The extraordinary new “Dictionary of Canadianisms”: An insider’s view


Jacques Plante’s goalie mask. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo: M. Pick (from Dollinger and Fee, 2017).

Just over a year ago, I started proofreading The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP‑2). The creation of this unique online dictionary was led by Dr. Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Dr. Margery Fee (associate editor), with the assistance of many students working out of the Canadian English Lab at UBC.

Today (March 17, 2017) the DCHP-2 goes live online at It is available in open access, free of charge, for anyone to view and use (with appropriate citation, see Dollinger and Fee (2017) below). After eleven years of work, Dollinger and his team have been able to achieve their goal of releasing the dictionary in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial).

It isn’t a coincidence that the DCHP‑2 builds upon the foundation of the DCHP-1, a dictionary published in 1967 (Canada’s centennial) under the direction of editor Walter Avis. However, the huge advances in computer technology and linguistics research have made it possible to produce a much more ambitious and expansive dictionary.

Note: For a full account of the history, methodology, and linguistics research involved in the production of the DCHP-2, please refer to the Introduction and Project History sections of the online dictionary at

The DCHP‑2 is not like any other dictionary. First of all, as its title says, its words are “Canadianisms” (with the exception of a few words, now labelled “non-Canadian” that were previously thought to be Canadian). So, what is a “Canadianism”?

To quote from Avis, the editor of the DCHP-1, a Canadianism is

a word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada (Avis 1967: xiii).

 The DCHP‑2 adds a mere 1002 words (or expressions) to the DCHP-1’s legacy data for 10,974 headwords, but each entry includes much more information than did the DCHP-1 or any traditional dictionary. Part of the work done to produce the DCHP-2 was the gathering of over 51,000 new quotations (double the number found for the DCHP-1); these quotations comprise the Bank of Canadian English (BCE), and almost 9,000 of them were incorporated into the new dictionary.

Each entry begins with the word’s etymology, a definition, and the “type” of Canadianism it is. In addition to these basics, there is a detailed Word Story that explains such things as the word’s origins, how its use has changed over time, regional differences in its use, and other details. Some words have more than one meaning.

Each meaning’s Word Story is followed by quotations found in written records or sometimes spoken records such as radio broadcasts. Some of these quotation lists span a period of a hundred years or more, and provide a comprehensive picture of how a word’s use has developed, as well as a more general impression of how everyday Canadian writing and speech have changed over the years.

Some of the dictionary’s entries contain thousands of words of text; that’s why proofreading all of it consumed a significant portion of my working hours in 2016! And thanks to the internet, which eliminates the need to limit the amount of text and audio/visual enhancements, the DCHP‑2 contains many other distinctive features. Most entries are accompanied by “Frequency Charts” that compare a word’s use in English-speaking countries worldwide; some words also have regional Frequency Charts to illustrate how a word is used (or not used) across Canada’s provinces and territories.

Entries are also enriched by photos, charts from linguistics research, and YouTube videos. This is a cutting-edge dictionary!

Why explore the DCHP-2?

Reading the DCHP-2 provides a learning experience unlike any other: it is a comprehensive and quirky immersion in Canada’s history, politics, language, customs, and culture. Canadians reading it will feel a glow of recognition and pride because it shows how specifically Canadian words or meanings of words reflect what is distinctive about Canada; in other words, the DCHP‑2 displays our “national personality”: our origins (Indigenous, English, French, and others), our politics (particularly the French-English conflicts), predominant industries that have shaped Canada, and our culture. Culture includes our foods, our celebrations, our arts, and our sports, the latter dominated, of course, by the huge influence of hockey on our national consciousness.

If you are a Canadian, you will not only learn from the DCHP-2, but you will have fun as you “test” yourself against its findings. How many Canadianisms have you never heard of? Do you actually use the words in the ways the dictionary describes, including the regional differences given for many of the words? Were you aware of the many differences between Canadian and American English (these involve much more than some spelling variations).

A quick peek into some of the DCHP-2’s entries


As a humble proofreader, I am the only person in addition to Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Margery Fee (associate editor) who has read the entire text of the DHCP-2. This means I can give readers an overview of notable topics the entries cover, as well as examples of words from each topic.

To me, an enticing quality of the DCHP-2 is the way every Canadian can relate to many of its words in a personal way. We can recognize our own everyday expressions, our activities, our special events—the myriad of things that “make us” Canadian. I’ve included a few words at the end of this post that I particularly liked or that had personal significance for me.

