As I mentioned before, Lexicide strives to maintain political agnosticism. However, we’re more than ready to pounce on any figure, left or right, who mangles the English language. At the time of this writing, no one accumulates more press for his malapropisms than Donald J. Trump. While Hillary Clinton eviscerates “deplorables” and Gary Johnson wonders what’s “a lepo” (and he’s not the only one), Trump has peppered his speech with odd and incorrect usage from the beginning of his campaign, referring to the “Department of Environmental” and the Biblical book of “Two Corinthians”.

One of his most-repeated malapropisms is bigly. Or is it (a malapropism, I mean)? October surprise! It’s actually a real word, according to








It means exactly what you think it means. So score one for the Donald’s adverb usage. At least he doesn’t insist on feeling badly. Oh, wait. Never mind.

– Otto E. Mezzo

P.S. As to whether Trump said bigly or big league during the last debate, we could care less. Ask the Washington Post.


Where have all the verbs gone? (a classic re-run)

In this month’s article, I quote a reader who pointedly asks “Why do people hate verbs?” I thought I would re-post this very early article from January, 2010. As a postscript, my family and I did move out to the country this summer, a culmination of our need to live a more verb-filled existence. – Otto

When I was in college (late 1980s), my roommate had book on his desk — it may have been The Rise and Decline of Nations. The cover always stuck with me. It showed a short, three-step platform similar to the Olympic medal stand, except it read as a staircase with one ascending step, one descending step and one apex. John Bull, the Union Jack hoisted forlornly over one shoulder, was stepping down from the apex. Uncle Sam, Stars and Stripes aloft, occupied the top. A Japanese salaryman, Rising Sun gripped in one hand, was poised on the ascending step. The image stuck with me for two reasons — first, because it’s what everyone assumed would happen in 1988; second, because it didn’t happen. So much for our prognosticative powers.

Today, the American business community still fears its fall from dominance. Millennial executives in casual shirtsleeves wring their hands over whom to watch. Will it be the Chinese? The Koreans? The Brazilians? In my estimation, it doesn’t matter. We are already on the path to inconsequence.

By “we,” I mean American corporations. The evidence of this is American corporate writing.

If words are a window into the soul, then our soul is dead — devoid of life and vigor — devoid of the simple sentence component that signals action, the verb. Have you noticed the straining effort corporate writers exert to avoid verbs? Why write “I uploaded the files using the FTP link you sent me” when you can proffer “File upload complete via FTP link per your instructions”? Even communication with customers has taken on a creepy, computery feel. I just finished a website for a global company who insisted “Please select an item by clicking on link” instead read “All item selections are via description link.” Does that sound clear to you? Does that even sound like you need to do anything? (And what’s with the abuse of the word via?)

2009 was a strange year. Some primal switch flipped in my psyche. It made me yearn for a tough, hardscrabble life where I would wrestle deer to the ground and haul the carcasses back to the cabin. It has made my wife desire a large tract of land to coax unwilling cereal grains and legumes from. We are white-collar urbanites who have never hunted or farmed or even dreamed of it. And we are not alone. More people I talk to at work and elsewhere — computer jockeys, artsy types, account managers — report the same stirring urges. Some zeitgeist is demanding action. Is it our sedentary work and lifestyle? Is it that we as a society are becoming soft, our every desire being serviced as we lounge in comfort? Is it because our institutions — our corporations, banks and governments — are failing us?

Yes to all. America was founded on risk and action. Why do we eliminate the verbs from our writing? Because of fear — fear of offending someone and fear of demanding action. Deleting our verbs means obliterating our essence. “I think, therefore I am,” but also “I am, therefore I act.” So 2010 brings a new manifesto to Lexicide: Resist! Act! Write! In doing so, we can fulfill E. M. Forster’s plea to “Connect! Only Connect!”

(The) Ask

In the course of a week, I heard ask used as a noun five separate times:

The ask is to get us the breakdown of sales by category in two weeks.

I know it’s a really big ask, but once we have the data, we can move forward.

The team will meet on Thursday and get back to you with a list of asks.

