Monday, April 30, 2012

The Classy Sort of Dame Who Deserves Three Letters in a Row

English has no shortage of words with double letters, and even letters that you wouldn’t expect to repeat one after the other sometimes do — for example, avijja (a Buddhist term meaning “ignorance,” more commonly spelled avidya) and huqqah (a rare, alternate spelling of hookah). But not too long ago, I got to wondering whether English has any words with three of the same letters in row.

the homosexual beer cozy
the vanishing hamster
why brackets are dick bulges
The answer: Not really!

There are word-like entities such as brrr and mmm, which a lot of people would frown on even though they feature the basic qualities of words — you can pronounce them, you can write them, and most people hearing or reading them would know what they mean.

And then there are freeer (“more free,” “one who frees”) and seeer (“one who sees”), in which the person writing them wants so badly to liberate the assimilated “e” that they’re willing to look like they can’t spell properly. (They can. They just won’t. Damn principles.) But I don’t think it’s an issue because no sane person would insist on spelling these words this way.

Lastly, there’s an interesting group of words that whose apparent misspelling I can get behind a little more enthusiastically: countessship, duchessship, governessship and hostessship. People speaking to men of rank might sometimes address them by title, as in “Your lordship.” But how would the same system work when addressing these men’s female counterparts? If history has taught me anything, the answer is that no one would have spoken the women, so long as the women were attached to men more deserving of direct address. But pretend it’s an egalitarian society, only the kind that nonetheless still enforces a social hierarchy, and countessship actually kind of makes sense. I mean, countesship does too, but that third “s,” strange as it may look, helps to show you what kind of word you’re looking at: the whole base word plus the suffix -ship, meaning “the state of being.” There’s a chance that someone encountering countesship — no third “s” — for the first time might actually read it as “countess hip,” which is the kind of mistake that might get your head cut off. Countessship reduces that confusion.

Google doesn’t turn up much for these words with either possible spelling, mostly because a great many people apparently named their boats Countess or Duchess or the like. And since so few of us have reason to right dialogue in which servants address countesses and duchesses, it’s a moot point. But if any “real” English words should contain three letters in a row, I’d put my vote behind these before freeer.

Ha. Freeer. What dumbass would write that?

By the way, huqqah isn’t the only antiquated synonym for hookah. There’s one that will make even more people look at you like your brain is full of diseases: hubble-bubble. No, really.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the Inherent Beauty of Words (Not Including the Latin Term Superanus)

With simony, chlamydia, garage and elision at top of the list, I could name a great many words that sound beautiful if you dissever their forms from their negative or ordinary meanings. Oh, dissever! That’s one too.

Just recently a lifelong friend who once saved me from a burning car happened to introduce me to a word that fits into this category. I can say with almost certainty that I’d never heard it before, because it’s one I’d remember: The spelling and pronunciation are both are unusual to the point that it seems like something that must have been borrowed from another language just recently. It’s not. It’s been used in English for centuries, just never around me.
suzerainty (SOO-zer-un-tee or SOO-zuh-RAIN-tee) — noun: a region or group of people which serve as a tributary to a more powerful entity but which also retain limited autonomy; an overlordship.
Not an especially pretty definition, in the end. It’s basically like you have a boss that you respond to, but you’re more or less left to do whatever you want on a daily basis. The conquered lands of the Ottoman Empire were suzerainties, for example, and Britain apparently considered Tibet to be a suzerainty of China until just 2008. The entity in power — the suzerain — doesn’t have to be a municipality, however, as the term can also describe the relationship between a feudal vassal and his lord.

Like I said, the word seems very un-English to me, though I’d have trouble explaining that statement beyond the fact that these letters just don’t often show up in our language in this order. But it’s been around a while — since at least 1807, according to Merriam Webster and all the way back to the 1400s, according to Etymonline. Suzerainty ultimately goes back to the Old Fench sus, “up, above,” and vertere, “a turning,” with the ending coming from sovereign — or soverain, as it looked in Old French until confusion and general association with the word reign changed the spelling. Because it seemed germane enough to the discussion at hand — ooh, germane is another one — I decidedly to look up where sovereign comes from. The answer? Also Old French, though that word traces back to a Vulgar Latin term meaning “chief” or “principal.” This world also happens to be a counterexample to the idea of an inherently beautiful word. Why? It’s superanus. Yes, that’s a word: Superanus.

Superanus! Superanus! Superanus!


