Friday, November 25, 2016


                                                                Paint it Black on Friday
                                                                     Howard Richler

This year Thanksgiving in the United States will be celebrated on November 24th and will be followed the next day by perhaps the most mercantile day on the calendar – Black Friday. For shoppers this marks the beginning of the orgy of sale hunting that culminates at Christmas. Black Friday gets its designation from the fact that as of this day many stores and companies that previously were “in the red” are able to undergo a virtual transubstantiation where they morph “in the black.” These colour designations come from the world of accounting where red ink is used in a ledger to designate a loss and black ink is used to register a profit.  One would think that these two terms would have received lexicographic recognition concurrently, however “in the red” is first cited in the OED in 1907 while “In the black” makes its debut only in 1923.
To my knowledge, from a linguistic perspective, Black Friday marks the only instance of a positive connotation of the adjectival use of “black” in the English language. Obviously, most uses are neutral and refer only to the colour of various objects. However, in its many descriptions of the word black as an adjective the OED displays the following meanings: “gloomy,” “dirty,” “burned,” “evil” and “hateful.”  To “look black” means “to frown” and black is used as an intensifier in several expressions that carry a sense of severity, such as the terms “black afraid” or “black angry.”
The first OED citation of Black Friday with a commercial sense dates from 1961 when we read in the Dec 18th edition of Publication News in New York, “For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day… In Philadelphia, it beca[H1] me customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday.” The OED’s next citation is from the New York Times on November 21, 1975: “Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it ‘Black Friday’  –   that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army-Navy game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial city.”
So as we can see from the two citations, there is a clear Philadelphia provenance to the expression and also one that relates to the traffic in that city caused by the multitudinous shoppers. It also seems that for some people the blackness attached to Friday represented a humorous reference to the congestion caused in downtown Philadelphia.
The OED does show an even earlier citation for Black Friday that ties it to the Thanksgiving season; it has nothing to do with shopping but rather the sense of blackness refers to the great degree of absenteeism found in factories following Thanksgiving.  The November 1951 edition of Factory Management & Maintenance reported “’Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis’ is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects…When you decide you want to sweeten up the holiday kitty, pick Black Friday to add to the list…Friday after Thanksgiving is the company’s seventh paid holiday.”
The OED shows several other examples of non-Thanksgiving-related Black Fridays and unsurprisingly none of them are particularly profitable. The first time the designation was used was in 1610 and it didn’t refer to a specific Friday but was used in English schools to refer to any Friday in which a general examination was administered. From this, we know that students have been “testaphobic” for over 400 years. The next time the designation was used was to mark December 6, 1745, when the landing of Charles Edward Stuart, a.k.a  “the Young Pretender” was announced in London.  This date is marked in infamy as it signifies the Young Pretender’s leading an insurrection to restore his family to the throne of Great Britain. History is undecided whether this rebellion caused any great panic but this didn’t prevent this particular Black Friday from receiving extensive lexicographic recognition. The other designation of Black Friday comes from the world of finance and occurs almost concurrently in Great Britain and the USA and at a date much earlier than one would suppose. The first one occurred on May 11, 1866 when a commercial panic followed the collapse of the London banking house Overend, Gurney & Co. Then on Sept 24, 1869 the term was used to refer to the financial panic on Wall Street that was precipitated by the introduction of a large amount of governmental gold into the financial market, with the aim of making it harder for anyone to corner the gold market.
I suspect other Black Fridays will achieve lexicographic recognition in the future. In fact, following the Brexit vote on Thursday, June 23rd, I espied these two headlines: The Independent-  Brexit: Black Friday For Financial Markets Sparked By EU Vote  and CNN MoneyBritain’s Black Friday Is Here. Now What?
Richler’s latest book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit was published  by Ronsdale Press in May 2016


