Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Weekend Odds and Ends

Here’s word person gluttony:  Nym Words.

Don’t know your acronyms from your antonyms or your aptronyms from your autonyms? Confused about what tautonyms and toponyms are? You’ll find them all here, from homonyms and hypernyms to eponyms and exonyms. We will guide you through explanations of each term, with helpful examples. Never again will you be perplexed by patronyms, confused by contronyms (contranyms), baffled by bacronyms…

I think I ate a bacronym once; rather like chicken.

Here’s what might be a good idea wrapped in an awfully-titled envelope:  Unsuck It.  The idea is to translate corporate business jargon into ordinary, understandable English. Their search box asks “What terrible business jargon do you need unsucked?” It’s a hard task– nigh impossible —  these folks have set themselves, and so they’ve a ways to go. But it’s worth a look. (via this New Yorker article)

We’re just wild about this next word, a neologism, “Googleheimer’s“, short (we suppose) for “Googleheimer’s disease”. It means thinking of Googling something, but forgetting what it was by the time you get to a computer.  Brilliant!

A note to readers:  As of today, April 29, 2011, Dictionary Person lives on the web only, rather than as also part of a display in Fogler Library, University of Maine. The content therefore may become a little less tied to Fogler resources.  Spring is coming to the north country;  DP may kick up its heels just a bit!  Please stick with us;  we’re just as curious as you are to see what’s around the next corner.

Now, I’ve had enough, my box is clean
You know what I’m sayin’ and you know what I mean
From now on you’d best get on someone else
While you’re doin’ it, keep that juice to yourself
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again

Odds and Ends, The Basement Tapes, Bob Dylan, 1967

April 26, 2011


Surely, Mr. Ma, you’re jookin!

Let us pause and admire the angular unexpected beauty of that dance!

Wikipedia offers synonyms and an improbable history: “Gangsta Walking (often referred to as G-Walk , Buckin, Buck Jump , Jookin, or Choppin) is a street dance that originated in Memphis, Tennessee alongside “Buck” music during the 1990s.”  The Urban Dictionary points to similar origins. (I hope I’ve mentioned that the UD is not for the tender and timorous!)

Why be skeptical?  Because buck dancing (as a phrase;  what it describes now is likely different than what it used to describe) and “jook” or “juke” as in “juke joints” goes back to at least to the 1920’s.

The Dictionary of American Regional English rolls back the decades.  One of the meanings for “jook” is a roadhouse;  another is a “jukebox; rarely a player piano, esp FL, GA

1935 Hurston Mules & Men 185 nFL [Black] The jook was in full play when we walked in.  The piano was throbbing like a stringed drum and the couples slow-dragging about the floor were urging the player to new lows. “Jook, Johnnie, Ah know you kin spank date ole pe-anner.” “Jook it Johnnie!” [Footnote;] Play the piano in the manner of the jook or “blues.”

For jook as a verb, DARE offers

1. To play music in the style typical of a jook

2. To dance, esp at a jook; to make the rounds (of jooks)

So, jookin as a word may have been born at night, but it wasn’t born last night!

(As for buck dancing, we’ll try to get to “buck” soon.)

h/t to

April 19, 2011

Interlude: Note from a Reader

“Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation.”
…from River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins.

I just love dictionary person…

I send the above quote to delight you, but also to remind you that very ordinary words have such charm and so many layers that they’re like a compost pile: Forked over, they exude the scent of growth…

Go, D. P.!

April 18, 2011

The chief use of slang…

Is to show that you’re one of the gang.  In fact slang has so many uses that it is difficult to choose one as central.

So begins an entry in David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language1. He points to Eric Partridge’s Slang Today and Yesterday(1933) as identifying at least fifteen reasons for using slang. Sheer high spirits, to be different, to show that one belongs, to escape from clichés, and to be secret are among the reasons offered.

1Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd ed. David Crystal, ed. p. 55. REF P29 C64 2010

[Note:  Dictionary Person is away and in fact is down in the United States this week.  Posts here will be short,  sporadic, and quirkier than usual.]

