licking lexicogriphobia

I used to pay attention to sports. Prior to living in Connecticut I loved baseball. Our street was quiet enough that in the evenings we could play stick ball right out in the front yard and on the street without too many interruptions from cars. Just like the pros hitting a home run meant hitting it over the fence. Of course in our case it was the fence of our neighbors across the street. Stick ball was much more interesting that baseball because there were some considerable technique changes when your bat is uneven. This made the game much more fun.

My lawn mowing money in those days went to baseball cards and even the kids’ club of the local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Joining that club meant I’d get regular mail once a month in the mailbox while the season was going just like an adult. Getting something in the mail always feels good. Dodgers games would come on the TV and dutifully plan our day to make sure we could sit and watch. When they’d call a player to bat I’d look through my humble stack of baseball cards to see what a player’s stats were. I didn’t really understand how they were calculated, but I knew some numbers were better than others.

Then there was a strike and the sport I love wasn’t as important. If the pros didn’t see why they loved the game, why should I? In addition we moved and were trapped between Yankee and Red Sox territory. Scared that my nonexistent popularity would decrease further if I picked the wrong camp to join, I didn’t join any camp. To this day I don’t know sports players as well as most of the people I’ve worked with. I don’t have a favorite pitcher in base ball, quarter back in football, winger in hockey, forward in soccer, or bowler in cricket. But I do have a favorite lexicographer.

Yes, I have a favorite lexicographer.

In short a Lexicographer is someone who puts the words in the dictionary.

One might think that before selecting my favorite of anything I would come up with complex metrics like they do in the sports area and develop stats for each potential candidate. I did consider this as a method, but I didn’t know how to evaluate the degree of difficutly in conjunction with numbers of words. For example, a word like gongoozle only has one meaning. Adding that to the dictionary is rather simple.

Gongoozle verb

1. to stare at the activity in a canal

Ah, but try being the lexicographer who unluckily has to update the entry on the word keep which already has approximately 60 entries in the dictionary. As a lexicographer you’d have to verify each one of those existing meanings to ensure they’re current and also look for any new uses of the word. This significantly increases the level of difficulty, and while I could have come up with complex formulas and put them in a spreadsheet to narrow a pool of lexicographers down to only one it just seemed like too much effort, besides I’m sure they’d prefer not to be rushed in the process.

In order to become my favorite in this area one doesn’t have to be on the road to the hall of fame among the Dictionary Society of North America (DSNA). It’s not a contest, it’s just what I get to choose. At the time of writing this chapter my favorite lexicographer is Erin McKean. She’s a darling lady who took the time to write a couple of books and record a few TED talks on the subject of lexicography. She’s the one that helped expose a fascinating field of interest that I was able to bring into my life. She’s publicly stated that she wants to “help make every word in the English language ‘lookupable’ – including the 52% of unique English words that aren’t currently in any dictionary.” Certainly a noble goal, because those obscure words are simply delightful.

One of the most beautiful things about selecting a favorite lexicographer over a favorite football player is that there’s really no hall of fame or Heisman Trophy competition with statistics for anyone to dispute your claim. You just pick a favorite and that’s your favorite. As long as you can explain why, you’re good to go. Although it’s still a bit of a shame that there isn’t a Nobel Prize for lexicography. It might help more people be aware of the vital part of our society these people play and to appreciate them more.

One might imagine from my description of a lexicographer above that these good people sit around all day dreaming up words to force us to use. The reality is quite the opposite. Language is much more federated and dynamic than it is hierarchical. Most things are created when there’s a need. The same is true with words. When there is a need a word is invented. But a word invented for the use of one person doesn’t mean the word gets added to the language. Others have to approve and adopt the word as well. Lexicographers are the archaeologists searching out the use of these words in context to communicate their meaning to a broader audience.

