Wednesday, September 13, 2017



1801-a)Name an actress/singer whose surname is a synonym to her first name.

b)Name an actor whose surname is the past tense of his first name.

1802-Discern the convergent words: minute-long-maiden   power-wave-fog      ice-barrel-war

1803-Split Definitive Puzzle- average connections (7) (p) These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Defini tions.”The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon

1804-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to  witch walked

1805-Discern the convergent words: day-cob-flying    rail-jail-brain      step-eat-Indian

1806-Split Definitive Puzzle     exactly undulating   (10)  (p)

1807-What do these words have in common?   screw-slow-wider 

1808-Discern the convergent words: nigh-black-up   dressing-tea-ball  line-string-wax

1809-Split Definitive Puzzle an idiotic pace    (9)     (d) 

1810-What do these words have in common?   drive-latter-onanistic

1811-Discern the convergent words: course-boo-sun   board-colony-skin    ban-fiddler-bet

1812-Split Definitive Puzzle agitation chime (7)   (  r ) 

1813-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to    new  middle

1814-Discern the convergent words:  victory-sing-dog    lazy-over-fish         candling-bud-outer

1815-Split Definitive Puzzle Massacre  pile land plot  (8)    (m)

These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Defini tions.”The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon

1816-What do these words have in common?      cop-tip-shit

1817-Discern the convergent words: acorn-racket-lemon    seed-golden-love   sap-altar-cellar

1818-Split Definitive Puzzle      fast all over   (8)  (r)

1819-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to sound change

1820-Discern the convergent words:  man-backwards-ail   man-trench-flat      man-hot-mutton

1821-Split Definitive Puzzle what a theater critic gives   (10)   ( c )

1822-What do these animals have in common?  trout opossum-sow

1823-Discern the convergent words:   loading-north-leaf     blood-harass-hell   circus-flicker-bag   

1824-Split Definitive Puzzle    hijacking by prisoners   (10)   (p)

1825-What do these words have in common?     stranger-growing-peasant     

1826-Discern the convergent words: dye-blue-bad     pear-green-dressing    spice-seed-eater

1827-Split Definitive Puzzle directed by a procurer (7)  (l)

1828-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to  coarser pragmatist  

1829-Discern the convergent words: trick-wounded-deep      swap-yellow-tuck      dew-ping-over

1830-Split Definitive Puzzle  Utahn sovereign  (9)    (p) These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Defini tions.”The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon

1831-What do these words have in common?   arrest-sentient-heretic 

1832-Discern the convergent words: jack-goat-American    jack-soda-animal    jack-bearing-less

1833-Split Definitive Puzzle seed cover performers  (7)   (p)     

1834- Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to  oath  not totally done for love; not totally done for money

1835-Discern the convergent words: band-pussy-pin    French-raspberry-blue    blue-sun-car

1836-Split Definitive Puzzle ripped bother (7)  (a)   

1837- What do these words have in common?   finish-fiance-blitz

1838-Discern the convergent words: top-bread-palm    top-raga-pumpkin   top-baby-juice

1839-Puzzle Split Definitive vocal display of obstreperous nationalism  (8)  (f)

1840-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to  minors on edge

1841-Discern the convergent words: ball-elbow-minute         ball-art-up    ball-kidney-soup

1842-Split Definitive Puzzle   night before sloping beam            (9) ( r)

1843-What do these words have in common?   forging-housecat-hovering 

1844-Discern the convergent words:  ante-night-hot        deer-eggs-fish      baking-cracker-jerk

1845-Split Definitive Puzzle   what you must do during a beer shortage  (9)  ( r)

1846-What do these words have in common?    today-bumblebee-logjam   

1847-Discern the convergent words: pit-up-express   man-pearl-season     snapping-neck-box

1848-Split Definitive Puzzle       contort narrow way (8) (l) 

1849-What do these words have in common?   dependable  ill-fated  self-satisfied   gynocracy

1850-Discern the convergent words: string-hot-up    blasting-white-on       pioneer-rain-blue

1851-Split Definitive Puzzle cow sound sound (7) (r)

1852-What do these words have in common?   syllabus    adder   sneeze  sittybas  naedre    fnese 

1853-Discern the convergent words: branch-speed-let    room-grease-guard     tag-steel-pigeon