I asked Lexicide’s readers what they thought of this trend. A sampling of their responses shows the diversity of their opinions:ask-fb




















Good question. Why do people hate verbs?

Ask as a noun is not a true lexicide. The noun form has not killed the (proper) verb form, nor has it deleted requestdesire, or behest from the language. What it has eliminated is the imperative mood (“Please get us the breakdown of sales.”), which, as we know, is verboten in the corporate world.

Thoughts, opinions, asks? Comment here or on our Facebook page.


Lexicide gone pear-shaped: a snapshot of lousy, crummy words from World War I

A few months, ago, we asked for your favorite words and terms borrowed from the military. Reader Larry shared this Telegraph article with us, which offers up some revealing tidbits about phrases conjured up during the Great War:

Among the list of everyday terms found to have originated or spread from the conflict are cushy, snapshot, bloke, wash out, conk out, blind spot, binge drink and pushing up daisies.

A snapshot was a hastily aimed rifle shot. Lousy actually meant “infested with lice.” (Think about that when you want to quit your lousy job. You’re not an exterminator, are you?) Crummy follows the same pattern, only with crumbs instead of parasites. Binge and cushy reflect the crashing together of cultures in the trenches. Binge was a term apparently restricted to Lancashire, but spread quickly among troops. Cushy comes from khush (the Hindi word for pleasure) and originated with Indian soldiers serving with Britain.

My favorite revelation is the euphemism gone west for dying in battle. In the U.S.A., we talk of a situation going south when everything goes wrong. I don’t know why south is our compass heading for failure, except that south is “down” on a borealocentric map. It could also relate to being sold down the river, which for a slave in the American South meant a harsher life. The river they spoke of was the Mississippi, and downriver was due south.

Going south is a synonym for going pear shaped, which is the preferred term across the pond. Indeed, the Royal Air Force gets the credit for the term, but no one quite knows why. The two best explanations we’ve heard are: pear shaped refers to women, which are bad news; pear shaped refers to a poorly executed aerial loop – not round, not elliptical, but flat at the bottom. I think I’ll take the latter, as I don’t know many women who fancy themselves as troublesome or shaped like a Bartlett.

Sticking with the theme of bad things happening, Anne, our stalwart reader and teacher from North Carolina, added to the conversation thusly:

To “buy the farm,” meaning to die (which then becomes go out of business, cease to function, etc.) was a WWI term. A lot of young rural soldiers joined the army, each planning to use his pay to marry his sweetheart after the war and buy a little farm somewhere. The phrase became a cliché when one or more of them died, and their comrades mourned that perhaps he had bought the farm now (perhaps in heaven?).

As with much slang, dispute exists on the origins of buy the farm. World Wide Words cites Anne’s etymology as one of the more plausible sources. Snopes points out that to buy as a euphemism for dying dates back even further. Hence, to buy the farm means to lay claim to a piece of land – i.e., your grave.

– Otto E. Mezzo

“The trench talk that is now entrenched in the English language,” The Telegraph
“Sold down the river,” Grammarphobia
“Go pear-shaped,” Not One-Off Britishisms
Fraser’s Phrases: “It’s All Gone Pear-Shaped, BBC America
To buy the farm,” World Wide Words
“Buy the Farm,”

exit from the eurozone: golden star fallen from a blue wall

The Spawn of Brexit

We posed another question on Facebook:

Brexit is another hastily-contrived portmanteau, followed, I see, by a theoretical “Grexit.” But what if Germany leaves? Will it be a “Gexit” or “Dexit”? How about the Netherlands or Italy? Here’s your challenge, which will be featured in a Lexicide article: come up with portmanteau “leave” terms for each EU state. No points for “Finnish.”

The responses, like the Brits’ feelings over Brexit, were quick and strong. Erica, a Virginia-based designer, said: Czexit is really easy, but Czecede is fun. (Tom, an LA-based engineer, gleefully called out Czech, please!) Erica continued: Obviously, Latvacate. Goland? Andy, the Floridian pilot contributed Adiostria and Greeced Lightnin’. Gary, a playwright in NYC, offered Italeave, Latervia, and Belgone. Cannady, a NASA technical writer, wondered whence Lithuoutahere, Portugo, and And-out-the-dora before realizing Andorra is not in the EU. Erica came back with Republic of Byeprus, eliciting howls of derision from Otto, who wonders why the EU even admitted Cyprus, which is both geographically and politically of dubious European provenance.

So we had some fun playing with portmanteaux before Scott and Scott, both from Los Angeles and now banned from Lexicide (if I can figure out how), devolved the thread into a pun war involving defunct non-EU European nation-states. Fortunately, Lylah, a regular contributor and news magazine editor, pointed us to this Quartz article, but not before positing Outaly, The Neverlands, and Irelend.

And with that, we now make our Lexit.

Quartz: Possible names for EU exits for all members of the EU

Lexicide: The Portmanteau Word: It’s like a Turducken*!

Lexicide: From Death to “Bridezilla!”

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From The Wall Street Journal: How to Write Like Antonin Scalia

You’re reading that headline and now deciding whether to read an article celebrating the late conservative jurist. Stop deciding and read. Lexicide concerns itself only with words, meanings, and usage. We care not whether you are evangelical, atheist or socialist. We espouse neither utilitarianism nor political correctness. We are opinionated, yes, but only on the aforementioned topics. Besides, we link to this article because of its focus on words and how they change. That words have definitive meaning did inform Scalia’s thinking. On that, we can agree with him.

And besides that aside, the subject of this fascinating piece is not really Justice Scalia, but Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern English Usage. Ah, a man after our heart, and also a linguistic prescriptivist, as Lex and Otto are. Rather than a sourpuss elitist who frowns on “wrong” usage, Garner says of the term: “A correct definition, a more neutral definition, is somebody who thinks value judgments have a place in assessing language.”

Garner interviewed all the Supreme Court Justices, and this article cites not only Scalia’s brush with precision, but also Justices Kagan’s and Sotomayor’s opinions. Although the liberal justices are known for stretching the meanings of words to suit their goals, Scalia’s adherence to originalism has its perils, too. When confronted with a hypothetical passage revolving around nimrods, Scalia insisted that the classical, Biblical definition was the only one known:

When Mr. Garner posed that thought experiment, Justice Scalia reacted with disbelief. “He said, ‘There’s no way that anybody thinks a nimrod is anything other than a hunter.’ I said, ‘Your clerks, believe me,’ ” Mr. Garner recounts. “He called them in, one at a time, and just said, ‘What is a nimrod?’ And they would say things like ‘a dummy, an idiot.’ And he was aghast at this.”

So go the dangers of shifting language. What is a well regulated Militia? One that is sufficiently organized, trained, and equipped (1789 meaning) or one bound by statutory regulations (2016 meaning)?

Anyhow, read. It carries a caution for we prescriptivists that sometimes we can be caught with our robes down – and a story about Justice Kagan citing Zoolander in an opinion. Sorry, Scalia, you just can’t beat that. At least you introduced her to hunting. That makes you both nimrods.

Definition of Nimrod:



Drill sergeant

Lexicide troops answer the call to arms! Hooah!

I WANT YOUR INPUT. I’m looking for technology or business terms borrowed from military, police, or public safety – for example, jailbreak or firewall. Any others?

So asked Otto last month on Facebook. The response was fulsome, awesome, a veritable boom. So rather than bore you with a lot of military history (that comes later), let’s recount what our esteemed readers had to say.

Lylah from Boston, a news magazine editor, was first out of the gate with SNAFU, FUBAR, squared away, hurry up and wait, and mandatory fun.

Brett, an airline pilot who served in the US Air Force, offered mission creep. As an IT project manager, we often spoke of requirements creep, the tendency of clients to add project requirements after the estimate and timelines have been set.

Scott, a filmmaker from LA, mentioned blowback, which is a ballistics term. Andy, another pilot, understandably was wary of catching flak.

Ron from Virginia offered up Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, to which I would add Charlie Foxtrot, a phrase I use all too often to describe my projects.