Wednesday, November 16, 2016


1501-What do these words have in common?     moribund-flashing-endearing
1502-Discern the convergent words? right-case-lame     awn-blue-grass     Delhi-yellow-up
1503-Split Definitive Puzzle    deer country    (10)   (s) 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
1504-What do these words have in common?       alone-lard-beer   
1505-Discern the convergent words?   pot-string-head     pot-men-cocktail     pot-hole-cottage
1506- Split Definitive Puzzle  he or she glues   (14)  (p) 
1507-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that describes an account that can be written as of Aug 22  
1508-Discern the convergent words?   up-dinner-see      New York-tennis-toasted    root-soup-stick  
1509- Split Definitive Puzzle  menage a trois  (8)   (f)  
1510-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means abbreviate legion
1511-Discern the convergent words? sweat-en-lymph    spur-yard-ham    prick-lady-butter
1512-Split Definitive Puzzle  Exorcist II       (12)   (p) 
1513-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means a house made out of a certain type of clay
1514-Discern the convergent words?   station-sting-spy      protest-elope-inform   plunged-lonesome-soap-
1515-Split Definitive Puzzle   await speech   (13)   (e)  
1516-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means fibrous storage place
1517-Discern the convergent words.  safety-way-strap     up-sun-ad     bath-dis-ward
1518-Split Definitive Puzzle      fish submission (9)   (p)
1519-What do these words have in common?     aspirin-finale-continent
1520-Discern the convergent words? worker-little-over   wrenching-cat-flora   upset-flat-tolerate
1521-Split Definitive Puzzle   meadow storehouse   (7)   (s)
1522-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means fritter away effort
1523-Discern the convergent words?  leaf-bite-stick    old-boy-on  dies-joke-ding
1524-Split Definitive Puzzle    motto for a metropolis with a broken-down downtown (9)  (m)
1525-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means merciless money 
1526-Discern the convergent words? corner-country-cut   crew-flower-framework    scold-letting-kin
1527-Split Definitive Puzzle     party lass (6)   (f)
1528-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means initial arguments 
1529-Discern the convergent words?    naked-let-ball      locker-big-set      venture-ad-ball
1530-Split Definitive Puzzle   person with a feline addiction   (8)  (h)
1531-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means mustier gluttony    
1532-Discern the convergent words?   dog-head-ma     fish-medal-mountain    wart-heaven-road
1533-Split Definitive Puzzle   spy headquarters   (11)  (m)  
1534-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means spunkier illusion
1535-Discern the convergent words?  allergy-farmer-gallery    poker-board-per   diet-double-cherry
153-Split Definitive Puzzle   university area of a herbivorous mammal      (11)   (c)
153-What do these words have in common?    futon-honcho-emoji
1538-Discern the convergent words?  bag-bubble-break     zest-kitchen-all   art-fly-up
1539-Split Definitive Puzzle    criticize denomination   (7)   (d)
 1540-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means rarely tries on clothes
1541-Discern the convergent words?    off-kick-corner     bolt-patch-dead       bad-cut-lash
1542-Split Definitive Puzzle   Madison Avenuese  (9)   (d)
1543-What do these words have in common?    caucus-tuxedo-squash 
1544-Discern the convergent words? stand-bell-shell     soap-whole-fed    mate-talk-black
1545-Split Definitive Puzzle     automobile friend    (6)  (p)
1546-What do these words have in common?    salon-muse-money
1547-Discern the convergent words?  ball-bowl-cap   sauce-ping-bed    sauce-locker-dead
1548-Split Definitive Puzzle   harvest fruit   (8)  (r)   
1549-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means demonstrates against doubter  
1550-Discern the convergent words? attack-running-dirt    chocolate-dust-slope     oil-corn-pit
1551-Split Definitive Puzzle   caper at a rock concert (8)  (a)
1552-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could describe potatoes  
1553-Discern the convergent words?  cap-deep-sock       private-shadow-stink         jam-little-hold
1554-Split Definitive Puzzle   first insect  (7)    (a)
1555-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means oscillation controller of mountain guide  
1556-Discern the convergent words?   tree-boat-top      weed-sour-man      pepper-dog-oil
1557-Split Definitive Puzzle   fog corrosion  (8)    (m)  
1558-What do these words have in common?     coach, goulash, hussar
1559-Discern the convergent words? drum over-honor      snow-tin-mix     vitamin-polo-dry
1560-Split Definitive Puzzle   period between hockey periods    (6)    (o)
1561-Name 2 colors that are anagrams of animals.   
1562-Discern the convergent words? sky-spree-spur   galore-foot-willow    flop-day-talk
1563- Split Definitive Puzzle   star quotient     (11)     (c )    
1564-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could be described by the names Porky or Nimrod   
1565-Discern the convergent words?  feed-roast-mock   animal-barrel-safe    sac-salad-hunt
1566-Split Definitive Puzzle   heavy-duty toilet paper   (8)    (p)   
1567-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could describe  Goran Visnjic or Mira Furlan 
1568-Discern the convergent words? job-brown-plug   dropping-glass-gossip   band-empire-line
1569-Split Definitive Puzzle   colorless metaphysician  (14)  (o)
1570-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could describe a  herd in SE England  
1571-Discern the convergent words?  drop-prickly-reap     mars-man-walk        torture-snake-works
1572- Split Definitive Puzzle   Y chromosome    (10)     (f)   malefactor  
1573-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means squashed gastropod 
1574- Discern the convergent words?  past-west-disc    avoid-wood-down   black-cavil-enter
1575 Split Definitive Puzzle   equally below par   (7)   (a)
1576-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means more cunning armistice
1577-Discern the convergent words? cob-flying-grey    post-stool-clay     blue-hawk-mocking
1578-Split Definitive Puzzle   average number    (9) (a)  
1579-What do these 4 letter animals  have in common? bear-fish-colt-mole-lion-seal
1580-Discern the convergent words? con-spoon-can     bin-ration-sweet     laws-fritter-Indian
1581-Split Definitive Puzzle   cheesy bug (7)  (b)
1582-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means porcine equivalent of mock chicken
1583-Discern the convergent words?    like-lime-love   shrew-trap-bush       monkey-cardinal-man
1584-Split Definitive Puzzle   In the event I will not be able to ink it, take my place  (11)   (i)
1585-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could describe a dead duck  
1586-Discern the convergent words? nee-fore-cat     pockets-by-my      let-evil-hawk
1587-Split Definitive Puzzle-Place that sells plaice  (11)  (s)  
1588-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that means slight clue
1589-Discern the convergent words a)tongue-tennis-gum   b)betting-up-cow    c)wink-priest-car
1590- Split Definitive Puzzle-Beer with balls   (6)   (h)   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
1591-What do these places have in common?     Attica,NY ,  Nice,France,  Aurora   CO
1592-Discern the convergent words  a)park-leg-bother  b)cool-colony-hem    c)naked-imitate-great
1593- Split Definitive Puzzle    $5 beer  (6)   (f)  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
1594-Name a palindrome that describes these people: Catherine The Great, Elizabeth Ann Seton Bob Marley (thanks to Alan Arbesfeld-NYT Puz oct 20/16)  
1595- Discern the convergent words   a)bald-cream-mud     b)head-ears-seed    c)nut-garlic-up
1596-Split Definitive Puzzle underwriter   (9)  (s)  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
1597-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase  that describes an identical wrinkle
1598- Discern the convergent words  a)mask-forward-bold       b)duster-dragger-down   c) inner-contact-exam
1599-Split Definitive Puzzle –Disallow confeederate   (7)     (a) 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

