Certainly Not Frowsty the Snowman

Snow is bombarding the United States and Europe.  Airplanes are at a standstill.  Travelers are stranded.  I imagine that patience is thin and tempers are short for travelers and airport personnel alike. (With 3,000 people stranded in the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, I wonder where they get enough food — and toilet paper for their bathrooms!)

But for children, all of this snow means one thing — er . . . two things:  no school and playing in the snow.

Building a snowman is a perennial favorite winter activity for children and adults. I got a snowman building kit for Christmas and I’m excited to use it!  When I do, I will be careful to name my snowman ‘Frosty’ and not ‘Frowsty.’  (Sometime my dyslexic fingers type extra letters in words . . .)

While I may not name my snowman Frowsty, I could call my son’s bedroom frowsty — especially if there’s a pile of dirty socks and weeks and weeks of laundry languishing in the bottom of his closet.

Frowsty [frou-stee] is an adjective that means musty, stale, or ill-smelling.  The word’s origin is unkown.  Some think it came from the Old French word frouste which means ruinous or decayed.  That makes sense if you ask me!

Sometimes clothing that has been tucked away in a drawer for a long time might smell frowsty.  A locker room can smell frowsty.  A raquetball court can smell frowsty after an intense game.  Pee-yew!

Variations of the word include frowstier, frowstiest, frowstily, and even frowstinesses.  (When, pray tell, would I ever say frowstinesses???)

“This is the frowstiest t-shirt I’ve ever smelled!”

“Your socks are frowstier than mine!”

“I just can’t get this frowstinesses to come out of this old coat that’s been in the attic for 50 years.” Naw.  That doesn’t work. Sigh . . .

I guess you could name your snowman Frowsty — if you were a logophile like me and named him that on purpose because of your wonderful sense of humor and not because of a slip of your fingers on the keyboard . . .

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Not Quixotic — No Siree, Bob!

This morning we woke up to well over a foot of snow.  Delightful, white winter wonderland outside. Snow is fine by me.

Until . . .

Until I have to drive my low-slung Toyota car out of my dry garage and through that foot of snow. How do you say ‘snowplow?’  That’s what my car was trying to be.  A snowplow wannabe.

It didn’t work.  I was barely out of the garage when I got stuck.  Dig, dig, dig with the snow shovel.  Drive a little.  Dig, dig, dig some more.  For over an hour.

The last time I got stuck, I was just a few feet from the road.  By this time, I was soggy wet.  Wet clear through to my skin.  (Except for my feet.  Gotta love my great snow boots!)  Ten pick-up trucks slowly drove by.  Several in four-wheel drive.  Some with chains on — on the truck tires NOT on the driver’s body . . .

Were any of these testosterone-filled drivers of huge trucks chivalrous? Were they quixotic? Did they stop to help a damsel in distress?  Nay.  Even my next door neighbor slowly drove by with his window down gawking at me without stopping.  Without asking if I needed any help.  Thank you so much for your neighborliness.

Quixotic [qwik-SOT-ik] is an adjective that means absurdly chivalrous. None of the drivers of said trucks were absurdly chivalrous this morning.  None of them were even reasonably chivalrous.  None were even faintly chivalrous. At least to me.

This word comes from the novel Don Quixote.  (Note: the full title of that novel by Cervantes is the Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quioxte of La Mancha.  I doubt that very many people know this.  So there you go.  You are now more knowledgeable than the common man on the street.)

The main character, Don Quixote, is obsessed with chivalrous ideals and decides to take up his lance and sword to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked.  And thus we get the word quixotic to describe foolishly chivalrous people.

Quixotic also means impulsive and unpredictable — because those are two other behaviours of Don Quixote.

When you are in dire straits and in need of some help, I hope that a quixotic person happens by.  Having the help of a ridiculously chivalrous person is better than no help at all.  Trust me.  I know.

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Yowling Like a Cat

For today’s word, I would like to thank the Germans.  I never took German in school so it’s a delight for me when I encounter words that come from that language.  It’s like a whiff of fresh air.  A new-to-me language brings a new-to-me word.  Sweet.

And that word is katzenjammer.

Katzenjammer is a noun that is based on two German words. The first German word is katzen which is plural for the noun katze which in English means cat.

Since katze sounds like our English word cats and since the meanings are the same, wouldn’t it fall to reason that jammer would be similar to an English word, too?  So, what do you think jammer refers to — a sweet and sticky substance that we spread on bread (jam) or to play music with friends (to jam)?

Well, if you play music like I do, then the meaning of jammer is similar to the kind of musical jamming you do with friends.

Katzenjammer [kat-suhn-jam-er] is a noun that means a confused uproar.  (Now you know what it is like when I try to make music — whether trying to tickle the ivory keys on my piano or caterwauling with other singers. . . )

Jammer in German means distress, misery, or wailing.  So when you combine that wailing with the word cats, you get a confused uproar.  Brouhaha, hubbub, uneasiness, and anguish are synonyms.

If your school teacher handed out an unannoucned test, students would errupt in a katzenjammer.  They wouldn’t be happy at all.  If politicians promised one thing and then voted a completely different way, their constituents could express their feelings with katzenjammer at his next public speech.  If a child got grounded because he didn’t come home before curfew, he might wail in katzenjammer.

Katzenjammer also refers to a hangover.

When you yowl like a miserable cat — whether from the effects of excessive consumption of alcohol or from a very distressing situation, that, my Dear Reader, is katzenjammer!

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Rhinos and Their Rhino

The Greeks gave us the lovely word rhino which means nose.  Everyone knows that a rhinoceros is a perissodactyl mammal that has either one or two large horns on its snout.  Such lovely creatures.

Because we know that rhino means nose, we know that rhinoplasty is plastic surgery on the nose.  Barbara Streisand, Cher, and most definitely Michael Jackson come to mind when we think of rhinoplasty.

What about rhinorrhoea?  What does that means?

I’m glad you asked.

If rhino means nose and -rrhea means flow or discharge then it is very safe to assume that rhinorrhoea [rahy-nuh-ree-uh] means an discharge of something coming out of the nose.  And that discharge would be in excess! And what might that excess discharge of something be?  Why mucus, of course! 

During the cold season, many people have rhinorrhoea.  Saying ‘I have rhinorrhoea’ is more fun to say than ‘I have a cold.’ That is not as classy sounding. Saying you have rhinorrhoea sounds as if you have an exotic disease or that you are a marvel in the medical world.

Rhinorrhoea, rhinorrhoea, rhinorrhoea!

If a rhinoceros had rhinorrhoea, how bad would that be? 

Bad. Real bad.

I wouldn’t want to have to wipe THAT nose!

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