March 15, 2007


n. A shed in which firewood is stored.
t.v. Slang to practice on a musical instrument.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000

B. woodshed i.v.
Etymology: from English slang woodshed,
n.: an arduous rehearsal especially for a radio program,
from English woodshed; from woodsheds being formerly used in administering sound parental thrashings--Webster's Second

C. i.v. to practice on a musical instrument Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. March 2007).

D. On the analogy of "parental thrashings" we can easily slip to the "press badgering" of a "senior Pentagon official, Charles D. Stimson, [who] cited a list of law firms whose lawyers provided volunteer representation to detainees in Guantanamo. He publicly urged large corporations to stop doing business with these law firms. Stimson’s comments were met with almost universal rejection, including the Defense Department, the attorney general and the White House. The press has woodshedded him and Stimson apologized last week, in a letter to the Washington Post. It was appropriate that he apologize, even if the sincerity of his words is questionable--[source: to be delivered] January 23, 2007
E. woodshedding: spontaneous barbershop singing

According to woodshedder Sam Grayson, "[w]oodshedding, in its purest form, is wildly extemporaneous and impromptu. It was originally called “ear-singing” and was the prevalent means of harmonizing among amateur groups (and even some professionals) for years up until about 1950, when written arrangements became the norm. It is the barbershop equivalent of the afterhours jam session or the pickup touch-football game.
"Woodshedders do not know exactly what’s going to happen when they start to sing. This may even include the lead! For that reason, the unpredictable results can be painful to other singers or bystanders. They view woodshedding as a noisy intrusion, rather than music. Even other woodshedders may think the same thing if they’re not participating. For that reason, woodshedding should take place in privacy."----Stan Grayson "Woodshedding Revisited" http://www. March 2007) Barbershop harmony society

F. woodshedding: the tutoring of a master musician to an individual learner or a small group of learners.--B'n'J'
"In Lou Friedman's review of the LP "Essential Glenn Miller " we learn that before his Army stint, [Glenn] Miller had woodshedded under the tutelage of some of the finest swing practitioners of that era. He played with both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who used Bing Crosby as vocalist at times), famous drummer Gene Krupa, and even cut some sides with Goodman. So Miller was no stranger to the swing and swingers of that time."--Lou Friedmam

G. In American law , we learn from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsy that "'Woodshedding' is not defined in Black's Law Dictionary. As explained to the undersigned many years ago by a very senior attorney, an attorney has been woodshedded if he or she has been disqualified from representing a party by virtue of a brief consultation by an adverse party.
H. "The origin of the term is unclear, but it probably came from the term "horse-shedding" credited to James Fenimore Cooper. He used the phrase to describe the preliminary negotiations toward a bargain made in the horse-shed before or after church services at a time when contracts made on Sunday were illegal." United States Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsky United States Bankruptcy Court Northern District of California Dated June 6, 1999.


THE WORD IN USE. Re: The Firing of Seven U.S. Federal Prosecutors, March 2007
"In rating the prosecutors, Mr. Sampson factored in whether they “exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general,” according to documents released by the Justice Department. In one e-mail message, Mr. Sampson questioned a colleague about the record of the federal prosecutor in San Diego, Carol C. Lam. Referring to the office of the deputy attorney general, Mr. Sampson wrote: “Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?” Ms. Lam was one of the seven fired prosecutors."
--From ‘Loyalty’ to Bush and Gonzales Was Factor in Prosecutors’ Firings, E-Mail Shows by DAVID JOHNSTON and ERIC LIPTON,The New York Times, 14 March 2007.



Extrapolating notions and nuance from the definitions and citations above, we can conclude that, as a generalized term, "woodshedding" is a private meeting in which an authority figure or expert instructs, encourages, or repremands one or more associates or aspirants.--B'n'J'n.
Thus, in the excerpt above about Federal Prosecutor Lam, Mr. Sampson queries a colleague about whether Lam has been woodshedded about her enforcement of imigration law--meaning, Has she been instructed, "given the drill," or coached on current expectations in the Justice Department about selection of imigration cases and their prosecution?


Woodshedded is a clever conflation of two figures of speech, each involving some sort of substitution. In one of the figures--metonymy [me-ton'-y-mee]--one word is substituted for another; in the other--anthimeria [an-thi-me'-ree-a]--one part of speech is substituted for another.

Now, don't let these arcane words be daunting. They are easy to explain, understand, and observe in action. If you'll stay with me, I think you'll agree that woodshedding is a fine invention.

The word woodshedding is built upon a metomyny, which is then, in turn, transformed by an anthimeria.

Metonymy is the substitution of a word for a related word
, typically a cause (pen) for an effect (a page of writing), or a container (the White House) for the contained (currently, the George W. Bush Administration).

Want more examples? O.K. Think of things that have been storehoused, showcased, or shoe-horned into something else. Or of people who have been housed, sanctuaried, pilloried. . . . or woodshedded.

Woodshedding is a container/contained type of metonymy, wherein the container is the woodshed and the contained are all of the prescribed human activities that typically take place therein, i.e., instructing, improving, or repremanding--done in private.

But a woodshed is a thing--represented by a noun--and instructing, improving, and repremanding are actions--represented by verbs. Now what? How do we somehow merge verb and noun?
Anthimeria, the substitution of one part of speech for another, as in
"Such stuff as madmen / Tongue, and brain not."--Shakespeare
"Such stuff as madmen / Speak, and think not."
The noun "Tongue" substitutes for the verb "Speak," and the noun "brain" substitutes for the verb "think."
By bringing into play a suffix, -ed or -ing, our noun woodshed is transformed into "woodshedded" or "woodshedding," each a verb highly effective in expressing simultaneously image and idea.

Every time you encounter either of these verbs, I hope you will promptly and easily imagine the woodshed and the group of active learners busy within.



  1. I like the example of barbershop singing. Somehow it prompts a scene of a time way back when men might have gathered to practice singing together in a small, enclosed space such as a woodshed. The structure would have provided a private place to work through harmonics, and the singers would have appreciated the acoustics that such an enclosed space can provide. Annenonymous

  2. The "spontaneous barbershop singing" struck me as well. I love that there's a word for this! I have a memory of going to see Grandpa Horlivy perform in a barbershop quarted. Did I make that up? I think he whistled!

  3. Hey, D'orge,
    I think you're right on both accounts. I, too, have recollections of Grandpa singing in barbershop quartet and, knowing that he liked to whistle, I'm guessing that he most probably whistled on the occasion we are remembering.

    Later today or tomorrow, I'll post more information about woodshedding.

    Good to hear from you!