Words relating to Canada’s roots: Indigenous words and politics, French words, Newfoundland words

Some Inuit words or words from other Indigenous languages are included in the DCHP-2. In addition, there are many extremely long entries related to the complicated relationship (past and present) between Canada’s mainstream population and its Indigenous peoples. Some examples are amautik, Qalunaat, skookum, Assembly of First Nations, missing and murdered women, and reconciliation.

As one of Canada’s founding languages, French remains pervasive in Canada, not only in Quebec French but in French words that have been adapted into English versions or used in their original French form in the everyday speech of anglophones. Some examples are cabane á sucre, bloquiste, and depanneur.

Newfie words

Newfie” itself is an entry in the DCHP-2! Newfoundland is a special case in Canadian linguistics. There are so many words that are used in Newfoundland and nowhere else in Canada that it must have been difficult for the dictionary’s editors to decide which words to include. The DCHP-2 contains 132 words from this distinctive Newfoundland dialect; these words comprise the majority of the DCHP-2’s entries that were completely unfamiliar to me. A smattering of the many colourful entries follows: angle-dog, away, chin music, gut-foundered, dry diet, upalong, bonnyclabber, squidding, and baywop. And of course, the expression “Newfie joke” is a well-known Canadianism, though not one that Newfies like.


Of the many Canadianisms from the topic of Canadian politics, a good percentage relate to the long-standing clashes between Canada’s English and French cultures. Some examples: language police, bear-pit session, Trudeaumania, Bill 101, have-not province, and Meech Lake Accord.

Industry and Inventions

Many of the dictionary’s terms are related to Canada’s historically important forestry industry: terms such as bush ape, cork boots, catskinner, honey bag, and beehive burner. Words related to Canadian inventions include bombardier, Robertson screw, and Canadarm.


Amongst the many entries in this category are Canadian Screen Awards, Genie Award, Giller effect, CanCon, and National Film Board.

Cultural—food and brands

A great many of the DCHP-2’s entries relate to specifically Canadian foods. Again, the influence of Quebec and Newfoundland is especially noticeable. Many of the brand names included in the dictionary also relate to favourite Canadian foods. Canadians’ love of beer is reflected in a few expressions that would be mysterious to non-Canadians. A taste of these entries: Molson muscle, two-four, smoked meat, dry diet, Jiggs’ dinner, poutine, bumbleberry, cretons, figgy duff, Timbits, Kraft Dinner, and Cheezies.

Cultural—hockey and other sports

I’m not an ardent hockey fan, but like virtually all Canadians, I have a connection to the game. Until I was nine years old, my family was unusual in that we didn’t have a TV—but every April my father would rent one so he could watch every game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For that month, I watched hockey games (or heard them in the background) almost every night.

And hockey cards! Like all the other kids at my elementary school, I collected and traded them.

Hockey is a cornerstone of the Canadian identity. The DCHP-2 captures this. The entry for the word “hockey” is one of the longest in the dictionary. Moreover, it includes a huge number of words related to hockey. Many of them are well known, and are part of our everyday speech: for example, hockey mom, back of the net, slapshot, shinny, and game seven. There are other words I was unfamiliar with that a more dedicated hockey fan would understand—like puck-ragging. Hockey terms are so influential that some have metaphorical meanings—take a look at the entry for “hang up one’s skates”!

If you are a real Canadian, you know who The Great One is.

Other Canadian sports are mentioned in the DCHP-2 as well. I was ignorant about barrel-jumping—but the dictionary soon remedied that.

My favourite entries

One of the most fun aspects of reading the DCHP-2 is “testing” yourself to see if your understanding of a word’s meaning is in agreement with the scholarly findings reported in the Frequency Charts, especially the regional ones. I’ve spent roughly half my life in Toronto and the other half in Vancouver, so I expected to have a good understanding of words that were used predominantly in Ontario and British Columbia.

In a few cases, having grown up in Ontario gave me an especially nuanced understanding of certain Ontario terms. The most notable example of this was the word “Scarberia,” which is a nickname for Scarborough, a municipality outside of downtown Toronto. As it happens, I grew up about 400m from the Scarborough boundary, and had used the word “Scarberia” many times. This was the one entry in the dictionary when I went beyond my simple proofreading duties and suggested nuances in the meaning of “Scarberia” to the editor-in-chief that he incorporated into the Word Story.

Another entry I could relate to personally was “browner.” This word was used extensively when I was a junior high and high school student in Ontario, and indeed I might have been called one. However, our use of the word was often not as derogatory as the DCHP-2’s definition implies.

