Archive for March, 1998

mm: A Nice Derangement

[Enter Virginia and Wesley.] Virginia: What's a malapropism? Wesley: It's when you accidentally replete a word with another word that sounds somewhat simian, often with comic effect. Virginia: And polarity ensues. Wesley: Something like that. It's best when the replacement word is somehow revenant to the situation. It's named after Mrs. Malaprop, from Sheridan's The […]

ll: Lyrical Lyrics

In a previous column, I discussed the Anglo-Saxon verse form in which each line has four or five stressed syllables, at least two of which start with the same consonant sound. The Anglo-Saxons used this form for verse as short as riddles or as long as Beowulf; presumably it aided in memorization, and Anglo-Saxon verse […]

kk: Englishizing

As described in an earlier column, a hobson-jobson is what happens when English speakers hear a non-English phrase and analyze it as English. For instance, "mushroom" derives neither from "mush" nor from "room"; it's from French mousseron. There are other foreign phrases whose pronunciation has altered drastically as they became naturalized citizens of English. Most […]

jj: Girls and Boys Together

Little-girl jokes form a small genre unto themselves. I've always heard these two told about little girls, for some reason, rather than little boys... A prisoner was released on parole after a twenty-year sentence. Elated, he ran down the street yelling, "I'm free! I'm free!" A little girl standing nearby replied, "That's nothing; I'm four." […]

ii: TLAs, PDQ! (Reader Comments and Addenda)

I had already mentioned Roy G. Biv in another column. Oops. I ought to check the index before writing. Maybe I need a mnemonic for remembering what I've written about. Pierre Abbat mentions a recursive acronym he's seen on bumper stickers: "BASS, which stands for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society." Several people wrote in to fill […]

ii: TLAs, PDQ!

Recall from an earlier column that an initialism is an acronym if it forms a pronounceable word. It's not always obvious, though, what abbreviations are pronounceable. Take "IITYWYBAD?", for instance, a term displayed on a sign in a diner in The Grapes of Wrath. You certainly wouldn't want to have to say each letter, but […]