1854-Split Definitive Puzzle     fish go in (9)    (e)

1855 Palindrome Quiz a)2 US Open Champions    b)Oscar Best Actor Nominee  c)White House Press Secretary

1856-Discern the convergent words: dive-island-dove     one-trader-iron   call-pack-cry

1857-Split Definitive Puzzle     redden bother  (8)  (c)

1858-Possible palindromic slogan for an anti-acne medication  

1859-Discern the convergent words: chef-cutter-filo    bowl-operator-hole   nut-sea-split

1860-Split Definitive Puzzle means of transporting very large animals to a zoo (11)   (h)

1861-Name a phrase that is an ANAGRAM to ran faster than a teacher 

1862-Discern the convergent words: patch-pat      brain-green-skin        hole-nose-dog

1863-Split Definitive Puzzle   remains of a naturally occurring mineral (6)  (a)

1864-What do these words have in common?   tangled-bolster- last    

1865-Discern the convergent words summer-bread-blood   Texas-time-towel   crisp-brown-mustard

1866- Split Definitive Puzzle   legendary man connection (6)  (h)   

1867-Name anpalindromic description of screw-up enthusiasts   

1868-Discern the convergent words: game-coal-of     cream-magazine-drum     cad-tar-tap

1869-Split Definitive Puzzle   bounder claims (8)  (a)   cad

1870-possible name for rowdies who get intoxicated by water lilies     lotus louts

1871-Discern the convergent words  holy-atlantic-fisher   right-oil-blue  emirates-over-super

1872-Split Definitive Puzzle  iron (8)   ( c) These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.”The book is now available in bookstores  like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon

1873-Name a President who named his dog after his initials   

1874-Discern the convergent words:  day-less-blue   under-harem-knee           sun-money-way

1875-Split Definitive Puzzle   gloomiest person (10)  (g)

1876-Name an anagrammatic phrase that describes someone hooked on a patronizing instructor

1877-Discern the convergent words: break-weak-black   break-rat-park   break-machine-sweet

1878-Split Definitive Puzzle   popular garments for priests  (11)  (v)

1879-Name a palindromic visitor at a pit stop

1880-Discern the convergent words: gear-some-comb   cliff-type-inter   mistress-out-hammer

1881-Split Definitive Puzzle   dashed fire (7)  (s)

1882-Name an anagrammatic phrase that describes an unexpected extra for an officer of a ship    

1883- Discern the convergent words: glory-wild-whole   flop-cold-vulture    mimic-fever-fish

1884-Split Definitive Puzzle   haggard permit (8) (g)

1885-Name an anagrammatic phrase that refers to being on a ship in another country 

1886-Discern the convergent words: down-rain-book    moon-car-hill  salary-lens-ability

1887-Split Definitive Puzzle   bury government member (8)  (p)

1888-Name an anagrammatic phrase that means dogmatist gasped for breath

1889-Discern the convergent words: wild-stick-soup    submarine-knuckle-islands  per-ping-ahoy

1890-Split Definitive Puzzle   curtail girl (7) (l)

1891a)-Name a resident of a South American country that is an anagram to a fruit.

b)Name a resident of a European country that is an anagram to an article of clothing.

c)Name a Canadian or American town that is an anagram to an animal.

d)Name an Asian city that is an anagram to a part of the body.

1892-Discern the convergent words  fly-fry-colored flesh-golden-bay   gun-on-bet

1893-Split Definitive Puzzle   totally unpaid   (8)   (a)

1894-What do these words have in common?   discuss-appalling-gallon 

1895-Discern the convergent words  chops-up-chaps  news-night-eye      water-pea-as

1896-Split Definitive Puzzle     dog devoured (6)  (a)

1897-Name an anagrammatic phrase that can describe  a resident of Molenbeek who was born in Dhaka

1898-Discern the convergent words  fresh-book-off      cone-office-mast          fish-cola-envy

1899-Split Definitive Puzzle   finest debtor    (8)    (b)

1900-Name a famous person whose first name and surnames total at least 15 letters where all the letters used are 1 pointers in Scrabble.  e.g. Composer Antonio Salieri and actress Lillian Russell  would both total 14.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


       Death of some words; half-lives of others


                    Howard Richler

According to biologists, most species that have ever existed are extinct. Likewise, words are organic; they are born, have lives and often disappear, albeit not at the catastrophic level of species. They don’t actually die, but many become obsolete and the OED records tens of thousands of these words with the notation “obs.” or “obsolete.”

