Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Mar 10, 2019
This week’s theme
Words from previous years

This week’s words

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
Words that have entered the language during the last 25 years

Send a gift that
keeps on giving,
all year long:
A gift subscription of A.Word.A.Day or the gift of books
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share

AWADmail Issue 871

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language Sponsor’s Message: You think you’re pretty intelligent, right? Probably got a college degree, or two. A goodish job. Fairly well-read. Large vocabulary. We could throw “recalcitrance” out there and you might not even flinch. Same here. But we can honestly and definitively say you may be smart but you aren’t wicked smart. Don’t believe us? Then please join this week’s Email of the Week winner, Ed Quigley (see below), as well as all the other know-it-alls out there for an old’s cool lesson in enlightenment and delightenment. Take our One Up! IQ test Today >

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Re: 25 Years of Wordsmith.org! Join us for a big party with contests and prizes

Thanks to all for writing. Some readers asked how long they have been a subscriber. Find out by sending an email to wsmith@wordsmith.org with the word HOWLONG in the Subject line. The body of the email is ignored.

We’re celebrating 25 years and we’d love your Wordsmith.org story (read some below)! When did you first subscribe? What’s your favorite word? A Wordsmith.org quotation that you live by?

Tell us on Facebook, Instagram, on our website, or email us words wordsmith.org.

Take part in the contests and win prizes (including trips to the US and UK).

From: April Halprin Wayland (aprilspencil gmail.com)
Subject: Re: 25 Years of Wordsmith.org! Join us for a big party with contests and prizes

Congratulations and lots of hugs, Anu!

Thank you for bringing light to each day, messing with my head, and curating quotations which I put up in my classroom.


April Halprin Wayland, Hermosa Beach, California

From: Chip Taylor (via website comments)
Subject: Congratulations on the quadranscentennial!

Anu and all who have worked to keep this lovely site going and growing, congratulations on your soon to be quadranscentennial! What an amazing feat and amazing legacy! My favorite word that I learned here, and there have been many, has to be metanoia as it accurately describes my own journey from a completely bigoted youth from the Deep South to my current state of mind. Kudos, AWAD! You ROCK!

Chip Taylor

From: Susan Macpherson (SMacpherson njp.com)
Subject: Congratulations!

Never fails to enlighten, amuse, and inspire with your thoughts at the end of each post. Thank you for being one of the keepers of the flame in this dark period. Onward!!

Susan Macpherson, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Email of the Week Old’s Cool = Old School + Wit -- Playing mind games just got serious >

From: Ed Quigley (esquiretech gmail.com)
Subject: Reflections on AWAD

A.Word.A.Day (AWAD) has kept communication strong in my extended family for about 20 years. I’ve subscribed to AWAD through so many email addresses, it will be hard to keep track of me in your database. Since the second millennium, I have worked at Digital, Compaq, HP, Gunther Douglas, ITT, Exelis, Harris, and Peraton. Through all these employers, I was a subscriber to your AWAD.

But I didn’t just read your daily missive -- I spread the word. Every day for the past 20+ years, I’ve edited and forwarded your AWAD to (at least) my father, two of my uncles, and my mother. (The distro has ebbed and flowed over the years to sometimes as many as 10 people.) But I do it with a unique twist -- I turn it into a puzzle. I remove a number of letters from the word to make my small audience guess or figure out what the word is from the clues that are left behind -- the etymology, the notes, etc. Sometimes I only need to take one letter to make it a challenge. Sometimes I remove all the letters and the word is still gettable. I can send you some examples of my forwarded emails, if you want to see what I do to your originals. My audience replies to me, sometimes within minutes, to let me know how they fared. I know they look forward to receiving the AWAD emails every day.

The important parts of all this -- besides learning, which is almost always a good thing -- are the lines of communication it has kept open in my family. We don’t live near each other. My father is in Spain, one uncle lives in Indianapolis, another is in Davenport, Iowa, and my mother resides in Sun City, Arizona. I lived in Colorado Springs until 2017 when I moved to the Space Coast of Florida. Across all the miles between my parents, my uncles, and me, the daily AWADs provided the vehicle, and sometimes the excuse, to tell each other about our lives. I have no doubt that I would not be as close to my extended family today if it weren't for your AWAD emails.

Ed Quigley, Colorado Springs, Colorado

From: Nadine Smith (ns08836 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: 25 Years of Wordsmith.org!

I live in a retirement community where, amid the walkers, canes, scooters, and wheelchairs, we have a vibrant community of Lifelong Learners. We have a great many residents who love words, and we offer a course called Wordplaying, which I teach and I always share your website along with much of the fun I find there.

Nadine Smith, Phoenix, Arizona

From: Rose McIntyre (rose.mcintyre sympatico.ca)
Subject: priapism

I don’t know what year you first had priapism [Dec 17, 1999] as your word of the day, but it was the very first word that I ever received from you. My son had signed me up for A.Word.A.Day and so phoned me immediately in the morning to explain that not all words were going to be “like that”!

He was relieved when I told him it was not a new word for me and that I was coping.

