Macaronic – Wildest Word of the Day


Image by TheBrassGlass on

When Yankee Doodle went to London riding on his pony, he stuck a feather in his cap and called it – macaroni! As a kid I always pictured Yankee Doodle as an Ichabod Crane type. A tall, skinny guy, his feet dragging on the ground, riding a tiny, exhausted horse with a weary look on its face. In my childhood imagination I saw him wearing a tricorn hat with a giant elbow macaroni sticking out of the top of it like a feather. This image stuck with me for years.


Image by MaxStraeten on

I found out later that macaroni was a term related to foppishness and referred to the tiny tricorn hats on top of the Macaroni wig that the men of the Macaroni Club in Britain wore in the 1700’s. Yankee Doodle was a song of derision aimed at Colonial troops by members of the British Army. The British thought that the Colonials were so unsophisticated that if they put a feather in their caps they would think they were wearing the highest fashion of the day. Later, the Colonials would use the song to mock the British troops when they won.

When I stumbled on the term macaronic, I thought it might have something to do with this. Perhaps it meant anything thought to be sophisticated by a group that actually isn’t sophisticated. (Like velvet paintings at truck stops?) When I did a little more digging I made an interesting discovery.

“Sloth” a painting on velvet by Bruce White

Macaronic refers to a way of mixing two or more languages in a piece of writing for satire or humor. It has derogatory overtones, like the macaroni in Yankee Doodle, so people debate whether it should be used to refer to mixed language in more serious or dramatic literature.

According to Wikipedia, the term comes from the New Latin word macaronicus which in turn was derived from maccarone, a type of dumpling eaten by Italian peasants. It began with a mixing of Latin and vernacular and came about because educated people who knew Latin needed a way of communicating with people who did not speak or read Latin. The term may have come from a comic poem written by Tifi Odasi in the late 1400’s called the Macaronea.

The device of macaronic language is often used in comic films and plays to poke fun at people who fancy themselves to be more sophisticated than they actually are. A good example is Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania, Charlie Chaplin’s character in The Great Dictator who speaks in German – English macaronic language and says things like “cheese und cracken” and other similar phrases.

As a certified word nerd, I was really pleased to discover that this device had such a great name. Let me know if you’ve used macaronic language in your own writing or if you’ve discovered any great pieces of macaronic language out there. I’d love to hear from you!

Colporteur – Wildest Word of the Day


(Credit: Flickr photo by Dominique Chappard)

I stumbled across this wild word today on a random search down an internet rabbit hole.

A colporteur is someone who goes from place to place peddling printed material like books, brochures and newspapers. It was mainly used for people who distributed religious tracts and bibles. The act of doing this is known as colportage.

I’m fascinated with the idea that there were (and still are?) colporteurs who go door-to-door selling bibles. Ever since I met Albert Maysles and watched his moving documentary, Salesman, I’ve wondered what their lives must’ve been like off-camera and if there are still some lonely souls out there trying to eke out a living doing this.

According to the website World Wide Words, the work of the colporteur could also be dangerous, especially if one was doing it in Wallachia. The site shows a decree from the Ottoman Governor of Wallachia, in what is now Romania, which stated:

“We order you to tear those writings that are against our Holy Religion. Whoever will seize and deliver up the publishers of those writings, shall receive 300 crowns…The Colporteur, on the contrary, shall be impaled alive upon the very place where he was seized.”

Morning Post (London), 26 Apr. 1788.


(Credit: Flickr photo from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

Impaled, alive, on the very place he was seized. Ouch! I mean, the impaling thing makes sense, though. After all, the Prince of Wallachia was known as Vlad the Impaler, and was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Christian Bible has sold over 6 billion copies (according to website Statistic Brain). That’s enough to make anyone’s sales figures look measly by comparison. The colporteurs of the past helped those numbers climb with their endless knocking on endless doors and selling millions of copies of the book in the process.

My questions of the day:

  • Did you know anyone who was a colporteur?
  • In our digital age, are there still colporteurs out there?

Besides the occasional Jehovah’s Witness who tries to drop off a copy of The Watchtower (the most widely circulated magazine in the world), I think the only colporteurs we might still have are those young men (and some women) who pretend to be of college age and knock on your door at the worst possible moments, trying to sell you shady subscriptions to magazines that you already don’t read. They usually carry a wrinkled up cardboard I.D. and give you a sad story about how they are trying to either pay for college or complete an assignment by selling more subscriptions than their classmates. According to Con$umerMan at we should all “just say no” to these modern day colporteurs. 

If one of them does show up, perhaps you should show them the announcement from the Ottoman Governor of Wallachia.

The threat of impalement may keep those pesky colporteurs from ever coming back again!


