out of kilter

“Out of kilter” means out of order; in poor health or spirits. “Kilter” arose from an older English dialect word “kelter,” which means “good health, good condition.” The earliest examples in print, mostly from the US, where the phrase is still more commonplace than elsewhere, are “out of kelter.” It was once widely known in that form in various English…

sundog

A “sundog” (parhelion) is a concentrated patch of sunlight occasionally seen about 22° to the left or right, or on both sides, of the Sun. Sundogs are often white but sometimes quite colorful, looking like detached pieces of rainbow. Sundogs are caused by the refraction and scattering of light from plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals either suspended in high, cold cirrus…

gaslighting

“Gaslighting” is an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation. Its effect is to gradually undermine the confidence of the victim(s) in their ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance. It is a form of emotional abuse, often with the goal of maintaining control. “Gaslighting” is derived from the play Gas Light …

smarty-pants

“Smarty-pants” also means “know-it-all” but, to me, seems to imply someone who is more cheeky than obnoxious, especially since it is often used as a schoolyard taunt. Still, such people can be annoying if they’re always trying to one-up you. “Smarty” has been used since at least the mid-1800s to put down some who was too smart for their own…

freshet

A “freshet” is a large rise or overflowing of a stream caused by heavy rains or melted snow, and often used to describe a spring thaw. The term can also refer to a small stream of fresh water, irrespective of its outflow. The use of the word is first found in 1596. A spring freshet can sometimes last several weeks…

March short stack

scamp — a rascal, a swindler, a rogue; do in a hasty manner fresh — slang for insolent, presumptuous, impudent, flirtatious, cheeky (1848) smartass (smart-ass) — irritatingly clever or smug (1960) irascible — showing a tendency to be easily angered, cantankerous zero-sum game — whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other nipcheese — slang for a…

mire

A “mire” is a stretch of swampy or boggy ground. It can also refer to a situation from which it is hard to extricate oneself. Used as a verb, “mire” means to become stuck in mud.  It originated in Middle English, from Old Norse mýrr, related to moss. A quagmire is a floating (quaking) mire, bog or any peatland. Mires…

miser

A “miser” is a person who spends as little money as possible and hoards wealth, sometimes to the extent of going without even basic comforts and some necessities; a mean, grasping person; frugal to a fault. Some Christians believe that both the miser and the usurer are guilty of the cardinal sin of avarice. And, since Classical times, writers appear…

niggardly

“Niggardly” means excessively parsimonious, miserly, or stingy; a “niggard” is a skinflint. It is derived from the Middle English word nigard, which is probably derived from Old Norse nigla, meaning “to be poor,” which itself is most likely derived from hnøggr (“stingy”). The word “niggle,” which in modern usage means to give excessive attention to minor details, probably shares an…

smart alec

A “smart alec” is an obnoxious or conceited know-it-all. The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson says: “If there ever lived a real ‘smart Aleck,’ an Alexander so much of an obnoxiously conceited know-it-all that his name became proverbial, no record of him exists. The term can be traced back to about the 1860s and is still…