Month: July 2020

dogwood

In honor of BC day, August 1, I want to tell you about BC’s provincial flower, the dogwood. It’s one of my favorite trees, though I’d have to admit that most trees are my favorites. However, I promise not to go all botanical on you. Wikipedia says that the Pacific, or mountain, dogwood, is a species native to western North…

argle-bargle

 “Argle” appears in the late 1500s and means to argue obstinately, to wrangle, possibly a popular perversion of “argue,” or confusion of that word with “haggle.” “Argle-bargle” is Scottish and first appeared in 1808 in Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Tongue. A close variant, “aurgle-bargain,” dates all the way back to 1720. The Scots seem to have a penchant…

good riddance

To say, “good riddance” means you’re feeling a welcome relief from unpleasant company or an annoying situation, which could be anything from a bad cold to Aunt Bessie.  “Riddance” is a word that is no longer used except in this particular expression. In the 1500s a “riddance” was a general-purpose noun and meant “deliverance from” or “getting rid of.”  Shakespeare…

discombobulate

“Discombobulate” means to embarrass, disturb, confuse, befuddle, or disconcert. The word originated in the US and appeared in 1834. It’s a fanciful mock-Latin coinage of a type that was popular at the time. Here are some other examples: confusticate — confuse (1852)  absquatulate — flee (1840)  spifflicate — confound (1850)  scrumplicate — eat (1890) The Oxford English Dictionary cites an…

stinking rich

“Stinking rich” means extremely, offensively, disgustingly rich. The word “stink,” has Germanic roots, and did not originally indicate an unpleasant aroma. In Old English, it meant to produce an odor of any kind, pleasant as well as unpleasant. Soon, however, “stink” narrowed to mean “to give off a strong offensive smell,” and by the 1200s “stink” took on the figurative…

shim sham

When I published the piece on “flim-flam” about two weeks ago, a friend commented on it and asked if “shim-sham” meant the same thing. I’d never heard of “shim-sham” so naturally I had to look it up. Turns out it doesn’t mean a scam or a hustle or a bamboozle. It’s the name of a dance! The shim sham shimmy,…

skulduggery

The Oxford English Dictionary says that “skulduggery” means underhand dealing, deceptive intrigue or machination and trickery. It gives several forms of the spelling. The OED even has it as a verb — to skuldug, and quotes William Faulkner using it in 1936. This is an 18th century Scottish word, originally spelled “sculdudrie,” that refers to an indecent act, usually sexual…

once bitten, twice shy

The phrase “once bitten, twice shy” means to be very cautious because you’ve had an unpleasant experience that you don’t want to repeat. If a dog bites you, you tend to avoid that dog forever after. Like many such pieces of wisdom, the phrase has been attributed to Aesop. In 1400, William Caxton, the first English printer, did so in…

flim-flam

“Flim-flam” is a word used to describe a confidence trick, also deceptive, nonsensical, or insincere talk. Synonyms are: con, confidence game, ripoff, scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko (or bunco), a swindle, a gaffle, or a bamboozle. So many words for cheating really raises your respect for your fellow man, doesn’t it? The word was first used in the…