For those who want to be cutting edge in every way possible, including dialectically, Word Spy peruses publications for new phrases and catalogues them along with their uses and meanings. So don’t split a cow from a local farmer with your friends, start “cowpooling.” Moved out to Pecos from Brooklyn? Don’t worry about seeming too trendy, you’re a “ruralpolitan.” So stop struggling for the perfect word, embrace your “hyperwhiteness” and study up. These words are way better than those on the GRE.
OK, so maybe it isn’t at the front of your mind on a daily basis, but every once in a great while there’s a word that just rubs you wrong and you think, “Why in the hell…?” Well, there’s a reason, though that reason may not be too clear. Take “weird” for example. A normal, everyday word that can twist in the mouth when repeated and lose all meaning and sense. Where does a word that sounds that, well, odd come from? Old English, when it was wyrd and meant “fate” or “destiny.” Um, huh? Well then it changed with Proto-Indo-European influences to have a sense of “becoming” and in Middle English the word was applied to three unusual looking Germanic mythological sisters whose fate led them to become that way. It goes on from there, but who wants to ruin all the fun?
Michael Quinion is no ordinary word nitpicker. His book Gallimaufry follows words to their graves and another of his books, Ologies and Isms, is a dictionary of affixes. For his blog, World Wide Words, Quinion scours the Internet for words or turns of phrases and their misuses. From the entry on jejune: “Any fully paid-up member of the pedantic persuasion will by now have blenched or fainted or drawn in his or her breath sharply, according to taste, at this evidence that English is going to the dogs.” Ouch.