Category Archives: Words & Vocabulary

What is a portmanteau?

This blog post was inspired by Shawn MacKenzie who taught me the word “portmanteau.”


The Delmarva Peninsula

I knew bits of my vocabulary included portmanteaus – like smoke and fog make smog. But I didn’t know they were called portmanteaus.

Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of a portmanteau. And surprise! Wikipedia is a combination of Wiki and encyclopedia.

In case you are wondering what a “wiki” is (I was) – a website developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add or edit content.

On to the portmanteaus!



Delmarva – from Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I grew up here!

I don’t get this one because they don’t share a border – Pennsyltucky, from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Must be cultural. Can anyone explain this one?


Gratuitous cute kitty

Gratuitous cute kitty

Liger, which is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger. And to complicate things, a tiglon or tigon is a cross in which the male is a tiger.

Wholphin – From whale and dolphin. I’m sorry, what? These guys are participating in way too much underwater sexting (from sex and texting).

Labradoodle. From Labrador Retriever and Poodle.

Online stuff

Blogs – so many of us write them; do we know from whence they come? From web and log.

Netiquette – net and etiquette. I’ve blogged about this a few times, eh?

A relatively new thing, quite addictive – Pinterest, from pin and interest.

Food and such

Brunch – from breakfast and lunch.

And from having too many mimosas at brunch – breathalyzer, from breath and analyzer.

A spork is a cross between a spoon and a fork. This spork thing – I think it’s sort of stupid. If I want a spoon, I grab a spoon; if I want a fork, I grab a fork.

Arfé, from art and café – this one begs me to say, “Excuse me, I arféd.”


Prevacid, from prevent and acid – in case you plan on visiting a really bad arfé or a nasty all-you-can-eat brunch.

Talking street DSC00642

Slanguage, from slang and language.

Chillax – from chill and relax. I thought my son coined this one. He does it so well.


Amtrak, from American and track.

Intel, from integrated and electronics.

One of my faves

Snark or snarky – from snide and remark.


Chortle – from chuckle and snort (coined by Lewis Carroll!). And a huge jump (time-line wise) from Carroll to …

Cyborg – From cybernetic and organism

Going old school

Motown a combination of motor and town. The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, Jr. Walker and the All Stars.

Dude! Do you see what I see?

Dude! Do you see what I see?

The Temptations. Didn’t they use funkadelic? From funky and psychedelic? See The Temptations, a great YouTube video, from Ed Sullivan’s Really Big Shooo.

See a list

Would you like a list of portmanteaus? Wiki comes through again!

Origin of portmanteau

Middle French, portemanteau, from porter, to carry plus manteau, mantle. First known use: 1579.

Do you have a favorite portmanteau or two?


Filed under Words & Vocabulary

Weird and Wonderful Words, by Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn 1Article by Lisa Steyn

While I was in a state of zwodder, I ran to the kitchen to get my Coke Light(I know it’s bad for me, but that’s my poison!) as I had xerostomia. My next morning ritual was to turn on the computer and trawl through my emails.

There in my inbox was an email from Karen asking me to guest blog as she had enjoyed my posts about weird and wonderful words. I felt very honoured – thank you, Karen!

So here – in all its glory – is my list of weird and wonderful words. The first 25 are from the book The Horologicon, by Mark Forsyth. The rest, I sniffed around and found them in various places. Enjoy.