1600-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that described an emaciated goddess   

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Let’s Call the Caliphate Wannabes Daesh – Because Names Matter

 (This article first appeared in the legal magazine Lexpert) 

                              Let’s Call the Caliphate Wannabes Daesh Because Names Matter

                                           Howard Richler

“The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman nor an empire.”     Voltaire

I had noticed that BBC News always adds the qualifier “so-called” when describing the Islamic State. As I find this usage clumsy, I decided to investigate why the BBC employs it.  I discovered that back in June 2015 a large number of British Members of Parliament, from all the major parties, accused the BBC of legitimizing the terrorist group by calling it “the Islamic State.” Even Prime Minister David Cameron entered the fray: “I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State. What it is, is an appalling barbarous regime… It’s a perversion of the religion of Islam and many Muslims listening to this programme {BBC Radio 4} will recoil every time they hear the words Islamic State.” Others argued that giving it the designation “state” also adds legitimacy because the self-styled caliphate is no more than an organization that is not recognized as a sovereign state by any country in the world.

Of course there are other designations for this terrorist group such as ISIS and ISIL, the latter being the preferred term of President Obama. This is explained by those trying to establish a caliphate, calling themselves, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shaam. Al-Shaam translates roughly as the Levant (the areas near the East coast of the Mediterranean), also known as Greater Syria. If you translate al-Shaam as the Levant you get ISIL, if you translate it as Syria or just Shaam you get ISIS.

So as you can see there is no consensus on what to call the group and as a result there is much variance in designations. While I understand the reluctance of people who feel that the words “Islamic” or “state” lend legitimacy to a terrorist organization, I find adding the qualifier “so-called” to be somewhat silly. After all, this qualifier has not been generally added to other similar organizations. I don’t know if I ever heard Hezbollah (Party of Allah) referred to as the “so-called Hezbollah” because it doesn’t represent Muslim values or the IRA referred to as the “so-called Irish Republican Army” because it didn’t really qualify as an army. One could equally argue that because a leader of the former Soviet Union didn’t adhere to Communist principles it should be dubbed as having a “so-called Communist” government or an opponent to the former East German regime could have suggested that the government be labelled the “so-called Democratic Republic.” I remember when Menachem Begin was Prime Minister of Israel 1977-1983, he always referred to the “so-called PLO” because he couldn’t bring himself to suggest it was a liberation movement even in its acronymic form. However, to my recollection, few media outlets conformed to this “so-called” modifier.

