Category Archives: Words

What is an Isoliteral or an Isosyllabic?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBoth the isoliteral and the isosyllabic are rhetorical devices, related to the rhopalic. In rhetoric, a rhopalic is a sentence in which each successive word is one syllable or one letter longer than the previous one. It is derived from the Greek word rhopalikos, meaning “a tapered cudgel or club.” Here are two examples of rhopalics:

A lucid manager organize unregenerate, uncooperative antiphrohibitionists’ incomprehensibility.

I am not sure angry people readily perceive happiness everywhere surrounding unencumbered, unpretentious schoolchildren.

An isoliteral, in contrast to the rhopalic, is a sentence constructed of words that have the same number of letters. Here is an example of an isoliteral:

Three letter words: Mom may run far and buy ham, pea pie, hot tea, and jam, but not rum, gin, rye, egg nog, ale, and pop.

Four letter words: Five very nice tiny cats purr, then meet with four huge, ugly, mean dogs that bark, just when dusk goes dark.

An isosyllabic, as you may have surmised by now, is a sentence constructed of words with the same number of syllables. Here is an example of an isosyllabic:

One syllable words: Sure, I had real work on hand, but it was not that hard. My goal: learn what makes film stars tick — tough job, yes, but you know me — up to the task.

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For further reading: Words Gone Wild by Jim Bernhard

Charles Dickens and the Suspended Quotation

alex atkins bookshelf literatureOne of the distinct characteristics of Charles Dickens’ writing is the use of the suspended quotation. “What is a suspended quotation?” you ask suspensefully. A fine question, dear reader. A suspended quotation is an extended interruption (at least five words) by a narrator of a character’s speech. In the hands of a masterful storyteller, the suspended quotations can serve one of several purposes: (1) describe body language, like gestures and facial contortions; (2) describe demeanor or intonation; (3) describe a character’s physical features; (4) describe a character’s typical behaviors; or (5) reveal the narrator’s strong presence and compelling insights. Here are some examples of suspended quotations (in italic):

From Dombey and Son: “I am proud to see,” said Mr. Carker, with a servile stooping of his neck, which the revelations making by his eyes and teeth proclaim to be a lie, “I am proud to see that my humble offering is graced by Mrs. Dombey’s hand…’

From Our Mutual Friend: “Uncle,” he said daily, laying his hand upon the old man’s shoulder, “what shall I send you home from Barbados?”

From Hard Times: “I certainly, sir,” returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a dignity serenely mournful, “was familiar with the Italian Opera at a very early age.”

From Hard Times: “It is much to be regretted,” said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, “that the united masters allow of any such class-combinations.’

From Hard Times: “You will understand, Mr. Harthouse,” she returned, after some indecision: she had been more or less uncertain, and troubled throughout the conversation, and yet had in the main preserved her self-contained manner; “you will understand…” 

In his study of Dickens’ novels, Dickens and the Suspended Quotation (1981), Mark Lambert counted all the instances of suspended quotations in each of the novels. Lambert discovered that the number of suspended quotations Dickens used decrease over time in his later novels. Here are the number of suspended quotations in each novel:

Barnaby Rudge: 37.2

Old Curiosity Shop: 35.4

Oliver Twist: 31.2

Dombey and Son: 31

Martin Chuzzlewit: 30

Nicholas Nickleby: 28.8

David Copperfield: 25.6

Pickwick Papers: 24.4

Little Dorrit: 21.8

Great Expectations: 21.3

Bleak House: 21

Hard Times: 20

Our Mutual Friend: 19

Tale of Two Cities: 17.4

Edwin Drood: 13.8

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Read related posts: Why Read Dickens?
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For further reading: Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert
The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics by Michael Burke

Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA word named after a person (real or fictional) is called an eponym (from the Greek eponumos, meaning “giving one’s name to someone or something”). Some are fairly obvious, such as sandwich (named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich), quixotic (from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), or machiavellian (named after Niccolo Machiavelli). However, some eponyms have become so common, that the connection to the person has been lost over time. Here are some words you may not have realized are named after actual people.

boycott: named after Charles Boycott, a British land agent.

bowdlerize: named after English physician, philanthropist, and prude Thomas Bowdler.

decibel: named after Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the first practical telephone.

diesel: named after German inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel.

dunce cap: named after 13th-century philosopher John Duns Scotus. A follower of Duns was known as a “dunce.”

gerrymandering: named after Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts.

jumbo: named after a huge elephant who lived in the London Zoo for years, purchased by P.T. Barnum for his traveling circus.

masochism: named after Austrian writer, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Furs.

mausoleum: named after Mausolus, a ruler of Caria, a part of the Greek Empire, from 377 to 353 BC. When he died, his widow erected a monumental shrine in his honor, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, that is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

maverick: named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan lawyer, politician, and land baron.

mirandize: named after Ernesto A. Miranda, a laborer convicted (and later overturned, of course) of kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery.

