Category Archives: Jokes and puns

The definition and etymology of Trump



From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Trump: vt. slang break wind audibly

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Trump (v.): “fabricate, devise,” 1690s, from trump “deceive, cheat” (1510s), from Middle English trumpen (late 14c.), from Old French tromperto deceive,” of uncertain origin. Apparently from se tromper de “to mock,” from Old French tromper “to blow a trumpet.” Brachet explains this as “to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying ….” The Hindley Old French dictionary has baillier la trompe “blow the trumpet” as “act the fool,” and Donkin connects it rather to trombe “waterspout,” on the notion of turning (someone) around. … Trumped upfalse, concocted” first recorded 1728.


Why do Brits pronounce lieutenant “leftenant”?


Back in 2013, on The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries page, a man called Jeff Rushton from London asked this very good question:

Why exactly do the British say lieutenant as ‘leftenant’? 

Armchair linguists on both sides of the Atlantic offered up various answers and suggestions: here’s a selection for your interest and entertainment … Continue reading

Glossophilia’s top 21 posts


Celebrating its 70,000th visitor earlier today, Glossophilia brings you its 21 most popular posts so far. Subjects include Cockney Rhyming Slang and other quirky Englishisms; contranyms and homophones; when to use which and when to use that; British tea – when is it low and when is it high? and British school – when is it public and when is it private?; some modern words like yolo and like, and a not-so-modern one: dildo. And, of course, some American-British differences that we can never get enough of — this time in the kitchen pantry  …

Enjoy (them)! Continue reading

To take or not to take an object: verbs that used to just do are starting to do something too


It’s a strange verb, to grow. Usually we talk about things or people growing intransitively — ie. without an object. “The size of the crowd grew.” “She has grown so tall.” “The government’s power is growing.” There’s really no limit to what can grow, on its own, in an intransitive sense. However, when it comes to using the verb transitively — ie. when we’re talking about “growing something“, rather than seeing it grow under its own steam, then most bets are suddenly off: we only grow transitively when we’re referring to natural, living things. We grow plants, flowers and our own food; we grow beards, and our hair; we even grow pot-bellies — whether we like it or not. But it’s only recently that the transitive use of the verb itself has begun to grow: now embracing  inanimate objects and abstract items, grow is beginning to mean “expand” — and you can grow anything from your circle of friends to an economy or an international corporation’s revenue (whereas before they grew only intransitively). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage advises against this growing trend of growing anything unnatural transitively: “The newer usage of grow to mean expand (grow the business; grow revenue) is business jargon, best resisted.”

Disappear is another dodgy suspect when it comes to its transitive use. Continue reading

It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday!


Today is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday: Happy Birthday Wills!

To celebrate, Glossophilia first shows you how you can talk like Shakespeare (courtesy, where you can find many more activities and much more ado about the Bard himself). Then, we offer a selective list of major Shakespeare productions taking place around the world during his birthday year.

How to Talk Like Shakespeare

  1. Instead of you, say thou or thee (and instead of y’all, say ye).
  2. Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
  3. Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin.
  4. Instead of cursing, try calling your tormenters jackanapes or canker-blossoms orpoisonous bunch-back’d toads.
  5. Don’t waste time saying “it,” just use the letter “t” (’tist’will, I’ll do’t).
  6. Verse for lovers, prose for ruffians, songs for clowns.
  7. When in doubt, add the letters “eth” to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, hefalleth).
  8. To add weight to your opinions, try starting them with methinks, mayhaps, in sooth orwherefore.
  9. When wooing ladies: try comparing her to a summer’s day. If that fails, say “Get thee to a nunnery!”
  10. When wooing lads: try dressing up like a man. If that fails, throw him in the Tower, banish his friends and claim the throne.

