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April 13, 2021


In the other thread, the word overwrought came up that I will talk about here to provide some space.

I think it is pretty interesting because wrought means manufactured or worked (as in worked metal), so the idea behind it seems to be that the comment is 'too' manufactured, and the person is not being honest about what they are saying. I'm sure that this original meaning is pretty much buried (like awful representing something so bad that you are put into 'reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder'.

For some reason, and despite the urban dictionary sound of the first syllable, years ago, I thought the word "pusillanimous" meant bullying or threatening, rather than its accurate meaning of weak and cowardly.

Probably from nearing Daffy Duck defiantly sputtering the word at the shotgun-wielding Elmer Fudd, though did he really use THAT word, but if he didn't, he should have, because it is a great word for sputtering at someone and handing out towels.

The word knackered, as in "knacker man", reminds me of the last resort fella in "All Creatures Great and Small", who would show up every time a farmer's prize bull or sow went down, blood-stained truck at the ready to haul away the carcass for rendering, and before the local quacks (not really) Herriot and the brothers Farnon could administer the latest elite science.

The guy's diagnosis for every malady in livestock was "stagnation at lungs", which come to think of it, might have been a helpful replacement term for Covid-19 to get through the thick skulls of genocidal pandemic spreaders among the deplorables now among the elite in the conservative movement.

First, I’d like to remark on how good the writing is in the Guardian piece. It’s an article about people whose job is to dispose of dead, damaged, or surplus livestock, and the quality of the writing is outstanding - observant, engaging, humorous without being clownish. Just really good work.

My wife and I watch TV in the evening for an hour or so. We mostly watch Masterpiece Theater stuff on Amazon Prime, because we are coastal liberal elitists and that is how folks like us do. One thing I take away from all of that is an impression that the police force in the UK - all of it - suffers from a profound case of endemic existential angst.

The other thing I take away from it is a collection of UK lingo, most of it probably dated. Mostly profanity, which I use instead of the US equivalents, in the vain hope that doing so somehow gets me some kind of exemption from bad word hell.

Yes, he said a bad word, but it was the swanky Masterpiece Theater kind of bad word, so no harm no foul.

I suspect folks who actually live in the UK see American watchers of PBS programming coming from a mile off.

"refuted" being used when "disputed" is correct irks me lots.

Seems to be less of it since Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods has faded from the scene.

was watching Schitt's Creek last night and Myra used the word "ebrious", which i'd never heard before. but from context the meaning was obvious: it's the adjective form of the root of "inebriation".

I came across a line where someone was accused of engaging in "camouflage, persiflage, and just plain flage."

I'm not sure flage is actually a word in English. But perhaps it should be.

When I worked in the nuclear industry, there was a material in the data base with the word "adsorption" (defined as the process by which a solid holds molecules of a gas or liquid or solute as a thin film in it) in its description. Non-technical people who had editing access would repeatedly "correct" it to read as the more familiar word "absorption." Then one of the engineers would truly correct it by changing it back to adsorption. Round and round they would go.

I have a particular fondness for words still in use which started out as antonyms for words which aren't: disgruntled, hapless, feckless, etc.

I play with them sometimes. "[Person A] is utterly without hap, and totally devoid of feck," for instance.

And "non-gruntled," for someone who isn't quite disgruntled, but certainly not gruntled, either!

I like plesiochronous. No story there. I just like it.


"refuted" being used when "disputed" is correct irks me lots.

Huh, me too, as I demonstrated ad nauseam in my fights with bc during the Kavanaugh hearings.

On "overwrought", it is possible that it was originally used here to mean "overly worked/worked out/speculated about". But it is usually used these days to mean "too emotional", or even "hysterical", expressions which are often used to denigrate women and their contributions to debate. (In fact, the first meaning and example given in the Google dictionary is: in a state of nervous excitement or anxiety - "she was too overwrought to listen to reason".)

So, a loaded term to people who hear it, these days.

I love "widdershins" too, and in fact I have used it when cooking (stirring), although (without checking) I have always assumed it is mainly used when dealing with witchy activities!

