the fourth word herd

Here’s another collection of unusual words and phrases that have too much history to be “one-liners” but not enough to warrant a full blog post:

Bloviate — empty, pompous, political speech, originating in Ohio about 1850 and used by US President Warren G. Harding, who described it as “the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing.” His opponent, William Gibbs McAdoo, described it as “the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.” The word may come from blow or blowhard, with a mock-Latin ending to give it the self-important stature implicit in its meaning.

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Dactylonomy — in simple terms, the art of counting on your fingers. For dactylomonists who were experts, it was not just a matter of using the whole finger. After all, every finger has a knuckle, two joints and three bones (one joint and two bones for the thumb) and all of them, on both hands, were used to count up to 9,999. Paintings exist from more than four thousand years ago showing Egyptians counting in this way, and it was common in classical Greece and Rome. 

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Dick smithing — a slang term to describe a host who, when in the kitchen pouring drinks for guests, pours himself an extra shot. There might be several reasons why a person dick smiths an extra drink. But, if it’s his booze, why not? There appears to be some sort of link to San Francisco. I’d never heard of this term and probably most people haven’t, since I found only two or three references to it on the Web. The one I liked most was the idea that Dick Smith was a band famous for the song “Swillbilly.”

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Double-double — Canadian slang for coffee with two creams and two teaspoons of sugar. It apparently began at “Timmy’s” (slang for popular coffee chain Tim Horton’s) and is now used elsewhere as well.

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Illywhacker — from Australian English, a small-time confidence trickster. To “whack the illy” means to sell imitation diamond pins, new-style patent razors or infallible tonics and the like. “Illywhacker” was becoming obsolete, but it was given new life when Peter Carey used it as the title of his 1985 novel, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. “Australians used to be champions in the art of bulldust, lords of the tall story, illywhackers of stature and bearing. How low we have sunk. If there’s something wrong with this country, it’s got to be the poor standard of lying.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 1995). It would be a great shame if such a delightful word were to fade away. 

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