Friday, September 13, 2019

Semantic & Etymological Reflections on Nerds & Geeks

Can you speak geek about a word nerd?


                 Howard Richler

Is there a difference between a geek and a nerd?
This existential question was posed to me last year by a friend. He had recently read  an article  in the New York Times where the writer used these terms interchangeably. My friend felt strongly that the two terms referred to slightly different people and checked his Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary that  indicated that  “the words do not mean the same kind of person, although to my surprise nerd includes ‘unattractive’ person in the definition and geek does not, which I would have thought was the other way around. ” 
To my mind,  most people would give a geek a slightly higher status than a nerd. While both terms imply obsession with a particular activity,  for me the obsession that the geek possesses comes also with knowledge of his subject whereas I don’t necessarily regard the nerd as being equally knowledgeable.Also,  I view a geek as  more hireable than a nerd. Although the terms “computer nerd” and “computer geek” are often interchangeable, I wouldn’t describe Mark Zuckerberg as a computer nerd but only as a “computer geek.”
What I am reflecting here is not so much the actual meaning of these words but the way in which I and every speaker employs particular words. I know people who ascribe a higher status to the term nerd than to geek. Dictionaries are not that helpful in settling this debate. OED defines “nerd” as “an insignificant, foolish, or socially inept person; a person who is boringly conventional or studious” whereas the Encarta World English Dictionary (EWED) characterizes a nerd as “an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody’s, especially a man or boy’s social skills or intelligence.” It also mentions that a nerd can be a “single-minded enthusiast.”   For “geek,” the OED says “Frequently depreciative. An overly diligent, unsociable student; any unsociable person obsessively devoted to a particular pursuit” and EWED says a “geek” is “someone who is considered unattractive and socially awkward.”


One can see from these definitions that some people would view the two terms as synonymous and others would not. 
In any case I believe that due to the fact that many people who were labeled geeks or nerds in high school went on to become very wealthy imparted a higher status to these words. After all, being a billionaire is seen as cool in society notwithstanding that the billionaire may be a geek or a nerd.
Both words have interesting etymologies. The first OED citation of geek is in 1876 in a glossary of words from northern England where it is defined as “a fool” a person uncultivated; a dupe.” It was also used in the United States for a good part of the 20th century to refer to circus performers who performed bizarre feats such as biting of the head of a chicken. Its first usage in the modern context occurs in a letter written in 1957 by writer Jack Kerouac and the word is used in a clearly depreciative manner: “Unbelievable number of events almost impossible to remember, including..Brooklyn College wanted me to lecture to eager students and big geek questions to answer.” The words origin is uncertain but it is generally believed to be a variation for the word “geck,” a word that arose in the 16th century to refer to a simpleton.
The word “nerd” appears to have been derived  from a fictional animal found in Theodore Geisel’s  (aka 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 ‘60s when it became a shibboleth among college students and surfers to mark those considered “uncool.”
P.S.   I have no intention of changing the name of this column from Word  Nerd to Geek Freak.

Howard Richler’s latest  book is Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


2501-Discern   board-roll-middle    bath-pure-first   queer-patch-dead
2502-Split Definitive   fashion allowance   (10)  (r)
2503-Commonality    bout-dial-fish  
2504-Discern   thin-silicon-communion     all-pumpkin-zest    wheel-wing-job   
2505-Split Definitive   best writing implement    (11)    (u)
2506-Commonality ovine-token-fortify        1-10-40
2507-Discern    loss-maiden-net   tenor-bill-shoe     rose-wars-pie
2508-Split Definitive      energy seaside structure      (7)  (p)
2509-Commonality   Tagalog-uniformed- finish
2510-Discern      lab-hanger-white   over-sales-road     scrub-ability-sailor
2511-Split Definitive         reinforce era   (7)   (l)
512-Anagram  Legally prevent rhymers of verse     
2513-Discern    nose-sea-jay    tired-top-toy     bank-northern-pine
2514-Split Definitive         except that lock of hair    (8)  (b)
2515-Commonality    chart-drama-pinned
2516-Discern       black-top-winter      bonnet-ornament-nun       gold-hand-batting
2517-Split Definitive         gain a few  (7)  (w)
2518-Anagram Hudson is the name of a town in New York, Quebec, (and probably elsewhere) and if it wanted to have an anagrammatic sports team in could be called Hudson Hounds. Name another city, anywhere in the world that likewise can have  an anagrammatic sports team
2519-Discern     wear-web-well     bill-blower-shoe       gold-pointing-puppet
2520-Split Definitive         quantitative fact connection  (6) (i)
2521-Commonality    prose-apse-tramline
2522-Discern    lily-land-holy      line-short-raisin  dragon-cup-bat
2523-Split Definitive  long novel, to a greater extent   (8)   (m)
2524-Anagram   fish instructor  
2525-Discern  laugh-war-play   sacrifice-fire-away    show-ride-up
2526-Split Definitive   mens’ groups   (12)   (m)
2527-Anagram     palm tree fiber matter            
2528-Discern   life-box-post      nun-cup-walk     bed-sweet-up
2529-Split Definitive  for each church tapering structure    (8)  (s)
2530-Commonality     facial-vicious-sage  
2531-Discern    span-it-so    power-lizard-tree   date-face-oil
2532-Split Definitive   prior to talk   (10)  (d)
2533-Commonality    mausoleum-draconian-thespian-pyrrhic 
2534-Discern    cotton-jar-John   spoiled-dud-money       hole-Indian-laws
2535-Split Definitive   type of synthetic organic compound    (8) (a)
2536-Anagram    Possible  noises from places where livestock are kept 
2537-Discern    over-dog-dew   set-wrong-dough     tippy-turf-hold
2538-Split Definitive   widely distributed notice to a truckdriver  (12)  (c)
2539-Anagram   unbleached linen healing
2540-Discern     capping-bend-slapping      channel-red-formation      shoe-silver-acid
2541-Split Definitive   cut off friend    (7) (s)
2542-Commonality   convent-undoing-ally  
2543-Discern   front- work-brown     ass-black-high   school-coo-hog
2544-Split Definitive     formal social gathering gamble   (7)   (d)
2545-Commonality   cement-greed-prone
2546-Discern   by-an-it     jet-tough-page    sit-dirt-cadaver
2547-Split Definitive      obese type of pigeon    (9)   (h)
2548-Anagram   Confer with competitor  
2549-Discern droppings-sea-war    nose-tied-line   weed-biker-flick
2550-Split Definitive   commercial dare  (9)  (v)
2551-Commonality   abed-page-vex   
2552-Discern  cup-for-name        minute-dinner-knife      crystallized-snaps-ale
2553-Split Definitive   section of sheet of stamps ordered series (8)  (l)
2554-Anagram   Very detailed CV   
2555-Discern    chemistry-cap-case    feel-dart-fall    strain-exam-my
2556-July 1 Quiz
Name a city in Ont that is an anagram of a resident of an Asian country
Name a city in B.C. that can be found by adding an L to a city in Utah and then anagramming the letters.   
Name a Canadian  city that you get by adding an A to an African country then anagramming the letters. 
2557-Commonality   coming-super-reed 
2558- Discern   stock-care-cart      bearing-bomb-passion    bad-wood-empire
2559-July 4th Quiz
Name a  city  of approx.  200000   whose name becomes name of its state when you change last letter to W then anagram it  
Name US city that is an anagram of diagnose
Name US city of 4 letters whose population increases when you anagram it. Then turn these two cities into a city found in at least 2 states by adding an L
Name a state that becomes a European city if you change an A in the state to an S and then anagram the letters 
Name 2 US cities that are comprised only of letters in the second half of the alphabet.
What do these words have in common?-   alarms-alpaca-arcade-arcane-candor-demand-income-inlaid-inland-Malaga-mescal-nectar-ordeal-pascal-scrims-vandal  
What do these words have in common?-   imps-nest-lamb
2560-Commonality   really-union-reify 
2561-Discern  flesh-feathers-mother  tape-tree-legs      devil-sit-red
2562-Anagram    Throw out wold animal like cat 

