Perhaps every family has their own “family speak;” I know that we did. For example, when I was in a high chair eating a pancake, my mother told me that I banged on the tray hollering for “sirk! SIRK!!”

“What do you want?” she asked me. “What is ‘sirk’?”

Then she realized that I meant ‘syrup.’ So ‘sirk’ became our family word for syrup. As I got older, whenever I saw Mom or Dad doing something and then finishing it, I asked was the project ‘flopicized’ yet. In my lingo, that meant ‘finished.’

We also called “tonic” (New Englandese for ‘soda’ or ‘soft drink’) “tonit.” When the day was cloudy and raw, my dad called it a “lowrey” day.

When I married the Crankee Yankee, his delightful mother, Hazel, who grew up in a German-speaking home, introduced me to some of her family’s favorite words, such as:

  • “Schtumph” – to push something or someone over. Example: “Hazel, Dougie just schtumphed the baby [Doug’s younger brother, David] over!”
  • “Cravis haben” or “haben rovis” was an all-purpose noun for anything; pots, pans, clothes, shoes, dishes, etc. Example: “Will you please put the cravis haben in the cupboard?”
  • “Hux around” meant ‘hang around.’ Example: “I’ll just hux around the house today.”

Not only do I love hearing about different words that families use; I love words—period. There are some words that just sing to me; some of my favorites, off the top of my head are:

  • “zaftig” – soft, round, pleasing
  • “hyrax” – shrew mouse
  • “feckless” – weak or ineffective
  • “peckish” – hungry
  • “gravitas” – a very serious manner
  • “entymologist” – one who studies insects

Funny story about entymology vs. etymology; Mom (who also loved and appreciated words) once told me that she often forgot which was which. I told her  to remember the “ents” (ants) so that she would remember that entymology is the study of insects. That still makes me laugh.

And then there are the words you can play in a good game of Scrabble. Oh, the exquisite joy of spelling out a word like “quinoa” with the “q” on a triple letter square! Or, better yet, getting a “bingo” (using all seven letters on your rack) AND beginning or ending with one letter on the “triple word” square! A bingo means you get an extra 50 points, so that can be a real game-changer.

My love of words has brought me singular joy all my life. I am lucky to have come from a reading family, even though Mom and I were definitely reading for pleasure. Dad read for information. Funnily enough, so does the Cranky Yankee.

So whether or not you call it “sirk” or “syrup,” you know that it’s that delicious maple-y stuff you pour on your pancakes. After all, what’s in a name?

Tales From a Word Nerd

Back when I was in college studying to become an English teacher, I felt that the English language was already in a pretty advanced state of disrepair. When I was student teaching, the standard response to anything my junior high students didn’t understand was ‘that’s so mental!

Apparently, “mental” to them meant anything that they felt was off-track, hard to understand, or just plain weird.

The misuse and overuse of the word set my teeth on edge, just as much as ‘whatever’ does today. Even when I was a high school student, ‘word torture’ as I called it, drove me nuts. I was a real word nerd, and I bored the pants off everyone on how we were ‘murdering’ the English language.

But now that I’m in my mid-sixties, I am still a word nerd and am not ashamed of it. I’d say the most annoying popular and misused word to my ear these days is “like.” It hurts my head when I hear people speaking in this way: ‘so I’m like walking down the street, and like this guy like comes up and says like…’ and so on.

If I were teaching English today, any kid who interspersed their speech with “like” would get a warning. For this first infraction, I would explain how using “like” many times while speaking implies a paucity of language skills. It is also a useless placeholder (such as “um” or “ah”) so that the speaker can take time to think of what else they want to say.

FYI: Here’s the real scoop on poor misused “like:”

  • “Like” can imply similarity, such as “This feels like cashmere.”
  • “Like” can express enjoyment, such as “My daughter likes peas.”
  • “Like” is too often used in explaining something that someone said, such as ‘he was, like, so angry!’ Just say ‘he was angry.’

If the aforementioned kid misused “like” in my class again, he or she would get a detention and an automatic meeting with the parents.

Of course, in this day of uber political correctness, I would probably lose my job. It is sad that it has become more important not to hurt someone’s feelings rather than learning proper speech.

But there you go; it’s the sign of the times. I’m am sure that my generation drove adults nuts too. For instance, all of our ’60s hippie-speak had to have been maddening: “far out!” “right on!” “groovy!” “whatta gas!” “outta sight!” “freak out!” “cool it!” and “can you dig it?”

But at least we didn’t say “like, can you, like, dig it?’


The Difference Between “Ground” and “Floor” and Other Wordy Annoyances

I will admit to being a really *PITA word/grammar/pronunciation snob. The Crankee Yankee is very used to me hollering at newscasters who say “nookuler” instead of “nuclear.” (That’s only the tip of the grammatical iceberg.)

