Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Jun 26, 2022
This week’s theme
Autological words

This week’s words

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Like what you see here?
Send a gift subscription

Next week’s theme
Words originating in the hand
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share

AWADmail Issue 1043

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor’s Message: One Up! is the wicked smartest word game in the history of the universe. “A fast-paced cure for cabin fever.” -REAL SIMPLE. Shop Now.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

Ohio State University Trademarks “The”
The New York Times

What A Load Of Shiitake! Why Are We Still Offended By Swearing?

Can We Think Without Using Language?

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Autological words

This week I invited readers to send their favorite autological words. As I was going through them it occured to me that even though the word autological is from Greek auto (self) + logos (word), a different interpretation of the word would work as well: auto + logical, i.e. these words are logical: they are or they do what they describe. Of course, ultimately the word logic is also from the Greek logos.

Read on for a selection of autological and heterological words:

Here’s a line-up of some of my favorite autological words. Can you identify why each one is self-referential?
-Richard Lederer, San Diego, California (richardhlederer gmail.com)

Wee, which is wee;
mellifluous, which arguably is, and dull, which arguably is too (True, that’s subjective, and we’re edging toward onomatopoeia here);
tall, a word with no descenders and plenty of ascenders and therefore above average for word height.
-Jenny Tynes, Seattle, Washington (jenny jstynes.com)

The word level is both a palindrome and an autological word. The see-saw “v” in the middle makes it extra special.
-Matthew Botto, Melrose, Massachusetts (mbotto wiseconstruction.com)

A portmanteau is itself a portmanteau word.
-Vincent de Luise, MD, Waterbury, Connecticut (eyemusic73 gmail.com)

I cast my vote for awkwardnessful.
-Skip Swanson, Tokyo, Japan (skip gol.com)

-Paul Merricks, Milton Keynes, UK (paul_merricks hotmail.com)

My favourite autological word: haplogy.
-Prof. Emeritus Tom Priestly, Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada (tpriestl telus.net)

I guess mispronounciation (a mispronunciation of mispronunciation) would qualify as autological.
-Chad Glang, Erie, Colorado (chad.glang gmail.com)

It has dawned on me that onomatopoeic words are probably also autological. Words such as crash, boom, or thud are words that are self-evident in meaning.
-Peter Cirigliano, Sunnyvale, California (peterc007 aol.com)

Desuetude identifies its own condition.
-Bill Woodward, Williamstown, Massachusetts (bill.woodward bnigroup.biz)
Also suggested by Todd E. Lewis, Brooklyn, New York (todd.e.lewis verizon.com)

Curt and circumloquacious pop to mind as good examples!
-Jon von Gunten, Los Angeles, California (jon globescope.us)

My entry for an autological word would be staccato for the way it sounds when you say it.
-Glenn Glazer, Felton, California (glenn.glazer gmail.com)

A pair of heterological words that I find interesting are iambic and trochee, from verse metres. The word iambic is a trochee, and the word trochee is an iambic!
-Lars Erup, Saint Lazare, Canada (lerup videotron.ca)

I know of a pair of heterological words that tickle me: hyphenated isn’t hyphenated but non-hyphenated is.
-Don Fearn, Rochester, Minnesota (pooder charter.net)
Also sent by Jack R. Bierig, Chicago, Illinois (jack.bierig afslaw.com)

Perhaps the most heterological word is abbreviation.
-Jim Distelhorst, Edmonds, Washington (jim.distelhorst gmail.com)

From: Micha Hofri (hofri wpi.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--verbify

It has been our custom to check at the end of the day our house is cleaned and reset any instrument our cleaning person set wrong, turn off alarms, silence radios, etc. Describing such activity clearly depends on the name of the cleaner. We decarolized after Carol, alorified when it was Lori, etc.

Micha Hofri, Worcester, Massachusetts

From: Patricia O’Dowd (tishod umich.edu)
Subject: verbify

I’m afraid I have yet to get over gifted and birthed.

Patricia O’Dowd, Ann Arbor, Michigan

From: Ann Garthwaite (anngg5 gmail.com)
Subject: Verbifying

I verbify the noun joy into joying. :)

Ann Garthwaite, Chepachet, Rhode Island

From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: renouned

In English, a noun which has been verbed can still be renouned.

