Tag Archives: words

fifteen thousand useful phrases.

A good book is a wonderful present. I stopped by Shana’s a couple of days ago, and as I took my coat off she casually said, as if it were no big deal, gesturing toward the couch: there’s a present for you there. And there was this magical book, sitting on the sofa cushion like any other little thing. Only it isn’t any other little thing. It’s the most enchanting book ever. Fifteen thousand useful phrases. You may have noticed that I have a thing for words. I also have a thing for odd reference books. And people who can turn a phrase. So this book? SHAZAM. I spent the next several hours reading word pairings and phrases aloud. I changed my regular Twitter bio to include the phrase “a well-bred mixture of boldness and courtesy.” Then I spent some time this morning setting up a Twitter account so I can tweet the whole entire book, because the world needs to know all about the fifteen thousand useful phrases, subtitled “A practical handbook of pertinent expressions, striking similes, literary, commercial, conversational and oratorical terms, for the embellishment of speech and literature, and the improvement of the vocabulary of those persons who read, write and speak English.” By Grenville Kleiser, Funk & Wagnalls, 1917. It’s hilarious and touching and altogether brilliant. SHAZAM.

“The choice word, the correct phrase, are instruments that may reach the heart, and awake the soul if they fall upon the ear in melodious cadence…Language is a temple in which the human soul is enshrined, and…it grows out of life…”

If you’re interested in owning your own copy, it’s available on Project Gutenberg in several digital formats and abebooks.com has lots of hardcopies in various conditions.

words this week.

Michael Chabon is one of my favorite wielders of the English language, and I keep stopping to read bits of this out loud because it’s just so damn good. This week’s words all come from Telegraph Avenue; a few were new to me, and the rest are old favorites.

Arcology: n. an ideal integrated city contained within a massive vertical structure, allowing maximum conservation of the surrounding environment

Captious: adj. marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

Clabber: n. milk that has naturally clotted on souring

Renascent: adj. rising again into being or vigor

Uxorial: adj. relating to a wife

words this week.

In the dictionary:

Gaffle – I like the slang usage of this word, as in to steal.
Bugbearn. This is a new actual word to me. My only previous acquaintance with it has been as an adorable monster in Kingdom of Loathing, and I didn’t realize it was a real word until I read it in Moby Dick. “…he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear.” 

Also in words this week, a bit of Twitter magic:

words this week.

Not in the dictionary:

Binja (n., pl.): Portmanteau of dustbin and ninja; fantasy characters in Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.

Splorkle (n., v.): Portmanteau of splork and sparkle. (coined by @pixelparty)

Not in the English dictionary:

Yorodstvo (n.): “We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [the holy foolishness] of punk.” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot closing statements

The Holy Fool is a recurring theme in medieval literature and art. I love that there is an actual word for this in Russian. I love that it’s been invoked in defense of punk and protest in this context. I also love the word holy – no, that’s wrong. I love the meaning holy – and will pretty much get the weak knees for any phrase or idea that makes use of it.

In the dictionary:


words this week.

Image by CursiveArts

Not in the dictionary:

Salvagepunk (adj.): technological style progression from steampunk (from an interview with China Mieville)

Indecorgeous (adj.?): meaning undefined, use at will. Source.

In the dictionary:


An idea I like expressed in words I love:

Holy minimalism

And oh, how I love this series of etymological short films from Mysteries of Vernacular: