Malapropism: “Embarrassing” Mistakes

Most English speakers have, at least once, accidentally told a Spanish-speaker they were pregnant.

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Weird Words and Why they Matter

My sophomore year of college, my dad’s work sent him to Spain. As a budding Spanish major, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. Ten hours of travel and a lot of jet lag later, we landed in Madrid, got a rental car, and drove toward the small town where he would be working. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast. That’s where my trouble began.

I tried to say something like “May I please have one of those delicious-looking chocolate pastries, if you would be so kind as to get one for me.” What came out of my mouth was a series of nervous squeaks.

Meanwhile, my father, in loud English (because talking louder helps people understand you {insert eye-roll}), points and says, “I’ll have one of those, one of those, and a Diet Coke.”

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

I was horrified. As soon as we left I said, “Dad, you just reinforced every stereotype about American tourists. You acted like a bumbling buffoon!”

He looked at me and said, “Who got breakfast faster?”

He had a point. I was so concerned about being polite and conjugating the subjunctive verb tense that I botched the whole communication exchange. I was so terrified of malapropism that I didn’t say anything.

The Word

Malapropism is the humorous misuse of a word by confusing it with a similar-sounding word. This delightful term comes from the 1775 play The Rivals, in which a character, Mrs. Malaprop, frequently says things like “the pineapple of perfection.” [i]

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

Why it Matters

When you held your scribbles up to your kindergarten teacher and explained they depicted your Mom, Dad, and dog, was it really a masterpiece? Learning a language is like learning any other skill: it takes time and practice. A lot of practice.

Malapropisms are everywhere in second-language learning. Most English speakers have, at least once, accidentally told a Spanish-speaker they were pregnant. The word embarazada is a false-cognate, meaning it looks like the English word “embarrassed,” but it actually means pregnant.

On that first trip to Spain with my father, my Spanish did not improve because I feared  malapropisms too much to practice. Now I know better. When I attend a conversation group, I bumble away. I make plenty of mistakes, but also plenty of progress. The native speakers have never made fun of my silly malapropisms.

For those trying to learn a second (or third, or fourth) language, I encourage you to practice without fear of malapropism. Most native speakers are understanding of beginner mistakes. If you run into one who isn’t, ask them to say the world squirrel 😊 They’ll never laugh at you again.

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[i] Garg, Anu, and Stuti Garg. A Word a Day: A Fomp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

15 Quotes to Start the School Year

To all my teacher friends, I hope these quotes help you start the year off well.

Borrowed Words: Quotes on Learning

This month I am taking a break from my usual weird word posts and borrowing some inspirational words from others. As a speech-language pathologist in an educational setting, I have acquired a tremendous respect for teachers. They have a challenging, but essential job. To all my teacher friends, I hope these quotes help you start the year off well.

The key is to get the kids thinking learning was their idea 😉

Anyone who teaches kindergarten knows not all questions are on-topic. Turn those moments of distraction into learning opportunities!

Remember, that snotty kid in the back row could be our next president.

An oft-used quote, but a good one. People learn best when engaged.

When you teach a child, you change their future.

Not only are you changing a child’s future, you are giving them a gift they will keep the rest of their lives. If you’re lucky, they’ll re-gift it to a friend.

My idea of heaven includes a massive library.

There is always that kid. Winston Churchill was that kid. He read several grade levels above his class, yet he was often failing. Keep that in mind when you get frustrated with a student’s stubbornness.

So true. I have learned so much from the elders in my life.

I love this quote because it legitimizes my love of stories. You can’t argue with Einstein.

A great reminder that learning never stops.

A wise colleague of mine once said, “The minute you think you know everything is the minute you need to retire.”

Learning should be fun.

I’ve had the privilege of accompanying some of my students on field trips. They’re exhausting, but I’m amazed at what kids learn by exploring the world outside of school.

Break free from the standardized tests once in a while 🙂

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Caducity: What I Learned from Dying Flowers

A flower is most beautiful when most open, and it is most open just before it dies.

Weird Words and Why They Matter

Photo by Kafai Liu on Unsplash

Had I not gotten allergy shots as a teenager, I might now be suffocating on the smell of pink roses. I am writing from my mother’s dining room table, where several bouquets past their prime live out the last of their fading glory.

A flower is most open right before its death, as if realizing it has precious few hours left. It spreads its pedals as if to say, “Don’t let me die before seeing all of me.” They are the perfect example of the caducity of life.

The Word

Though it sounds like a cartoon, caducity [ kuhdoo-si-tee, –dyoo– ]  refers to the weakness of old age and the transitoriness of life. The word immigrated to English in the 17th century from the French caducité meaning “obsolescence.” [1]

Why It Matters

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Our language connects aging with obsolescence, which speaks volumes about our opinion of it. Our culture and technology allow us to pretend aging does not exist. Hair dyes and Botox erase the signs; nursing homes and senior living communities put elders safely “out of sight and out of mind.”

As I inhale the sweetness of roses no florist could sell, I can’t help recognizing their beauty. They wither within a day, but does the caducity of their existence make them inconsequential, or even more precious?

Life doesn’t stop for death. Those roses are from my grandmother’s funeral. Even as I grieved with my family, I still had paperwork to fill out, emails write, and bills to pay. Life doesn’t stop for death, but the roses make me think it should.

I focus so much on getting through the day that I fail to consider getting through life. I am like a rose that hasn’t opened, focusing all my attention on my inward spirals, oblivious to the needs and gifts of others. Seeing these roses makes me wonder: will flowers perfume my funeral? If I am struggling, am I doing so with grace and determination? Do I inspire people or turn them away? Life is caducous; have I made it worth something?

Photo by Kien Do on Unsplash

A flower is most beautiful when most open, and it is most open just before it dies.

I don’t want to wait that long to allow others to see me.

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[1] “Word of the Day – Caducity | Dictionary.Com.” Accessed July 20, 2019.

Lethonomia: My Name is Not Christine

One letter, one syllable, nothing important. Except it is.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Wierd Words and Why They Matter

Having grown up with brothers named Alex and Zach, I’ve been called Alzach more times than I can count, but my parents aren’t alone in their lethonomia. With a name like Christina, you learn to respond everything or nothing. Either you respond to Chris, Christine, Crystal, Christa, Kristin, etc., or you assume no one is ever talking to you. Part of my motivation to return to my childhood nickname C.C. is to spare people from having to remember whether I’m Christina or Christine. As a conflict-avoidant introvert, it’s hard for me to correct people.

One letter, one syllable, nothing important. Except it is.

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

The Word

Lethonomia is the inability to recall the right name [1]. It comes from the Latin letho meaning “lie hidden/forget,” and nominee meaning “name” [2]. The word relates to the river Lethe in Greek mythology. Lethe wound through Hades and was thought to cause forgetfulness of the past [3].

Lethologica, a cousin of lethonomia, means the inability to recall the right word. As a speech pathologist, I’ve worked with plenty of clients with lethonomia and lethologica, but I can assure you, names are the worst.

Why It Matters

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Ever been introduced to someone, and ten minutes later forget their name? I’ve spent many a cocktail party praying someone would say the name again. We don’t use names that often, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. When does a chicken turn from dinner to a pet? When someone names it.

There is a student whose name I will never forget. She was never on my caseload, but I came to her class for another student who was. She always said hi to me. One day, I greeted her back, but I got her name wrong by one letter. Imagine a puppy who’s been kicked, and you’ll understand the look on her face. I knew how she felt.

In high school, I sold my soul to volleyball. I competed year-round all over the country, even took private lessons. During my junior year, the varsity team got a new coach. I sat on the bench for most of that year. The coach called me “Christine” for all of it. The next season I joined marching band instead.

Just one letter, one syllable, but it hurt so much.

Ever since my blunder, I have greeted that student by name. Every time, she returns my greeting with a smile.

What’s in a name? Everything.

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[1] [3] “What’s The Word For When You Can’t Remember A Word?” Everything After Z by Dictionary.Com (blog), January 7, 2019.

