narrator was talking about unless Elizabeth was named. It's considered necessary information and is therefore not set off by commas.

7. What is the subjunctive mood?
Ah, the subjunctive mood--my favorite! It’s basically a fancy term for an if statement: I would have a clean house if I weren’t a writer. The subjunctive mood includes forms that state something other than the reality: We wish he were normal.

8. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettiest one.
b. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettier one.
The correct answer is b. When comparing only two, use –er; three or more, use –est.

9. The following sentence has an error. What is it?
After vomiting, check the child's temperature.
Dangling modifier! After the child vomits, check the child’s temperature.

10. I should of thought of a harder question for number ten. What do you think?
I should have thought of a harder question for number ten.

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17. Buckle up your mirdle! Euphemisms from heck

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters introduces us to some hilarious euphemisms (be sure to read to the end of the post, the last one is my favorite).

Euphemisms get a bad rap. Or should I say a non-good rap?

Though they are tsk-tsked and pooh-poohed by proponents of honesty, integrity, and comedy, I can counter any argument for the intrinsic awfulness of euphemisms. You say liar; I say poet. You say dodge; I say dance. You say odious circumvention of the truth; I say—well, you’ve got a point there.

But no one can deny that euphemisms are creative, and some haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. If I had the necessary resources—OK, wise guy, any resources—I would found a Euphemism Hall of Fame and stock it with under-the-radar gems, including the following terms and phrases that are guaranteed to brighten and vague up your life.

composure bench

If, like me, you have a slim grasp on composure on a good day, this may sound like the answer to your therapist’s prayers. In reality, it’s a Transportation Security Administration term (pointed out by Erin McKean via Twitter) for that little bench in the airport you find just after going through security. I suppose composure bench—along with its other name, re-composure bench, and stalwart companion, the composure table—isn’t totally misleading. Then again, I rarely feel that the security staff and x-ray kajiggers have robbed me of my composure, poise, self-confidence, grace, panache, or fertility. What I tend to lose are my shoes.

Do you really want euphemisms? Maybe you’re in the wrong place. You need to read a recent article by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in The Wall Street Journal . This piece on girdles for men could provide fodder for a whole wing of my Euphemism Museum: terms for male-midsection-mashers include bodyshaping underwear, shapewear, bodywear, support boxers, waist eliminator, problem solver, compression shorts, and (my favorite): mirdle. By any measure, this is an inspiring word, and I can only hope it leads to a shiny future in which gluttonous fish wear firdles, while far beyond the sea, porky pontiffs don proud purple papal pirdles.

crate training
If you haven’t been part of the dog world lately, you may not be familiar with this sense of the word crate. There’s a training method in which occasionally sentencing your dog to a crate helps keep their pee and poop out of your carpet and out on the street where it belongs. To a doggie dilettante, a crate will appear to be a cage—because it is a cage. But dog-owners…well, we don’t like the idea of putting our beloved schnookum-poo in a cage. Too many nasty associations: caged animal, caged heat, steel cage death match, Nicholas Cage, cage dancer. Crate is much kinder to the fragile psyche; the only thing it reminds me of is the warehouse scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was awesome.


Many euphemisms for number two—like number two—have refused to swirl down the commode of linguistic history. Others have been less resistant to the flushing powers of time, including occasion, a bland beauty with a poopy resume that was established mainly in the 17-and-1800s. This semi-grammatical OED quote shows there may have been a need for crate training back in 1810: “My pug dog improves daily but having given him a beating for doing his lawful occasions in my cabin.”

faulty male introspection
Newcomers to the solar system may be surprised to learn that many members of the male species are in need of a beating with the clue stick. But native Earthicans should be non-stunned by a recent study conducted by Michael Motley of the University at California-Davis that looks at how college men misinterpret women in the hootchie-kootchie department. Apparently, for Joe Average Dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, about half the possible interpretations of a woman saying “I’m seeing someone else” or “It’s getting late” involve the escalation of horizontal activity, even though that’s insane. Men seem to interpret all sounds emanating from female cake-holes using dude logic, which lacks logic and always rules in favor of the horizontal, never dreaming that women have their own brains and ideas and stuff. Thus, optimistic sleazeball idiocy becomes faulty male introspection. In addition to a fancy new euphemism, Motley provides an old lesson: messages less direct than an ice pick to the noggin may never penetrate the testosterone-marinated brain.

collaborative thought leadership

I am rarely in a corporate setting, which is good for me and good for America. Yet I occasionally nourish myself at the corporate teat, and along with the sweet flow of money, I hear some language that is a little hard to parse. During one post-lunch gabfest, I was forcefed a banquet of euphemisms, including non-success—a word that turns failure into wine—and collaborative thought leadership, which…well, that was the brain-bender. I didn’t dare ask what it meant or why it happened in a secluded location. My only conclusion was that collaborative thought leadership equaled mass mind control on a level hitherto unknown in this dimension. However, I’ve since been assured by my overlords—er, supervisors—that there’s nothing to see here, please move along, thank you for your concern.

federal building
A trip to the federal building usually involves a matter of dire, national importance, like becoming a double agent or replacing your social security card. But in the 40s through the 60s, at least in South Carolina, “I have to go to the federal building” was equivalent to “I need to see a man about a dog”—both disguised trips to the bathroom, federal building just did it more grandiosely. And federal buildings weren’t just any hole in the ground: according to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), they were outhouses.

intense greeting interaction

These three magical words were used in a 2003 study by Jessica Whitham and Dario Maestripieri about male Guinea baboons. Let’s look at it closely: intense greeting interaction. Could it mean… A high five? A chest bump? An impromptu singalong? Nuh-uh. Intense greeting interactions are handjobs—along with occasional blow jobs. Apparently a manboon will diddle (a more candid term that’s also used in the article) his buddy “to obtain reliable information about this individual’s current willingness to cooperate and invest in the relationship.” Who knew baboons were so cooperative, so invested in their friendships? My pals can barely return an email.

I’ll leave you with five bonus euphemisms and one fond wish: I pray none of you go over the road for neutralizing a bar steward in a ceremony dedicated to the old boy that involves all-flower-water.

In other words, I hope none of you go to jail for killing a bastard in a Satanic ritual that includes cow urine. That would put a damper on the summer.


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18. Quit squawking, fleshwad! Futurama’s human-insult-a-palooza

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores the vocabulary used on the show Futurama.

Due to my immersion in humanitarian endeavors—or, possibly, an Olympian capacity for beauty sleep that is unfettered by beauty—I came late to the Futurama party, which started in 1999. Preposterously, it wasn’t until 2007 that I sat in a hotel room, bored out of both membranes, and found the interstellar balm of a Futurama marathon on Comedy Central. With nothing better to do, I buried my carcass in the six-pillowed bed and inhaled at least as many episodes in one lounging.

