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Education Books Media Book Reviews

A Word a Day 188

It's not as racy as F'd Companies , but it is another website that's made the leap to print; this one you could let small children read, and even be happy about it. jenb writes with the review below, only slightly offbeat for Slashdot, of A Word A Day. You may appreciate this link to, too.
A Word a Day: A Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English
author Anu Garg with Stuti Garg
pages 202
publisher Wiley
rating 8.5
reviewer Jennifer Buckendorff
ISBN 0471230324
summary words, words and more words, broken up by themes into small chapters

For anyone who finds MBA-speak infiltrating daily life (I'll admit to once telling a friend we could "table the discussion for later"), learning new, cool, real words is a good way to spend a rainy afternoon. Anu Garg runs A.Word.A.Day, the website, where, instead of the morning's daily dose of spam, acolytes can receive daily linguistic edification. (The urge to use big words in a review like this is difficult to suppress.) Now he's taken the best of these words and themes and collected them in a slim little volume good for both casual grazing and sit-down-reading.

What's to Like

Garg has a logical mind, dividing the book into small chapters with clever themes. There are some humdingers of words, but there are also many surprisingly small entries, as in the chapters "Words that Make the Spell-checker Ineffective" (example: specie, meaning "in kind") and "Words Not to Put on Your Resume" (example: distrait, or absentminded). Anyone who wants to get really meta will like the chapters that are words about words (example: verbigeration, the obsessive repetition of meaningless words and phrases). The truth is, it's just fun to learn new words, stretch the brain a little bit, and to find out how certain etymologies came to be. Pixilated (as opposed to pixelated), meaning whimsical or eccentric, came from the word "pixie," for example, while cremains (from the combining of the words cremate and remains) means exactly what you think.

What's to Consider

Late in the book, Garg introduces the concept of the malapropism ("the humorous misuse of a word by confusing it with a similar-sounding word"), which seems like an important idea in geek culture. Lots of geeks are autodidacts and readers, and we fall into the habit of mispronouncing or slightly misusing big word. (For years I said prejudice as "pre-justiced" because that was how I thought of the meaning.) To be exact in language -- both in pronunciation and in meaning -- is to have a certain kind of power. It may seem a little prissy to worry about it, but communication is one of those things in daily life that really matter, that people use to make a judgement about how smart or interesting a person is. A weblog filled with all "like, you know" kind of commentary is tedious; a witty one gets forwarded to friends.

As corporate-speak becomes more and more intertwined with technology, it's up to all of us to create a discourse community (a concept a friend from Harvard told me about) that makes conversation sparkly and yet exact, even in the middle of a cube farm. But mostly, it's just fun to think about words and how they could be used. Not that it will ever happen, but maybe at the next meeting, during the next inane bizdev presentation, someone will lean over and whisper "Clearly Manager X must have been decerebrated over the holidays, or he would never have perorated like that this afternoon." And we'll all actually know what he's talking about.


Anu Garg loves words, and the book reflects it. He has a natural curiosity and desire to explain bigger concepts about how language evolves and becomes useful. Playful and humorous in his writing style, he's created a book that other people will want to borrow from you.

You can purchase A Word a Day from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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A Word a Day

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  • by szquirrel ( 140575 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:51PM (#5196883) Homepage
    defenestrate []
  • by 3.5 stripes ( 578410 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:53PM (#5196900)
    "the obsessive repetition of meaningless words and phrases"

    Yup, that about describes my posting....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:55PM (#5196917)

    Perhaps my all time favorite common misspelling is "retarted" when used as an insult.
  • by tomson ( 100060 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:55PM (#5196918)
    is 0.000185bps.. Man , that sucks!
    • Jesus man! You're expecting these words to average 16 characters?

      You do realize that here in the US, our words average about 4 letters. We don't even use the word characters anymore. You know, like, short words, w00t and w0rd and such.
  • by PepperedApple ( 645980 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:56PM (#5196923) Homepage
    Callipygian [] I wouldn't even have imagined that there would be a word for it.
  • The Problem Here... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jot445 ( 637326 ) <> on Friday January 31, 2003 @12:57PM (#5196927) Journal
    Is that most geeks are male, most slashdotters are geeks, most males are left-brained, and communications is a predominantly right-brained activity. Is it any wonder that IT is consistently faulted for having poor communications skills? Reading this book will not change the fundamental problem.

    • > Is that most geeks are male, most slashdotters are geeks, most males are left-brained, and communications is a predominantly right-brained activity. Is it any wonder that IT is consistently faulted for having poor communications skills?