Dr Richard Stallman, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Janet Burroway (jburroway fsu.edu)
Subject: verbification

My new favorite verbification (being a noun formed from a verb formed from a noun) is from a poem by e.a. toles, “What Does Black Taste Like” in the new Rattle magazine:

the streets molasse
thick with bodies
Read more

Janet Burroway, Chicago, Illinois

From: Laura Gold (drlauragold gmail.com)
Subject: verbify

Years ago my daughter Raphaela Gold made up the word happify. It just fit where no other word seemed to: “I’m happified by the way the clouds look today. A beautiful sky really happifies me.”

Laura Gold, New York, New York

From: Lyan Porto (portolyan gmail.com)
Subject: proparoxytone

It’s nice to know English has a cognate for this word. We (at least in Brazil, but I assume in other countries where Portuguese is spoken as well) have all of these (oxítona, paroxítona, and proparoxítona) drilled into us in school. Sadly, oxítona and paroxítona are heterological. If I could change it, I’d make it oxitoná, paroxitôna (paroxitóna in Portugal 😉) and keep proparoxítona as it is, so it’d be easier for kids to memorize it. Though probably if I had that power I’d also probably be able to change how school evaluates children.

On an unrelated note, Portuguese does not have words with the stress on any syllable further than third from the last, but English does, unfortunately. (See what I did there?) Is there a word to describe these? I think I’ve seen anteproparoxytone?

Lyan Porto, Leuven, Belgium (my hometown is Campinas, Brazil)

From: Burt Humburg (humburg.burt gmail.com)
Subject: Proparoxytone

I am a physician and the word today sounds so much like a drug I might prescribe. As in “I need 4 mg of proparoxytone, stat!” One might imagine administration would be during the third from the last meal of the day, i.e., breakfast.

Partially homophonous, I submit an actual drug name propoxyphene, a very mild opioid analgesic whose effect was so slight and whose toxicities (especially in seniors) was so severe that it was pulled from the market.

Burt Humburg, Mason City, Iowa

From: Susan Robbins (ssusiessusie yahoo.com)
Subject: Penultimate

Bless Spanish. Definitive Accenting rules. Words ending in a vowel, an “n” or “s” are automatically accented on the penultimate syllable. Words ending in all other letters accent the ultimate syllable, Any word breaking these 2 rules requires an accent to indicate the change. Italian, unfortunately, does not choose to help us out in this way. All French words are automatically accented on the last syllable unless the word ends in a mute “e” and then the accent is automatically on the penultimate syllable.English is a disaster and has many words spelled the same, accented on either the ultimate or penultimate syllable depending on part of speech, e,g, object, produce, accent, refuse, etc etc.

Susan Robbins, Long Island, New York

From: Tom Tyson (ttyson sasd.net)
Subject: Proparoxytone

The word antepenultimate is a proparoxytone. Small world!

Tom Tyson, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

From: Carolyn C Martin (carokei msn.com)
Subject: proparoxytone

And then there are all those proparoxytone Greek names: Socrates, Thucydides, Herodotus, Pythagoras, Euripedes, etc.

Carolyn C Martin, Litchfield, Connecticut

From: Tomás B. Fernandez (butchartt gmail.com)
Subject: Autological words

In Spanish one could say, “La palabra esdrújula es una palabra esdrújula.”

Tomás Butchart, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Email of the Week -- Brought to you buy OLD’S COOL -- Smart t-shirts for smarty-pants.

From: Ann Zartler (azartler gmail.com)
Subject: proparoxytone

When I was growing up, weekday family dinners were sacrosanct.

My three siblings agree that it was an unusual dinner if one of us did not go to consult Webster’s Second. I still have that battered dictionary and won’t part with it -- for sentimental reasons.

My mother used to help us pronounce by reminding us that most multisyllable words were accented on the antepenultimate syllable. I never knew that there was a Greek version.

Thanks for giving me a reminder of my mother on what would have been my parents’ 80th anniversary. They celebrated their 60th!

Ann Zartler, Jamestown, Rhode Island

From: Luke Reynolds (luke.reynolds gmail.com)
Subject: Re: autological words

My wife has a PhD in speech therapy and is a language/linguistics buff. She was working once with a 13-year-old child with severe dyslexia who also was 99th percentile for IQ. He used the word abstruse in a sentence.

Wife: “Abstruse? I think you mean to use the word obtuse.”
Child: “...No. I’m sorry. But I mean to use the word abstruse.”
Wife: (looks up word) “Oh. Yes. Yes you did.”

