Posted in Word Wednesday

Word Wednesday: Finifugal



adjective | [fan’ee-fyoo-gal]


Hating endings; of someone who tries to avoid or prolong the final moment of a story, relationship, or some other journey  … Oh, Never Mind.


Your Latin Lesson:

fini-s:  end
+ fug-a:   flight
+ -al

Did You Know?

1883 A. Tollemache in Jrnl. Educ. 1 Sept. “In modern as well as in ancient times, the finifugal tendencyis apparent.”

For Further Reading

Mark Forsyth’s 11 Weird Words/Phrases You Should Be Using



Posted in Language, Science, Word Wednesday, Writing

Word Wednesday: Dord, the mysterious ghost word

The Mysterious “Dord”



In 1934, the word Dord appeared in the Second Edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary on page 771, between “dorcopsis” (“a genus of small kangaroos of Papau”) and “doré,” (“golden in color”).

It was defined as a noun meaning Density in Physics and Chemistry.

Before it came into the everyday lexicon, however, it was removed in the 1939 Edition. Why? It was found out to be a typist’s error, and not a real word, by an editor who noticed that it was missing its etymology (origin) and decided to follow up.

The following is an excerpt from The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Herbert C. Morton, 1994):

The lack of an etymology for dord, meaning “density,” was noted by an editor on February 28, 1939, when he was perusing the dictionary. Startled by the omission, he went to the files to track down what had happened and what needed to be done. There, he found, first, a three-by-five white slip that had been sent to the company by a consultant in chemistry on July 31, 1931, bearing the notation “D or d, cont/ density.” It was intended to be the basis for entering an additional abbreviation at the letter D in the next edition. The notation “cont,” short for “continued,” was to alert the typist to the fact that there would be several such entries for abbreviations at D. A change in the organization of the dictionary possibly added to the confusion that followed. For the 1934 edition, all abbreviations were to be assembled in a separate “Abbreviations” section at the back of the book; in the previous edition words and abbreviations appeared together in a single alphabetical listing (which is how they again appeared in the Third Edition.) But after the original slip was typed for editorial handling, it was misdirected. Eventually, it came to be treated with the words rather than with the abbreviations.

The editorial stylist who received the first typed version should have marked “or” to be set in italics to indicate that the letters were abbreviations (D or d). But instead, she drew a continuous wavy line underneath to signify that “D or d” should be set in boldface in the manner of an entry word, and a label was added, “Physics & Chem.” Since entry words were to be typed with a space between letters, the editorial stylist may have inferred that the typist had intended to write d o r d; the mysterious “cont” was ignored. These errors should have been caught when the word was retyped on a different color slip for the printer, but they were not. The stylist who received this version crossed out the “cont” and added the part-of-speech label n for noun.

“As soon as someone else entered the pronunciation,” Gove wrote, “dord was given the slap on the back that sent breath into its being. Whether the etymologist ever got a chance to stifle it, there is no evidence. It simply has no etymology. Thereafter, only a proofreader had final opportunity at the word, but as the proof passed under his scrutiny he was at the moment not so alert and suspicious as usual.”

The last slip in the file – added in 1939 – was marked “plate change imperative/urgent.” The entry was deleted, and the space was closed up by lengthening the entry that followed. In 1940 bound books began appearing without the ghost word but with a new abbreviation. In the list of meanings for the abbreviation “D or d” appeared the phrase “density,Physics.” Probably too bad, Gove added, “for why shouldn’t dord mean density?”




For further reading: 

“The History of Dord,” in American Speech, 29 (Philip Gove, 1954)

This Day in History : February 28, 1939

The greatest scientific typo in history

Posted in Language, Word Wednesday

Word Wednesday: Qualtagh



noun | Kwol-tog


The first person one meets (either leaving or entering their house) after the start of the New Year.


Qualtagh is from a form of Gaelic known as Manx.  It is spoken on the Isle of Man, a Literally the word qualtagh means “first foot”, as in the first person to set foot in the house on New Year’s Day, or the first person one met when they set foot outside on New Year’s Day.

In order to be the “first foot”, one cannot have been present in the house at the stroke of midnight.  So being there and then going outside and coming back in  does not make one the Qualtagh of the place.

It may also be used to refer to the first person a woman encounters after being confined to her house following the birth of a child.

Did You Know?

