Thursday, January 19, 2006

Word Play

I happened to notice that, in yesterday's Mercury News, three of the comic strips were based on plays on words--yes, puns!--although milder forms than some: The Duplex, The Quigmans, and to a lesser extent, Family Circus (, where Jeffy? asks, "When did cowboys and start ridin' horses instead of cows?" Today, only one squeezed in wordplay.

Hmm, I'm thinking I'm going to make a point about the prevalence of wordplay in the English language because of so many "overloaded" words and phrases (those with multiple meanings), but I don't have time to do any research. Hate when THAT happens, too. Meanwhile, you can entertain yourself by reading Wikipedia's articles on word play and paronomasia (there's a word for ya).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Voodoo, Hoodoo, You Do...

Juju. It seems to have inserted itself violently into my current working vocabulary sometime in the last year or so. "Weird juju" or "bad juju" seem to be the sole phrases in which it's used. And I'm not the only one; it pops up everywhere in conversation. I got to wondering what it meant really (I know that in my mind it means sort of like voodoo or some hint of dire magic, but really what did it mean) and where did it come from and how long has it been a current slang?

I had an odd experience about 10 years ago where I encountered the phrase "sea change." Wow, thought I, what a lovely and creative way to express something that has altered profoundly. What a unique, original way to express it! And then--I encountered the phrase somewhere else. And somewhere else again. And in yet another place. And I heard it on the radio. And someone used it at work. And it was in magazines, fiction, newspapers. Everywhere. As if the world had undergone a sea change in its vocabulary overnight. But, in fact, I learned, the phrase had been in common use for a very, very long time, and most anyone I asked was familiar with it. Somehow for 40 years I had managed to completely avoid noticing a phrase that probably appears at least once in every novel or magazine ever published.

I tell you that story to tell you that juju has not only been around for longer than the last year or so, and that it is in fact in the dictionary, and to boot dates back to at least 1894 in American English. It originated in the languages of west Africa, probably related to the Hausa word jùju meaning fetish--as in the charm type of fetish. Its modern meaning is synonymous with charm, voodoo, fetish, or the supernatural power ascribed to such things.

Sooooo has the word been in hiding for all these years and is just coming into popular use? Or have I been sea changed again?

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The English language doesn't make a lot of use of the letter Z. The whole Z section of my Merriam-Webster's 1459-page Collegiate Dictionary is 4 pages. Zs in the middle of words aren't common, either, but they seem to follow a pretty predictable pattern of pronunciation; consider: puzzle, muzzle, guzzle, nuzzle, fuzzy-wuzzy wuzza bear, buzzer, defuzzer. So if a shopping mall offers "Kiddee Kruzzers" for the kids to ride, how WOULD you pronounce that?

Someone I was with—perhaps My Sister(tm)(*)— suggested that they meant it to be pronounced as that. My belief is that some nonnative-English speaker came up with the phrase and the executives in charge laughed so hard about Kiddie Kruzzers (not Kroozers, mind you) that their resistance to common sense was overruled. Or perhaps they're meant to be Kruzzers, not Kroozers. After all, they spelled it to be Kruzzers, not Kroozers, and one has to give some credit for intelligence to someone who had the creativity to come up with little red car-shaped doohickeys for kids to be pushed around in in shopping malls. Right.

I always fantasize about going down to the mall office and asking what a Kruzzer is, and arguing ingenuously that I don't want a Kroozer, I want a Kruzzer and can they explain what one is.

But I probably never will.

* (My Sister (tm)--this phrase gives me a lot of leeway in blaming things on someone other than myself, but no one can become particularly steamed because it can apply to so many people, so I can argue ingenuously that I wasn't referring to her but rather some other sister.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Said Word Order Is Important Who?

I left myself a note about the Wikipedia article on Doberman Pinschers ("Dobermann" is the title). The note said:
Dobermann needs editing badly.

The problem, of course, is that it has already been edited badly. What it badly needs is editing.

Who invented this language anyway?

The moral of the story is that your adverb should always be placed so as to modify the verb that you intended to modify. Elsewise modifications happen at random, and good not random placement word is.


I learned about this while skimming the questions at the Wikipedia Language Reference Desk:

You've heard of active voice (I hit the ball), you've heard of passive voice (the ball is hit by me); now, how about passive-aggressive voice (your butt will be kicked by me)? Just a thought--