Archive for ‘H’

October 24, 2011

Can you handle this stuff?

It hardly needs saying — but bear with me here — that the common workaday (working-class, as it were) words of our language are used more frequently and in far more ways than the more specialized and showboat words like brachycephalic and leucistic and defenestrate.

We speak now of words like junk and stuff and handle and thing, box and bag and door and shelf and cloth and so on. I’m suggesting that we consider here the ordinary words of everyday conversation, spoken by folks who are just trying to get through the day, get through the week, get their kid to school, and so on.

These ordinary words, words of few syllables, tend to have multiple and shifting meanings. They seem both to be ancient and yet elastic and evolving.

Let’s look at two examples:  handle and stuff.


From Merriam-Webster: a part that is designed especially to be grasped by the hand; something that resembles a handle; name; also nickname;  hand;  the total amount of money bet on a race, game, or event;  a means of understanding or controlling <can’t quite get a handle on things>.

Then there’s the Urban Dictionary (eliminating near-duplicate definitions): a 1.75 liter (half-gallon) bottle of liquor or other alcohol. Often has a handle or grip on the side for easy access; one’s online alias or nickname; to take care of something; to get something done: take care of finish complete get done accomplish


We hesitate to use the Urban Dictionary here!  Take a look yourself — if you’re brave. The OED has 11 or so definitions for the noun form, 15 or so for the verb. The old Century Dictionaryonline here — has 8 or so meanings for stuff as a noun, 10 or so as a verb. We say “or so”because there are variants and sub-definitions and it’s easy to get lost in the lexical jungle.

Here’s M-W:

: materials, supplies, or equipment used in various activities: as a obsolete : military baggage b : personal property

: material to be manufactured, wrought, or used in construction <clear half-inch pine stuff — Emily Holt>

: a finished textile suitable for clothing; especially : wool or worsted material

a : literary or artistic production b : writing, discourse, talk, or ideas of little value : trash

a : an unspecified material substance or aggregate of matter <volcanic rock is curious stuff> b : something (as a drug or food) consumed or introduced into the body by humans c : a matter to be considered <the truth was heady stuff> <long-term policy stuff> d : a group or scattering of miscellaneous objects or articles <pick that stuff up off the floor>; also : nonphysical unspecified material <conservation and … all kinds of good stuff — Eric Korn>

fundamental material : substance <the stuff of greatness> b : subject matter <a teacher who knows her stuff>

: special knowledge or capability <showing their stuff>
spin imparted to a thrown or hit ball to make it curve or change course b : the movement of a baseball pitch out of its apparent line of flight : the liveliness of a pitch <greatest pitcher of my time … had tremendous stuff — Ted Williams>

For additional meanings and innendo, we turn to the musical sphere.

“Stuff” is used in a variety of ways.  There’s  Blind Willie McTell’s “You Can’t Get Stuff No More” (sample here) where “stuff” is liquor. For Bobby, “stuff” is sometimes knowledge or expertise:  “Some of you women you really know your stuff”. “Handle” is used in a variety of ways.

Then of course there’s the jazz violinist/vocalist Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith, better known as “Stuff” Smith.  Listen closely to his most famous song, “You’se a Viper” and you might figure out where he got that handle!

October 21, 2011

Silent Weekend…Not!

As per custom here, the weekends are far from silent. We use these times to revel in webbiness — some good stuff and some a little edgy. This weekend’s offerings follow that pattern.

Here’s something interesting: Yoda Language Study: New Research Shows Human Ancestors Spoke Like Star Wars Character. This probably has some truth to it — it’s a least a plausible hypothesis — but the journalists perhaps stretch too far in trying for cuteness. If say so you do!

How we speak and write, and the words we use, and the language choices we make, are revelatory. This self-evident is. So we’re not shocked, are we, to hear that Psychopaths Reveal Selves With Words?

But why would language — or the words used to describe a violent crime — be very telling? Because many “are skilled conversationalists and use language to lie to, charm, and ultimately use others for material gain, drugs, sex, or power,” the study says.

So the researchers ended up with words, more than 120,000 of them, from the interviews, which they pumped into their computers. The psychopaths used about “twice as many words related to basic physiological needs, including eating, drinking and monetary resources when describing their murder” than the 38 killers who were not considered psychopaths.

Based on “Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths“, published in a forthcoming Legal and Criminological Psychology.

Finally, because there’s no invective like old invective, you’ll probably want to try out the Shakespeare Insult Kit. One each from columns 1, 2, and 3.

You paunchy, pox-marked maggot-pie!

Silent weekend,
Oh Lord, I wish Monday would come.
Silent weekend,
Oh Lord, I sure wish Monday would come.
She’s [open] and she’s leavin’,
but I hate to sit here grievin’
but I just can’t sit here playin’ dumb.
Silent Weekend, Bob Dylan (and the Band), Basement Tapes sessions, 1967

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

March 8, 2011


Hirundo is a genus of swallows within the family Hirundinidae (swallows and martins).   The genus  includes the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), “the most widely distributed and abundant swallow in the world. It breeds throughout most of North America, Europe, and Asia and winters in Central and South America, southern Spain, Morocco, Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, Indochina, Malaysia, and Australia.1

Barn Swallow, South Dakota Birds and Birding,

We know them as beautiful in form and in flight, swooping acrobats and greedy gobblers of insects,  a favorite of farmers. Here’s the Cornell Lab of Ornithology entry on swallows.

As to the word hirundo:  you won’t be using it everyday conversation, of course, unless you’re saying “Hey!  Let’s meet at Hirundo!”

1 Birds of North America