2563-Split Definitive     unconcealed buttocks    (9)  (o)  
2564-Discern   dried-per-pie   kicks-jam-an    tax-toilet-top   
2565-Commonality   dissed-taming-dray   
2566-Split Definitive   formerly related to the ear  (6)   (o)
2567-Discern   chemise-graveyard-stick    nut-left-to    spring-back-turn
2568-Commonality   reamed-gene-adios
2569-Split Definitive   charge alien (6)  (b)
2570-Discern  ale-guitar-striped      game-go-gold    road-back-heaven
2571-Anagram   Hipness control panels  
2572-Split Definitive   each male child friend  (10)    (s)
2573-Discern     kin-house-tail              plant-river-oil      feed-box-Charlie
2574-Commonality     deer-lion-moose-moth-mouse-tick-turkey
2575-Split Definitive     father non-worker male bee   (7)  (d)
2576-Discern   cow-sauce-apple    beansart-ball     eating-Eskimo-eyed
2577-Name  a member of SCOTUS, past or present, whose surname is made up of state postal abbreviations.
2578-Split Definitive   elapsed spoken exam  (8)   (p)
2579-Discern     readers-replacement-pie    fall-note-big   white-wish-yard
2580-Anagram    secret small exclusive groups 
2581-Split Definitive   cheese aviate    (7)   (f)  
2582-Discern    cargo-Tory-top    brake-elevator-tree    jean-smoking-mess
2583-Anagram   dam cable 
2584-Split Definitive       fling consignment (10)   (r)
2585-Discern    tin-tenor-blower     trumpet-app-wax   brained-breadth-brush
2586-Commonality   alter-center-pass 
2587-Split Definitive   spot preacher   (10)    (a)
2588-Discern    pole-call-hell    dumb-ears-dust     hell-blood-news
2589-Anagram     onus seared 
2590-Split Definitive  Marxist revolutionary fog    (7) (m)
2591-Discern     bunny-house-ballet    sweater-bra-suicide       bed-dressing-tea
2592-Anagram    Belarus  furs 
2593-Split Definitive     Utah city only   (9)   (l)
2594-Discern      irons-ion-work     empire-shirt-coat             backs-belt-eye
2595-Anagram  Bahamian steam baths   
2596-Split Definitive   little devil ore deposit   (7)  (l)
2597-Discern      calf-cancer-cell    guild-man-woman    elbow-penguin-pipe
2598-Commonality   Pamela, Gail, Rico,  Neil
2599-Split Definitive     delay leaving that is  (8)   (l)
2600-Discern    razor-shell-up     weed- roasted-rubber       rescue-house-meat