 Shakespeare productions around the world in 2014:


New York:

King Lear
Presented by: Theatre for a New Audience
Two-time Olivier Award nominee Michael Pennington plays the title role of Shakespeare’s tragedy for the first time, with director Arin Arbus continuing her string of Shakesepeare stagings for TFANA.
14 March – 4 May at Polonsky Shakespeare Center

Like You Like It (concert)
Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes, Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz, and Dexter and The Following actor Sam Underwood are among the performers who will celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday in a concert version of the award-winning musical Like You Like It, based on As You Like It and set at a mall in the 1980s,
April 23 at 54 Below

Presented by Park Avenue Armory and Manchester International Festival.
Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston make their much anticipated New York stage debuts in the U.S. premiere of the intensely physical, fast-paced production by Branagh and Rob Ashford, which places the audience directly on the sidelines of battle, where blood, sweat, and the elements of nature can be directly felt as the action unfurls across the traverse stage.
May 31–June 22 at Park Avenue Armory

Much Ado About Nothing
Presented by Public Theater / Shakespeare in the Park.
Hamish Linklater and Tony nominee Lily Rabe return to Central Park this summer as the wise-cracking, would-be lovers Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s beloved romantic comedy. Central Park becomes sun-drenched Sicily at the turn of the last century.
June 3 – July 6 at Delacorte Theater in Central Park

King Lear
Presented by Public Theater / Shakespeare in the Park.
Revenge, rage, grief and delusion thunder upon the Delacorte as Tony- and Emmy-winner John Lithgow takes the stage as one of theater’s great tragic heroes, King Lear. Tony winner Daniel Sullivan directs
July 22 – August 17 at Delacorte Theater, Central Park



Henry IV parts I & II
Presented by Shakespeare Theatre Company
With Stacy Keach starring as Falstaff.
March 25 – June 8, Sidney Harman Hall



Titus Andronicus
Presented by Shakespeare’s Globe.
The full cast has been announced for the return of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production of Titus Andronicus to Shakespeare’s Globe, The production will feature William Houston as Titus and Indira Varma as Tamora.
April 24 to July 13 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Presented by Shakespeare’s Globe.
This production of Hamlet opens at Shakespeare’s Globe on the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth before embarking on a two-year tour of the world (see below).
April 23 – April 26 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in British Sign Language)
Presented by Deafinitely Theatre.
“Deafinitely’s aim has always been to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing audiences, and the gap gets smaller here. It’s not only a new approach for existing Shakespeare fans; it also provides a great introduction to the playwright, especially for children. Definitely, I’d say, theatre for everyone’.” — The Guardian
June 2 – 6 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

All’s Well That Ends Well (in Gujarati)
Presented by Theatre Arpana.
When Bharatram (Bertram) flees his native Gujarat for Bombay, his mother’s ward Heli (Helena), desperately in love, decides to pursue him. But Bharatram feels differently, and attaches two obstructive conditions to their marriage – conditions he is sure will never be met.
May 5 – 10 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Henry IV Parts I & II
Presented by Royal Shakespeare Company.
The RSC returns to the Barbican with Henry IV Parts I and II. RSC Associate Artist Antony Sher returns to the Company to play the infamous comic knight Falstaff in Shakespeare’s thrilling and comic vision of a nation in turmoil.
29 November – 24 January 2015 at the Barbican.


Henry IV Part I
Presented by Royal Shakespeare Company.
RSC Associate Artist Antony Sher returns to the Company to play the infamous comic knight Falstaff in Shakespeare’s thrilling and comic vision of a nation in turmoil.
18 March – 6 September 2014 at Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Henry IV Part 2
Presented by Royal Shakespeare Company.
King Henry’s health is failing as a second rebellion threatens to surface. Hal must choose between duty and loyalty to an old friend in Shakespeare’s heartbreaking conclusion to this epic pair of plays.
28 March – 6 September 2014 at Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Presented by Royal Shakespeare Company.
Set in the Summer of 1914, love and merriment ensue in Shakespeare’s sparkling comedy before the lives of the blissfully unaware lovers are about to be utterly transformed by the war to end all wars.
23 September – 14 March 2015  at Royal Shakespeare Theatre.


Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 
Presented by Royal Shakespeare Company.
Directed by Gregory Doran with a cast including Antony Sher, Jasper Britton and Alex Hassell, this is an epic, comic and thrilling vision of a nation in turmoil.

Theatre Royal, Norwich 14 – 18 October
The Lowry, Salford 21 – 25 October
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford 28 October – 1 November
Theatre Royal, Bath 4 – 8 November
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 11 – 15 November




Henry V
Presented by Bell Shakespeare.
Damien Ryan’s unflinching production will explore war, the eloquence of leaders and the brotherhood of soldiers from every angle. Is King Henry V a courageous leader, a cowardly manipulator or simply a little boy lost?
October 21 – November 16 at Sydney Opera House


A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Presented by Bell Shakespeare.
Peter Evans will reawaken Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a breathless 90-minute production that amplifies the magic, mirth and mayhem.

CANBERRA  28 August – 13 September at Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse
MELBOURNE  18 September – 4 October at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
WOLLONGONG  8–11 October at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, IMB Theatre


Presented by Shakespeare’s Globe.

On 23 April 2014 – the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – Shakespeare’s Globe will embark on a two-year global tour of Hamlet that will take in every country in the world. The ‘Globe to Globe Hamlet’, directed by the Globe’s Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, will be a completely unprecedented theatrical adventure.

Celebrating the rule of three on Glosso’s 3rd birthday

Birthday Cupcake

Today is Glossophilia’s third birthday, and to celebrate, we’re taking a gander at the “rule of three” and its important place in the worlds of writing and storytelling. (Here’s a funny little fact: this is Glossophilia’s 333rd post. And thank you to those who come here often and who keep me supplied with tips and ideas: keep ’em coming!)

The rule of three principle states that anything offered in a package of three is inherently funnier, more satisfying, more memorable, more intuitive, or more effective than something that comes in twos, fours or some other number. There’s a Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum”, that means, literally, “everything that comes in threes is perfect.” And so it often is when it comes to creative writing and prose: we see it in storytelling, comedy, speech-writing and advertising slogans.

What is the magic of three? Continue reading

The softest porn is the new funny talk


“Revenge porn” has recently been outlawed in California: the state’s governor signed a bill making it illegal (basically for bitter exes and disgruntled former lovers) to post explicit pictures of people online without their permission. In this case, there isn’t much question about what the word porn means in the context of its disqualification, with revenge  — like its porn cousins child, gay, hard or soft — identifying the specific form of smutty erotica in question. But is porn losing its hard edge (if you’ll pardon the expression)?

Porn (short for pornography) means the description or exhibition of explicit sexual material designed for the purpose of sexual arousal rather than for aesthetic appreciation. And it’s the depiction of the material — rather than the act itself being filmed, photographed, recorded or written about — that the word describes. Pornography comes from the Greek word pornographos, combining porne meaning “prostitute”and graphein meaning “write”.

These days, porn is coming out of the shadows, at least linguistically. It’s no longer just the dirty word consigned to the proverbial top-shelf or password-protected imagery that it has historically described; the four-letter word has found a nice new home, nestling in the bosom of humor and parody. It has been hijacked by ironic hipsters in social (largely online) intercourse — as well as by clever marketeers — to mean more or less anything on whose image people are likely to gaze with acquisitive yearning. To capture or to encourage a craving for or fanaticism about an object of desire, the word porn with its suggestion of sexual arousal — although used with irony and exaggeration — ups the ante and bestows sex appeal on the most unlikely of products or commodities. In fact, the less sexual and the more inanimate the nature of the object, the more potent and witty the message. With everything from “food porn” (there’s even “burger porn”) to “fashion porn”, “car porn” to “record collection porn”, there’s some kind of innocent porn around every corner waiting to seduce us.

The “Bass Porn” page on Facebook is for lovers of that rhythmic instrument slung across a man’s nether regions, and if shoes get your pulse racing, you can oggle* them on one of Tumblr’s many Shoe Porn pages. New York magazine titillates the young and the restless with Real Estate Porn, and if hardware makes you hard (sorry), you can check it out or in and out in a Pinterest Hardware Porn corner. (It’s funny that hardware porn is OK for naming plenty of virtual destinations where you can go for enjoyment and gratification, but not so for software porn …). Want grammar porn? Check! (And come back to Glossophilia for more.) And here’s the silliest one of all: what has the capacity to make women’s tongues hang out, to drool with desire, to pant with anticipation without even a hint of sexual arousal? You’ve got it: wedding porn! (And no, that doesn’t refer to what happens on the wedding night.) You can find that all over the internet — and beyond …

This one really takes the biscuit. Arnold King, talking about economists with pseudo-knowledge in a blog on the Library of Economics and Liberty, complains that “the economics profession for the past thirty years [has] focused on producing stochastic calculus porn to satisfy young men’s urge for mathematical masturbation.” Hmmm … I’m not sure I want to think about that one too carefully, but let me just ask one question that King’s statement raises: what the four-letter-word is stochastic? Is that scholastic with a stick shift?


* One of my friends has pointed out that it’s spelled “ogle”, not “oggle”. Even though it’s pronounced “oggle”. You learn something new every day.

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (4 Oct)


Welcome to “TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky”, a new weekly feature on Glossophilia. Every Friday, you’ll find a digest of some of the week’s best offerings about language, literature, grammar, usage and abusage — on the web and on the wire. Some of it will make you laugh, some might make you cry. Some will be genuinely useful, a lot of it won’t, and there will be stuff you just won’t believe. Enjoy (it).


On Facebook, Grammarly posted some incorrect word definitions offered by creative and lateral-thinking students. One of my favorites is Adamant: “pertaining to original sin” …

The Guardian reassured us that there are 10 grammar rules we no longer need to worry about. And one of those is starting sentences with a conjunction; another is all about what you should and shouldn’t end them with.

You think “OMG” or “srsly” are 21st-century inventions? You might have to think again, as Jen Doll, in The Atlantic‘s October issue, takes a look at the not-so-recent history of today’s hottest expressions (not yet online).

The Associated Press reported on the rise in heritage language programs — and why the need for them has grown. “Dorothy Villarreal grew up dreaming in Spanish, first in Mexico and later in South Texas, where her family moved when she was six. She excelled in school — in English. But at home life was in Spanish, from the long afternoon chats with her grandparents to the Spanish-language version of Barbie magazines she eagerly awaited each month. She figured she was fluent in both languages. Then the Harvard University junior spent last summer studying in Mexico and realized just how big the gaps in her Spanish were.”

Pride’s Purge offered us a very useful document: a pocket guide to Toryspeak – ie. what Tories (aka members of the British Conservative Party) say vs. what Tories mean. When they say they’re reforming the NHS, what do they REALLY mean? And what does everyone understand by it?

Keith Houston gives us a sneak peek [see Stealth Mountain below] of his new book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, when he describes “four scandalously overlooked typographic outliers” in the Financial Times.

You might not want to try singing like David Bowie – but now you can read like him. As part of the exhibition “David Bowie Is”, which recently opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto, a list of the legendary singer’s top 100 books has been compiled. Open Book Toronto has the list.

The writer Margaret Atwood is among a group of prominent Canadian women who have launched a campaign to make the English-language lyrics to Canada’s national anthem more gender-neutral, as the BBC reports.

Oliver Moody wrote in The Times (UK) that “many teachers do not have adequate knowledge of English grammar to teach the new curriculum, according to the architect of a government-funded teaching programme. Bas Aarts, a professor of English linguistics at University College London, … said that the English tests for pupils up to the age of 14 introduced by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, demanded more knowledge of grammar than many teachers possess.”

mental_floss brought us 9 colorful words and phrases from Breaking Bad‘s final season. (Here’s what I learned: The next time someone offers to send you on a trip to Belize, run in the other direction. Fast.)

On The Guardian‘s U.S. comment site, self-confessed accent geek Erica Buist asks whether Britain is becoming a nation of accent snobs. If we Brits don’t take the trouble to pronounce foreign words like bruschetta correctly, do we have the right to judge those who communicate less comfortably in English?

If you read literary fiction, you’ll become more empathic. That’s what a new scientific study shows, according to a New York Times science blog post. Apparently “reading literary fiction – as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction – leads people to perform better on tests that measure empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” Um – do we really need scientists to tell us that? I hear a big resounding ‘duh!’ echoing through the chattering book groups of the world …

And finally, I think I’ve found my favorite Tweeter. Here is how Stealth Mountain @stealthmountain advertises his or her mission: “I alert twitter users that they typed sneak peak when they meant sneak peek. I live a sad life.” The replies to Stealth’s tweets are even funnier than the tweets themselves. Thanks to Reddit for the tip-off.