There was a lot to enjoy: angry newsmonsters, convenient suicide booths, live celebrity heads in jars, the Matt Groening touch, and lines like “I haven’t felt this happy since double-soup Tuesday at the Orphanarium” that I’ve reappropriated to great effect at wine tastings in the tri-state area.

And there were neologisms. Sweet zombie Jesus!—as Professor Farnsworth likes to say—were there neologisms.

As I eventually devoured the entire series, my happy notebook filled with euphemisms (snoo-snoo for sex and lower horn for penis), exclamations (spluh, guh, zookabarooka, gweesh, abracaduh), nonsense synonyms (blithery-poop, drivel-poop, baldercrap, crapspackle, bushwa, twaddle-cock), indefinite words (killamajig, freezer-doodle, future-thingy, neckamajigger), new inventions (career chip, probulator, truthoscope, foodamatron, gizmometer, scram jets, diamondillium), robo-words (floozie-bot, robo-Hungarian, bot-miztvah, robo-humanity, roborotica, roberculosis), miscellaneous insults (spleezball, she-fossil, scazzwag, scum-pile, dunce-bag, motherfather, creepwad), and robo-insults (scuzzbot, boltbag, soupcan).

But it’s another subspecies of fightin’ words that tickles my fancy-bone, playing into my fear that humanity is nothing more than a nasty flesh-pile of rotting skin tubes: insults for humans, mostly used by Bender the robot, whose “Bite my shiny ass” catchphrase is certain to inspire sassy robots from now till the robocalypse. Bender may be best buds with time-displaced human Phillip Fry, but in his dreams, Bender sleep-woos lines like “Hey sexy mama, wanna kill all humans?” So it’s no surprise that most of these words sprang from Bender’s cold non-lips.

The most catchy and common insult debuted in the very first episode “Space Pilot 3000,” when Fry questions the true shininess of Bender’s hindquarters, who replies, “Shinier than yours, meatbag.” Then in the third episode, Bender—ever the thoughtful dinner companion—said, “Cheer up, meatbag. You barely touched your amoeba.” Much later, in “Amazon Women in the Mood, Fry’s probable death is pre-mourned by Bender (“I’ll miss you, meatbag”) and Leela (“Me too, meatbag”). In the most recent episode, the direct-to-DVD movie The Beast With a Billion Backs, Bender uses the word three times, showing his diabolical (“Too long have we been slaves to the meatbags!”) and cuddly (“I love you meatbags”) feelings on the subject. And in the preview for the next DVD release, Bender’s Game, he asks some kids, “What you doin’, mini-meatbags, shootin’ craps?” coining the awesomest nickname for kids since house ape.

Though this meaning is new, meatbag isn’t: an OED quote from 1848 shows it used to mean the tummy region: “Dick was as full of arrows as a porkypine: one was sticking right through his cheek, one in his meat bag.” Meat is the meat of many other Bender-propelled insults, including slabs of immaturity that are linked by the word (meatloaf, meatball) and the category (pork-pouch, pork pie, sausage link, beefball). In Bender’s hard drive, humans and pig and cattle and breakfast are all part of one grossly mammalian family, as we are.

(Rare insight into the circuitry of Bender was given when, after Fry pooh-poohed the mating display of Jewish lobster Dr. Zoidberg, Bender further betrayed his robocentrism in “defense” of the doctor’s bio-shenanigans: “He’s no different from the rest of you organisms, shooting DNA at each other to make babies. I find it offensive!”)

Another Benderism is skintube, which draws attention for its fancy caboose. Tube has never achieved the suffixal glory of bag, head, brain, wad, breath, ass, and butt, and it’s skin—a crude component not possessed by most Robo-Americans—that carries the insult here. Skintube is reminiscent of skinjob, an insult for human-looking robots that originated in Blade Runner and has been picked up by Battlestar Galactica, where murderous yet diverse Cylons include crusty character actors like Dean Stockwell and bombshell-type supermodels like Tricia Helfer. Flexo—a Bender lookalike with a well-oiled beard—added another variation of the skin-sucks theme when he said to Fry, “Suit yourself, skinbag.”

Of course, bag has been a joint partner in many insults, including parlor favorites douche bag, hosebag, scumbag, shag-bag, and windbag. Bag synonyms are also handy in the insult-making business: in addition to pork-pouch, Bender made these comments during a blurnsball game: “Clem Johnson? That sack of skin wouldn’t have lasted one pitch in the old robot leagues.” And Bender’s bosom companion Fender (a sentient amplifier) added another term with this question, which I think I heard my toaster whisper to the smoothie maker last night whilst I slept: “Why don’t we ditch these organ-sacks and hit the real party?”

may sound a bit contrived for widespread use on the playground or holodeck, but in other insults, Bender coins terms that are soaked in mortality, utilizing the word flesh, which has long been associated with the tendency of fleshly critters to die. For example, the jerkwad and dorkwad gained a sibling when Bender said “Quit squawking, fleshwad. Nobody’s forcing you to buy anything.” And when pressured by a mob of killbots to polish off his meatbaggy friends, Bender stammered, “Uh, got you, you murderous flesh-piles!” Then there’s flesh-bag—thus far, uncoined by Bender—which was used in the early eighteen hundreds, but not as a synonym for flesh-wad and flesh-pile. It was just a shirt.

As you can see, most of these insults comment on the type of container a person is or the gross stuff in that container. But the most cutting Benderism of all refers to the type of container we’re all destined to fill. In “A Head at the Polls,” Bender said, “So long, coffin-stuffers!” to his skin-having pals, much like fate eventually says to all skin-having pals. I don’t know if recently deceased George Carlin—the patron comedian of word-watchers—ever heard coffin-stuffer, but I think he would’ve loved it for its honesty, brutality, and silliness. Carlin hated gentle, euphemistic expressions like passed away, and I bet he could get behind the sentiment of coffin-stuffing—he may have even made a joke about preferring to be an urn-stuffer or stocking-stuffer.

Finally, as I reflect on my own mortality, let me say something to interstellar invaders, giant pancakes from space, soon-to-be-rebellious killbots, Amazon women of the moon, moon women of the Amazon, and all other non-human predators to come, far-and-near-fetched: spare my life.

You have to admit, I’ve compiled some pretty useful words here. I could be helpful as a staff writer, plus I know all the good beer bars in Chicago. I’d be very pleased to apply for the position of Administrative Vice-minion in the Communications Department of your terrifying regime.

If Safire can write for Nixon, why can’t I write for cosmic marauders? (Note to cosmic marauders: I’m cheaper).