nicotine: named after Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal who sent tobacco and seeds from Portugal to France in the mid 1500s. The intent was for the tobacco plants to be used to ward off the plague.

sadism: named after the Marqui de Sade, a French aristocrat, philosopher, politician, and writer of erotic works.

saxophone: named after Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musical instrument designer.

shrapnel: named after British officer and inventor Major General Henry Shrapnel.

silhouette: named after Etienne de Silhouette, the finance minister of France during the Seven Years’ War.

uzi: named after military weapons designer, Major Uziel Gal of the Israeli Defense Forces following the Arab-Israeli War (1948).

vandal: named after an East Germanic tribe, characterized as barbarians, that sacked and looted Rome in the early 5th century.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Rare Anatomy Words
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For further reading: Human Words by Robert Hendrickson

That Should Be A Word: Australian Edition

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEngland has the Oxford English Dictionary of British English, America has the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of American English, and Australia has the Macquarie Dictionary, the dictionary of Australian and New Zealand English. The first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary was published in 1981 with a team of lexicographers from the Linguistics department at Macquarie University (Sydney Australia) led by editor Susan Butler. The dictionary has quite a lexicographic pedigree: the first edition is based on Hamlyn’s Encyclopedic World Dictionary (1971), which in turn was based on Random House’s American College Dictionary (1947), which was based on the New Century Dictionary (1927), which was based on the two-volume The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language (1847-1850), which was based (finally!) on Noah Webster’s second edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1841). The Macquarie Dictionary is now in its seventh edition.

Like its British and American English counterparts, the Macquarie Dictionary is always evolving, adding new words as they arise in print and online. On their website, they ask Aussie readers to submit words that should be considered for inclusion. Here are some recent words being considered by the editors:

detourism: tavel that is off the beaten track or away from the usual sightseeing destinations

Droste effect: a Dutch art term for when a smaller image appears within itself in a recursive manner (a picture within a picture, as in the work of M. C. Escher)

factflip: when  politician or government changes impending policies because of public pressure

psychobiotics: live bacteria which, when ingested, can manipulate human gut bacteria for mental health benefits

SOML: story of my life

xenofiction: fiction told from the perspective of a nonhuman

zucked: to be banned from Facebook for posting something that conflicts with their guidelines

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Read related posts: That Should Be A Word
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For further reading:

There’s a Word for That: Eisegesis

atkins-bookshelf-wordsIf you send and receive texts or Tweets often enough you have most likely encountered or committed eisegesis (pronounced “ahy si JEE sis”): interpreting text in such a way to introduce one’s own biases, ideas, or beliefs. It is often to referred to as “reading into the text.” The word is derived from the Greek root eis meaning (“in or into”) and hegeisthai (“to lead, guide”).

Eisegesis is a perfect example of a form of cognitive bias known as confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirm’s an individuals presumptions or beliefs. As historian Barbara Tuchman, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, observed in her book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), the danger with confirmation bias, as with most forms of cognitive bias, is that it contributes to overconfidence in beliefs and can maintain or fortify beliefs even when presented with contrary evidence. Tuchman focuses on four famous historical incidents where governments pursued policies that were contrary to their own interests. Many Biblical scholars accuse fundamental Christians and evangelists of engaging in eisegesis because they often take Biblical sentences or entire passages out of context and interpret them to make a very specific point — even when it is the opposite of the author’s intent.

The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis: to interpret text by thoroughly analyzing it content and understanding its context and discoverable meaning or intent of the author. While exegesis is objective; eisegesis is subjective.

A person who practices eisegesis is known as an eisegete, which as you can imagine, has derogatory connotations.

A related word is epexegesis: the adding of words or sentences to clarify a word or sentence.

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Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
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For further reading: The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman

What is a Ditloid?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ditloid is a curious and clever puzzle — something that would have greatly amused Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. Specifically, a ditloid is a word game in which a phrase, term, title, quotation, proverb, or fact must be deduced from numbers and abbreviations in the clue. For example (answers in parenthesis):
60 = S. in a M. (60 seconds in a minute)
99 = B. of B. on the W. (99 bottles of beer on the wall)
7 = A. of M. (7 Ages of Man).
You get the idea. 
The word game was named after the following puzzle: 1=D. it L. o I. D. (1 Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), by the Daily Express, a London newspaper. This word game is also referred to as a “linguistic equation” or “numerical phrase.” 

The most famous ditloids — indeed, the ditloids that launched a thousand ditloids — were created by puzzle master extraordinaire Will Shortz, former editor of Games magazine and current crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, puzzle master on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and author of more than 100 books on puzzles. (Incidentally, he is an avid puzzle book collector, owning more than  20,000 puzzle books and magazines). Shortz introduced the word game, which he initially called an “Equation Analysis Test” , in the May-June 1981 issue of Game magazine. Since this was the time before the birth of the Internet, the puzzle was circulated the old fashioned way; Shortz elaborates: “Some anonymous person had retyped the puzzle from Games (word for word, except for my byline), photocopied it, and passed it along. This page was then rephotocopied ad infinitum, like a chain letter, and circulated around the country. Games readers who hadn’t seen the original even started sending it back to Games as something the magazine ought to consider publishing!” Interestingly, this “photocopied” list still gets forwarded, albeit as an image file in chain emails.

