Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, March 15, 2018



Here at Wordmonger, we’re celebrating the last three weeks of Women’s History Month by focusing on selected words of selected women. This week we’ll take a look at some wise women ’s thoughts about progress.

“Progress” affects few. Only revolution can affect many.
Alice Walker 

Even the “worst blizzard of the century” accumulates one flake at a time.
Mary Kay Blakely

This seems to be the law of progress in everything we do; it moves along a spiral rather than perpendicular; we seem to be actually going out of the way, and yet it turns out that we were really moving upward all the time.
Frances E. Willard

We have not crawled so very far
up our individual grass-blade
toward our individual star.
Hilda Doolittle

Things that don’t get better, get worse.
Ellen Sue Stern

If a man has lived in a tradition which tells him that nothing can be done about his human condition, to believe that progress is possible may well be the greatest revolution of all.
Barbara Ward

May whatever progress you’re hoping for in your life come to fruition.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women., Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, March 8, 2018



What’s up with the words used to define the articles of clothing in which we encase our legs?

Since the 1200s, English speakers have referred to a bifurcated garment worn by men covering from the waist to the knees, as breeches. This word most likely came from a Proto-Indo European word that meant to break, fork, or split. By 1905 in America, breeches became britches..

The word pants came from the word pantaloons, which originally meant a kind of tights, & has been a part of English since the 1660s. About 1798, the word pantaloons started meaning long trousers. By the 1840s, pantaloons got truncated to become pants.

Since 1763 English-speaking folks have worn leggings, originally an extra outer covering to protect the legs. 

Trousers started out in English as trouzes in the 1580s (a men’s garment covering the lower body & each leg separately). It seems the second - got added to pattern trousers after the word drawers

And the word slacks was born in the military about 1824. It referred to loose trousers. Its parent Old English word meant sluggish, indolent or lacking energy. We still find this branch of meaning in the idiom take up some slack & the word slacker

Tights were originally tight fitting breeches & have been with us since 1827.

And here are some related idioms:
1835 — too big for one’s breeches/britches, first put on paper by Davy Crocket in reference to Andrew Jackson.
1904 — slacker
1931 — to wear the pants in a family
1932 — to be caught with one’s pants down
1942 — by the seat of one’s pants 
1968 — cut someone some slack
1975 — slack key guitar

So, fellow pant-wearers (& non-pant-wearers), does all that resonate with you? Anything surprising?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources:, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

There's not a word for it

There’s not a word for it

Writers are always trying to shake it up vocabulary-wise so we don’t annoy readers by overusing a particular word. I’ve no idea how many serious discussions I’ve heard involving the search for a synonym for nod.

So what words fall in this category of having no single-word synonym? It seems there’s some buzz in the ether over the subject, but not much. The only thing word-enthusiasts seem to have agreed on is the uncreative, yet clear & honest label for such words — asynonyms. 

Here is a collection of asynonymous words posited here and there:

Everyday nouns like:
nod (also a verb)

Some nearly everyday verbs:
skip (a series of small jumps moving from one foot to the other) 

Specific science- & math-related words like:

Some scarcely-heard tongue-twisters:
sphygmomanometer (the only one-word English label for a blood-pressure monitor)
agelast (a person who never laughs)
petrichor (the sound of rain hitting the hard ground)

Given my interests, I would add to the list the word etymologist. Good readers, given your interests, what asynonymous words would you add to the list?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

7 words for stinky

7 words for stinky

Since last week’s post covered words related to caca, why not move onto synonyms for stinky?

Though the word stinky didn’t come to English until 1888, its root word stink came from an Old English word stincan, a verb that meant to emit a smell of any kind. Its cousin, stench was also in the Old English lexicon. Both came from a Proto-Germanic word meaning bad smell. So originally, stench & stink had a similar noun/verb relationship to our modern words drench & drink.

One of the two original meanings of the Old English word foul was rotten, unclean, vile or offensive to the senses. Its second meaning was ugly. This second branch of meaning is the source for foul play, which likely led to the term foul ball.

Malodorous  is an English construction that occurred in 1832, combining the Medieval Latin word for having a smell (-odorus) with the French word for bad (mal-).

