Showing posts with label word play. Show all posts
Showing posts with label word play. Show all posts

21 March 2021

50+ Troublesome Words and Phrases


Leigh Lundin

My friend/editor Sharon sent me an article titled ’43 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make’. I’ve become complacent about these lists– Velma says smug. Most of the usual suspects were there, but to my surprise, I found a couple I hadn’t given thought to.

Unthawing Foreign Relations

One was the word unthaw. I’ve heard others use it without setting off my grammar alarm. I don’t think I’ve used it, but now it’s on my radar. To unthaw literally means to freeze. Yikes!

Emigrate (which I’ve included in the list below with immigrate) requires the preposition ‘from’, although we can optionally include the destination ‘to’. Likewise, immigrate necessitates the preposition ‘to’, although we may choose to include ‘from’. For example,

  • She immigrated to Canada (from Angola).
  • She emigrated from Angola (to Canada).

Nonplussed

I’ve long been nonplussed and dismayed and, yes, gobsmacked that the Oxford English Dictionary insists that silly Americans misuse ‘nonplussed’ (surprised) to mean its opposite (unperturbed). In my unscientific polls amongst uneducated citizenry, I’ve met only one person who hit upon the wrong meaning, but admitted he didn’t actually know what the word meant. Chew on that, OED!

juvenile flounder
juvenile flounder © Wikipedia

mature flounder
mature flounder © Wikipedia

Bagging the Question

I attended a Latin school where rhetoric, logic, and debate were taught. One of the trickier concepts to master was ‘beg the question’, which assumes an assertion as fact without laying the foundation for it. I’ve notice more commentators and newscasters using ‘beg the question’ to mean ‘ask the question’, including the acme of academia, the world-renown BBC. Recalling my schoolhood efforts to pin down the original concept, I have some sympathy for those without the benefit of rhetoric, logic, and debate, but I recommend avoiding the phrase altogether. Eschew on that, Miss Arthur!

Prostate

À propos of nothing, my Aunt Rae noted the difference between prostitute and prostrate was the difference between a fallen lady versus one who temporarily lost her balance. And then we have the serious matter of prostate. If nothing else manages to kill a man, his prostate will!

How to Catch a Flounder (without Baited Breath)

Too often when people speak of a person or project that stumbles or sinks, they say it ‘flounders’ (a fish) instead of ‘founders’. This particular fish is unusual. When it’s young, it swims upright like most other fish. But when it matures, it sinks into the bottom, blending in with the sea floor. There it performs a slow-motion magic trick, distorting its own head and body to suit its environment. Its eyes migrate to the new upper surface and its mouth usually twists in the opposite direction. It may look like it’s about to founder, but it’s only a flounder.

