Monday, July 31, 2006


Ebay is Pig Latin for "be". It may also be written "e-bay".

On a side note, the Latin word for "pig" is sus, which is also the genus to which pigs belong.

The pig word for "Latin" is usually transcribed in an onomatopoeic sense in English as "oink", although there is some ambiguity as to whether Latin is in fact what the pigs are meaning to describe.

The Latvian translation of the pig word for "Latin" is ruk. The Latverian translation of the pig word for "Latin" is unclear, although it may be röf (based on Latverian's Hungarian roots). Perhaps the only way to be certain would be to ask Victor Von Doom, who might kill you for the inquiry, but would provide you with an honest answer otherwise. (Though Dr. Doom is capable of many things, the Master of Latveria does not lie.)

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, July 30, 2006


A chiropodist is a podiatrist, or foot doctor. It is particularly used for British podiatrists. A good word to know if you're watching Animal Crackers and want to understand Groucho Marx's dubious joke about the Irish chiropodist.

technorati tags:, , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, July 29, 2006


We hear about things being minimal so often that most don't realize that the opposite is in fact a real word. Maximal is the antonym of minimal, so it would not be inappropriate to say that something caused "maximal damage" or that a piece of art was "maximalist"... Actually, that last one might be inappropriate.

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Friday, July 28, 2006


"Soy embarazada" is something a man might say if he is embarrassed, particularly if the source of his embarrassment is his continual state of pregnancy and his dubious grasp of Spanish grammar.

Embarazada is the Castillian word for "pregnant". It would more properly be used in a sentence like "estoy embarazada" ("I'm pregnant") or (e perdon el Español malo aqui) "Me desconciertan para decir que soy embarazado" ("I'm embarrassed to say that I am pregnant").

It has been misused in such cases as Parker Pens campaign that their pens wouldn't "leak in your pocket and make you pregnant". It probably doesn't help that Babelfish doesn't know the difference between the two.

Just goes to show you that words aren't always what you think they are. Cómo molesto. So much for Spanglish.

technorati tags:, , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Tchotchke is a Yiddish word for a trinket, knickknack, or other fairly cheap or useless items. Thus, "Weird Al" Yankovic sang "I'll buy your tchotchkes" in the song "eBay".

While that's interesting in itself, I find Yiddish as a language more interesting. The way many speak of it today, you'd think it was modern Hebrew. In reality, the nation of Israel uses Hebrew primarily and Yiddish is not really a major language. Yiddish is a Germanic language that developed in the Jewish culture living in Germany in the 10th century. It developed and spread over many years to the point that there were 10 million Yiddish speakers before World War II. The Holocaust led to a decline of Yiddish not just because of the slaughter, but also because of the dissipation that resulted. As this dissipation happened, though, Yiddish began to slip into other languages and cultures, and we have tchotchke (among many other words) in the English language today because of it.

technorati tags:, , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rashomon effect

The Rashomon effect is an effect that practically every TV show ever made seems to have made use of at some point or other. Basically it refers to how people may view the same events in completely different ways, making the truth of the matter difficult to verify. This motif pops up in many places ranging from Star Trek: The Next Generation ("A Matter of Perspective") to Perfect Strangers. ("Eyewitless Reports") to NewsRadio ("Catherine Moves On"). I think it was in something else too, but I can't quite put my finger on what it was.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Schadenfreude is a German word which basically means "taking pleasure in the pain of others". Although it would probably not be correct to say that all bad things come from schadenfreude, it certainly would explain a lot.

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inter arma enim silent leges

Cicero at about age 60, from an ancient marble bustNormally I wouldn't post two in a row, but I really need to get the taste of flustrated out of my mouth. Since this is a rare case of me posting two of these in an hour, I'm going to have some fun with
this one. Just as flustrated is a bit unusual for this list (in the sense that it's fairly commonly known), this entry is a bit unusual in the sense that it's a complete phrase rather than just a word or two.

Inter arma enim silent leges is a phrase which means "In times of war, the law falls silent" (or, more literally, "In the face of arms, the law falls mute"). The quote originally comes from Cicero, who had a lot to say around the time Julius Caesar was killed. Cicero said while defending friend his Milo, who was on trial for murder, saying that this was excusable in self defense. While this speech, known as the Pro Milone, didn't result in Milo's acquittal (he was exiled to France), Cicero later got Marcus Saufeius off on the same charge.

Bashir speaksCicero originally phrased this a bit differently, saying "Silent enim leges inter arma". How did the wording change over? As far as I can tell, it started with an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, appropriately named "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges". And where did they get it? We find the answer in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion by Terry J. Erdman, where former DS9 producer Ronald D. Moore says:

I got the title at a book store. I was browsing through the new stuff, and there was a copy of William Rehnquist's new
. It was about habeas corpus in American law and how Abraham Lincoln had suspended that writ during the Civil War, along with some other civil liberties. On the book jacket, there was a blurb that said Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was a classic case of the old Roman dictum Inter arma silent leges― 'In times of war, the laws fall silent.' And I looked at it and said, 'Hey!' because I was working on this episode and it was all about Section 31 and this espionage thing and how the law was going
to fall silent because of the war. It was perfect! […] The word order provided [by the show's research
consultant] was different from the original quote, but she told me that word order doesn't matter in Latin so I could arrange the words however they looked best, so I arranged them in a way that looked and read best to me.