There are, however, two mood-related words relegated to lexicographic antiquity that I’d like to resurrect ; mubble-fubbles and chantepleure. Tahe former refers to a state of mild depression in the 16th and 17th centuries; the latter was used in the 14th and 15th centuries to denote an e to an tnigmatic mixture of happiness and sadness. But in the case of both words, after two centuries of use, people stopped employing them and they obtained lexicographic obsolescence.

One calculation shows that of the 231,000 entries in the OED, at least 20% are obsolete. These defunct words range from aa, a stream or watercourse, macilent, lacking in substance, and end in zymome, a name for a constituent of gluten that is insoluble in water.

English has a large vocabulary by dint of its history which might explain this fallout. England was conquered by the Vikings in the 8th century and then  Norman French in the 11th century and prudently concluded  many centuries later  that it was better to be a hammer than a nail by proceeding to invade  peoples in Asia, Africa and North America. In the process English added multitudinous words to its lexicon, but truth be told, not every added word need remain in our vocabulary. An example is respair used both as a noun and a verb that referring to fresh hope after a period of despair. It was listed but once in the 15th century then quickly forgotten. Also, numerous words were fashioned by scholarly writers in the 14th century that employed Greek or Latin roots. Many of these new coinages (dubbed inkhorns because ink originally was stored in horns) were unknown or uncommon in ordinary speech. Two examples here are ingent that meant “ very great” and illecebrous that meant “attractive.” Both these words however were in use for only 100 years. Another reason words disappear is because they get superseded by synonyms. For example, the words roetgenogram, radiogram and x-ray were all born towards the end of the 19th century but only x-ray is used today.

A word, however, can avoid the ignominy of obsolescence and enjoy at least a half-life by burrowing its way into an idiomatic expression.

For example, have you ever espied a caboodle sans a kit? According to the OED it was last recorded “kitless” in 1923.  Caboodle appears to be a corruption of  boodle, which developed in the 1830s in America and was used to mean  “a lot” or “a crowd,” but by the end of the 19th century this usage was all but extinct. Similarly kith only exists nowadays in the expression "kith and kin.” In Old English, however, it referred to knowledge, acquaintance or your native land in which you had enjoyed great familiarity. Another of these vestigial words is fettle. Nowadays, it is almost always found in the expression “in fine fettle” which designates a very good condition. Fettle was born as a Lancashire dialect word in the 18th century meaning dress, case or condition and originally there were varieties of fettles such as “poor,” “good” or “frustrated.”   However, by the beginning of the 20th century the word seems only exist when wedded with the adjective “fine.”

Another little word in this category is dint, (used by me at the start of the fourth paragraph). In Old English, the word referred to a blow struck with a weapon and came to represent subduing something by force, Nowadays the word is only used in the expression “by dint of” and can represent any quality that allows you to accomplish a task.

There are also several words found in idioms that while familiar, their meanings in expressions don’t correspond with the sense one usually associates with the word.

For example, if you’re a gentle soul, you might never again be able to “cut someone to the quick” once you’re aware that quick designates that tender flesh below the growing part of a toenail or fingernail.  Also, the word boot as in “to boot” has been loitering since the year 1000 with the sense of  “good,” “advantage” or “profit,” but it had died out in these senses by the 19th century, although it enjoys a half-life in its contemporary idiomatic form  Similarly, the word hue as in “hue and cry”  doesn’t refer to a shade, but derives from the Old French hu meaning clamour and is most likely onomatopoeic like the word “hoot.”

So let us hope that English retains these idiomatic usages. Better a half-life than no life at all.

