5.7 Words

I’ve loved words forever.   I subscribe to Wordsmth.com and they send me a word every day.  I’ve heard today’s word, concupiscence, and understand it when I read it in context (I don’t think I ever heard the word used aloud).  But I don’t know the word well enough to use it with confidence.  Of course I will, now knowing exactly what it means:  lustful, libidinous.   The words earlier this week were easy, reactionary and tyro.

Spell check was a mixed blessing for me.  We know it doesn’t pick up typos when the erroneous word is also a legitimate word

It was troubling for me to learn that accommodate had two M’s after 50 years of misspelling.  It still takes me several tries to get maintenance right.

I have an anecdote rolling around in the part of my brain that has not been affected by dementia.  The story may have been told me by Ralph Brandt when he was the managing editor of the Bridgeton Evening News.  This would have been well before the year of the flood. 

It seems the reporters at the BEN would write the difficult-for-them-to-spell words on the wall next to their desk.  You could tell the seniority of the reporters by the length of their wall lists. 

One day the publisher decided the offices were looking a little shabby and, as a surprise to the staff, had some painters come in over a weekend and do all the walls.

It took the paper years to recover.

I owe the idea for today’s post to an email I received from my own copyeditor.  An article posted in the May 20th number of The NYTimes Magazine, entitled “Words We Don’t Say.”  It was a list of words a prominent editor from the 90s refused to allow into his copy.  The list was short and I nodded agreement with most of them.


Bigs (when you mean prominent people)


Boast (when you mean have)



Comfort food


Don (when you mean put on)




Fin de Siecle



Hails from






New York’s Finest



Queried (when you mean asked)

Sentences beginning “Result: “or “Reason:”


Sport (as a verb)


Tapped (meaning chosen)




A Who’s Who of


I am a little sorry that comely, a word first learned in some Elizabethan novel, got on the list before I could use it.  Same with zeitgeist and Fin de Siecle.  And indie deserves a second life when it appears with bookstore.

As is often the case in the Year on the Road Blog, the comments were more interesting than the article that prompted them.

As of this moment, 402 comments to The NYTimes Magagzine article offer wonderful additions to the list, for example:

Going forward (recommended by 36 readers)

Friend (as a verb)

Paradigm shift

Impact (as a verb)


“begs the question” (when you mean asks the question)



And 17 more pages of comments.  The article and comments can be found at:  http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/words-we-dont-say/?smid=tw-nytimesmagazine&seid=auto&utm_source=swissmiss&utm_campaign=224352cc0e-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email

The readers of my blog are at least at literate at the readers of the NYTimes and I am betting several worthy comments will appear below.

BTW, I did not spot my all time favorite.

Less (when you mean fewer)

9 Responses to 5.7 Words

  1. Alan stowell says:

    Al..good stuff man!
    Specially since I just got my TEFL certificate!( teaching english as a foreign language!)
    Still miss you as the sailor (good one!) you once were…..

  2. Dave L says:

    A writer is left flummoxed as he hesitates with an expression that while cliche and trite, is also exactly what he or she means. “Bistro” e.g., conveys an ambiance otherwise demanding paragraphs to describe. “Begs the question” is more heavily descriptive than “asks” (and also a phrase used appropriately in classical discussion of the logical argument). Lists are cute and those who generate them white-haired and adorable, and some words and phases way over used and tiresome — I’ll give you that. I blame this on the media writers, all worked to the edge of their imagination, some dropping off. But I’ll continue with the expression that best fits my message, whether listed or not – without fear of the bogeyman.

  3. Christine Thomas says:

    Whoever is the self-proclaimed “authority” on the common, and ill-used vernacular in the NY Times should be fired-he or she is spending far too much time inside his/her cubicle, and not enough time walking the streets or being in a park, or getting OUT of New York! Please, let’s get real!
    While I have been a devotee of the NYT since my sojurn and life into Connecticut in 1976, they are not the supreme authority, as they think they are, on language, culture, or proper word usage.
    I say, expand your horizons, make your writing a reflection of your own influences and of how you see things…is that not what differentiates us from the rest of humanity?

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    I agree with Christie. Move out into the crowds. Experience the lifestyles of others. Realize that language is like a snake shedding its skin; it changes as often as the seasons. Enjoy the impact of the sound of a new word or two words strung together like a horse and buggy. Let your writing reflect the modern world.

  5. Colleen Rae says:

    I have been corrected more than once by this illustrous blogger on the word’ less. ‘ I stand corrected and am moving forward.

  6. Sheri Cohen says:

    I don’t know. I never got used to the word “orientate” and I think I never will. Every time I hear it, I think the speaker is mistaken and should be saying “orient” or “oriented.” I guess I’m wrong. But I agree with that editor about the word “hubby” and the phrase “hails from.” I think they date a person. Or is that the wrong use for “date?” Now I’m so self-conscious, I better stop here!
    (Except to say, interesting post, Al.)

  7. karen wittgraf says:

    I;m afraid to write now. There are words used so often that they are meaningless. If i hear the word “awesome” one more time, I may scream. Also, certain words are just plain ugly, like “bucket” (has a nasty sound). We all connect with language in so many ways, but what I hear in my area makes me want silence.

  8. BB says:

    1Call the roller of big cigars,
    2The muscular one, and bid him whip
    3In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
    4Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
    5As they are used to wear, and let the boys
    6 Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
    7Let be be finale of seem.
    8The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

    9Take from the dresser of deal,
    10Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
    11On which she embroidered fantails once
    12And spread it so as to cover her face.
    13If her horny feet protrude, they come
    14To show how cold she is, and dumb.
    15Let the lamp affix its beam.
    16The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

    Wallace Stevens

  9. BB says:

    The saying dead as a doornail is still dead as a doornail:
    Whatever a doornail might be or was, long lost in the dark,
    The dark, the dark—not always deepest before dawn, Pal.
    Back then, passing a graveyard you might actually whistle:
    No walk in the park, a black back street back in the day.
    Zombie expressions, Buddy, as thin as a spare dime.
    Generated by generations they still stagger the castle,
    Wan, rife. Benighted or bedazed by the March of Time,
    Time, time. The old saws hardly ever anymore called saws:
    Kiss the cat and you kiss the fleas. And That’s the story of my life.

    Robert Pinsky

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