1. Horologicon – means a book of hours.
2. Uhtceare – means anxiety experienced just before dawn.
3. Aristologist – means you are a person who devotes your life to the study of breakfast. Not sure as this about my next career move!
4. Hypnopompic – means half dreamful, half conscious delusions and illusions. Yes, I experience this often.
5. Oneirocritical – of or pertaining to the interpretation of dreams.
6. Expergefactor – means anything that wakes you up – your alarm clock, your children, the neighbour drilling at 6am (Just for the record I am not a fan of expergefactors!)
7. Snollygoster – one of my personal favourites this means a dishonest politician (well kind of…the technical definition is similar). The actual definition is a shrewd, unprincipled person.
8. Aubade – means a song sung at dawn by your lover beneath your bedroom window. I am not sure that this is going to happen to me.
9. Reveille – means the drum roll or bugle-blast meant to awaken a barracks of soldiers.
10. Matutinal – people who are breezy and bright in the morning.
11. Zwodder – a drowsy and stupid state of mind. As seen in my introduction, I do experience this fairly often.
12. Philogrobilized – this should be used the morning after the night before and conveys a hangover, but you don’t admit to actually having been drinking (this might be my new favourite word).
13. Xerostomia – the technical term for having dryness of mouth (obviously after philogrobilized!)
14. Obdormition – the term used for your arm falling asleep from lying on it.
15. Lucifugous – means light-fleeing creatures that avoid sunlight like vampires or badgers. It is normally referred to in the context of sins and demons…but feel free to use it when you really need those curtains to be closed in your zwodder state.
16. Cunctation – like procrastination which is avoiding the inevitable.
17. Grufeling – to lie close, wrapped up, and in a comfortable looking manner; used in ridicule.
18. Dysania – extreme difficulty in waking up (this definitely describes me…)
19. Clinomania – an obsessive need to lie down.
20. Oscitancy – yawning or unusual sleepiness…(think about that mind numbingly boring conference).
21. Pandiculation – stretching of the arms or body when you’re is oscitancy.
22. Egrote – to pretend you’re sick in order to avoid work.Lisa Steyn
23. Whindle – once your boss picks up the phone, start whindling. This is essentially when you are pretending to groan.
24. Floccilating – means feverishly plucking at the bed clothes. You must of course tell your boss this.
25. Jactating – means you are tossing around feverishly.
26. Risorial – something that causes you to laugh. Yes, I do want a risorial moment.
27. Misopedia – you hate children, but worse even is that this specifically means to hate your own! I do hope I never experience misopedia.
28. Zatetic – to question or ponder upon something.
29. Wheeple – to try and whistle loudly, but monumentally failing! I definitely wheeple a lot…I just cannot whistle!
30. Antinganting – a lucky charm.
31. Aposiopesis – stopping an idea in mid-sentence. Um, yes, I can definitely relate to this!
32. Aeolistic – a person who is very long-winded and boring. I have come across many in my time…
33. Limosis – a strong urge to eat chalk. Can’t say this is for me, but perhaps chocolate?
34. Discalceate – to take your shoes off.
35. Carwitchet – a funny pun.
36. Novercaphobia – an abnormal fear of your step-mother. Is this not normal?
37. Thibble – a stick for stirring porridge.
38. Acclumsid – clumsy, numbed or paralysed.
39. Abligurition – spending an abnormally high amount of money on food. I suspect I might have this problem…don’t we all?
40. Calamistrate – to curl your hair.
41. Dactylonomy – counting on your fingers.
42. Fludgs – hurry up! I would love to confuse the morning chaos with “Come, fludgs”. Do you think that might stop them?
43. Gangrel – when a child is just starting to walk. Perhaps toddler is a bit more user-friendly?
44. Hautain – to be proud or arrogant. I will definitely throw this word into my next meeting with an arrogant person – that could put them off.
45. Infucate – to use make-up. “Hold on darling, I’m just infucating.”

I used a couple of sources to bring all these together, so thanks to The Inky Fool, Fiction Press, Squidoo, and  Brownielocks.


Lisa SteynPlain and simply…I am a proofreader, editor and copywriter with an absolute passion for the written word and creating words that work. I have over 20 years experience in marketing, which allows me to look at each project from a strategic perspective. Quite by chance, I was asked to work on a number of content management, proofreading and copywriting jobs. I loved it and the clients loved it.

Take a look at Cape Town Proofreader to get an idea of my experience over the years.


Connect with Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Words & Vocabulary

Upsetting the apple cart, with Lindsay McLoughlin

Lindsay McLoughlinI called my daughter an “apple cart!”

Article by Lindsay McLoughlin

My middle daughter was happily playing with her Lego, when her older sister returned from a visit and intervened, disrupting the game – and chaos ensued. This is when I employed the old adage: “You can’t come in here and upset the apple cart!” My oldest daughter then turned to her younger sister and said “Mummy just called you an apple cart!”

Taken literally, I suppose my eldest daughter was right. She had quite cleverly “fielded” the rebuke, much to the amusement of the three of us.

However, what does “to upset the apple cart” mean and where did it come from?

What does it mean?

If you knock over a cart full of apples, you can imagine the disorder and disarray that follows. To upset the apple cart simply means to upset things and cause disorder; it is used when plans are ruined or something has been spoiled. In the case of our family Lego scene, there had been calm before the storm. (Ah… an idea for another post!)

What is the origin? apples 2

There are four schools of thought…

1.         The phrase was first recorded by Jeremy Belknap in The History of New Hampshire 1788: “Adams had almost overset the apple-cart by intruding an amendment of his own fabrication on the morning of the day of ratification” [of the Constitution].

2.         Romans had a similar expression: “Perii, plaustrum perculi” meaning “I am undone; I have upset my cart”.

3.         Wrestlers used it as slang for throwing a man’s body – the apple cart – down. So, “down with his apple cart” meant to throw a man down.