Richler’s latest book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in 2016.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


                                  Acronyms- recent in English ; ancient in Hebrew


                                                     Howard Richler

Want to save time and space? Try acronyms and initialisms. Take the following two sentences: a)“By taking AZT, the HIV patient forestalled getting AIDS and no DNA changes occurred.”  b)In her many years of working in the ER and ICU, Ann had seen virtually every disease including COPD, SARS, SIDS and ALS and understood why many patients had DNR instructions but she was less sympathetic to the man who came to the crowded ER claiming to have ADHD and thought he was a GOMER.  In the first sentence, having to employ the words “azido thymidine,” “humanimmuno-deficiency virus,” “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” and “deoxyribonucleic acid” would have resulted in a sentence more than twice as long. The second sentence employs acronyms to shorten the following:  Emergency room,” “intensive care unit,”  chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” “severe acute respiratory syndrome” and “sudden infant death syndrome,” “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” “do not resuscitate,” and “get out of my emergency room”  and thus decreases the sentence’s characters by almost 60%.

The difference between an abbreviation with an initialism is that it isn’t pronounced as a word rather you say the individual letters such as USA (United States of America) whereas as an acronym such as POTUS (President of the United States) that’s pronounced as a word.

Surprisingly, there is a dearth of well-known acronyms in the field of law. The only two that comes to mind are JAG, which stands for Judge Advocacy General and  the lesser-known SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which was related to me by a Facebook contact.

The word “acronym” is of relatively young vintage. It marries the prefix acr-, “outer end, tip” (from the Greek akros) with the -onym suffix found in words such as homonym and synonym. The first OED citation of the word in 1940 informs us the word comes from the German Akronym. There is little evidence that English words were created in this fashion before the 20th century. John Ayto, in 20th Century Words, speculates that “the proliferation of polynomial governmental agencies, international organizations, and military units as the century has progressed (the last particularly during World War II) has contributed significantly to its growth.”  Also, many words from technological fields are actually acronyms such as radar (radio detection and ranging), sonar (sound navigation and ranging) and laser (light amplified stimulated electronic radiation).

On a recent trip to Israel I was struck by the great use of acronyms (called rashey teivot in Hebrew) both in print and in vernacular usage This is done by using the initials and between the last two letters adding inverted commas (two apostrophes) to show that it’s an acronym rather than an ordinary word. Often (and especially when they describe a noun), Hebrew acronyms are pronounced by the insertion of a vowel sound (usually (a) between the letters. As one would expect there are many government related acronyms such as Tzahal which is shorthand for Tzavah Hahaganah Le Yisrael (Israel Defense Force) and Shabak which truncates Sherut HaBitahon HaKlali (Israel Security Agency), responsible for internal security, including in the Israeli-occupied territories

There are, however, countless acronyms that shorten many everyday expressions:  

acronym    actual phrase    English translation

Chavlaz       chaval al hazman        wow, stunning or awful
Chul            chutz la'aretz               outside the country
Chuch          chas ve c'halilah          heavens forbid
Dash             drishat shalom             greetings
Lelat             leilah tov                      good night
Luz               luach   zmanim             time schedule
Sakash            sak sheinah                 sleeping bag
Zabashechem  zu b'aya  shelachem    that's your problem

In fact, acronyms have been widely used in Hebrew since at least the Middle Ages.Several important rabbis are referred to with acronyms of their names. For example, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak is known as Rashi (1040-1105) , Rav Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides-1135-1204) is commonly known as RambamRabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nachmanides-1194-1270) is likewise known as the Ramban , and Baal Shem Tov is called Besht.(1698-1760).   Also

the word Tanakh refers to the Hebrew Bible   and is an acronym for Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Book of Prophets), and Ketuvim  (Hagiographa).

So the question remains, why does Hebrew both present and past have such a proclivity towards acronyms?  I believe this facility is due to the Hebrew alphabet being comprised only of consonants so that readers are used to inserting the vowels and can do so at will within any string of initials to form a pronounceable word.

