What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 128 of 132


Formidable Scrabble players

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good headline writers could be formidable Scrabble players.

To successfully write headlines or excel at the popular board game, a person must have an extensive vocabulary that includes an arsenal of short words. Hard-core Scrabble players know, for instance, that if their last four tiles are the letters u-e-z-b, they can create zebu. It means an ox native to Asia and some parts of Africa.

One of our hed writers (who could likely trounce Scrabble opponents sans merci) came up with redux in the headline above. Webster’s definition of redux is “brought back, revived, restored, etc.” Words such as this come in amazingly handy when a writer must squeeze a lot of information into a short line.

The headline above summarizes the editorial’s observation that the GOP’s Scott Tipton will once again face Democrat John Salazar in a bid for a Congressional seat after a similar contest in 2006. In early November we’ll know who has scrambled to the top.

The editorial appears below.

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Horse sense, anyone?

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Down to the wire” is an idiomatic expression that comes from horse racing. Long before we wired our world to enable us to capture every muscle twitch on InstaCam, a racetrack would have the old-fashioned kind of wire strung above the finish line to help spectators determine which horse placed first in a nose-to-nose finish.

The expression broadened over the years to mean any tight race.

Dan Maes has edged out Scott McInniss in the Republican primary bid for governor, so we can say the race went right down to the wire. Whether Maes remains the GOP’s choice is a “horse of a different color,” or an entirely different matter.

Meanwhile, Ken Buck could be considered somewhat of a “dark horse candidate.” He’s emerged victorious in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate over frontrunner Jane Norton. A dark horse candidate is one who is not initially favored to win.

This phrase also comes from racing. It means an unknown horse that is hard to place a wager on because bettors are uncertain about its capabilities.

As politicians head into the general election, we can only hope that each winner will use plenty of “horse sense“ in meeting the needs of Coloradoans.
 

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Zits: Biting words

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jeremy’s feisty, fed-up mom can chalk up yet another developmental milestone for her son. He now understands sarcasm.

Webster’s says that sarcasm comes from a Greek word that meant “to tear flesh like dogs, speak bitterly.”

In training to become a teacher, I learned not to use sarcasm with children. First and foremost, sarcasm teeters on the edge of rudeness or downright cruelty. Second, experts in child development say that children do not have sufficient language skills to recognize a speaker’s intent behind his or her words.

The ability to understand sarcasm must click on with the onset of teen hormones, because adolescents not only understand it, they often use this form of verbal jousting to great effect. Luckily for Jeremy, his mom knows how to lob back one-liners. Through her loving rebukes, he will probably learn when the use of sarcasm is OK and when it is not.

Webster’s gives some synonyms of the adjective sarcastic that are worth knowing:

Caustic  –   “implies a cutting, biting, or stinging wit or sarcasm [a caustic tongue]”

Sardonic  – “implies sneering or mocking bitterness in a person, or, more often, in his expression, remarks, etc. [a sardonic smile]”

Satirical  –   “implies as its purpose the exposing or the attacking of the vices, follies, stupidities, etc. of others and connotes the use of ridicule, sarcasm”

According to Wikipedia, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift as an example of a satirical novel. Swift, an Irish author in the early 1700s, satirized human nature and also took a few jabs at the English court of King George I.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live is one modern-day answer to Gulliver’s Travels. Since 1975, its satirical comedy sketches have skewered politicians, the rich and/or the (in)famous. It’s a popular show for adolescents of all ages. Perhaps SNL should get at least part credit when teens such as Jeremy become experts in sarcasm.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
 

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Zits: ironic flippancy

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, August 9, 2010

As a mother, I got a laugh out of Zits in last Friday’s paper. I think most parents can appreciate irony.

Webster’s first definition of irony is “the method of humorous or subtly sarcastic expression in which the intended meaning of words is their direct opposite of their usual sense.”

Webster’s says that a firehouse burning to the ground is an example of irony. One of my favorites is the saying, “Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.”

In dramatic irony the audience usually knows something that a character in a book or play does not. The contrast between the two “truths” creates irony.

Buzzle.com gives these examples of dramatic irony from the climax scene of Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet:

“Juliet becomes unconscious after drinking the sleeping potion given by Friar Lawrence. Romeo thinks that Juliet is dead, not knowing that she is merely unconscious. He consumes poison and kills himself. Meanwhile Juliet wakes up from slumber and asks Friar Lawrence where Romeo is. To which Lawrence replies he is unaware of Romeo's whereabouts when actually the audience knows that he was present when Romeo kills himself.”

In Zits Jeremy comments on the irony that his mother has flopped to the floor after skidding on one of his flip-flops.

The temptation to add another panel or two to this cartoon is irresistible:

Flipping out over his flippant remark, Jeremy’s mom grounds him. As he skulks away, her parting shot is, “Irony is what happens when you put your foot in your mouth.”
 

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Foolin’ around with synonyms

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, August 5, 2010

A delightful and versatile aspect of English is its vast array of synonyms. Synonyms are words that basically mean the same thing, but often have slightly different shades of meaning. or connotation. Good writers take joy in choosing synonyms with just the right connotations.

The Arizona Star’s David Fitzsimmons must have had a blast in writing his caption for the cartoon above. Let’s look at some of his word choices.

Instead of simply using the word nonsense, he chose tomfoolery, a whimsical word with a rich history. Webster’s says it is derived from “Tom Fool, as in Tom O’Bedlam.” (Webster’s defines bedlam as a shortened form of St. Mary of Bethlehem, which was a psychiatric hospital in London.)

This usage has been around at least since the 1500s. Wikipedia notes that Edgar, a character in Shakespeare’s King Lear, tries to pass himself off as mad Tom O’Bedlam.

Fitzsimmons found another playful synonym for nonsense in shenanigans. This Americanism is an altered form of an Irish word meaning “play the fox," according to Webster’s.

Other great word choices are hypocrite, one who pretends to be something he or she is not, and feigning, a synonym for pretending.

Then there’s the phrase “business as usual.” Used in a negative sense, it suggests that either nothing is getting accomplished or that the process is corrupt.

Fitzsimmons’ artistic skills are admirable, and so is his artful way with words.
 

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Page 128 of 132




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