Friday, December 31, 2010

answers to Palindrome in a Palindrome quiz of Dec 24

Puzzlers were asked to discern a question George W. Bush may have asked himself while attending Yale. The hidden palindromic answer is comprised of the third letters of each palindromic phrase.

back cab
Sparta traps
Lon Nol
avid diva
snap spans
sitar gratis
not a hat on
slam in animals
naïve Evian
panda had nap
slam in animals
puck cup

If you haven't discerned the answer yet, it is..

Can I attain a C?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Since 1990, the American Dialect Society has paid homage to the most sublime creations of each year- the new words that grace our lexicon. The words of the year have included “metrosexual,” “9-11,” “subprime,” the prefix “e,” to denote involvement in electronic media, “tweet” and the term “world wide web.” Many other words from the the computer age have featured prominently in categories such as “most useful” and “most likely to succeed” such as “blog,” “ google,” “facebook,” “” and the prefix “cyber.” The words of the year for 2010 will be announced this year in Pittsburgh on Jan 7th.

My favourite neologisms, however, deal with irreverent new usages as the American Dialect Society often lists doozies in their “most euphemistic” and “most outrageous” categories.

Here, in alphabetical order are some offerring in these two categories:

Badly sourced – Employed by Colin Powell and others to mean “false.”

Bumper Nutz Fake testicles hung from the rear end of a vehicle.

Cambodian accessory – Angelina Jolie’s adopted child who is Cambodian.

Cliterati Feminist or woman-oriented writers or opinion leaders.

Controlled flight into terrain Defined as a “crash with a good pilot and a good plane.”

Courtesy Call An uninvited call from a telemarketer usually occurring during suppertime.

Crotchfruit A term designating a child or children. This expression seems to have been inspired by the term “fruit of one’s loins” and began as a word used by proponents of child-free public space, but has since been adopted by some parents as a jocular term for their progeny.

Extraordinary rendition The deportation to a country that might receive a person unkindly through the use of torture or other unpleasantries.

Fish pedicure A cosmetic procedure in which fish eat the dead skin off the feet.
Food insecure Said of a country where the people are starving.
Florida flambé Fire caused by Florida electric chair.
Grid butt – Marks left on the buttocks by fishnet pantyhose.

Holistic practitioner A prostitute.

Internal nutrition The force-feeding of prisoners against their will.
Jesusland – The country which will be the rump USA after the blue democratic states have seceded and joined Canada.

Muffin top The bulge of flesh hanging over the top of low-rider jeans.

Partner reduction – Divorce or severing of a romantic relationship.
Population reduction – A combat assignment.

Pre-emptive self defense An attack made before a possible attack

Scooping technician Person whose job it is to pick up dog poop.
Sea kittens Fish, as coined by PETA.
Starter marriage A first marriage not expected to be the last, akin to a starter home.

Sudden jihad syndrome – An outburst of violence from a seemingly stable and normal

Symmetry failure Surgery performed on the wrong side of the body, as in, “OMG, they took out the wrong kidney!” Otherwise known as wrong-site surgery.

Thought showers This term was coined by a British city council because the synonym brainstorming was said to be offensive to epileptics.
Torture-lite Characterization ofAmerican treatment of prisoners of war; torture short of blatant bodily harm.

Tramp stamp A tattoo on a woman’s upper bottom or lower back.

Transfer tube A container or the transfer of a corpse, previously referred to as a body bag.

TruthinessIn its 16th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted truthiness as the word of the year. This term was popularized on the Colbert Report, and refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Stephen Colbert put it, “I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart.”

Unorthodox entrepreneur A panhandler, drug dealewr or prostitute in a Vancouver park.

Urban camping Living homeless in a city.
Whizzinator A trademarked urinating device using a realistic prosthetic penis and
synthetic urine in order to pass a drug test.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

palindrome puzzle

As well as writing about language, I create word puzzles. Every week, I plan on featuring a puzzle quiz and I reveal the answers at the end of the subsequent week. This inaugural puzzle is called Palindrome in a Palindrome.

Readers are asked to uncover the following palindromes with the aid of the clues provided. Remember that in palindromes the placement of a letter usually tells one where other letters are placed. So for the second clue that means that the fourth letter from the end will also be an “r.” Also if the clue features a plural, there’s a good chance that an “s” will appear at the then of at least one word. When this first puzzle is completed, the third letters of the phrases will spell out a question that George W. Bush may have asked himself while attending Yale.

1)Support a taxi  _ _ _ k        _ _ _
2-Laconic snares  _ _ _ r _ _            _ _ _ _ _
3)Former Cambodian leader  _ _ _            _ _ _
4)Keen operatic star   _ _ _ d             _ _ _ _
5)Break bridges    s _ _ _        _ _ _ _ _ _
6)Free Indian guitar  s _ _ _ _            _ _ _ _ _ _
7)Bare-headed  _ _ _   a     _ _ t       _ _
8)Less than 2000 lbs . _ _ _    _      _ _ n
9)Simple French mineral water   _ _ _ v _      _ _ _ _ _
10)Bamboo eater slept     _ _ _ d _     _ _ _     _ _ _
11)Harshly enclose pets    s _ _ _     _ _       a_ _ _ _ _ _
12))Holy Grail of Pro Hockey    _ u _ _          _ _ _

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Open da Vinda, I'm Sophisticated!!!