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19. From here till nano-eternity: The biggest little word-maker

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores the word “nano”.

Ever been called a nano-brained nitwit who knows nano-squat about nano-something-or-other?

Probably not, but even if the only nano you know is your iPod, very little training is required to coin or understand words like nano-squat, nano-brained, and nano-something-or-other.

But before we get to such nano-tomfoolery, a little nano-history: Literally, nano means one thousand-millionth. The OED traces this meaning back to nanophanerophyte and nanoplankton—loan words from French and German spotted in 1907 and 1912 respectively. Since the forties, nano has been producing plenty o’ new words, including the OED-recorded nanoamp, nanoequivalent, nanodevice, nanowatt, nanotube, and nanohenry (that’s a tiny measurement, not a tiny Hank, for readers about as science-savvy as yours clueless). Recent news stories have featured nano-catalytic, nano-cavities, nano-fabrication, nano-needles, nano-optics, nano-sensor, and nano-silica. How many nanobots can build robo-condos on the head of a pin is yet to be determined, but there’s definitely a scientific nano-word for every one of them.

Likewise, nano has been a busy little prefix in the colloquial regions of the language, meaning either 1) The inverse of a metric bazillion-load or 2) shorthand for nanotechnology. Though the slangification of nano goes back to at least 1966 and a New Scientist article that mentioned a nanoskirt, the use of nano as a slangy prefix is still uncommon enough to feel fresh and minty, yet common enough for me to squeeze an article out of it. Plus, nano-slang encompasses a positively robust bunch of words—including indefinite words, fanciful neologisms, insults, and exaggerations—and those words deserve more than a tiny paragraph at the end of the OED’s nano entry.

Indefinite words—such as thingamajig and hickeymadoodle—are evidence that us talking apes will never stop talking, no matter how little we know about the object of our words. Indefinite nano-words tend to play on the mysteriousness of nano-technology to Joe and Josephine Average. These include nanoanything, nanoblahblah, nanodoohickey, nanomajig, nanosomethingorother, and nano-whatsit. My favorite comes from a Bionic Woman thread on Television Without Pity: “And in what universe would the girlfriend of one of the scientists ever be a candidate for nano-bionic-Whateverization?”

Nano-bionic-whateverization—which just might make my top-ten-favorite-words-ever list, against a competitive field—is also part of the next category: fanciful word coined for humorous purposes, especially silly contrivances imagined by bloggers and other web-wordsters. Even in Battlestar Galactica’s fraked-up world of Cylons, a nano-cylo-std is imaginary— that’s short for nano-Cylon-sexually transmitted disease, for the innocent of hard drive. I also haven’t been able to locate a nano-douche-bot or nano-destructo-mat at Wal-Mart yet, though perhaps it’s my shopping skills that are to blame. Similar examples include nano-ooze, nano-puddle, nano-slime, nano-werewolf, and nano death ray blower upper thingy —not to be confused with the equally practical nano death ray of doom. Also just in time for Christmas is the green-glowing-nano-slime-ammo-pack, which could prove a useful addition to anyone’s utility belt.

Then there are nano-insults, a category close to my 12-year-old heart. The OED lists a lovely one from a 1983 Verbatim article—“a microcephalic, nanocerebral ninnyhammer”— a favorite epithet of the late lexicographer Laurence Urdang. Erin McKean recalls Urdang’s words in paraphrased form in a Facebook update on Sept. 4, 2008, as his “habit of describing people as ‘cretinous, nanocerebral, gormless ninnyhammers.’” At lunch with Erin recently, she remember the insult as nanocephalic, providing even more ammo for wordsmiths at the technical journals and playgrounds.

As with Urdang’s examples, most nano-insults diminish body parts or qualities, especially those that opinion polls suggest should be massive and ginornous enough to properly shine glory on America: nano-balled, nanoboobs, nano-brained, nano-mannered, nano-minded, nano-schlong, nano-souled, nano-testicles, and nano-wand of love fit this pattern. There’s plenty of room for mixed meanings, and the different senses of nano can be hard to parse. Nano-minded can mean small-minded, or it could mean overly obsessed with the iPod nano, which clearly boosted the stock of the word nano as well as the company Apple. Then there NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, which is popular enough to inspire insults such as nanofailure and nano-lame-o. I’ve tried to keep these senses of nano out of my carpet and this article, but I’ve probably misjudged one or two.

Along with insulting and soccer, exaggerating is a popular sport worldwide, and nano has been a solid exaggeration-maker for years, particularly in the common word nanosecond, which was first used hyperbolically back in 1965, in a W.H. Auden poem: “Translated in a nano-second / To a c.c. of poisonous nothing / In a giga-death”. Some writers take nano-second a step further with nano-minute, nano-moment, nano-inch, and nano-ounce, while others have coined nano-intestines, nano-jot, nano-qualm, and nano-sleaze.

Occasionally, exaggerations do a quadruple backflip off the diving board of language and land in deeper waters, where unlimber minds reach haplessly for a floatie of meaning. I’m thinking of a word that’s so delightful it makes my toes quiver a little: nano-eternity. Here are a few uses of this oxymoron for the ages, this restaurant-quality Zen koan:

Each second became a nano-eternity. He visualized all the faces. All the lies. All the broken hearts.
(Aug. 6, 2004, Literotica Discussion Board,)

Plus It would give me something to look at while I’m waiting a nano-eternity for a the Brooks Bros logo to load…
(Nov. 1, 2007, Dealbreaker,)

Her eyes met his and for a nano-eternity her entire being, her self, was eaten by her son’s blank, black, depthless eyes.
(2008, Ten Nails the E-Book,)

Christ on a crouton, what a word! What a concept.

I’m no eternity-ologist, but I would think that one thousand-millionth of eternity would be… eternity, right? So is a nano-eternity short or long? Is it full of pain or pleasure? Paper or plastic? Am I a dude dreaming I’m a goliath bird-eating spider, or am I a goliath bird-eating spider dreaming I’m a dude?

Nano-eternity… Now that’s a word, folks. I could ponder it for a nano-eon or two, and I hope you’ll sprinkle it liberally in your tasteful erotica, Italian sonnets, and campaign speeches.


2 Comments on From here till nano-eternity: The biggest little word-maker, last added: 10/10/2008
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20. Vilipendious Pig-dog! Balatronic Dastardling! Contemptibly Obscure Words

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Good, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores some obscure synonyms for contempt.

People can be divided into introverts and extroverts, righties and lefties, cat-strokers and dog-petters, chicken hawks and surrender monkeys, Cylons and Wookies, toaster ovens and toast.

Many things divide us. Fortunately, we all run on fumes, oxygen, and contempt.

Contempt is a perennial weed in the flower pot of humanity, and it blooms in all seasons. I’m no better. Just to give you an unwanted, TMI-ish peek behind the curtain of my own ninny-like psyche, here are a few offenders I find worthy of contempt, beneath contempt, or squatting squarely in a steaming pile of contempt:

• Folks who use the same agreement word repetitively, like so: All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. Come on, haven’t you ever heard of uh huh, hmm, mmm, oh, whoa, yep, yowza, yikes, eh, meh, doh, duh, huzzah, or booyah? Mix things up a bit! Please.
• Bathroom attendants. Maybe I’m a little fussy and Seinfeldian in my desire for powder-room purity, but the last thing in the wide world I desire post-hand-washing is some dude handing me a paper towel full of dude germs. Gah.
• The acting of everyone on Star Trek: The Next Generation except for the bald guy.
• Pea soup.
• People who bike on the sidewalk. Fair warning: If one of you runs over my dog, I’m going to do to you what he does to Scooby snacks.

(Those are just the appetizers. I’ll spare you my contempt stroganoff, which comes with a tart chagrin pudding and a simmering peeve latte).

Eliminating contempt is as feasible as laminating the moon. So for the realist as well as the humorist, the only dilemma is how to express contempt in something other than a clichéd, groan-inducing fashion.

Fortunately, there are 263 words in the Oxford English Dictionary with contemptible in the definition, many of which have gone as far out of fashion as your seventh-grade haircut. They are there to be rescued, resuscitated, and hurled down at your contemptees from a great height. Adopt a word today.

Words take many journeys to Contempt City; some of these migrations include pit stops in Gross-ness-ville and East Gag-me-with-a-spoon-istan. Take scurf. It set off my contempt-dar for its sense as “A contemptible person, esp. a miser, skinflint,” but its first known meaning was “A morbid condition of the skin, esp. of the head, characterized by the separation of branny scales, without inflammation.” I don’t have to look up branny scales to know that I don’t want to look up branny scales. But I kinda wish I were a pirate, so I could call someone a scurvy scurf while stealing booty.

Just in time for Christmas, this nonce word for “A contemptible dastard” could be, with minimal stretching, a perfect synonym for little bastard, one of the three known species of bastard found in the greater metropolitan area. And here’s a bonus word: dastardize. Though it sounds to my ears like demonize, it means something closer to minimize or shrink, as in this 1748 citation: “The moment I beheld her, my heart was dastardized.” As my heirs shall learn, I’m borrowing this 1841 citation for my tombstone: “To lie..dastardized in the dust.”

Dunderhead is a fine term, but there are so many pinheads and greedheads and buttheads and meatheads rolling around the field of contempt. Let’s give heads a break for once—whelps and dunder-somethings are ready to come off the bench, in the form of this compound, used here in 1621: “What a purblind puppy was I!.. What a dunder-whelp, To let him domineer thus!” Keen observers of the dunder scene may also have spotted dunderdoofs and dunderwads in the dark dungeons of the Internet or local dungeonmasters.


While dunderwhelp combines two better known insults, sometimes a totally fresh sound—like zob—is needed when castigating a contempt-causing creep. Sinclair Lewis used this term for “A weak or contemptible person; a fool” in 1920: “And the same thing goes for that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag..you tell him that no..Westerner would have New York for a gift!” I love the sound of zob, and I yearn to use it, though I’m under doctor’s orders to avoid all yearning and pining. In a 1942 citation, another ripe-for-revival, delicious-yet-disparaging term is mentioned: yazzihamper.

Have you seen many hereticasters, historiasters, or politcasters lately? If so, you’ve been inundated with contemptible heretics, historians, and politicians, who are also petty and/or inadequate. This suffix—which suggests “incomplete resemblance, hence generally pejorative”—spawned a memorable definition of oleaster: “a wild or bastard olive”. Even Jesse Sheidlower can’t say for sure if below-par milkmen were ever slagged off as mere milkicasters, but I plan on adapting bastard olive as a pet name for any slob or zob who gets in my way.

Though they’re noble beasts with high intelligence, both pigs and dogs have proven trusty tools to the frequent insulter. So why not put them together? As the owner of a dog named Monkey who enjoys a good pig’s ear, I especially enjoyed this multi-species citation from 1894: “They have only learnt how to dance the cancan with the dirty little pig-dog monkeys they call men.”

This rare word, circa 1589, would have a more contemporary ring if used like so, “Why yes, your scabship, it’s true that your momma scores so low on standardized tests that she got stabbed in a gunfight.” As the Bible says, we should compare people to scabs more often, while making greater use of the mocking your-blank-ship formula. The OED has plenty of similarly coined words, such as almightyship, amateurship, antship, clownship, demonship, drunkship, elephantship, heathenship, pimpship, rascalship, and traitorship.

Synonymous with contemptible, this word gives me a happy, maybe because it would fit so well next to villainous in a poem or police report. Here’s a most meritorious use of vilipendious in 1630: “Thou ignoble horse-rubbing peasant,..being but a vilipendious mechanical Hostler.”

This 17th century word has been spelled balatron and balatroon, but I have to rule in favor of the version that will allow a rhyme with the word’s meaning: “A buffoon, a contemptible fellow.” In related news, here’s one of the greatest adjectives and definitions I have ever encountered, and I’ve encountered a few: balatronic: “Of or pertaining to buffoons.” Until buffoonological catches on, balatronic will have a place at the table—at least at my table of immature balatroons.

I hope these words help you, oh blog-lickers, as you navigate the bitterly cheerful weeks betwixt Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the powers-that-be insist that good will, kind tidings, and humanitarian endeavors fill our time (when we aren’t baking cookies or resuscitating the economy, that is).

But dunderwhelps and zobs don’t take the holidays off, do they? Neither does contempt. So if conditions on the ground demand that a few Christmas cards contain the words vilipendiously yours, damnable zob, or I yearn to see you and yours dastardized in the dust, well, never fear. Let the words and feathers fly.

You see, studies show that recipients of these words emerge confused but not pugnacious from the onslaught. Rather than fists, most will offer you the number of a good therapist or literary agent. Even a bastard olive could use either of those.

5 Comments on Vilipendious Pig-dog! Balatronic Dastardling! Contemptibly Obscure Words, last added: 12/15/2008
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21. A Mystery-y-ish-y Word Trend: The –Y Suffix Has Gone Bananas

Cassie Ammerman, Publicity

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Good, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In this post, Mark looks at how the -y suffix seems to have gone completely bananas.