[2] “Wacky Word Wednesday: Lethonomia.” Simply CSOFT, April 22, 2014.

Pertinacious: Why I’m Grateful My Mother Wasn’t My Friend

As a child, much of what my mother did exasperated me. As an adult, those actions are what I’m most grateful for.

Like most toddlers, I had a talent for misbehaving. My artistic genius covered the walls of our house, as well as the inside of my father’s new car. Before the days when Santa sent elven spies to ensure good behavior, I cheerfully ripped the plates off my brother’s stegosaurus ornament and peeled the icing off the Christmas lights.

My mother was quick to reprimand me for my misconduct and quick to correct my misconceptions regarding who was in charge. After one such rebuke, so the legend goes, I waited until she turned her back and promptly returned to my campaign of destruction. When she disciplined me a second time, my eyes watered, my lower lip quivered, and I said, “You’re supposed to be my friend.”

I was quite the rapscallion as a child. Fortunately, my mother was pertinacious in her parenting.

Weird Word: Pertinacious

Pertinacious is an adjective meaning “holding tenaciously to a purpose; resolute.” [1] First recorded in its noun form, pertinacity, this cousin of tenacious arrived in English in the early 15th century from the Old and Middle French words for “obstinate” and “stubborn.” [2]

Why it Matters

As a child, much of what my mother did exasperated me. As an adult, those actions are what I’m most grateful for. Here are a few of countless examples:

My mother taught me how to clean the bathroom. If I didn’t clean it well enough, I cleaned it again. And again. And again—as many times as it took to pass her inspection. Because of this, I’m able to keep my own home clean enough to have civilized company.

My mother set clear expectations. She condensed them into four words: Act like a Christian. More than setting this expectation, my mother modeled good behavior. I learned to be forgiving, honest, and generous by watching how my mother lived.

My mother never used a screen to babysit me. Instead, she’d throw us hooligans in the backyard or basement and make us figure out how to entertain ourselves. I whined then, but now I credit those times of exile for teaching me creativity and problem-solving.

I never had to compete with a screen for my mother’s attention. If I was talking to her, she was looking at me. Observe a modern family for five minutes, and you’ll realize how special that is. My mother came to every band concert, volleyball game, and award ceremony, even when I begged her not to ruin my teenage social life.

If my mother was pertinacious in her discipline, she was even more so in her love. If she had been paid for every hour she spent cleaning up vomit, breaking up fights, and listening to me rage-cry about bad haircuts, she’d have more gold than Solomon’s temple. I know this because I’m twenty-eight years old, and I still call her when I need to cry. She answers. Every. Single. Time.

My mother is my hero, not in spite of her pertinacity, but because of it.

For the exhausted mothers out there thinking it would be easier to keep the kids happy, to be their friend, don’t give up. Don’t clean the bathroom yourself, even though it’s faster than getting your kids to do it. Don’t let YouTube babysit your kids, even though it’s the only thing that keeps them quiet. Don’t stop listening to your children’s explosive sobbing, even if it’s over something as stupid as a bad haircut.

Be pertinacious. Your kids will thank you for it. Eventually.

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[1] “Pertinacious | Definition of Pertinacious at Dictionary.Com.” Accessed May 11, 2019.

[2] “Pertinacity | Origin and Meaning of Pertinacity by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Accessed May 11, 2019.

The Fantods: When Kids’ Brains Explode

Certain times of a year, kids devolve into psychotic maniacs.

Certain times a year, kids devolve into psychotic maniacs. Except kindergartners, who are always maniacs. Halloween, Christmas, and if you’re superstitious, a full moon can cause our miniature werewolves to howl until their vocal chords give out. Last week, a bunny hopped around giving these spring-fever-infested barbarians free candy. Who decided that was a good idea?

Fortunately as a speech therapist, I see children in small groups instead of managing an entire class of monkeys at once. Sometimes I like to just watch them for a minute. I would never think to put my arms through the opposite sleeves, break into song, or stand on one leg while the other does a pretzel twist behind my back, but I’ve seen kids do these things simultaneously. Makes teaching them to produce a /k/ sound challenging.