Running shoe ((1))” made it into the DCHP-2! Naturally, being a runner for over 40 years, I was interested in this entry, and satisfied to discover that my use of the term “running shoes” rather than “runners” is consistent with my Ontario background.

Finally, here is my nomination for the dictionary’s cutest term: “bunny hug.” If you are from Saskatchewan, you will know what a bunny hug is. Otherwise, look it up in the DCHP-2! I’m sure you will have great fun browsing, learning, and feeling a warm glow of patriotism as you read this special dictionary.

Note: You can read an excellent article about the DCHP-2 written by Michael Valpy and published in The Globe and Mail on March 10, 2017. He has a lot to say about “eh” but the dictionary itself will give you the full story!

March 23, 2107

Just published: Jesse Sheidlower, writing in The New Yorker, has a lot of good things to say about the DCHP-2 in his article too!

References Cited

Avis, Walter S. 1967. Introduction. In: Avis et al. (eds.), xii-xv. Also in DCHP‑1 Online (5 Dec. 2016)

Dollinger, Stefan (chief editor) and Margery Fee (associate editor). 2017. DCHP-2: The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Second Edition. With the assistance of Baillie Ford, Alexandra Gaylie and Gabrielle Lim. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia,


Book Review: Yes, I Could Care Less

Review of “Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk” by Bill Walsh.

Notes: This review was first published (February, 2015) on the West Coast Editor blog. My thanks to Karen Barry for copy editing this article.

Yes I Could Care LessYes, I Could Care Less is a funny book for editors. It’s for editors because, like Bill Walsh, we care about words deeply. We recognize aspects of our own personalities in his self-mockery about his obsessive-compulsive quirkiness and his editorial pet peeves. It’s a book for editors rather than a general audience because Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post since 1997, tackles some of the most difficult copy-editing conundrums that often stymie editors. Topics include subject-verb agreement “follies” with expressions like “a lot” and “one of those people,” restrictive/non-restrictive clauses with their tricky use of commas and the which/that choice, how to handle trademarks, difficult decisions about hyphenation, and the pitfalls of typesetting technology.

Yes, I Could Care Less reveals what a subjective task editing can be. There are rules, style books, and house style guides, but there are many issues upon which even expert copy editors will not agree. The book opened my eyes about the potential for creativity and what Walsh calls “tiny acts of elegance” in editing work.

As the title suggests, Walsh addresses the ongoing debate about the importance of correct word usage, punctuation, and other subjects dear to editors’ hearts. In the modern world, are editors irrelevant jerks? Individual copy editors may have their differences, but according to Walsh, the real battle is between thesticklers and the spoilsports. How much do the sticklers concede to the reality of ever-evolving language and usage? What the spoilsports call non-standard, the sticklers call errors. The spoilers’ point is that the function of language is to communicate; perfectionism isn’t necessary. Walsh’s answer to this is that language is an art, and in the arts, form is everything. We sticklers are language enthusiasts.

Walsh is, however, always diplomatic and good-humoured. He informs us that spoilsports aren’t all uneducated or stupid people who use poor grammar because they either don’t know better or don’t care. There are professors of linguistics among the spoilsports, and Walsh grants respect to some of their arguments, enabling readers to gain a broader understanding of the complexity of the debate about expressions such as “I could care less.”

He allows himself a nice diatribe on the “meta-stupid,” defined as “those who go out of their way to do stupid things, especially in the name of being smart.” And if you want to be confident you’re not a “meta-stupid” editor, be sure to read his two-page section on how to not be a jerk about correcting grammar and spelling (pp. 61–62), as well as Chapter 7’s “Rules That Aren’t.”

Walsh packs Yes, I Could Care Less with high entertainment value, and not only from the abundant wordplay you’d expect from the author of Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style. He adds interest with samples of his tweets from @TheSlot, “A Dictionary Dissent” boxes (though these are less relevant to Canadian editors since he cites leading American dictionaries), and “A Reel Mess” boxes containing misquotes (and corrections) of famous movie lines.

Another humorous part is his introduction to “egg corns” (if you don’t know what these are, you should!), with clever examples such as “Old Timer’s Disease,” “site-seeing,” and “a 10-year professor.”

