The 7 Deadly Sins and Their Synonyms

Traditional views about religion and sin may be in decline, but the human behavior catalogued as the Seven Deadly Sins remains very much with us. The sins and their synonyms provide writers with words to analyze and discuss the bad things people do. Here is the list as revised from earlier versions by Pope Gregory … Read more

Uses of “Rhetoric”

Rhetoric is one of those academic words that has migrated into the popular vocabulary and is frequently used as if it can be defined as “empty words.” For example, in the aftermath of the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, statements threatening violence and death were defended and excused as “mere rhetoric,” … Read more

Words in the News: tropism, coalface, logorrhea and parrhesia

Not since I read Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy have I accumulated so many words in my reading that are new to me. These words are not coming from antique works of fiction. They pop up almost daily in the news sources I read. Sometimes the words are vaguely familiar, like something I may have learned … Read more

Sarcastic vs. Sardonic vs. Facetious

Reader ApK has asked for a discussion of the words sarcastic, sardonic, and facetious— all examples of verbal irony. verbal irony: the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. Sarcastic derives from the noun sarcasm. sarcasm: a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; … Read more

Epistemology vs Agnotology

Once upon a time, I encountered the word epistemology and its forms only in academic writing. Lately, I’ve been seeing it all over the place, often unaccompanied by any definition. Election-deniers are said to exist in a “parallel epistemological bubble.” David Brooks writes about an “epistemological crisis,” the “epistemic regime,” and the “epistemic process.” Lies … Read more

Autogolpe —Another Word for Seizing Power

During the recent unsettled times, I have come across a new word (new to me) to describe an extralegal maneuver to seize power in a country that has an established government: autogolpe. autogolpe (noun): a situation in which a nation’s leader, who came to power by way of legal means, retains a hold on office … Read more

Gifts of the Magi—Linguistically Speaking

A ubiquitous symbol of the Christmas season is the image of the Magi, the “wise men from the east” mentioned in Matthew 2. Matthew doesn’t say how many magi made the journey, but because they brought three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—tradition has settled on three. Whereas Matthew calls them merely “wise men,” they have come … Read more

Five Linguistic Oddities in the Media

Here are five usages that caught my attention recently. aye and yea Both aye [pronounced “I”] and yea [pronounced “yay”] mean “yes.” Archaic in Standard American English, they still exist in some English dialects and are retained in the formal language of voting. The etymology of aye is uncertain, but yea was a form of … Read more

Hoax, Fake, and Other Words for Deception

It’s a harsh indictment of human nature that we have so many words for deception. (I’m assuming that English is not alone in this.) The frequent use of the words hoax and fake in these duplicitous times has led me to explore their meanings and synonyms. Hoax functions as either a noun or a verb. … Read more


The useful adjective hindmost may be shifting into the territory of the unfamiliar, where words become vulnerable to a change in meaning. The opposite of foremost (“most forward or advanced in position”), the word hindmost is closely associated with the collocation, “Devil take the hindmost.” As an adjective, hindmost denotes a fixed position of being … Read more

Let’s Save “Critique” vs. “Criticize”

Regard the use of the word critique in the following examples: My boyfriend critiques the way I make the bed and fold the towels. Control freaks are compelled to critique every little thing you do. Perhaps you need to look in a mirror before you critique someone else’s comments. Using the word critique in these … Read more

Misology and Other Words In the News

As an avid reader for more years than I care to mention, I have a reasonably large reading vocabulary, if I say so. During the past few months, however, I am encountering more and more unfamiliar words in my daily perusal of various newspapers and websites. My theory is that journalists, bored beyond endurance with … Read more