The kids have no clue they’re being ridiculous. I once asked one of my first-graders why he stretched his shirt over the back of his chair. He didn’t even know he’d done it. Our charges aren’t trying to make their teachers’ lives miserable. They’ve just got the fantods.

Weird Words and Why They Matter: The Fantods

The fantods are “a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness, also known as the willies or the fidgets [1].” The term has no reliable etymology, but may be a jocular formation based upon the word “fantasy.” This humble noun arrived in English in the 19th century [2]. One of the most famous early uses is when Huck is hiding on Jackson Island in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Why it Matters

Anyone who works with children will tell you that if they could bottle “the fantods” in an energy drink, they could retire tomorrow. The closer we get to summer, the more children get the fantods. The adults continue teaching, but they spend half their time just ensuring little Jimmy keeps his shoes on and stays away from the wobbly bookshelf.

As frustrating and exhausting as work becomes when kids get the fantods, I can relate. Who wouldn’t go bonkers for three months of free time? That’s way more fun than memorizing irregular past tense verbs.

This time of year, I remind myself to be patient because, to be honest, I’ve got the fantods too.

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[1] “Word of the Day – Fantods | Dictionary.Com.”

[2] “Word of the Day – Fantods | Dictionary.Com”; “Fantods | Search Online Etymology Dictionary.”

Autoschediastic: The Worst Vacation Ever

After a weekend of logistical nightmares, we declared the vacation a disaster, or as my engineer husband said, “so not optimized.”

“Worst vacation ever,” my husband said.


One thing premarital counseling warned us about was our lack of spontaneity. In our first year of marriage, we tried to prove that wrong by planning a “spontaneous” weekend getaway. We booked a bed-and-breakfast in the mountains outside Bozeman, MT, but we didn’t plan an exact itinerary. For us, that counted.

We went for a cross-country-ski-turned hike, then decided to hit the hot springs, but, not having planned for this, our swimsuits were back in the B&B. The horrors. After a weekend filled similar incidents, we declared the vacation a disaster, or as my engineer husband said, “so not optimized.”

Thus was our attempt to be autoschediastic.

Weird Words and Why They Matter: Autoschediastic

Something is autoschediastic if it is improvised or extemporized. The word comes from the Greek auto-“self,” and schédios, “casual,” or“off-hand.”[1]First used between 1830 and 1845, it peaked around 1895.[2] Its use has declined since then, but I think it has a place in the modern world, a more scholarly way to say you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

Why it Matters

We often invite my husband’s coworkers/interns hiking or camping because, as our premarital counseling pointed out, we’re introverts who could use more social interaction. We may be type A+, but they have a knack for autoschediasm. We compensate for that by scheduling a departure time a half-hour before we want to leave.

On one particular trip, we drove separately, with my husband and me in charge of finding a campsite and pitching the tent. They left late, forgot they needed food, stopped for groceries, and tried to meet us at the campsite. Being millennials, they didn’t count on losing cell reception.

Having been on similar misadventures with them, we knew to drive ourselves back into town, but we lost reception as I was giving them the campsite number. My husband and I drove along the road for an hour trying to catch them. When we returned to our campsite, there they sat, cooking steaks.

Despite the mishaps, they found us and had a fantastic campfire-cooked dinner. We scoff at their “not optimized” behavior, but they always manage to enjoy themselves.

If it works for them, perhaps my hubby and I could learn to loosen up a little.

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[1] “The Definition ofAutoschediastic.” Accessed December 7, 2018.

[2] “AUTOSCHEDIASTIC – Definition and Synonyms of Autoschediastic in the English Dictionary.” Accessed December 7, 2018.

Pusillanimity: Why I’m Late to Church

My tardiness is not due to lack of piety, but pure pusillanimity.

“We are going straight to Hell,” I mutter to my husband as we skulk into church, ten minutes late. Again. Before you develop the same sympathy for us that you have for the harried single mother dragging her four, half-dressed barbarians through the door ahead of us, let me clarify. We have no children. We live ten minutes away. The service starts at 11 a.m. We have no excuses.