Luke Reynolds, Seattle, Washington

From: David Micklethwait (micklethwait hotmail.com)
Subject: abstruse

Nearly a hundred years ago, when my father was reading engineering in Cambridge (England), one of his textbooks was Lamb’s Infinitesimal Calculus. He and two of his friends published a small book of poems, one of which was on that subject:

Cambridge had a little Lamb,
One day she let it loose.
The students tried to understand,
But found it too abstruse.

When I went up to Cambridge to read engineering, sixty years ago, Lamb’s Infinitesimal Calculus was one of the required textbooks, and my father gave me his copy.

David Micklethwait, London, UK

From: M. Hugh Miller (podite82117 mypacks.net)
Subject: Sesquipedalian

It was probably this word more than any other that piqued my interest in sequipedalianism.

Years ago I read a book passage describing a particularly smarmy character smoking a “sesquipedalian cigar” and I burst out laughing at the sound of the word, one I had never heard before. By putting the word’s roots together (‘sesqui’-one and a half, and ‘ped’-foot) I understood the cigar to be a grossly exaggerated 18 inches long. It was the perfect word to describe the man’s pendulous ego.

That writer’s marvelous usage has stayed with me these many years as an example of how unpacking a single multisyllabic word can unpack an entire persona - I’ve forgotten the writer and the book, but I remember the character and the word vividly.

M. Hugh Miller, Springfield, New Jersey

From: Dennis Pasek (dpasek gmail.com)
Subject: sesquipedalianism

This reminds me of a large white orchid native to Madagascar. Its name is Angrecum sesquipedale because it has a nectary that is approximately 18” long. When Charles Darwin heard about it, he concluded that there must be a pollinator with an 18”-long proboscis. This was later found to be the case when a large moth was observed visiting the flowers.

Dennis Pasek, Ogden, Utah

Firing Line Redux
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: grandiloquent and abstruse

From 1966-1999, diehard conservative William F. Buckley hosted Firing Line, a weekly forum for debate and discussion on the politics, socio-economics, and philosophical currents of the day. His guests were contemporary top minds, and movers-and-shakers, who were often at odds with his points-of-view. As a fan of the show, I always felt that he was quite full of himself, peppering his comments w/ obscure multisyllabic words. Margaret Hoover has been hosting the rebooted Firing Line from 2018 to the present.

Hardy the Obtuse
Victorian-era novelist/poet Thomas Hardy in this contemplative scenario is torn between two title options. We know that Jude the Obscure won out in the end, proving to be his final novel. Hardy chose to solely write poetry till his last days, gaining modest success. He died in 1928 and was laid to rest in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Karen Folsom (kgfols yahoo.com)
Subject: Abstruse and Grandiloquent

Abstruse - the Diophantine Equation (my version) and the summing of three cubes.

Grandiloquent - Pooh-Bah from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mercado. I just couldn’t think of a more pooh-bah politician than our very own Trump.

Karen Folsom, Santa Barbara, California

From: Paul Glover (pglover bulkley.net)
Subject: autological words

Thanks for the fun bunch of words this week. Each one, with its definition, made me laugh. Great selection, and good creative application of autology.

Paul Glover, Smithers, Canada


This week’s theme: Autological words
1. verbify
2. proparoxytone
3. abstruse
4. grandiloquent
5. sesquipedalianism
= 1. i.e., antiquing (seek antiques)
2. emphasis at third syllable
3. obscure
4. pompous
5. a very wide, extra-long sort of word!
     This week’s theme: Autological words
1. verbify
2. proparoxytone
3. abstruse
4. grandiloquent
5. sesquipedalianism
= 1. qualifies as verb, e.g. award
2. extol the last synonym
3. it’s obscure, deep
4. pompous
5. is quite a rare long word I think
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz)

Make your own anagrams and animations.



It’s called anthimeria, my king,
And means making a verb of a thing.
(One example is vow.)
We say verbify now --
But the Greek has a classier ring.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

“Some people think badly of me
because of my habit,” says she.
“These folks get perturbed if I
happen to verbify
wording occasionally.”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Though purists may think it a crime,
We verbify nouns all the time.
Such wordplay is fun,
And when it is done,
Our coinage we’ll fit in a rhyme.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

How best to enshrine such a dirty guy?
His name let’s forevermore verbify.
“To Donald” should mean
That elections are clean,
But you lose and start riots: “Don’t certify!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Proparoxytones simply abound
In our language, researchers have found.
For the metrical bent
They are not heaven-sent --
Not for lim’ricks, at least, I propound.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