Nibling (learned this one here at ObWi)

Purslane (knew the Greek word for it, had to look up the English one)

Budgerigar (remarkably, the only one of the three that auto-correct didn't flag)


The first time I encountered that was in a story where one character complained about another person using it to secribe the phase of the moon.
Pratchett was a nice source for uncommon words (and gave us the wisdom that kids should learn early the meaning of 'disembowel').

puffling (a baby puffin)

‘Hemiola’, which sounds like a blood disorder, but is a rhythmic figure

Off topic, but Russell, yes, the writing in that article was amazing. The Guardian is a paper of the left, and sometimes falls into that 'overwrought' writing of that side of the aisle and gets itself tangled up (a trait that is part of its history, read the wikipedia page about the Manchester Guardian's position on slavery and towards Abraham Lincoln) but there have been several long reads that have shown a sensitivity and a really deft touch.

lackadaisical and onomatopoetic are favourites of mine

I also like Yiddish words:


Yiddish is marvellous.

I am halfway through the Grauniad piece, and came to this:

the number of people who tend it has not so much decreased as plummeted.

which irresistibly brought to mind the wonderful Monty Python sketch about the flying sheep, and "that most dangerous of all animals, a clever sheep". This is the script:


and you will notice the suggestive phrase Now witness their attempts to fly from tree to tree. Notice that they do not so much fly as... plummet.

I do not believe that Bella Bathurst used that particular construction by accident, particularly since she was writing on the subject of sheep...

omg, great catch. When I need a laugh, I often turn to this

and if that doesn't do it, this

Can't have "widdershins" without "deosil".

Terms for direction of rotation, before clocks were around. Widdershins = counter-clockwise.

If digital clocks take over the world, and the younglings don't learn to read analog clocks, might have to bring back the old terms.

Favorite word of the day: shenanigans.
Also a good cat name.

Word annoyance: "swing a *dead* cat at.."
(remove the 'dead'; it's a "cat o'nine tails", i.e., a lash, not a feline)


but is a rhythmic figure

also 'paradiddle'

I can't read that word without performing it for at least 10 seconds on whatever surface is available.

Over the last 10-15 years, I have noticed that the 20-somethings one encounters at front desks and such all use the same word when you have whatever piece of information that they need. Ten years ago, when they asked "Do you have your driver's license?" and you did, they responded with "Excellent!" Right now, they all say "Perfect!" Every single one of them, all with exactly the same inflection.

I hardly ever travel any more, so haven't had a chance to check if this is merely a Front Rance Colorado thing, or if it's more wide spread.

'crepuscular' and 'vespertine'

mean not quite exactly but sort of in the neighborhood of the same thing.

one sounds kind of creepy.
one sounds like silk being drawn across your ears.

the kids around my way greet every positive event with an emphatic 'Awesome!'.


I used to have a bumper sticker that said this:


it was a great way to discover which of my fellow drivers was a drummer.

It's everywhere, not just the Front Range.

If I choose tap water over designer water in a restaurant, I get either a "Perfect!", or worse, an "Awesome!", like I had just painted a Botticelli or nailed a hole-in-one on the #12 Golden Bell at Augusta without moistening the cuffs on my pants.

I'm a little afraid to order the designer water for fear that the front of the restaurant will open up and the Grambling College marching band will pass by with a funky fanfare, and 21-gun salutes and a Blue Angel Angel flyover will ensue in my honor, followed by Paul McCartney emerging from the kitchen to hand me a Nobel Prize, the keys to the city, his Hofner Bass, and a new washer and dryer, and Lady Gaga will be lowered from the ceiling, take my hand, and kiss me full on the lips as we leap on to the table and do a tango.

Can we go back to an indifferent "You want water with that, honey?" and a shrug from Marge at Denny's.

At least for the water.

Talk about overwrought.

What amused me, back in the day, was discovering how they defined widdershins and deosil without reference to a clock. Turns out deosil is the direction you walk while circling a post (or tree or whatever) holding on to it with your right hand. And widdershins, obviously, when you hold it with your left hand.

I expect that "clockwise" will remain in the language. But we may need to go back to the old definitions.

I make my kids write "clockwise" in cursive after I kick them off the lawn.

wj: but that's the OPPOSITE of the "right hand rule", isn't it? (had to check with hand to be sure).

As for water in restaurants, a (French) friend of mine preferred to order his from "Chateaux la Pompe"

"Paradiddle" -- and the non-musician (hey, some of us here are) learns a totally new word.