Saturday, July 8, 2017



When did the word ‘nerd’ evolve to mean cool? It’s a puzzle 

Howard Richler’s latest book is Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit
Being an avid fan of some of the challenging crossword puzzles in The New York Times, I occasionally even delve into the puzzle archives and attempt some of the ones from yesteryear.
Recently, I was working on a puzzle from Sept. 15, 1995, in which one of the clues was “teen outcast,” with its answer as “nerd.”
I sent an e-mail to New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz mentioning that this definition highlights how the meaning of nerd has ameliorated in the intervening 22 years.
Mr. Shortz agreed with my assessment and was kind enough to send me a list of the 127 occasions nerd has been featured in the puzzles since Dec. 6, 1993, along with the clues that accompanied the word.
In 1994, for example, two of the clues for nerd were: “Hardly Mr. Cool” and “Common butt of jokes.” Nineteen ninety-five featured these two nerd clues: “One who is socially challenged” and “dork.”
Contrast this with the manner the word has been defined in more recent times: In 2013, “Brainy person and proud of it,” in 2015, “Almost any character on The Big Bang Theory,” and in 2017, “Brainiac stereotypically” and “Homework lover.”
Dictionaries also reflect the change in the meaning of the word nerd.
The Encarta World English Dictionary’s first definition says “Offensive term that insults someone’s social skills,” while its second definition has “single-minded enthusiast.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines nerd as “A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.”
It now also has “a person who pursues an unfashionable or highly technical interest with obsessive or exclusive dedication.”
It’s debatable, however, if the OED’s recent definition using adjectives such as “unfashionable” and “obsessive” reflects the way many people employ the word nerd nowadays.
Increasingly, the term evokes luminaries, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg; their imagination and grasp of innovative technology has transformed the world.
So why has the sense of nerd become more positive in the past two decades?
The aforementioned celebrities are proof that many people labelled nerds as adolescents went on to become very wealthy and imparted a higher status to the word. After all, being a billionaire is seen as cool in society notwithstanding that the billionaire at one time may have been given the nerd label.
Perhaps the etymology of the word nerd is in order here. The term appears to have been derived from a fictional animal found in Theodor Geisel’s (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) story If I Ran the Zoo, written in 1950.
This creature was depicted as a small, unkempt humanoid creature with a large head and a comically disapproving expression.
The following year, Newsweek magazine stated, “In Detroit, someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd.”
The term, however, did not become popular until the late 1960s, when it became a shibboleth among college students and surfers to mark those considered “uncool.”
Personally, I don’t mind being called a nerd (or a geek). In fact, both a language column I write and my blog are called WordNerd.
Just don’t call me a dweeb, doofus or dork.

Friday, June 23, 2017


                           (This article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of Lexpert)
                           Why mama and papa?
                                   Howard Richler
 Around the globe, May and June represents the most common months that honour mothers and fathers respectively. Surprisingly, the near universality of recognition for parents is almost matched by the similarity that many languages have for the two words.
In the 1950s, the American anthropologist George Murdoch studied the words for mother and father in 470 languages scattered throughout the planet. His analysis showed that the word for mother contained a syllable similar to ma in 52% of cases whereas the word for father contained this syllable in only 15% of the languages. Conversely, the word for father has a syllable akin to pa or ta in 55% of his language sample, while these syllables occurred in the word for mother in only 7% of cases.
What accounts for these staggering proclivities?
One theory proposed is called the “Proto-World Hypothesis” which posits that the similarity of words  for mother and father  in various languages can be explained by the words being present in the ancestral language of mankind  and that these words have simply survived in hundreds of languages in a similar form and with the exact same meaning.
But before we examine the veracity of this theory, let’s look at some of the parental words in various languages. Since Mother’s Day celebrations usually precede ones for Father’s Day and we have the entrenched expression “ladies first,” we will start with mother words.  Most languages seem to have a word for mother that is either “mama” or has a nasal sound similar to mama, such as “nana.” Observe, Arabic ahm, Basque ama, Bosnian majha, Chechen nana, Dutch moeder, Greek mana, Quechua and Romanian mama, Tagalog nanay, Urdu ammee and Welsh mam to name but a few.
On the paternal side of the equation we have Albanian, Mandarin and Turkish
baba, Greek babbas, Hindi and Russian, papa, Italian padre, Latvian tevs, Welsh
tad, and Xhosa tata.
Although what I previously referred to as the Proto-World Hypothesis sounds logical, it doen’t hold up to a close scrutiny or accord with scientific evidence which was extrapolated by pioneering Russian-American linguist Roman Jakobson.  In Jakobson’s 1959 article  Why “mama” and papa”?  he explained that babies everywhere acquire language in a very orderly fashion. At first the vocalizations of a baby are done by crying or shrieking. After this, the infant moves to a cooing stage characterized by those distinct baby noises. In this period the young child is not making any recognizable speech sounds and is still in the pre-speak period. But it is during the next phase – the babbling stage that something significant occurs. Here we begin to hear recognizable speech sounds in the form of vowels and consonants. The easiest vowel sound for babies to utter is ah because it can be made without doing anything with the tongue or  lips.  Thus the “ah” sounds in “mahs” and “pahs.