John, who grew up in a Navy family, uses ventilate, assume room temperature, collateral damage, and friendly fire, lock and load, and all hands on deck in civilian contexts.

Ross from peace-loving Portland, is not averse to going ballistic, following marching orders, or falling on his sword. Okay, he is averse to that last one.

Spencer, who works in criminal justice, reminds us that Murphy’s Law originated at Edwards Air Force Base (that etymology is disputed), and that deadline originally meant a line beyond which guards would shoot prisoners to prevent them from escaping. Most sources trace the word and the practice to the American Civil War. Journalists, take note.

Monica chimed in with AWOL and rallying the troops. Helen, a mild-mannered designer and web developer, contributed magazine, drive-by (as in a stealth download), and Trojan Horse. Of magazine (once a term for a building or room where gunpowder and arms were kept, now commonly a device in a gun that holds ammunition), Helen writes: “This term began somewhere in the 80s with disk magazines and morphed to diskmags used for floppy disks. Later in the 90s, it became CD magazines.”

More to come. So like our new Facebook page, keep your powder dry and Bravo Zulu to all of you who volunteered words!

Crain’s: Repackaged old ideas aren’t disruptive tech

Apropos our latest entry, here is another author who refuses to bestow the disruptive label on Uber:

The actual tech innovations that these companies claim aren’t so disruptive or impossible to imitate that their “legacy” competitors couldn’t use them. In fact, they do.

Mr. Bershidsky is right that Uber is not disruptive in the Harvard Business Review sense. However, I will grant that many industry watchers find Uber the company’s success unexpected, which is a different kind of disruption to their livelihoods.

A disruptive innovation


DISRUPTIVE: “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances.” — Wikipedia entry for disruptive innovation

Hype. It’s what keeps me and other marketing folks in bread. But lest you heap all the blame for hype on your marketing department and ad agencies, consider this: the most prolific generator of hype is often the face in the mirror. You claim everything — your business process, your product, you yourself — is unique, bleeding edge, a sea change in the industry. I have attended meetings where executives demand plans to copy a successful competitor, then crow about how they’re going to disrupt the business firmament.

I suppose if you’re an early adopter of some disruptive innovation, you could lay claim to being a disruptor. The trouble is, everyone claims to be a disruptor. And Harvard Business Review has a problem with that:

In our experience, too many people who speak of “disruption” have not read a serious book or article on the subject. Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.

Okay, this is a word site, not a business blog, so I’ll let you read up on what truly makes a disruptive model here, here, and here. The purpose of Lexicide is to showcase misuses of the word, such as this one:

Customer disdain for this ‘innovative and disruptive’ business model is only growing

Notice how carefully the quote avoids calling the subscription lingerie service a disruptive innovation. However, I’m sure Adore Me’s stakeholders were peeing in their panties with delight at the disruptive appellation. Ha. Anyone who lived through the Columbia House Record Club years knows how old the pay-each-month-because-you-forgot-to-cancel model is. Disruptive, my ass.

And anyhow, as the linked articles lay out, disruptive is not just plain old innovation. Like stakeholder and long tail, it has a specific, narrowly-defined business definition. Not that that will stop anyone from misusing the word.

Maybe it’s time we really disrupted the works. We could translate all our Powerpoint slides into Urdu. We could circulate all memos on cuneiform tablets. Or we could just correct our colleagues when they misuse words. Now that’s disruption I can support.

Otto E. Mezzo



Ambiguous headline makes debut

Lexicide reader Helen sent me this newspaper headline, which dates back to June, 2015. I can think of several words one might confuse with ambidextrous: ambivalent, ambiguous, even ambivert, The headline word the East Oregonian editor chose is not one of them.

Here’s some barely suppressed schadenfreude from the Daily News.

And here is the East Oregonian mea culpa.

– Otto E. Mezzo

P.S.: In case you wonder, amphi (Greek) and ambi (Latin) are indeed cognates. Both mean “double,” “both,” or “two” (amphi+biosdouble life, ambi+dexter = “both hands right”)