Rose McIntyre, Whitby, Canada

Marge Simon & Alex McCrae
From: Margaret Simon (msimon6206 aol.com)
Subject: When AWAD Readers Meet Coast to Coast

About five years ago, I spotted a witty response from an Alex McCrae of Van Nuys, California. I sent Alex a brief email that I appreciated his comment, though neither of us remembers the reference now. I got a very nice email back with a brilliant photo of the Los Angeles skyline! I remember being impressed by a man who 1. likes to write lively and lengthy emails and 2. actually shares a photo (not a selfie) as well! I wrote back. We’ve been corresponding daily ever since. He has a girlfriend and is happily single, and I’m married (also happily) but that didn’t stop us from forming a lasting friendship. We share lots in common, both being former art students and having a deep appreciation of artists, art movements, and styles throughout history.

When my writer’s convention (HWA) was held on the Queen Mary in 2017, we had a chance to meet in L.A. Alex shared his Birding Journal and we had a good chat over lunch at a Mexican restaurant. He gifted me with one of the politically slanted cartoons he’s done for AWADmail, The Three Stooges, which is now framed and hanging in our hall. Alex’s cartoons spark every issue of the Digests today. We have the same ideals, same take on politics and religion.

We’re grateful for what Anu has accomplished so far and wish him another 25 years of providing subscribers with a plethora of interesting words and a forum for daily commentary and the section for limericks, cartoons, and puns in the Digest.

Marge Simon, Ocala, Florida & Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Roger Welch (welchnewyork gmail.com)
Subject: Etaoin Shrdlu...lead...Etaoin Shrdlu

My father was a Mergenthaler linotype operator for most of his life and the process of converting “copy” into hot metal provided him with a wealth of words that... you can only imagine. I would sit next to him on Sundays to do the crossword puzzle and he’d say “Polynesian canoe”? Well, we all know that’s a proa? Right? Good Answer! You would have loved my dad!!

Roger Welch, Chappaqua, New York

From: Karin Spidel (kspidel sandiego.edu)
Subject: writing

I am here today to write you and I am reading your emails daily, and have been a fan for 15 years more or less. My beginning with you started in a tumultuous year for me, very scary. Everyone in my office was fired, let go, or resigned, except for me, and I was under pressure to leave also. I could not afford to leave, I needed the job.

The Dean I ended up working with needed an Executive Assistant in her office quickly! I had been saved by another supervisor who took me under her wing and had me working on minor projects for her because she believed in me. When this position needed to be filled quickly, this supervisor told this Assistant Dean about me, who said “Yes, I’ll take her”, and gave me a chance, a 90-day chance to prove my working skills and ethics and to see if I could handle her busy student office, if I didn’t work out I would be gone.

One of the first few days of working in her office, she came out to the reception area and asked me if I knew the meaning of a word, and sadly I do not remember the word and I know I had never heard the word. She looked at me and said “You don’t, well, we’ll have to fix that.” She turned around to her office and signed me up for A.Word.A.Day and told me “It will help you with your vocabulary!”

She has since retired and I am still here at the school, working in another office, and reading the Wordsmith every day, and passing on words I find fabulous to my granddaughter and other young people I know! Some time back you had really long words that I shared with several family members, including my granddaughter and a good family friend’s son and we had fun with them!

Thanks to the Dean that took a chance on me, and then signed me up for the Wordsmith, I have grown for the better and I know more words now than ever! I actually write them down ten times to remember them, at least the ones I want to remember!

Karin L. Spidel, San Diego, California

From: Peter Grendelmeier (p.grendelmeier gmx.ch)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day

Thank you so much for daily keeping bonds with the country where I spent five wonderful years as an intern, a resident, a fellow and an instructor in medicine almost fifty years ago. A.Word.A.Day is truly my most welcomed daily email. The daily words and the Thoughts for Today are a source of constant inspiration.

Peter Grendelmeier, Aarau, Switzerland

From: Loch Jones (lochj me.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mondegreen

As a pre-teen, maybe 10 years old, I remember hearing one of the older boys say, “Oh, she was so good looking I instantly had a heart-on.”

Loch Jones, Macdoel, California

From: Andrew Hoadley (ahoadley48 gmail.com)
Subject: Mondegreen

My favourite example of what I now know to be called a mondegreen was my schoolfriend Vincent’s interpretation of the Herman’s Hermits song, “She’s A Must To Avoid” as “She’s A Muscular Boy”!

Andrew Hoadley

From: Shannon O’Hara (sohara28 gmail.com)
Subject: mondegreen

I was talking to a co-worker about my sister who insisted that the song “One Tin Soldier” was actually “Wanton” (or, perhaps, “Wonton”, she didn’t spell it) “Soldier”. My friend confessed that for years he thought the song “Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap” was “Dirty Deeds and Thunder Chief”, who he thought were a cowboy and Indian roaming the west somewhere. Then he said “There’s a word for that. I think I just saw it in AWAD!”

Thanks for all the words, Anu. Our president may boast that he has all the best words, but I know YOU do!

Shannon O’Hara, Chicago, Illinois

From: Mark Batavia (mailmark myexcel.com)
Subject: Mondegreen: A Tale of Sibling Love and the Long Burn

In 1973 I was attending college at UCSB while my sister attended high school at Oxnard High. We are very close. During a visit one lovely summer day while cruising the roads of Southern Cal and listening to tunes, we were treated to the new release of Dobi Gray’s “Drift Away”.

As her older collegiate brother, and authority on the burgeoning rock explosion, I sagely explained that this was a musical salute to the genius of the Beach Boys and how one could be swept up by their music and drift away on currents of harmonies, tides of rhythms, and oceans of beautiful lyrics.

Years passed; the world turned; and one day, years after we had both completed college, I received a call from my sister. An irate call. It seems that during a car ride with a friend(s) she had been singing along with the golden oldie “Drift Away”: “Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away” and had been corrected as to the lyrics. She had staunchly defended her viewpoint carefully explaining how this was clearly a tribute to the talent of SoCal’s greatest musical gift to the world, made even more evident by years of accolades and awards. Imagine having a bedrock of truth ripped from beneath you and the supporting walls of certitude crumble as the truth, so long concealed, was revealed. A lovely fable dashed.

Years in the making.

My best burn ever.

Only much later did I discover that the creator of “Drift Away” was the younger brother of Paul Williams, noted singer/songwriter/actor. In the words of Paul Williams: “‘Drift Away’ was written by my younger brother, Mentor Williams. In the early ‘70s, trying to find his way around the music business in L.A., he made what was then a very bold move and headed for Nashville.”

It seems that the universe is seeking some harmony of its own. At the core of my tale lies the commonality of sibling love.

Finally, after more than 45 years, I will be able to firmly close the door on this opus by passing it along to the one person for whom this has been created and who has been its constant focus: my loving sister, Lynn.

Mark Batavia, Oxnard, California

From: Simonetta Zysset (szysset inf.ethz.ch)
Subject: mondegreen

As a big Beatles fan in the early '70s and only just learning English I sang along to the Beatles: “Can’t Bobby love?” instead of “Can’t buy me love.”

Simonetta Zysset, Zurich, Switzerland

From: Maryvonne Fent (fentco att.net)
Subject: Favorite mondegreen

For years I mistook a line of Mark Knopfler’s song about Imelda Marcos obsession with buying shoes.

“Imelda baby Imelda baby what to do
All the poor people saying that they gotta quit paying for you”

What I heard was: Email me baby... Email me baby what to do...

My husband wrote a song (4 min.), sang by Lance Baker Fent, because he was so amused with my misunderstanding.

Maryvonne Fent, Hollywood, California

From: Ric Power (wowricus yahoo.com)
Subject: Mondegreens

Apple’s Siri must have a mondegreen regeneration cycle.

Ric Power, Mercer Island, Washington

From: Sally Esakov (sesakov netvision.net.il)
Subject: mondegreen

As a youngster in grade school, we had to “pledge allegiance to the flag” on a daily basis. I was totally convinced that the final line said, “with LIVER and justice for all.”

Sally Esakov, Herzlia, Israel

From: Paula Walborsky (gloriosagloriosagloriosa gmail.com)
Subject: Mondegreens

Love these: Looking for love in all the crawl spaces instead of “Looking for love in all the wrong places”.

This is dedicated to my one-eyed love instead of “This is dedicated to the one I love”.

Through the night with a light from a bulb instead of “Through the night with a light from above”.

Paula Walborsky, Tallahassee, Florida

From: Terry McCreary (tmccreary murraystate.edu)
Subject: Mondegreen

In elementary school my best friend sidled up to me to ask who Rich and Stan were; I didn’t understand until he told me that his version of the Pledge of Allegiance included “and to the Republic, for Rich and Stan”.

Dr. Terry McCreary, Professor Emeritus, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky

From: Chips Mackinolty (chips.mackinolty gmail.com)
Subject: God save the Mondegreen!

My favourite mondegreen was singing God save the Queen as a 1950s' child in the Australian state of New South Wales (before Australia had a national anthem of its own). I was always puzzled by the words “Send Her to Victoria”, another state in Australia. It was some years before I found out the words were “Send Her victorious”!

Chips Mackinolty, Darwin, Australia

From: Richard Burris (r_w_burris comcast.net)
Subject: Pogo Possum’s version

Those of us who are old enough to remember Walt Kelly’s wonderful comic strip Pogo (Possum) may also remember his Christmas mondegreen, which may have varied from year to year:


Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
More here

Richard Burris, Alexandria, Virginia

From: Ronnie Mallory (malloryron hotmail.com)
Subject: mondegreens

As a small child, I misinterpreted the first line of a hymn as “Down in the gravy lake”. I learned later it was actually “Down in the grave he lay.”

Ronnie Mallory, Temple, Texas

From: Deanne Spears (dkspears comcast.net)
Subject: Mondegreens

My favorite example came from my brother, then about age 7. (He’s now a professor of medieval history at UC Berkeley.)

He asked me what “donzerly” meant. He heard it in the Star Spangled Banner “dawn’s early light”.