(Credit: Flickr photo from Bibliotheque des Champs Libres)

BONUS: A different kind of “colporteur” – the one who wrote all those great tunes from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s (and beyond). Enjoy the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter.

Aye! – Wildest Word of the Day


“Why’s that clamjamfry oer there so skeerie the day an in sic a flap?” Because of the vote for Scottish independence, that’s why.

As the first results begin coming in on the referendum to decide whether Scotland should remain a part of the UK or become an independent country, I thought I’d examine some Scottish words for the Wildest Word of the Day. There’s lots of media coverage of people who are for independence holding up flags and signs with the word “Aye” displayed prominently.

I looked up the meaning of this little word online and found a great blog (run by someone calling themselves A Scott) called “Stooryduster”– Scottish Words Illustrated. He started the site in reaction “to the slow drowning and erosion of the richness of the English languages by the globalization of International English.” In the archives of the site I found six distinct meanings for that little Scottish word that could change history.

Six Meanings for the Scottish Word “Aye”

  1. Aye – meaning always as in, “I’m aye tellin’ ye tae wipe yer feet, an what’s more . . .”
  2. Aye – meaning yes. This is my favorite drawing.  The owner of a dog who’s done his “business” and a muscle head punk who’s stepped in the mess are confronting each other. The punk, pointing at the steaming pile says, “Did your dug dae that?” The owner, looking determined to fight, replies, “Aye! An whit of it?”
  3. Aye number three is used as “Aye, aye, aye”. In this clever illustration there’s a polis standing behind a crook using a crowbar on a safe and the polis says, “Aye, aye, aye, fit’s a dae?” or “‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what’s all this then?”
  4. Aye number four is the kind of aye you use when somebody does something that you told them not to. It means something along the lines of, “You should have listened to me.”
  5. The fifth meaning of Aye is when you pass by a group of people and want to wish them a quick “Evenin’ all.”
  6. Aye Aye – the final meaning listed on Stooryduster is used to express sympathy on a sorrowful occasion. Depending on which side you fall on, aye or no, one group will be saying this to the other when the votes are all in.

According to his About me page, Scott suffered a bout of depression back in 2012 and hasn’t updated the site since then, but the illustrations are so whimsical, funny and beautifully drawn I wanted to share them with you. He is apparently still active on Twitter using the handle @stooryduster.

If you enjoyed this post, dinnae be a bampot, gie yer friends a gas and share it on WordPress and Twitter. Leave a comment about interesting Scottish words you know or have used or your thoughts on the referendum. I’d love to hear from you.

9/11 – Wildest Word(s) of 2001

"World Trade Center" Flickr photo by Ralph Hockens

“World Trade Center” Flickr photo by Ralph Hockens

As another anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes, and wars relating to those events rage on,  I thought it would be interesting to look back at how the events of 2001 changed the words we use.

Nine-eleven is the slang we use to put this tragedy in perspective. Geoffrey Nunberg, a Stanford University linguist, says, “There’s a need to package things, to label them, to get a handle on them.” The American Dialect Society made 9/11 its word of the year in 2001.

Some other words that were in the running that year were: cuddle puddle (a pile of ecstasy users on the floor), Ground Zero (where the attacks in New York City happened), Let’s Roll (the phrase allegedly used by Todd Beamer to rally against the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93), Evil Doers (former President George W. Bush’s phrase for those who perpetuated the attacks) and Post September 11 (to mean the way the world had changed after the attacks).

According to Arthur Spiegelman of the Los Angeles Newsdesk at Reuters, came up with a list of the top 10 words for 2001. They were:

  1. Ground Zero – the now sanctified ground at the epicenter of the World Trade Center disaster
  2. Former President George Bush’s middle initial “W” – pronounced Dubya and often used in a derogatory way
  3. Jihad – the Arabic word for “struggle” but which is used today as “Holy War”
  4. God, Allah or Yahweh – listed with the note that the name had been in more headlines and on the lips of more politicians than any time in recent memory
  5. Anthrax – the dangerous spores carrying infectious disease sent to politicians in an envelope and said to be “weaponized”
  6. Euro – Europe’s new currency at the time
  7. Wizard – this was added because of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter craze
  8. The suffix -stan – as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in a parody cover by the New Yorker of New Yorkistan showing areas labeled Irant and Irate, Taxistan and Fuhgeddabuditstan
  9. Oprahization – the tendency of public and private citizens to discuss their personal problems or feelings in public forums, especially talk shows like Oprah’s long-running television show
  10. Foot-and-mouth – referring to the disease (and not what Dubya often found himself doing)

It was a terrible day and I remember it well. I wanted to take a moment to think about the way it changed our lives and our language.