Friday, July 12, 2019

July 4th Special-American, Yankee & OK

A Look at Three Very American Words
                                                                 Howard Richler
As this July 4th marks  American Independence Day, I’m taking the opportunity of looking at the origins of three words connected to Americans. In fact, the designation American for our neighbour to the south angers many people in Central and South America who feel that the United States has expropriated a designation that belongs to everyone living in the Americas.  Other designations were considered such as the awkward United Statesians, Freedonians and Columbians, but it was decided at the Continental Congress assembled on June 7, 1776 to opt for the term American. The term America itself was created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller who named the continent after Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci in 1507.
             While it is ironic that the United States of America owes its designation to Vespucci, seeing that he never set foot on American soil, it is also interesting that one of most used terms to describe Americans probably owes its origin to the Dutch. Most etymologists believe that the term Yankee originated from the name Janke, a diminutive of Jan, that was used disparagingly by the British to refer to unsophisticated Dutch settlers in American colonies. It later became used to refer to provincial dwellers in New England.  It is believed that the lyrics to the song Yankee Doodle were penned by a British army surgeon to deride the provincial revolutionaries.  In other words, when Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony and stuck a feather in his hat  and called it macaroni, the idea here is to mock the American’s lack of sophistication. Macaroni, at the time, was considered to an example of haute cuisine emanating from continental Europe. So Yankee Doodle (doodle means “simpleton”) tries to emulate the urbane behaviour of the British by putting a feather in his cap and deluding himself that it represents macaroni. The term Yankee was used by British commander James Wolfe in a 1758 letter and in it he leaves no doubt about his disdain for the colonials, some who were then serving in the British forces : “The Americans are.. the dirtiest most contemptible cowardly dogs that you can conceive. They fall down in their own dirt and desert by battalion, officers and all. Such rascals… are rather an encumbrance than any real strength to an army.” Notwithstanding the attempt of the Brits to mock, the term Yankee during the American Revolution was used by the American soldiers as a boast and Yankee Doodle became the marching song of the American Revolution.
Of all the American contributions to the English language, none is as ubiquitous as one that is often transmitted in only two letters —OK. American journalist   H.L Mencken described it in his 1919 tome The American Language as “the  most shining and successful Americanism ever invented” and reported that US troops deployed overseas during WWII found it already in use by Bedouins in the Sahara to the Japanese in the Pacific. Since then it has spread to every corner of the world.
To understand the origin of “okay” we have to go back to the penchant for initialisms in America in the 1830s. Much like the Internet style where phrases such as “in my opinion” and “on the other hand” become “imo” and “otoh” respectively, in that era , phrases such as “give the Devil his due” might be rendered  as GTDHD.  But by the end of the decade the fad for initialisms faded and the only ones used were OK and NG, which could stand for “no go” or “no good.” There also was the fashion of deliberate misspellings in humorous writing. Many American humorists from the 1820s on adopted as public personae uneducated country bumpkins who expressed their ideas in rural dialects rendered obtuse by deliberate misspellings. Hence “all right’ was transformed to “O.W.” on the basis of “oil wright”;  “no use” was sometimes rendered as “K.Y.,” “know yuse.” In this context, OK was fashioned  after “oyl korrect” by  Charles Gorden Greene, the editor of Boston Morning Post on March 23, 1839.In any case, by the middle of the 1840s OK  was firmly entrenched.
By the way, it is now OK to use OK in Scrabble. Have a joyous 143nd birthday America.

Richler’s latest book is Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Alas, Stolen Meanings are Inevitable Even in “Pure” Mathematics

                            Howard Richler

In his New York Times article Stop Saying “Exponential” Sincerely, a Math Nerd of March 4th,  math professor Manil Suri railed against the increasing use of “exponential” to mean  “a whole lot” and declares this is erroneous because the word should only be applied towards  a trend not a single comparison.  Hence, he believes a Washington Post report on “exponentially richer private-sector jobs” represents a misuse of the term.
Dr  Suri recognizes that “English has  a long history of borrowing specialized words for other purposes – for example, ‘catalyst’ from chemistry being applied to people. But an essential characteristic of mathematics, one it arguably lives and dies by, is precision.”
Oh really?

Let’s look at some “precise”  mathematic terms.  “Corollary” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as In Geometry, etc. A proposition appended to another which has been demonstrated, and following immediately from it without new proof; hence immediate inference, deduction, consequence.”  Its first use in this sense is found in Chaucer’s translation of Boethius’s  The  Consolation of Philosophy.   But by 1674, we see this generalized OED definition: “Something that follows in natural course; a practical consequence, result.”

Another mathematical term that has seen added meanings is “tangent.”  The OED shows this 1594 definition “Geometry. Of a line or surface in relation to another (curved) line or surface: Touching, i.e. meeting at a point and (ordinarily) not intersecting” But by 1823 the burgeoning field of crystallography used it to mean “Applied to a plane replacing an edge or solid angle of a crystal (which is more properly a secant plane.”   Alas, even non-scientific senses developed such a “flying off at a tangent” to mean “erratic” and a general sense of something “touching” or “contiguous.”

Similarly, “parameter” originally only had a mathematical sense in the 17th century but in the interim years is has been adopted by the fields of electricity,  statistics and music and in the 20th century it has acquired a generalized sense  to refer to any distinguishing or defining characteristic. “Perimiter” has roots in geometry but has been adopted by ophthalmology, the military, and (horrors!) even basketball.