Make no mistake, though—Yes, I Could Care Less is a helpful book as well as an entertaining one. Walsh’s many examples of “tiny acts of elegance” demonstrate his vast editorial experience and common sense. Does he always follow the rules when hyphenating modifiers? No, but he uses his best judgment when evaluating possible ambiguous meanings. Another notable section shows his elegant fixes for “downsyUpsy” problems—when capitalization styles for employee titles and the companies they represent make text look ridiculous.

Finally, to ensure your understanding of current word meanings is up to date, refer to “The Curmudgeon’s Stylebook,” a 70-page alphabetized section at the back of the book. Here, Walsh explains tricky words and expressions that are often spelled, pluralized, or punctuated incorrectly, and word pairs that are commonly confused or misused.

Dr. Stefan Dollinger raises provocative questions about the “radically changing English-language ecosystem”

On Wednesday October 15, 2014, I was among the editors at our monthly EAC-BC meeting who had the privilege of listening to a fascinating presentation by Dr. Stefan Dollinger. His title, “Forks in the Road: Dictionaries and the Radically-Changing English-language Ecosystem” immediately grabbed our editorial attention.

Dr. Dollinger is Assistant Professor of English at UBC and the editor-in-chief of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (now available online here). He has written over 40 scholarly papers on topics related to the evolving English language and how what he called the “English Language Complex”, or ELC (meaning all the varieties of English spoken worldwide) affects decisions about how to research and compile dictionaries.

Even though I’m an editor and consider myself highly competent in English, Dollinger made me stop and think about what “correct” English is and what it means to be an “expert” user of English.

Early in his presentation, Dollinger referred to the Circle Model of English (coined by Braj Kachru in 1985). In this model, the inner circle of English-language speakers consists of native speakers from Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The inner circle has roughly 400 million members. The outer circle is made up of English speakers from countries that have historically been colonized by the English: India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Singapore. This circle has a billion members! But the biggest growth area of English by a long shot (Dollinger’s emphasis) comes from the expanding circle: English speakers from countries that have no historical experience of English use. China, of course, is the most significant country in this group because of its enormous population and its growing economic clout. The expanding circle includes another billion English speakers. Therefore, we are now at a point where the ratio of non-native English speakers to native speakers is 5:1!

English is unique: never, in the history of the world, has there been another language that has more non-native speakers than native speakers.

Dollinger used the term “English as a lingua franca” (ELF) to refer to English as spoken by non-native speakers. One provocative idea is that according to numbers, we have to consider ELF the most “real” English. What are some of the implications of this?

Can we still assume that “our” English (the English spoken by educated, articulate native speakers—and guarded passionately by editors!) is the English, the “best” English?

When it comes to teaching and learning English, would it not be more practical to use lingua franca English—a globally accepted English?

How could a globally accepted English be learned, when there is so much variation in English usage around the world?

This is where the creation of a lingua franca English dictionary could be critical. Dollinger admitted that this would be a huge task. He spent some time talking about the most highly-respected dictionary of English—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and how it was created. Its editors relied heavily on excerption from literary sources. But Dollinger believes another method of research is required in order to create a global English dictionary. That is, empirical research: going out into the field and finding out how English is actually being used currently, depending on speakers’ geographical location, education, and social class.

How do we distinguish between “errors” in English and innovative evolution of English?

Dollinger gave several amusing examples of creative “new” English words that we, as Canadian “expert” English users, had not heard of before: two I remember are “peelhead” (meaning a bald person), and “batchmate” (meaning cohort). Logical, eh?

How do I feel about my “Canadian” being considered just one quaint dialect of English, rather than the English?

It’s strange to think that as a Canadian English native speaker, I might not be understood by the majority of  English speakers.worldwide

Optimistically, though, I believe I can hold on to my “mother” English tongue (Canadian English) and still be competent at ELF. This requires tools like dictionaries as well as an open mind and a willingness to learn.

I celebrate the enormous flexibility English offers, and I don’t think we should feel threatened by the evolution of English. We have to remember that the purpose of language is communication, and there are many types of communication. A global English can be better than “traditional” English by simplifying the parts of English grammar, spelling, and usage that are illogical or unnecessarily difficult. All global English communicators will need to become familiar with Plain English principles. People will learn standard English terms and expressions used in their area of research or business.

Those of us who love the most difficult English, in all its idiomatic, metaphoric, multi-clausal imaginative glory, will still be able to read the great works of English literature. I am also confident that new writers will display creative and technical mastery of English in new works of literature, whether they be novels, stories, poems, or other formats that take advantage of the interactive possibilities of today’s digital world.

You can help Dr. Dollinger in his research about global English usage by completing his survey at It takes about 18 minutes. Do your bit!