You can imagine how with today’s technology language is changing meaning faster than it ever has before. Let’s take a look at a rather humble word, Priority. For the first 500 years of its existence it was a singular word.1 Think of it’s original meaning as first thing. Then in the 1900’s it got pluralized. An s was added to the end and now there were multiple first things. We had multiple priorities. Once you have multiple priorities there must be a verb to organize them. Thus in 1972 during a televised presidential debate2 one of the candidate introduced the word prioritize to the audience. Now we had a name for the verb that means to organize a list based upon importance. Its quick adoption by many who watched gave lexicographers plenty of artifacts to enable them to understand its meaning and add it to the dictionary.

How interesting that for the first 500 years this word had only one entry in the dictionary and no conjugation. This means that if you were to use priority everyone understood its meaning. There would be no discussion about the context of the word. In could express a singular thought beautifully. Words with multiple definitions can lead to some interesting discussions, especially in a court of law were definitions of things matter significantly. There was another time in the 1990s when a president responded to a question one day with the reply “it depends on what the meaning of the word is, is.3

Interestingly enough, there’s only one definition for is in the dictionary, but there are 7 definitions for the verb to-be.

Governments, while well intentioned, aren’t always run by the most ideal people. So, instead of functioning as the society’s operating system they tend to operate with the interests of the government in mind.

Government education generally carries with it certain traits. One, the history books they purchased by the governement tend to focus on the government’s history instead of the history of the people. Two they see everything as geography based. Three they introduce jobs that tend to have heavy ties to the government. Ask a group of students in elementary school what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get a bunch of firemen, police men, teachers, lawyers, astronauts, and doctors. Every one of those industries is heavily involved or subsidized through the government. I’m probably a little more sensitive to this issue than most parents, but there is a part of what my kids were being exposed to at school that seemed nothing more than a marketing campaign for public sector jobs.

So, I decided to do something about it.

Right around the same time that I learned about lexicography and Erin McKean was precisely the same time my second son was getting asked what he wanted to be when when he grew up, at school. So I trained him that if he ever gets asked that question he should respond with ‘I want to be a Lexicographer.’ Then explain that it’s the person who puts words in the dictionary. I then went the next layer knowing that my son would probably get asked what his favorite word was, I proceeded to teach him the word absquatulate.

The word means, to leave quickly. And so, to avoid making this any more political than necessary we should quickly leave this post.


No Bad Words

Our imperfect brains like to categorize things with broad brush strokes. This is how we create stereotypes. While not always true our broad brush strokes and stereotypes are a good starting point for learning.

Yes, it’s ok to have stereotypes as long as we recognize that they are very basic categorizations that need refinement.

We can see these stereotypes not just about people, but about the things around us.

My 9 year-old was talking about bad words the other day. I didn’t have the the opportunity for me to help her refine her impression at the time, but it’s on the list of things to do. How she categorizes her language will impact her future. For now, I’ll address it with this audience.

Yes, dear reader. I’m practicing on you.

There are no such thing as bad words!

Now, if you’re of the sensitive ear set the way to discover this might not be completely palatable. Helen Zaltzman’s work with language through her podcast The Allusionist revealed that it’s not the words themselves that are offensive. It’s that language has an aggressive aspect in both its content and delivery.

You see it’s not the list of words that we see as bad or good that’s really at play. That would simply be a checklist. It’s the words that our society only sees as aggressive.

This would be an aggressive — reverent scale. Not an aggressive — passive scale. Passive refers to tense, not tone.

The words used to create aggressive or irreverent language changes over time. The folks who screen movies might have a checklist of what can/can’t be said for certain movie ratings, but in our everyday life where we don’t have that checklist it’s not that we should check our words. We need to check our tone.

Are we communicating with an aggressive tone that will reduce our ability to collaborate?

If so, maybe that’s what we need to change. It’s not the list of words we’re using, but the choice of language we’re using in comparison to our desired outcome.

With the Door Closed

Privacy in the bathroom is something our Western society often takes for granted. What’s also pretty interesting is we extend that physical privacy into our language by referring to the activities our bodies naturally go through while in the bathroom. Thankfully sites like Wiktionary have consolidated a list of terms used for urination and defecation.

I’ve adjusted the list to be numbered so in addition to reading you can see how many items are on the list.


  1. Aim Archie at the Armitage
  2. Answer the call of nature (or nature’s call)
  3. Beating the piss out of the little guy
  4. Blasting the beast
  5. Bleeding the lizard
  6. Breaking the seal (specifically the first visit during a drinking session)
  7. Change water on the goldfish
  8. Coffee dump
  9. Cooling a tire (American truck driver slang)
  10. Do a wee
  11. Draining the Anaconda
  12. Draining the dragon
  13. Draining the lizard
  14. Draining the main vein
  15. Draining the radiator
  16. Draining the sleepy weasel
  17. Draining the one-eyed monster
  18. Draining my rpg
  19. Draining down the system
  20. Empty my tank
  21. Flush my buffers
  22. Freshen my Snapple
  23. Go pee pee
  24. Going to the office
  25. Going to water my horse
  26. Hosing the porcelain
  27. Humping the cat loin
  28. Jimmy Riddle
  29. Leak the lizard
  30. Let er’ fly
  31. Lift leg (used commonly among members of the furry fandom, derived from how male canines urinate)
  32. Lower the water level
  33. Make one’s bladder gladder
  34. Number one
  35. Parking my breakfast
  36. Pass water
  37. Paying the water bill
  38. Pee
  39. Pwenk (very rare)
  40. Pee Pee
  41. Piddle (considered a coarse expression in some quarters)
  42. Piss
  43. Pit stop
  44. Point Percy at the Porcelain
  45. Point the Pink Pistol at the Porcelain Firing Range
  46. Powder one’s nose
  47. Punish the porcelain
  48. Putting out the fire
  49. Raining on the bowl
  50. Release the pressure
  51. Refresh the body
  52. Relieve yourself
  53. Running the Sidney Lanier Bridge
  54. See a man about a horse
  55. Shaking hands with the president
  56. Shaking hands with the vicar
  57. Shaking hands with the wife’s best friend
  58. Shaking the dew off the lily
  59. Soaking yourself
  60. Splashing the pirate
  61. Spend a penny
  62. Sprinkle
  63. Sprinkle my tinkle
  64. Squeeze the lemon
  65. Squirt
  66. Squirt(ing) the dirt (American truck driver slang)
  67. Steering Stanley to the stainless steel
  68. Syphon the python
  69. Taking a Chinese singing lesson
  70. Taking a leak
  71. Taking a pee
  72. Taking a piss (considered a coarse expression in some quarters)
  73. Taking a slash
  74. Taking a squirt
  75. Taking a whiz
  76. Taking a wicked “Yes” (Family Guy; Peter Griffin in French class after hearing the words, Oui Oui)
  77. Talking to grandma slowly
  78. Tapping a kidney
  79. Tinkle
  80. Training Thomas on the terracotta
  81. Troggle
  82. Turning the bike round
  83. Twinkle
  84. Visit Uncle Charley
  85. Visit the urination station
  86. Void my bladder
  87. Walk my snake
  88. Wash my mongoose
  89. Water my weasel
  90. Watering the flowers (outdoor)
  91. Write my name in the water
  92. Write my name in the snow


