Daily Archives: June 11, 2009


A hard word for a hard sparkle, like the eye-cutting flashes of a diamond. It has that shiny gl plus front vowel to open, so you know what the business is: you see it in gleam, glisten, glint, glimpse (which originally was a near-synonym of glimmer and came from the same root), the glass that can so often produce those visual effects, the glamour that they may attend on, and, of course, glister – a word now known almost exclusively from the phrase all that glisters is not gold, and not so well known from that, either, as glitter is so often substituted in the phrase. But what glitter has that none of those others do is the dry, quick, voiceless stop in the middle, before the liquid end: the hard edge of cutter and the flying particles of spatter, the asperity of bitter and the jumpiness of skitter… but also the thirst of water. The echoes of clutter and clatter seem faint, and glottis is engaged mainly just in the saying.

This word has litter in it, but if you are among the glitterati or have the glitter attitude, the litter in question is likely the one you are carried on by your slaves: g and r hold the ends, and you are in the middle, with your title, reclining (but is that a tiger hiding in the low trees?). Does the shape of the word glitter? The little dot on the i and the crossed-off ascenders on the t‘s may bring to mind the cut and sparkle of a diamond, but to some that may seem facetious. Yet even if all that glitters is not diamonds (or gilt), this word was born with the silver spoon. It may be related, in the mists of the past, to Greek chlidé “luxury,” but it can be traced to the Germanic, probably joining our party during the Middle English period from Old Norse. And now it can be found on the banners and invitations – and sometimes the cheeks of the girls attending. They probably will not be listening to Gary Glitter.

Whoever tells you to always avoid splitting infinitives is wrong

Yet another colleague has called for backup to respond to someone who insists that splitting infinitives is always and without exception wrong.

Siiigggghhhhh. Really, do these people never, ever look anything up? Continue reading


A word for sawing logs… zzzz. Does this word actually have anything to do with slum or lumber? Well, if you’re dog tired from a day in the sweatshop, you can lumber into your slum and slumber, but otherwise, no, not directly. But there is that heaviness (so humble and bumbling) that you also get with lump and slump, here with the blunted edge of the [b]. This is a word you could manage to mumble out when nudged in a somnolescent state. And then, when you’ve rolled over, the snore rumbles. This word is pure Germanic, cognate with Dutch sluimeren and German schlummern – in English we denasalized the [m] before releasing to the [r], making an epenthetic [b]. So you get a sound like a dozy inhalation – slum – and then a puff back out through loosely closed lips – ber. Ah, that delightful dozy state leading into a midday nap, perhaps concluded when the minister calls for the hymn after the sermon. But, listen, sisters, what word do you think is this one’s favourite playmate? Why, it’s that darling of the sleeper set, and so unquiescent: party.