I used to date someone who constantly said, “Well, you have to take the good with the bad.” <insert picture of me cross-eyed with annoyance, yanking my hair and screaming “noooooooooooooooooo!” here> The saying goes: “You have to take the BAD with the GOOD.” Meaning that, for the good thing you like, there is something bad that you don’t like that comes with it.

Example: I love my four cats. I don’t love it that we have to clean four litter boxes. But we do so because we love the cats (the GOOD) and so will take the BAD (cleaning the litter boxes). See what I mean? So why do I continually hear “You have to take the GOOD with the BAD?” Meaning that, for the BAD thing you DON’T like, there is something GOOD that you DO like that comes with it. Makes NO sense…

Here a few other “favorites” of mine I have griped about in the past:

  • There is no such word as REE-LA-TOR. ‘Realtor’ is pronounced “REEL-TOR.” Also, there is no such word as LIBERRY. It is ‘library,’ pronounced “LIBE-RARY.”
  • When you fall down in a house, a library, a school, the workplace–in short, somewhere indoors, you say that you fell on the floor. When you fall down outside; that is, where there is grass, cement, clay, etc., then you can say that you fell on the ground. It annoys the **crap out of me when people say that they fell on the ground when they in fact fell on the floor.
  • People who make up some variation of a word or phrase that makes no sense. Example: I overheard a waiter speaking with a customer who was talking enthusiastically about the new golf course in town. He had had a great game and that waiter, who proclaimed that he, too was a golfer said, “How did you find the degree of difficulticity of the course?” Seriously?!?
  • It is correct to say “It’s not that big a deal.” It is INCORRECT to say, “It’s not that big OF a deal.” Period.
  • The phrase “gulped at,” as in “he gulped at his drink.” This sounds like he held up his glass near his face and went gulp, gulp, gulp and didn’t actually drink anything. Shouldn’t it be “he gulped (down) his drink?”
  • I recently heard this one on a TV commercial. A pretty girl, sitting in her bedroom, looks at the camera and says, “When I’m on my period, I take <insert brand here>.” Really–she is ON her period? You can be ON a motorcycle, ON a fencepost, ON the horns of a dilemma, etc. However, you HAVE a period, you don’t actually GET ON a period. The phrase should be “when I’m HAVING my period.” Period.
  • The word “jewelry” is not pronounced “JOO-Lery.” Look at how it’s spelled; “JEW-EL-RY.” That’s how you say it; “JEW-EL-RY.” Enough said.

There is a special phrase for people like me, who pick and poke at word/grammar/pronunciation, and generally bore the socks off people. But I’ll just leave that to your imagination. For us, hearing someone say “REE-LA-TOR” is like having a 10″ pin shoved into your eyeball every two seconds. It offends our nitpicky little sensibilities, and we just hate that. Forget the fact that we are annoying as all hell; it just grinds the ever-loving foofraw out of us.

*Pain In The A**

**As so many things like this annoy me, you could say that I am “crapless” most of the time.

Acceptable Swears and Insults

Well, we all know the UNacceptable swears–you know, the ones you don’t want your kids to hear and blurt out in a crowded room. Somehow the little buggers pick them up anyway and will say them often as they do with  any new word, much to our chagrin. A friend of mine once told me that when she was about two years old her parents had had workmen take down a tree in their back yard. As the tree was fairly near her bedroom, she evidently heard quite a bit of swear words that day.

When her mother came to get her up from her afternoon nap, she heard her little girl saying “BOOL-sheet, BOOL-sheet, BOOL-sheet!”

I have gathered some  acceptable swears over the years that I’ve harvested so as not to drop an F-bomb in front of my four year old granddaughter, Ava. I know that they don’t have the punch of the good old Anglo-Saxon dirty words, but hopefully they may keep you from planting REAL swear word into impressionable ears. My favorites are:

  • Fidakadoosha!
  • Ah, nuts!
  • Oh, bugger (just don’t say this in England)!
  • Nertz!
  • Oh, paint me purple!
  • Buttons and fish!
  • RATS!

Now about some acceptable insults? I found some good ones from Captain Archibald Haddock, a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. He is Tintin’s best friend, a seafaring Merchant Marine Captain. Some of his finer and less offensive insults are these:

  • Troglodyte
  • Visigoth
  • Pockmark
  • Sea gerkin
  • Nincompoop
  • Nitwit
  • Pinhead
  • Pickled herring
  • Slugs
  • Miserable molecule of mildew

Some of my own favorite insults are:

  • Oaf
  • Boor
  • Philistine
  • Toad
  • Troglodyte (I’m with Captain Haddock on that one!)
  • Doofus
  • Dorkus

But here is my current favorite: “Festering boil on the buttocks of Satan!” Now, that’s an insult, and it didn’t even have one Angle Saxon syllable in it!