Very often these speech sound s are repeated and the “mah” sound turns into
“mahmah.”  Of course the baby isn’t really speaking, it’s babbling, but it sounds
like speaking to adults and as if the baby is addressing someone who most likely is
the mother. Naturally, mom takes mama as meaning her, and when speaking to her
baby refers to herself as mama.
As anyone learning English as a second language knows, certain consonants are
very difficult to pronounce such as the th sound in the beginning of words such as
“the” and at the end of words like “south,” Even a three- year old child whose first
language is English might have a problem with this sound and their rendition of 
think might emerge as fink. On the other hand, some consonants are quite easy to
produce. These are the sounds that are made entirely with the lips such as m, p, or
b. These are easier because they require no tongue work; all that is required for
their production is placing the two lips together and releasing them. The m sound is 
easiest  of all and this explains why mama invariably precedes papa.

Papa is virtually ubiquitous for a similar reason. After babies begin making the m
sound with their lips, they’re likely to make a sound that involves slightly more
than just the putting of their lips together. This new sound involves not only the
putting of  the lips together, but  holding them in that position for a second or two
and then blowing out a puff of air. This invariably produces a p or a b sound.
Another possibility involves the slightly more complicated procedure in which the
baby plays with its mouth a little further back from the lips and this elicits  a  t or d
sound. The order in which babies acquire these sounds explains why the second-in-
command caretaker to mama is usually called papa, baba, tata, or dada.

A happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – even to those whose mother tongues
represent the rare languages whose words for parental figures diverge from this
Richler’s latest book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in 2016

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Treading in the footsteps of David, Herod, Lawrence, Ralph, Harrison, Matt et al: Discovering the other-worldly Israeli and Jordanian Deserts
(Appeared in the June 2107 Senior Times titled Discovering the otherworldly Israeli and Jordanian Desert.)

At the beginning of this month, my partner Carol and me were waiting to board a bus in Eilat that would take us back to Jerusalem -our base for a six-week stay in Israel - when a couple noticed Howard’s Canadian hockey themed tee-shirt and struck up a conversation. As there are at most 3.5 degrees of separation in the Jewish community, we discovered that this couple lived on Marlowe in NDG, basically just down the road from us. As we enthusiastically shared details of our travels, they were surprised to hear that we were fresh off a trip into Jordan and specifically enquired as to how we were received and treated while there. Had we felt safe?

We had to take our seats and never found out whether their concerns were general or specific in nature. History has not always placed Jordanians and Israeli Jews “on the same side,” to say the least, and 2016 saw several troubling incidents in pro-Western Jordan that gave us pause for thought before venturing there. In November, three U.S. military personnel on a training mission were killed by a lone sniper and as late as mid-December, a retired Newfoundland teacher was killed in an incident involving four gunmen being chased down by Jordanian security forces. Nevertheless, the Canadian government’s travel advisory for Jordan was the same as that for Israel – “Exercise a high degree of caution (with regional advisories)” – at the time of our trip.

Not being totally laid back nay fearless, before we ventured into Jordan we did our due diligence and chose a private/small group tour with Desert Eco Tours, an Israeli company that several people recommended. Based in Eilat, they arranged everything we needed for our three-day trip from the door of our hosts’ home in Arnona, a suburb of Jerusalem, to that bus station in Eilat where we’d met the couple from NDG who were so anxious to know how we’d been treated in Jordan.

Zion, our guide for the first day of the tour, proved within minutes of collecting us in Arnona that we’d made a great choice. He was extremely friendly, putting us immediately at ease, and very knowledgeable, informing us of a myriad of facts regarding the neighbourhood we’d made our home for the last month even as he navigated Jerusalem’s alarming traffic to pick up the route to our first designated stop, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

Thanks to Zion’s excellent planning, a pit-stop took us to Qumran National Park and a view of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Once at Ein Gedi, Zion made sure we were properly equipped (sunscreen on/heads covered/water bottles in hand) for the short hike to David’s Waterfall just one of the historically significant sites of this 5,000-year old oasis. An easy walk out of Wadi David gave us amazing views of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert. Then, it was on to Masada, the sprawling, elevated (we took the cable car) site of King Herod’s Palace and the mass suicide of the Jewish who made a last stand against Roman invaders. We ended our day’s adventures with the obligatory float in the Dead Sea. Throughout the day, Zion was able to answer any questions we threw at him while being a fun, relaxed guide to the Judean Desert’s wonders.

