What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 108 of 132

Updoohickey: disassembly required

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, January 6, 2011

My concentration is not always tiptop when I scan the paper early in the morning. Thus, when my eyes fell upon “updoohickey” emblazoned at the top of today’s front page, I was confused.

Seeing the graphic to the right of the word gave me my first clue. The graphic showed … it showed … well, of course, it showed a doohickey, that wonderful word we use when we have no idea what to call something. But why was the word at the left “updoohickey”?

Glancing at the blurb to the right of the graphic, I realized the "doohickey" is actually the Goody Spin Pin. (More on this invention and other innovative products may be found on page 7B in today’s print edition or e-edition.) Apparently, the Goody Spin Pin makes creating a bun at the back or top of one’s head quick and easy.

Aha! The light bulb in my head was flashing. A clever headline writer had combined the word “updo” with “doohickey” to create the nonce word “updoohickey.”

Updo is taken from these two words: upswept hairdo. It is relatively new. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary says its first known use was in 1983.

A nonce word is created just for one-time use--“just for the nonce” in archaic English. Clever though “updoohickey” is, I doubt we'll see this “hair-raising” word again any time soon in The Daily Sentinel.


Caliber’s lowly beginning

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Webster’s defines caliber as: “ 1) the size of a bullet or shell as measured by its diameter 2) the diameter of a bore of a gun … 3) the diameter of a cylindrical body or of its hollowed interior.”

Webster’s also defines caliber as the quality of worthiness of a person or thing.

Caliber came from a Greek word meaning a shoemaker’s last (form or model for a foot). How the word for a shoemaker’s last came to mean any of the definitions above is truly “Greek to me.”



Banishing Angst

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Angst is a word we borrowed from the Germans that means “a gloomy, often neurotic feeling of generalized anxiety and depression,” according to Webster’s.

Liz is not the only one with Angst in January. (Yes, Webster’s capitalizes it.) Now that Yuletide festivities are over, many of us have bills to pay and pounds to shed.

If we make reducing both our debt and weight a priority, however, the Angst will melt along with the snow. At least that’s the pep talk I’m giving myself as I skip the January sales and feign a liking for celery and carrots.

I hereby resolve to have a fatter wallet and lighter body in January 2012--and little or no Angst.


Dressing up a word

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, January 3, 2011

The month of January begins a new year. It often is the time for new political beginnings, too. After the recent midterm elections, many newly elected state and national officials will take the oath of office and begin their new duties.

Or will they commence their new duties? Commence means basically the same thing as begin, but it has a more formal tone. People in high office like to use more formal language to describe what they do.

For example, they may want to initiate (begin) new laws. Initiate also has a more formal tone.

Some, such as Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, will have an inaugural celebration. (Central High School student Destinee Reed has been asked to perform at the event. See photo below and full story in today’s paper.)

Inaugurate is a synonym for begin, too. It, however, “suggests a formal or ceremonial beginning or opening,” according to Webster’s.

When Reed performs “My Colorado,” her musical tribute to our state, here’s bettin’ it’ll begin a successful musical career for her.



Watch those vowels

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What a difference just one vowel makes! Born Loser today correctly uses “stationary” with a final "a" to mean sitting still. A shift in just one vowel results in "stationery," or writing paper. Stationary is an adjective; stationery is a noun.

Similar words include "altar" vs. "alter." The first is a platform in a church; it is a noun. The second means to change, so it is a verb.

Consider, too, "allusion" vs. "illusion." An allusion is a reference that is indirect. (See blogs of July 15, July 16, August 24, September 10, October 18 and November 12, 2010) An illusion is a false image or belief. Both are nouns.

That's all for today. It's time to get out my Christmas stationery and write some more holiday letters.


Page 108 of 132


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