Republicans understood the importance of bondage between mother and child.”
Vice-President Dan Quayle, 1991

There is a word in English to describe this type of mistake (confusing “bondage” with “bonding”) committed by Dan Quayle, the man who provided impeachment insurance for George Herbert Bush. The word is “malapropism,” often shortened to “malaprop.” This term derives from Mrs. Malaprop (mal à propos, “inappropriate” in French), a character in Richard Sheridan`s 1775 play The Rivals, who has a penchant for this type of gaffe. For example, she declares one man to be the “very pineapple of politeness,” instead of pinnacle and states that a man is “ as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile” (i.e. alligator).

For decades, I have been a malaprop miner and I'd like to share some of the nuggets I've unearthed:

A friend related to me that his uncle once came into a stuffy room and demanded, “Open a window Norm, I’m sophisticating!” Another friend mentioned to me recently that she grew up with someone very prone to malaprops who once averred “When a child gets to a certain age the unbiblical cord must be severed.” A former business associate told me that after he gave a eulogy at a family funeral, his cousin told him “that was the most touching urology I’ve ever heard.” At times, it is the particular context of a blooper that makes us howl. A friend who is a history professor at McGill University received a term paper from a student that dealt with relations between India and China. In it, the student wrote about the “wonton aggression of the Chinese.”

Two other friends shared these whoppers committed, or related, by family members:

    My sister-in-law who upon returning from the ophthalmologist informed the collected company that she “has a genital defect in her left eye.”
    My late mother-in-law had a friend who went to the doctor for anautopsy but everything was fine and she came home.

It would seem that medical malaprops are rampant, if not mestastisizing outright. Recently, I chanced upon the mother of a longtime friend of mine and I inquired as to the state of her husband’s health. She informed me that her husband Nat’s “prostrate was acting up and that his hemogoblin was out-of-whack.” I resisted a puerile temptation of inquiring as to her husband’s acute vagina or to her very close veins and carnal tunnel syndrome.

Because malaprops make us chuckle, we see the exploitation of this type of humour in many television programs. In the 1970s program All in the Family, the central character Archie Bunker told his wife Edith that if she was experiencing minstrel pains while administrating she should see the groinecologist, and he railed against the vagrant disregard for the law by the youth of today. While consecrating on the evening newspaper he informed his “meathead” son-in-law that the Pope was inflammable.

From the same era, on Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner played a character, Emily Litella, who wondered why people worried about “violins on television, jewelry in the Soviet Union and endangered feces.” She also spoke out against the practice of “busting schoolchildren” for the purpose of integration. When her faux pas were exposed, her weak rejoinder was “never mind.

The writers for the program The Sopranos kept up this malapropian tradition and I suspect, given the pervasive graphic violence of the series, the bloopers were often added to supply some comic relief. Here were some of my favourites:
    There's no stigmata with going to a shrink.
    Let's create a little dysentery in the ranks.
    She's an albacore around my neck.
    He could technically not have penisary contact with her volvo.

It is the very artlessness of malaprops that makes them endearing. And aside from the pure joy elicited from hearing someone mess up, malaprops are entertaining because they reveal hidden connections between words. For this reason, I find it interesting to see some of the errors that children commit and find that often their mistaken words are quite logical. For example, I have heard children call an “icicle” an “ice tickle,” an “umbrella,” a “rainbrella,” “kindergarten,” turn into “kidney garter” and a “gazebo” transformed to “gazebra.” My partner Carol told me that when her daughter Beatrice was a little tot she referred to “flutterbys” and when not happy told her Mom that she was “upsad.” One friend related to me that while her daughter was away at summer camp, that she wrote a letter complaining about her “dire rear.” Still another colleague related to me that her precocious six year old son informed her that he was “black toast intolerant.”

Alexander Pope stated that “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Sometimes an inexact knowledge of words isn’t so much perilous as just rib-ticklingly hilarious.

If you'd like to share any malaprops with me, email me at

Monday, December 20, 2010

nerd vs geek

Welcome to my inaugural post on my blog "Word Nerd."  I have chosen the title "word nerd" for two reasons. a) "word" and "nerd" rhyme; b) the word "nerd"  has ameliorated apprciably in the last four  decades. Also, just as I 'd rather be a hammer than a nail, I'd rather be a geek than a nerd, but, alas, I am not sufficently adept technically to deserve such a meritorious designation. And, "speak geek" doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as "word nerd."
This therefore poses the following existential dilemma: Is there a difference between a geek and a nerd?

This question was posed to me some years  ago by a McGill law professor  after writer David Brooks used these terms interchangeably in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. This judicious man felt that the two terms referred to slightly different people. He 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 ” 

I think that 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 has comes also with knowledge of his subject whereas I don’t necessarily regard the nerd is as knowledgeable. I view a geek as more hireable than a nerd. Although the terms “computer nerd” and “computer geek” are often interchangeable, I would never describe Bill Gates as a computer nerd but only as a “computer geek.” In fact, he is often describes as the “alpha 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. The Oxford English Dictionary (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.

There probably has been more amelioration to the word “geek” than “nerd.” I checked a newsgroup discussion on this topic in 1996 that showed that a slight majority of participants accrued a higher value to nerd than to geek. A discussion that took place last year on the same newsgroup showed overwhelming support for a higher status to geek.

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.

American public libraries now have a campaign that might ameliorate the meaning of “geek” even more. The slogan is “Geek the Library” and at the campaign's website at you are encouraged to “get your geek on” and “share what you geek.” The amelioration of “geek” is enhanced at the website by the following mock dictionary entry:

geek, verb

1)To love, to enjoy, to celebrate, to have an intense passion for.
2)To express interest in.
3)To possess a large amount of knowledge in.

Personally, I don’t mind being called a nerd or a geek. Just don’t call me a dweeb, doofus, or dork.