Anamnesis – Wildest Word of the Day

Flickr photo from Internet Archive Book Images

Flickr photo from Internet Archive Book Images

Anamnesis, according to, is “recollection or reminiscence” but also refers to a Platonic idea of remembering things the soul knows from a previous existence.

In medical terminology, anamnesis refers to taking a patient’s medical history. It’s also a term used in immunology that means the way the body responds more quickly to a antigen.

I like the idea that we might remember things from our previous existence as Carl Sagan’s “star stuff” as if we were the universe made manifest in order to figure itself out.

Perhaps our wildest stories come by a process of fictional anamnesis, our Wildest Word of the Day.

Here is Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman and, yes, Bill Nye, remixed and auto-tuned, for those of you who haven’t stumbled across the awesomeness that is Melodysheep and the Symphony of Science series. This piece is called We Are All Connected. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Lambert – Wildest Word of the Day


Photo by Michael Kearns

According to The Phrontistery (The Thinking Place) and their list of unusual words, lambert is a unit of brightness and light.

It was also the maiden name of my maternal grandmother (pictured above) who died recently after breaking her tailbone and having a heart attack as a result. She was 90 years old. Her oldest daughter, my mother, died at 42. My grandmother never quite recovered from losing her daughter so young and so the past 25 years have been hard on her.

I would like to celebrate the laughter and light I remember as a child visiting my grandmother by sharing this word of the day.

Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia – Wildest Word of the Day

Flickr photo by Jayel Aheram

Flickr photo by Jayel Aheram

Also known as “Brain Freeze” (a term first used in published form in 1991), sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is the scientific term meaning nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion.

According to Wikipedia, this is considered a misnomer because the pain is actually thought to be caused by the trigeminal nerves. The rapid cooling of the blood vessels in the sinuses causes the trigeminal nerves to react and send signals to the brain indicating that the pain is coming from the forehead, which in turn causes “ice cream headache” or brain freeze. This same mechanism is thought to cause the “auras” associated with migraines.

I occasionally get migraines with aura, but it’s been awhile since I’ve had a good brain freeze. I’ll have to head over to the local 7-Eleven and suck down a Slurpee on the next hot July day and see what happens. I can’t wait to see the look on the clerk’s face when I grab my forehead in pain and yell, “Help, I’m having an attack of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia!”

Let me know in the comments about your favorite brain freeze incident. I’m sure there are some pretty wild stories out there.

Soccer – Wildest Word of the Day

With all this talk of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I started thinking about the origin of the word “soccer”. A lot of countries other than ours call it “football”. We’re often made to feel bad and wrong for calling it soccer. But where did the word come from and which one is more “correct”?

I did a bit of searching around on the internet and found a lot of different sources by Daven Hiskey wrote a great article called “The Origin of the Word ‘Soccer'” that is one of the best.

According to Hiskey, the word “soccer” preceded the word “football” by about eighteen years.

Apparently the word soccer came about because British school boys had a habit of  speaking in slang by adding-er to the ends of shortened forms of the words. Thus, rugby became “rugger” and Associated Football, the original name for the sport became known as “assoccer” which was shortened even further to “soccer.” Legend has it that the first use of the term came from the Oxfordian (Oxer?) Charles Wredford-Brown who was asked if he’d like to play a game of “rugger” and he replied that he preferred to play “soccer.” This supposedly happened right around 1863, shortly after the creation of Associated Football. It was considered a sport for gentlemen and played by the upper classes but quickly became popular with the middle and lower classes as well. When this happened, around 1881, everyone shortened the name from Associated Football to just football.


Charles Wreford-Brown from

Honorificabilitudinitatibus – Wildest Word of the Day


James Joyce by Paul Jenny

In honor of Bloomsday, I wanted to include this monstrous vocable. According to Wikipedia, honorificabilitudinitatibus is the “dative and ablative plural of the medieval Latin word honorificabilitudinitas, which can be translated as, ‘the state of being able to achieve honors.'” It’s the longest word in the English language featuring only alternating consonants and vowels.

This is how Joyce uses the word in Ulysses:

“Like John o’Gaunt his name is dear to him, as dear as the coat and crest he toadied for, on a bend sable a spear or steeled argent, honorificabilitudinitatibus, dearer than his glory of greatest shakescene in the country.”

Shakespeare used this word in Love’s Labors Lost in Act V, Scene 4 of the play. Costard, a comic rustic, says of the pedants, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, “O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.” (Flap-dragon was a game of eating hot raisins from a bowl of burning brandy.)

Essentially, the word means, “with honorableness” according to Pinky and the Brain’s 1995 episode “Napoleon Bonaparte” (Season 1, Episode 11). If you learn this one, you’ll never sound like you belong in a coterie of pre-verbal neonates.

Happy Bloomsday!