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!

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.


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!

Brontide – Wildest Word of the Day

Flickr photo by N. Tackaberry

(Credit: Flickr photo by N. Tackaberry)

A brontide is a low rumbling sound like thunder thought to be caused by feeble earth tremors (Merriam-Webster). I also like the way the word sounds when you say it. Try it now.

“BRON-tide.” Feels good, doesn’t it?

If you’ve ever experienced the brontide, let me know in the comments.

“While standing on the precipice of the cliff looking down, Harry heard the brontide. It seemed like a long, low warning not to jump.”

Arsy-Varsy – Wildest Word of the Day


(Credit: Flickr photo by rpb1001)

Arsy-varsy – head over heels, topsy-turvy, backside forward

I shouted, “Don’t jump on the bed!” But my four-year-old didn’t listen. He jumped up and down twice and then went arsy-varsy off the bed and onto the floor.

Also used in Isaac Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn.


Tell me about your “arsy-varsy” moments in the comments section.