Not everything gets to be pretty.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Ragtime Gal (or — How a Cartoon Made Me Sound Like a Crazy Person)

— “I think what needs to happen is that you should show them the side that you show me: the smart, articulate one that you for some reason hide whenever someone imposing is around. It’s like you’re that one Looney Tunes frog.”
— “Come again?”
— “You know, that frog that shows up in some of the old Looney Tunes episodes? It wears… a top hat, I guess.”
— “I don’t remember any frog. I remember the rabbit and the duck and the pig. And Elmer Fudd. And… that yellow bird.”
— “Tweety Bird.”
— “Yes, Tweety Bird. I remember her.”
— “I don’t think Tweety is female, in spite of the eyelashes. But you really don’t remember the frog?”
— “No frog.”
— “Okay, this guy finds a frog who can sing old-timey songs really well. You know, ‘Hello, my baby / Hello, my honey / Hello, my ragtime gal.’”
— “…”
— “But the frog can only sing these songs when he’s around the one guy. Whenever the guy tries to show the frog off, like to anyone who could possibly give him money for the frog, he just sits there and croaks, just like a regular, stupid frog.”
— “This is really insulting.”
— “You really don’t remember the frog?”
— “No, but I’ll remember you comparing me to him.”
— “He was a recurring character. I know they ran the shorts in the Looney Tunes episodes that used to play late on Saturday mornings back when we were kids.”
— “Was he a ‘person’ animal like Bugs? Did he wear clothes?”
— “No. He was just a dumb frog who exhibited amazing superamphibian qualities but strictly when in the presence of his owner. Everyone else only sees him as a regular frog.”
— “Who wears a top hat.”
— “Well, I think the owner puts the top hat on him when he’s trying to book the frog a Broadway show or something. The hat isn’t important.”
— “Is it that the frog’s singing is all in the owner’s head? Is he crazy or something?”
— “No. Wait, maybe yes, now that you mention it.”
— “Maybe you’re the owner, and this whole recollection is a figment of your imagination in the same way that the frog’s owner thought he could sign.”
— “No, and you know how I’m right? The frog was the logo for the WB.”
— “…”
— “The network? That was around when we were teenagers? It’s the network that had Buffy on it.”
— “You mean UPN.”
— “No. Well, yes. But this is getting complicated. Before Buffy was on UPN, it started out on The WB. And the frog was the logo, like how NBC gets a peacock. Oh, and I remember the receptionists at The WB had to answer the phones “Dubba-Dubba-Dubba-Yoo-Bee.”
— “Because that’s how the frog talked?”
— “No, the frog never talked. He just sang. I’m trying to think of a way to explain this.”
— “You got me.”
— “Do you remember how only Big Bird could see Snuffleupagus? And how he’d always be telling people ‘Oh, you just missed Snuffie. He was just here.’ And everyone else on Sesame Street would be all ‘Oh, sure he was, Big Bird.’”
— “No.”
— [throws up hands in frustration]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Squirrel of Ancient Parchment

Exactly twice in my life, confusion between the word scroll and squirrel has caused some amount of frustration on my part, and I’m curious to know if this has happened to anyone else.

First, in grade school, a girl lent me her copy of one of the Where’s Waldo? books, the one where in addition to stupid, candy-striped Waldo you also have to find the wizard and a scroll of paper. This was all explained to me by the book-lender, who did a great job talking up the whole Where’s Waldo series — such a good job, in fact, that I didn’t bother to read the instructions and therefore went cross-eyed trying to find the hidden squirrels. When I gave the book back to her, admitting my failure at finding the hidden squirrels, she laughed at me for not knowing the difference between a rodent and a rolled up piece of paper. However, even as she said scroll then, it still sounding like she was saying squirrel.

Second, during my freshman year of college, I remember having a classic, in-the-dorms bonding session about, you know, movies and life and stuff. We ended up talking about anime, and how the majority of it was unwatchable — pointlessly weird or just plain cutesy — but a small portion of it was actually pretty good. My suggested example? Ninja Scroll. Nathan laughed at me. He laughed for an extended period of time, in fact, until he finally stopped an told me I was a worthless human being for liking something called Ninja Squirrel. I’m surprised we managed to become friends in spite of this incident.

I should like to point out that this Google image search indicates that Ninja Squirrels are totally things. But I’d also like to restate my question: Am I the only person in the world for whom the apparent similarity between scroll and squirrel will be a recurring theme? I mean, cool if it is, I guess, but I’d be interested to see how it could possibly crop up a third time.