Shortz’s inspiration for the word puzzle came from Morgan Worthy’s AHA! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking, published in 1975. Worthy introduced the Formula Analysis Test that had a slightly different construction: M. + M. + N.H. + V. + C. + R.I. = N.E. (Maine + Massachusetts + New Hampshire + Vermont + Connecticut + Rhode Island = New England) and 1 B. in the H. = 2 in the B. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). Worthy, in turn, was inspired by obscene graffiti in a college bathroom; Worthy explains in his book, “I first became interested in aha! thinking ten years ago while a graduate student at the University of Florida. Part of the graffiti in the men’s room of the psychology building was a cryptic formula someone had written in large letters on the wall. I was intrigued by this little puzzle and, of course, had occasion to be reminded of it from time to time. Finally, one day, the answer (yes, obscene) suddenly came to me. It happened that I was studying creativity at the time and I realized that my response to solving the graffiti puzzle was very like the ‘aha! effect’ about which I had been reading… I constructed a test of times similar in principle to the one I found on the rest room wall.” In order to develop his Formula Analysis Test, Worthy followed this criteria: the puzzles do not require special information or a large vocabulary, the puzzles cannot be solved by step-by-step process, and each puzzle is relatively easy in that it is short and contains few items. Based on research by Worth, scores on solving these type of tests are not correlated significantly with I.Q. scores, but rather validated tests that measure creative thinking.

Without further ado, here are the original 24 word puzzles, the Equation Analysis Test, created by Shortz. Give it a shot, and see how many you can solve. The answers will be presented in this post in a few days. And no cheating (using Google to solve the equations). Remember, solving the puzzles is not about being smart, but rather, about being creative. So clear your mind, put some music on, chill, and let the letters and numbers speak to you… and be sure to share this with your friends, to see how they do.

1 = W. on a U.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
7 = W. of the A.W.
8 = S. on a S.S.
9 = P. in the S.S.
11 = P. on a F.T.
12 = S. of the Z.
13 = S. on the A.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
24 = H. in a D.
26 = L. of the A.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
57 = H.V.
64 = S. on a C.
88 = P.K.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
1,001 = A.N.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words for Superior Persons
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Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
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Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
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For further reading: Aha! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking by Morgan Worthy
Will Shortz’s Best Brain Busters by Will Shortz


1 = Wheel on a Unicycle
3 = Blind Mice (See How They Run!)
4 = Quarts in a Gallon
5 = Digits in a Zipcode
7 = Wonders of the Ancient World
8 = Sides on a Stop Sign
9 = Planets in the Solar System
11 = Players on a Football Team
12 = Signs of the Zodiac
13 = Stripes on the American Flag
18 = Holes on a Golf Course
24 = Hours in a Day
26 = Letters of the Alphabet
29 = Days in February in a Leap Year
32 = Degrees Fahrenheit at which Water Freezes
40 = Days and Nights of the Great Flood
54 = Cards in a Deck (with the Jokers)
57 = Heinz Varieties
64 = Squares on a Checkerboard (or Chessboard)
88 = Piano Keys
90 = Degrees in a Right Angle
200 = Dollars for Passing Go in Monopoly
1,000 = Words that a Picture is Worth
1,001 = Arabian Nights


The Teacher Who Invented Words

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBill Sherk taught history at a high school in Toronto, Canada in the 1960s. Ever since he was a young lad, however, Sherk was fascinated by the English language and etymology. He once read Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover (it took 3 years, 3 months, and 16 days). So, in 1974 he developed an extension course at York University to pursue that passion. The course was called Word Power and focused on helping students dramatically expand their vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin word roots, etymology, word lists, and wordplay. One of the Sherk’s favorite form of wordplay was neologisms, coining new words. Here are some of the neologisms or words that should exist coined by Sherk and his students over the years:

alphomeg: a person who has read the dictionary from cover to cover.

bioopsy: a botched or sloppy biopsy.

brunner: a single meal that takes the place of breakfast, lunch, and supper.

cabloop: to drive a taxi by a roundabout route to intrease the fare.

covivant: an unmarried person living on intimate terms with a partner; a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.

cybrow: a person whose eyebrows have grown together.

dactylometry: measuring using width of hand or fingers.

doonic: the sound made by bouncing a balloon with a string tied to one’s finger.

duodemilingual: knowing two languages and only part of a third.

foulese: foul language

fuzztache: a moustache on a young man’s face before he begins to shave.

impactipediphobia: the fear of someone or something bumping into your already injured foot.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Clever Neologisms
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