New Word Wednesday: internecine

Happy Wednesday! Hope everyone’s staying warm. Winter has officially arrived in my part of the world, and with it endless layers of clothing and (equally endless) complaining that, once again, the sun has gone away. Let’s stay warm learning new words!



internecine adjective

  • destructive to both sides in a conflict

  • relating to conflict within a group

Example: “But if you believe that the real fight for power today is an internecine one taking place within the Labour Party rather than between political parties, it seems more than feasible.”

Origin: mid 17th century (in the sense “deadly, characterized by great slaughter”), from Latin internecinus, based on inter- ‘among’ + necare ‘to kill’.


Nuclear warfare is the first internecine act that comes to mind to me: you can’t get much more destructive than mutually assured destruction…

Let’s hope no one finds any other examples for this word, eh?







New Word Wednesday: mordant

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week:

mordant adjective

  • (especially of humor) having or showing a sharp or critical quality; biting

Example: “He has a mordant sense of humor”


mordant noun

  • a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye or stain and thereby fixes it in a material

  • an adhesive compound for fixing gold leaf

  • a corrosive liquid used to etch the lines on a printing plate

Wool is usually pretreated with a metal compound called a mordant, to get the color to stick well on the fiber. Common mordants are compounds of aluminum, iron, copper, tin, and chromium.


mordant verb

  • impregnate (or treat) a fabric with a mordant


Origin: late 15th century, from French mordre “to bite,” from Latin mordere


Well there you have it: humor, with an extra serving of fiber arts! Enjoy your new word (really, it’s three words in one!), and if you have any suggestions feel free to send them my way.





New Word Wednesday: Katzensprung

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week:


Katzensprung noun

  • a stone’s throw; literally, a “cat’s jump”

Example: “Es ist nur einen Katzensprung entfernt,” “It is only a stone’s throw from here”


Literal idioms are my favorite. Ignoring the fact that sometimes cats can jump an absurd distance (not to mention that it’s possible to throw a stone quite a long way!), both the English and German versions of this idiom make sense when translated literally. The interesting part comes from seeing how different cultures interpret the same idea into their own words.

Prepare to see more idioms in the future! I may have found a couple lists… 😉






New Word Wednesday: dreich


Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week, courtesy of the oncoming fall weather:


dreich adjective

  • (especially of weather) dreary, bleak

“a cold, dreich November”

Origin: Middle English (in the sense “patient, long-suffering”); of Germanic origin, corresponding to Old Norse drjúgr “enduring, lasting”


The origin of the word makes it much more interesting than the definition, I think! It really evokes the nature of this sort of weather, especially in the Midwest (or Germany, from the sound of it), and the stubbornness and patience involved in surviving it. Something to keep in mind as winter approaches!






New Word Wednesday: German “Zeug” Words

This should probably just be my motto for Wednesday’s post… Source:

One really fun thing about German is the way new words can be created by compounding them with other words. So for this lovely Wednesday, you get three new words, all with the same root!


Werkzeug noun, German

  • tool

Literally, “Werk” (work) + “Zeug” (stuff) = work-stuff


Spielzeug noun, German

  • toy

Literally, “Spiel” (play) + “Zeug” (stuff) = play-stuff


Fahrzeug noun, German

  • vehicle

Literally, “Fahr” (travel) + “Zeug” (stuff) = travel-stuff


Zeug is an amazingly useful word: it can be used to make words like “Rasierzeug” (shaving kit), “Schreibzeug” (writing materials), “Schulzeug” (school stuff)…it’s one of those patterns that is easy to remember after the fact, though it may not be intuitive beforehand. German is full of these, and it’s an endless source of amusement.


Enjoy your new words!



New Word Wednesday: Zymurgy

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your word of the day:

zymurgy noun

  • the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking, or distilling

Origin: mid 19th century, from Greek zumē “leaven,” on the pattern of metallurgy

While beer isn’t my choice for alcohol, I’ll happily partake of the other results of zymurgy. My family has a history of practicing this art: as kids, my brother and I were paid $0.01 per dandelion head to pick dandelions for my mom to make wine. One summer we each earned around $15! It takes a lot of dandelions to make wine…luckily they were readily available on our property.

Enjoy your new word!





New Word Wednesday: Zeugma

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week (thanks to Kelly for showing me this one!). Once again, it’s about words:


Zeugma noun

  • a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g. John and his license expired last week), or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g. with weeping eyes and hearts).

Compare to syllepsis, which as basically the same definition, because English is confusing.