4.         A farmer in the 1800’s brought a cartload of apples to market – all neatly piled and enticingly juicy. Along came a clumsy oaf who knocked over the cart; apples were strewn everywhere, spoiling the farmer’s plan to make a killing at market.

ApplesWhich origin is most likely?

The farmer at market solution has Billy Bunter-style appeal, but it is too “slapstick” and literal. It is unlikely that a longstanding expression originated from a clumsy incident. Part of the magic of proverbs is that their origins are not readily available through a convenient story.

The Roman version holds water, as they certainly used wagons for transport. They ate plenty of fruit, so the apples could have been added to the cart over time. I am not a great fan of wrestling, but some expressions have stemmed from specific activities. These two solutions are feasible, but seem unlikely.

For me, the origin of a proverb usually resonates from a historical perspective and, once explained, makes sense to the reader. If I was a betting girl, I would lay my chips on number 1; the odds are stacked in Jeremy Belknap’s favour. He recorded that Adams “spoiled” the accepted order of things on the morning of the ratification of the Constitution, by introducing a new amendment, thus upsetting the proverbial apple cart. It makes perfect sense.

So, if my instincts are right, Jeremy Belknap’s record of Adams’ intervention, gave rise to an expression that has stood the test of time. It has also travelled; it was used in my very own sitting room in a small UK town, some 225 years later, as a gentle – and amusing – parental rebuke.

 * * *

Lindsay McLoughlin (2)Want to know about all my hats? I am mum to 3 brilliant little girls who are full of life and fun; wife to a wonderfully kind and supportive man with the patience of a saint; proofreader/editor/copywriter for all things marketing-related; host parent to foreign students on summer language holidays and full academic years; student advisor to foreign students in other host families; clerk to governors to 3 full governing bodies; landlady to rowers visiting Henley Royal Regatta.

It’s all go at McLoughlin Mansions. I love the pace of my life and the rise and fall of all of these activities according to the time of year. Luckily all of the above do not happen simultaneously!

Connect with Lindsay on her website, on her blog, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn. To guest blog with Lindsay, click here.


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Words & Vocabulary

More weird phrases you always wondered about

Back by popular demand – more idioms!

Click the link to see the first Weird phrases you always wondered about.

Can’t hold a candle to

Before electric lights, the expert would perform the task while a helper would hold the candle. The helper was non-skilled or less skilled.

Busting your chops

It was en vogue at the turn of the century (the 1900 one) wearing long, sometimes bushy sideburns, called mutton chops or lamb chops. As I recall this was also popular in the 70s! Getting hit in the face was a bust in the chops.

Clean bill of health

Bills of health were issued to ships showing they were free from infections or diseases at the time then pulled up the anchor.

Upper hand

You see a bunch of kids with Converse high-tops and crew cuts in a park and they want to play baseball. A player from Team A would throw a bat to a player from Team B. The Team B guy would catch the bat. Then the other player would put his hand directly above the other kid’s hand. The kids would alternate hands up the bat until the end was reached. The player with his hand on top had the upper hand, or the advantage.

Close but no cigar

I suppose the carnival games of yore were for men only because I can’t see a barker handing a woman a cigar a century or more ago. Used particularly for shooting games, cigars were the prize. A contestant that didn’t hit the target might have been close, but did not win a cigar.

Dressed to a tea

Having tea used to be an elaborate, formal affair, with dressing in all one’s finery, getting out the nice silver tea set, perhaps putting a few scones on a doily on a silver tray. Men and women used to dress for a tea, hence “dress to a tea.”

Dressed to the nines

You dressed to the nines to go to tea! The best suits were made from about nine yards of fabric, cut in the direction of the nap or warp. There was a load of waste in the fabric, but you had to accept the waste if you wanted to dress to the nines.

Face the music

The British military would play drums when someone was court marshaled. Now, when your child or grandchild breaks the lamp in the living room, he’s got to face the music.

Passed with flying colors

Sailing ships of yore would hoist their nation’s flag if they wanted to be identified. Couldn’t trust pirates though. They had a crate full of false flags.

Room to swing a cat

Please chill animal rights people. The “cat” here refers to a cat-of-nine-tails, a whip used to discipline sailors for a poor job of swabbing. The cat-of-nine-tails has a handle attached to nine thin strips of leather, each a few feet long. Since there was not enough room below deck, the punishment would take place above deck.

With a grain of salt

Used now as “approach with suspicion or caution.” Salt used to be darn hard to come by. Some thought it should be used for healing, even as a poison anecdote. If you were to eat or drink something “with a grain of salt” was to practice cautious medicine.

Rule of thumb

An antiquated English law was it was illegal for a man to beat his wife with a switch or stick thicker than the width of his thumb. That’s comforting.

In agriculture – stick your thumb in the dirt up to your hand, pull thumb out, plant seed.


For the first idioms post, click on Weird phrases you always wondered about.

“You can’t buy time or save it, common idioms notwithstanding. You can only spend it.”  – Eric Zorn


Pride Unlimited


Brainy Quote



Filed under Words & Vocabulary

Weird phrases you always wondered about

Photo by Jolene Canaga

The Word Shark is not just about editing and proofreading.

I conduct historical research and read classic novels.

When I see or hear a phrase like “Mind your Ps and Qs” or “Reading the riot act,” I’m inclined to start digging.

Idioms – Those sometimes silly, obscure phrases that we use in everyday conversation.

A lot of idioms originate from nautical and military origins, Shakespeare and Olde English pubs, or from life as it was known a century or more ago.

Mind your Ps and Qs – I found two explanations on this one.

From an old printer’s tenet. Back in the early days of printing presses, each letter of text had to be set up by hand. Since the letters in the press were reversed, the printer or typographer had to be careful not to confuse one letter for the other. He had to mind his Ps and Qs.

The more accepted historical meaning for this idiom (and one that’s a little more fun) dates back to ye Olde English pubs of yester-year. A bartender would use chalk and board to record the number of Pints (Ps) and Quarts (Qs) a patron had consumed. This chalkboard allowed said patrons to keep up with their tab, to not get too drunk to pay the tab, and prevented disagreements between bar and patron.

Saved by the bell – Again, I found two really cool explanations on this one.

Boxing slang … a boxer who is in danger of losing a bout can be ‘saved’ from a beat down by the bell that marks the end of a round. There is a reference to this idiom in the Massachusetts newspaper The Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, February 1893: “Martin Flaherty defeated Bobby Burns in 32 rounds by a complete knockout. Half a dozen times Flaherty was saved by the bell in the earlier rounds.”

Imagine being buried alive and having no means of communicating with those that are walking about the cemetery. A person would be buried, a string available or attached to a wrist. The string would be fed through the top of the coffin, through the dirt, and attached to a bell on top of the grave. The recently buried person would wake up, ring the bell, and be saved from an unpleasant death.

Hold your horses

Most accepted – the term originated from the men serving the artillery. These soldiers had horses. When the cannon went kaboom, the horses bolted and ran off. Thus, hold your horses was created.

This idiom is also attributed to the use of horse and carriage. Imagine the under-paid carriage driver, waiting at the curb, while Scarlett put the finishing touches on her petticoats; he was holding his horses, waiting.

Cut and run

You’re an 18th century sea captain on a large schooner filled with spices and silks and jewels. You just dropped anchor along the coast and are about to let the crew go ashore. You look to the horizon and here comes a ship flying the Jolly Roger! You don’t waste a moment getting outta there. You slice the anchor rope and get a move on. You cut and run.

Armed to the teeth

The pirates bearing down on the schooner have the single-shot weapons of the day. And they each have a couple of them – stuffed into their belts, their vests, their pockets. In addition to the guns, they have a knife. Where to hold the knife? Open your mouth and bite down – armed to the teeth.

Blow off steam

This idiom was frequently used when steam engines were the locomotion of the day. Blowing off steam prevents explosions by relieving the pressure in an engine or boiler by venting excess steam and pressure.

Reading the riot act

This refers to actual events. Bobbies in Britain used to read a proclamation – known as the Riot Act – before they were permitted to break up or arrest rioters. This Riot Act was used in the same fashion as the current Miranda Rights in the US. The Bobbies would approach the crowd, read the Riot Act out loud, and then disperse the crowd (or arrest them).

Jump on the bandwagon

Old-time political campaigns would attempt to gather supporters by driving through town with a vehicle announcing (through loud-speakers) the candidate’s schpeel. Usually these wagons also carted a small band playing patriotic music. Jumping on the bandwagon was akin to providing your support for this popular candidate.

Raining cats and dogs

I found many explanations on this idiom. This explanation is the most fun (and the most gross). Sanitary conditions in previous centuries were often abysmal. When torrential rains began, the water –coursing down the streets – would often carry small creatures with it. As a result, cats and small dogs would be carried along the streets.


Beer photo via Jolene Canaga, Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Sources – BrainyQuote, The Phrase Finder, The Free Dictionary, Pride UnLimited

Stay tuned for Halloween Fright Week starting Monday, October 22, with posts by Mairi McCloud, Tonia Marie Harris, and others.


Filed under Words & Vocabulary

How Good Do You Know Grammar?