      Is it any wonder that WHAT is consistently faulted for having poor communication skills?

    • I think the left brain right brain thing is a load of crock.

      The myth about males and women having communication problems because of different ways of thinking sounds like just theory to me

      Do you really think there is such a difference?

      More than anything is a persons education and social skills and life that affect communication

      Not the size of the side of their head

      Remember this is all theory and you're just repeating something you heard.
    • Is that most geeks are male, most slashdotters are geeks, most males are left-brained
      Gender has nothing at all to do with brainedness. The easiest way to tell which side of a person's brain is dominant is to throw them an orange. Left brained people will catch it with their right hand and vice versa.

      communications is a predominantly right-brained activity
      Completely wrong. Logical thought is a traditional right-brained characteristic. Right brained (left handed) people are better at communication involving precise syntactic constructs, but are less good at more poetic turns of phrase, and metaphor, hence are often not good public speakers.
      I am in the (un)fortunate position of being ambi-sinister (equally incompetent with both hands) and so feel I can look down on all people who's brain doesn't support proper load balancing...

    • Don't make too many assumptions here.

      Firstly, the dominance of brain hemisphere by gender is an assumption.

      Secondly, the left/right brain function differentiation is not only based upon native language, but evidently culture as well.

      Scans show that, for example, English speakers and Japanese speakers have opposite sides of the brain light up when the sound of running water is perceived. But this also turns out to be more or less true of people raised in English-speaking and Japanese-speaking places, even if they are raised speaking another language. And then, by and large, 2nd generation (Nisei) Japanese Americans will register the sound on the opposite site of the brain than their Japanese-born parents, even if they (the Nisei) are raised speaking Japanese.

      All this is to point out that the whole left brain / right brain dichotomy is nice in theory, but is not absolute. Furthermore, even in nice clean cases where we're talking entirely about a group of people with a common language and culture, the degree of dominance of one hemisphere over the other is a spectrum, not a boolean.

      In short, tech people shouldn't make technical excuses for not caring about communication.
  • You may appreciate this link to, too.

    Yes but may not appreciate getting /.ed.

  • this reminds me (Score:4, Informative)

    by rpeppe ( 198035 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:02PM (#5196963)
    This christmas, we gained much hilarity (and some education) from The Superior Person's Book of Words []. It sounds as if it's along the same kind of thing as the book reviewed in this slashdot article. I've nothing to do with the publishers or the author, I just think it deserves to be known about. Highly recommended, if you're into unusual words.

    GROYNE n. ~ This is the correct term for one of those little wooden fences or brick walls that run down English beaches and out into the water for some distance, as a device to check the drifting of the same. Pronounced, and sometimes spelled, groin. "Shall we get together down by the groyne?"

    • Dude, I'm sure it's a great book and that there's a bunch of excellent words in there, but GROYNE is the


      of an interesting word. EVER.

      Uhm. Yeah. Just thought you should know.
      • Dude, I'm sure it's a great book and that there's a bunch of excellent words in there, but GROYNE is the [...]

        Ok, you've got me! I haven't got a copy of the book and "groyne" was the best that google could offer by way of an extract.

        Merkin would have been a better example, but the words themselves are nothing without the definitions they're given with, and associated suggested ways of using them..

  • His multiplicating miskpronounsciations and misconstruations are meaking me want to do a retaskification of my thinkisms.

  • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:04PM (#5196986) Homepage Journal
    I'm a bit of a wordsmith, and find that while learning words on a day by day basis is a good idea, it's actually using them that helps me retain them.

    But more importantly, you can learn MANY more than 365 words a year if you look up the 'etymology' of the words you learn (the history and background of how they came into being).

    Why? Well, take the word 'malapropism' that was highlighted in this review. It's find learning what it means, but if you rattle along to its entry you find out it comes from the word 'malaprop'. Digging further, you can learn what this really means.

    Any French student knows that mal means 'bad' or wrong.

    Now, à propos means 'to the subject/purpose'. But what does it also sound like? It's sounds like malappropriate doesn't it?

    Now it's a lot easier to remember.

    bad + appropriate + for subject = malapropism

    a word that's inappropriate for the topic = malapropism.

    Now next time you hit words like malice and malfunction you won't have to wonder whether mal meant good or bad.. because you looked up the etymology!

    So, look up the history of words you learn, because you could easily end up being able to guess many hundreds of OTHER words simply by knowing the roots.
    • I use all the time. I love randomly typing in words like "audacious" or "syllogistic" ( favourite def'n EVER!!: "Of, relating to, resembling, or consisting of a syllogism or syllogisms." BUHAHAHAH!)