Snarki, yup. Also nope.

If you just hold out your hand and look down at it, right hand rule is the opposite. But if you turn your hand towards the wall, right hand rule turns the screw clockwise.

I learned the word 'widdershins' forty something years ago from the children's book Widdershins Crescent by John Rowe Townsend. (Townsend was married to Jill Paton Walsh, previously mentioned on these pages in connection with her Wimsey books.)

If I've not confused it with another book, it's instructive on the ways in which employment is not a contract entered into between equal parties.

Incidentally, on this side of the Atlantic the opposite of widdershins is "deasil".

I love it when you go to your local council office to renew your parking permit or something and a chipper middle-aged lady calls you "daaaling".

And, of course, taradiddle.

(Which autocorrect wants to render as paradiddle...)

I fully expected taradiddle to be another drumming pattern, perhaps with 3 hits instead of two. Nope!

Now I really want to go to Thullen’s restaurant and order the designer water.

I want to know where I go to get a degree in designing water. And is it in the Art Department or in Civil Engineering?

tell me, amez, what can you do for me if i already have a computer science degree?

Designing water is a Cosmology thing. Everything else is just proof of concept.

tell me, amez, what can you do for me if i already have a computer science degree?

Tell me, amez, what you can do for me if I already have a computer technology (whether science or engineering) career?

recent reports say that you *can* tell the difference between normal (light, H2O) water and heavy water (D2O).

Heavy water tastes "sweeter".

Yes, it could be part of your super-expensive designer water; LD50 is really large.

No word yet whether tritiated water (T2O) tastes "super-sweet".


... my work here is done.

previous comment really needs a
"tastes great! / less filling!" addendum, also, too.

Somehow it seems like T2O would be more filling. More mass, you know.

one sounds like silk being drawn across your ears.

also: 'flense'

it should be a soft fabric used to make luxurious blankets (like cashmere, but lighter), and not the act of removing blubber from a whale carcass.

Haruspex. Oneiromancer. Liminal. Coprophagic rictus.

'colonoscopy prep'

Are you spying on me, cleek? I just had that experience last week.

Plebiscite. Sempiternal. Adumbrate. Imbricated.

An ice cube made from heavy water sinks in normal water, so there is a difference observable to laypeople.
Just a bit expensive for a school experiment.



Someone is offering 1kg of D2O for $500 on ebay, which is about 1/4 the price from chemical suppliers.

If you only need a 1cc cube for your demonstration, that would be $0.50 (ebay) to $2. Quite reasonable, I think.

I just had that experience last week.

i just received the instructions in the mail.

Not something I would trust ebay with. Buyer beware.

Via LGM, an example of underwrought FOX News conservative/confederate news coverage .... in 1865, much like their coverage of the attempted overthrow and murder of our government on January 6, 2021.


I always thought "But how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" was an exaggeration, but the stupid has exceptionally deep roots in cold-blooded America.

As lj remarks, wrought metals have been worked. Many metals get harder when worked - something to do with dislocations in the lattice. But if you work the metal too much, it becomes brittle (copper does this, so does cold-worked iron).

So I've supposed "overwrought" to mean agitated to the point of fragility. Which might be fanciful.

i always thought the same, PB. overwrought = overworked to the point of probable failure.

definitions say it's more like "too fancy".

but i don't buy that.

Nominally a stock market in a non-English speaking country (e.g. France, the type case). But increasingly applied to stock markets generally.

Pro Bono's 10.28 might be how the word eventually arrived at its now most common meaning, and his suggestion seems reasonable to me. But since it is hardly an unusual word, and in my experience always used to denote over-emotional, irrational reaction, the alternative meaning of over-elaborate, ornate or complicated seems absolutely inapplicable to any of the occasions on which it has been used on this blog.

However, that's enough from me on "overwrought". I look forward to more interesting, unusual words. In Yiddish, one of my favourites is "tsumisht", which I believe denotes the condition of being confused, all-mixed-up. It's so perfect, and so useful.


A very French-cuisiney name for gravy & chips.

Overwrought is used in two different and distinct senses, depending on the sense of the prefix.

Overwrought 1 takes the over- as excess and refer to people and things that are exhausted or worked to excess (like overworking a dough).

