Strumpet

Strumpet sounds like an epithet my grandmother would have uttered disdainfully to describe the hussies who stayed too late in the downtown clubs. She'd have meant it dismissively, yet even spoken as a pejorative, the word entices with a linguistic imprecision that begs precise clarification — not from my grandmother, but from the strumpets themselves. Kids these days don't seem to know the word, or they disregard it, preferring the vulgar efficiency of slut andwhore, graceless appellations Read more [...]

Snorkel

Joan's young daughter laughed and laughed when her mom said it, repeating it back as if she expected her mom to confess: "Snorkel? Snorkel? SNORKEL?! Mom, that's not a real word." Joan tried to defend it as genuine, but any conversation with the repeated utterance of "snorkel" quickly resembles a Laugh-In skit. Sounding equal parts sexual innuendo ("Wow, I'd like to snorkel that barista") and Dr. Seuss ("The Snorkel had a snout that looked like a trout"), the more you try to prove the validity Read more [...]

Kerf

A kerf isn't what it is as much as what it isn't. What it isn't is the thing it used to be, which could have been anything, and it didn't become what it is until it became what it isn't, which is what it was. In other words, a kerf is the thing that replaces another thing, except the thing it now is isn't a thing, it's more like a nothing. Indeed, the bigger a kerf gets, the closer it gets to being nothing — not even a kerf. A kerf is the strip of nothing that used to be something before a blade Read more [...]

Notion

Notion is a deceptively precise word. What "some" is to quantity, notion is to knowledge, an immeasurable amount of an incalculable thing, a tenuous grasp of a nebulous concept. But the vagueness resides in the concept, not the word, because as imprecise as it seems, the word precisely captures the vagueness that is a notion. What I admire most about the word is its unabashed confidence: the hero never says, "there's nothing I can do, I have only a notion of how to diffuse this bomb." Instead, Read more [...]

Gullet

Gullet is an etymological senior citizen, its biography cut-and-pasted from edition to edition by generations of editors because its utile efficiency has not required update. Gullet sits on the veranda of a dog-eared paperback dictionary and sneers as unfriend and chillax tote their fashionable baggage up the onion-skin steps of the O.E.D. next door, and will stubbornly outlive both. Gullet is neither sleek nor svelte, but language isn't always pretty. Words like ingénue and ethereal are Read more [...]

Savor

My daughter likes the phrase, "I win!" If she spots more punch buggies? "I win!" If she drops the final heart in Crazy 8s? "I win!" Last night we were eating ice cream and as I finished first (because c'mon, no one is going to beat me at THAT!), I chirped, "I win!" She smiled, finished her mouthful of creamy chocolate and replied, "When it comes to sweets, I like to savor." It was a proud parenting moment, hearing my seven-year old describe her efforts so succinctly. It lingered in my mind as Read more [...]

Hex

Hex is an incredibly efficient phonic. No word in the english language that can be delivered more quickly. Even the letter A often takes more time than hex. Next, even If you didn't know what a hex was, when you learned that someone had put a hex on you, there'd be no wondering if that's a good or a bad thing. Reverie? That sounds like it might be a nice thing, all curves and soft edges; hex is jagged and malignant. In the instruction manual of life, it is listed under "Things to avoid." As Read more [...]