Also, I realize that I’ve been writing about cute, small animals with unusual frequency. A hamster. The pre-Easter bunny. A chicken. The ducks. One frog in particular. Now this. My favorite English professor would tell me that I’m expressing guilt. She would fire of a list of literary works where the appearance of small animals accompanied a character’s growing sense of regret. Now I’m thinking about that, too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Waddling Dead

Recall my post from last week, in which a mysterious, awkwardly walking crypto-creature turned out to be a mere duck. Before I knew it was just waterfowl, I said that had I explained the situation to anyone, they’d assume I was hinting at a chupacabra sighting. Well, tonight I saw the ducks. I snapped a photo. It looked like this:

First off, I have additional reason to be worried, because there are two of them. Second: the photo itself is blurry, low-res, and the figures therein barely visible. Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty much on par with the typical photo of Bigfoot. Folks, I think you’re witnessing the birth of an urban legend. Many years after I leave this place, people will still be whispering about phantom ducks.


Ha Ha — Your Language Is Inherently Comical

Found on the back of a moving box that many years ago shipped tulip bulbs from the Netherlands to my grandmother:

”Wait, now what were you saying about golf carts?”

I did not immediately realize the box was foreign. No, I just read and re-read this an assumed I was having a stroke. This, by the way, is about all I did to celebrate Earth Day this year.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Word for Tearing Things Apart

This little series on strange and wonderful words, which I began nearly four years ago with fissilingual, has covered a great deal of verbal territory — from obsolete gems (darkle) to words that name such specific, obscure things that you’d be surprised to learn that anyone bothered to coin them (jumentous) to jargon known only to specific communities (weeaboo) to awesome non-English words that we’d be better off incorporating (slampadato). But my favorites are always the ones that name familiar things that I’d previously just described in a roundabout way. It just makes my happy to know that they do, in fact, have proper names.

And on that note:
obelus (OHB-uh-lus) — noun: 1. the mark ÷, used to represent the mathematical operation of division. 2. one of several marks used in ancient manuscripts to indicate a spurious passage.
The phenomenal typography blog Shady Characters recently invited readers to name the “approved curl,” a symbol used to mark correct exam answers. (An aside: I don’t think I’d ever seen it before. No, not because I’m dumb. Stop that.) In all the ensuing typography talk, the author mentioned that the technical term for the division sign is obelus. This was news to me. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the term comes from the Greek obelos, “a spit” or “a sharp stick,” which is the same sort of the word obelisk, which, now that I think about it, is the architectural equivalent of a sharp stick.

What surprised me about the history of the obelus is that it didn’t always refer to the math function. That’s weird because if you really look at this sign, you’ll see that it’s a great visual representation of division: a line that is literally dividing two dots.

But yeah, it once had another purpose: The smartypants of old used the obelus to call out chunks of text that might be somehow wrong, whether as a result of translation errors or info that was just plain bad to begin with. For example, there’s some debate about the Gospel of John’s Pericope Adulterae — the story where Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning by making her would-be punishers remember that they too have sinned. Although the story is one of the more famous of the New Testament, its authorship was questioned by the third-century scholar Origen, who marked the passage with an obelus. And yes, there is a certain irony to him being the one to find fault with the passage that gave the world that famous line, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

It should be noted, however, that it wasn’t always the ÷ that was written. A simple line could also be an obelus, as could the dagger symbol, or even the sign ./., which is sometimes called a lemniscus and which somehow evolved into the ∞, or the infinity symbol. (This symbol is properly called a lemniscate, and I wrote about it in a previous “word of the week” post.) In fact, there seems to be a great deal of overlap, both in form and name, with the division sign, the infinity sign and the symbols people use to say “Hey, this passage is wonky.” I am not clear why. According to Wikipedia, the obelus was first used to represent division in a 1659 algebra book, and it’s retained that meaning ever since, save for some parts of Europe that use it today to represent a range of numbers or even subtraction, thus explaining my failure at the Norwegian mathlympics.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life by Kermit

Honestly, there are worse billboards to drive beneath on a daily basis.

Let Kermit the Frog be an inspiration to us all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dinner Wig

So I made this for dinner.

Merken tastes a lot better than you’d think, mostly because it’s actually merkén, a Chilean seasoning blend of salt, cumin, coriander and something called cacho de cabra. But considering that merkén is a thing and all, you’d think whoever designed the packaging would have thought to include the accent mark, because merkins are also things. In fact, in spite of the associated shame, people would probably recognize merkin before they’d recognize merkén.