  1. A sewer snake to release
  2. Anaconda action
  3. Arsefire
  4. Back one out
  5. Backing the big brown motorhome out of the garage
  6. Baiting the trap
  7. Becoming the porcelain assassin
  8. Blasting a dookie
  9. Blinking
  10. Blow one out – Also flatulence
  11. Blow the load
  12. BM
  13. Boo-Boo
  14. Boom Boom
  15. Bomb the porcelain sea
  16. Build a beaver dam
  17. Building a log cabin
  18. Burn a mule
  19. Caca
  20. Call of Doodey
  21. Carpet Bombing Afghanistan
  22. Chocolate time!
  23. Choke a Darkie
  24. Create a custom extrusion
  25. Crimp one off
  26. Cripping a crapple
  27. Crowning
  28. Curling one off
  29. Cutting a Monkey Tail
  30. Cutting rope
  31. Deceiver of Farts
  32. De-corking the borking
  33. Deucing
  34. Dirty squirties
  35. Dispatching a train
  36. Doing brown
  37. Doing some spring cleaning
  38. Dominating
  39. Doo-Doo (making/doing/having/taking a…)
  40. Doodey (making/doing/having/taking a…)
  41. Dooey (making/doing/having/taking a…)
  42. Download a brownload
  43. Dr. Benjamin Fartlin
  44. Drop a double deuce
  45. Dropping a dook
  46. Dropping a bomb
  47. Dropping a deuce
  48. Dropping a hoopsnake
  49. Dropping a jolst
  50. Dropping a load
  51. Dropping a loaf
  52. Dropping an otter (dropping a Leith Otter)
  53. Dropping a Purtle
  54. Dropping a Washburn
  55. Dropping a sewer pickle
  56. Dropping The Dangle
  57. Dropping anchor
  58. Dropping bass (“base” as in the opposite of treble. Not the fish.)
  59. Dropping logs
  60. Dropping some friends off at the pool
  61. Dropping the Browns off at the Super Bowl
  62. Dropping the kids off at the pool
  63. Dropping the Mexican Boll Weevil
  64. Dropping the weights
  65. Dropping wax
  66. Dump my truck
  67. Empty one’s spaghetti house (from Tim & Eric’s ‘Dr. Steve Brule’ segments)
  68. Faxing a shit to the toilet machine
  69. Feeding the seagulls (politer version of “Feeding the shitehawks”)
  70. Feeding the toilet
  71. Fertilising the plants (refers to defecating outdoors and on the ground, such as while camping)
  72. Filing some papers
  73. Filling the bowl
  74. Fire away
  75. Firing a Rocket
  76. Freeing me chocolate hostages
  77. Giving birth
  78. Giving birth to a family of otters
  79. Giving birth to the black eel
  80. Giving birth to the Spineless Brownfish
  81. Going Boom Boom
  82. Going poop
  83. Going to meet Jim Davidson
  84. Going to number two
  85. Going to have a talk with Mr.Hanky (South Park [1] Reference)
  86. Going to have a meeting with the Governor
  87. Going to the Library (refers to reading while there)
  88. Going to the restitorial
  89. Growing a tail
  90. Hanging a rat
  91. Harry Plopper
  92. Hatching the brown trout
  93. Hungry Hungry Hippos
  94. Inserting a SEAL Team
  95. Kurt Bevacqua
  96. Launching torpedoes
  97. Lay down some brown
  98. Laying dumplings
  99. Laying a brick
  100. Laying a brownie
  101. Laying a cable
  102. Laying a Hank
  103. Laying a turd
  104. Laying some wolf bait
  105. Lengthening the spine
  106. Letting loose
  107. Letting the toilet know who’s boss
  108. Letting the dogs out
  109. “Liam Neeson!” (exclamation)
  110. Lift tail (used commonly among members of the furry fandom)
  111. Logging
  112. Logging into the toilet and making a huge download
  113. Logging out
  114. Load your pants
  115. Loafin’
  116. Lose some weight (Also used in urination)
  117. Making a banoogie (referring to an unusually large defecation, often clogging the toilet)
  118. Making a tail
  119. Making an appointment with Dr. John
  120. Making gravy
  121. Making logs (or a log)
  122. Making waves
  123. Makin’ bears
  124. Monopoly
  125. Montezuma’s Revenge (traveller’s diarrhoea)
  126. Number two
  127. Pebble-dashing the porcelain
  128. Pinching (off) a loaf
  129. Pinching (off) some soft serve
  130. Pinching a yam
  131. Pinch-hitting for Kurt Bevacqua (a reference to the old brown uniforms worn in the 1970’s and 1980’s by the San Diego Padres.)
  132. Poo-Poo
  133. Poopy Doo
  134. Poppin a gooky
  135. Producing some output
  136. Pump a clump of dump out of my rump
  137. Pull a few cones (Think Mr Whippy soft serve ice cream, and the cones)
  138. Punching a growler
  139. Punishing the porcelain
  140. Punishing the toilet
  141. Put food in the dog’s water
  142. Releasing a depth charge
  143. Releasing a Dungbomb
  144. Releasing Meatloaf’s Daughter
  145. Releasing the chocolate hostages
  146. Releasing the hostages
  147. Releasing the Kraken
  148. Releasing the hounds
  149. Reset unload two
  150. Restocking the pond with brown trout
  151. Ride a pony and trap
  152. Riding the Centaur
  153. Ring of fire
  154. Sacrificing to the Toilet/Porcelain god
  155. Saturday morning special
  156. Scatter bombing
  157. SE (Sit and Emit)
  158. Sending a Fax
  159. Shed some ballast
  160. Shitting bricks (Houses or apartments as substitutes for higher quantity.)
  161. Showering the room with roses
  162. Shtounga
  163. Slopping gruel in Oliver’s bowl
  164. Spray-painting the porcelain
  165. Squirt juice
  166. Stalling a brown sedan
  167. Streaming Nixie (naval expression referring to an anti-submarine device towed behind a ship by a long, thick, possibly brown cable)
  168. Studying one’s Process Design notes (refers to Environmental Engineering Process Design, a course taught to civil and environmental engineering undergraduates and that deals with, among other topics, the design of wastewater treatment facilities)
  169. Taking a brew
  170. Taking a crap
  171. Taking a Critical Ambient to the Lab
  172. Taking a dump
  173. Taking a Nixon (used by Kinky Friedman in his detective novels)
  174. Taking a poo
  175. Taking a Shatner (as in Captain Kirk; would also accept “dropping” or “doing” a Shatner)
  176. Taking a shit (a coarse expression, not a euphemism)
  177. Taking a slam
  178. Taking a Tarzan (crapping in the woods/forest)
  179. Taking the Browns to the Superbowl
  180. Taking the mains offline and ejecting the warp coil
  181. Taking the morning curl
  182. Throwing up backwards
  183. Tuesday Afternoons
  184. Turtle time (see Turtle Action)
  185. Uh-Oh! (Peter Griffin again; is incontinent at awkward moments)
  186. Uni
  187. Unlikely Traveler (Defecation, usually on vacation, when you defecate in your pants away from a toilet)
  188. Unload
  189. Unloading a batch of cigars
  190. Upgrading my Thetan Level
  191. Visiting Boston
  192. vote for president
  193. Workin’ the Turd Saw
  194. wrestling a leprecaun

