Sunday, November 30, 2014

Facebook word quizzes-#851-900


851-What do these words have in common? indented-posted-cable

852-Discern the convergent words: a)less-passion-cup b)be-shoe-tree c)be-twist-cotton

853-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers to a lackluster versifier

854-Discern the convergent words: a)alive-banana-oil b)fish-gourd-cola c)white-cut-singing

855-What do these words have in common? redactor-tendon-compadr

856-Discern the convergent words: a)private-wash-public b)egg-shot-pumpkin c)bump-iron-pump

857-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers dirt of an Islamic ruler

858-Discern the convergent words: a)oat-dish-died b)ring-sear-woman c)age-breath-pepper

859-What do these words have in common? region-obvious-demotion

860--Discern the convergent words: a)avocado-drop-led b)black-pie-bomb c)top-leaf-skin

861-Which word doesnt belong in this grouping? perpetuity-proprietor-personality-repertoire

862--Discern the convergent words: a)fore-garden-grass b)elope-acid-peas c)pot-corner-hawk

863-What do these words have in common? berserk-bidet-peculiar-tragedy

864-Discern the convergent words: a)jerked-complaint-eater b)floss-cane-walk-sugar c)on-corn-bad

865-aside from having 7 letters ,What do these words have in common? charity-gravity-visitor

866--Discern the convergent words: a)glass-ballet-house b)trick-red-top c)bra-suicide-rein

867-What do these words & phrases have in common? adder-auger- humble pie-newt

868-Discern the convergent words: a)farthing-wife-fin b)boy-sour-money c)pie-per-away

869-Which word doesn't belong in this grouping? d condom-crap-hooker-maverick

870-Discern the convergent words: a)lake-lick-old b)favor-house-powder c)days-potato-bar

871-Aside from starting with s what do these words and expressions have in common? stumblingblock-(stranger in a strangeland-stiff-necked)

872-Discern the convergent words: a)breast-talk-cold b)bus-red-tractor c)superb-magazine-night

873-Hidden within the word amulet we find a mule and inside crate, a rat. Name an animal that can be found inside another animal. crate emu

874-Discern the convergent words: a)toe-salon-brush b)woods-flas-room c)egg-tax-bob

875-What do these words have in common? pal-chav-shiv-drag(cross dressing sense)

876- Discern the convergent words:a)lounge-maker-maternity b)blouse-girl-jumper c)robin-baby-wink

877-What do these words have in common? car-fort-divers

878-Discern the convergent words: a)met-sugar-bed b)palm-press-tea c)mushroom-Spanish-western

879-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to lackadaisical hooters

880-Discern the convergent words: a)colony-eager-skin b)coast-net-screen c)black-lake-sea-

881-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to alienate nco estrange sergeant

882-Discern the convergent words: a)-some-paste-eye b) blue-less-awn c)wipe-ail-hard

883-What do these words have in common? entity-pantry -squad

884-Discern the convergent words: a)round-tax-square b)golden-liver-muscle c)libel-sausage-first

885-Name a 2 word anagrrammatic phrase that refers to a govt comprised of political exiles

886-Discern the convergent words: a)no-off-by b)warts-heaven-tie c)sea-mad-leg

887-What do these words have in common? canter-derive-realm

888-Discern the convergent words: a)fruit-mobile-on b)saw-feed-thief c)nut-spider-around

889-What do these words have in common? deified-Islam-deicide

890-Discern the convergent words: a)old-dough-water b)ears-hole-stew c)root-soup-stick

891-What do these words have in common? designed-conversion-muting

892-Discern the convergent words:a)colony-eager-tail b)circus-bane-flicker c)almondine-lake-speckled

893-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to a monarchist with no friends

894-Discern the convergent words: a)thrash-colored-whipped b)vanilla-walk-wedding c)can-juice-rotten

895-What do these words have in common? brave- forge- knish

896-Discern the convergent words: a)pearl-up-wheat b)cliff-devour-famil c)bull-men-legs

897-Name a 2 word anagrrammatic phrase that means circles restobar

898-Discern the convergent words: a)hook-hole-pin b)medal-fish-gang c)programming-annoy-led

899-What do these words have in common? arcade-bust-escort-frigate-umbrella

900-Discern the convergent words: a)cracker-club-jerk b)tea-almond-dog c)practitioner-con-in

Friday, November 21, 2014

Importance of Definitions in the Legal Arena

(This article appeared originally in the Dec Lexpert with the title A Fruit By Any Other Name)

What's in a definition? Maybe a tariff rate or your freedom

Howard Richler

Whereas all agree that a rose is a flower, it is not as clear what we should call a tomato.


Tomato: A round vegetable with bright-red, occasionally yellow, skin and pulpy seedy flesh. It grows like fruit on climbing plants and is widely eaten cooked or raw.(Encarta World English Dictionary)

Tomato: The glossy fleshy fruit of a solanaceous plant, a native of tropical America, now cultivated as a garden vegetable in temperate as well as tropical lands. (OED)

Lest you think that deciding whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable is a matter that would only trouble pedants like me, I can assure you that it has been an issue that has troubled some of the greatest legal minds.

Take this 1883 situation: the US Congress passed a tariff act that placed a 10% import duty on vegetables but no tariff on fruits. So when the produce-importing Nix family brought in tomatoes from the West Indies, they were hit with a 10% duty on the basis of the import being one of vegetables.

Needless to say the Nixes were not amused, and botanically they had a solid basis for being disgruntled as tomatoes are the freshly ripened ovaries of a plant, i.e ;, the fruit thereof. However, legally speaking, matters weren't as cut and dried, and a six-year legal battle ensued with arguments being presented before the Supreme Court in 1893. As a result, both defense and prosecution cited myriad dictionary definitions that supported their position. The defense even cited definitions for cucumbers, eggplant, pepper and squash to bolster their argument.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that tomatoes were vegetables. While admitting that biologically a tomato was a fruit, Justice Horace Gray stated that tomatoes were served “at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generically, as dessert.”

And if you think this case rested on nit-picking produce definitions, fast forward to the 21st century for an even more casuistic case. To wit, eagle-eyed lawyers for a company that imported Marvel character action figures noticed that dolls were subject to a 12% tariff rate whereas toys were taxed at 6.8%. Dolls were distinguished from toys by “representing only human beings and parts and accesories thereof.”* Because the said action figures were classified as dolls at the higher tariff rate, Marvel Comics subsidiary Toy Biz argued before the US Court of International Trade that their action figures, such as X-Men, represented “non-human creatures” and hence qualified for the lower duty rate. In 2003,the US Court of International Trade ruled in favour of Toy Biz declaring that mutants such as Spider-Man were “non-human.”

This ruling, however, did not sit well with fans who felt that their action heroes and villains were being objectified. Brian Wilkinson, editor of the online site X-Fan, found Marvel's position untenable and summed up the disgust of aficionados in this vituperative post: “This is almost unthinkable. Marvel's superheroes are supposed to be as human as you or I. They live in New York.They have families and go to work. And now they're no longer human!” In a statement, Marvel Comics responded to this and other jeremiads with adroit sophistry: “Our heoes are living breathing human beings – but humans who have extraordinary abilities. A decision that the X-Men figures indeed do have 'non-human' characteristics further proves our characters have special, out-of-this-world powers.”

*The Harmonized Tariff Schedule has since been changed and dolls and toys are now classified in the same category.

In these cases the definitions of words such as “fruit,” “vegetable” and “human” only impinged on tariff rates, but the meaning ascribed to words also looms large when criminal offenses are involved. I take you back to 1926 when William McBoyle was convicted and sentenced for an alleged violation of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act. The vehicle in question was a stolen airplane that McBoyle had an aviator transport from Illinois to Oklahoma. McBoyle's counsel contended that the word “vehicle” included only conveyances that travel on the ground and hence the stolen airplane was not a vehicle but really was a ship and under the doctrine of ejusdem generis, “any other self-propelled vehicle,” could not be construed as a ground-based vehicle. Webster's definition of vehicle was cited: “That in or on which any person or thing is or may be carried. Esp. on land, as a coach, wagon, car, bicycle, etc.” Germane to this case was the fact that when the statute was passed in 1919, airplanes were not specified therein.

Here is part of the ruling rendered by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in 1931:

Although it is not likely that a criminal will..consider the text of the law before he murders or steals, it is reasonable that a fair warning should be given to the world in a language that the common world will understand. When a rule.. is laid down in words that evoke in the common mind only the picture of vehicles moving on land, the statute should not be extended to aircraft simply because it may seem to us that a similar policy applies, or the speculation that if the legislature had thought of it, very likely broader words would have been used.

Judgment reversed.”

Richler's latest book Arranged & Deranged Wit will be published in 2015.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pleonasm-Excerpted from the book Arranged & Deranged Wit to be published in 2015

We are totally surrounded (on all sides) by redundancies.


Howard Richler

I first became aware of a penchant for political verbal diarrhea back in 1993. CBC journalist Hana Gartner was interviewing then Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien who asserted that he was respected by most Quebecers, and that it was only the “intellectual intelligentsia” who disparaged him.

Chrétien was following in the flowing tradition exemplified by fellow politicians. President Calvin Coolidge once opined that “When large numbers of men are unable to find work, unemployment results.” The man who provided impeachment insurance for George Herbert Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle, said in a 1988 speech, “I got through a number of things in the area of defense, like showing the importance of cruise missiles and getting them more accurate so that we can have precise precision.” In 2012, Brian Pallister, leader of tbe Progressive Conservative party in Manitoba, expressed his hope that “Everyone will enjoy themselves this holiday season, even you infidel atheists.”

These are some of the more egregious examples of redundant language but yea, we are not drowning in a bog of unnecessary words, but in a veritable swampland. Why can't things be merely null, why do they have to be void as well? If I look in every nook, must I explore every cranny? Must I desist when I cease, abet when I aid, choose when I pick and rave when I rant? Can't I just cease, aid, pick and rant? When we talk about “complete anihilation,” “frozen tundra,” “close proximity,” and a “woman pregnant with child,” I ponder, what are the alternatives?

Have you ever seen a young geezer, a cold water heater, a non-tuna fish, a non-living survivor, or a non-lazy bum? I've smelled, with my own nose, different bouquets but the only type I've ever seen, with my own eyes, is the flowery variety.

Am I paranoid, or is there some secret of time only I can't intuit? Samuel Goldwyn said, “I never make predictions, especially about the future” and the hoi polloi are constantly referring to “future plans,” and “advance warning.” This implies there are alternatives like past plans and a past future.The past is equally beguiling. Why do we specify “past experience” and “never before”? Aren't all experiences “past”? Why does “before” have to be added to “never”? Is there a hidden quantum dimension called the “never after” waiting to be unearthed by string theory? I worry when someone tells me the “honest truth,” or gives me a “garden salad” to eat, or something “100 per cent pure” to drink. Does that mean that if they only tell me the truth or ply me with a mere salad or a beverage that's only 99.99 per cent pure that I'm in “serious danger”? Do I overaxaggerate? Please R.S.V.P so I can overcome my state of uneasy anxiety.

Mercifully, it takes but a single word to describe verbal redundancy. The term is “pleonasm” defined by the OED as “the use of more words in a sentence than are necessary to express the meaning.” It derived from the Latin pleonasmus which, in turn,

came from the Greek pleonasmos (more-ness). Antony's line in Julius Caesar, “the most unkindest cut of all,” is an example of a pleonasm done for effect, as is the biblical “I am that I am.” In any case, after what happened to Lot's wife, Moses was probably

squeamish about accusing the Burning Bush of redundancy.

Most pleonasms, however, are not so stylish and only denote poor form. “Could you repeat that again?” is an example of a commonly used pleonasm. A redundancy can be avoided by just saying either,“Could you repeat that?” Don't say “each and every” and “at this point in time” when “every” and “at this time” suffice, nor say “she is a woman who” when “she is” will do, or use “if and when” when only “if” is required.

Perhaps I'm just an unprogressive conservative who pines for the halcyon days when you didn’t need to qualify that a gift was free, a victim innocent, a record new, and scholarship academic. In the past, one didn't have to specify strictly private or natural grass. Then again, some pleonasms like “cash money” and “disposable garbage” have evolved into possible states of non-redundancy. Some might say that in the past “heterosexual sex” was pleonastic. Unfortunately, a former pleonasm,“healthy tan,” has mutated into an oxymoronic state in our ozone-depleted world.

So, who is to blame? As I live and breathe, I think I can pinpoint the party responsible for our modern orgy of redundancy. To paraphrase Zola, J'accuse Raid Bug Repellant. They unveiled the slogan “Raid kills bugs dead” in 1966. To keep pace with

this linguistic overkill, other advertisements stressed products that were “new innovations,” and “very unique.” McDonald's isn't content to sell billions of hamburgers but “billions and billions.” and Soft Soap Body Wash doesn’t merely make you “clean,” you become “more than just clean.” And don't think the pleonastic process only flows towards aggrandizement. Isn't a dot miniscule enough? Must we endure microdots?

N.B. (Making a duplicate copy in any shape or form without my express, intended permission, and authorization is totally and utterly allowed, and indeed more preferable than alternative options.)

Excerpted from Howard's upcoming book Arranged & Deranged Wit.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Facebook Word Puzzles-801-850


801-Name word of at least 11 letters where all the letters only appear in the first half of the alphabet.

802-Discern the convergent words: a)mock-wing-feed apple-chart-crust old-trade-cabinet

803-What do these words have in common? peony-paean-panic

804-Discern the convergent words: a)good-gun-cow b)dis-movement-irritable c)white-down-baby

805-What do these words have in common? though-caked-badly

806-Discern the convergent words: a)story-of-star b)ere-do-stalag c)bet-gun-on

807-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to stickier sultanates

808-Discern the convergent words: a)walker-hawk-blue b)bar-Indian-eat- b)she-cheese-milk

809-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers to a superintendent selector

810-Discern the convergent words: a)ball-water-winter b)fat-garden-soup c)golden-red-sugar

811-What do these words have in common? pedigree-helicopter-halcyon-alcatraz

812-Discern the convergent words: a)fish-raw-tooth b)pie-face-soda c)salad-shell-stand

813-What do these words have in common ? vindaloo-grouper-marmalade

814-Discern the convergent words: a)ire-halt-irate b)basket-skin-spiny c)clothes-brass-shoe

815-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers to a sharp editorial turn at a newspaper

816-Discern the convergent words: a)up-ball-nut b)apple-potato-rice c)lemon-racket-winter

817-What do these words have in common? trace-counting-stile-fried-cowed

818-Discern the convergent words: a)fountain-long-shower b)river-street-water c)rest-under-speed

819-What do these words have in common? bunk(nonsense sense ) -sherry -cantaloupe

820-Discern the convergent words: a)French-high-tar b)sandwich-head-white c)bone-deep-sprain

821-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers to an early week go-getter

822-Discern the convergent words: a)panty-rubber-water b)tory-bicycle-boxer c)green-pea-rain

823-What do these words have in common? emirate-neater-host

824-Discern the convergent words: a)can-great-copy b)dirt-pile-star c)pot-cat-corner

825-What do these words have in common? pander-mentor-hector

826-Discern the convergent words: a)tail-tale-cold b)flicker-pit-bane c)ride-show-work

827-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that refers to a place where you might find a collection of slimy creatures

828-Discern the convergent words: a)flour-flower-a b)lemon-racket-winter c)eater-head-patch

829-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to a nice unexpected bonus given to a customer

830-Discern the convergent words: a)blouse-girl-shvitzer b)sun-ad-age c)eye-has-hop

831-What do these words have in common? jerky(the food)-lagniappe-puma

832-Discern the convergent words: a)soap-tea-tin- b)blond-fields-pink c)bone-red-schmaltz

833-What do these words have in common? fat-aura-buck

834-Discern the convergent words: a)aAlanta-ford-peregrine b)catcher-town-she c)rink-bag-catcher

835-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that refers to pure deceivers

836-Discern the convergent words: a)out-bypass-lining b)winter-leg-free c)line-wax-atoll

837-What do these words have in common? celebrity-garbage-robust

838-Discern the convergent words: a)bled-part-bling b)jay-winter-black c)ant-navy-elephant

839- Which word doesn't belong in this grouping? posh-radar-snafu-Hamas

840-Discern the convergent words: a)sky-spree-wood b)skin-snow-spot c)clay-dropping-hole

841- Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that means too late to turn back now

842--Discern the convergent words a)dog-land-over b)save-down-value c)eye-bruised-kid

843--Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that could refer to Evian in the Emirates (one of the words is an initialism)

844-Discern the convergent words a)in-sex-pat c)pea-game-as c)do-comeback-dies

845- Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that could be a directive to shell the Mafia

846--Discern the convergent words a)a-on-be b)dropping-lock-moose c)monitor-sweet-failure

847-What do these words have in common? skosh-futon-tycoon

848--Discern the convergent words a)coal-ring-scorch b)soap-plunged-love c)dragon-green-lounge

849- What do these words have in common? narcs-clement-scrape

850--Discern the convergent words a)middle-sing-eye b)china-ham-bare c)hare-tree-hind

Friday, October 3, 2014

Words from the Torah

A Secular Celebration of the Torah


Howard Richler

At sundown on October 16th, observant Jews will be celebrating Simchat Torah, “rejoicing in the Torah,” as this marks the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. During this holiday, the last section of Deuteronomy and the first section of Genesis are read in succession after a festival parade of the Torah scrolls embellished with singing and dancing. For secular Jews such as myself, or non-Jews, who feel left out of this celebration, we can take solace that as English speakers we're able to rejoice in the many words and phrases that the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) have contributed to the English vernacular.

Mostly, these words and expressions found their way into English through translations of the Torah, such as the King James Bible (KJB).

Take the word “jubilee.” While a jubilee might be an occasion for an English queen to be jubilant (as in the 2012 “Queen's Diamond Jubilee”) celebrating the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth II ascension), the word bears no etymological ode to joy. The first definition of this word in the OED is “A year of emancipation and restoration, which according to Leviticus 25 was to be kept every fifty years, and to be proclaimed by the blast of trumpets.. ; during it the fields were to be left uncultivated, Hebrew slaves were to be set free, and lands and houses in the open country.. that had been sold were to revert to their former owners or their heirs.” This august year takes its name from the Hebrew word yobhel, “ram’s horn,” which was used to proclaim the advent of this event. The word “jubilee” is first used in John Wycliffe’s 1382 translation of the Bible: “Thow shalt halowe the fyftith yeer.. he is forsothe the iubilee.” Chaucer was the first person to use the word without its religious context and by the late 16th century its secular sense became the dominant meaning.

Scapegoat” is another word first found in Leviticus and once again its progenitor is Wycliffe who renders Leviticus 16 as “And Aaron cast lottes ouer the.. gootes: one lotte for the Lorde, and another for a scapegoote.” Most people think of a scapegoat as an innocent person or group that bears the blame for others and suffers a punishment in their stead. However, in the biblical ritual of the Day of Atonement a scapegoat referred to one of two goats that was sent alive into the wilderness. The sins of the people had been symbolically laid upon this “escaped” goat, while the other goat was sacrificed to God. So, I suppose, in the original sense, being a scapegoat was better for your well-being than the alternative.

The OED defines the word “tithe” as “the tenth part of the annual produce of agriculture being a due or payment for the support of the priesthood..specifically applied to that ordained by Mosaic law.” Tithing is mentioned in many places in Scripture, such as Leviticus 27:30, and aside from support for the priesthood and the Temple, it was also used as a form of tax collection for secular purposes.

Also, our vocabulary has been enriched by several colourful expressions found in the five Books of Moses. These include: “brother's keeper,” (Genesis 4:9), “land of milk and honey”(Exodus 3:8), “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23-27), and “fat of the land” (Genesis 45:18)

Actually, there are several words and phrases thought to have a biblical provenance that, in fact, do not. Such is the case of “helpmate.” We read in Genesis 2:18, in the KJB, “God, having created man, observed, 'It is not good thar the man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him' ”, i.e, a “suitable help.” Hearing “help meet” pronounced, by the end of the 17th century churchgoers rendered the term as help-meet and by the the 18th century this hyphenated term transmogrified into “helpmate.” Another Genesis term whose meaning has been misconstrued is “mark of Cain.” We think of this phrase to signify a murderer just as the letter A denoted an adulterer in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. However, when God puts a “mark upon Cain” it is placed so that Cain will be labelled so that others would know not be punish him further.

One of the best-known supposedlymbiblical expressions is “forbidden fruit,” but in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 Adam and Eve are only instructed not to partake of the fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” According to the OED, “forbidden fruit” is first used in Edward Stillingfleet's 1662 Origines Sacræ: He required from him the observance..of not eating..the forbidden fruit.” Also, surprisingly, not found in Scripture is the expression “promised land” as this phrase was first used in Thomas Norton's translation of Calvin's Instutio Christianae Religionis written in 1561.

N.B. This article is aimed for all readers; those who “walk with God” (Deuteronomy 10:12) or those, like me who are closer to worship of “the golden calf” (Exodus 32:4)

Howard's next book Arranged & Deranged Language will be published in 2015.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


The Evolution of Business-Speak

The way we talk about work has changed a lot as the types of jobs that we perform and the spaces in which we do them have changed. Just as the modern office would be a foreign world to a factory worker from the early industrial revolution, or to a craftsperson with a home workshop from an even earlier age, so would the language we use in the workplace today sound like it came from another country.

Cogs in the Machine

Industry was booming in the early 20th century. Factories were built and assembly lines devised where workers could each focus on a single, specific task. Mechanization and scientific thinking were the keys to boosting productivity, and whole companies, and the people who worked for them, were often thought of in terms of the well-oiled machine, working together towards a single purpose. The language of business, shaped by scientifically driven managers like Frederick Winslow Taylor, began to focus on maximized efficiency, accuracy, and production.

Cells in the Organism

The vision of the workplace and its workers as a machine began to change in the 1920s, when the metaphors used about the workplace took on a more biological theme. People began to talk about it as a living organism, rather than a machine. This shift in language was coupled with a growing interest in the psychology of the workplace and initiatives at places like the Hawthorne Works to create an environment where workers would be happier and therefore more productive. Terms like alienation, absenteeism and turnover became common.

A Corporate Culture

Another shift took place after the Second World War, when there was an upsurge of interest in the sociology of the workplace. It coincided with many upheavals in the workplace, and in wider society, not only because of the direct effects of the war, but also because of the changing status of working women and the creation of massive new corporations created by the many mergers of the 1950s. Individual employees no longer had a close connection to the companies they worked for, and were unlikely ever to meet the people who ran them. Managers needed to find a way to keep workers loyal, satisfied, and productive. To do this, they created a way of speaking about work that we still use today.

The concept of organizational or corporate culture began to be used at this time in order to talk about the way people interacted with each other at work. The goal of theories developed at business schools like MIT was to create happier workers who would feel connected to their colleagues and employers, and who would therefore work harder, and language was often at the heart of the cultures that were being built. Influential consultants like Peter Drucker convinced companies to see their employees as valuable resources, and to value them as knowledge workers for what they knew not just what they made. Rather than focusing on coercing reluctant workers into doing their jobs, managers began to talk about self-motivated workers who could be trusted to do their best and who would be driven by their own self-actualization, a term popularized in the 1960s by Maslow. However, people were still being described as resources, and all of this talk about personal fulfillment was aimed at increasing productivity.

This hidden focus on productivity came back to the forefront of office-speak during the 1980s, when the influence of Wall Street, management consultants and business schools began to be felt throughout the business world. Business terms became more aggressive and economically focused, with ideas such as leveraging, optionality, and the value-add becoming common. The terms used to describe getting rid of staff also proliferated, ranging from simple terms such as letting people go to more opaque terms such as streamlining and increasing operational efficiency. The focus was often on managing human "resources" to maximise efficiency.

Working in a Computer

Although many of these terms remain familiar to workers and managers today, more recent changes in the workplace have also had an impact on the way we talk about work. The spread of technology had a particularly dramatic impact, leading to people talking about workplaces as computers, just as they had once spoken of them as machines or living creatures. Terms such as bandwidth, hack, and multitask have spread out from technological firms, and along with the language, there has been a shift in our working cultures.

The focus has shifted back towards individual fulfillment, promoting innovation, creativity and disruptive ideas over conformity and productivity. The language used to talk about work has become more emotional, with people discussing their vision, values, passion, and energy. This focus on creating people whose jobs are their passions has even led managers to begin using words that were once more closely associated with spiritual concerns. One of the most recent buzzwords to spread through the business world is mindfulness, which has made its way from meditation, through psychology and medicine, and into the workplace. Big companies like Google have introduced mindfulness and meditation into their offices, where it is promoted as the key to productivity, job satisfaction and creativity.

Self-actualization is back at the heart of management-speak, although the goal is still to create a productive business, just as it was in the 1920s and 1960s, when other terms were used to encourage workers to enjoy their jobs. This time, it has been assisted by the spread of social media and the greater mobility that people experience in their working lives, with many workers grasping on to the idea of seeking their passion and creating their own personal brand to promote. Business-speak is not just a tool used by managers to create happy, productive workers, but also by individuals who want to work the system to their own advantage.


1. PBS Biography of Frederick Winslow Taylor
2. Harvard Business School explores The Hawthorne Effect
3. MIT’s Theory X and Y and Organizational Development
4. Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation
5. The Economist on Peter Drucker: Trusting the teacher in the grey-flannel suit
6. The New Yorker on Creativity Creep 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Scrabble Then & Now

Fans add a new word to Scrabble


Howard Richler

It was 1931, the height of the Great Depression, when American architect Alfred Butts joined the bulging ranks of the unemployed. There just weren't many buildings being erected, so Butts decided to construct something else – an adult game.

He called his game Lexico. It was played without a board and players received points based on the lengths of the words formed. One would receive bonus points by using less common letters, such as K or W, and very rare letters, like Q and Z would fetch you even greater points.

How did Butts do his computing in the pre-cyber era? He meticulously checked the frequency of letters on the front pages of the New York Times. He came up with a formula that consisted of 100 letters comprising 12 Es, nine each for the second-most-common letters A and I , and in decreasing frequency for other letters, down to one for, Z,X, Q, K, and J.

In 1938, the popularity of crossword puzzles gave Butts the idea of combining the letters with a playing board in which words could be joined as in crossword puzzles. Over the years, Butts's game was marketed under several other names. They included New Anagrams, Alph, Criss-Cross and Criss Crosswords – and finally the one that stuck in 1948: Scrabble.

Today, Scrabble is distributed in 121 countries and can be played in over twenty language versions. In other languages, the number of tiles of individual letters and the point total depend on lingual differences. For example, if you've ever enjoyed a meal consisting of zupa buraczkowa ( red beetroot soup) with kasza gryczana (buckwheat porridge), you probably won't be surprised to learn that in Polish Scrabble there are five Zs worth one point each. Some years ago I worked at a company of over 100 employees where I was the only person that had a W in his name explaining why W is worth ten points in French Scrabble.

Interestingly, Scrabble highlights differences in the English language or should I say English languages. For in North America, words are drawn from the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary (OSPD) whereas in most of the rest of the world the official dictionary in SOWPODS. SOWPODS is a marriage of OSPD and OSW (Official Scrabble Words. In days of yore, North America used OSPD and the United Kingdom (UK) et al employed OSW. Then the UK decided to combine the lists and declare all those words acceptable. Since the resulting smorgasbord of titles OSPDOSW or OSWOSPD was a mouthful, the anagram SOWPODS was chosen. In any case the fusion that created SOWPODS leaves players who play under its rule over 80,000 more words than are available under the OSPD rubric.

This is not to say that OSPD has remained frozen. It was first published in 1978 and included words two to eight letters found in five official college dictionaries, and has been updated once or twice each decade. The last update occurred in 2005 adding approximately 4,000 words, such as 'qi,” a term from Chinese philosophy that refers to circulating life energy, the highly dubious “za”; a shortening probably coined by inarticulate pizza inhalers, the equally sketchy “al,” an East Indian tree and “oxid,” a variation of “oxide” were also deemed okay in this update. Incidentally, “ok” was not okay.

Also not okay are a series of words that were expunged from OSPD in the 1990s, such as the word “jew” used as a verb to mean “to haggle.” In toto, 170 words were deleted including “fart,” “jesuit,” “papist” and “redskin.” Many Scrabble players were incensed with this censorship and a compromise was reached: The official dictionary for home and school was censored but the “offensive” words were deemed acceptable for tournament play.

The company that makes Scrabble, Hasbro on March 12th of this year invited enthusiasts to nominate words via its Facebook page. Its announcements stated that thousands of new words will be added to OSPD such as “selfie” and “hashtag.” In an attempt to include the hoi polloi, Hasbro announced that fans had until March 28th to send in their nominations and that sixteen finalists would be unveiled on April 2nd before being narrowed down to a single word which was chosen and April 10th and added to the latest version of OSPD.

The “sweet sixteen” consisted of the following: “adorbs,” “bestie,” “bitcoin,” “booyah,” “emotypo,” “cosplay,” “ew,” “geocache,” “hangry,” “lifehack”, “luckbox,” “nowish,” “phlabet,” “retweet,” “woot,” and “zen.” Most commentators were betting that the eventual winner would be ew or zen but they weren't counting on the lobbying ability of aficianados of one of the words. Shortly after voting commenced, the Twitter feed implored its 56,000 followers: “Should 'geocache' count in Scrabble. Say heck yeah! Comment 'Geocache' on Hasbro's FB page.” Incidentally, geocache is a verb that means to seek items by means of a GPS device as part of a game.”

I was pleased that the interjection “ew” did not win as the official Scrabble rules already allows a plethora of them, such as, “ah,” “aw,” “eh,” “er,” “hm,” “mm,” “oh,” “oi,” “oy,” “sh,” “uh,” and “um.” When I play Scrabble I try to negotiate the the non-use of interjections.

Howard's latest book is How Happy Became Homosexual and other mysterious semantic shifts.