Schnapps

Schnapps sounds like it’s already drunk. The word dares you to order it with a second-rate Sean Connery impersonation: “Schnapps. Becush schnapps ish delishus, Moneypenny.” While the beverage itself is a discordant juxtaposition of cloying sweetness, venomous bite, and ill-advised chemistry (banana-flavored booze?) its name shares none of these traits. It’s a fun word to say, the sibilance snaking out through the teeth, a cartoonish word that seems like its etymology could be traced to Theodore Read more [...]

Savvy

With apologies to the writers, my favorite line in Barry Frank’s splendid screenplay Get Shorty (based on Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name) comes when Bo Catlett warns the Columbian Yayo that DEA agents will have a bulge at their ankle due to a concealed weapon and asks, “Savvy bulge?” The grammar is a mess, but I love both the efficiency of the question, and the irony that someone who may be unfamiliar with the word bulge would none the less absorb that shorthand use of savvy. Savvy Read more [...]

Trousers

Trousers isn't a beautiful word. It's a bit pudgy, a lot plain, and rolls off the tongue like a pumpkin rolling around the back of a pickup truck. Yet I adore it, blunt and blue-collared as it is. It may be more coal than diamond, but it has a lot more sparkle than "pants", an ugly word, sharp and whiny — even Barry White couldn't make "pants" sound sexy. Of course, he might have trouble with trousers, too. It's one of those words the Brits have kept for themselves, so it sticks out a little when Read more [...]

Utilize

If you're a fan of this word, turn away now, because this will only upset you. I am not a fan, for one simple reason: in almost every instance, it sounds pretentious, even downright preposterous. Utilize is the word high school essay writers use to make their term paper sound smarter, and corporations use to make their services sound more complex than they really are. (Because complex costs more.) Notice how I used the verb "use" in that last sentence? Reread that sentence and say "utilize" in Read more [...]

Ensemble

Ensemble. Say it a few times — ahhn-sahhhm-bull. It glides over the tongue like top-shelf liquor, strong and smooth, no unpleasant edges. It's the pleasant gentleman in the boisterous brew pub of our language, wearing the phonics of its French roots like a tiara, free of the uncertainty that accompanies awkward imports like oeuvre or foie gras. Ahhn-sahhhm-bull. Its natural pacing gracefully slows a sentence to a more relaxed rate, momentarily taking the hurry out of the world. It's one of Read more [...]

Stanchion

The word squawked from the overhead speakers — what did the prerecorded woman announcing the streetcar stops advise we hang on to as the train lurched forward? This was public transit, where language is crafted for the masses, simplified to the point of ideograms. Did she say stanchion? Is that the word for those thick plastic loops that hang from the overhead railing of the train, the straps to which standing riders cling in order to remain standing? A stanchion, I learned later, is actually Read more [...]

Pumpernickel

Pumpernickel is a bulbous bon vivant of phonetic splendor: say it once, it sounds like your mouth is already at a party to which your brain is just arriving; say it twice and it's the grin-worthy punch line to an odd and unspoken joke; say it five times — pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel — and it chugs like a animated freight train barreling through a cartoon landscape. Repetitions beyond five will guarantee a vacant seat beside you on the commuter train. If Read more [...]

Beau

While I don't like this word merely by default, it's significant that I particularly dislike the word "boyfriend." It's a clumsy word that misrepresents at every syllable: it inaccurately describes an age ("boy"), understates the connection ("friend"), and generally makes even the most refined user sound as if she or he is bragging in a high school hallway. Beau scores a linguistic trifecta: accurate (a boyfriend or male admirer,) efficient (quick and baggage-free,) and euphonious (say "Where's Read more [...]

Moot

Moot makes me sad. Not because it's a sad word, but because moot lives a sad life. It's a role player in the game of words, sitting on the bench for vast stretches, patiently waiting for the sentence or statement where it can succinctly shine. Finally, the perfect opportunity arises, moot prepares to step in and carry the day, only to have the author squander the opportunity by writing or saying, "the point is mute." Mute? No. Mute means to silence, or to be unable to speak. Points are not mute. There's Read more [...]

Courageon

Don't bother with Merriam-Websters — it's not a real word. But it should be. And not simply because it's mine, and I have the hubris to haughtily propose we recall every dictionary and post an addendum to the already crowded "C" section. Courageon should be a word because there is no other word that says what it says, and the goal of adding a new word is to expand our lexicon to allow more nuance, not create a new phonic that duplicates an existing definition. (Can I get an 'amen' on that, chillax?) A Read more [...]