I learned something new today. An expression that means something amazingly different from my expectation.

I received my Merriam-Webster “Word of the Day” e-mail and today’s word is billet-doux.

I’ve rarely encountered this word, so never pondered long about it. However, I know that doux in French means soft and automatically giving the word billet my English understanding — a room, a bed or cot — I assumed a billet-doux would be something like a soft bed.

Out to lunch, as they say. Actually billet in French means ticket, bill or note. So I was rudely awakened from my soft bed of linguistic befuddlement. A billet-doux is a love letter. One more hill I’ve climbed in the battle to comprehend this polyglot that passes for English.

Now to share another tale of false assumptions, this one involving a soft bed in Oxford, England, that some Yank wanted to take home with him. Talk about Great Expectations!

An American tourist was strolling around the grounds of Oxford College. While visiting this historic site he couldn’t help but admire the landscaping, the flowers, and especially the lush green lawn.

After a bit he noticed one of the gardeners busily tending the shrubs, so he stopped to chat. “Beautiful place here. And what I wouldn’t give to have a lawn like this on my property back home.” He rocked back and forth on the soft sponge. “Nice! What would I need to do for mine to grow like this?”

The gardener eyed the tourist. Ralph Lauren and all that—the man’s probably worth a mint. So he replied, “I’m thinking you’d probably need some of our fertile English soil, sir.”

“No problem. I can arrange to have a few tons shipped over by boat. What else?”

The gardener mentally rolled his eyes. Yep. Awash in a sea of filthy lucre, these Yanks. “The right kind of grass seed, of course. Don’t know if you can get our varieties over there.”

“I’m good with that. Tell me what brand and I’ll order it. Is that all?”

The gardener thought for a moment. “Well, the ground must be absolutely level so it can be rolled easily. You need to sow the seed in autumn, then when spring comes you cut and roll your grass. You have to repeat and repeat the mowing and rolling.”

The American beamed as he looked around, anticipating having beautiful lawn like this someday. “It all sounds doable to me. And for how long do you keep up this mowing and rolling?”

“If you want your lawn to look just like this one, I’m guessing you’ll have to keep at it for several hundred years.”

Word Press daily prompt: expectations




Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to present to you our speaker for the evening, the eminent scholar Dr William Shropshire-Dorset, who will be sharing with us his insights on the various aspects of quantum conglomerates and how computer experts put them to use.

After Dr Shropshire-Dorset’s talk, please stay for the lunch which the Auxiliary committee has so kindly prepared to resuscitate us. Er…I should say, to refresh us.

Rare Words and Odd Birds

A Word to Not Remember

This morning when I saw the e-mail from Merriam-Webster Dictionary reposing in my Inbox — M-W’s Word of the Day: objurgation — I thought this might be a great word to learn. Maybe even write a post on. Apparently even the great Anne Bronte used this word in one of her novels.

She was British, mind you. I looked up objurgation in my Canadian Oxford Dictionary and didn’t find it. Which means few people one in Canada know it. So, I ask you, why should I? In some ways I’m all for going with the flow. The last thing I want to do is obfuscate (confuse) my listeners with unfamiliar words.

To whom would I speak this new word if no one I know knows it? According to M-W it means a harsh rebuke. If truth be told I may have even done such a thing at some point in life without ever knowing what to call it. I’ve been objurgated myself a time or two. (Yes, it’s also a verb.) You can make objurgatory remarks. (American politicians do this a lot during electioneering. The Press love it.)

I’d like to keep this word in mind in case it would ever come in handy — except that my mind doesn’t “keep” so well anymore. So much I try to cram into my mind doesn’t abide there, but ends up like the stuffing those poor sisters used to fill their Thanksgiving turkey.

A Very Odd Bird Indeed

They sat the raw turkey on the counter ready for its stuffing, a big bowl of which had already been prepared. One sister shoved the seasoned stuffing in, but, though she thought she had made lots, the cavity wasn’t full.

“This isn’t quite enough,” she squealed to her two sisters. “Quick! Make some more.”

The other two threw more bread crumbs, onions, and seasonings into a pan and stirred it up with butter and water to moisten. “Here,” one of them said, handing her the bowl. She grabbed it and stuffed in more, but it still wasn’t enough.

“This turkey must have had an enormous set of innards,” she grumbled. “It still isn’t enough.”

One of her sisters walked around to the other side of the counter. “No wonder,” she said. “See what’s happening.” They hurried around and groaned as they saw dressing poking through the neck hole, and a pile on the floor.

Word Press Advertising

Now on to my newest discovery while exploring at Word Press. A few days ago when I clicked Linda’s Writing Blog to read her latest post, at the bottom of the page I saw side-by-side ads for two other blogs. I saw this again today when I went to read the latest post on Faith Rising.

Anyway, when I clicked back on it later the post was as usual, with room for comment at the end and no blog ads underneath. Interesting. Have any of you other readers seen this?

My husband and I were debating whether bloggers pay for this type of ad. Have you seen any offers for purchasing this kind of ad? The one ad I checked, from Michelle Malone, was a .org blog. Maybe that makes a difference?

The article she posted was interesting, as was this one on prayer. I thought it would make an interesting devotional to read on a Sunday morning, if you’re interested.

A Saucy Post

I had to look up today’s Word Press prompt word: vegetal, since it wasn’t formerly registered in my memory banks. Now I’ve deposited it, but my memory banks aren’t what they used to be.

Merriam-Webster gives the first meaning as vegetable and the second as vegetative. Well then I had to look up vegetative, which means of, or pertaining to, plants. No surprise there. So vegetable is the noun, vegetal and vegetative are the adjective form. Handy to know.


Since I’ve eaten vegetables all my life, I could say I have a partially vegetal diet. At our house we eat pasta with a vegetal sauce. Oh, wait a minute! Tomatoes are technically classed as a fruit so tomato sauce wouldn’t be vegetal in the true sense, would it? Would onions and garlic redeem it? What about mushrooms?

I’ll have to clarify my original statement. At our house we eat pasta with a fruit & vegetal sauce with fungi added at times. At this rate we might as well throw in the ground beef, too.

It would be perfectly correct usage to write, “All attempts to get our dog to accept a vegetal diet have met with failure. Since he totally rejects soy substitutes, he gets the T-bone steaks and sirloin tip roasts while we consume a healthy, planet-saving diet of legumes and vegetables.”

Correct — but not the best use for those juicy steaks and roasts I’m rather fond of myself. Which reminds me of a story…

I read an account once of a young NY couple all gung-ho on vegan food who tried to persuade their new pup on the matter. The pup just didn’t thrive so they took him to a vet, who soon determined the problem. He explained to the pair that dogs are built to be carnivorous creatures; their digestive system is naturally designed to handle a meat diet.

Some time later he saw this couple in a restaurant and went over to say hello. They grinned at him when he eyed the hamburgers they were chowing down. Their answer went something like: “We decided if our dog can, we can too. And we discovered we LIKE meat.”

Vegetarian, mixed, carnivorous. To each his own, I say.

A Fleeting Glimpse at English Words

Word Press Daily prompt: Fleeting

Being a fan of words, their origins and meanings, I had to look this one up. I was surprised to discover that fleet and fleeting came into English from Old Norse.

One can imagine it hitched a ride with the fleets of Viking ships that sailed into English harbours some centuries ago, leaving behind their impact on the local linguistics and genetics. Sad to say they were of those nasty tourists who empty the castle larder, pilfer the silverware and family jewels, then cart off anything else of value they can get their hands on.

Thankfully their stays were fleeting, unlike the Normans who moved in and took over. These invaders brought their suitcases, appointed themselves “the nouveaux elite”, and messed up the developing English language big time. Where the English peasant had his cow and ate joints, the Normans insisted on being served “boeuf roti.” The English peasant, now a butler at the castle, sliced that up as roast beef and went on eating joints.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the cook went on sifting her flour through a sieve, a word which comes from the Old English sife — its meaning being obvious.

The English were none to happy when the Normans laid siege and seized control. For one thing it was tough to twist their tongues around “see-ayjh” and “say-zir”. So the English peasant, being nothing if not linguistically adaptable, gently blotted them all together to rhyme with sneeze and freeze, both of which descend from the Old English “fneosan”. (Explain that morphing process if you dare!)

The English finally decided to give it a rest and take a siesta. Only a major seismic cataclysm (words borrowed from the Greeks) would dislodge these new nobs. So the indigents — themselves descendants of the Saxon invaders who brought their wacky use of prepositions to the language playground — rather allowed the process of osmosis to absorb both the Normans and their language. However, the English peasantry have subsequently paid the price in complex spelling contests.

Over the centuries the Brits have developed an uncanny knack of giving twists to borrowed words. Whatever pronunciation it had when it landed on Brittania’s shore, seismic now rhymes with eyes; but the seine net of the fisherman — which also comes from an Old English morph, segne, of a Greek word, segene, (sa-jee-nee) — is pronounced like sane. Insane!

I’ve heard that English is one of the hardest languages to learn to spell. Believe it!

Ben Franklin Smarts & Smartens

Oh, Those Fancy Words

Once upon a writing prompt, we were given a new word to write a poem about. For some words it’s pretty tough to come up with anything really sensible, so here’s my offering for the word fletcherize, which means to reduce (food) to tiny particles especially by prolonged chewing. Almost ruins your appetite, doesn’t it?

What is this new word fletcherize?
It brings no vision to my eyes;
its purpose I can’t crystalize;
all sense of rhythm it defies.

A word that is so obdurate,
with sounds that cannot resonate
a poet true will obviate
for fear that it would obfuscate.

A Love of Pomposity

At one point in his youth Ben Franklin became enchanted with impressive-sounding words. One day he felt really wise as he announced to his mother, “I’ve imbibed an acephalous mollusc.”

She gasped. Thinking he’d eaten some poison she promptly dosed him with a foul-tasting concoction that made him vomit. The poor boy retched for hours. Once his stomach was settled again, he told his mother all he’d done was eaten an oyster.

“You naughty boy, scaring the wits out of me like that!” And she gave him a good thrashing.

He says this experience cured him of his tendency to show off his wisdom. That day he decided he’d never again use fancy-sounding words when simple ones would do.

Reblogged from christinecomposes.com — January 25, 2014