Friday, April 25, 2008


I had a theory; actually, more of an invention. I wanted to explain the history of the word cheesy. I wondered if it could have originated from the smile-inducing practice of portrait photographers who ask their subjects to say, "Cheese!" in the absence of genuine happiness. So cheesy grew to become synonymous with fabricated emotion, questionable quality, artificially manufactured moments.

Unfortunately, the real meaning is just shabby or cheap, inferior in quality. It pretty much undermines the whole motivation behind the etymology search. M-W gave me no explanation of the history, but I think I'm giving up. If you discover something more, please let me know.

Friday, April 18, 2008


This is a close relative of the last post, but it's one root that spawns all sorts of words. The root itself, however, didn't quite make it into the English language.

You can regress. You can digress. You can progress. You can even aggress. So if there is any justice in the lexical world, you should be able to gress. But according to Merriam-Webster, I gress not.

The root is in the Latin gradir, which means to go or to step. It's where we get the word grade. So why can't you get gressing instead of getting going? Why can't you gress in something instead of stepping in it? It just wasn't meant to be.

So the root of aggressive turned out to be passive? Typical.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Advertent Is a Word, Too

What's with the love for inadvertently, people? Advertently is a word, too, you know. You know a word doesn't get used much when the first couple pages of Google results are online dictionaries. That's the type of neglect advertently has to live with, day in and day out . . . only 83,000 results all told. Heck, the blogger spellcheck function doesn't even recognize it (I'm really giving the thing a workout with this post, by the way).

I wonder if we expect it to be one of those false roots. There's no such word as sidious to describe people with good intentions (which are neither the opposite of tentions nor inner tentions). Whelmed really just means "so overwhelmed, you temporarily lack the strength to add the over." Exhausted people aren't formerly hausted. And if you're not distraught, you aren't traught, you're just . . . fine. Advertently means what you'd expect it to mean. So why not use it?

From now on, I will advertently use advertently at least once a day. Perhaps someday you will join me, and the world will be as one. Just agine the possibilities.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Musical Double Prepositions

I love it (and by "love it," I mean I kinda hate it a little bit) when people try too hard to be grammatically correct by introducing a grammar mistake that sounds snooty even though it's wrong. The classic is the personal pronoun subjective instead of the objective in a compound situation (She opened up a can on Rufus and I). But there's one that shows up, for some reason, in song. To avoid ending their sentence (or the lyrical phrase) with a preposition, they introduce the preposition earlier . . . but they still use it at the end anyway. Here are two that bug me:

John Mellencamp, "Small Town"

"Now I cannot forget from where it is that I come from." Most lyrics sheets will deny the song actually says that, but I've listened to it over and over . . . he definitely sings "from" twice. The preposition is so nice, he said it twice. He doesn't even say it in a snooty way, but it's still a bit silly. Then there's a better musician, even if he's not a superior grammarian . . .

Paul McCartney, "Live and Let Die"

"But in this ever changing world in which we live in . . . " Now that preposition is so nice, he said it thrice. But only one of them is extraneous. I guess you could say poetic license allows for the occasional scenario in which it's okay to use a double preposition in.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Onomatopoeia is one of my favorite words. It just sounds so sweet when you say it, which is perfect for a word that means to come up with a word for a sound by imitating the sound itself. Whoosh. Bam. Kaching. Slurp. Sizzle. Crackle. The art of coming up with those words is called onomatopoeia . . . isn't that beautiful? I've always thought so.

What I didn't know, though, was the etymology behind the word. Its greco-latin root means to make a name. In fact, poet is just another word for maker. How that came to be associated with someone who writes rhyming or flowery or free verse rather than someone who just goes prose is beyond me, but I guess it's fitting.

Back to onomatopoeia. Making names. You could say that Sawyer on Lost is an onomatopoet, since he's always making up nicknames for people. You could say that anyone who makes a name for themselves becomes onomatopoetic by doing so.

Why should we care? Let's face it, you're here because you need help. Don't ask why.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Or Is It Laurel?

I always get confused between hearty and hardy. If you follow the links, you really don't need me to explain the difference. What makes telling "bold, brazen, or robust" from "unrestrained, healthy, or vigorous" so difficult is that the words and their meanings are somewhat similar. Even more confusing is the fact that hearty is also a noun (as in, "Ahoy, me hearties!") although given the definitions, I would have thought it would have been hardies. But Hardies are boys, not mateys. It's so hard to keep up. But I'll give a hearty effort to being hardy.

Also . . . Addison had an addition to . . . or an edition of his own diction addiction. He says that lowways are when you don't go on the highway. I couldn't bear to argue. Or could I not bare to argue? Darn it all.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure, Only Dorkier

I actually like reading the dictionary. It's quite well written. As a father of a four-year-old inquisitor, I know how hard it is to put a word's meaning into words without actually using the word itself. In case you can't tell by the numerous links on this blog, Merriam-Webster is my favorite to read.

I don't read it cover to cover, though. I read it like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I look up the meaning of one word only to find another fascinating word in the definition. So I look that one up and find a word I don't even know. Then I see that word has a related word in its etymology that simply must be looked up for its etymology. It's quite fun in a "what would Nancy Drew do if using words incorrectly were a crime" kind of way.

Tonight, I looked up repartee only to find that A) I had spelled it wrong, B) it demanded none of the accents ague I thought were necessary, and C) it had four possible pronunciations. Then I was caught off guard by the word adroitness. Then I discovered a phonetic mark I didn't know the meaning of, and that led me down a useless rabbit trail. But I was also interested to know that dexterous was a synonym of adroit, because I thought dexterity was more of a physical thing. But, as it turns out, its primary meaning is more about having a quick mind than having fast fingers.

I could go on, and sometimes I do. But I stopped at dexterous. I can't wait to start reading again tomorrow to see how this bad boy ends.