Origin: late Middle English, from ancient Greek ζεῦγμα, zeûgma, “a yoking together”


The Wikipedia article talks about the many conflicting definitions for zeugma and syllepsis, and it seems no one has actually cleared up which word applies to which usage. Some flavors of wordplay:

  • Using a single word in relation to two other parts of a sentence, even though the word only grammatically or logically applies to one. For example, “They saw lots of thunder and lightning” (since one can’t actually see thunder), or “He works his work, I mine” (since “I works mine” is ungrammatical).
  • Using a single word with two other parts of a sentence such that it must be understood differently in relation to each. For example, “give neither counsel nor salt til you are asked for it”, or “You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.”
  • Broader definitions can include any case where a single word governs two or more other parts of a sentence, such as in “Lust conquered shame; audacity, fear; madness, reason.” Spelled out in full, the sentence would read “Lust conquered shame; audacity conquered fear; madness conquered reason.”


There are other fun versions, with names like diazeugma, hypozeugma, prozeugma, mesozeugma…there are plenty of ways to categorize wordplay.

So! Got any fun zeugmas (zeugmae, perhaps?) to share?





Language Learning Tools

A small selection of all the languages I’d like to learn… Source:


One of my goals (ignoring the obvious impracticality of doing so) is to learn ALL THE LANGUAGES. Right now I’m learning German and improving my Spanish. Also on my list is Thai, Russian, Portuguese, Swahili, Mandarin, Hindi, Scottish Gaelic, Arabic…the list goes on. If I want to learn all these, I’ll need to be very motivated and find the best tools that fit my learning style.

Two of those tools are Duolingo and Memrise. They’re great (free!) language learning sites that I’ve been using for the last year and a half to bring my Spanish skills from rudimentary to full fluency, and to begin learning German.


Duolingo has many languages available, and more in development: currently they have Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, and are developing Dutch, Irish, Danish, Hungarian, Swedish, Turkish, Russian, Polish, and Romanian. As you make your way through a course, you learn individual lessons which introduce a number of new words. You get three “hearts” to spend on wrong answers in a lesson: if you run out of hearts, you have to start the lesson over. Sometimes it can be tedious – like when you’re on the last question and you lose your last heart – but it does drive home the lesson. People learn better when they fail, and even if it’s frustrating, it helps the words stick.

The course works well on its own, but it’s when I noticed it also tracked how many days in a row I’d practiced that I really started to commit. I wanted to see how long I could keep a streak going (59 days so far!), and that made it much harder to let excuses get in the way of practicing the language. Even if I only made a little progress each day, it was still progress, and better than nothing.

Recently I’ve been getting the people around me into the site too. You earn points by completing lessons, and this has spawned a small race each week to see who can get the most points. Yes, in the end they’re meaningless numbers, but if it works to inspire you to learn, that’s a good reason to me.


Memrise is a site I discovered a little later in my language learning process, when I decided I wanted to start really expanding my Spanish vocabulary. The idea of the site is to use spaced-repetition (reintroducing a new concept frequently at first, then at longer intervals as it becomes fixed in long-term memory) to help you learn. The courses are user-created and span a huge variety of topics: tons of languages (including less common ones like Cherokee, Slovak, and Klingon), standardized tests, astronomy, psychology, history…obviously, quality isn’t as consistent so you have to do a bit more work to find a good course, but there are lots to choose from. I’ve been learning the military spelling alphabet and Morse code in my spare time…


What are your favorite language learning tools? And what languages do you want to learn when using them?


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New Word Wednesday: swain

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week:


swain noun

  • a young (male) lover or suitor

Example: “a young lady and her swain”

Origin: late old English (denoting a young man attendant on a knight), from old Norse sveinn, “lad”


I enjoy finding archaic words like this – they’re great for Scrabble. Now if only there were more things to do with the letter Q…


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New Word Wednesday: zoon

Happy Wednesday, and here is your word for the day, courtesy of an online Scrabble dictionary:


zoon noun

  • an animal developed from a fertilized egg
one of the distinct individuals that join to form a compound of colonial animal; a zooid (such as coral)

From Greek ζώον (zòon) meaning animal or living being; plural ζώα (zòa) 




zoon intransitive verb
to fly with a humming or buzzing sound

Used mainly in the Southern U.S.

Example: “That mosquito zooned around my head all night; I didn’t sleep a bit!”


So, two forms of a word, with two different pronunciations, and very different origins. Definitions for this word were somewhat sparse online (not even in the OED!), but it still counts for Scrabble, and everyone knows that’s the important part. Go impress people with your obscure word knowledge!


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