Deanne Spears, El Granada, California

From: Dean Whitlock (boatman deanwhitlock.com)
Subject: Mondegreen

My mother always used to say, “It’s sixty-one half dozen others” instead of “It’s six of one, half dozen of the other.” She had heard it wrong as a kid and said it that way for most of her life. I expect she even heard it that way all the time -- it was what she expected to hear. The rest of us in the family thought she was saying it that way on purpose, just playing around with phonetics, but one day she asked what it was supposed to mean exactly. She understood the context in which to use it, but not why her version of it was used. When we carefully pronounced the correct version, she was quite embarrassed, but all of us, including her, had a good laugh. She would have been pleased to know there was a word for her type of mistake.

Many thanks for adding a bright spot to every work day for so many years!

Dean Whitlock, Thetford Center, Vermont

From: Eleanor Swainson (efgs kingston.net)
Subject: Classic mondegreen

Dictating into my phone with google voice-to-text, I described a social event as “a mob scene”. What appeared on the screen was “I’m obscene.”

Eleanor Swainson, Kingston, Canada

From: James Zimmerman (James.Zimmerman bsci.com)
Subject: Mondegreens my family heard in “Silence”

In my family, one song has been responsible for three mondegreens over three generations.

When I was a kid, my father told me not to sing a particular line in “The Sound of Silence” because he mistakenly believed there was a word he felt was inappropriate. He thought “I turned my collar to the cold and damp” was “I turned my collar to the cold and damned.”

Meanwhile, I mistakenly thought Simon and Garfunkel were referencing the square in Beijing where so many protests were occurring. I thought “The word of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls” was “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and Tiananmen halls.”

A few months ago, my daughter, having heard a cover version in the movie Trolls, asked if I could play her the song that starts “Hello darkness, smile friend.”

James Zimmerman, St. Paul, Minnesota

From: Geoffrey Wildanger (edward_wildanger brown.edu)
Subject: Mondegreen

As you may know, mondegreens occur with particular frequency when one is communicating, or trying to, in a language other than one’s own. For instance, the German poet Heinrich Heine moved to France in order to escape German antisemitism. There he went by the name “Henri Heine”, much to his ultimate dismay, as he recounts in his Memoirs. For the French pronunciation does not aspirate the initial “h” nor pronounce the ultimate “e”. Thus his name came to be pronounced like the French “un rien”, i.e. “a nothing”.

A more joyful version of the mondegreen, this time an intended one, can be found in the Franco-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour. His song For Me Formidable (video, 2 min.) plays deliciously with interlingual homophony.

Geoffrey Wildanger, Berlin, Germany

From: Patricia L. O’Day (2pinephone gmail.com)
Subject: Re: mondegreens

I recall my sister singing My dear Mr. Shane (video, 3 min.). That should have been “Bei mir bist du shein”. But we were kids in 1950s’ rural Oregon, and didn’t know from Yiddish.

Patricia O’Day, Bend, Oregon

From: Dennis J Gittinger (dgittinger alamo.edu)
Subject: Mondegreens

Manuel Lorenzo de Zavala (1788-1836) was the first vice president of the Republic of Texas. A street in San Antonio bears his name. A friend asked me to meet her at the De Zavala Methodist Church. I thought, “How ecumenical! The Days of Allah Methodist Church!”

Dennis Gittinger, San Antonio, Texas

From: Jenifer Grant (j.grant767 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: mondegreen

I have to laugh when I frequently hear on PBS radio as I drive around, “Now screaming on TV or radio” when the word is actually “streaming” -- not sure there is a difference!

Jenifer Grant, Essex, Connecticut

From: Steven Watson (steven.robert.watson gmail.com)
Subject: mondegreen

I am currently editing transcripts of interviews and come across many instances of misheard words, so now I know to call them mondegreens. Some, I cherish: “Allen Ginsberg” becomes “Elegance Berg”, Diderot’s “The Nun” becomes “Dita Rose, the nun”.

Steven Watson, New York, New York

From: Charles Hensel (henselgary att.net)
Subject: mondegreen

I am an Episcopal priest. My wife and I invited the new Presbyterian minister to dinner. We started out with wine and cheese. Seeing that the pastor’s glass was empty, I said, “Would you like a refill?”

She, shocked, said in high dudgeon, “Would I like a reefer?”

Charles Hensel

From: Robert Korunovski (robert.korunovski tdsb.on.ca)
Subject: Mondegreen

One of my favourite examples comes from an article I read many years ago in The Globe and Mail, in which the writer recounted a mondegreen she committed in her youth during the time of the Manhattan Project. As the very young journalist was listening to the radio, her mind, anchored to the events of the time, morphed the opening lyrics to “O Tannenbaum” to “atomic bomb, atomic bomb”.

Robert Korunovski, Toronto, Canada

From: Keelin (p.keelin ix.netcom.com)
Subject: mondegreens

Sharing a tasting at the Mumm winery in Napa, I heard my friend exclaim, “Champagne is my drink of joys!”

What she actually said was, “Champagne is my drink of choice.”

Patricia L Keelin, Napa, California

From: Allison Wolfe (salwolfe1 att.net)
Subject: Mondegreen

In 1966, the Sandpipers released the hit song Guantanamera, and I was so puzzled as to why anyone would write a song about a one ton tomato ... glad to know there’s a name for it!