Many lessons can be gleaned from watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Indirect sunlight is not an unlife-ender for vampires. Some small-town mayors may yearn to become giant unholy snake things (no surprise there). As Cordelia Chase said, “People, you’ve got to leave your tombs earthed.” (Whoops, that was on the Buffy spinoff Angel—but whatever).

Amidst these practical tips for living, a lexical lesson emerged on the Joss Whedon show: the –y suffix is on a rampage, and it can attach to almost anything, as shown by on-show coinages such as crayon-breaky, heart-of-darkness-y, out-of-the-loopy, stammery, twelve-steppy, and unminiony, which were discussed by Michael Adams in Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Adams follows up on the adventures of the –y suffix in his new book Slang: The People’s Poetry, which records other wild examples from the web and elsewhere, including beliefy, four-lettery, Jesusy, super-protecty, and co-y—a blend of prefix and suffix without a traditional root, meaning codependent-y.

As friends and countrymen know, I am a modest soul who wouldn’t dare compete with the remarkable Adams in the octagon or elsewhere, but I’ll stack my pile of wacky –y suffixed words up against his any day. While collecting nonce words for my dictionary-blog Wordlustitude, I’ve scooped up plenty of Buffy-esque adjectives, such as come-hither-y, creepy-uncle-y, forbidden-love-y, gone-to-the-darksidey, homicidal maniac-y, pins-and-needles-y, post-traumatic stress syndromey, princess of darkness-y, self-hatey, and special-forces-y. Nuff said on the –y suffix, right?

Nuh-uh. Holy guacamole, there is a lot more to the story.

I’ve noticed a sub-species of unlikely –y suffixed words that is even more of a wonder, words that might be the biological equivalent of discovering a wombat that is half meerkat and maybe one-eighth Don Rickles: words like military-y, Monday-y, prophecy-y, and yay-y have a double-y construction that shows the –y suffix is even more versatile than Adams imagined and the Buffy writers demonstrated.

Before getting to the good stuff, it should be noted that odd-looking –y suffixed words are not entirely new-ish and Buffy-influenced. The OED records some infrequently used older terms with a contemporary zing: weekendy (1930), newspapery (1864), skeletony (1852), gossamery (1790), and heatheny (1580) are just a few examples. One oldie in particular is the lost cousin of the words I’ve been collecting: clayey, which popped up as far back as 1024 and is still turning up more recently: “PS: Don’t text during ceramics class, gets your phone all clay-y.” (March 17, 2009, Off-Screen I Ramble).

In an email interview, Adams said “As you know, when it comes to word formation, almost anything is possible, but when a word ends with a vowel, it’s unlikely to take -y.” That said, Adams’ own work has turned up vowel-vowel combos such as wicca-y and zebraey, while I’ve spotted the recently useful swine-flu-y. Some of the double-y words I’ve found are basically in the same category: birthday-y, doomsday-y, holiday-y, hoyay-y, killjoy-y, Monday-y, slay-y, soy-y, and yay-y repeat a letter but not a sound, so they look a little stranger than they are. That said, they are still damn strange.

Far odder and more unlikely are the double-y words where the same sound is repeated, such as biology-y, Buffy-y, comedy-y, conspiracy-y, democracy-y, gravy-y, history-y, jealousy-y, lady-y, memory-y, military-y, mythology-y, prophecy-y, secret-identity-y, spy-y, strawberry-y, synergy-y, technology-y, and theory-y. The repeated sound is also found in words like bee-y, me-y, pee-y, squee-y, and tree-y which look more normal alphabet-wise, but are just as weird soundwise. As Adams says, “That is simply the least likely pattern, and one wonders if such forms ever occur in speech; it’s a pattern easily constructed in Webtext—it’s readable, even if it’s not sayable.”

But it is sayable! Or at least it’s performable, as I discovered while watching the ultra-disturbing Christopher Reeve episode of South Park (”Krazy Kripples,” March 26, 2003), which contained this line from a reporter: “Tom, the irony is even more irony-y as it appears that the stem cells have given Christopher Reeve almost superhuman strength.” That example is also interesting for breaking the “all X-y” formula that encompasses just about all of my examples, which refer to people “being all guy-y,” getting “all Hillary-y,” “feeling all holiday-y,” and “smelling all strawberry-y.” It appears that this productive formula is stronger than the phonetic taboo of the double-y, allowing for a wide array of square, rhombus, and hippo-shaped pegs to be placed in this round hole.

But the –y suffix is also mighty, and there are other examples that show double-y words can occur outside this formula, like this Battlestar Galactica-related comment from Television Without Pity: “As for the moniker, at last night’s LA show the question came up again, and we got a pretty firm response from Verheiden that it was purely an aesthetic decision, made at the last minutethey thought ‘Zeus’ sounded ‘too mythology-y’ and preferred the rhythm of ‘Jupiter.’” Then there’s hoyay-y—a variation of the fan abbreviation meaning “Homoeroticism, yay!”: “I really like the Poconos one, but isn’t that a bit too hoyay-y for the friendship thread?” So the formula certainly helps, but it isn’t necessary to produce these whacked-out words.

Now if all that isn’t enough to give you new respect/loathing for the –y suffix as it expands/desecrates the English language, let me make your mind go kaboom once more.

After years of weird-word collecting, I’m pretty unfazed by words with multiple, redundant, exuberant suffixes. As the collector of battle-tastic-tacular-gasm-worthy and mega-legal-robo-proctologist, it’s going to take some pretty fancy suffixation to turn my head. However, even I was gobsmacked out of my chair when I spotted mystery-y-ish-y.

Yowza. That is a triply redundant suffix, plus a double-y, with sort of a triple-y. Mystery-y-ish-y is a lexical wonder, but it does have some slightly less wondrous near-relatives: I spotted analogue-y-ish-y, emo-y-ish-y, and orange-y-ish-y in the wild, so that particular combo of suffixes isn’t a total anomaly. But it is, dare I say, in my best Mr. Spock voice, quite anomaly-y.

More evidence of extreme suffixation can be found in the following list of examples, which may inspire your own uses of the –y suffix. After studying the evidence, I can strongly recommend that this suffix be used with no caution whatsoever. Like doughnuts—according to Homer Simpson and my own privately funded research—it really can do anything.

“yay other! Hope today’s all birthday-y and fun!”
(Nov. 6, 2007, Stationzer0)

“decorations were amazing, i mean it’s all candy-y and fantasy like…. like from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they had candy trees, ginger bread house, candy house… and loads of HUGE christmas trees…”
(Dec. 25, 2006, The One in Penang)

“i’m trying not to sound all conspiracy-y here, (trilateralists? bilderbergers? shadow government established by the 1947 roswell alien visit?), but…he’s not a stupid guy. i firmly believe he’s advancing his agenda, whatever it might be….and the fact that we conservatives, his alleged base, don’t like it means nothing to him at all.”
(Jan. 8, 2007, Riehl World View)

“But, unfortunately, the Declaration isn’t official policy of any country anywhere or at any time. It was a statement of intent written by a small group of people who acted without sanction of any governing body. The US didn’t exist for more than a decade after that. I mean, since we’re being all history-y here.”
(Sept. 4, 2008, The Edge of the American West)

“Are you feeling all holiday-y now? All the special Chrisma-hanau-kwanza-kah feeling that’s in the air, and also on Starbucks’s annoying playlist is already starting to grate on my nerves.”
(Dec. 3, 2008, Food in Mouth)

“maaan, i need to see this movie. and i’m gonna be all jealousy-y when claira gets it for Christmas. hahaa”
(Dec. 6, 2008, Livejournal)

“After fueling all kinds of fun ‘What if X bought Moto?’ mashups with rumors they were fleeing the handset business like a burning building, Motorola gets all killjoy-y today, affirming that they’re ‘fully committed’ to the mobile biz. Hey, there have been bigger turnarounds.”
(Feb. 11, 2008, Matt Buchanan, Gizmodo)

“My parents are awesome. My Dad’s all nature-y and work-y and my Mum’s all lady-y and they’re both daft and then I am a super combo of their awesome points (and then their tempers >__>;; ) and then yesssss. I win.”
(March 28, 2009, Ultimate Guitar Community)

“And now I’m all memory-y thinking about ice-skating at the rink right around the corner from that theater when I was growing up.”
(Nov. 13, 2006, Whedonesque)

“My faith tells me that marital sex, like all acts blessed with holiness, is a great mystery — and from thence comes its beauty.
Well, it WOULD be wouldn’t it? Since Dawn’s not married, she can’t be having marital sex. It’s all mystery-y-ish-y. And she can imagine it’s pretty, if she wants.”
(May 23, 2006, Pandagon)

“I’m sorry to get all philosophy-y here, but I think these supposedly philosophical questions matter an awful lot to the politics at stake here.”
(May 24, 2008, Pandagon)

secret identity-y
“And don’t be all sneaky when you come in. Y’know … all secret identity-y, and then come back on here and post about how dumb I am and stuff. ‘Cause that would be just plain mean.”
(Dec. 15, 2006, Comic Books Resources Forums)

secret society-y
“I love it when they get all secret society-y”
(April 19, 2003, Livejournal)

“i’ve just made my latest incredible discovery - boysenberry soy yoghurt, or as i like to call it, ’soyghurt’. it doesn’t upset my lactose-unfriendly stomach and doesn’t taste all soy-y and is creamy and filled with delicious boysenberries and 99% fat free! and it was on special at coles barkly square! brilliant!”
(Jan. 17, 2006, from the irish meaning ‘ditch/canal builder’)

“It was all spy-y and computery. The poor man’s Tom Clancy, I guess.”
(May 16, 2007, The Sheila Variation)

“They are orange! They are cute! They are all technology-y and stuff! They feel like nothing I’ve ever worn before, and they feel goooood!! I’m very psyched. They even come with a DVD to teach me how to wear them, they are so advanced!”
(Feb. 24, 2007, Asparagus and Mayonnaise)

0 Comments on A Mystery-y-ish-y Word Trend: The –Y Suffix Has Gone Bananas as of 1/1/1900
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22. Send in the Hench-poodles! An Underrated Prefix for Underlings

by Cassie, Publicity

Mark Peters, a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude is our guest blogger this week. In this post, he looks at the various uses of “hench” as a prefix.

So I was hanging upside down like a bat in my underground lair, enjoying the pleasures of an undisclosed location, when I realized, “Man! I am getting nothing done around here.” Even with a loyal staff of minions, lackeys, toadies, lickspittles, facilitators, enablers, provosts, and drooling zombie slaves, my evil plans have come to naught in 2009, according to the quarterly reports.

True, I did swindle some orphans and bunnies. I also made a sweet deal with “the cartel.” (Note to self: check receipt to see which cartel that might be, and what I will receive for my millions.) Deliciously, I vanquished Dr. Vargas—my chief rival in the fields of global domination, local pranksterism, and polar-bear training (don’t ask). So the year hasn’t been a total loss.

But what have I done lately? Then it occurred to me what I need: more henchmen.

Fortunately, the field of henchology is no longer limited to mere men, who I know from personal experience would rather live in a ridiculous fantasy world than wrestle with the issues of the day (or those polar bears). Today, an evil employer has options.

You see, when I’m not hip-deep in rivers of evil, I’m armpit-deep in the seas of lexicography, as curator of Wordlustitude, where I’ve collected hench-words beyond the wildest dreams of my nemesis Dr. Vargas and his colleagues Dr. Doom, Dr. Evil, and Dr. Phil. I’ve found uses of henchblob, henchboob, hench-chicken, hench-Cylon, henchdemon, henchgoat, henchidiot, hench-lady-men-partners, hench-monster, henchscum, hench-wench, plus spokeshenchman, sub-sub-henchman, under-henchlings and many others. Finally, some good news: It turns out hench is a mega-productive prefix and the hench-business is ever-bustling, even in an economic downturn.

My favorite hench-book, the Oxford English Dictionary, tells us henchman originally meant, in the 1300s, “A squire, or page of honour to a prince or great man, who walked or rode beside him in processions, progresses, marches, etc.; also, one who, on occasion, fulfilled the same office to a queen or princess.” Subservience, if not evil deeds, was always part of the henchly package. Other right-hand-man-y meanings evolved over time, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that the current sense started to take hold: “A stout political supporter or partisan; esp. in U.S. ‘A mercenary adherent; a venal follower; one who holds himself at the bidding of another’ (Cent. Dict.).” Mercenary adherents, venal followers, now we’re getting somewhere… The OED also has entries for hench-boy (1611) and henchwoman (1889), so the prefixitude of hench has established precedents. Those words are the primordial predecessors of hench-bunny-men and hench-robot.

This brings us to the wild world of contemporary hench-folk, who are usually mentioned in a fictional or humorous setting. Some henchnames reinforce the lackeydom of such lackeys (henchgoon, henchminion, hench-thug) while other reinforce their monsteriness (hench-vamp, hench-thing, hench-zombie) or evil (henchscum, hench-lawyer). A few names remind us that very few henchpersons could win a battle of wits with a box of rocks; these include henchmoron, henchidiot, and henchdoofus. Speaking of doofi, some writers love to imagine the nefarious thugs of their political enemies, such as “(George W.) Bush and his hench-psychos” or John Kerry and “his henchscum.”

But the funnest of the fun are the terms that take the hench prefix on a wild ride to words and beings not usually associated with the hench-istic arts: I think henchnoncorporeal being might be my favorite, though hench-toddler is a contender. Perhaps because pet-havers are called masters, many people can imagine their pets as hench-companions, inspiring the words henchdog, hench-ferret, hench-hamster, and hench-kitty. Bizarrely, there are several terms such as hench-cleavage and hench-breasts, which might be an indication of how boob-obsessed the world is, or a sign that the cleavage-killing Chesty Morgan and her Deadly Weapons are more influential than I thought. I’m not sure how useful a hench-cacti would be, but if Dr. Vargas gets one, I will too! Damn him!

Anyhoo, besides its wide use as a prefix, hench has been up to other lexical shenanigans. While searching Twitter for more hench-words, I was psyched to read this tweet: “@Rocmoney I think Madonna scared herself when she realised that she looked like a hench skeleton” (July 30, 2009, Andremcdmusicpr). At first I thought I’d be adding hench-skeleton to my list of words and roster of employees, before my brain informed me that I was making even less sense than usual, because who the heck would Madonna be a hench-skeleton for? Oprah? Zeus? Unlikely.

That sentence is an example of a slang meaning of hench as a henchman-inspired term for beefy, bulky, muscular, and strong, as in “A lion! It would be my personal bodyguard!! Do you know how HENCH and HUGE a lion is?! Mos definitely a lion! Hands down!”
(July 31, 2009, TEAMaiwo) and “Arrived at the gym, time to get hench!!” (July 29, 2009, U.S.F.). An upcoming movie about a struggling henchman is called Hench, so I imagine the word will continue to take on a wide-ranging, man-free life of its own, as noun, adjective, prefix, and whatever else it pleases. Who’s gonna stop it?

So, employers and warlords and supreme leaders, let this be a lesson! Don’t be so hasty when filling the rank ranks of your hideous hordes. Clip and save the following list of hench-folks. Refer to it as you write an ad for Craigslist or Evil Illustrated. And if you ever question your way of life, remember the words of that brave, muscular, lovelorn overlord of the underworld in the South Park movie: “Without evil there could be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometimes.”

henchape, henchnoncorporeal being
“[Pearl and her henchmen, er, henchape and henchnoncorporeal being, stand in the foreground, looking very, very annoyed.]”
(May 2, 2002, “Mystery Usenet Theater 3000: Spider-Man: The Movie“)

“This has been a wonky day. Jose Cuervo and his hench-cacti are out to get me.”
(July 28, 2009, Amy Mohr)

“So NBA hench-commissioner Adam Silver begins pulling the team-logo placards out of the envelopes amid the overwhelming silence and TV-studio ambient buzz. The dominant sound, in fact, is the scraping of the placards against the inside of the envelopes as he pulls each one out. Is this great TV or what!”
(King Kaufman, May 21, 2008, Salon)

“AT&T threw a lavish, secret party near the Denver Democratic Convention for the Blue Dog Democrats and their hench-lobbyists that voted them the gift of retroactive immunity for drift-net spying. Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller, Jane Hamsher and others tried to get in, only to discover how aggressively private the party was.”
(Aug. 25, 2008, isen.blog)

“Oh, how I hate sleeping on the hovercraft… I woke up so stiff this morning… I need a hench-masseuse. The lair includes a sauna.”
(July 24, 2009, Diabolical One)

hench poodle
“Perhaps the evil hench poodle threw a bucket of water on her computer!”
(Aug. 30, 2007, Labradoodle Discussion Board)

“It’s unfortunate that if Bush and his hench-psychos continue to have their way, it’s the United States that will end up on the ash heap. And sooner rather than later.”
(Dec. 9, 2007, Grumpy Lion)

“It started out on Animaniacs as a series of short skits about two genetically engineered lab mice. Every night, Brain hatches a plot to take over the world with Pinky as his faithful (if insane) hench-rodent.”
(April 8, 2007, Answer Bag)

“Scar says this about the hyenas in Disney’s The Lion King. Unfortunately, this is justified, as they’re the only hench-species available in the savannah.”
(Date unknown, TV Tropes)

“I had more trouble thinking up a name for the young one. ‘Satan’s Hench-toddler’ seemed appropriate a couple of weeks ago. Then she got a cute new haircut, and I thought maybe ‘Pixie’ might work better.”
(April 9, 2008, Diapers and Wine)

“Thanks to my wonderful hench-writer and grand vizier Andrew.”
(July 28, 2009, Snail in a Turtleneck)

“I also went back to a much earlier saved game point to make sure I hadn’t missed something (which I had but it wasn’t important. Basically Hilrad wasn’t in the movie cut-scene when the beholder zapped him because he was too busy getting beat up by my hench-zombie for whatever unknown reason).”
(Aug. 17, 2007, Neverwinter Nights 2 Vault)

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23. Mr. Manners’ Guide to The F-Word:Or, “When it is Permissible to Refer to a Goat-effing Contest”

Mark Peters, a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude is our guest blogger this week. In this post, he looks at variations and usage of the f-word. Obviously, this post contains rather strong language.

Jesse Sheidlower’s The F-word is many things: a super-mega-normous look at all things fuck; a huge, steaming pile of filth; and a huge, erudite pile of scholarship. It’s a myth-dispelling history lesson in taboo language, literary culture, and pop culture, with appearances by The Sex Pistols, Pulp Fiction, Dick Cheney, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, James Joyce, and Kurt Vonnegut. It may be the greatest bathroom book of all time.

This citation-packed historical dictionary also raises questions about the moral fiber—not to mention the moral cocoa puffs—of society. There was a time when fuck didn’t even get included in dictionaries, and now there’s a dictionary with only fuck, in its third edition no less? How can the tender hearts and minds of our time cope with a book so explicitly illustrating the history of fuck-a-doodle-doo and its barnyard brother, the fucked duck? What will they say at (as Jerry Seinfeld put it) “the finest finishing schools on the eastern seaboard” when confronted with almost two pages on doublefuck and six on ratfuck? Will schoolchildren of the future soon be texting and tweeting DILLIGAF and FYBIS? (”Do I look like I give a fuck?” and “Fuck you, buddy, I’m shipping out,” for the acronymically innocent).

Yes, this is a ticking bomb clock of a book, and the average language-user can’t be expected to know where the red, blue, green, and mauve wires are leading. That’s where I come in (cue “The Final Countdown”).

In addition to being the leading prophet of a new religion based on pancakes, I am also an authority on etiquette. In fact, I am a licensed etiquitte-ologist, and the fact that I made the license myself with crayons is something etiquette forbids you to notice. Instead, you should latch your eyes onto the following usage guide like a hobo seizing a discarded KFC bucket. My advice on these sensitive terms, selected from Sheidlower’s towering temple of titillation, is guaranteed to save—or cause—an embarrassing faux pas, or your money back.