Overwrought 2 takes the over- as position as in a brooch overwrought with filagree, which then figuratively becomes something overelaborated or florid.

Thinking of the metallurgical side reminded me of one of my favorite words from metalworking: "fulgent."

GftNC, I think my favorite Yiddish word (possibly after meshuggah) is mitzvah. Definitely something we need more of.


A very French-cuisiney name for gravy & chips.


A very British word for French fries.

And don't forget the cheese.


Quibbling further: poutine is a specialty of Quebec, not of France, and more like peasant food than anything I would associate with French cuisine. Wikipedia says the origin of the word might be from the English word "pudding," or maybe it's from some French regional dialect, or it might mean just "mess."

More seriously, I'm bemused that nigel thinks "poutine" sounds French-cuisiney. To me it sounds more like a cuss word, or a vague insult, one of those words my aunt would have washed my cousins' mouths out with soap for saying. I think of French cuisine as very high-class, and poutine as ... not.

OK, so I have to come back to it.

nous, why are neither of your two meanings the primary one, given first in pretty much every dictionary I have looked at, and the one used in every case of literature in which I have encountered it, over many decades? I know you have access to the OED (lucky you), which presumably lists every possible contrary usage, but still, how come?

Dictionaries are marketed to particular discourse communities and the definitions are tailored to the needs and whims of their readers. Most of those readers are looking only for a satisficing sense of correct meaning and usage. A collegiate dictionary may aim for a bit more nuance, but still cares more about accessibility and ease-of-use than anything else. Very few discourse communities care deeply enough about language and its evolution over time to want to trace how a word got its meaning(s) and which meanings are closest to the historical roots.

So were you giving your two meanings to deal mainly with the evolution of the meaning of the word, as opposed to its current meanings?

The OED is good for people who read works from all across the history of printed English. The average reader may have read a bit of Austen and Shakespeare (and the edition they read may have footnotes for old usages) but rarely read anything else from before the 20th C., so their dictionaries can be wan, pallid texts with no roots.

To me it sounds more like a cuss word, or a vague insult, one of those words my aunt would have washed my cousins' mouths out with soap for saying.

reminds me of this passage in Andrew Sean Greer's "Less". [our hero, Arthur Less is in Mexico City and doesn't speak the language]:

One by one, they taste the relishes, increasing in heat, to see who fails first. Less feels his face flush with each bite, but by the third round he has already outlasted the Head. When given a taste of a five-chili relish, he announces to the group:

“This tastes just like my grandmother’s chow-chow.”

They all look at him in shock.

The Chilean: “What did you say?”

“Chow-chow. Ask Professor Van Dervander. It is a relish in the American South.” But the Head says nothing.

“It tastes like my grandmother’s chow-chow.”

Slowly, the Chilean begins to guffaw, hand over his mouth. The others seem to be holding something in.

Less shrugs, looking from face to face. “Of course, her chow-chow wasn’t so spicy.”

At that, the dam breaks; all the young men burst into howls of laughter, hooting and weeping beside the chili bins. The vendor looks on with raised eyebrows. And even when it begins to subside, the men keep stoking their laughter, asking Less how often he tastes his grandmother’s chow-chow. And does it taste different at Christmas? And so on. It does not take long for Less to understand, sharing a pitying glance with the Head, feeling the burn of the relish beginning anew in the back of his mouth, that there must be a false cognate in Spanish, yet another false friend…

'Chocho' is exactly what you think it is, in Spanish slang.

I think that most people who use "overwrought" in conversation have not really thought about that difference and are using it in the general sense (which seems a bit of a fuzzy hypostasis of the two). It's just the word that fits the idiomatic sense of things they are trying to capture - something too much for what it should be.

Bateson said that information is - "a difference that makes a difference." Most people's taxonomies of difference are not so elaborated that they even know to find a better word or a clearer sense of the word. That's why I always tell students that writing is more than just recording thoughts and information. The process of revising is the process of critical thinking. You can get away with fuzzy thought when it's just an idea, but putting it down in a physical trace that becomes a public object really puts pressure on the writer to sharpen that focus.

Over here chow-chow would be understood to refer to a certain breed of dog, so until the end of that anecdote I assumed they thought he ate his granny's pet.

