Uncomfortable Word Pairings

My mom and I adore words, or *etymology. We like it that some words are pleasing to say, and others just aren’t. We are interested the origins of words as well. We both love Scrabble, and especially so when we can play not only a high-value word, but a wonderful word, such as zaftig, or hyrax, or penumbra. (Look them up, you’ll see what I mean.)

We also love plays on words, silly words, and now uncomfortable word pairings. I’ll explain. Uncomfortable word pairings are a couple of words which really have nothing to do with each other (they don’t even telephone each other on holidays). Witness the one Mom came up with last night: “Marshmallow Penitentiary.”

Imagine–only really petty crimes will put you in the Marshmallow Penitentiary because they’re just not that serious. You can get sentenced to the MP for things like this:

  • Tap dancing during church services
  • Giving out only black jelly beans on Halloween
  • Having one too many lawn ornaments
  • Farting in a line at the deli
  • Writing “alright” instead of “all right”
  • Wearing both corduroy pants and squeaky shoes at the same time (whisk, whisk, squeak, squeak)
  • Chewing with your mouth open in public
  • Walking around with your butt crack showing
  • Leaving the toilet seat up in the ladies’ room
  • Saying the word “pregnut” instead of “pregnant,” or “ree-lah-tor” instead of “realtor,” or “joolery” instead of “jewELry”

..and so on. Now, if you give the judge any lip for sentencing you to the Marshmallow Penitentiary, he may say, “Keep it up and I’ll give you s’more!

There are other uncomfortable word pairings out there, and we are making it our business to find them.  Mind you, they are not mere **oxymorons, such as:

  • Almost exactly
  • Alone together
  • Clearly misunderstood
  • Diet chocolate cake
  • Extinct life
  • Freezer burn
  • Good grief
  • Living dead
  • Minor catastrophe
  • Near miss
  • Passive aggressive
  • Pretty ugly
  • Sweet sorrow

No, the uncomfortable word pairings are a different species all together. Don’t worry–my mom and I will continue to search them out and bring them, screaming, into the light of day. I’ll keep you posted. Until then, please do your best to stay out of Marshmallow Penitentiary. I hear it’s a pretty sticky place.

*1. the derivation of a word.
Synonyms: word origin, word source, derivation, origin.
2. a chronological account of the birth and development of a particular word or element of a word, often delineating its spread from one language to another and its evolving changes in form and meaning.

Synonyms: word history, word lore, historical development.
3.the study of historical linguistic change, especially as manifested in individual words.
A Family Factoid: Mom once asked me how to remember the difference between ‘etymology’ and ‘entomology.’ I told her, ‘Easy! Entomology is the study of ents [ants–get it?].”
**a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”





One thought on “Uncomfortable Word Pairings

  1. pamkirst2014 says:

    Lulu, I used to plunge my English comp students into the dictionary on the second day of class, searching for words’ histories. (A light bulb moment happened when they looked up homonyms–like sight and site–and saw they snuck into English via different languages: aha!!!) They used to love listing oxymorons, too, and would bring in examples from popular media. A favorite: lifeless corpse. Great post; great fun!

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