Dr Suri ends his piece by saying “math is one of the few institutions we have left free of doublespeak or embellishment or biased opinion. Its words are supposed to mean exactly what they say.”

As I’ve demonstrated, it ain’t so.   Q.E.D.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Clue words help form a compound word or phrase or can be the first or last part of a single word. So if the clues were sea-medal-hearted, the answer would be lion as it makes sea lion medallion and lion-hearted. Each puzzle features three sets of words with three words. Each day has a theme and you must discern which of these 4 themes is applicable: animals, food & beverage, body parts, or articles of clothing .

Rules Split Definitive Puzzle - These are words defined by constituent parts. So if a clue was “Era of weed
 (a) (6) . The (a) refers to the first letter of one of the constituent parts; the (6) refers to the number of letters in the word. The answer here is “potage.”

2401-Name That Word Name an 11 letter word comprised only of letters in the first half of the alphabet; Name a 10 letter word comprised only of letters in the second half of the alphabet.  (n.b. some dictionaries show this latter one as two words.)
2402-Discern       wine-ball-beer    washer-goose-blue   hero-canned-melt
2403-Split Definitive    enslave (10)    (d)
2404-Anagram     concise fine thread
2405-Discern     coo-draw-up     bra-in-yellow    line-atoll-wax
2406-Split Definitive         in favor of songs   (8) (t)
2407-Anagram     Don’t nod or accidentally raise your hand   
2408-Discern     pea-spring-magnet       holy-eat-ding     screech-superb-night
2409-Split Definitive    pick tormented     (9)  (r)
2410-Name That Word Name a nine letter word with only one vowel? 
Discern     sand-mill-fat    rat-hill-sting   call-woman-amount
2412-Split Definitive    spot caught up in  (7)  (m)
2413-Anagram    Bare Scottish city
2414-Discern      scrub-blue-hawk          blue-top-sea      blue-pan-gold
2415-Split Definitive    has to hurt (8)  (m)
2416-Commonality     charm-rival-yam-aim  
2417-Discern    rat-ray-cap      hole-fire-bed    bad-core-love
2418-Split Definitive    evaluated delicate fabric with patterned holes   (9)   (l)
2419-Commonality What do these 4 letter words have in common bout,bras,chat,coin,four,pain,tout
2420-Discern     crackpot-gal-lake   blind-evade-call   eye-scout-war
2421-Split Definitive    average Spanish cheer  (6)    (p)      
2422-Anagram     Preoccupy dominant people 
2423-Discern      line-due-first      salad-sandwich-sea    green-lemon-field
2424-Split Definitive    era of frock   (8)  (d)
2425-Add Two Letters      molar-trace-alate
2426-Discern     bottle-rice-let    ski-golden-free      track-yourself-dry
2427-Split Definitive    former stress   (9) (e)
2428-Anagram    Salute heron 
2429-Discern      pig-pin-pipe    idle-orbital-set  down-curve-white
2430-Split Definitive    crossing place through shallow water for bovine draft animal (6)  (f)
2431-Commonality      aliment-transfiguration-disappearance   
2432-Discern     rink-river-rug   ball-up-tail    road-tied-wild
2433-Split Definitive    roof edge omitter   (12)    (d)
2434-Add Two Letters   cart-delve-conking
2435-Discern     case-on-square     war-cold-hope   fog-tree-genius
2436-Split Definitive    dog guided  (6)  (l)  
2437-Anagram     Himalayan grammatical unit 
2438-Discern    black-stocks-wars    operator-per-east     pot-red-olive
2439-Split Definitive    before pressure   (10)    (p)
2440-Anagram     Indian plays   
2441-Discern      room-conceal-fern    girl-jumper-shvitzer    oust-polish-print
2442-Split Definitive    in favor of form   (9) (c)
2443-Anagram      ready to conform beef
2444-Discern    west-Christmas-my     table-drip-talk       green-ball-old
2445-Split Definitive    provide column of building  (11)  (p)
2446-Anagram     Improved appearances of merchants  