Coffee Klatch or Coffee Klatsch? A 1960s flashback

A couple of days ago I was reminiscing with a friend about what our mothers’ lives were like in the ‘60s, pre- Women’s Lib, when most mothers stayed at home all day with the kids. I mentioned that my mother had a coffee klatsch with two neighbours every day, just before lunch.

“I thought it was coffee clutch,” said my friend. “You know, like a clutch of women gossiping.”

“Well yeah, it was kinda like that, but it’s definitely coffee klatsch.”

My friend wasn’t sure he believed me and was, as always, ready to instantly google to verify the truth. “How is it spelled?”

“K-L-A-T-C-H…or wait, I have a feeling there might be an “S” in there, before the “C”.

His search quickly revealed that both “klatch” and “klatsch” are correct spellings, though it could be argued that the latter is more authentic because (as I guessed) the expression is derived from the German:

Kaffeeklatsch = Kaffee (coffee) + Klatsch (noise—as of conversation).

I have the editor’s eye. If I’ve ever seen a word in print, I’ll “remember” (this is an unconscious process) how it’s spelled. If I’m unsure about the spelling of a word, it’s almost always because I’ve seen it spelled more than one way, and there is more than one correct spelling. Many people aren’t aware, for instance, of how many variations in spelling there are between American and Canadian English—it goes far beyond colour/color and cheque/check.


How do you pronounce “gondola”?

Unfortunately, the editor’s eye doesn’t help at all when it comes to pronouncing words that one has read but never heard spoken. Anyone who reads a lot has probably experienced the embarrassment of confidently saying a word aloud and being laughed at by a listener who knows the right pronunciation.

Grouse Mountain Skytram

The Grouse Mountain Skytram–or gondola, if you dare to say it.

After the coffee klatsch research, my friend and I drifted into a conversation about fanatics who do the Grouse Grind (the 3 km “nature’s stairmaster” mountain climb in Vancouver) several times in one day. My friend mentioned the gon-DO-la trip down the mountain and I questioned his pronunciation. “I thought it was GON-do-la!”

Once again Google was ready to provide answers. My friend first looked at a Merriam-Webster student dictionary online:

Clicking on the audio symbol confirmed his pronunciation! However, I was suspicious since Merriam-Webster is an American dictionary, so I told him to try another dictionary. He chose to click on a YouTube video:

This site made it clear that gondola has two correct pronunciations, based on the meaning of the word. So this was a happy case where we were both right!

One could argue that it was wrong of me to say GON-do-la when talking about the Grouse Mountain Skytram, because the tram more closely resembles a freight car than a boat. Unfortunately, pronunciation is affected not only by dictionary definitions but also by local peculiarities of usage. Vancouverites, do you say GON-do-la or gon-DO-la when you’re talking about the Grouse Skytram?


WordNerds: Anticippointment

clipart meeting

This is surely a feeling only a cynical or jaded person could have. The word was discovered by my friend Luciana Pimentel in a dictionary of “work jargon”. Well, I guess people do get jaded by their workplaces and know from experience that the next training seminar or PowerPoint presentation might not be the most scintillating part of their day.

Luciana, not her dictionary, provided two definitions of anticippointment:

  1. The inevitability of the bloom coming off the rose [I like this poetic definition—cynical, but true, I have to admit]
  2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, also known as The Impossibility of a Perpetuum Mobile of the Second Degree. (Luciana admitted that this definition is for the geeks among us.)

With this second definition, Luciana is referring to the attempts by countless inventors to create a perpetual motion machine. Physicists agree it can’t be done, because this would violate the laws of thermodynamics. If you really want to explore this further, wikipedia can help.

I liked “anticippointment because it’s such a clever combination of “anticipation” and “disappointment”. It rolls off the tongue easily, too.

However, upon thinking about it more carefully, I’ve decided that the word is an oxymoron. By definition, disappointment implies some kind of surprise; something turned out differently than was expected. But if you are already anticipating a negative outcome, how can you be surprised—and thus disappointed?

WordNerds: How many of these German words used in English literature could you define?


Most editors are familiar with Leitmotiv, but what about Knittelvers or Wahlverwandtschaft? Take a look at this post from one of my favourite online writers. You can follow her on Twitter @miette.

A labyrinthine search for the meaning of “rhadamanthine”: from a condo elevator to Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories

Greek god Rhadamanthys

Rhadamanthys, a Greek god who was judge of the Underworld.

