Thursday, November 27, 2014



Two weeks ago in the comments after the Onomatopoeia post, Christine asked about the words dive, mucus, cough & flutter. Of the three, only cough is onomatopoeic, & appeared in English somewhat dubiously in the 1300s from a German source. Though it didn’t pass the onomatopoeic test, the word flutter led me down the path that introduced me to the topic of this post. Thank you Christine.

Flutter  appears to have been around since we started calling our language English. Linguists refer to flutter as a frequentative verb. This particular sort of verb is built from a verb that communicates a single action. The frequentative verb communicates that same action, repeated. Flutter’s parent verb is float. With a bit of imagination we can see how fluttering is a bit like floating over & over again.

Ripple came to English in the 1400s from the word rip. It hadn’t previously occurred to me that ripples in a stream could be perceived as many, many rips in the water’s surface.

In the 1580s, the parent verb drip gave us the frequentative verb dribble. Soccer players applied this word to their sport as early as 1863, & it made its way onto the basketball court by 1892, only one year after the “invention” of the sport.

To sway from side to side, as a duck does, is to waddle. Given the definition, it’s no surprise that waddle’s parent verb is wade. Waddle appeared in English in the 1590s.

Another frequentative word that came about in the 1590s is puzzle. We can see the associated shade of meaning in its parent verb, pose within the phrase pose a riddle.

Straddle is most likely a frequentative form of the verb stride. English users first wrote straddle about 1560.

The 1590s brought us the wonderful figurative word muddle, frequentative of mud. It seems likely that muddle initially meant to bathe in mud, then by the 1600s, muddle picked up its figurative meaning, to destroy the clarity of.

The frequentative verb ogle showed up in writing in the 1680s & comes from the OId English word for eye, oege.

Frequentatives abound! Even as I finish this entry, I feel more posts on this theme bubbling under the surface of my blogworthy self.

Had any of you heard of frequentatives? Any thoughts on them?

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline & the OED.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving Anagrams & Anashams

Thanksgiving Anagrams & Anashams

Sometimes a Wordmonger just wants to have fun. For me, anagrams fit that bill. In case you don’t know, an anagram is made by shuffling the letters in a word or collection of words to come up with new words or phrases.

Below are some Thanksgiving-themed anagrams. Each list includes an item that looks like an anagram, but is not – a wolf in Gram’s clothing, or perchance an ana-sham? Search for the bad examples, then check the first comment for the answers.

If you like playing with anagrams & you’d rather not do so in an old school fashion, check out, where you can generate dozens upon dozens more anagrams for each of these examples.

Saving  Knight
Gnat King Hive
Van Gigs Think
Vast Nigh King

Good times
Modest go I
Misted  goo
Dim  stooge
Most dogs go
God  smote I
Midges too

Family and Friends
Dairyman  sniffled
Marinated  fins fly
Fairylands find me
Admirals fed Finny
Raided fanny films
Dandies manly riff

Turkey and dressing
A syringed drunkfest
A dredge sinks runty
Dear Stinky gardens
A kings yurts redden
A sundered kings try
A seedy drink grunts

A tired gut
Taut ridge
Urge it Tad
Guitar diet
Gut tirade

Thanks for playing, and may the week’s gratitude eclipse the week’s gut tirade.

My thanks go out to the designers of the anagram generator at

Thursday, November 13, 2014



Bunches of English words are imitative, or onomatopoeic. Some have even been put to music…

Splish-splash I was taking a bath

This post considers some not-quite top-40s, yet equally enjoyable examples.

Didgeridoo, an aboriginal Australian word, was first written down in English in 1924. Presumably, the name imitates a didgeridoo’s sounds just as it is filled with air.

Another great music-related onomatopoeic word is oom-pah, born in 1877 (when John Phillips Souza was only twenty-three years old). This word imitates to the sounds made by the tuba and sousaphone.

Starting out meaning mindless babbling, & morphing into a word meaning crazy or silly, we have gaga, which appeared in English in 1920.

We call a petty quarrel a spat, because spat sounds like a slap or smack, often an element in a squabble. Spat first showed up in English in 1804.

Squabble most likely has imitative roots, also. It seems some Scandinavian speakers had an onomatopoeic word referring to a babbling quarrel. This word made its way into English somewhere around 1600 in the form of squabble.

Squabbles or spats might also include any number of words imitative of a hit or strike. Slap, whack, thump, bonk & bash are examples.

Heaps of imitative words refer to the noises we sometimes make:

yodel showed up in English in 1827
hiss showed up as early as the 1300s
he-he, imitative of laughter, showed up sometime before Middle English
sneeze showed up in the late 1500s. Its pre-Germanic root
(fneu-s) was imitative.
howl came to English during the 1200s from an unspecified Germanic
guffaw showed up in English from Scottish in 1720
gag appeared in the 1400s & may have Old Norse roots
blather has either Scottish or Old Norse roots, both of which are imitative

Keep your ears open this week for words that just might be imitative, & in all your spare time between noticing possibly imitative words, feel free to leave a comment.

Interested in more imitative words? See Imitative Annoyances & Kiss.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Didgeridoo Origins & Use,  Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & Etymonline

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Going Over

Going Over

This week I’d like to branch out in my weekly celebration of words. Instead of considering the words themselves, their origins & how they do or don’t relate to one another, here’s a short post celebrating an author & her vision in assembling those words I’m always taking apart. The events in her story occur in East & West Berlin before the Berlin Wall came down, so one might think her book would be about communism, capitalism, public policy, & all. Instead, her book delves into the aches, dreams, nightmares, & wonders of being human. Her book knocked my socks off (or knocked off my socks for the grammarians out there).

Ada is a graffiti artist squatting in a neglected buiilding in West Berlin. At night, she sneaks out to the wall.

I work alone and in nobody’s hurry. I work from my one black book and from the things that I know about sky and vanishing, fear and wanting. I tilt the flashlight up on the bricked-in windowsill behind me and stand inside its shine, the cans of color at my feet and the rabbits on the opposite side of the wall looking for nibbles in the death zone. There’s nothing like heat in this light….Precision is the trick of the wrist. Curves jet from the shoulder. If you want a halo bigger than you’ve earned the right to be, you paint with your whole body.

Throughout the book, the author assembles her words in ways that floor me & inspire me. I hope you’ll consider finding a copy of Beth Kephart’s novel, Going Over.

My thanks go out to Ms. Kephart & her wonderful team at Chronicle Books. You can find her book in libraries & bookstores everywhere, & here.