January 6, 2007


holus bolus:
all at once, together Adv. [Probably a reduplication of bolus* or of whole with Latin endings].

the whole. n.
--Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition Unabridged.

Altogether; all at once.
Etymology: 19c: sham Latin, based on whole bolus.

* What is a bolus? Bolus: (1) a rounded mass of anything, as a large pill, such as those used in veterinary practice, or a soft mass of chewed food ready to be swallowed. or (2) a Bole, a [brown reddish yellow] clay.
--Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition Unabridged

Bloggin' John Comments:
Holus-bolus is an example of sham Latin
, the adding of a Latin ending (-us) to a non-Latin root (bole). The motive for constructing sham Latin is pure fun--the fun in seeing the root of a "lesser" language dressed up in front or back or both as if it were truly a lofty Latin word.

Sample sentences:
•In Weird Words Berent and Evans define holus-bolus as “all at one time” and offer the following sentence in which the word is used as an adverb:
“He said that he wanted to complete the project holus-bolus rather than doing it in stages over a period of months.”

Bloggin’ John Comments:
Once we know what a bole is—i.e. a tightly compressed lump of brown reddish clay or a masticated blob of a Big Mac bite lolling in the mouth prior to sliding down the esophagus—we can begin to see how much fun is packed into this word. Some playful user of English around 1850, with tongue firmly in cheek, added to bolus the reassuring, gratuitous notion that the mass of the object under discussion is developed to its fullest quantity or extent by prefacing bolus with a word that sounds like whole, holus, creating a rhyme, no less, in the process. Now the original word was twice its original size, and freighted, so to speak, with inflated meaning. To complete the joke, the word is tricked out in sham Latin, twice, using the suffix -us, thus adding further conceptual inflation buy insinuating that the word is of Latin origin.

•Here’s holus-bolus used as a noun: “Use that tarp over there to wrap all of the raked leaves into one big holus-bolus.”

And here it is used as an adverb:
THAI TALK: Tarrin fell holus-bolus for 'side letters' trap.
--The Nation (Thailand); Author: Suthicai Yoon; February 10, 1999.
websters-online-dictionary-org / Webster’s Online Dictionary with Multilingual Translation> / ©2007.
--HighBeam Research, Inc.

Note that holus-bolus in a compound that by convention takes a hyphen between its two elements: holus-bolus.


January 5, 2007


chestnut: an old joke or retold story n.
-- Webster's Unabridged New International Dictionary, Second Edition

A stale joke or anything that is trite. n.
The expression apparently comes from a play by William Dimond, The Broken Sword (1816). Recounting a favorite story, one of the characters says, “When suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork tree,” only to be interrupted: “A chestnut, Captain, a chestnut . . . this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said a chestnut, till now.”
-- Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and other Formerly Unprintable Terms From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present, Hugh Rawson.

Sample sentences:
While giving group dance instructions at the senior center, Frank would recite from his trusty book--Jokes, Puns, and Riddles by David Allen Clark--five or six favored chestnuts that invariable drew at least a chuckle or two. Here is one of Frank's jokes:
Customer to diner waitress: “Do you have any pumpkin pies in here?
Waitress to Customer: “Mister, all our pies are punk* in here.”
Bloggin’ John Comments:
*In case you’re not quite sure what Frank meant by the word punk, here are two definitions that should prove helpful:
punk adj. (1) Something inferior or worthless, (2) Having a dry flavorless flesh—applied to fruits and vegetables.
-- Webster’s Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition Unabridged.

BTW, Frank’s joke is an example of a form of the pun called paranomasia—use of words alike in sound but different in meaning. A literary example would be Vladimir Nabokov’s quip in Lolita: “The Bustle: A Deceitful Seatful.” Frank’s joke, of course, plays with the similar sounds of “pumpkin here” and “punk in here.”

January 4, 2007


sockdolager n. early nineteenth-century term for a climax or crescendo, which in salesmanship might be called the “close” or “finisher.” n.
Sockdolager was constructed from “sock,” a knockout punch, and “doxology,” a motivational hymn or “verse of thanksgiving” sung near the conclusion of church services.
-- Forgotten English, Jeffrey Kacirk.

Historical examples
"Sockdolager became a popular word in America for an unexpected event, particularly a violent one. In Davy Crockett’s 1835 account of his American wilderness exploration, Bear Hunt, he recalled giving a 'fellow a sockdolager over the head with the barrel of my gun'.” . . . . "In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain wrote: 'The thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away, and quit—and then rip comes another flash and another sockdolager." (Kacirk)

Bloggin’ John Comments:
Within the context of Huck’s superb sentence, above, describing thunder over the Mississippi River, the meaning of sockdolager seems to come across almost self-evidently. The onomatopoetic punch or “sock” of the word helps define it as well.

Sample sentence:
Barack Obama gave the convention a round sockdolager of a speech .

January 3, 2007


rejectamenta n. things that have been rejected, as being worthless. n.
A delicate way for a young lady to refer to a former suitor -- "one of my rejectamenta."

-- The Superior Person's Book of Words, Peter Bowler.

rejectamenta. n. Things thrown out or away; especially, things excreted by a living organism n.
Derived forms: rejectamentas
-- WordWeb Online

Bloggin' John Comments:
Thrifts shops, of course, abound with out the apparent need for the word. But did you know that there is a museum of rejectamenta in England? It's called the Rejectamenta Museum of 20th Century. The museum's promotional copy states that the museum is in much demand among photographers, theatre groups, film and television companies for authentic props from throughout the century. "Rejectamenta also hire out packages or single items from their comprehensive collection, put together over the last 25 years by Stella Mitchell, B.A. who is available for talks and demonstrations for clubs, societies and groups of all kinds."

Sample sentences:
• Dubya's latest speech was interlarded with the usual euphemized rejectamenta.
• Bad dog! No rejectamenta on the carpet!


breviloquence n. Brevity in speaking. (bre VIL o kwens)
breviloquent adj.
-- Webster's New International Dictionary Second Edition Unabridged (1943).

Bloggin' John Comments:
An elegant blending of brevity and eloquence. 'Nuff* said.

* 'Nuff is, of course, an abridgement of enough. The subtraction of a syllable at the beginning of a word to create a rhetorical effect is a figure of speech called aphaeresis. By choosing to use 'nuff in a commentary on a word that stands for brevity, I thereby used aphaeresis, aiming to achieve the rhetorical effect of, well, brevity.

Sample sentence:
Would that more legal documents were imbued with breviloquence.

January 1, 2007


compatchment: a thing patched together n.
"a speech that was kind of a ridiculous compatchment of platitudes"
--The Endangered English Dictionary: Bodacious Words your Dictionary Forgot, David Grams.

Bloggin' John Comments:
• For circumstances that are judgmentally neutral or positive, patchwork works just fine: "The south wall of his apartment is a patchwork of brightly colored watercolor paintings."
• For circumstances that are judgmentally negative, compatchment can add a bit of an edge: "The essay was only a compatchment of plagiarized platitudes."
• I fully admit I've framed the patchwork sentence with positive details and the compatchment sentence with negative ones. But notice how the meaning of patch shifts from being an aesthetic element of an artwork in patchwork to being merely a neutral part of some functional construction in the compatchment sentence. Compatchment ends with the suffix -ment, which means the result of an action--the result of which is an object that may or may not carry artistic value or meaning.