It’s pretty amazing how far I’ll go in my quest to understand and explain words that, to me, are new and cool.

It turns out that “rhadamanthine” is actually a very old word, since it’s the adjective form of Rhadamanthys (or Rhadamanthus), a character from Greek mythology.

But I didn’t know that as I descended the elevator in my condo building early yesterday morning. The screen that everyone stares at as they’re coping with the embarrassing silence during long elevator rides was not on its sports, news, currency exchange, weather, or ads pages. Instead, it was showing the rarer “Word of the Day” screen, and the word “rhadamanthine” jumped out at me because I had never seen it before. Tantalizingly, I had time to skim the definition but not commit it to (middle-aged) memory before the door opened at ground level and I had to leave the elevator.

I tried to read the definition again on all my elevator trips that day, but the screen was always flashing news or ads. I then turned to my trusty Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which told me about Rhadamanthys but didn’t define the adjective derived from it. Next, I went online to This source was thorough in its definition of Rhadamanthys:

1. Classical Mythology. A son of Zeus and Europa, rewarded for the justice he exemplified on Earth by being made, after his death, a judge in the Underworld, where he served with his brothers Minos and Aeacus.
2. An inflexibly just or severe judge.

Though it listed the adjective “rhadamanthine”, it didn’t give me a definition. Instead, it supplied links to places where the word was used. Thus it was that I had the unexpected pleasure of travelling back in time to a July 2006 blog post on Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories.

There, I found the definition I was seeking. Rhadamanthine means “strictly and uncomprisingly just”. (According to Ranger Gord, he found this definition on—why wasn’t it there for me?)

But please don’t stop here! You’ve simply got to read “Introducing Ranger Gord’s Radamanthine Citations” post yourself. Ranger Gord explains the origins of rhadamanthine in scholarly detail, but the humour of the post comes from the juxtaposition of his own writing with some crude paragraphs he includes in the words of a park user who has violated the requirement to have a fishing license. The violator is extremely profane, can’t spell, and has a bad attitude, but he just can’t help being funny. I love his last sentence:

what the fuck has this world come to? what happened to the days where you walked around with a loin cloth on, and ate peyote?

Just read it.

WordNerds: A year of omnishambles?

Deliquescent and Omnishambles

water on leaves and flowers

When I read the novel The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes almost a year ago, I wrote down a lovely-sounding word I read in there somewhere—deliquescent. If I had the e-book, I’d be able to find the word again and explain the context—I don’t remember it now! I only know I love the sound of it.

Canadian Oxford wasn’t very helpful with its definition of this word.It tells me that deliquesce (verb) means to “become liquid” and that deliquescent (adjective) is derived from Latin words that mean “to be liquid”.

wet leaves on bench


a hectice officeTwo days ago, The Vancouver Sun reported that The Oxford University Press has chosen “omnishambles” as Britain’s Word of the Year. Defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” the word has been omnipresent this year, referring to events as diverse as preparations for the 2012 London Olympics and various government PR disasters. “Omnishambles” was coined by the writers of the TV show The Thick of It.

Being selected as Word of the Year doesn’t guarantee that omnishambles will find its way into a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Its evolving usage and longevity will determine its fate. Personally, I’m rooting for its inclusion and think it has a good chance!

WordNerds: Kafkaesque

Since I recently wrote a post that quoted Franz Kafka, I decided I’d like to write about the word “Kafkaesque” today. Imagine being such a famous writer that an adjective is created from your name!

Canadian Oxford’s definition follows:

Kafkaesque: (of a situation, atmosphere, etc.) impenetrably oppressive, nightmarish, in a manner characteristic of the fictional world of Franz Kafka.

beetle on window

Someone took this photo of me this morning!

Kafka is perhaps most famous for his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, in which his protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he has been inexplicably transformed into an ungeheuren Ungeziefer (usually translated as “monstrous vermin” or sometimes simply “bug”).

cover of The MetamorphosisApparently, Vladimir Nabokov, who was not only a great writer (Lolita, Pale Fire etc.) and literary critic but a serious lepidopterist, interpreted Kafka’s text to mean that Gregor was a 3-foot-long beetle.

The book has been studied extensively in universities and has been adapted for the screen and stage many times, most recently as Metamorphosis the Movie (2012), directed by Chris Swanton. According to Wikipedia, this full-length feature film “captures both the intense sadness as well as the rich humour and sense of the bizarre that runs throughout Franz Kafka’s work.”

WordNerds bank

Today, I copied my WordNerds page from my running blog into this blog—because I know most editors are WordNerds! To view the page (with accompanying comments) in my running blog, or to read my running stories, please visit Nancy Runs & Writes here.

To view an explanation of what WordNerds entries are about, please visit my WordNerds (Intro) page.

From now on, WordNerds posts will appear chronologically on this blog page.

Word for October 4

word capricious with photo of acrobat
I’m fascinated by the connotations of words.


I was walking to my gym a couple of mornings ago, and the sudden cool weather and blowing leaves tossed the word capricious into my mind.

Right away I decided, “That word is going on my WordNerds page just because I like it.” Then I analyzed why capricious tugs my strings.

Moods can be capricious and so can weather. There are hints of darkness and unpredictability in capricious. The word suits my personality because I like complexity, hidden streaks, and spontaneity. A capricious person or a sunny day can change quickly, and the inevitability of change reminds us to treasure what we have in the moment.

The word capricious made me think of dancing, with its connotations of playfulness, joy, and improvisation.

These were my thoughts about capricious before I looked it (and its relatives) up in my trusty Canadian Oxford dictionary. It’s amazing how our brains construct connotations for words from all the contexts (real-life or literary) in which we experience a word. The following definitions support my intuitive understanding of the word and my emotional reaction to it.

capricious: 1 guided by or given to caprice. 2 irregular, unpredictable.

caprice: 1a an unaccountable or whimsical change of mind or conduct. 1b a tendency to this. 2 a work of lively fancy in painting, drawing or music: a capriccio. [French from Italian capriccio]

capriccio: 1 a lively and usu. short musical composition. 2 a painting etc. representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features.

capriccioso: (adv. and adj.) Music In a free and impulsive style.

Words for August 16

word "sarcaustic"Isn’t this a perfect word? I would define it as the opposite of “sarcasm-lite”. According to my brother Alan Rooks, it was coined by Terry Fallis in his political satire The Best Laid Plans. I am optimistic that it will be entered into The Oxford English Dictionary in the not-too-distant future. How can it not be, when Canadian Oxford‘s second definition for the word “caustic” is “sarcastic, biting”?

The Best Laid Plans Terry FallisI haven’t yet read The Best Laid Plans, though Alan assures me it’s a very funny book. It is a self-publishing success story: Fallis promoted it so successfully through social media that it won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Only after that was it picked up by a regular publisher. You can read the story of the book itself as well as a critical review here.

pBook, pbook, or p-book?

I was a little taken aback a few days ago when I read a post on a blog called An American Editor entitled “On Books: Value in an eBook World.” (Read article here.) Of course we’re all familiar with the word e-book, but I hadn’t seen “pbook” used in this way before. I was also more than a little surprised that an article in an editor’s blog would randomly use the two spellings “pbook” and “pBook.” Ironic, I would say. I might even be tempted to be sarcaustic about it if I was in a bad mood.

Do my readers have any preference for spelling? pBook, pbook or p-book? Or should we reject the word altogether?

Words for July 18

and Percipience

Recently I was thinking about dramatic changes in my personal and social life. People whose lives were once intertwined with mine are now…extwined. Except that there is no such word. I like the word that sprang into my head. I think it deserves to exist. It seems unfair that English has two words, intertwined and entwined, that according to both the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Word’s English (United States) thesaurus are synonyms, yet the only antonym given for them is free. And though I’m happy that I’m free, that word is not, in my opinion, quite right as an antonym for intertwined.

After all, we have a related word, tangled, that has an obvious antonym, untangled, as well as another antonym, detangled, that refers specifically to hair from which tangles have been removed. Incidentally, entangled is another synonym for intertwined that Word’s thesaurus supplies. (The word unentangled could not be found, but that’s just as well.)

If English displays a strange absence of words (like extwined, which I’m trying to remedy; if enough people share this post it will go viral and perhaps extwined will be added to the next edition of Oxford), it also contains words that seem to be superfluous.

For example, in the July 15, 2012 Globe and Mail, book critic Aritha van Herk commented that Mark Haddon’s writing in The Red House showed “eerie percipience.” I had to stop reading. Percipience. Could I define this word? To be honest, no. I looked it up in my trusty Oxford. The noun form as written above was not defined, though it was listed. The definition for the adjective form, percipient, is as follows: “1. able to perceive; conscious. 2. discerning; observant.”