2447-Discern    umbrella-yellow-bath   coast-net-screen     lip-hide-bot
2448-Split Definitive      fire,apprehend,exist    (8)   (n)
2449-Commonality   barbecue-canoe-hammock 
2450-Discern   value-save-bold    bad-pure-lust       ward-fox-shirt
2451-Split Definitive        average can  (7)  (a)
2452-Commonality    the world’s mine oyster   in  a pickle   salad days wild goose chase
2453-Discern   wind-pea-sport    tree bag-soft     eye-has-hop
2454-Split Definitive        not on terminal (6)  (o)
2455- Anagram     incompleteness responses    
2456-Discern    play-out-book    root-shortening-fat    onion-jumps-pop
2457-Split Definitive      connection fee for instruction  (9) (i)
2458-Add One Letter    pothole-intestate-moon
2459-Discern   king-grease-business    king-grass-by    king-mimic-beak
2460-Split Definitive      location of  the evening meal   (11)   (p)
2461-Anagram      mouse found in holy place of worship 
2462-Discern     pocket-red-a      felt-open-condition     pipe-gate-coat
2463-Split Definitive      tall cereal crop found in Napoli province (9 ) (c)
2464-Add Two Letters   noted-prone-cable
2465-Discern   zapper-super-bear      cake-imp-sea     salmon-speckled-lake
2466-Split Definitive     taint colorless alcoholic drink  (6)  (m)
2467-Anagram     manage recognition 
2468-Discern     race-fault-under          piece-color-net         pass-rail-out
2469-Split Definitive         call  twitch   friend (12) (a)
2470-Add Two Letters    diction-dart-drive 
2471-Discern    baked-bad-cart     Irish-ball-lamb     pearl-ring-green
2472-Split Definitive      each formal public speech  (10)  (p) (I know Don Sioux that it doesn’t qualify as a Split Definitive)
2473-Anagram Most subordinate hooting baby birds of prey
2474-Discern    corn-tightening-bible      collar-black-less     velvet-trade-compartment
2475-Split Definitive      Montana doorway  (12)      (b)  
2476-Add Two Letters    salary-mating-tribe
2477-Discern  grumble-mountain-red   grass-glass-spiny   silly-donkey-hole
2478-Split Definitive        entomb stride  (9)  (l)
2479-Anagram   Where an autocrat stores his weapons   
2480-Discern     magazine-milk-oil       music-conversation-double     fish-fore-gold
2481-Split Definitive      fashionable part of the world  (11) (c).
2482-Commonality    pioneer-heightened-untenable  
2483-Discern       harbor-ant-close     bear-giant-red     box-work-gift
2484-Split Definitive      record sea eagle   (7)   (d)
2485-Add Two Letters   watered-freer-relied
2486-Discern     moor-as-mother      belly-hero-canned    frighten-lick-patch
2487-Split Definitive         so be it dent   (8)    (a)
2488-Anagram    Breaks businesses’ continuity    
2489-Discern       flat-back-fresh     royal-petroleum-bean      position-age-met
2490-Split Definitive      commercial marijuana cigarette   (7)  (a)
2491-Anagram     collarless garment craving  
2492-Discern       desert-banana-ate   story-bench-flip       let-level-London
2493-Split Definitive      fake praise  (10)   (t)
2494-Anagram    changes poem’s direction
2495-Discern    tap-horse-bag   yourself-track-executive   out-patterns-peasant
2496-Split Definitive         officially forbid friend      (7)   (b)

2497-Anagram    animosity scarcity 
2498-Discern    bane-water-heat    ford-peregrine-winter     bull-gold-grass 
2499- Split Definitive         spot  choice   (8)   (o)
2500-To celebrate my 2500th puzzle, we’ll have a contest. Find the three letter words that make each group of words three letters longer. For example if the words  were  clog-divest-bag  you’d add SIN   to all three words to make  closing-disinvest-basing. When you have all five rows completed, you then have to arrange the five three letter words into a sentence.  a)pant-ford-rent  b)blest-hover-orgy   c)broom-dying-shot             d)comes-grant-moor                 e)alit-tenet-later