Nominally a stock market in a non-English speaking country (e.g. France, the type case).

There's a bourse in Philadelphia dating back to the late 19th century.


They sort of speak English in Philadelphia.

They sort of speak English in Philadelphia.

Well, more like English than what they speak in NYC anyway.

Or Boston.


I see the Chicago pigs have executed another unarmed 13 year old boy. Fuckers.

Recommend all here read Charles Blow's latest in the NYT.

Recommend all here read Charles Blow's latest in the NYT.

Seems a bit overwrought to me. /s

So, I realise I have allowed myself to become sidetracked about the meanings of the word "overwrought", and its origins - sidetracked by myself, to be clear, since as I have often demonstrated on ObWi I am particularly interested in language, and its origins. This word only came up, an an aside, on the other thread when I was talking about McKinney's more recent approach to comments. In any case, I am totally prepared to let it go; in the grand scheme of things it is not particularly important - merely an indication of an attitude, if the primary meaning of the word on several online dictionaries is accepted. And if it is not, so be it. We all, as the English idiom has it, have bigger fish to fry.

Cross-posted with Janie. Just read Charles Blow: yup.

I incline to take "wrought" to mean "worked" which is how it is used (interchangeably, in fact, if memory serves) in metal working. So "overwrought" would mean "overly worked up" about something. And it is difficult to see how that would be possible when something like Charles blow happens. Anyone who isn't worked up over it has some serious issues in their moral sensibility.

So "overwrought" would mean "overly worked up" about something.

Which is probably why the overtones of 'hysterical' come thru.

There's a thought that often comes up on my FB feed, which is something to the effect that if someone is emotionally invested in a topic and you demand that the person provide evidence before you accept that, there is a problem there. Unfortunately, there can be 2 reactions, one would be to be more circumspect with your questions and the other would be to wonder why the other person doesn't just toughen up.

This seems to be related to that idea of overwrought. But I agree with wj that anyone who seriously thinks that the Charles Blow piece is 'overwrought' needs to readjust their moral compass.

In the context of medieval universities b(o)urses were shared living arrangements of students who'd pool their resources to pay for rent and food. It later turned into 'Bursche' for 'student'* and a Burschenschaft is a student fraternity (these days with a strong vibe of RW elitism).

*today Bursche just means young adult male unless explicitly in the context of a Burschenschaft. The diminutive Bürschchen means stripling with strong vibes of brat (i.e. peiorative).

Sometimes, the interesting word is an interesting picture instead. And this
is just way cool.

And, from lj's latest comment on The Urge to Make a Buck:

I don't know if it holds up, but popular belief has it that the derivation of "berk" is cockney rhyming slang via "Berkshire hunt.


'Bursche' for 'student'

Bursary, the word in English for a study grant, seems to derive from the same root.

"berk" is cockney rhyming slang via "Berkshire hunt"

I thought it was Berkeley hunt, not Berkshire, but if someone British says the former, then it is so.

Berke Breathed, the cartoonist of "Bloom County," apparently got howls of laughter over his name in the UK.

I thought "Berkeley". The hunt's hounds are kennelled at Berkeley Castle, where Edward II was foully murdered.

US readers may not know that both Berkeley and Berkshire are pronounced "Bark...". cf "clerk", "Derby". But "berk" is pronounced as it's written.

"Belvoir", home of another hunt, is pronounced "beaver"...

You might be right, Pro Bono, and the kennelling of the hounds detail sounds rather persuasive. I'd just never heard that version.


"Bark...". cf "clerk"

Perhaps not as clear as you hoped, Pro Bono. In the US, I believe clerk is pronounced to rhyme with berk.

In the US, I believe clerk is pronounced to rhyme with berk.

It is. But we're at least aware that the English do it differently. Among other reasons, Gilbert and Sullivan. "When I was a lad, I served a term...."

And now, having been introduced to the word...

Ladies, gentlemen, and NGC individuals, I give you the aptly named Phil Berk.


nous, it looks like Truth in Labeling . . . .

Just learned today (from an obit in the NYT):


I remember encountering that somewhere before, long ago. But can't remember where. 1950s science fiction, most likely.

"Did you mean: ecclesiastical"

oh, Google...

it's an HL Mencken original! heh.

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