Monthly Archives: March 2009

And the egoist cries cock-a-doodle-doo

Cockalorum: noun, meaning one who’s full of boastful talk or self-importance.

Shockingly, the origin of this word is actually onomatopoetic, having nothing — though my inner feminist is smirking — to do with phallic references at all. In fact, it comes from an early-1700’s dutch word, kockeloeren, which means to crow. I suppose that’s an easy enough leap to make. Supposedly, the word cocky (and all our slightly more foul counterparts) stems from a similar, but different source, which is to say Cocc, an Old English word used in the middle ages as a nickname for boys who strutted around like roosters. I daresay, whatever Dutch person coined the former word, must have spent some time in England.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ego lately — a wise man once told me that being a writer is straddling the fine line between ego and humility. It’s something I’ve been learning how to handle over the last few years, mitigating my pride and confidence in my work, while also being able to take ego-piercing criticism, absorb it, and let it inform my future writing. And all that’s great on a personal level, but it seems to me that we, as Americans, aren’t doing so well at this same game. When are we going to give up being cockalorums about our economy? When are we going to stop pointing fingers at the banks and Wall Street and the government and and cast our shameful gaze at what we’ve done – what we’ve created from our greed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m angry as hell and ready to tackle anyone with a bonus in their pocket. I’m not innocent either; I’m just requesting we open this discussion up in a more direct way. It’s not about the banks spending money, it’s about all of us paying back our debt.
So, I’ll leave you with 2 This American Life links, both of which are awesome and highly pertinent to this post.

First, the recent Bad Banks, which was uber-helpful in helping me work through my questions about what’s going on in the economy right now. Seriously Amazing – even Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is down with how great this show is.

And second, Poultry Slam 2008, which is one of my favorite episodes involving lots of stories you’ve probably heard me re-tell. They’re that good. In one of them God is a Chicken. Go.

Categories: etymology, media, Ponderings | Leave a comment

Hot for teacher?

Cacology: noun meaning speaking badly, as in bad choice of words.

Arguably, it’s a mistake to highlight the “competition” on your blog about words, but this I cannot resist. Below is one of Marlina Orlova’s video posts about the word cacology on the net. Thank god someone’s tackling it. And for all those cacologists out there who need more “tutoring,” you can get one of her “hot for words” calendars or an autographed picture of her on her website. Nope, I’m not joking.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun to say, fun to see.

Kerfuffle: noun meaning to become disheveled, a commotion, or a fuss.

I actually heard someone say kerfuffle aloud in the last week and it’s been delightfully romping around in my brainspace ever since. Say it a few times and you’ll see what I mean. It’s delicious. It’s also cool because this word is of Scottish origin (out of verbs like fuffle that meant to ruffle, or fuff that meant to steam – giving it a bit of an angry temper slant), which is why I think our word for today has a bit more flare than those with Greek and Latin roots. Even more interesting is that as late as the 1960s, the word didn’t have a specific accepted spelling. Apparently, onomatopoetic words  like kerplop and kerplunk forced the change in our lexicon. I suspected that skirmish was related through the Scottish /Gaelic root car, which meant to bend or twist – but, I was totally wrong.

If anyone knows how to cause a kerfuffle, it’s pirates and emperors. Check out this amazing satire of School House Rocks, and well, the U.S. Government. It’s a little dated now, (and not even accurate – Alexander the Great is Greek, after all) but it’s too great not to share:

Categories: etymology, media | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obsolete word? Bah!

Agroof, adverb meaning flat on one’s face.


I was looking for a word that would relate to the snow storm we had on the East Coast last night, when I came across this little gem. Technically speaking, it’s an obsolete word dating back to the early 1600s. I also found a glossary reference in Winter Evening Tales, a book published in 1820. But you know where else I found it? Urban Dictionary. Right? So here’s a case of a fairly obsolete word that’s mostly listed no where at all resurfacing in popular culture. How does that happen? There are a few wordies out there who’ve referenced agroof in their blogs or digital lists (calling it both an adjective and a noun, but in my mind, it’s clearly an adverb), so I suppose the internet allows for the rebirth of antiquated vocabulary. But how did it end up on Urban Dictionary when I can’t even find an etymological source? Probably because it’s a great word that’s precise and captures the slapstick of, well, falling flat on your face.

So, long story short: be careful on the streets today – you wouldn’t want to embarass yourself by falling agroof in front of everyone.

Categories: cartoon, etymology, Ponderings | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at