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…

run the gauntlet

To “run the gauntlet” once meant to endure a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged as guilty was forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who struck at him. Today, the phrase is used to mean going through a series of criticisms or harsh treatments at the hands of one’s detractors. The word originates from the…

dog in the manger

A “dog in the manger” is a person who keeps something that they do not actually want in order to prevent someone else from getting it. The story of The Dog in the Manger derives from an old Greek fable which comes to us in several different versions. The short form: “There was a dog lying in a manger who…

calf

A “calf” is a leg muscle, a baby cow, and a big chunk of ice. What’s all that about? According to an online dictionary, a “calf” is also:  — Leather made of the skin of the calf, especially a fine, light-colored leather used in bookbinding  — A young elephant, seal or whale (also used for some other large animals)  —…

jigsaw puzzle

Recent articles have commented on how fast the demand for jigsaw puzzles has risen during the coronavirus lockdown. One of the largest manufacturers reported a rise of 370 percent for a recent two-week period over the same period last year. I’m part of the reason for that rise. I hadn’t done any jigsaw puzzles since I was a kid and…

the third word herd

berserk: Furiously violent or out of control. An ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in    battle and held to be invulnerable.   hotter than the hubs of hell: This is a euphemism for “hotter than the hobs of Hell,” which is the earlier version. The word “hub” is a variant of “hob,” which means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “In…

birds of a feather flock together

This proverb is a colorful way of describing the fact that humans with similar tastes congregate in groups, just as birds of the same species frequently form flocks and fly together. Biologists say that this “safety in numbers” behavior makes the birds less at risk of predators. The saying has been in use since at least the mid 1500s. In…

higgledy-piggledy

“Higgledy-piggledy” means in confusion or disorder. Synonyms: untidy, disorganized, messy, chaotic, jumbled, muddled, irregular, cluttered. The phrase is an example of reduplication, the partial repetition of a word, often a nonsense word, for verbal effect. Other similar words that refer to chaos and disorder are: helter-skelter, harum-scarum, pell-mell, and raggle-taggle. They’re also sometimes called ricochet words or vocal gestures. The…

head games

“Head or mind games” means conscious one-upmanship, or psychological manipulation used to confuse and deceive people. Mind games used in the struggle for prestige appear in everyday life in every field.  Played most intensely perhaps by Type A personalities, office mind games are often hard to identify clearly, as strong management blurs with over-direction, healthy rivalry with manipulative head-games and…

another herd of words

gallivant: To “gallivant,” since 1809, is to travel, roam, or move about for pleasure, to go about usually ostentatiously or indiscreetly with members of the opposite sex. The word may have come from “gallant,” meaning a dashing man of fashion, a fine gentleman, or a man who pays special attention to women.   wench: “Wench” was in use by the…