The modern word rank came from the Old English adjective ranc, which meant overbearing & showy. During Middle English, it evolved to mean large & coarse, then excessive & unpleasant, then foul. Some etymologists suggest this last shift was influenced by the English acquisition of the French word rance, which meant rancid.

In the late 1300s the word fusty arrived in English, meaning stale-smelling. It came from a French wine-related word meaning tasting of the cask, which came from a Latin word meaning sticks of wood.

And frowsty showed up in 1865, meaning having an unpleasant smell. It may have come from a French word meaning ruinous. Though hard-working etymologists haven’t nailed down the connection, they have identified a connection to the word frowsy, which means both musty/stale & slovenly/uncared for.

Nothing like a few stinky words, eh? Please consider commenting on which of these words’ histories most surprised you.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Wordnik, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 15, 2018



Since wallowing in the wonder of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve loved the onomatopoeic words cacophony & cacophonous - wonderfully honest words that sound like what they mean. At the time I was probably a nine- or ten-year-old boy with all the disgusting proclivities of that tribe. How the younger me would’ve loved to have known the etymology of cacophony.

The last part isn’t all that titillating: -phony comes from the Greek word for sound. The first part, though, comes from the Proto-Indo-European word *kakka-, which meant defecation. And yes, this same root traveled through Spanish to give us caca.

It also gave us these cacophonous cousins:

Cachexia, meaning a generally bad state of health appeared in English in the mid-1500s.

Poorly chosen or incorrect taxonomic names of organisms are known as caconyms, a term that’s been around since 1888.

Poppycock, which appeared in 1865 through Dutch, meaning nonsense.

And since the 1500s, bad handwriting or spelling has been known as cacography.

Kakistocracy, coined in 1829 by Thomas Peacock, meaning government by the worst element of a society.

So readers, did you know about these caca-related words? 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Wordnik, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 8, 2018



These days novels and films are filled with quirky characters. What exactly is quirky, & what words come close to meaning the same thing?

The word quirky was born in 1806, when it meant shifty. It came from the 1500s word quirk, which meant evasion. It wasn’t until 1960 that quirky meant idiosyncratic.

Coined by Hunter S. Thompson, the word gonzo came to English in 1971, meaning weird, bizarre, idiosyncratic. Though we’re not 100% certain, & Thompson’s gonzo leanings have kept him tight-lipped on the matter, gonzo may have been inspired by an Italian word meaning rude & sottish, or a Germanic word for goose.

In the 1400s, nutty meant nut-like. By the 1820s, it meant in love, & by 1898 it came to mean unbalanced or idiosyncratic.

Someone who is aberrant is wandering from the usual course. We’ve had this word since 1798. Its initial usage applied generally to the animal and plant kingdoms.

Since 1938 we’ve had the word off-beat (or offbeat). It was born in the world of music, & was almost immediately applied to idiosyncratic humans.

The Old English word utlendisc referred to the customs or people of a foreign country. In time, xenophobia & discomfort with “other” took their toll on this word’s meaning. The word it has become, outlandish, now means odd or bizarre.

In 1866 the word screwball referred to an unexpected sort of pitch in the game of cricket. By 1928, baseball welcomed screwball into its lexical arms to refer to an erratic pitch. By 1938, Carol Lombard’s comedy got labeled screwball comedy, & ever since, the word screwball can be used to identify a person who is unbalanced or idiosyncratic.

In the comments section, I’m hoping you’ll nominate a character from fiction or the silver screen who might be defined with one of the above words.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

To fit together

To fit together

This week, we celebrate the tiny Proto-Indo-European word, *ar-. a word that meant to fit together. 

Its progeny are legion.

*ar- gave us words that acknowledge the fitting together necessary for military action:
& the fitting together it takes to cease military action:

*ar- gave us words that acknowledge the fitting together that is art:

It gave us the names of critters that fit together:

And words that recognize other ways things might fit together:

Even words that suggest fitting together is simply the way of things:

And a word that may just be where all this fitting together started:

Did any of these fitting together words surprise you? If so, please say so in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.