Contrary to my dark pronouncement above, however, our tardiness is not due to lack of piety, but pure pusillanimity.

Weird Words and Why They Matter: Pusillanimity

Pusillanimity means timidity or cowardice.[1]  Most often people use the adjective form, pusillanimous, as in “My pusillanimous wife did not want to steer our kayak into the waterfall.” (Sorry, Honey, but one of us needs a sense of self-preservation.) You can hear the cowardice in the word itself. Those sibilants slinking their way through your teeth to -mous ending, which, if you add an –e, conjures the image of a mouse cowering before a cat.

This delightful word to describe a not-so-delightful state of being came to us in the late 14th century from Middle French pusillanimité and Church Latin pusillanimitaten, both meaning “faintheartedness.” [2] A great word, but why, you ask, would I apply it to showing up on time for church?

The Scariest Part of a Church Service

For those unfamiliar with American Protestant church services, they typically begin with a song or signal to draw the gutsy punctual people into the sanctuary. Next come announcements. After the pastor encourages everyone to volunteer in the nursery and bring something to the potluck next Saturday, he will speak words that strike fear into the hearts of introverts everywhere:

“Please stand and greet one another.”

 Oh, the horrors.

My husband and I dubbed this “The 90 Seconds of Awkward.” Too short to have a real conversation, but far too long just to shake hands, this part of the service taught me I can smile and grind my teeth simultaneously. After saying “good morning,” to the surrounding parishioners, I have 60 seconds remaining to awkwardly smile at strangers, or worse, people I met last week whose names I’ve forgotten. Worse still is if one them is a youth pastor who mistakes me for a teenager and asks how old I am.

“I’m 27.”


45 seconds of awkward left.

My husband and I have an arsenal of strategies designed to avoid this 90 seconds. From conveniently timed bathroom breaks to extended slurps at the drinking fountain, the most effective by far is showing up late. We are so adept in our pusillanimity that we time our arrival to coincide with the last 30 seconds of awkward. Everyone is still standing, so no one notices we’re late, but by the time we find our seats, greeting time has ended. Hallelujah.

Why I Should Be On Time

In my journey to expand my vocabulary, I have found many life lessons. While reflecting on pusillanimity I learned this: church is a hard place to be an introvert. We attend church to learn about God and to embrace the challenge to live differently in light of what we’ve learned. For me, that challenge is the simple act of dragging myself past the army of grinning greeters—why do six different people need to welcome me?—into a room filled with people I vaguely recognize.

Human beings are not meant to live in isolation, even introverts. Whether or not you believe God created us this way, I could cite dozens of studies on the benefits of relationships to health and longevity. I know this is true. I have felt the impact of deep and lasting friendships in my own life. Friendships are no problem for me. It’s starting them that’s difficult.

In light of this, I have made a goal to overcome my pusillanimity and arrive on time for church. I will grind my teeth, smile, and cling to the hope of a day when 90 seconds isn’t enough time to greet all the people I’ve come to love. I will shake people’s hands, no matter how sticky, knowing someday these 90-second greetings may become 90-minute coffee dates.

Next time one of you extroverts greets someone whose handshake is stiff and whose smile borders on grimace, know that she may not be the callous misanthrope you think she is. She may be a pusillanimous 27-year-old who spent all of her courage just to get herself in that room.

Please be gentle.

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[1] “Pusillanimity | Origin and Meaning of Pusillanimity by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Accessed February 11, 2019.

[2] “The Definition of Pusillanimity.” Accessed February 11, 2019.

Bad Lip Reading and the McGurk Effect

Lip reading is much harder than the movies make it look. Read on to find out why.

Lip reading is much harder than the movies make it look. The youtube channel Bad Lip Reading pokes fun at this by matching funny lines to lip movements. Watch this clip bellow to get a better idea.

The reason they are able to do this, and the reason lip reading is so hard, is that there are few visual cues for English speech Sounds, and many sounds share the same visual cue. Consider the following:

Pressing the Lips Together

Sounds made by pressing the lips together, or bilabial sounds, include /b/, /p/ /m/.

Lip Rounding

Sounds accompanied by lip rounding include:  /w/ and vowels in the boot, boy, cow, and boat. There is also a little with “sh” and /r/, though /r/ is mild and more puckered.

Lip Spreading

Sounds made by spreading the lips apart include the vowel in “eat.”

Teeth and Lip

Sounds made by contacting the teeth and lip are called labiodental and include /f/ and /v/.

Tongue Tip Behind Front Teeth

If a speaker opens their mouth wide enough, the lip reader can see when the tongue tip touches the bony outcrop behind the front teeth called the alveolar ridge. Sounds produced this way include /t/, /d/, /n/, and /l/. /s/ and /z/ are also made in this location, but the mouth is usually too closed to see them. That closure is necessary to create the friction needed to create those sounds. 

Open Mouth

Sounds produced towards the back of the mouth, /k/, /g/, and to some extent /r/, are accompanied by an open mouth.

How Bad Lip Reading Works

To create a Bad Lip Reading video, the youtuber merely has to watch for the few visual cues described above and match the sounds to them. As long as they choose sounds with the same visual cue, they can substitute almost anything they want. This makes it easy to put words in other people’s mouths.

Before dismissing the importance of visual cues in speech, however, consider the McGurk Effect.

The McGurk Effect

The McGurk Effect occurs when the visual cues don’t match the audio. When this happens, our brains integrate the information, and we perceive a sound somewhere in between. Watch this video, created by professor 
Arnt Maasø at the University of Oslo, twice. The first time, keep your eyes closed. Open your eyes for the second time. 

The first time you probably heard /ba/ because that was the audio. The second time you likely heard something closer to /da/ because your brain integrated the audio for /ba/ with the visual for the /ga/, so you perceived something in between. 

There may not be many visual cues for lip reading, but they are important. Next time you speak to someone who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, be sure they can see your mouth. 

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Weird Words and Why They Matter: Gride

Every so often I pause to appreciate the miracle that my parents didn’t strangle me before I reached adulthood.

Every so often I pause to appreciate the miracle that my parents didn’t strangle me before I reached adulthood. For example, when my brothers and I were young, we parked our bikes between the cars. The sparkly rubber on one of my handlebars had chipped off, exposing the metal edge. At that age, I had a big enough attention span for one goal: get my bike out of the garage. Leaving the cars intact never crossed my mind. I can picture my father wincing as he recalls my bike griding against the maroon paint of his Saturn. The scar of that wound remained well past the day I drove the car myself.

The Word

Gride means to “scrape or grate with a rasping sound,” but it can also be a noun referring to the noise itself. [1] Its gravel rumbles in my throat as I prolong its one syllable: grrrrrrrride. This word comes to us from the Middle English girden, to pierce, its original meaning. Edmund Spencer (1552-1599), an English poet, popularized the word. He is famous for his allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, written in what became the Spencerian stanza.[2]

Why it Matters

This fall I committed more adult car damage. While driving to a convention, I heard not a gride, but a squeal, a honk, and a crunch. I was fine; my car was not. Psychologically we were the reverse. As a salvage title, that car was accustomed to being a malfunctioning nuisance, but this was my first accident. Weeks afterward, I still couldn’t grasp the wheel without my stomach rioting like an engine struggling to start. My grandmother offered words of wisdom, as grandmothers are wont to do:

“Picture an angel sitting in the back seat when you drive.”

I should have called her earlier.

While the damage appeared no greater than a fender bender, the powers that be declared our vehicle totaled. Thus my husband and I completed our transition into Montana citizenship by purchasing a Subaru. It’s harder to find my car in the parking lot now.

This experience gave me a new perspective on gride. As grating as it is on the ears, a gride is better than a crash.

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[1] “Gride Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary.” Accessed December 4, 2018.

[2] “Edmund Spenser | English Poet.” EncyclopediaBritannica. Accessed December 4, 2018.