The new year’s qualtagh, for luck, is supposed to be a dark-haired man. A red-headed or female qualtagh is unlucky. Other things to bring luck to the house on New Year’s Day include serving black-eyed peas, having the qualtagh bring shortbread and whiskey (sounds fine for any day of the year), and sweeping all the garbage in the house out through the front door before midnight on New Year’s Eve (so that any of the misfortune of the past year is gone, not to return).

In Greece, the “first foot” is referred to as the Pothariko (pothari-KO).  Their right foot needs to be the first one to cross the threshold, and they bring pomegranates to throw on the floor for good luck.

From Folklore of the Isle of Man, A.W.Moore, 1891
Posted in Word Wednesday

Word Wednesday: Sesquipedalian



adjective | ses·qui·pe·da·lian \ˌses-kwə-pə-ˈdāl-yən\


  1. Having many syllables
  2. given to, or characterized by the use of long words


mid 17th century: from Latin.

Horace, the Roman poet known for his satire, was merely being gently ironic when he cautioned young poets against using “sesquipedalia verba”-“words a foot and a half long”-in his book Ars poetica, a collection of maxims about writing. But in the 17th century, English literary critics decided the word sesquipedalian could be very useful for lambasting writers using unnecessarily long words.

Your Latin Lesson:

Latin sesquipedalis, literally, a foot and a half long

from sesqui- “half as much again”
+ ped-, pes “foot”

Did You Know?

Words that Rhyme with Sesquipedalian: Episcopalian, tatterdemalion, Australian, bacchanalian.

A sesquiquadrate is an 135-degree angle.

A sesquicentennial is a period of 150 years.

A sesquinona in music, is an interval having the ratio or 9:10—that is, a lesser major second.


Sesquipedalian cartoons © Mickey Bach Word-A-Day


Posted in Word Wednesday

Word Wednesday: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis



Editor’s Note:
This is the follow up to last week’s Word Wednesday, where I mentioned pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis beat out floccinaucinihilipilification for the longest word in the dictionary.


noun | pneu·mo·no·ul·tra·mi·cro·scop·ic·sil·i·co·vol·ca·no·co·ni·o·sis \ˈn(y)ü-mə-(ˌ)nō-ˌəl-trə-ˌmī-krə-ˈskäp-ik-ˈsil-i-(ˌ)kō-väl-ˈkā-nō-ˌkō-nē-ˈō-səs\

(NOO-muh-noh-UL-truh-MY-kruh-SKOP-ik-SIL -i-koh-vol-KAY-no-KOH-nee-O-sis, nyoo-)


A lung disease caused by inhaling fine particles of silica.


New York Herald Tribune Masthead

The story goes that this word was invented in 1935 by Everett M. Smith, president of the National Puzzlers’ League, at its annual meeting. The word figured in the headline for an article published by the New York Herald Tribune on February 23, 1935, titled “Puzzlers Open 103d Session Here by Recognizing 45-Letter Word”:

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis succeeded electrophotomicrographically as the longest word in the English language recognized by the National Puzzlers’ League at the opening session of the organization’s 103rd semi-annual meeting held yesterday at the Hotel New Yorker. The puzzlers explained that the forty-five-letter word is the name of a special form of silicosis caused by ultra-microscopic particles of silica volcanic dust…

Your Latin Lesson:
From New Latin, from Greek
pneumono- (lung) +
Latin ultra- (beyond, extremely) +
Greek micro- (small) +
-scopic (looking) +
Latin silico (like sand) +
volcano +
Greek konis (dust) +
-osis (condition)

Did You Know?

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis has 45-letters.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, made famous by Mary Poppins, has 34-letters.

For a shortened version, pneumoconiosis means the same thing, or you can call it silicosis, or black lung.

Image of the New York Herald Tribune courtesy of Andrew Cusack
Posted in Word Wednesday

Word Wednesday: Floccinaucinihilipilification



noun |FLOK-si-NO-si-NY-HIL-i-PIL-i-fi-KAY-shuhn /ˌfläksəˌnôsəˌnīˌhiləˌpiləfiˈkāSHən/


Estimating something as worthless.


Mid 18th century: from Latin flocci, nauci, nihili, pili (words meaning ‘at little value’) + -fication. The Latin elements were listed in a well-known rule of the Latin Grammar used at Eton College, an English public school.

Your Latin Lesson: 
flocci, from floccus (tuft of wool) +
nauci, from naucum (a trifling thing) +
nihili, from Latin nihil (nothing) +
pili, from pilus (a hair, trifle) +
fication (making).

Did You Know?

It was the longest word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, but pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis beat it out in the second edition.