Article by Vicki Lucas 

Does the title of this blog cause you to wince? Or do you not see a problem with it? Can you explain to someone the difference between It’s and its? What about They’re – their – there?

I firmly believe that English above all other languages provides the most frustration. As Richard Lederer said, “You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.”

As an English as a Second Language teacher for eleven years, I’ve seen my share of mistakes. One student told me her favorite food was “Lice.” It took me a few minutes to get over my shock. Then I realized she meant “Rice.” While discussing table manners, one man told me that in his country, it was fine to blow your nose on the table. I had quite the mental image of a family with their noses literally on the dinner table until I realized that he meant at the table. Often we’d laugh at some of the silly mistakes, but I would always get asked the same question from every student that walked through the door. 

“Why do I have to learn to use English correctly since Americans don’t speak or writer with proper grammar?”

Here was my answer. “You don’t have to learn English well. You can flip burgers at a fast food joint the rest of your life. But if you do learn it, you will get better paying jobs than any native speaker who doesn’t use English well. Your choice.”

But the question always bothered me. It still does. I’m constantly shocked at the abuse of English. I know it’s tricky. The rules bend and twist until you’re lost in a tangle of language.

So what can you do if you stuck on a problem area of English?

1.      Know your weakness. The first step is always to admit it. Don’t be embarrassed. Any grammar person loves answering these questions because we rarely get asked. Also, it excites us that someone actually has a desire to learn instead of continuing the errors. Think of one area you would like to improve.

2.      Attack it with knowledge. Once you know your problem, begin your research. Ask a competent person that you may know. If you don’t know anyone, there are many great places on the web. Make sure to check their qualifications, though. The rules are different in places around the world. Sometimes you might not know how to search. For example, let’s say you aren’t sure you are using commas correctly. Then broaden your search on Google to “correct comma usage.” You will find a wealth of information.

3.      Practice. Swallow your pride and find practices online. There is one easy way to do this. Linda has a problem of using the correct Past Participle. (In other words, she tends to say “I have ate” instead of “I have eaten.”) She researched a little and found that “eaten” is a past participle and has learned when to use it. She can now Google “Past Participle exercises.”  She will find a ton of material to practice with. If she includes “ESL” in her search, she will find some great places where the web pages give instant feedback.

4.      Create visual aids. Further and farther used to drive me nuts. While I researched, I’d forget as soon as I put the right one into my document. Out of great frustration one day, I wrote a quick explanation of the rule on a piece of paper and posted it by my computer. Writing it out helped it stick in my brain more than a causal reading does. It also gave me a quick review every time I saw the paper. A couple months later, I threw the paper in the garage and haven’t needed it since.

5.      Don’t trust two sources. We love to trust two places which very often lead us astray. The first one is Microsoft Word’s grammar check. It is okay most of the time, but even while writing this post, it tried to tell me the Subject-Verb Agreement was wrong in a sentence. In truth, the computer was wrong. Don’t automatically think that the computer is right. Use your brain.

        The second one is our ear. Ever think, “That doesn’t sound right?” I recently explained well and good with a friend, and that was her comment. Saying “It went well” sounded bad to her because she was used to hearing the wrong grammar. Her ear had been trained to accept incorrect grammar. As you learn better grammar, you’ll struggle with this. Then your next cry will be… “But everyone does it wrong!” Exactly.

English can be tricky. To quote Richard Lederer one more time, “English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?”

But English is not impossible, especially when you take these action steps to training yourself to use better grammar. So, let’s begin.

What’s your greatest problem in English? Do you have a question you’ve been dying to ask but not brave enough to? Here’s your chance!


I have always struggled with the question “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I received my Bachelor’s in Psychology…only to find myself with no desire to work in that field. I switched careers to Teaching English as a Second Language and obtained a Master’s from Seattle Pacific University. Thankfully, I found joy in the classroom. Teaching at universities and community colleges gave me eleven years of incredible experiences, remarkable coworkers, and unforgettable friends from many different countries. However, the distant mountains began to call, and I responded, not knowing where I was going or what my purpose was. After a year and a half of traveling through the quiet places that are left in the world, I settled in Montana with my husband and my dog. I have begun to write the stories I heard on the wind.

Connect with Vicki on her webpage, Facebook, Twitter, and on her blog. 


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Words & Vocabulary

On Heartspoken with Elizabeth today

Elizabeth Cottrell

Today I am a guest on Elizabeth Cottrell’s blog with 8 ways to harness the power of the perfect word.

Would you like to improve your vocabulary? Visit Elizabeth’s blog here.


Filed under My Guest Posts, Words & Vocabulary