1. Suede and swayed. Mine and mine. They’re homophones, right? No, wait — homonyms? Are homophone and homonym synonyms? And what’s the deal with homographs, anyway? How do they fit in?

    A handy guide to homophones, homonyms, and homographs

     

  2. Tips from old etiquette books:

    • "Don’t say gents for gentlemen or pants for pantaloons. These are inexcusable vulgarisms.”

    • "A little graceful imitation of actors and public speakers may be allowed. National manners, and the peculiarities of entire classes, are fair game. French dandies, Yankee bargainers, and English exquisites, may be ridiculed at pleasure."

    • Never ask a lady a question about anything whatever.”
    • "In the company of ladies, do not labor to establish learned points by long-winded arguments. They do not care to take too much pains to find out truth."

    14 more antiquated rules…

    Photo from: Thinkstock

     


  3. It’s all about context.

    • Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ’look at from above,’ means ‘supervise.’ “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’

    • Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

    12 more…

     

  4. Happy National Curmudgeon Day (actually, it was Tuesday), ya jerk. Now get off my lawn.

    The word curmudgeon is an old one, originating in the1570s, but where it comes from is unknown. The most famous suggestion, says World Wide Words, “is that of Dr. Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755 [in which] he quoted an unknown correspondent as suggesting that it came from the French coeur méchant (evil or malicious heart).” However, this is now considered unlikely. 

    The Online Etymology Dictionary says "the first syllable may be cur ‘dog,’" or that the word may “have been borrowed from Gaelic” — muigean means “disagreeable person” — “with variant spelling of intensive prefix ker-,” a slang term “echoic of the sound of the fall of some heavy body.”

    An older grouchy word is crab, which comes not from the crustacean but the sour crab apple, which in turn may come from Swedish dialect word skrabba, “fruit of the wild apple-tree,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Crab came to refer to a sour person in the 1570s. 

    Here, a long list of very grumpy words

    PHOTO: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

     

  5. This Sunday is the birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the English mathematician and writer whose most famous works include Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass, and The Hunting of the Snark. Such works featured Carroll’s specialty: coining blends and nonce words. Here are some of our favorites:
    1. Boojum
      The boojum is “a particularly dangerous variety of ‘snark,’” an imaginary creature of Carroll’s invention. The word boojum has inspired the naming of everything from “a species of tree… native to Baja California, Mexico” (found in 1922 by plant explorer Godfrey Sykes, who proclaimed, “It must be a boojum!”); to a supersonic cruise missile that “was determined to be too ambitious a project… and was canceled in 1951”; to “a geometric pattern sometimes observed on the surface of superfluid helium-3,” as named by physicist David Mermin in 1976.
      Example: But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day, / If your Snark be a Boojum!  For then / You will softly and suddenly vanish away, / And never be met with again!” — Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, 1876
       
    2. Chortle
      To chortle means “to exclaim exultingly, with a noisy chuckle.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Carroll coined the word as a blend of chuckle and snort.
      Example: ”He chortled in his joy.” —Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1871
       
    3. Frabjous 
      Frabjous means “great, wonderful, fabulous,” and is a blend of either fabulous and joyous, or fair and joyous. “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” cries the narrator of The Jabberwocky upon learning that the Jabberwock has been slain.
      Example: “‘O frabjous day!’ rejoiced Emma Dean, using her bath towel as a scarf and performing a weird dance about the room.” — Jessie Graham Flower, Grace Harlowe’s Return to Overton Campus, 1915
     


  6. You’ve heard of a “flight of stairs,” “a board of trustees,” and a “school of fish.” But a “business of ferrets” is probably a new one. 

    • Mustering of Storks
    • Shrewdness of Apes
    • Smack of jellyfish
    • Kindle of kittens
    • Worship of writers

    45 more…

     


  7. Dear Me —

    I’m writing to you from the year 2010, when I have reached the totally ridiculous age of 62, in order to give you a piece of advice. It’s simple, really, just five words: Stay away from recreational drugs. You’ve got a lot of talent, and you’re going to make lots of people happy with your stories, but — unfortunate but true — you are also a junkie waiting to happen. If you don’t heed this letter and change the future, at least 10 good years of your life — from age 30 to 40 — are going to be a kind of dark eclipse where you disappoint a lot of people and fail to enjoy your own success. You will also come close to dying on several occasions. Do yourself a favor and enjoy a brighter, more productive world. Remember that, like love, resistance to temptation makes the heart grow stronger.