50+ Often Misused Words and Non-Words

Confused Words
    Words in the left column of this first group aren’t necessarily wrong. They bear review because they’re often confused with those in the right column.
adopt (take up, take on, assume) adapt (change to meet conditions)
adverse (unfavorable) averse (opposed to)
bemused (confused) amused (entertained)
disinterested (impartial) uninterested (uncaring)
enormity (evil, wickedness) enormous (huge)
flounder (a fish) founder (break down, sink)
i.e. (id est: that is) e.g. (exempli gratia: for example)
infer (deduce) imply (intimate)
inflammable (burnable) nonflammable (not burnable)
jive (dance, talk) jibe (match)
literally (actually) figuratively (metaphorically)
nauseous (sickening) nauseated (sickened)
prostrate (prone) prostate (gland)
review (examine, reassess) revue (theatrical entertainment)
sympathy (understanding) empathy (intuiting another’s feelings)
trooper (soldier, state police) trouper (persist uncomplainingly)
under way (moving along, travelling) under weigh (lifting anchor)
Apostrophes
  • Never use apostrophes for pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, its.
  • Omit apostrophes in collective proper nouns such as family names, as in “the Kennedys”.
  • Either use double apostrophes or omit them altogether for nouns that might be confused. “She dotted her ‘i’s and crossed her ‘t’s.” Alternatively, “The third measure of the musical score contained three Gs and an A.
  • Omit apostrophes when specifying an era such as a century or decade. “The most popular song of 1929 was Makin' Whoopee and 1930’s was ‘In the Mood’, but ‘Over the Rainbow’ topped the 1930s.”
its (possessive) it's (contraction: it is)
Smith’s (possessive) Smiths (collective noun)
VIPs (plural) ‘A’s and ‘B’s (plural)
1960’s (possessive) 1960s (era, decade)
Redundancy
    These phrases concern superfluous wording, excess verbiage that add nothing and dull their sentences. I’ve probably used “tenth-year anniversary” without realizing it.
first-year anniversary ✘ first anniversary
hot water heater ✘ water heater
red in color ✘ red
large in size ✘ large
political in nature ✘ political
Prepositional Requirements
    Discussed above, these two words require certain prepositions. Emigrate implies leaving one’s country and generally requires ‘from’, especially if ‘to’ is present. Immigrate implies entering a new residency and requires the target ‘to’, particularly if ‘from’ appears. Some uses require no prepositions at all: “He plans to emigrate.”
emigrated to ✘ emigrated from
immigrate from ✘ immigrate to
Incorrect Usage
    The following common nonsensical words and incorrect phrases include misspellings and misunderstandings. That said, many of us would like to apply “nipped in the butt” from time to time.
baited breath ✘ bated breath
boldface lie ✘ baldface lie
chalk full ✘ chock full
chock it up ✘ chalk it up
could care less ✘ couldn’t care less
dark-complected ✘ dark-complexioned
deep-seeded ✘ deep-seated
do diligence ✘ due diligence
expresso ✘ espresso
extract revenge ✘ exact revenge
free reign ✘ free rein
honed in on ✘ homed in on
irregardless ✘ regardless
jerry-rigged ✘ jury-rigged
make due ✘ make do
mute issue/point/question ✘ moot
nip in the butt ✘ nip in the bud
peak my interest ✘ pique my interest
per say ✘ per se
perview ✘ purview
piece of mind ✘ peace of mind
shoe-in ✘ shoo-in
should of, would of ✘ should have, would have
slight of hand ✘ sleight of hand
sneak peak ✘ sneak peek
through the ringer ✘ through the wringer
tie me over ✘ tide me over
tow the line ✘ toe the line
unthaw ✘ thaw
wet the appetite ✘ whet the appetite
worse comes to worse ✘ worse comes to worst

Do you find any of these troublesome?

What addition would you make?

16 December 2017

A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to the Title


How important are titles of novels/stories, etc.? According to my publisher and most editors, VERY. As a result, I try hard to come up with story titles that are interesting or appropriate or--hopefully--a little mysterious. I especially like a play on words or a double meaning.

We've talked at this blog about titles and their importance before, and the fact that some are truly unique and memorable: East of Eden, Atlas Shrugged, To Kill a Mockingbird, Watership Down, No Country for Old Men, Gone With the Wind, A Walk Among the Tombstones, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Red Badge of Courage, From Here to Eternity, Jaws, The Guns of Navarone, Cool Hand Luke, The High and the Mighty, Peyton Place, Presumed Innocent, The Grapes of Wrath, The Eagle Has Landed, The Sound and the Fury, Fahrenheit 451, The Color Purple, The Silence of the Lambs, Of Mice and Men, The Maltese Falcon, The Hunt for Red October, Cannery Row, Dances With Wolves, The Caine Mutiny, and so on and so on.

But today I'd like to talk about some of the wittiest (not the best, just the wittiest and cleverest) book titles I can remember. Confession time: I wound up buying many of these books, mainly because of their names. What can I say?--I couldn't resist.

NOTE: I've started out with some of my all-time favorites and ended with the merely amusing. (And yes, I know, I'm easily amused.) I like 'em all.


1. Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man -- Ed McBain

2. The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker -- Ron White

3. Shoot Low, Boys--They're Riding Shetland Ponies -- Lewis Grizzard

4. Here's Looking at Euclid -- Alex Bellos

5. Florence of Arabia -- Christopher Buckley

6. How to Win Friends and Influenza -- Edward Kurtz

7. Midnight in the Garden of Evel Knievel -- Giles Smith

8. A Hearse of a Different Color -- Tim Cockey

9. The Canceled Czech -- Lawrence Block

10. The Scoreless Thai -- Lawrence Block

11. Bleak Expectations -- Mark Evans

12. Lapsing Into a Comma -- Bob Walsh

13. How to Raise Your IQ by Eating Gifted Children -- Lewis B. Frumkeys

14. I Still Miss My Man but My Aim Is Getting Better -- Sarah Shankman 

15. I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression -- Erma Bombeck

16. Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea -- Chelsea Handler

17. Tequila Mockingbird -- Tim Federle

18. Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger -- Beth Harbison

19. Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining -- Judy Sheindlin

20. No Way to Treat a First Lady -- Christopher Buckley

21. From Here to Maternity -- Sinead Moriarty

22. The War Between the Tates -- Alison Lurie

23. Up From Down Under -- Jeff Apter

24. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies -- June Casagrande

25. If at Birth You Don't Succeed -- Zach Anner 

26. The Elephants of Style -- Bob Walsh

27. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear -- Ed McBain

28. A Quiche Before Dying -- Jill Churchill 

29. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead -- screenplay by Neil Landau and Tara Ison 

30. Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School -- Adam Ruben 


I'm not sure how these writers came up with these delightful titles, but I'm fairly sure that when they did, they were delighted also. A word of caution, though. This kind of thing is like similes and metaphors; when they work they're pure gold, and when they don't they can be exploding cigars. Just think of all those cozy cat mysteries or cooking mysteries that are usually pretty darn good once you get into them . . .  but I suspect some of their pun-based titles keep readers from getting into them.

What are some clever titles that you've seen (of books, stories, movies, TV shows, etc.)? And have you come up with any yourself? If you're like me, you might dream up one you think is brilliant, and then your editor/publisher decides to change it. (Sigh.) I did a SleuthSayers post on that very subject, almost a year ago.

Okay, back to my favorites. I've saved the best for last. At a library sale I once saw a book whose title made me stop and laugh out loud. It was Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard. How could I not buy that book? (Besides, it was only a dollar.)


I wish I'd thought of it first.

02 April 2017

Nothing to Crow About


April Fool's Day has passed, but…

Attempted Murder

attempted murder of crows
Attempted Murder

16 September 2016

Bouchercon Word Find


My column this week is scheduled right in the middle of Bouchercon, and while my goal originally was to post something direct from New Orleans—breaking news! fun photos! insider anecdotes about the mystery world's stars!—I realized quickly that I probably wouldn't get to the computer often or easily or....
So instead, posted in advance, here's a fun little game in honor of the event: an old-fashioned word find!

Featured here are the guests of honor, the various awards given out throughout the weekend, and a sprinkling of other mystery terms—including the name of one of the best blogs in the business. Do know that the clues appear vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and both forwards and backwards.

Whether you're in New Orleans or not, I hope you'll enjoy!


13 May 2012

Crime and PUNishment


ghost writer
ghost writer
by Leigh Lundin

SleuthSayers and Criminal Briefers are known for their love of word play. Last Tuesday Dale Andrews brought us The Devil's Dictionary and two weeks before that an article on paraprosdokia, bracketing humor by Rob Lopresti, Neil Schofield, and others.

At Criminal Brief's Corporate Headquarters, puns surfaced early and often. Today's contribution comes to us from South Africa, thanks to friends Michael Forsyth and his wife Cherri. You'll find new jeux de mots and a few old favorites. The visual puns are copyrighted by their creators, including the very clever thievery at the end from Worth1000.com.

Are We Having Pun Yet?
  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.
  • I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.
  • When chemists die, they barium.
  • Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.
  • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognised me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a type-O.
  • PMS jokes aren't funny. Period.
  • Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.
  • We are going on a class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there's no pop quiz.
  • row versus wade
    not-so-dry humor
  • Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?
  • When you get a bladder infection urine trouble.
  • Broken pencils are pointless.
  • I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
  • What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
  • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
  • I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.
  • I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
  • I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
  • Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.
  • Velcro, what a rip off!
  • A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.
  • Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!
  • What is the purpose of reindeer? It makes the grass grow, sweetie.
  • The earthquake in Washington obviously was the government's fault.
  • Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too.
  • When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
  • I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.
  • Marriage is the mourning after the knot before.
  • Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
  • Is a book on voyeurism a peeping tome?
  • sturgeon general: smoking is dangerous to your health
    hooked on smoking
  • Sea captains don't like crew cuts.
  • A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.
  • A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumour.
  • Without geometry, life is pointless.
  • When you dream in colour, it's a pigment of your imagination.
  • Reading while sunbathing makes you well-red.
  • A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
  • Dijon vu - the same mustard as before.
  • What's the definition of a will? (Come on, it's a dead giveaway!)
  • A backwards poet writes inverse.
  • In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism, your count votes.
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  • Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
  • Doctors tell us there are over seven million people who are overweight. These, of course, are only round figures.
  • There were two ships. One had red paint, one had blue paint. They collided. At last report, the survivors were marooned.
  • The other day I sent my girlfriend a huge pile of snow. I rang her up and asked, "Did you get my drift?"
  • Where do you find giant snails? On the ends of giant's fingers.
  • Why is Saudi Arabia free of mental illness? There are nomad people there.
  • robber with lute
    a robber's toon
  • When I was in the supermarket I saw a man and a woman wrapped in a barcode. I asked "Are you two an item?"
  • When she told me I was average, she was just being mean.
  • A duck walks into a bar and orders a beer. "Four bucks," says the bartender. "Put it on my bill," says the duck (sadder Budweiser).
  • A dog with his leg wrapped in bandages hobbles into a saloon. He sidles up to the bar and announces "I'm lookin' fer the man who shot my paw."
  • A termite walks into a bar and says "Is the bar tender here?"
  • Four fonts walk into a bar. The barman says "Hey get out! We don't want your type in here!"
Renderings of the picture puns are the copyright or intellectual property of their respective owners.

27 February 2012

What's In A Word?



by Fran Rizer

The young lady farded before leaving to meet the new man she'd met on the Internet.

She hoped he wasn't a grinagog. After all, she'd met one of those the previous night, and it had become a kankedort. That's why she'd chosen to make this a jentacular date, hoping it wouldn't turn out to make her niddick quiver.

The last man had been ambisinistrous, though eumorphous. Unfortunately, he'd insisted on going to a new restaurant and ordering for her. The spitchcock had almost gagged her. It was even covered with shitake. When she'd complained, the man insisted she taste his scrod. She thought it was quisquilious and certainly hadn't want to osculate with the man after he'd stared at her glabella and complained that his coccyx hurt after they'd run into a friend of his who debagged him.



Well, what do you think? Did you understand that brief scenario or did it make you want to run for the dictionary? Did you think parts of it might even be a bit "blue" or off-color? Unless your normal vocabulary far exceeds mine, you may have misinterpreted some of it.

Through the years, I've met writers who like to pull out every ten-dollar word they know when writing. I'm not referring to the jargon specific to a subject, just the habit of using a long, lesser known word when a regular old two-dollar word will do. A friend who wanted to critique each other's writings told me, "I want every paragraph to have a word that the reader has to look up in the dictionary."

I laughed and said, "Then I don't want to read what you're writing. Fiction should entertain, and unless you explain those words in context, I don't want to read what you write."

Unless I'm writing an instructional article, I try to write so the average adult reader will understand what I'm trying to say. I've been told that my Callie Parrish mysteries are great "Beach Reads," because they are easy reading. That comes naturally because I spent over thirteen years teaching fifth grade, so I tend to write on about a fifth-grade level in vocabulary. That doesn't worry me a lot because most newspapers are now written below fifth-grade level.

I used to "collect" unusual words though I don't use them in normal speech, nor in fiction. (Not even in the serial killer novel, which is a different style from Callie.) In case I've collected a few words you haven't, I'll give you these for your edification:

  • fard - to put on excessive makeup
  • grinagog - person who grins a lot
  • kankedort - an awkward situation
  • jentacular - related to breakfast
  • niddick - nape of the neck
  • ambisinistrous - clumsy, opposite of ambidextrous
  • eumorphous - well formed
  • splitchcock - a special way of cooking eel
  • shitake - a kind of mushroom
  • scrod - young cod fish
  • quisquilious - like garbage
  • osculate - kiss
  • glabella - facial area between the eyebrows
  • coccyx - bottom bone of the spine
  • debag - to pull someone's pants down as a joke

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.