Allison Wolfe, Georgetown, Texas

From: Susan Brande (susan.brande gmail.com)
Subject: Mondegreen

My mother told the story of a relative who thought the response during a Catholic mass was “tear the garments off the horse” instead of “te rogamus, audi nos” (we beseech you to hear us).

Susan Brande, Monroe, New Hampshire

From: Don Kellogg (kelloggphoto yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mondegreen

Reminds me of the man in the hospital who had an oxygen mask on his face.
He asked the nurse, “Are my testicles black?”
The nurse replied, “I don’t think so.”
So the man asked again, “Are my testicles black?”
The nurse cautiously lifted up the sheet and said, “No, they are not black.”
The man took off the oxygen mask and said, “Are my test results back?”

Don Kellogg, Novato, California

From: Al Reynolds (ecumenical77 gmail.com)
Subject: Spoonerisms

A Moravian Church pastor in the mid-20th century was prone to say “Grace, Mease, and Percy” as a blessing.

Al Reynolds, Fairfield, Pennsylvania

From: Norbert Hirschhorn (bertzpoet yahoo.com)
Subject: A famous spoonerism

Apparently a BBC announcer introduced Prince Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson as the “Duck and Douches” of Windsor.

Norbert Hirschhorn, London, UK

From: Michael Klossner (klossner9 aol.com)
Subject: spoonerisms

When I was a student at the University of Michigan, fans of rival football teams sometimes waved signs saying “Muck Fichigan!”

Michael Klossner, Little Rock, Arkansas

From: Sarah Khan (ska2 hotmail.co.uk)
Subject: Thank you

I remember learning resistentialism from AWAD when I was just about 15 and it’s always been my favourite word learnt from here. (Next favourite is powwow learnt from here around the same time!) Fast forward 16 years later it is so beautiful to see the same word resistentialism again. The circle of life is completed! I still remember one of the comments in AWADmail stating in the end inanimate objects win as we all become inanimate, which is a sobering thought, in that all we leave behind is the knowledge and effect we have had on others.

There will be a lot like me who carry a warm glow in our hearts for all the work you have done for all the years. Because I’m not so eloquent and smart in writing and knowing words, I’ve never submitted a comment before. But please know that I know that I speak for many many others, like me, for whom your work is a beautiful delight every day.

BTW, I liked your response to the person who was commenting that they don’t donate because of political views alluded to. Your integrity is shining.

Sarah Khan, Bradford, UK

From: Dylan Thurgood (hello dylanthurgood.com)
Subject: Resistentialism

I started the @an.illustrated.word.a.day project because I wanted to spend more time with the words that I was getting in my inbox each day. I love getting a new word every day, but many of them go in one ear and out the other. I wanted to remember them, and I’ve found when I take the time to define a word visually it sticks with me much longer, and I’m able to actually make them a part of my life. It’s also a really fun challenge to visualize concepts that don’t always have obvious visual counterparts.

Dylan Thurgood, Seattle, Washington

From: John Garrett (jrgarrett comcast.net)
Subject: resistentialism

Woody Allen: So my toaster didn’t work, and I got so angry I threw it out the window. I go to work, get in the elevator, it stops between floors, and a voice says “So you’re the guy who attacked the toaster!”

John Garrett, Marblehead, Massachusetts

From: Alan H. Schulman (alan.schulman helsinki.fi)
Subject: resistentialism

We had a note on a piece of lab equipment at Yale in my graduate school days to treat it gently. It said that all machines belonged to the same union, and that abuse would be paid back in kind.

Alan H. Schulman, Helsinki, Finland

From: D Brewer Eddy (brewer327 cox.net)
Subject: resistentialism

I worked a Help Desk for a number of years. We used to tell “users” that their computer (any brand) had an “anxiety detection module”. The more you wanted/needed something to happen in the machine -- the less likely it was to happen. And the experience of so many helped them believe our fiction.

D Brewer Eddy, Poquoson, Virginia

From: Tim Carr (carrfamily mindspring.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--resistentialism

There’s a stoplight in my neighborhood that takes such a terrible long time to turn green that I’ve come to believe that it is equipped with a despair sensor. It doesn’t do any good to theatrically wail or to gnash your teeth. The light doesn’t buy pretended despair. It won’t turn green until you actually despair, in your heart.

Tim Carr, Atlanta, Georgia

From: Ramaswami S (ramaswami.s gmail.com)
Subject: Re: resistentialism

In the cartoon, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown, Lucy is convinced that Linus’s blanket is out to attack her, and responds by trying to get rid of the blanket. Of course, Snoopy is only too happy to thwart her and help a distressed Linus.

Ramaswami S, Thanjavur, India

From: Peter Aretin (terripeate gmail.com)
Subject: resistentialism

Resistentialism is also relevant to Finagle’s Law, and also see Daniel E. Koshland Jr.; The Perversity of Inanimate Objects; Science; Jan 14, 1994.

