Archives     Dictionary    HOME

January 2004 Archives:

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work We Go: moirologist; tachygrapher; accoucheuse/accoucheur; visagiste

Pronunciations / Mispronunciations:  cacoepy (orthoepy); sigmatism; epenthesis (troilism); hirrient; lambdacism (lallation); mouillé, rhotacism (pararhotacism; paralambdacism)

Words from the Comic Strips: wimpy; worrywart; dagwood; jeep; zilch; goon; yellow journalism


Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work We Go (Week of Jan. 5, 2004)


As the long weekend closes and we return to work, let's look at some names of occupations.

Unusual ones; we are unlikely to have illustrative quotations this week.


moirologist – a hired mourner

You need have no fear that your funeral will be ill-attended.

The root -log- traces back to legein "speak"; hence a "death speaker". The moirologist might sing appropriate funeral songs, called myriologues.


tachygrapher – one who writes shorthand; a stenographer


accoucheuse – midwife

accoucheur – male midwife; obstetrician

At least that's what the dictionaries say. Rather sexist, do you think? Interestingly, although neither word is used frequently, the latter gets far greater use than the former.


Thou eunuch of language; thou pimp of gender, murderous accoucheur of infant learning, thou pickle-herring in the puppet show nonsense.
– Robert Burns, to an anonymous critic.


visagiste – a make-up artist

I wonder if they use this term in Hollywood.


How much time, and how much trouble should a woman take in preparing herself for an evening with her fiancé? We have already addressed this problem several times is our column, but we are prompted to address it again after the publication of this little book, probably the work of a famous international visagiste who has coyly chosen to hide behind the pseudonym of Pauline Réage.
– Umberto Eco, draft of a review of L'Histoire d'O, published in Misreadings (1993)



Pronunciations and Mispronunciations (Week of Jan. 12, 2004)


This week presents words about how we pronounce or mispronounce words. Some are extremely specific, but let's start with a general one.


cacoepy – incorrect pronunciation

The antonym is orthoepy – correct pronunciation of words


sigmatism – defective pronunciation of sibilant sounds. Some sources say the term is synonymous with "lisping", but I would think it is broader, and would include hissing.

A further meaning:

sigmatism – the intentional repetition of words with sibilant speech sounds, as in She sells sea-shells by the sea shore. That is, a particular form of alliteration.


Later follow-up: Perhaps there was a circularity in defining sigmatism as "defective pronunciation of sibilant sounds". It should be added that sibilant means "characterized by a hissing sound". Sibilant sounds include the consonant sounds s, sh, f, z, and both versions of th: as in then, and as in thin.



epenthesis – the addition of extra sounds in the middle of a word, as when nuclear is pronounced "nukular" and when athlete is pronounced "athalete." Words can legitimately change by epenthesis: for example, the d in thunder and the b in nimble are epenthetic.


One might think the word troilism relates to the character in the old story of Troilus and Cressida, a story used by Shakespeare, among others. In fact, however, troilism comes from the French trois = three (in which the final s is not pronounced) – which lacks the l. So how did troilism acquire its l-sound? I suggest the l came in by epenthesis, for without an extra letter a word troi-ism would look awkward and be difficult to pronounce.


Thus, there is a neat symmetry in that there is "an extra element added" both in the word troilism, and in the act that word names.

Bonus word: troilism – a ménage à trois; sexual relationship involving three people


hirrientof a sound: heavily trilling

In phonetics, think of the rolled French r-sound. Apart from phonetics, think of the sound of a cat purring.


lambdacism – a speech disorder involving faulty pronunciation or excessive use of the l-sound.


A reader notes:   see also lallation


mouillé – a consonant sound that is softened and liquid, pronounced as a palatal sound

If I understand it correctly:


Wordcrafter's word of today

Is a sound which we find on display

In million and canyon

And billion and banyan

The "l" and "ny" are mouillé.


rhotacism – mispronunciation or overuse of sound r

compare lambdacism, which is essentially the same as to the l-sound.


This creates a question. A Chinese person will tend to substitute l for r, calling a US native an "Amelican". Is this rhotacism (mispronouncing the r) or lambdacism (excessively using the l)?


The authorities seem to agree that it is lambdacism. Conversely, the Japanese tendency to substitute r for l, calling a Brit an "Engrishman", is rhotacism. Apparently we chose between the two terms based on the sound added, not based on the sound dropped.


If an overuse of r is rhotacism, what is an underuse of r, substituting a different sound (not necessary the l-sound)? It is pararhotacism. Similarly, an overuse of l is lambdacism, and an underuse of l is paralambdacism. (One authority takes contrary view that "paralambdacism" is this overuse of the l-sound, the other authorities disagree.)



¹also, in linguistics, the tendency of the s-sound to change to the r-sound over time



Words from the Comic Strips (Week of Jan. 19, 2004)


Last Saturday was the 75th birthday of Popeye, a gnarly, one-eyed cartoon character who butchered the English language. The Popeye comic strip contributed several words to our language - as best I can tell, more words than any other strip except Li'l Abner. This seems an appropriate week to enjoy words that came from the comics. (I should add that all the etymologies I give are supported, but not all are universally accepted.)


wimpy – weak and ineffectual

After J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye strip by Elzie Segar. You'll see Wimpy on the right below.

Many of Segar's characters were inspired by residents of his home town of Chester, Illinois (which, by the way, is very near C J Strolin). The inspiration for Wimpy was William "Windy Bill" Schuchert, hamburger-loving owner of the local opera house and Segar's first boss.


worrywart or worry wart – one who tends to worry unduly, especially about unimportant things

from The Worry Wart, character in the Out Our Way comic strip by U.S. cartoonist J.R. Williams (1888-1957). Interestingly, it seems the character in the strip was not a worrywart, but rather a lad who gave others ample reason to worry about him.


While anything can be overdone, in general obsessing about details is important. No, you don't want to get a reputation as a prissy worrywart, but worrying about details in private isn't a bad idea at all. Truth is, process beats substance. You may think you're the world's greatest speaker with a message of the utmost urgency, but if the auditorium's air conditioner is on the fritz and the sound system is singing static -- well, forget it.
– Tom Peters, The Pursuit of Wow!


The picture doesn't seem to be showing, so here is the link.


dagwood or dagwood sandwich (also capitalized) – a multilayered sandwich with a variety of fillings

after Dagwood Bumstead, a character who made such sandwiches in the comic strip Blondie by Murat Bernard ("Chic") Young (1901–1973)


The Popeye comic strip featured a bizarre pet named Eugene the Jeep. Eugene, being partly from the fourth dimension, had strange powers: he could go anywhere (by teleporting) and could walk through walls. His sole vocalization was the sound "jeep".


Eugene, who first appeared on March 13th or 20th, 1936 (the sources differ), is pictured elow. You'll also find him in the forefront of the picture that illustrated our word "wimpy".


Five years later the US army introduced a new vehicle, called the GP (for General Purpose) vehicle. Like Eugene the Jeep, the GP could go anywhere, and the initials when stated sound much like Eugene's cry. Quite naturally, the vehicle became known as the jeep.


jeep – a small, durable, general-purpose motor vehicle


zilch – nothing; a quantity so insignificant as to amount to nothing

Origin obscure, but may well be from the comic name Zilch in the 1930's humor magazine Ballyhoo. Quinion discusses the origin well, and this word is prominent in this hilarious Ballyhoo editorial that seem equally applicable today.


goon – a thug hired to intimidate or harm opponents, particulary as a strikebreaker; also, a stupid or oafish person [The former sense may trace to Alice the Goon, slow-witted muscular character (though gentle) in the Popeye comics]


yellow journalism– sensationalistic journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers

[From the use of yellow ink in printing the "Yellow Kid" cartoon strip in the New York World, a newspaper noted for sensationalism. The original related to 1898 agitation for war with Spain]