If some smart Alec repeatedly drops words into conversations you don’t understand, purely to show off the diameter of their planet-sized brain, you might justifiably suffer a fit of ‘conniptions’.
Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a fit of hysterical excitement or anger’, this informal term is believed to have its origins as a 19th century Americanism – but like rock ‘n’ roll and obesity, it eventually found its way over here.
For anyone mulling its appropriate usage, as our business copywriters regularly do here at Wordsworks, here’s a sample sentence:
“Jenny’s belt-length party dress gave her father conniptions.”
Perhaps we should all try to slip ‘conniption’ more into our everyday vocabulary. After all, if this lovely-sounding word were to disappear altogether, that really would be worth a hysterical fit or two…
What a satisfying, visual word ‘slumgullion’ is, evocative perhaps of the rat-infested bowels of a ship, or an unpleasant condition of the lower intestine.
In fact, the criminally under-used slumgullion means ‘a cheap, watery meat stew’ – or alternatively, ‘the refuse from whale blubber’.
An appropriate double usage (perhaps best delivered when sitting down to your partner’s lovingly-cooked meal tonight) might be: ‘Blimey, this slumgullion tastes like a right steaming pile of old slumgullion’.
Don’t come crying to the crack team of business copywriters at Wordsworks, however, though if it earns you a night on the sofa.
On the upside, you might placate said partner by fascinating them with the origins of the word: ‘slum’, from a muddy deposit in a mining sluice, and ‘gullion’, from the Irish Gaelic ‘goilin’, meaning mud.
If you’ve had the distinction of mixing up ‘dubious’ and ‘doubtful’, you’re not alone…
How often have you overheard someone in the street saying something along the lines of, “I’m a bit dubious about whether my taxi’s turning up or not”?
Chances are, if you’ve had to physically restrain yourself from clobbering the linguistic offender, you’re already attuned to this subtle distinction.
For the avoidance of, erm, ‘doubt’, our chums at the Oxford English Dictionary helpfully suggest thinking about it this way: something that is ‘doubtful’ is ‘in doubt’, whereas something that is ‘dubious’ is a ‘cause of doubt’.
By saying that she is ‘dubious’, our wannabe taxi passenger in the above example is inadvertently implying that she is the cause of her own situation.
If she had instead declared, “I’m a bit doubtful about whether my taxi’s turning up,” or indeed, “I’m a bit dubious about the taxi firm’s promise to be here in five minutes,” she could have avoided the withering stares and social ostracism from her friends.
See? At Wordsworks, we’re not just business copywriters extraordinaire, we’re also here to spare your blushes day in, day out.
‘Bowdlerise’ is awfully good fun to wrap your tongue around, although it brings to mind something violent and wrenching – the kind of disembowelment William Wallace’s claymore was made for.
Bowdlerise does indeed imply the gutting of something – although in this instance it’s not intestines it refers to.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines bowdlerising as ‘removing material considered improper or offensive from text, especially with the result that the text becomes weaker or less effective’.
Interestingly, the word is derived from the 18th century English philanthropist Thomas Bowdler, who made his name editing the works of Shakespeare into less risqué versions suitable for women and children.
Thankfully, bowdlerisation of the written language is happening less and less as censors become increasingly liberal. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s five famous literary works which were, in some form or another, bowdlerised by publishers on their initial release.
‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain. Initially cut for its ‘corrupting’ use of slang.
‘Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger. Early editions were truncated because of moral issues and ‘excessive violence’.
‘1984’ by George Orwell. Sliced and diced for being ‘pro-Communist’.
‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie. Printed minus some of its more controversial passages in certain parts of the world – and removed from shelves at Barnes & Noble entirely after threats to its stores from religious hardliners.
‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D.H. Lawrence. Bowdlerised of ‘all the best bits’ and only released unexpurgated in the UK in 1960.
Rest assured, the only text ever bowdlerised at Wordsworks Towers is over-written flimflam. Our business copywriting is renowned for being succinct, powerful and finely-tuned to its target audience – the perfect accompaniment to any marketing strategy.
Our latest candidate is one of the most mistreated and maligned words in the English language – and you could argue that its frequent out-of-context use is more than slightly ironic.
To be clear, ‘irony’ means two quite specific things. One is the humorous or mildly sarcastic use of words to convey the opposite of what they normally mean. Another is the gulf between expectation and result – the wider the gulf, the greater the irony. For ultimate irony, you can even combine the two.
‘Thank goodness the weather forecast predicted sunshine, otherwise I’d have been lugging that silly umbrella around all day,’ said Jon, as he fought his way to work through the downpour.
Just as importantly, given the word’s frequent abuse – what is irony not? Crucially, it shouldn’t be confused with a plain old coincidence – it’s not ironic if you go on holiday and bump into a friend from work.
However, the best explanation of irony we’ve come across here at Wordsworks Towers comes from the late American comedian George Carlin (above), who came up with the following example:
“If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, then he is the victim of an irony.”
If you ever find yourself bamboozled by words, why not let Wordsworks’ team of business copywriters take the strain? Contact us today to discuss your latest project.