Thankfully, there is a simple solution to this naming conundrum. In 2013, Syrian Khaled al-Haj Salih coined the term Daesh (usually pronounced Dash or Da-ish).  It is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym and is formed of the same words that make up ISIS in English, “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” and is rendered in Arabic as al-dawla-al-islamiya fi-al-Iraq wa-ash-shaam. But Daesh also sounds in Arabic very similar to the word daes that means “someone or something that crushes or tramples.” This definition is why the terrorist organization detests the name. In an article in Freeword, February 2015 entitled “Decoding Daesh: Why is the new name for ISIS so hard to understand?,” Arab translator Alice Guthrie says that the term is despised because they {the terrorist group} hear it as a challenge to their legitimacy: a dismissal of their aspirations to define Islamic practice to be ‘a state for all Muslims’ and  –  crucially – as a refusal to acknowledge and address them as such.”  Guthrie adds that the name Daesh “lends itself well to satire, and for the arabophones trying to resist Daesh, humour and satire are essential weapons in their nightmarish struggle.”  In Guthrie’s article, al-Haj Salih asks “If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light,’ but in fact are ‘the darkness,’ would you comply and call them ‘the light’?”  Al-Haj Salih adds that Daesh is a fictitious name for the nonsensical fictional concept proposed by the terrorist organization and thus serves the purpose of discrediting it.

As of December 2015, UK government ministers started referring to the militant group as Daesh but unfortunately the BBC has not followed suit. A BBC story in July of this year referred to the perpetrators of the siege and murder in Bangladesh as supporters of the “so-called Islamic State.” For me, a qualifier such as “so-called” should be reserved for something morally reprehensible such as honour killings.  Although the name Daesh is widely used in the Arab world and has gained great currency in Europe it is not often employed in Canada or the United States. As far as I am aware, the only major North American political figure who employs the word is US Secretary of State John Kerry.

As language can be a powerful weapon of war, it is time for the anglophone world to join the coalition using the term Daesh. Let’s echo Voltaire and add words to the arsenal when combatting terrorists.

Richler’s latest book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May by Ronsdale Press.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

What's in the names Betsy, George, Bob, & Fanny?

