Looking Backwards

It’s a new year.  A fresh slate.  A time to look forward with big dreams and high hopes. Which makes today’s choice of words rather ironic.  Rather.

And what is the word?  I’ll get to that in a moment.  But first, let me explain a bit about where I stumbled across the word.  I have signed up to receive a small handful of newsletters ranging from politics to photography, from writing to marketing.   A motley crew if you ask me — and I’m NOT referring to the music group.

I recently got a newsletter that talked about the new year and suggested an activity for the readers to do.  It said that if we hadn’t done that activity, we were retrogrades.

Not quite sure what she meant, I of course had to look it up.  Of course.

Retrograde [re-truh-greyd] can be an adjective or a verb. The word comes to us from the Latin prefix retro- that means backwards or in times past. Retrograde means moving backward or declining or deteriorating. Retrograde implies movement toward the past instead of progressing into the future.

If used in connection with art, retro art refers to the pop art of the 1940s.  If connected to fashion, it refers to styles that are out-of-date like the poodle skirts of the 1950s and the tie-dyed shirts for the 1960s — or to what’s hanging in my clothes closet right now.  (I like to think of my clothing as vintage.  My children call them old fashioned. . . .)

The newsletter was about marketing and not about fashion so the writer wasn’t referring to the chic styles from days of yore.  Instead, she meant that if we hadn’t done her exercise that would propel our business forward and make us progress to higher heights (and make more money) then we were slackers that were morphing backwards. We were deteriorating in our business instead of improving it and getting ahead.

So, do you see the irony of this post?  It’s the new year where people look to the future, set goals, and vow to improve themselves.  And today’s word is about regressing.  I thought it was funny to use this word at this time. 

Don’t look at me like that! I don’t have a weird sense of humor.  I really don’t! Have you been talking to my kids??

Ahem.  Let’s move on — instead of retrograding.

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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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A Blockhead By Any Other Name

Sometimes I think I need to learn Yiddish.  They have such delightful words.  Words that are fun to say.  Words that sound intriguing.  Words that have great meanings.  Words such as schmegeggy.

Schmegeggay [shmuh-GEG-ee] is a noun that means stupid person.  If someone is doing something that is brilliantly unintelligent, you can tell them to stop being a schmegeggy.  Or you could write on your blog about how schmegeggy your local politians are when they do something that proves they are not the brightest crayon in the box.

You’ve seen videos on YouTube of people doing stupid things?  Thinks like trying to jump from a rooftop onto a homemade trampoline and breaking through the trampoline and breaking their bones?  Or someone making homemade fireworks that end up exploding in their hands?  Schmegeggies, every one of them!  (By the way, here’s an observation.  Most of them are males.  Not too many females participate — or else not to many of them video themselves doing schmegeggy things and then post it to YouTube!!)

Schmegeggay also means nonsense.  “Stop all of this schmegeggay,” you might say to someone who is being silly or doing crazy things.  If someone suggests doing some derring do activity, you can refuse doing schmegeggy things. Call it self-preservation or preserving your dignity.  Whatever.  You don’t need to do schmegeggay things.

If someone from your high school years wants to ‘friend’ you on Facebook but really wasn’t your friend during those years, you might say, “Schmegeggay. I don’t need to friend you!”

Here’s hoping you lead a schmegeggay-free life!

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A Definition for My Husband

I’m sitting in my office (the sofa in our family room).  My husband is reading the Reader’s Digest and comes across a word he doesn’t know.  “What does nadir mean?”

Nadir.  Nadir.  Nadir. Mmmmm. . . The word bounces around my brain seeking a definition.  No definition reaches out to claim it.  I’m at a loss.  But I, the wordsmithie of the household, can’t admit that I don’t know the definition of a word.  That’s unthinkable.

Full of confidence I say, “It refers to a . . . a . . . a . . . point . . .”

My husband looks expectantly at me waiting for me to finish.

I quickly pull up dictionary.com on my laptop that is resting on my lap top.  (Funny thing!)  I try to be sneaky because I don’t want him to know that I had look up the definition.  That wouldn’t be cool.

“It’s the lowest or deepest point.”

He raises one eyebrow.  He knows.  He knows.  He knows that I looked it up online.  Sigh.

Nadir [ney-der] is a noun that means the lowest or deepest point; point of greatest adversity or despair.  I almost sink into a nadir of despair because I didn’t remember the definition of the word.  I knew it once.  I really did.  But I just couldn’t dust off the cobwebs from my synapses to bring the definition back into the daylight of my recall.  I hate it when that happens.

Someone could experience nadir when they lose a job, get a divorce, or go bankrupt. They could feel nadir of despair when something they really wanted to do falls through.  Or when they fail a college class.  Or when they go through chemotherapy but it doesn’t kill all of the cancer and they only have a few weeks left to live.

Eww, all of this is depressing.

But then, that’s what this word is all about.

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