All posts by Allan Metcalf

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OK, Okay, Happy 178th Birthday!

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.51.37 PMThis Thursday, March 23, 2017, is the 178th birthday of America’s (and the world’s) greatest word.

OK?

Yes, OK is the word. And it was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on Saturday, March 23, 1839.

Actually, OK was so successful from the beginning that its birthday couldn’t be discerned until more than a century later, when the Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read published a series of articles on OK in the journal American Speech. Perusing nearly every page of every newspaper…

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A Dash of Zhouzh

a4395f381cf4a0f070e8acd1cc5ca721I’ve been told that my posts could use a little more zhoozh. If only I knew what it means, and how to spell it! Is it zhush, zhuzh, tjuz, tjuzs, joozh, zoozh, or —? Is that a noun, or maybe a verb? Let’s see. …

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that zhouzh. If Duke Ellington (right) had been a millennial, that’s the word he might have used in place of “swing” — though admittedly there would have been a problem with the rhyme.

The word became prominent a decade ago in the reality TV show Quee…

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Unicorns and Their Opposite

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Katie Workman, an independent retailer, wears unicorn leggings.

As James Thurber once explained in his fable “The Unicorn in the Garden,” the unicorn is a mythical beast. To argue otherwise labels you crazy as a jay bird.

But if you’re really looking for a real unicorn nowadays, you can find it at LuLaRoe. And for that matter, donkeys too. Who knew?

Not I, certainly,

It turns out that LuLaRoe makes, among other things for women, leggings — highly decorative pants that fit like tights. Suitabl…

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Ay Ay Ay

habanro-golden-pepperOne “ay” is a vote, a favorable vote. (It avoids the hissing of Yesssss.)

Two “ays,” “Aye Aye,” is a Yes sir, yes ma’am.

But three “ays” — Ay ay ay!

Here’s the scene. Last week Top Chef whisked its final three candidates to the Yucatan for their Quickfire Challenge. There they learned that their Quickfire dish was to feature the habanero — fruity, citrusy, and spicy, according to the show’s host, Padma Lakshmi. “If you think it’s hot outside,” she said, “this ingredient is going to make you swea…

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Bowery Dance With Boilo?

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Pennsylvania’s boilo

Boy howdy! The Dictionary of American Regional English has done it again — issued its quarterly online update, this one dated Winter 2017. It includes boy howdy as well as bowery, a place where you go for a bowery dance. And you can look it all up for free.

If you’re in the South, the central states, or the Southwest, chances are you’ve heard boy howdy. DARE has examples going back as far as a century ago, with the comment “The exclaim use seems to have arisen, or at least b…

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Happy Valentine’s Day! (With the Intelligent Basketball)

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Anita Reeves as Mrs Malaprop in “The Rivals,” by R.B. Sheridan,
Abbey Theatre, 1998. Photo: Amelia Stein.

So much for that greeting. If you’re happily in love, you need no further meddling from me. If you’re not, the last thing you need is a reminder of the day.

So I have a better idea, thanks to some files I was clearing out the other day. Yes, real cardboard folders with paper inside, the way they used to be before the cloud. And they have nothing to do with V-day.

One of the folders was labele…

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Trumping the Extremists

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Barry Goldwater

O tempora, o mores!

The language of politics used to be so straightforward.

More than 50 years later, I can still hear the echo of Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Goldwater lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson that year, by a considerable margin. You can argue what Goldwater …

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An OK Day in March

imagesOn March 23, 1839, a funny little abbreviation that would greatly affect all our lives was born. Though it was destined for influence and long life, its beginning was anything but auspicious. It appeared Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post in a long humorous story about Boston’s Anti-Bell-Ringing-Society, a group of young men who opposed legislation prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells. (That’s right. Don’t ask.)

In the midst of that complicated, supposedly humorous story, the author and editor…

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Call It Macaroni

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Just in time to palliate the itch to add my learned commentary to Kellyanne Conway’s remarkable coinage of a hot candidate for Word of the Year 2017, “alternative facts,” the snail mail this week brought from the Missouri University of Science & Technology, in Rolla, the latest issue of Gerald Cohen‘s Comments on Etymology. As is frequently the case, Cohen is not only editor but author of the half-dozen articles in the 32 pages of Vol. 46, No. 3-4 for December 2016-17. …

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Hoosiers, Suckers, Badgers, and Wolverines

featureImage_miniDon’t get distracted by the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday. The really big news from Washington came a week or so ago, when the
U.S. Government Publishing Office announced that it has finally adopted Hoosier as the official name for folks from Indiana.

The GPO made the change in its stylebook at the instigation of two U.S. senators from Indiana — Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats, who last summer sent a letter requesting the change. Coats has since been replaced by Todd Young, who likewise a…