Peter Aretin, Boulder, Colorado

From: Richard S. Russell (RichardSRussell tds.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--resistentialism

The philosopher Daniel C. Dennett spends some time on this human attitude toward inanimate objects in his book Consciousness Explained. He has coined a phrase to describe it: the “intentional stance”, the position that the inorganic world is motivated by intent. I find that phrase opaque and prefer to call it the “secret agent theory”, the opinion that there’s a hidden agent behind every event.

Richard S. Russell, Madison, Wisconsin

From: Edward Arnold (mtbera gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--resistentialism

I suspect that my spouse thinks I’m a nutjob! Not infrequently, when an inanimate object defies me (e.g. it falls to the floor, or it fails), she hears me use four-letter words on the offending inanimate object. Perhaps, now that we have a word for it, she will be less likely to call in that ambulance driven by the guys in white suits. :)

Edward Arnold, Boulder, Colorado

From: Sheila Ryan (sheilaeryan gmail.com)
Subject: resistentialism

Resistentialism is demonstrated best on the golf course. Some days, no matter how beautifully or expertly you play, the ball will not drop into the cup. I’ve seen it start to drop & then jump out. I just know it does that on purpose.

Sheila Ryan, Sebring, Florida

From: Diana Bouchard (dianab aei.ca)
Subject: Resistentialism

I remember being involved in a school play in which all those pesky inanimate objects came to life and sang a song with the chorus, “You hate us, but we hate you more.” My husband still smiles when I say that phrase.

Diana Bouchard, Montreal, Canada

From: Jo Sandrock (josandrock gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--resistentialism

I can’t believe that resistentialism as a word was only coined in 1948. What did they call it when the stone tool lost its edge just as they were going to skin the rhinoceros? Or when the string of the bow went slack as they were aiming?

Jo Sandrock, Johannesburg, South Africa

From: J Hansen (jrsh9999 earthlink.net)
Subject: resistentialism

Ah, now I have a word for it. I have long suspected that our resident Alexa Echo favored my husband over me, often misunderstanding or ignoring my requests (deliberately?), for example playing music I did not request or adding the wrong item to my shopping list or not recognizing the name of the lamp I wanted to turn on (and no, I do not mumble). On the other hand, she seems to drool all over any opportunity to do something for my husband. Maybe a case of favoresistentialism?

J Hansen, New Hartford, Connecticut

From: Craig Marotzke (cteddym yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

My personal if awkward favorite spoonerism is when a dinner date, on going to the restroom, said “I need to lose the you” instead of “use the loo.”

Craig Marotzke, San Francisco, California

From: Will Hobbs (willhobbs01 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

My favorite spoonerism was on a record of bloopers released in the early ‘60s which had a radio news anchor report that his next story was learned from “a reliable Whitehorse souse”. Another one was a weather report that indicated the fog was “as thick as sea poop”.

Will Hobbs, Cornelius, Oregon

From: Judith Judson (jjudson frontier.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

Years ago I had only been on my receptionist’s job just a few weeks when somebody congratulated me on being there on time every day! (Which sort of shows how the previous receptionist got fired.) I beamed and responded, “Yes and I am in my might rind!” She went away very quietly, but I was there a long time so survived that debacle.

Judith Judson, Pittsford, New York

From: Jay Jarvis (jay.jarvis gmail.com)
Subject: Re: Spoonerism

My son liked to refer to one of our favorite restaurants, the Spunky Steer (now sadly closed in our town) as the Steenky Spur.

Jay Jarvis, Redlands, California

From: David Ornick (david.ornick ymail.com)
Subject: Spoonerism

Was Spooner lysdexic?

Dave Ornick, Morgantown, West Virginia

From: Stannous Flouride (stanflouride yahoo.com)
Subject: Spoonerisms

I cannot see the word without recalling a graffiti I saw back in college (ca. 1971): Roonerisms spool!

Stan Flouride, San Francisco, California

From: Dennis J Gittinger (dgittinger alamo.edu)
Subject: Spoonerism

Me: Let’s eat at Mill Biller’s. (Bill Miller’s)
Wife: Stop being silly.
Me: It could have been worse. Suppose I had a hankering for Fuddruckers.

Dennis Gittinger, San Antonio, Texas

From: Ellen Siegel (esiegel26 hotmail.com)
Subject: My favorite spoonerism

Years ago a friend was talking about the musical Hair. She said it had “noodle frontity”. It has stuck with us ever since.

Ellen Siegel, Lebanon, New Jersey

From: James Hutchinson (james hutch.org.uk)
Subject: Re: spoonerism

A spoonerism is attributed to French General Charles de Gaulle, who meant to say “la population du Cape” (the population of Cape) in a speech, but instead said “la copulation du Pape” (the Pope’s sex life).

James Hutchinson, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

From: James Zimmerman (james.zimmerman bsci.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

I think any discussion of Spoonerisms should include mention of the story of Rindercella, who slopped her dripper. The first time I heard this story was in 6th grade, when the teacher read it to our whole class, and we daughed in lelight.

James Zimmerman, St. Paul, Minnesota

From: Mike Westland (mike.westland canada.ca)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

My sister and brother-in-law are named Karen and Daryl, which often come out as Karyl and Daren, phonetically legitimate given names!