April 16, 2011

Weekend Wiggle-Waggle

This is cute.  Excerpts from “A Flapper’s Dictionary”, from The Flapper, July 1922:

Brush Ape—Anyone from the sticks; a country Jake.
Brooksy—Classy dresser
Bust—A man who makes his living in the prize ring, a pugilist.
Bun Duster—See “Cake Eater”.
Bush Hounds—Rustics and others outside of the Flapper pale.
Cancelled Stamp—A wallflower.
Cake Basket—A limousine.
Cake Eater—See “Crumb Gobbler”
Cat’s Particulars—The acme of perfection; anything that’s good
Cat’s Pajamas—Anything that’s good
Cellar Smeller—A young man who always turns up where liquor is to be had without cost.
Clothesline—One who tells neighborhood secrets.
Corn Shredder—Young man who dances on a girl’s feet.
Crepe Hanger—Reformer.
Crumb Gobbler—Slightly sissy tea hound.
Crasher—Anyone who comes to parties uninvited.
Crashing Party—Party where several young men in a group go uninvited.
Cuddle Cootie—Young man who takes a girl for a ride on a bus, gas wagon or automobile.

Context, and more,  here.  Oh yes, here’s an explanation of “flapper“.

From Radiolab comes an interesting, almost wordless, video, “WORDS”

(hat tips to BoingBoing and 3 Quarks Daily)

April 15, 2011


And so we begin!  Boogie-woogie is at least two things  — a style of early jazz music (often solo piano) and a slang term for secondary syphilis.

Actually, besides giving these definitions, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang1 also tells us that it means “raise sand; fuss; quarrel violently”. (When used in this way, it’s often coupled with “pitch”, as in “he pitched a boogie-woogie”.) Then they give yet another definition:  “Boogy-woogy.  To enjoy oneself to the limit.”

But the most common modern meaning is probably that associated with early jazz.  The Dictionary of American Slang2 has a finely drawn write-up:

In jazz, a fast blues with an iterative bass figure played in double time, i.e., eight beats to the measure, associated with the Kansas City mode of jazz.
1928: “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.” Title of a jazz song composed by “Pine Top” Smith, one of the earliest boogie woogie pianists.
1956: “Jimmy Yancy as much as created the boogie-woogie blues, and his followers — Meade Lux Lewis, Pine Top Smith, Albert Ammons and others — carried on the job.”  S. Longstreet, The Real Jazz Old and New, 37.

Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie is perhaps the most famous of the type. Recorded in 1928, it went on to greatly influence blues, stride, and barrelhouse pianists. Pine Top never knew his fame, dying in 1929 at age 24.

1 Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, J.E. Lighter, ed.  Random House, 1994. REF PE2846 H57
2 Dictionary of American Slang, Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, eds. 2nd suppl. ed. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.  REF PE 2846 W4 1975

April 13, 2011

The New Project: Slang

Dictionary Person has been maintaining radio silence for almost a week now, but your wait for new posts is just about over.  We’re setting out a new course, and for the next while we’ll be exploring slang, or non-standard English.

Eric Partridge, he of A Dictionary of Slang1 fame, defined slang as standing in a hierarchy thus:

vulgarisms (in both senses);
Standard English, with its three ascending varieties –

Familiar English;
ordinary Standard English;
literary English.

Cant, more generally known as “the language of the underworld”, is the special vocabulary — rather it is a set of interconnected vocabularies — of criminals and tramps and beggars, of their hangers-on and associates, and of racketeers.

Slang may be replenished, indeed it is often replenished, by recruits from the underworld, but usually it stands self-dependent and self-sufficient, until it dies of inanition or weariness or a change in fashion or, on the other hand, so strongly survives that it is adopted and becomes a colloquialism and is subject to the conditions affecting and governing colloquialisms.