 By George, who were Betsy, Bob and Fanny Adams?
                           Howard Richler
Have you ever come across an expression that you have not encountered in decades?  This happened to me some months ago while watching a German movie with English subtitles that featured a concentration camp scene with some horrific goings-on. To my astonishment the subtitle translated the German ejaculation of despair with an understated, rather comical “heavens to Betsy.” For those not familiar with the expression, it is a mild exclamation of surprise or shock, and thus the translation hardly seemed adequate to describe the situation.
My interest aroused, I found the origin of this phrase is shrouded in mystery. It represents one of the euphemistic non-curses that was prevalent more than fifty years ago and whose usage has all but vanished. The OED’s first citation of the phrase is in 1857 from Frederick W. Saunders’ short story Serenade found in Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine: “‘Heaven’s to Betsy!’,he exclaims, clapping his hand to his throat, ‘I’ve cut my head off’.”  It seems the selection of the name Betsy as the subject of this minced oath was arbitrary. According to Charles Earle Funk who in 1955 used the phrase Heavens to Betsy as the title of his book on interesting phrases, its origin is “completely unsolvable.”
On the other hand, we do have a leading candidate for the subject of the expression “Bob’s your uncle” used to express the ease with which a particular task can be achieved. The most popular theory relates it to an act of nepotism in the 1880s.  British political pundits were bemused when the young and inexperienced Arthur Balfour (to become Prime Minister in 1902) was appointed as Chief Secretary for Ireland by his uncle Robert (Bob) Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, then Prime Minister.  Hence, the theory suggests that if Bob is your uncle then anything is possible.
Some etymologists believe there is no basis for this origin and that it represents an example of a back-formation, i.e., an explanation that is invented after the event. An alternate theory points out that in 18th century slang there was an expression “all is bob” that meant “all is well” and some etymologists see this as the expression’s origin.
The problem with both these theories is that the expression is only found in print in the 1920s.  This makes the latter origin theory appear particularly dubious. It also seems somewhat odd that an expression connected to the nepotism of an uncle to his nephew would only surface after both men were well out of office.
So it would appear that there exists reasonable doubt about the true identity of our aforementioned Betsy and Bob. But what about the George found in the mild exclamation “By George!” According to Robert Hendrickson in Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, this George is none other than Saint George who has been the patron saint of England since the institution of the Order of the Garter in 1348.  Little, however, is known about this canonized George. It has been speculated that he was a soldier in the Roman army who was martyred for his Christian faith in Asia Minor.  This theory, however, is specious. Most etymologists believe that George represents a substitute for God and follows the old Hebraic and English traditions of avoiding the use of sacred words such as God or Jesus by using a name with the same initial letter. So in the case of God, George represents one of the many G substitutes for God, such as golly, gosh or Godfrey.
For those people who prefer onomastic certainty, I am pleased to relate that at least in one instance we are positive about the identity of a person referenced in an expression.
In the expression “Sweet Fanny Adams” we actually have detailed knowledge about the subject. While this expression is very popular in Britain and Australia, it is not widely known in North America and  I am only aware of it because it is one of my  British-born partner Carol’s favourite expressions.  Officially, “Sweet Fanny Adams” means “nothing” and it is often used as a euphemism for the expression “sweet f*** all.”  Fanny Adams was an eight year old who was murdered in England in August 1867 by Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor’s clerk. Her mutilated body was found in a field near Alton. This heinous crime was widely reported and drew much sympathy due to the victim’s age.  A ballad about the murder described the victim as having a sweet nature and before long British sailors turned this tragedy into sick comedy as the expression “Sweet Fanny Adams” came to refer to the inedible meat rations the sailors were served, likening the meat to the dead girl’s remains. In fact in 1889, a dictionary of slang defines Fanny Adams as “navy, tinned mutton.”  Eventually, the phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” became a substitute for the aforementioned expression “sweet F*** all,” often rendered initially as s.f.a  given that both expressions sport the same initials.
So whether you’re a known or unknown Bob, George, or Fanny you may be immortalized in an expression, such is the egalitarian nature of the English language.
Richler’s book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May  2016. It is available in fine bookstores and on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


                                    The Britishisms are coming


                                            Howard Richler

“I think it’s fair to say maybe some point down the line, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is on negotiating with the E.U… The U.K. is going to be at the back of the queue.”
Barack Obama. April 23, 2016
Obama’s use of queue was regarded as suspicious in some British quarters. Was the use of the non-American “queue” a sycophantic attempt to curry favour with the British public? Or even worse, did Obama hire some Brit to write the speech?
Truth be told, Obama has used the term queue previously (instead of “line”) on several occasions which might partially explain why many Republicans don’t believe he was born in the USA. In 2010, in a White House transcript, he stated, “There were several people who were still in the queue who didn’t have a chance to speak prior to breaking, The next year, we have hin saying “Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions  –  so far. So just  when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue- I’m messing with you Chuck.”  In 2013, POTUS declared “We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for five years, ten years, fifteen years – in some cases, 20 years.”
Actually, there has been an upswing in the usage of British terms in the US for many years, particularly in the northeast. Whereas at one point, employing a British accent was seen as classy nowadays the peppering ones speech with Britishisms in the US is seen as intellectual.
Here are some other examples of Britishisms that have become popular.
bespoke-   Bespoke is often used by Americans to refer to  high-quality items and services.  In the New York city area there are over twenty “bespoke” companies including “Bespoke Books,” “Bespoke Surgical,”  “Bespoke Barber Shop,” “Jasmine Bespoke” and at least one store simply called “Bespoke.” Also, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists over forty active registrations and applications for “bespoke” brand names with the majority of the patents being filed in the past eighteen months. If you have a USA bespoke product or service to offer you better act quickly. One person wanted to use as their web address but as this belonged to Bespoke Software, he had to settle for Bespoke Innovations.
chav- The OED defines chav as, “In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.”
This term is increasingly being used in probably due to the insidious influence of You Tube videos. Here are two examples stemming from the U.S, that I spotted on the Internet:  “Nah I'm not buying those sneakers man, they are so chavvy.”   Someone from Boston posted the following on a language newsgroup:“Chav is gaining currency as Americans understand that not all British people are posh. Boston/Cambridge is rife with international college students, so it may just be a blip, but I've heard it in a suburban grocery store to refer to some hooligans outside the store.”
kit –When  American science-fiction author John Scalzi wrote on his blog some years ago that the latest IPad  was a “lovely piece of kit,” he was deluged by many followers who thought his using the expression was highly pretentious. Scalzi retorted:  “Apparently being an American, I should have settled on “Dude, this tablet is bananas,” or something else equally comporting with my nation of origin.” This usage appears to be popular with techies and tennis fans who might refer to a player’s “kit,” whose gear might change depending on the surface of the tennis court.
Similarly, the words “toff” and “gobsmacked” are being used much more in the US in recent years. “Toff” is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or someone who exudes an air of superiority.” During the 2012 presidential campaign is was used by American journalist Daniel Gross who took pains in an article to declare that Mitt Romney was not the “bumbling toff” he was made out to be. “Gobsmacked,” is oft heard these days in North American circles and the person who seems to have popularized the word is singer Susan Boyle whose appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 quickly went viral.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


(Lexpert Magazine)

                          The Keys to QWERTY
                                Howard Richler

Quiz-What common 10-letter word is composed solely of letters found on the top letter line of a typewriter*?

(For the benefit of millennials I should explain the antediluvian word typewriter. It is a single font, mechanical system for applying ink to paper that handled only alphanumeric character.)
Notwithstanding that “repertoire,”  “perpetuity” and “proprietor” are satisfactory answers to my quiz , and that “pepperwort” “prerequire,” and “pirouetter” also work, the usual answer to this conundrum is “typewriter.”
Of course, this answer is dependent on using the QWERTY keyboard. (So called because QWERTY form the first six letters on the top letter row.)  But why do we have this configuration in the first place?  After all, it wasn’t designed to accommodate specific typing technique because at its 19th   century inception touch typing hadn’t as yet been invented.
While the earliest known typing devices date back to the 1750s, the first versions with a key for every character occurs in the 1860s, when Christopher Latham Sholes whose eclectic interests included being a Wisconsin politician, newspaper publisher and amateur inventor who various machines to make his enterprises more efficient. One such invention was an early typewriter which he developed with Samuel W. Soul, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden, and first patented in 1868.
The earliest typewriter keyboard resembled a piano and was built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys. The developers believed it represented the most efficient arrangement as everybody knew the order of letters in the alphabet.  So why was the QWERTY keyboard developed?
The standard theory asserts that Sholes had to redesign the keyboard in response to the mechanical failings of early typewriters. The metal arms connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed. The solution was to redesign the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters such as th  st  or on . This theory is somewhat suspect because er is one of the most common letter pairings in the English language and the letters e and  r  adjoin on a QWERTY keyboard. Interestingly, one of the typewriter prototypes had a slightly different keyboard that was only changed at the last minute. If it had been put into production we might now be discussing a QWE.TY keyboard.
In any case, by 1873, the typewriter had 43 keys and an arrangement of letters that was designed to prevent these expensive machines from jamming. That same year, the Sholes’ consortium entered into an agreement with gun and precision machinery manufacturer Remington who with the demise of the Civil War, was trying to adapt to a peacetime economy. However, right before their machine, dubbed the Sholes & Glidden, went into production, Sholes filed another patent, which included a new keyboard arrangement. Issued in 1878, it   marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout. The deal with Remington proved to be an enormous success. By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY-based Remington produced typewriters in use across the United States. The fate of the keyboard was entrenched when the five largest typewriter manufacturers –Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged in 1893 to form the Union Typewriter Company which agreed to adopt QWERTY as the standard that dominates even in the 21st century.
While undoubtedly the partnering with Remington helped popularize the QWERTY system, its development as a response to mechanical error has been questioned. A 2013article entitled Fact of Fiction:The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard written by Jimmy Stamp  in points out that  researchers at  Japan’s Kyoto University concluded in 2011 that the mechanics of the typewriter did not influence the keyboard design. Rather, the QWERTY system emerged as a result of how, and by whom, the first typewriters were being employed. Early users included telegraph operators who needed to transcribe messages in a timely manner. It is feasible that these operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be unclear and inefficient for translating Morse code. The Kyoto analysis suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by these telegraph operators.
In this scenario, the typist preceded the keyboard. The Kyoto research also cites the Morse lineage to further debunk the theory that Sholes wanted to protect his machine from jamming by rearranging the keys with the intent of slowing down typists
Regardless of how he developed it, Sholes himself wasn’t convinced that QWERTY was the best system. Although he sold his designs to Remington early on, he continued to tinker with advancements to the typewriter for the rest of his life, including several keyboard layouts that he determined to be more efficient. In fact, he filed a patent in 1889, a year before he died that was issued posthumously.
So why do we persist with the QWERTY layout? I suppose the answer is simply because by now so many people know its sequences so well and can type without even having to look at the individual keys. Adopting a different layout would be tantamount to learning a new language.
Richler’s latest book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was released at the end of April 2016.


To help celebrate having reached the 1400 plateau I am introducing a new word puzzle called “Split Definitives” that features words that can be defined by their constituent parts. For example, if the clue read “marijuana residue” (6)  (a), you’d be looking for a 6 letter word where one of the 2 parts starts with an a. The answer here is “potash: which can be divided into “pot” + “ash.”  I first developed this concept in a series of articles I published more than 20 years ago in National Lampoon.  These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.” The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.
Here is the first “split definitive.”      1401- Conclave of Mafia bosses    (7)   (t)
1402- Name a country that has an acronymic origin
1403-Discern the convergent words:   end-stern-room     end-work-bow     end-nest-ring
Here is the second “split definitive.”      1404-Fog over Warsaw  (8)  (m)
1405-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means change what you  eat
1406- Discern the convergent words:   dance -jerk-rubber     bear-fully-idleness        rock-skin-tears  
1407-Split Definitive Puzzle     icicle (12)  (e).
1408--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that could be a slang expression for the tire industry   tread trade
1409- Discern the convergent words:   ring-shield-cream      light-      diamond-bare     family-line-money
1410-Split Definitive Puzzle     fashionable religious denomination   (6)   (s)
1411-What do these words have in common?  blurb-boondoggle-lilliputian-gas
1412-Discern the convergent words:   train-bonus-boat    up-cinnamon-tax     snap-watewr-coat
1413 -Split Definitive Puzzle    battle cry (7)   (w).
1414- What do these words have in common?  endears-costumier-hominal  
1415- Discern the convergent words:   bug-cinnamon-cat    peas-ten-hem     crossing-referee-mussel
1416 -Split Definitive Puzzle-  great hooter  (9)   (s) 
1417- What do these words have in common?  budgie-piano-cab  
1418-Discern the convergent words:   cake-claw-complain   as-sage-house     stick-borne-bite
1419 Split Definitive Puzzle-   priestly promises   (9)    (v)
1420-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a possible result of a shortage of analgesics 
1421- Discern the convergent words:   hole-wounded-brace     plant-time-about     check-less-cat
1422 Split Definitive Puzzle-  bankroll a psychic (14)    (f)
1423- What do these words have in common?  date-celery-cereal-butter-fish-pecan   
1424- Discern the convergent words:   wedding-master-burnt    garlic-up-fly    loops-less-fully
1425 Split Definitive Puzzle-   What Pizarro caused   (12)    (d)
1426-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that represents a verbose way of saying forever   
1427- Discern the convergent words:   bad-relations-lust      pencil-hammer-arrow     pie-bean-stone
1428 Split Definitive Puzzle-  cease wrath  (8)    (a)  
1429 -Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a strapping many-headed snake 
1430- Discern the convergent words:   woman-arctic-coal     wife-white-rose     woman-walk-arctic
143- Split Definitive Puzzle-  constriction   (8)    (s)    
1432- What do these words have in common?  anger-berserk-ugly
1433- Discern the convergent words:   bare-under-down     purple-broken-less     pilot-ate-oil
1434-Split Definitive Puzzle-  in favour of conception (11)  (c)
1435- What do these words have in common?  morose-sepal-peony-defer-claim-heroin
1436-Discern the convergent words:    arm-land-girl     pole-black-vanilla     water-pickled-salad
1437-Split Definitive Puzzle-  barbecue chicken  (7)    (h).
1438-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a small hunting bird  
1439- Discern the convergent words:   sea-fat-boy     sea-whistle-sit dog     sea-boo-brain bird
1440-Split Definitive Puzzle- what you might ask an arsonist  (6)    (a)   
1441-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means  an ideal older student authorized to enforce discipline 
1442- Discern the convergent words:   waiter-war-wear        fog-freeze-fart     calf-car-coerce
1443- Split Definitive Puzzle-   anti-dog  (6)  (c)
1444-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means part of a metallic element  
1445- Discern the convergent words:   night-speckled-white      up-loft-horse    medal-sea-gang
1446-Split Definitive Puzzle- Reagan campaign slogan    (8)    (e) 
1447- What do these names have in common?  Cedric-Fiona-Jessica-Pamela -Stella-Vanessa   

