frabjous!

You look simply frabjous today, darling!

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Uh-oh.

Now I’ve done it.

I’ve put you in one of those awkward positions,

like when someone has a scrap of spinach in her teeth,

and you can’t quite decide if it’s your place to point it out.

Don’t worry, I know what you want to say, and I can take it.

You think I misspelled “fabulous,”

made a mess of it,

a mockery

(all modesty aside).

Alas, my dear, I haven’t sworn off spellcheck.

In fact, I didn’t actually misspell the word “frabjous.”

Well, not exactly.

According to Dictionary.com (which cites Lewis Carroll’s kooky 1871 classic, Through the Looking-Glass),

frabjous \FRAB-juhs\

is an informal adjective meaning wonderful, elegant, superb.

See?

Frabjous is a perfect fit for you!

Pretty girl posed with camera, circa 1909, Library of Congress.

three Ys?

Here’s a brain teaser for you …

What’s the only word in the English language containing three Ys?

Yeppers, I said three … count ’em, THREE.

Even if you’re an ace Scrabble player, you probably haven’t come across this word … because Scrabble only has 2 Ys to work with. And a good thing that is, because this word also contains a Z.

Well, the word with 3 Ys also describes a rare astronomical event involving three heavenly bodies …

Syzygy [siz-i-jee]: the alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line, the Sun, the Earth, and either the Moon or a planet.

Three Planets Dance Over La Silla.
Photo by Beletsky via Wikimedia Commons.

Lunar and solar eclipses are both examples of syzygy, when the Earth, Sun, and Moon fall in a straight line. Check out this video from One Minute Astronomer showing a dramatic example of syzygy when the Moon passes between the Earth and Sun in a total solar eclipse.

 

Cut the mustard?

The other day, I was talking to my granddaughter, Stella, and I said something about “cutting the mustard.”

She stopped me mid-sentence.

“What does that mean, Nanny? Cutting the mustard?”

(Picture me scratching my head.)

Cut the mustard?

What a funny saying.

This mustard?

Photo by Petr Pakandl via Wikimedia Commons

That mustard?

Creole mustard, photo by Mwaters1120 via Wikipedia

Hmmm …

I told Stella that the saying means, basically, “to be good enough, to do the job well.”

But I also told her I’d investigate the origins of “cutting the mustard,” be it wild-growing or a zesty spread.

What I found was a series of suppositions:

1. Both mustard plants and their seeds are tough to cut, making success a high bar.

“When mustard was one of the main crops in East Anglia, it was cut by hand with scythes, in the same way as corn,” explains Phil Pegum in The Guardian. “The crop could grow up to six feet high, and this was very arduous work, requiring extremely sharp tools. When blunt, they would not cut the mustard.”

2. Culinary mustard is often cut (diluted) with vinegar to make it more palatable, which, one might presume, indicates a job well done.

3. “Another supposed explanation,” proposes Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder, “is that the phrase is simply a mistaken version of the military expression ‘cut the muster’. This appears believable at first sight. A little research shows it not to be so. Muster is the calling together of soldiers, sailors, prisoners, to parade for inspection or exercise. To cut muster would be a breach of discipline; hardly a phrase that would have been adopted with the meaning of success or excellence.” Well, now we can check that one off the list.

“Whatever the coinage, the phrase itself emerged in the United States towards the end of the 19th century,” Martin continues. “The earliest example in print that I’ve found is from the Kansas newspaper The Ottawa Herald, August, 1889.”

The quote read:

He tried to run the post office business under Cleveland’s administration, but couldn’t “cut the mustard”.

Martin surmises that the use of quotation marks in the clip implies that the saying was familiar to readers and already used in common speech.

While my findings may not exactly cut the mustard, I hope they at least pass muster.

Stella will be the judge.

What’s that, you say?

Words go in and out of the lexicon (the vocabulary of a particular language) frequently. Our grandmothers might never have heard of some of the newest additions, but our granddaughters probably have: adorbs, binge-watch, and YOLO (all words that have recently been added to the Oxford English Dictionary). And conversely, words our grandmothers used may not mean much to our granddaughters … or be downright confusing.

What if Grandma, with a distinct twinkle in her eye, spouted this superannuated jeremiad?

(See glossary at end of post.)

After that pinguid kickshaw, at our last dinner party, I heard the most gawd-awful, borborygmic noises coming from my vicinity. I quickly excused myself from the anile, agelast termagants sitting round the table, talking widdershins around the table until the room was filled with walla-walla (and I’m not talkin’ onions). Off to the frowzy biffy I shuffled, with a real case of the fantods, only to find the thing all puckeroo—no bumf, just latrinalia, a brummagem place if I ever saw one. By this time, I was nearly corybantic with a distinct dipsomania. After a quick trip to the neighbors’ jakes, I reluctantly hirpled back to the dinner table flummery, monopolized now by one particularly rebarbative popinjay.

Raffaello Sorbi – Il pranzo dei cacciatori (detail), 1921, via Wikimedia Commons

———————————-

superannuated: antiquated or obsolete

jeremiad: a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint

pinguid: fat; also, greasy

kickshaw: a culinary delicacy

borborygmic: pertaining to the rumbling of one’s stomach or intestines

anile: like a doddering, foolish old woman

agelast: one who never laughs

termagant: a shrewish, bullying woman

widdershins: counterclockwise; also, in a contrary direction

walla-walla: the unintelligible sound made by many people talking at once

frowzy: ill-smelling, musty; also, slovenly, unkempt

biffy: a toilet or outhouse

fantods: a state of nervous irritability; the fidgets; the willies

puckeroo: useless, broken

bumf: toilet paper; also, worthless paperwork, literature, or junk mail

latrinalia: graffiti found in restrooms

brummagem: cheap and showy but inferior and worthless

corybantic: frenzied or agitated

dipsomania: uncontrollable craving for alcohol

jakes: an outdoor toilet

hirple: to hobble or walk lamely

flummery: meaningless chatter

rebarbative: causing aversion or irritation

popinjay: a talkative and conceited person

too many letters?

Here’s a little teaser for you …

What’s the only word in the English language to sound exactly the same when you remove four of its five letters?

Here are some visual hints …

National Woman’s Party members with banners during the dedication ceremonies for the Alva E. Belmont House, 1922 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Lined up in Latvia. Photo by russavia via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of tourists in Jerusalem by Dan Lundberg via Wikimedia Commons.

What do these people all have in common?

They’re waiting …

in a line …

or a …

queue (a line of people waiting). Pronunciation: Q!