I’ll admit it’s work to find suitable substitutes for bad language, but it’s worth it. Not only does it keep you out of the potty-mouth club, but it shows a level of wit and intelligence you don’t find in mere crass swears and insults.

Plus, a nice side benefit to NOT using common scatological swears and insults is that you have that “neener-neener-neener–I didn’t really swear!” feeling afterward. Clean and witty–how great is THAT?


More Grammar and Usage Examples That Aggravate the Grammar Nazi

If you are an English major or just a self-proclaimed grammar nazi (I am both), there are some words and phrases that are so commonly misused that you just want to scream…well, I do, anyway. Here are some of them that drive me nuts:

“Supposably” — no, no. NO! It is “supposedly.”

“Foilage” — we in the Northeast hear this a lot from “leaf peepers.” It is “foliage.” Sheesh.

“Flustrated” — nope; you are either FRUSTRATED or FLUSTERED. Not both. (Yes, I do know that this is commonly accepted–it doesn’t mean I approve of it!)

“Vice-a versa” — ah, no. It is “vice versa,” Latin for “the position being reversed.”

“Jewlery” — Nope; it’s “jewelry”; pronounced “JEW-el-ree.”

“Relator” — There is no such word. It is “realtor,” pronounced “REEL-tor.”

“Loose” and “lose” — “Loose” means “not tight,” as in “My belt is too loose.” “Lose” means to misplace something, as in “Be careful that you don’t lose your wallet.”

“Anyways” — no; it’s “anyway.” There is no such word as “anyways.”

“Alright” —  this has become so common that hardly anyone knows that it should two words; “all right.”

“Desert” is a dry sandy area where nothing grows; a barren and uninhabited place. “Dessert” is a confection you have after dinner. Oh, and by the way, if someone gets what’s coming to them, then they are getting their “just deserts; ” an older meaning of the word is “what one deserves.” (If they were getting “just desserts,” that wouldn’t be much of a punishment, now would it?)

“Utilize” and “use:” My ex-husband used to say “I have to utilize the bathroom.” That’s just overblown puffery for “use,” and in his case, using a three-syllable word did not make him sound any brighter.

“Degree of difficulticity:” I heard this gem from a waiter who asked a golfer if the 9th hole had an “acceptable degree of difficulticity,” meaning (I guess), “was that hole tough enough for ya?” Good grief!

“It’s” and “its”: You can easily avoid this confusion when you write by using this simple method: if you use “it’s,” this is an abbreviation for “it is.” If you are, say, describing a cat washing its tail, then “its” is correct; you are NOT saying “the cat is washing IT IS tail.”

“Tooken” – Believe it or not, I have heard this more than you would believe–used as the past tense of “take,” as in “I wanna be tooken care of!”

Then there are these examples of mistaken usage:

“I’m all PTSD about buying these shoes!” This means (I think) that the person is saying that they are either confused or overwhelmed about buying a particularly expensive or wildly inappropriate pair of shoes. If that’s the case, then it would be proper to say something like this: “I love these shoes, but don’t know if I’ll wear them enough to justify the cost!”

“Oh! That’s so mental!” This was said ENDLESSLY when I was a student teacher for a seventh grade English class. If I had a dime for every time I rolled my eyes over this I could have bought the entire school, including the brand-new gym, parking lot and every vehicle in it. At the time, the current expression for anything that upset, irritated, scared or mystified some kid, they assigned the word “mental” to it….that word still gives me a headache.

….and my least favorite of all time, the horrible misuse of the innocent word, “like.” If I were teaching English today, on the first day of school I would warn my students verbally and in writing (to their parents) the following:

“Any student who habitually misuses the word “like” will be summarily expelled from my class and will not receive a passing grade. Some examples of such misuse follow:

‘He’s, like, just the cutest boy, like, EVER!’

‘So, like, I go up to her, like all casual-like, and then I, like, ask her out on, like, a date, and she’s all, like, offended, like!’

*’If I break a law, do I, like, go to jail?’


*As the word “like” is often used in the same way as “as if,” the answer to this last would be “No, you wouldn’t LIKE go to jail, you really WOULD go to jail!”






My Favorite Kind of Loony

The word “loony” has many different meanings; the common one being “crazy” or “foolish.” It is also the short version of “lunatic” as well. And then there are these synonyms from Webster’s Dictionary:

  • absurd
  • asinine
  • balmy (or ‘barmy’)
  • brainless
  • bubbleheaded
  • cockeyed
  • crackpot
  • crazy
  • cuckoo
  • daffy
  • daft
  • dippy
  • dotty
  • fatuous
  • feather-headed
  • fool
  • half-baked
  • hare-brained
  • half-witted
  • inept
  • insane
  • jerky
  • kooky (also kookie)
  • foolish (also looney)
  • lunatic
  • lunk-headed
  • mad
  • nonsensical
  • nutty
  • preposterous
  • sappy
  • screwball
  • senseless
  • silly
  • simple-minded
  • stupid
  • tomfool
  • unwise
  • wacky (also whacky)
  • weak-minded
  • witless
  • zany

Just look at all of these wonderful words to describe someone who is, shall we say, one sandwich short of a picnic, one who does not have all their fish on one string, and so on. I really don’t think we have nearly as many interesting phrases, words or synonyms for regular ‘normal’ folk.