1448- Discern the convergent words:   flags-flask-friends    thumping-war-cold      chestnut-angel-horse
1449-Split Definitive Puzzle    average  bullfight cheer   (6)  (o)
1450- What do these words have in common?  robot-superman-witticicm-intensify   
1451-Discern the convergent words:   alight-ocean-bird    riot-foot-cat       fink-her-desert
1452-Split Definitive Puzzle- obvious number   (8)  (o)
1453- Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a dry foray  
1454- Discern the convergent words:   jack-say-American    jack-pot-lemon      jack-soda-animal
1455- Split Definitive Puzzle    thrash thoroughly    (9)     (b)
 1456--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means solicitous defilement
1457- Discern the convergent words:   rope-snow-drive     top-atoll-string     ate- gym-shirt
1458- Split Definitive Puzzle-love boat (10)    (f) 
1459- What do these words have in common?   interregnum, transmigration, chrysanthemum
1460- Discern the convergent words:   magic-soup-cap      bad-crate-beater    pot-festival-trap
1461- Split Definitive Puzzle -    command falsehoods    (9)    (o)
1462- What do these words have in common?  mojo-celery-gravy
1463- Discern the convergent words:   mother-party-pea    islands-wharf-yellow    dung-cigarette-racing
1464- Split Definitive Puzzle-   battle room (6) (d)  
1465- What do these words have in common?   racquet-chiropractor-mandate
1466- Discern the convergent words:   art-fly-up     sandwich-Canadian-crisp       Indian-field-snake
1467- Split Definitive Puzzle    centurion’s twitch   (8)  (r) 
1468- What do these words have in common?  capital-kowtow-cabbage
1469- Discern the convergent words:   duck-off-poker    do-pin-oil      bend-cap-fore
1470-Split Definitive Puzzle    undiscovered atomic particle    (9)  (s)
1471- What do these words have in common?  chagrin-cavort-hippopotamus
1472- Discern the convergent words:   wood-whip-hook   worker-line-keeper      cavil-entry-us         
1473-Split Definitive Puzzle-What you do when you have a flat    (6)  (r) 
1474- What do these words have in common?  gruff-bumpkin-frolic
1475- Discern the convergent words:   my-east-got      pound-ash-hot      salad-spring-sweet
1476-Split Definitive Puzzle-Insect hallucinogen    (7)  (a)
1477- What do these words have in common?  adder-nickname-umpire
1478- Discern the convergent words:   page-jet-bled         page-ten-hole        nation-reich-horn
1479-Split Definitive Puzzle-  Imply negative response   (7)   (n)
1480- What do these words have in common?  homophone-monster-anode
1481- Discern the convergent words birds-wooden-roll       fore-work-boot         beach-bound-stiff
1482-Split Definitive Puzzle   Entomological quorum   (7)  (t)
1483-What do these book titles have in common?  House of Mirth, The Sun Also Rises    Go Set a Watchman
1484- Discern the convergent words   in-dial-on     cap-fracture-numb        stem-cramp-less
1485-Split Definitive Puzzle-Fashionable religious denomination  (6) (i)
1486- What do these words have in common?  Clerihew-bowler-Pilates  
1487- Discern the convergent words up-need-my   flour-a-flower    almond-tea-dog
1488- Split Definitive Puzzle Run of the mill petty quarrel (9)   (p)
1489-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that could describe what Canute tried to do 
1490- Discern the convergent words at-on-fruit     cinnamon-baiting-tolerate    crossing-fly-hunter
1491- Split Definitive-Start of the pot  (9)    (d)
 1492- Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that explains who gets what
1493- Discern the convergent words   a)man-corn-bad b)per-blue-wood c)black-oil-horse
1494- Split Definitive Puzzle - harberdashery holdup   (9)    (h)
1495-Name 3 words of at least 8 letters  only comprised of letters that occur twice
1496- Discern the convergent words     university-inner-shrine      tennis-grease-macaroni      tissue-pizza-pale
1497- Split Definitive Puzzle –Owns sled (7)   (h)
1498-What do these words have in common?preternatural-antemundane-idiosyncratic   
1499- Discern the convergent words   ballet-glass-house    pin-clip-rod        eye-sweat-hop
1500- Split Definitive Puzzle-barer  (6)    (o) 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