So from this information, how would we differentiate percipience from perceptiveness? Is percipience a superfluous word or is this one of the countless cases in English where there is a nuance of difference in meaning between the two words? Oxford suggests the answer, because it gives a definition of percipient as a noun: “a person who perceives, esp. something outside the range of the senses.” So perhaps percipience involves a kind of intuition in addition to ordinary perception.

Can anyone illuminate percipience further?

Word for May 5


Wow! I sure couldn’t resist passing this one on. It describes the state of the moon tonight, on May 5, 2012. It means the moon is simultaneously full (the “syzygy” part) and as close to the Earth in its orbit as it ever gets (its “perigee”). This means that the moon will be “13 percent bigger and brighter than usual” tonight, according to Kate Webb’s article in Vancouver Metro.

I’m going to try to get a look at it at 8:38 p.m. as Webb suggests. When it’s just rising, the moon looks bigger, and is supposed to have an amber glow around it.

However, there just might be some clouds in the way.

Words for March 15

Diagetic and non-diagetic

I was thrilled to learn these two words that until yesterday were completely foreign to me. They came from an essay my son wrote for one of his Japanese courses, in which he analyzed the videogame El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. To define them, I’ll quote directly from his essay:

“Diegetic actions take place within the narrative fiction of the game, whereas non-diegetic actions do not.”

Do all videogamers know these words? I never play videogames, but because of my son’s fanaticism I have enough exposure to games that I understand they include activities and text that aren’t part of the actual narrative of the game.

Administrone: LinkedIn member Lucie Hankey coined this word, defining it as ”a famous national dish of Italy, where you have to fill out forms in triplicate to buy postage stamps.”

Pusillanimous: I was reading something (?) where this adjective was used to describe a rooster. I knew I knew this word; but I had to look it up in the dictionary.

Canadian Oxford: “lacking courage; timid.” Surprise! The word is so ugly and evil-sounding to convey this meaning.

Pleonasm: The phrase “stupid black negroes” was supposed to be an example of this.

Canadian Oxford again: “the use of more words than are needed to give the sense. e.g. see with one’s eyes.”

OK, as long as the writer was referring to the word “black,” not the word “stupid.”

Words for January 17


Globe and Mail reviewer Martin Levin (January 7, 2012) used this word in his description of  Kate Beaton’s graphic work Hark! A Vagrant. “…a delicious gallimaufry that makes mock of cows sacred and profane with equal relish.” Sounds like fun!

Canadian Oxford reads: “A heterogeneous mixture; a jumble or medley.”

Words for January 14


I saw this on the front page of The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2011. The word was being used to describe people’s reaction to the movie The Adventures of Tintin that had just come out. I will define its meaning myself: It means to worship all things related to Tintin, the famous comic book character created by Belgian writer Hergé.

I liked the word because of its sound. Note how close it is to “tintinnabulation,” a word that means “a ringing or tinkling of bells.” A related word is “tinnitus,” the name given to “a ringing in the ears.”

(Oh-oh! Now I wonder if The Globe’s word also had a double “n”. I hope not because then the word wouldn’t fit on a Scrabble board.)


I picked this word from the same newspaper (December 17, 2011) because I had never seen or heard it before. The definition from Oxford is “A device that converts an analog signal into an encoded digital from, and decodes digital signals into analog form, used in telephone systems and in video systems for computers. [Blend of coder-decoder.] Clever! Well, I’ve revealed that I’m not a techie.


Oh, I just love the spooky sound of it! A phantom is a ghost; I also hear the echo of the word “fantasy.”

Here is the definition: “A shifting series of real or imaginary figures as seen in a dream or created as an effect in film, etc.”This word was part of a wonderful quote that actress Molly Parker gave in a Globe and Mail article. The quote comes from Joan Didion’s book of essays The White Album (1979) and goes like this:

“We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”


I like many French words. A lot of them have become accepted and familiar as part of the English language. This all goes back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William of Normandy conquered England the the French-speaking Normans mixed with the Saxons of Britain.

Here is a French expression I saw in the December 31, 2011 Globe and Mail—reviewer Claire Messud used it to describe the main character in Teju Cole’s novel Open City:Open City Teja Cole

Bonhomous flâneur

“Bonhomous” means “full of bonhomie” (“geniality; good-natured friendliness”).

A “flâneur” (italicized because it’s not yet considered part of the English language) is “an idler, a lounger.”


Another French word. I saw it recently and included it here just because I like the sound of it.

“1. Creation or construction from whatever is immediately available for use. 2. Something created or constructed in this way.”