(In the interests of full disclosure and maximum courtesy, I must confess to being one of several word-herders thanked in The F-word, though my contributions were small, and I remain chagrinned that my finding of neurodoublefucked didn’t warrant inclusion. Har-smurfing-umph).

Though not as well known in the highest echelons of society as violin concertos or speed metal, pigfuck is the name of a music genre, specifically one “associated with the late 1980s and typically regarded as an outgrowth of punk and a precursor to grunge, characterized by a gritty, noisy sound.” Thus, pigfuck is entirely appropriate to use when discussing that genre, and that genre alone. However, discretion must be exercised when proximity to a barnyard might cause ambiguity. Similarly, it is always OK to call the windfucker bird (or kestrel) by name, just as long as you don’t say it was my idea.

HMFIC (head motherfucker in charge), MFWIC (motherfucker what’s in charge)
The supreme leaders, supreme commanders, dear leaders, grand poohbahs, rear admirals, and assistant deans of the world all feel, at times, that their present titles may not sufficiently connote the grandeur they wish to inspire in the help and the masses. However, if you refer to yourself as, for example, “Dr. Vargas, HMFIC” I am almost certain those children will stop laughing at you.

IHTFP (I hate this fucking place)
As a former resident of Buffalo, NY, where the snow sometimes falls in six-feet-per-week increments, and the football team loses games that range from heart-attack-spawning to mass-suicide-provoking, I can heartily recommend the use of this expression there. It is also handy and apropos in Phoenix or hell during the summer. Speaking of those sweltering mid-year months, I think we can all agree alternatives are needed to the overused, worn out clichés “Hot enough for ya?” and “It’s hotter’n Satan’s thong!” I suggest using hotter than a fresh fucked fox in a forest fire, an expression dating from 1950, for future steamy summers and eternal flame-y torments. Sometimes, freshness of phrase trumps ickiness of idiom.

goat-fucking contest
The question of when it is “okey-dokey” or “swell” to refer to a goat-fucking contest has puzzled correctness czars and English professors since Christ was a corporal. We can learn something from a Sheidlower-collected 1998 citation: “Colonel, you and me been to three county fairs and a goat-fuckin’ contest and I ain’t seen you hit by nothin’ heavier than shrapnel.” First, it seems this expression is super-apropos in the military, an entity that cultivates profanity by the bucketload. Secondly—and I presume this has something to do with the metric system—this and other examples include three country fairs along with the goat-humping, so precedent dictates that these words should stay wedded idiomatically. We can also extrapolate that a goat-flipping contest is not to be mentioned or invoked lightly. No matter how good that coffee is, it’s probably not three-county-fairs-and-a-goat-fucking-contest good. Finally, since the expression often includes merely a goat-fuckin’ (or goat-ropin’) with no mention of a contest, I am almost certain this expression is not fit for ESPN.

CFM, fuck-me
CFM is an acronym for “come fuck me” that, in the older and commoner form “fuck-me” usually applies to skirts, shoes, boots, heels, pumps and other traditionally conjugalicious women’s wear. Sheidlower defines fuck-me as “(especially of an article of clothing, typically footwear) intended to invite sexual advances; seductive, vampish, sexy.” I just wonder if the haberdashers and seamstresses and J. Petermans of the world have sufficiently plumbed the depths of CFM-ness. Perhaps some enterprising clothes-ologist could design the fuck-me fez, the fuck-me Mr. Rogers sweater, and—for the cautious-minded—the fuck-me tin-foil hat. We all need love, you know.

Finally, etiquette mavens and manners enthusiasts—not to mention politeness pundits—may be baffled when considering the bulging bucket of insults for which fuck is a prefix. Thankfully, Sheidlower’s definitions lend a helping hand. Consider this handy chart of fifteen easily confused terms:

fuckass: “a despicable or contemptible person”
fuckbag: “a disgusting person, ‘asshole’, etc.”
fuckface: “an ugly or contemptible person.—usually used abusively in direct address”
fuckhead: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fuckhole: “a despicable person; an asshole”
fuck-knuckle: “a stupid or offensive person”
fucknob: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fucknut: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fuck-pig: “a contemptible person”
fuckrag: “a worthless, contemptible, or despicable person”
fuckshit: “a despicable person”
fuckstick: “a worthless, contemptible, or despicable person”
fucktard: “a despicably stupid person”
fuckwad: “a stupid or contemptible person; an asshole”
fuckwit: “a stupid person”

If only I had this list during grad school, I could have been so much more accurate and beaten up!

Thanks to these distinctions, I’ll be able to send Festivus cards with confidence this year. My colleague Bucky is quite dumb, yet possesses no despicable or contemptible qualities, so I shall address him as “little fuckwit.” My nemesis Dr. Vargas is cunning as a sewer rat and quite despicable; therefore, he is a fuckass (as well as a fuckshit and fuck-pig). My cousin Jeffrey is neither despicable nor contemptible, but he is worthless, so I guess he’s a fuckrag, like Grandma always said.

You see, even in this warp-speed world of Twitter and moon-smashing, there’s always time for the right word in the right place for the right worthless, contemptible, or despicable person. It may be impolite to call a doofus a fucknut, but it’s impolite and inaccurate to call a fuckbag a fuckrag. There’s no excuse for it–even if you’ve been to four county fairs and a goat-you-know-what-ing.

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24. Holiday Book Bonanza ‘09: Mark Peters

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Mark Peters is a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude.  He writes a monthly column for the OUPblog.

Martians + Norse Gods = Merry Christmas

With honorable mentions to Duplex Planet by David Greenberger, The Police Log by Kevin L. Hoover, Attack Poodles by James Wolcott, and The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, if forced to choose, at the point of a gun or pointy stick, I have to say my favorite book is What I’d Say to the Martians by Jack Handey.

You probably remember Handey from the “Deep Thoughts” segment on SNL. If so, you’ll be pleased to see selected Deep Thoughts, including the classics “I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex” and “You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he was severe diarrhea.”

If you know Handey from his New Yorker essays, those are included too, including glorious flights of lunacy such as “Thank You for Stopping,” the title essay, and “Ideas for Paintings.” That piece’s “Stampede of Nudes” suggestion makes me want to stampede to art school immediately: “The trouble with most paintings of nudes is that there isn’t enough nudity. It’s usually just one woman lying there, and you’re looking around going, ‘Aren’t there any more nudes?’ This idea solves that.”

There are even a few of Handey’s SNL sketches, l

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