Thursday, March 19, 2009

Words I'm Looking Up and Going-Dark Notice


I'll be going dark until about March 30. Until then, I leave you with this thought: I have problems with the word "brickbat." Mainly because it has problems with me. I feel like "brickbat" tries to stay as far away from me as possible. I know it's out there. I know someone is using it. But almost never does this word crop up in my world.

Is it old-fashioned, like "nifty" and "23 skidoo"? Is it a regional thing like "wicked hot" or "dang hot, y'all"? I don't know. It's like a ghost word in my world that I have now, finally, looked up. Here's American Heritage Dictionary:

brick·bat (brĭk'bāt') n. A piece, especially of brick, used as a weapon or missile.
An unfavorable remark; a criticism.

Word History: The earliest sense of brickbat, first recorded in 1563, was "a piece of brick." Such pieces of brick have not infrequently been thrown at others in the hope of injuring them; hence, the figurative brickbats (first recorded in 1929) that critics hurl at performances they dislike. The appearance of bat as the second part of this compound is explained by the fact that the word bat, "war club, cudgel," developed in Middle English the sense "chunk, clod, wad," and in the 16th century came to be used specifically for a piece of brick that was unbroken on one end.

Now I know ... sort of ...

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1 comment:

Alfred E. Neuman said...

June, I don't know if you're familiar with the "Word Of The Day" feature of; each day, subscribers are given a, well, word of the day. Here is the one for March 21 and this will help your blog to continue during your vacation; I knew such words existed, but I never knew they had a name: "anomalous adjectives."

Word of the Day

Aghast (adjective)

Definition: Shocked by horror, fright; more recently, just deeply shocked.

Usage: "Aghast" belongs to one of the least investigated classes of adjectives, one which I call “anomalous adjectives" because its members cannot be used before nouns but only in predicate position, and have no noun or adverb form. That is, you may say, "The masseuse was aghast at the mouse" but you can NOT speak of "the aghast masseuse" or "the aghastness of the masseuse." Others in this class include "awake," "adrift," and "abloom."

Suggested Usage: Shakespeare could still use the verb, "gast," when he wrote 'King Lear' (1605), for in act II, scene 1 we find, "Or whether gasted by the noyse [noise] I made, Full sodainely [suddenly] he fled." Remember that the base meaning of today's word refers to fright, "Everyone in the neighborhood was aghast with terror at the gang of dogs that plied the streets at night." However, "deeply shocked" may have already displaced that sense, "I was aghast to see Madge pour red wine in the white wine glasses!"

Etymology: Middle English "agast," past participle of agasten "to frighten" : a-, intensive prefix + gasten "to frighten." "Gasten" comes from Old English gæstan based on gast "breath, spirit," and "ghost," a related word referring to something that still frightens many of us. The [h] was introduced to the spelling around 1425 by the Scots and by 1700 it had become the standard spelling, so don't forget it when writing this adjective. While we are not sure where "flabbergast" comes from, it does go back to 1772 and could plausibly be a blend of "flap" and the old verb, "gast."

–Dr. Language,


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