      Learning the exact meaning of a word, it's variants, and it's etymology really helps me get a grip on nuances in language. A lot of the time I'll get a little surprise when I look up a word, ESPECIALLY when I think I already know what it means. It's also good prectice for SCRABBLE.
    • It's surprising than anybody can natter on about the history of 'malapropism' without mentioning that it originates in a coinage: Mrs. Malaprop is a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals.

    • by LMacG ( 118321 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:19PM (#5197096) Journal
      That's a nicely backformed etymology, but the word comes from Mrs. Malaprop, a character noted for her misuse of words in R. B. Sheridan's 1775 comedy The Rivals.

      Now it might be argued that Sheridan named his character based on reasoning similar to the above derivation, but without the character, it is entirely possible that we'd be using another term.
    • It's find learning what it means, but if you rattle along to its entry you find out it comes from the word 'malaprop'

      Well, to be more precise, it comes from Mrs Malaprop, a character in Sheridan's The Rivals, who comes out with a lot of malapropisms. I don't think `malaprop' itself is an English word, though the ever-promiscuous WordNet disagrees. Of course, the chances are that the resemblance to mal à propos was intentional...
  • Drat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:05PM (#5196990) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone else just check their prefrences to see if there was a word-of-the-day Slashbox? I know, I was disappointed too.
    • Excellent idea! (Score:3, Informative)

      I think AWAD on Slashdot is a great idea. As the first word, I suggest:

      hacker [] n.

      1. One who is proficient at using or programming a computer; a computer buff.
      2. One who uses programming skills to gain illegal access to a computer network or file.

      3. One who enthusiastically pursues a game or sport: a weekend tennis hacker.

      That's been debated for far too long. And as for the argument that use define word meanings, dictionaries don't, that's basically shooting yourself in the foot, as everyone and his brother using "hacker" as in "cracker" is what prudists are arguing against in the first place.

      Runner-ups: computer science, operating system, free, theft, intellectual property.

      I have a nagging feeling that all the stuff being debated daily on Slashdot could be easily settled in a day or two if we could just agree on what certain keywords mean.
  • Well, this is a shame. This is a well written, edifying assessment. In spite of this, the manuscript doesn't really do anything for me. I just wanted to articulate my exhilaration with the excellence of the evaluation. This brings back the old days of paper writing in middle school. With a little writing and the powers of thesaurus (shift-f7) = A on papers. :)
  • by sczimme ( 603413 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:10PM (#5197017)

    site has a Word of the Day function:

    Today's word is 'mutton', which isn't very interesting until you read the the archaic forms. There is one from 1518: "And from thens to the halfe strete, To get vs there some freshe mete. Why, is there any store of rawe motton? "

    Okay, I find the archaic bits interesting. YMMV.
    • Dude(tte)! Your priorities are all wrong. This one is by far the best:

      4. slang. Food for lust; loose women, prostitutes. Also laced mutton: see LACED ppl. a. 5. So, the genital organs of a woman; copulation; phr. to hawk one's mutton, (of a woman) to seek a lover, to solicit (cf. hawking ppl. a. s.v. HAWK v.2). See also MUTTON-MONGER.

  • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:11PM (#5197030) Journal
    A lot of people underestimate the importance of clear communication, not to mention the role of proper spelling. Want people to take you seriously? Those who have power tend to have education, and if you write poorly, they won't take you as seriously. The internal logic is, "If this person doesn't care enough to take the time to make sure the grammar and spelling are correct -- which are simple enough things to do -- then why should I take the time to read what they have to say, or care about it?"

    I'm not saying that someone who spells poorly is stupid, or always wrong about things -- just that they're perceived that way. If you can't even learn to spell properly, what are the odds you can learn to think properly? Yeah, it's a gross oversimplification, but life isn't always fair.
    • Wonderful! I couldn't agree more. And you even managed to avoid making a mistake in your own post :-)

      Slashdot should have a -1, Spelling moderating option so that people could set it to -5 in their preferences...

    • Another point:

      Given the almost instantaneous nature of e-mail and web-based/electronic communication, it is all too common for something to be written without even a cursory check-over before getting sent out.

      We see that in terms of content (flame wars are usually the result of hot-headed reflexive replying) and also in terms of typos. If you just let your fingers fly and then hit "SEND", how much thought went into your post?

      My assumption is that as you get used to electronic communication mediums you subconsciously notice a correlation between typos and inane comments that hold very little content, such as:"Frist Post! Y0U=TEH SUCK!"