Proparoxytone words, I have found,
In the language of English abound.
Most people don’t care
But I am aware
Of the way they make limericks sound.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

I do love autological words,
‘Cause all other words are for the birds.
Proparoxytones will
Always give me a thrill.
I’m so happy to be with word nerds.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

We limerick writers are not alone;
Together, we’ll get through this combat zone.
A real woman or man
Will find some way to scan
Today’s word, though it be proparoxytone.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Holmes, I’m baffled how much you deduce
From clues that are far from profuse;
Seems this “crime of the century”
Is to you “elementary”
And not in the least way abstruse.
-Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, UK (duncanhowarth aol.com)

There are thinkers who take great delight
In developing views recondite:
But such notions abstruse
Serve no practical use,
Save to make their conceptors seem bright.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

Says gander to haughty young goose,
“What more can I do to induce
your highness to be
more friendly to me?
I find you extremely abstruse!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

My friend who’s a lawyer lets loose
With technical terms quite abstruse.
Though I’m ill at ease
With this legalese,
His knowledge he puts to good use.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

I sat in the lecture hall and
Just twiddled my pen in my hand --
The prof was abstruse
And I, a cooked goose!
Well, ‘twas French -- I could not understand!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

The old Prof gave an F to young Bruce,
For his writing was dull and abstruse.
“Your paper is muddled.
The theme is befuddled.
That your dad is the Dean... no excuse!”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Her parents said, “She’s the caboose.”
As the last of five kids, she ran loose.
In school she would cheat
With no trail of deceit;
Her methods were clever, abstruse.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (powerjanice782 gmail.com)

I scoffed, “What the heck is chartreuse?
‘Greenish yellow’ would be less abstruse.”
“For a dress at this price
That just wouldn’t sound nice,”
Said my wife. “Now stop being obtuse.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Interlocutors sigh with relief
When grandiloquent speakers are brief --
Conversation should flow
Back and forth, don’t you know -
And their subsequent silence is lief.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

“Though his manner is pompous, grandiloquent,
I suspect he’s a circus participant,”
says she, with a frown.
“This guy is a clown.
by the look of his silly habiliment.”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Grandiloquent speech I deplore;
I find it a terrible bore!
If I do stay awake,
I regret my mistake --
But that’s what the mute button’s for.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“To win, you must not seem ambivalent,”
Said the pollster. “It won’t sound grandiloquent.
‘There’s two sides to the story’
Will bring you no glory;
Mere facts must not sway you. Be vigilant!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Between styles it seems there’s a schism:
Old-hat sesquipedalianism
Versus new short and sweet,
So much slicker to tweet,
In which quips trump refined aphorism.
-Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, UK (duncanhowarth aol.com)

Yes, totalitarianism
Is a sesquipedalianism.
And its opposite view --
Multi-syllable, too --
Is humanitarianism.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes btconnect.com)

A sesquipedalianism’s long.
But I beg you, please don’t get me wrong.
My tongue simply girds
For those very long words.
They then gush, like a torrent, along.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

The title of Shaw’s play Pygmalion
Fits the adjective “sesquipedalian”.
But I won’t go to town
And add “-ism”; the noun
Could from here reach locations Australian.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


“Why can’t I use an adjective as a verbify want to?” asked the limerick writer who didn’t get published.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Always use a proparoxytone when speaking the Queen’s English,” said the professor.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“We should stop fighting over who’s got the better six-pack and declare an abstruse,” said the body builders.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Said Tarantino’s pickle-loving girlfriend when she opened the box, “It’s a truly grandiloquent-in yes, I’ll marry you!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Turncoat-in-chief; Par for the Course

As revealed at the recent Jan 6 House Select Committee hearings that members of the riotous Trump insurrectionist mob were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”, Trump approved of it, according to sworn testimony. During the hearings period, one of the Proud Boy ringleaders admitted that if they’d caught Pence, they would have killed him... and Nancy Pelosi.

Par for the Course
Pro-golfer Phil Mickelson has apparently traded in his long-standing loyalty to the PGA, joining the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour. He purportedly received a signing bonus of $200M. At least 16 now-former PGA pros followed his lead, each with the potential to collect an obscene $4M+ for a tour win. Mickelson has received nothing but negative feedback in accepting ill-gotten gains from the Saudis. Put more bluntly... their “blood money”. There’s a broad consensus that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for ordering the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood, and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand, and touch another person. -Virginia Satir, psychotherapist and author (26 Jun 1916-1988)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith