the eighth word herd

Cater-cornered — diagonally placed or four-cornered. (American, 1880s) Kitty-cornered and catty-cornered are more common in actual usage. ~~~~~~~~ Catawampus — an imaginary fierce wild animal or hobgoblin. As an adjective, it means fierce, savage, destructive, askew, or cater-cornered.  (American, 1864) The second element may be related to Scottish “wampish,” which means to “to wriggle or twist.” ~~~~~~~~ Catamount — an…

ruckus

A “ruckus” is a noisy fight or minor disturbance, a commotion, much ado about very little.  “The dogs would set off quite a ruckus when they heard something in the woods.” Some writers suggest that “ruckus” is a combination of two words, “rumpus” and “ruction,” with quite different origins. “Rumpus” was coined in the 1700s by European students to describe…

my two cents worth

“My two cents’ worth” is an opinion. The idiom comes from 15th-century British use of twopence or tuppence to mean “of little or no value.” The American “two bits,” meaning 25 cents, is used in a similar way. In the past, many goods or services have borne a low price, such as twopenny ale, twopenny post, even twopenny rope (an…

counting sheep

Counting sheep is a mental discipline used as a way of putting oneself to sleep. What you’re supposed to do is imagine an endless series of identical white sheep jumping over a fence, and count them as they go. Presumably, occupying the mind with something simple, repetitive, and rhythmic will be so boring that you fall asleep. An early reference…

out of sorts

If you’re “out of sorts,” you’re a bit unwell, in low spirits, irritable, not your usual self. A similar phrase is “out of kilter.” Since the 1600s “sorts” has been used by typographers to name the metal characters in their boxes of type, so called because they have been arranged, or sorted, each into its own compartment, with all of…

short stack four

Chop chop — hurry! Originated in British-occupied south China (1830s) Dough head — stupid, a blockhead, a fool, (early 1800s US) Fink — an unpleasant or contemptible person, strikebreaker, informer Flummadiddle — trash, bauble, frill, useless (1840s) Fussbudget — fussy about unimportant things; Lucy from “Peanuts” Gizmo — a gadget whose real name is unknown or forgotten Highfalutin — pretentious,…

lalochezia

lalochezia “Lalochezia” (pronounced lal-o-kee-zia) means to use vulgar or foul language to relieve stress or pain. The word is formed from two Greek roots: “Lalo-” meaning “speech” and “chesia” meaning “to defecate.” If you stub your toe, letting it all out by swearing increases your heart rate and reduces the pain felt. Also, swearing has been found to reduce stress…

away with the fairies

If you’re “away with the fairies,” you’re in a dream-world, not facing reality. This phrase came from the Scots/Irish Gaelic traditional folk myths, including a belief in the existence of “the little people.” Irish folklore tells of the Sidhe, a supernatural, dominant clan of fairies. The stories involve the Sidhe appearing from some hidden place, either their underground lair or…

lying

lying There’s nothing unusual about the word “lying” but a delightful article by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary discusses words which mean almost the same thing. As a lover of words, I offer it here in abbreviated form. Palter: to act insincerely or deceitfullyThe word has had various meanings but, now, according to the Harvard Gazette, “Paltering is when a communicator says…

the seventh word herd

New York minute — a very short time: a moment, an instant, a flash, a nanosecond. As Johnny Carson once said, it’s the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn. It seems to have originated in Texas around 1967 and refers to the frenzied and hectic pace of New Yorkers’ lives.…