This is like the smen incident all over again.

Food gets sexy, previously:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Better Than a Homicidal Dwarf


So I haven’t posted anything here in some time now, but I have a good justification: In the span of ten days, I’ve left my job and my apartment, and then I began a new job and moved into a new apartment on the other side of Los Angeles. It’s been a positive transition, overall, but I’ve been investing all of my time in making my new digs — both residential and professional — as comfortable as possible. Besides, you didn’t really want to hear stories about me unpacking boxes, did you? Of course you didn’t. No one ever wants to hear about anyone else’s moving experience ever.

Tonight, however, I actually have something to say. The full force of the following story will best be appreciated if you’ve seen the 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now. In fact, you may want to stop reading now and go rent this classic Donald Sutherland film now, even though I’ll be explaining the relevant plot points as I go.

Now that I’ve moved far from the streetlight-studded avenues of Brentwood, walking around my neighborhood is an exercise in “What did I just step on?” and “Oh, apparently there was a puddle there” and “Who would have predicted how uneven this sidewalk is?” I find these inconveniences fairly tolerable, since my rent dollar stretches a lot farther where I am now. But on Sunday night, while I was walking to my new apartment, I spotted something unidentifiable about half a block in front of me. It was about two feet tall and walking away from me... on two legs. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and my fellow biped was mostly obscured by shadows, so I still had to stop — like, literally cease movement — and watch this thing plod away, just so I could attempt to answer the question, “What the fuck is that?” The body shape and weird gait ruled out a cat or a dog or a raccoon or a skunk, and you just rarely see too many neighborhood critters walking, however awkwardly, on two legs nowadays. And while the questions lingered long after it scuttled into a gap in a fence, I didn’t mention it to everyone, because any of the possible answers — chupacabra or elf or diminutive spaceman — would make me sound crazy, even if someone else suggested them.

Tonight, in roughly the same spot on my block, I saw it again. It was stopped. It was mostly silhouetted with only a few spots of light showing me that it was gray in color. I walked toward it. It walked away. I moved faster. So did it. But rather than escaping to the left, into someone’s yard, it dodged right, in front of a parked car. I kept moving, having decided that I need to find out what this thing is. I saw nothing when I rounded the front of the car, but as I passed around to the car’s other side, I could hear its footsteps on the asphalt. And when I rounded the hood of the parked car, I heard it rustling in a big flax plant back near the sidewalk. I pulled back the big leaves, still having no idea what I would find…


Okay, so do you remember how I mentioned Don’t Look Know? Well, I’m going to spoil it for you now, and that’s okay, because the ending is pretty much the only thing people seem to remember about this movie, even though it’s pretty solid all the way through. In the movie, Donald Sutherland is grieving over the accidental drowning of his daughter. But upon moving to Italy — and away from the home at which she drowned — he keeps seeing her on the streets, wearing the same red rain slicker she had on when she died. In the film’s final moments, he chases what he suspects could be his daughter or even the ghost of his daughter. He corners the mysterious figure in an old, deserted palazzo.

You know what? Watch the clip. (Warning: It’s bloody and highly unpleasant.)

Yes, the figure he thought might be his daughter or whatever turns out to be a gibbering, homicidal dwarf who produces a razor and slashes him to death. In the context of the film, it’s a commentary on his inability to let go of his dead child: Had he accepted that she died, he would have lived, but he instead fixated on the hope of her being alive and therefore ended up dying himself. However, in the context of this story — and, really, the isolated clip and the fact that it’s the only thing most people remember about Don’t Look Now — it’s just jarring, surreal and nightmarish.

This scene was the only thing I had in mind as I reached for the potentially lethal whatsit in the flax plant.


With uncharacteristic levels of bravery pushing me onward, I pulled back the leaves at once I was greeted with a flurry of angry movement. And hissing. And flapping. And feathers. It was a duck — a gray duck, in fact, who was none too happy at having his hidey spot uncovered. And with that revelation, I turned around and walked home. Mystery? Solved.