But that aside, I rather like the term ‘loony.’ It brings to mind an older lady of some means, sitting on her front porch in the early evening, having a cup of tea in an English china cup and sparked with a gracious plenty of “C’mon Baby Light My Fire” whiskey. She would be wearing one of her old but well-kept floor-length kimonos with matching silk slippers.

Tonight she would be wearing the ivory, scarlet, turquoise and black kimono, with scarlet slippers turned up at the toes. Her long silver hair would be braided and wrapped at the base of her neck, with an ivory and gold comb to hold it in place. Large jade and gold rings would bedeck her fingers, and her nails would be painted a glittering gold. Creamy ivory drop earrings trimmed in gold would dangle from her ears.

Her large Samoan manservant would have tenderly seen to her dressing, hair and nails, and would be sitting opposite her, enjoying a glass of shandy. Having been together for many decades, the silence between them would be comfortable, and occasionally they would catch the others eye and smile. He would have been witness to her days of dancing atop pianos, drawing crowds in her salon as she read her own poetry aloud, seen her through her five marriages and also would have loved and cared for her endless parade of black cats over many years, all called Disraeli.

The children in her neighborhood suspect that she might be a witch, but they can’t deny the allure of her home with its wide porch, stained glass upper windows and hedges clipped to look like upside-down ice cream cones. Nor can they turn away the delicious brownies and cookies that the manservant bakes and leaves in large plates for them on the front steps.

Some evenings you can hear her play her violin, and often her manservant will accompany her on a curiously carved wooden flute. The music would lazily coil out of the windows and into the street where the neighbors might start tapping their feet or putting down their newspapers to let the sound roll over them as they close their eyes, enjoying the free concert.

So, having said all that, this is how I choose to view the word “loony.” In fact, I’d like it very much if, 10 or 20 years down the road, people call ME “loony.” I can’t promise I’ll have a manservant, but I will have the Crankee Yankee by my side…..and I probably will be wearing bright kimonos, too. And definitely lots of jewelry.

Yup, that would by my favorite kind of loony.




Words, Wonderful Words!

I am deeply and truly in love with words. There are words I could marry, I love them so much. There are words I don’t care for; they conjure up unpleasant images for me. There are words I love to say; I enjoy the sound of the them and the very feel of them in my mouth as I say them.

Words have power, personality, punch, panache and pizzazz. There are words I like so much that I find a reason to use them just so I can speak them out loud. There are also words that are inherently funny–they sound funny; even feel funny when you say them:

  • Bologna
  • Bumfuzzle
  • Taradiddle
  • Snickersnee (hint: if you are a foll0wer of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, you’ll recognize that one)
  • Collywobbles
  • Widdershins

Some of the words I love just for their sheer majesty are these:

  • Chatelaine
  • Palimpsest
  • Palindrome
  • Zaftig
  • Hyrax
  • Chimera
  • Pelucid
  • Illuminate
  • Quetzal
  • Imbroglio
  • Asphodel
  • Insouciant
  • Triskadexaphobia
  • Interlocutory
  • Zeitgeist
  • Pinyon
  • Reliquary
  • Estuary
  • Pillock
  • Circumnavigate
  • Ineluctable

I purposely did not put the definitions in; I’ll let you have the pleasure of looking up the ones with which you may not be familiar. I read a lot of books, and I learn a lot of new words in this way. But here’s the thing: you get a little smug when your favorite hobbies are reading and writing; you get the false sense that you know all; or at least have a nodding acquaintance with–all the words in English language–but no. There is always something new to discover.

It hurts my heart a little when I hear words misused; it’s as if someone is attacking a dear friend of mine. Or sometimes it’s just funny, such as the time the Crankee Yankee and I were walking near a Chipotle’s restaurant. A young woman and her friend were also walking by and one of them said, “What to try Chipotles (pronounced ‘chi-POT-uls’) for lunch?”

Of course, she may never have run into that word before in her life, and shame on me for being such a word snob. (But honestly–it was kinda funny.)

My mother and I adore Scrabble, and it is a pure pleasure when one of us can use a fabulous word and get a good score with it. To us, it’s the ultimate win-win.

So does this all mean that I am a consummate etymologist? No, I’m not that dedicated. I am merely a major appreciator of words. (And just a little bit of a word snob, too.)