      An interesting metric for Slashdot to collect is how often the preview button is used before posting. Chances are I think its in the low 20% range. (I know, cuz I'm guilty ;)
      • I've (thankfully) made it a habit to always preview my /. posts at least once, and if I change anything after a preview, I (almost) always preview it again. Trivial changes (like editing a single letter in a four-word response) I may not preview, but anything nontrivial gets previewed at least a couple of times. I'm pretty anal about lexical stuff, and it's more or less reflexive at this point.

        It would be nice if at least one preview was required by /., which (I believe) would increase the signal-to-noise ratio, but at least the way it is now, I can use most people's lack of previewing as a convenient filter to prejudge the likelihood that they're worth reading. It may not be perfectly accurate, but it correlates well. :)
        • requiring the preview for posts (like /. has for Journal Entries) has one flaw:
          I can click preview, then immediately click send without actually having previewed. This is called "lying to your computer."

          So let's rephrase:
          instead of It would be nice if at least one preview was required by /.,

          change that to:

          it would be nice if posters gave a rat's backside about what they were saying, instead of karma-whoring by being the first one to post one of the same 5 comments that gets made on every story.

          So from now on, my posts will only be a ruse to hide a "Made You Look!" message inorder to make people look.

          P.S.- dear reader, you've been had! ;)
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:15PM (#5197056) Journal
    then lackadaisically would mean "with a shortage of flowers"..

    (Yes, I get all my posts from /usr/games/fortune)
  • Yada yada, look it up. Word a day is a great site, i'd expect the book to be funny++

    Eschu obfustication.
  • Maybe some one should send a copy to KDE. ;-)
  • I get my Word of the Day every day from Merriam Webster. Don't know if it's any better or worse than, but the word of the day is quite nice (so long as you tell them to not send you html emails).

    linkage [].

  • by Chocolate Teapot ( 639869 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:31PM (#5197169) Journal
    I'm sure these [] folks would appreciate a slashdotting. They have dozens more of these:

    Aquadextrous - adj. Possessing the ability to turn the bathtub faucet on and off with your toes.

    Gurmlish - n. The red warning flag at the top of a club sandwich which prevents the person from biting into it and puncturing the roof of his mouth.

    Sniglet (snig'lit) - n. Any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should.

    Lactomangulation - n. Manhandling the "open here" spout on a milk carton so badly that one has to resort to using the "illegal" side.

    Mozzalastics (maht suh las' tiks) - n. Large deposits of cheese that stick to the top of the pizza box.

  • by Rainier Wolfecastle ( 591298 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:36PM (#5197216)
    I've been getting a Word of the Day from the good folks at for a few years now. It's been working out really well. My english are now delicious.
  • Yawn
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Since I became one, I've always liked the fact that I am a speaker of a neolatin language in an English-speaking society; most of the words that are considered "big words" by English speakers are directly derived from our group of languages, and to us they are simple and common words. Many of the "big words" in the review are an example of that. It takes no effort to understand them, and we can always use them if we want to impress someone :).

    Seriously speaking, though, it's interesting how (apparently, at least) most, if not virtually all words in English (that come from a non-Latin root) have one or more Latin-derived synonyms. It's always fun to think of them for any random word.
  • by Theodore Logan ( 139352 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:41PM (#5197269)
    The archives of AWAD is located here []. What's the point of linking to the main site?

    I'll probably buy that book just because I love the service they provide (for free) so much, but really, it's all in the archives if you want to spare a few bucks.
  • by urbazewski ( 554143 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @01:44PM (#5197306) Homepage Journal
    Why stick to the official definitions? Here are some alternates from an old Washington Post contest:

    Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
    Carcinoma (n.), a valley in California, notable for its heavy smog.
    Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
    Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
    Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
    Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightie.
    Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
    Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.
    Bustard (n.), a very rude Metrobus driver.
    Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.
    Flatulence (n.), the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
    Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
    Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
    Semantics (n.), pranks conducted by young men studying for the priesthood, including such things as gluing the pages of the priest's prayer book together just before vespers.
    Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.
    Marionettes (n.), residents of Washington who have been jerked around by the mayor.
    Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions.
    Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.
    Frisbatarianism (n.), Belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck. []

  • Formication []. Something you don't want your parents to catch you doing?
  • ...on /. we can't even get people to conjugate verbs correctly. There still exists a large enough group here that chooses to conjugate verbs relating to companies in the plural as in:

    "Microsoft are doing something evil."

    as opposed to the proper:

    "Microsoft is doing something evil."