Mike Westland, Ottawa, Canada

From: Evelyn Lehman (rbinav27 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

When I was about 14 my friend and I were spoonerizing as we played a game of war with two decks of cards each. When I had lost all my aces and most of my kings, my friend wanted to say “That’s a shame, Bitty” but it didn’t come out that way!

Evelyn (Bitty) Lehman, Mount Vernon, Ohio

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--spoonerism

The Rev. W.A. Spooner became a fellow of New College, Oxford in 1867 and was warden (head of college) from 1903 to 1929. There is a long Latin inscription in his honor on the back wall of the New College chapel. The MCR (Middle Common Room) is dedicated as the New Spooner Room, commonly called the Rooner Spoom, or simply Spoom. Many of the spoonerisms attributed to him are spurious, but he may well have proposed a toast to “our quear old deen”.

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Sandra Thomson (chardnflea icloud.com)
Subject: spoonerisms

Once my sister was having a very bad head day. She turned to a friend to apologize and came out with “Sorry to be so fague and voggy.” We all laughed very hard and I’ve remembered it all these years!

Sandra Thomson, Williamsburg, Massachusetts

From: Kathy Garr (garrgoyle63 gmail.com)
Subject: Spoonerisms

I must tell you that I relish reading Wordsmith daily, and particularly the weekend compilation. But you really got me going this week with the Spoonerisms. My mind has been churning them out all week. Some examples:

Growing Old becomes Owing Gold
Four of Clubs becomes Core of Flubs
Trumpy Fans becomes Frumpy Tans
Polar Bears becomes Bowl ‘a Pears

Kathryn K. Garr, Escondido, California

From: Diane Miller (diane_miller comcast.net)
Subject: Spoonerism

Preaching a sermon on the Seven Deadly Sins, I confessed to my congregation that mine were Sluttony and Gloth. Being female made it especially awkward.

Diane Miller, Carlisle, Massachusetts

From: Narayani Gupta (narayani.gupta gmail.com)
Subject: petrichor - as a bottled perfume

Someone is selling petrichor as a bottled perfume.

Narayani Gupta, Delhi, India

From: Sheila Ryan (sheilaeryan gmail.com)
Subject: Omphaloskepsis

I always felt navels or belly buttons deserved more respect than they get. After all that’s the portal through which we received nourishment before birth. A Yiddish blessing; “A gezunt dir in pupik.” (Good health to your belly button.) By all means contemplate that little guy now & then.

Sheila Ryan, Sebring, Florida

From: Susan Clayton Carruthers (susanclayton66 gmail.com)
Subject: Petrichor, et al

In Zambia, the petrichor of the first rains in November draws me outside to dance with gay abandon to Crystal Berg, quenching my arid soul and banishing the torpid omphaloskepsis and rizarre besistentialism wrought by a scorching October.

Susan Clayton Carruthers, Colnbrook, UK

From: Daniel Fisher (mrdanfish gmail.com)
Subject: Petrichor

It’s dry season in hot dusty Managua where we are living currently, and now I have a word for what I am looking forward to so much in about a month from now. Thank you.

Daniel Fisher, Managua, Nicaragua

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: mondegreen & omphaloskepsis

Comedy aficionados of a certain age may fondly recall the maiden season of NBC’s Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) ditzy, yet totally endearing purveyor of unwitting malapropos, comedian Gilda Radner’s “Weekend Update” recurring character, Emily Litella? Here, I’ve tried to capture just one of a litany of mondegreens committed by this aged, faux on-air bumbling news editorialist. Other Litella goofs included... “violins on television” (violence), “making Puerto Rico a steak” (state), “saving Soviet jewelry” (Jewry), and “conserving natural race horses” (natural resources)... all punctuated by her sheepish... “Never mind.” Radner left us far too soon at age 42, in 1989, after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer.

In this on-the-beach scenario, I’ve clearly taken rubber-necking to the extreme, illustrating the literally translated definition of our word “omphaloskepsis” (navel gazing). Yet with my signature frog’s critical barb, he’s unwittingly defining the more clinical, or psychologically compelling definition of our word... “being totally self-absorbed”.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. mondegreen
2. resistentialism
3. spoonerism
4. petrichor
5. omphaloskepsis
= 1. mishear “pee” in song*
2. toaster’s ire
3. “chork pops”
4. moist smell
5. mind in repose
     1. mondegreen
2. resistentialism
3. spoonerism
4. petrichor
5. omphaloskepsis
= 1. soramimi
2. items oppose
3. solecism
4. sense sprinkler/hot earth
5. pondering
   *i.e., REM lyrics “That’s pee in the corner, that’s pee in the spotlight”
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

25 Years of Wordsmith.org ~ or of Mr. G's worthy ideas
25 Years of Wordsmith.org ~ or of Mr. G’s worthy ideas
-Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

anagram: Anu Garg's Twenty-Five Years of Wordsmith! = Why, every word's an amusing gift for taste!
Anu Garg’s Twenty-Five Years of Wordsmith! = Why, every word’s an amusing gift for taste!
-George Missailidis, Melbourne, Australia (georgempsa gmail.com)