Had I been anywhere else besides the middle of thoroughly urban Los Angeles, I might have thought, “Oh, maybe the thing walking on two legs was a large bird.” But I just don’t often see birds that size around these parts, much less taking night walks along the same schedule that I take mine. Though I could likely see the duck again, based on this past week, I feel like I’ll probably never know why he lives in my neighborhood. I wish him well. I hope he’s found a good life here in L.A.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

An Easter Bunny More Full of Fear Than Chocolate Eggs

Four Easters ago, my father made the holiday less than joyous for a real-life rabbit. The incident probably would have disturbed me had I been an impressionable child then, but I was merely an impressionable 25-year-old. I understood that a wigglenose loses its magic when you’re protecting backyard produce, much in the way that a deer’s sparkling black eyes take on a sinister glint when heirloom roses hang in the balance. What I took away from this nontraditional celebration of Easter was that the Easter Bunny truly was inferior to Jesus Christ, for the former lacked the latter’s magic resurrection powers.

This year, the rabbit arrived a day early — Holy Saturday, if you’re a big fan of Holy Week, and who’s not, aside from Satan? My dad spotted baby jackrabbit in the tall grass, in dangerous proximity to the bean sprouts. Because no shotgun was handy, the little guy was only photographed, with the understanding that he’d be on file as having been warned to stay away. He was ushered to the great land beyond the fence, where at least our dogs wouldn’t be able to lay a tooth on him.

He says “quiver.”

In case you’re wondering, he vanished when I turned my back for a moment. I assume that he either hopped his way toward new adventures or a predatory bird plucked him a way in a single, silent instant. Either way, circle of life.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Last in a Rarely Updated Series About the Brentwood Whole Foods

When I move to Los Feliz (and I’m hopefully moving very soon), I’ll miss certain aspects about Brentwood. But foremost among them is the Whole Foods grocery store nearest my apartment, where wonderful mini-dramas play out nearly every time I go. I haven’t written about this store recently, but not for a lack of notable happenings. For example, this is the place where I’ve spotted Dylan McDermott, Geretta Geretta (I’m pretty sure), Sun from Lost (mostly sure) and Jonathan from Buffy (why not?). Tonight, however, I witnessed an exchange that’s worth relating, even though it features no B- or C-list celebrities.

The scene: I’m standing in line at Whole Foods, behind two Fashionable Young Ladies who are leafing through a magazine that I feel comfortable calling as close to a trashy celeb publication as Whole Foods will go. And note that while I have paraphrased, I did my best to reconstruct the exchange.
FYL No. 1: I hate the term baby daddy.

FYL No. 2: Why?

FYL No. 1: It’s just one of those words that if you’re not a teenager, you can’t say it without sounding like an idiot.

FYL No. 2: I say it.

FYL No. 1: You sound like an idiot.

FYL No. 2: Even if it makes you sound stupid to say baby daddy, you have to say it because it’s the easiest way to say, like, “the father of the child who maybe the mother isn’t married to.” 
FYL No. 1: I never say it.

FYL No. 2: So how do you say “the father of the child who maybe the mother isn’t married to”?

FYL No. 1: I just would never refer to those people. Ew.
So yeah, I’ll miss Brentwood.

The Brentwood Whole Foods, previously:

Monday, April 2, 2012

From Betsy Braddock to Whoopi Goldberg in Seven Geeky Paragraphs

If I told you that I was trying to connect X-Men and Star Trek: The Next Generation using only etymology, you’d probably say, “Oh god, get away from me, you, dork!” And I’d have deserved that. However, I’d still continue with this line of conversation, punches to the face notwithstanding, because I researched this one through. In the end? It didn’t pan out. My hunch turned out to be wrong and the connection I thought seemed obvious just didn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t educational.

Having grown up in an environment where everyone I knew was Catholic, I’m always interested to learn that my childhood religion into the histories of places where I assume Christianity wasn’t ever a driving force. For example, Christianity plays a surprising role in the history of Japan. Prior to 1637, a segment of the Japanese people openly practiced a brand of Christianity that we now refer to as the Japanese Catholic Church, but the Shimbara Revolution of 1637 forced these Japanese for Jesus to worship a lot more quietly. Consequently, these people are known as Kakure Christians, from the Japanese word for “hidden.” And one of the ways they could practice their chosen religion was to do so under the guise of it being a more accepted one. That’s why this statue is so interesting:

the virgin mary in her best party costume, basically
It’s the Virgin Mary disguised as a figure from East Asian Buddhism: Guanyin, an incarnation representing compassion and mercy usually styled as female. In fact, Guanyin is abbreviated Chinese for Guanshiyin, or “observing the cries of the world,” so the link between this Buddhist figure and the Virgin Mary is apt. What is Mary, after all, aside from an embodiment of femininity and a magnet for the sorrows of the world? Anyway, being a significant figure in Buddhism, Guanyin’s name was translated from Chinese into other Asian languages, and this is where we get out pop cultural connection. In Japanese, Guanyin becomes something that can render in English as Kannon, Kan’on, Kanzeon or Kwannon, the last of which should be familiar to X-Men diehards. Kwannon, in the Marvel comics continuity, is the supervillainess who swaps bodies with Betsy Braddock, a.k.a. Psylocke. Long story short, the two get their all-of-them mixed up —abilities, memories and even looks, which is why Betsy, Captain Britain’s twin sister, looks Japanese for a significant period of her comic book existence.

psylocke on the left, kwannon on the right... i think...
Knowing that Kwannon’s name wasn’t simply plucked out of the ether, I thought for sure that this character, an empath, was named for a reason, and that the same reason might explain why Star Trek: The Next Generation featured Whoopi Goldberg as a this wise bartender character saddled with the odd name Guinan. (And yeah — I get how it’s funny to talk about unusual names for characters played by an actress whose stage name was inspired by her flatulence.) There’s a certain empathetic quality to Guinan, and I would have put money down on the fact that she, like Kwannon, got her name from one of the many ways that Guanyin could be transliterated into the English alphabet.

Nope. But I still learned something.

While an X-Men-Star Trek connection would span geeky universes, Guinan actually gets her name from a real-life saloon owner, Texas Guinan, who served drinks in Prohibition-era New York and entertained patrons with her Waco-bred manner. She’s a thoroughly cool lady, and if her existence comes as news to you, I strongly encourage you to read up on this kickass dame of yore.

On one hand, oh well. It would have been cool to put two and two together and make four. In this case, two and two are just two and two. On the other hand, however, I pulled up enough cool bits of history — like, history history and pop culture history — that I couldn’t just toss it all aside. From covert Catholics in Japan to a Texas-to-the-core saloon mistress yet still manages to ding two nerdish pegs from my youth? That’s a trip worth taking.

Thanks, internet!

International Whoopie

Whoopie twelve times, but also three times, depending on how you look at it.

Gosh, after seeing the word whoopie like that, again and again in different languages, it starts to sound like nonsense. To think of it!

Seriously, though, given the connotations of the word whoopie and even the word pie, I’d maybe avoid using the word cavity in conjunction. You know?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Idiotic Joke of a Word

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t like April Fools’ Day? I don’t, and it’s not because I consider myself some sort of expert prankster who just can’t be topped so don’t even try and sunglasses and “screw you, teach!” and then skateboard flawlessly out the classroom door. No, it’s just that a majority of my brain energies are spent on constructing “It would be funny if”-type situations, and when I hear a lot of people’s ideas about zany pranks that they think will delight and amaze, I realize that they’re forging into this territory for the first time. So, as I also do on New Year’s Eve and the feast of St. Agapanthus, I sit this one out.

In fact, this is as close as I’m going to get to any sort of participation in this holiday: a terrible world that I personally hate and that I only know exists because Words With Friends let someone play it against me.
phpht (ffft) — interjection: an expression of mild annoyance or disagreement.
Phpht was not a word I used when it was played against me for a considerable score. No, I gave a fairly deadpan, “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding,” because the same app that told me grunty wasn’t a word was perfectly happy to accept phpht, which is apparently a nonstandard variant of pht, which in turn is how a stupid person might represent the angry, breathy noise of protest that would otherwise be represented as ffft. “How is the pig?” “Oh, you know, the usual — pink and grunty.” I see nothing wrong with that sentence. But were the sentence “I used the word phpht, which doesn’t even need a vowel, against Drew in a game of Words With Friends, and it totally got more points than Drew got with crux,” then I would, in fact, have a problem that no amount of exasperated ventilation could solve. It would be the umiaq debacle all over again.

Lest I sound like I’m dumping on the players who utilize all the possibilities in the Words With Friends dictionary, I should probably also admit that I used the word edh against my friend Mollie, and she had every reason to ask me exactly how edh is a word. I quickly explained that it’s an alternate spelling of eth, a letter used in Old English to represent the “th” sound. I did not, however, mention that I only knew about it because someone used it against me.

So see? Words With Friends is good after all. It teaches you about English language obscurities all while testing the limits of your friendships.

Previous words of the week after the jump.