Incidentally, the pronunciation of the phrase as described in the show's script was "EN-ter ARM-ah EYE-nim SEE-lent LEH-ges". Just remember that all of the I's are pronounced like E's and vice versa (except for "Inter") and you'll have it about right.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock


I'm going to start by saying that I hate this word. It annoys me to no end. That said, I can't seem to make a solid argument against using it.

As I'm writing this, Wiktionary claims that flustrated is a blend of "frustrated" and "flustered". I would've guessed the same thing. Although I generally trust Wikipedia and its sister sites to some extent, the fact is, the person who wrote this may have just been guessing.

Several other sites give the same definition -- word-for-word. Obviously, these are just drawing from Wiktionary.

Langmaker claims that Flustrated first originated around 1980. Not even close. Let's dig back further. doesn't go into the etymology, but according to their definition (drawn from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary), flustrated is a colloquialism. Still not looking good for flustrated.

At this point it comes in handy to have a good printed copy of a dictionary with better etymological information. Random House Webster's College Dictionary (1995 edition) states that flustrated originated in 1710-20 as a blend of "fluster" and "frustrate" (+ "-ed"). (Interestingly, "flustrate" itself does not have an entry; only "flustrated" does.) While this leaves the origin at what we would expect, this pushes the dates back significantly: This obviously isn't some form or modern slang * or "Ebonics". This word has, for better or worse, been around far too long to be considered a simple mispronunciation any longer. At worst, it is a portmanteau (or, more accurately, a blend). At best, it might not even be that.

According to The Mavens' Word of the Day:

The word flustrate, also found in the spelling flusterate and the derived from flust(e)ration, is just an elaborated variant of fluster, with the verb-forming suffix -ate; it is probably not a blend of fluster and frustrate (though some recent examples do suggest a blend or a confusion with frustrate). [...] Flustrate is first found in Addison and Steele's The Spectator, one of the seminal periodicals in English literary history, written by two of English's greatest prose stylists. Steele, in Spectator number493, wrote: "We were coming down Essex Street one Night a little flustrated." And Samuel Richardson wrote in his novel Clarissa, "How soon these fine young ladies will be put into flusterations."

Follow the above link for more information, but, if Random House has done their research properly, this throws every assumption most have about flustrate into doubt. In summary:

  1. Flustrate is not a recent word: It has been around for around 300 years (at minimum).
  2. Because of its long history, flustrate cannot reasonably be considered "slang".
  3. Flustrate is not necessarily a blend of fluster and frustrate, although it almost certainly is derived from fluster.

That said, the faulty assumptions and negative connotations surrounding this word and probably more than enough reason to avoid it in regular usage. At minimum, I would avoid it in any "professional" settings.

I still hate that word.

* Warning: Link may contain foul language.

technorati tags:, , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Noblesse oblige

Noblesse oblige is a French phrase meaning "nobility obliges". It's loosely based on Luke 12:48. For fans of the King James Version, that says:

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

A more recent translation says instead:

But the one that did not understand and so did things deserving of strokes will be beaten with few. Indeed, everyone to whom much was given, much will be demanded of him; and the one whom people put in charge of much, they will demand more than usual of him.

Either way, it might be best summed up in the words of one of the great modern authors, who said:

With great power comes great responsibility.

It is generally used with people of high wealth, rank, or social status to infer the additional social responsibilities that this implicitly confers upon them, although it might also be used sarcastically or to refer to anyone's responsibility to use their power for good, rather than the alternative.

technorati tags:, , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Friday, July 21, 2006


Although depending on your age, Mom may be more likely to remember this one than you are.

Poster showing Mikhail GorbachevPerestroika is a Russian word that means "restructuring", although it has been successfully integrated into English vocabulary thanks to the restructuring efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev back toward the end of the Soviet Union. Glasnost probably didn't help much either, although I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Good intentions paved the road for what some called "catastroika", the catastrophe that involved the fall of the USSR.

If Wikipedia can be believed (in this case at the moment I'm writing this), perestroyka is also Greek for "accident". Oops.

If there's any sort of linguistic relation between Perestroika and troika (a group of three) beyond the obvious and the fact that they're both Russian words, I have no idea what it is.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock


I thought about sticking a word of the day feature on this, but I'll be shocked if I keep up any regularity of posting (despite this initial flurry). Instead, I give you "Words to Your Mother". Words you may not have known or properly understood, but are safe to use around the girl who married dear old dad. Or someone just like her. Or around the shameless tart who had a one-night stand with your father and never saw him again, leaving him to deal with the consequences... waitaminute... that doesn't sound right...

Anyway, today you can safely teach mom about decimation. Keep reading even if you think you know this one.

Decimation *originally* referred to the killing of every tenth person, a practice the Romans used to keep mutinous legions in check. So decimation, rather than being the slaughtering of a large group of people, is the killing of one out of every ten, which, while less than ideal, isn't nearly as bad.

Or does it mean that? Some dictionaries say otherwise. And some would say that Decimation is something else entirely.

The fact is, that English is an evolving language, something that smarter linguists (like Paul Brians) aren't afraid to admit. Check out his site on Common Errors in English Usage, which is well worth purchasing if you, like me, sometimes appreciate a hard copy, even if the online version is free.

BTW, should I keep posting to this blog, don't expect as many of the words to be so well known. And no, I'm not going to start ripping off various word of the day lists.

Oh, yeah. Don't expect them all to be in English either.

Stay tuned.

Blogged with Flock

At first I thought I could care less whether people read this blog...

... and then I discovered that I couldn't. Huh.

Blogged with Flock