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

Learning the alphabet in grade one,
I sang the song, thought I was done,
But I misheard
As a real word:
“Elemenopee”; it wasn’t. Son-of-a-gun!
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

How I’d love to see this on a movie screen:
“Mrs. Malaprop Meets Lady Mondegreen.”
Watching those two mash words
Would excite all us nerds
Far beyond any nude or erotic scene.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

In the beginning there was Optimism,
til Murphy’s Law begat Resistentialism.
But now it sometimes seems
as if our most trusted machines
are bowing before a false god: Pessimism.
-Mariana Warner, Asheville, North Carolina (marianaw6002 gmail.com)

The heater and the oven conspired for fun
to teach the house-owner a lesson.
Resistentialism triumphed
as the steak was burnt
and the ‘stat got stuck at fifty one.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India(mukherjis hotmail.com)

My friend, my sewing machine, I have had for 57 years.
It has sewn bridal gowns, denim, and school uniforms in pairs.
It has developed a sense of existentialism,
And if needing oil or a service, resistentialism.
My needles break, the bobbin sticks, the stitches ruffle, and I’m in tears.
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

My iron won’t heat as it should,
The microwave gave up for good,
Balky tools cause a schism:
I’d punish them all if I could.
-Willo Oswald, Portland, Oregon (willooswald gmail.com)

The “-ism” that starts “resistential”
Is in all of our lives pestilential.
Though at work there’s a geek
For our gadgets to tweak,
We need kids for a glitch residential.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

With words his brain was so cluttered
That spoonerisms he uttered.
“I never did mean
To bad-mouth the Queen --
Forgive me!” Spooner then sputtered.
(“our queer old dean” instead of “our dear old Queen”)
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“I’m here to introduce President Trump.”
At the White House my mind made a jump.
Spoonerism? Almost
And I don’t mean to boast.
What I said was, “Here’s the resident, dump.”
-Joe Budd Stevens, MD, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

As his sanity hangs by a thread,
I have the west birds, he said.
I’m all about winning,
It’ll heave your lead spinning.
Spoonerisms abound in his head.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

I’m hoping a Trump spoonerism
Ends his menace to good journalism.
If Donald decries
CNN’s “lack of pies”,
It’ll save my next brain aneurysm.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Seed catalogues come to my door
Bringing promise that spring is in store.
This winter’s been hard
On my little backyard.
I long for next month’s petrichor.
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

“If there’s anything that I abhor,”
Said the maiden to her dear amour.
“It’s the heat of the day
Interrupting my play.
How I long for some sweet petrichor.”
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

If petrichor could be conserved in a bottle fragrant,
The perfume would fly off the shop shelves in an instant.
The scent of gods’ fluids’ wine,
And that of damp earth, divine.
Would no doubt make Chanel 5 seem rather bland and vacant.
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

In the real estate jungle, a predator
Found the scent of blood sweeter than petrichor.
“It’s a natural high,”
With great pleasure he’d sigh,
“When I tear up a bill from a creditor.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

If you study your solar plexus,
You’ll engage in omphaloskepsis.
Then you’ll never doubt, see,
Innie or outie,
And make sure it’s clean of all sepsis.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

He was plagued with omphaloskepsis
And superfluous use of syllepsis.
With nary a doubt
He would ponder his outie
And the battle non-stop of the sexes.
-Ben Dunham, Marion, Massachusetts (fiddlesr verizon.net)

With abdominal pain, I consulted
many docs, but the cause was occulted.
After testing for sepsis --
and omphaloskepsis --
they pulled my gallbladder, exulted!
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

Omphaloskepsis! What a word!
Certainly one I’ve never heard.
Though when not certain,
I have searched my brain
And contemplated like a nerd.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

A classic case omphaloskepsis,
He embodies disheartening sepsis.
Incoherent, verbose,
self-absorbed, grandiose.
with incorrigible epanalepsis.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Omphaloskepsis, that’s his main game.
Our stable genius, that’s his big claim.
We have concluded,
He seems quite stupid.
Perhaps cuz he lives without brain.
-John Willcocks, Indianapolis, Indiana (johnwillcocks comcast.net)

Meditation and omphaloskepsis
Haven’t calmed me enough for a Lexus.
One look at the sticker
And there goes my ticker;
Toyota will do for us skeptics.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Words from previous years bring current tears

“C’mondegreen light is about to change!”

When Rez had trouble with his stencil I told the boss, “Resistentialism working right.”

“Why can’t that percussionist spoonerism we can dance to?”

Which is the more common Irish name... Petrichor Mike?

“Ah believe in takin’ things at face-value; that’s why omphaloskepsis.”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: James Ertner (jde31459 gmail.com)
Subject: Recycled words from previous years

When the Jamaican asked me what my favorite color was, I replied, “Mondegreen.”

The act of refusing to accept Sartre’s philosophy is called resistentialism.

That abstract painting of an eating utensil looks like a spoonerism my imagination?

A puppy that keeps coming back is a petrichor.

As the guy said to his sister, after she questioned his manhood, “Omphaloskepsis.”

Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina

Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid. -H.W. Fowler, lexicographer (10 Mar 1858-1933)

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