The Bee’s Knees

There’s a great post over at the Telegram about this phrase and other slang terms from the flapper era.  Wiktionary gives us this background:
Attested since 1922, of unclear origin.[1] There are several suggested origins, but it may simply have been in imitation of the numerous animal related nonsense phrases popular in the 1920s such as the cat’s pyjamascat’s whiskerscat’s meowgnat’s elbowmonkey’s eyebrows etc.[2] A popular folk etymology has the phrase referring to World Champion Charleston dancer Bee Jackson.[3] Another suggestion is that the phrase is a corruption of business[2][4] but this may be a back-formation. The singular bee’s knee is attested from the late 18th century meaning something small or insignificant in the phrase big as a bee’s knee. Also as weak as a bee’s knee is attested in Ireland (1870). It is possible that the bee’s knees is a deliberate inversion of this meaning, but is not attested.[4]
Today the phrase seem’s pretty common.  I’ve heard t used on the 2003 film School of Rock with Jack Black.
How common is it in 2018 is somewhat difficult to track.  Five Thirty Eight‘s online tracker doesn’t have it as an option.  Google’s Ngram Viewer only tracks until 2000, but is still a wonderful graph.
Maybe the more important thing to be aware of isn’t how popular a phrase is (cat’s pajama’s was slightly more popular in 2000), but how cool you look when you use the phrase is probably more important.  Unfortunately there’s no graph I can show some one for how cool they look when they use the phrase.  If I could find a graph for that I’d be sure to share. When it comes down to it, though I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the phrase.  This is probably because it’s predominantly used as a compliment.  We could use a few more compliments in our daily discourse.  So, have a go at it!  Why not toss out “the bee’s knees” today in a conversation? adult beard boy casual