Colloquialisms stand midway between slang and Standard English;  they are felt to be more respectable, more permanent than slang, but less respectable, less dignified than Standard English.  They are called colloquialisms because they are general and fitting enough in conversation but hardly fitting in serious writings, speeches, sermons.  They are used by a larger proportion of the population than is slang.2

There’s something awfully formal about this sorting; it smells like the attic.  But for now let’s give Partridge a try and see how how his distinctions will take us.

Whether we can hold ourselves to such parameters is as unclear to us as it might be to you.  Keep an eye on this effort as we proceed.  You watch us, we’ll keep a weather eye on Partridge, and humpily, lumpily, like a team in a three-legged race, we’ll see how it goes.

1A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English…, various editions from 1937 to 1970; posthumous editions 1984 and 2006.
2From “Slang and Standard English”, in Here, There and Everywhere: Essays upon Language (1950).   First published in The Persian Quarterly, 1944.)

April 8, 2011

A Delectable Jumble!

As has become customary here, for the weekend I offer a mixture of links, accumulated through the week, to odd and interesting word- and language-related websites.

First up is The Phrase Finder (subtitled “The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases”).  Though it’s a British and English-language site, it offers up as well American phrases, and phrases from Latin and French.  Who’d have guessed that the first use (in print) of “Katy bar the door” was a James Whitcomb Riley poem? Or that “dead as a doornail” dates at least as far back as the 14th century?  Fascinating stuff!

Now for something completely different. The A More Perfect Union site maps words used on dating sites, “the words people use to describe themselves and those they want to be with.”  Here’s a section of the Maine map:

What does it all mean?  I have no idea! The map tells us that Maine has 106,374 singles, who used 961,413 words to describe themselves or those they desire. It’s pretty darn interesting that “popsicle” and “PVC” somehow figured into the deal.  And is “decoupage”, in its ordinary meaning, a word you can imagine employing as an aid to seduction?

Scrabble Finder helps make a jumble of letters into possible Scrabble® words;  for instance adeghorst makes goatherds (9 letters) and 597 other words (8 letters or fewer). You might try a game sometime soon;  think of it as Angry Birds for wordy folks!

[Dictionary Person will return on Tuesday, April 19.]

April 7, 2011


ZY-mur-gee refers to the science of fermentation, specifically as it relates to the production of beverages.  The OED defines it as “[t]he practice or art of fermentation, as in wine-making, brewing, distilling, etc.”

There are no doubt some DP  readers who have, as amateurs, pursued zymurgical studies.  But you might consider more formal training. Malting and Brewing Science is taught at UC – Davis.  Here’s a description of the offerings there. Or you might try the Centre for Malting and Brewing Science in Lueven, Belgium.

You undoubtedly already know the term, as the name of the American Homebrewer’s Association journal. The MarchApril issue of Zymurgy has, among others, a recipe for Berliner Weiss.

Here’s looking at you, kid!1

1 This phrase is appropriate here, but you’ll only catch the reference if you’ve seen the movie Casablanca (1942; Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet).  Casablanca is one of the greatest movies ever made.  I was shocked — shocked! — to hear from an English professor that most of her students had never seen it.

April 6, 2011


Perhaps you know this word from the work of that most American of poets, Whitman:

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me…..  he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed…..  I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 18551

Webster’s Third defines it as “a raucous noise; foolish complaining talk; something suggestive of a raucous noise.”

The OED dates the noun “yawp” to 1824, but the verb form to around 1400.  Definitions there are:

a. A harsh, hoarse, or querulous cry, esp. of a bird.
b. fig. Applied in contempt to speech or utterance likened to this. Chiefly U.S.

Many of the poets (see Allen Ginsberg and the beats, for instance)  cherish this word; they identify with Whitman’s yawp.  Yawp in this sense embodies a stridency — confident,  assured,  and loud  — that will be heard, no matter what.

It is not to be confused with yap or yowl!

1 See the excellent Walt Whitman Archive here.

Frontispiece, Leaves of Grass, 1855

Whitman in Camden, 1887, by Thomas Eakins