By sundown, Zion had driven us to the border and handed us over to another Desert Eco Tours representative at the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing; this rep gave us all the necessary paperwork and even instructions for traversing the no-man’s land to the Jordanian side. We have to admit that the eighty metres or so walk leaving Israel and entering Jordan was jarring compared to the easy companionship we’d enjoyed during the day. Still, happily, and maybe surprisingly, there were no reasons to be concerned and once our documents had been checked and our luggage cleared security we were in the capable hands of another of the tour group’s reps who whisked us off to our overnight hotel in Aqaba. The next morning, our Jordanian guide, Ali, collected us at our hotel for the second day of our tour – the ancient city of Petra.

Over two thousand years old and the site of several empires, Petra was a prosperous city on a lucrative trade route leaving its magnificent coloured rock ruins to today’s tourists. Each twist and turn in the route that leads through a soaring narrow gorge into the ancient settlement unveiled more “aahs” and “wows” as temples, burial monuments, tombs, cave dwellings, and even a theatre and market place all “rose-red” suddenly come into view. The thrills are not only static; vocal Bedouin selling souvenirs line the route through the ancient city and Arabian stallion horse riders, along with owners of donkey carts and camels tear past trying to persuade you to hop on! Perhaps their efforts are magnified by the fact that tourism, according to our guide, is drastically hit by concerns over safety even in this exceptional World Heritage Site, setting for the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Desert Eco Tours upgraded us to the impressive Petra Gate Hotel for our overnight stay which was tinged with drama as the wind howled alarmingly into the early hours. The weather didn’t prevent our guide from arriving on time to whisk us off on the climax of our trip – a one day jeep ride through Wadi Rum, the other-worldly desert inhabited by the Bedouin. No surprises around the next corner here, the sites were far from hidden as Ali expertly drove us through vast tracts of open land that seemed to have no discernible routes. As in Petra, the rich red hues of the rocks were startling, but the landforms that the elements had fashioned out of rock and sand were the real scene stealers.

In addition to the awe inspiring landscape, the Bedouin tea tent frequented by Matt Damon when shooting The Martian here was a welcome stop, although the young Bedouin man wasn’t able to tell us whether, like us, he favoured the sage/balsam or the intense mint tea. Increasingly restricted in their traditional nomadic lifestyle due to an alarming reduction in groundwater in Wadi Rum, Bedouins are turning to tourism and hosting film crews to make a living. Most people know that Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in this area, but parts of The English Patient, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Transformers and the next Star Wars? Quite the list!

To end our desert tour, Ali parked the jeep wandered off into nearby bush and emerged with an armful of branches from fig and acacia trees which survive in the desert thanks to their very deep roots. He proceeded to light a small fire and spread out a huge tablecloth on the ground where he knelt to expertly chop greens, herbs  and tomatoes from his garden into a salad that he seasoned with lemon and oil while chicken he’d marinated at home and brought along in a cooler was barbecuing over the flames. Easily one of the best al fresco meals we’ve had, and we had problem getting a table or in this instance a tablecloth.

The several hours it took to reach the border crossing back into Israel were soaked up in questions and comments on the day’s experience, with Ali chatting away and opening up about life as a tour guide in modern day Jordan. As on our previous crossing, a Desert Eco Tours representative was there to hand us our paperwork and guide us in crossing the no-man’s zone, with another rep waiting on the Israeli side to drive us to our overnight accommodation in Eilat. So the next day when our fellow travellers from NDG asked about how we’d been treated in Jordan, we had only positive experiences to share. Yes, there are risks and we’re glad we were in expert hands.  But unfortunately, there are risks in surprising parts of the world – the shooting in Ste Foy happened just before we left, not to mention the terrorist attacks that have beset Paris. Our advice is: now is a great time to visit these wonders of the world while the usual crowds are staying away.