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All writers have an extra-special fascination with words; they’re our toolbox, the hammers that drive in the nails. My word fascination started when I was about nine years old, and my also word-loving parents brought the game Perquackey into the house. The game is basically an anagram game, with the point being to make words out of letter cubes. Within about a month, I was beating my parents. Since then, no-one has ever beaten me at the game, and it’s also given me a life-long obsession with anagrams. When I’m particularly stressed or worried, I start doing anagrams in my head, and I’ve developed certain rules for my anagramming to make it interesting.

So when my book club read Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players a few years ago, I was in alt. Finally, I was reading about people even MORE obsessive than I was.

And its author, Stefan Fatsis, revealed a new type of word obsession, I was even more excited. He talks about names and words that have each and every vowel once and only once: Julia Roberts, for example (sidenote: My best friend, whom I call the Picky Vegetarian, has one of these names. Do you know how excited I was when I figured that out? She almost became my ex-best friend, I went on and on about it so much). Since then, I’ve added that obsession to my repertoire, and am excited to find words like “sequoia,” “Metalious” (as in Grace, author of Peyton Place), and “auctioned,” “cautioned” and “education,” which have the bonus of being anagrams of each other.

It makes sense, then, that I would have signed up for the daily email of Worthless Word of the Day. The email yesterday had this gem that was right up my alley:

the worthless word for the day is: gravedinous[ad. L. gravedinosus, fr. gravedo, heaviness]obs. rare : drowsy, heavy-headed {in Bailey}

this is one of those words that contains the 5 vowels (aeiou) in alphabetical order without repetition; some that are more(?) common: facetious, abstemious, arterious, arsenious,adventitous, abstentious, bacterious, and tragedious — the shortest word of this type seems to be the obs. term aerious (7 letters), meaning “airy” (if you’d like to include ‘y’,you can add -ly to these; e.g., facetiously) hence, gravedinously, I suppose.

To sign up for WWTD, go here:

Oh, words just make me shiver. Some of my favorite words are interstitial, penultimate, roil, internecine and solipsistic. Do you have any favorite words? Or word/language obsessions? What are they? Which authors seem to have an especially developed word obsession?

Thanks for feeding my obsession,


Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged , | 5 Replies

I am on a wicked, wicked deadline that might just actually kill me. So today, you-all get this:

WordNik Oh my good gosh how I LOVE this site. Do a search for signify which is a lovely Regency-era word. It’s become my go to place for looking up words and doing, uh, research. Yeah! That’s it. Research.

They have charts! Charts about words. <3 <3 <3 You'll notice that in 1807 this word was used a lot and then blam. Not much at all until, perhaps not so mysteriously, about 1985 it looks like, things really took off. That would be about the time Literary Theorists like Derrida, Barthes and more began talking about signifiers.

Middle English signifien, from Old French signifier, from Latin significāre : signum, sign; see sign + -ficāre, -fy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m practically swooning.

Plus, quick! Everyone go tweet the word signify, then all the Riskies and their readers will show up on WordNik!

Now go look up reticule. Well, did you notice the chart?

Did you notice you can comment? Seriously. You leave comments on the words, and some of the comments are AWESOME!

Go play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 13 Replies

I’m being a bit naughty in this post so move along if such things bother you word-wise. I limited my search to books publishing in the years 1811 – 1820 and written in English. The language restriction didn’t work too well as foreign language books were still returned. But, let’s carry on. Perhaps we’ll put to rest some assumptions or prove them. Which will it be? Regardless, I think the results will be interesting.

I am sorry (I think, but then again, maybe not) that as I followed down this iniquitous path, I started giggling and perhaps going a bit off track. Oh well. You are forewarned. This post degenerates quickly. You might want to stop while it’s still safe.


How, exactly, was this word used in the Regency period? As a verb connoting a certain sexual practice? A verb more slightly less specific or perhaps an expletive? The answer appears to be all of the above. Claims that the word was less broadly used than it is today seem to be incorrect.

25 books returned

A few are clearly irrelevant, but just looking at the results we see the word being used in a name-calling sense; In The Lexicom Balatronicum: A blackguard, rascal, term of reproach. But in sources drawn from trials, we see the sexual sense: A Relation of a Quaker, that to the Shame of his Profession, attempted to bugger a Mare… as well as several examples of the word used as an expletive.


Oh my

Apparently, this is also a Dutch word. And there are some rather amusing typos where the letter P has been mistaken for F and rendered Shakespeare differently than one would expect. Also, and this is really VERY amusing to me, the Google OCR could not correctly render the long squiggly lowercase letter s that in many books of the period looks a lot like an f but isn’t. Thus instances of say, suck, sucking, sucker and the like become versions of the F-bomb. In fact, the innocent word such comes in for its share of OCR maddness with the ch being reported as ck along with s being replaced with f…

Although this was a very amusing search, it would take hours to find actual instances of the F-word so I’m moving on.


226 results

Referring, of course, quite naughtily, to a certain part of female anatomy. However, it is also a perfectly innocent nut, and a common and rather boring word in Latin. Also a city and someone’s last name. Oh. Gee. I’m leaving this one and moving on.


486 results

Lots of boring medical texts, though I’m sure there are pictures. Samuel Cooper’s 1815 book Surgery has my favorite excerpt:

When the attempt fails leeches should be applied to the glans, and the flow of blood be afterwards promoted by immersing the penis in warm water

That does not sound very fun.


Hah! The ladies win!! 500 results

Well well well. What have we here? From the Encyclopaedia Perthensis; Or Universal Dictionary of the Arts, Sciences… Volume 2, 1816

The clitoris is a small spongy body bearing some slight analogy and resemblance to the penis in men… This part has been supposed to be the chief seat of a woman’s pleasure in coition as the glans penis is in men, but this is somewhat doubtful.

We can now officially stop saying the clitoris was unknown or nobody knew it might be an important bit for the women. Women surely figured this out on their own, but it seems there were men with a clue. Thank you.


3 results

To be honest, I expected this. Back in the day, the asshole was a mechanical part; the place for receiving ashes under the grate…. And, alas, we must reduce the search results by one because one of the books is an odd Google OCR error. The text shows the word asshole but the actual page says the whole.

which leads me directly to…


618 results

Pretty much what you’d expect. So here’s some interesting bits.

From A compleat collection of English proverbs which seems to be something on the order of a Barlett’s Quotations.

  • You would kiss my arse before my breeches are down.
  • Kit careless, your arse hangs by trumps
  • Proverbial similies, in which the Quality and the Subject begin with the same letter:

    as bare as a bird’s arse

And there, I’m done with my juvenile traipse through Google Books. I had fun. Did you?

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