Monthly Archives: April 2013

Word surprises


Were you ever certain that a word was pronounced or spelled a certain way, only to find out, with great surprise and after many years of error, that you were wrong all along? Three such words come to mind for me. The word barbiturate does indeed have a second “r” in it. Ever since I first heard the word in the early seventies, I was sure it was “barbituate.” Another word with a troublesome “r” that only recently enlightened me is infraction. An infraction is an offense that you might get a ticket for, like a traffic violation. However, people who have heart attacks do not have “myocardial infractions,” as I always thought. The correct term is “myocardial infarction.” Yes, it sounds funny to those of us not in the medical field, and it is totally unrelated to the word infraction. Lastly, when you are thankful for something you are grateful, not greatful.  While greatful would seem to make more sense, there is actually an obsolete word, grate, that means pleasing or acceptable, which is where grateful comes from.

Did any of those words surprise you, or were they just my special stumbling blocks? What are yours?


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With apologies to Al Gore


The term “internet” has been around since the early to mid-seventies, even though the medium it eventually came to define didn’t enter the public consciousness until two decades later. The word was originally not capitalized as it should be now, and is shortened from “internetwork,” a reference to the interconnected computer networks that comprise what we now know as the Internet. The term is also thought to have gained popularity from frequent reference to “internet protocol” in the early days of networked computing, which defines how packets of data travel over the network (and, incidentally, is what the “i.p.” in your IP address stands for).

Other terms soon came on the scene that built off of the interconnected network symbolism, most notably the concept of the “web” that appeared in the early 1990s, and later the “website.” I don’t know if anyone else has used it before, but if not I’d like to coin a new term today: cobwebsite, to refer to a website that has not been updated in a while. Cute, huh?  (I just looked this up on the web – it appears I’m not the first!)


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Those daffy, self-centered flowers


Daffodils were originally called affodills, which is a variation of the medieval Latin name for the flower, affodillus.  Nobody can seem to account for how the “d” came to be added to the front of the word, except that perhaps it sounded too good to resist. It may have derived from a kind of lazy spoken contraction when the name is preceded by the word “and,” such as in this sentence:  “In the field were many tulips and affodills.” What we now call “daffodils” are actually a flower that goes by the botanical name of narcissus. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. Not realizing it was his, he pined over himself to the point of death. The flower which bears his name is said to have sprung up where he died, and people who are self-centered are called narcissistic. The tale is in the Roman poet Ovid’s classic work, Metamorphoses.

The plural of the flower, incidentally, is narcissi. As for that early bloomer the crocus, both crocuses and croci are acceptable for the plural (but people will look at you funny if you say croci). Personally, I think the plural of daffodil should be daffodilli. It just sounds right.

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