    If they can't figure out simple singular/plural conjugation, do you really think they gain anything by reading such a book.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...keeps the doctor away
  • Slashdot is now teaching us the English language? Yeah, right.

    I hope that Slashdot articles continue to improve in the areas of spelling and grammar. The last few months have seen noticeable but inconsistent improvements.

    As for online dictionaries, I paid the ~$30 per year to get access to []. It's worth every penny. No paper dictionary or other online dictionary beats it for either speed or thoroughness. I guess the OED would be more thorough, but I'd argue that that is not just a dictionary, but an encyclopedia of the language. The Unabridged MW also has WAV files, so you don't have to learn yet another pronunciation key system.

  • This book review just begs me to post one of my all tiem favorite quotes:

    "To use the same words is not a sufficient guarantee of understanding; one must use the same words for the same genus of inward experience; ultimately one must have one's experiences in common."

    - Nietzsche

    So, one could say that an expanded and more accurate vocabulary is an attempt at gaining the same experiences as others.
  • Today's word is "Legs". Lets go back to my place and spread the word.
  • ...while cremains (from the combining of the words cremate and remains) means exactly what you think.

    Ah, so that's what that white, powder-like substance that people add to their coffee is called.

  • Klingons writing books on the English language?!?!

    What's Next? "The Joy of Correct Spelling" by the Slashdot editors?

    Inflammable means flammable?! Boy, what a country.
  • by DaoudaW ( 533025 ) on Friday January 31, 2003 @02:49PM (#5197836)
    Being a bit of a word freak, I took the Google search button []

    for(i=0;i q=frames[i].document.getSelection();if(q)break;
    if(q)location.href=' lient=googlet&q='+escape(q)

    and modified it for use with []. The result

    void(q=prompt('Enter word to define using You can also define any word on this web page by highlighting the word and clicking Dictionary.',''))
    if(q)location.href=' m/search?q='+escape(q)

    is a button on your personal toolbar allowing you to lookup a word which you have highlighted in any webpage.

    BTW, I had to insert html breaks in the code to get past slashdots javascript filter.
  • FWIW, I was asked the other day for these scripts by someone who hadn't snagged it back when this was Google's "toolbar" for Netscape. The original script allowes you to select text in any page, then click the Google toolbar link to initiate a new search. The thing that surprises me is how many people don't know you can do this stuff, so since it seems relatively on-topic, here it is...

    The following is just a set of "Stupid JavaScript Tricks" that modify the original Google lookup script to allow similar easy lookups of other sites, including and (If you're really into wordplay, you can even build one of these to automatically pump the text into an anagram generator or the like...)

    The GoTo one is a bit different, though: select the URL (making sure not to select the "http://" part due to the way JS processes things) and Voila! you're instantly at the site that some goon didn't bother to make a hyperlink.

    Anyway, here they are, to use them just create personal toolbar items with these URLs:

    1. Columbine Bookmark Merge Users: These URLs are too long for that wonderful but dated program to handle and will be truncated in the mrege process.
    2. One of these days, I suppose I should modify the scripts to open the lookup in a new tab or window... Any JS experts wanna fix that real quick?
    <b>Do a Google lookup>/b>
    <A HREF="javascript:q=document.getSelection();for(i=0 ;i<frames.length;i++){q=frames[i].document.getSele ction();if(q)break;}if(!q)void(q=prompt('Enter text to search using Google. You can also highlight a word on this web page before clicking Google Search.',''));if(q)location.href='http://www.googl'+escape(q)" >Google</A>

    <b>GoTo a non-hyperlinked URL</b>
    <A HREF="javascript:q=document.getSelection();for(i=0 ;i<frames.length;i++){q=frames[i].document.getSele ction();if(q)break;}if(!q)void(q=prompt('Enter or Select URL.',''));if(q)location.href='http://'+(q)" >GoTo</A>

    <b> lookup</b>
    <A HREF="javascript:q=document.getSelection();for(i=0 ;i<frames.length;i++){q=frames[i].document.getSele ction();if(q)break;}if(!q)void(q=prompt('Enter text to lookup using You can also highlight a word on this web page before clicking Dictionary Search.',''));if(q)location.href='http://www.dicti'+escape(q)" >Dict.</A>

    <b> lookup</b>
    <A HREF="javascript:q=document.getSelection();for(i=0 ;i<frames.length;i++){q=frames[i].document.getSele ction();if(q)break;}if(!q)void(q=prompt('Enter text to lookup using You can also highlight a word on this web page before clicking Thesaurus.',''));if(q)location.href=''+es cape(q)" >Thes.</A>

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.