March 21, 2012


I wrote about "viz." first, because I think it's the most interesting of the "...that is," substitutes.  "I.e." is the only one most people should use these days, although I think spelling out "that is" or "I mean to say" is better style than using a Latin abbreviation.  ("I.e." is from id est, "that is".)  Use "i.e." to introduce a rephrasing, clarification, enumeration, etc. of what has just been said.

Modern authorities say not to italicize "i.e.," even though it's in a foreign language--it's been naturalized into English after centuries of use. Don't put spaces within it.  It is always proceeded by a comma, but not necessarily  followed by one.  This is up to you, as long as you are consistent in your writing.  This is in contrast to "that is," which is usually going to be proceeded by and followed by a comma.

March 15, 2012


I recently investigated the mysteries of "viz.," "sc.," "i.e.," and "e.g."  First, I'd advise against using any of these in your formal writing--they are shortcuts, and are best used as time-savers and space-savers when necessary in technical writing or very informal writing.  Use the spelled-out, plain English words I suggest below.  Future posts will cover "i.e." and "e.g."

"Viz." is an abbreviation of the Latin videlicet, which abbreviates videre licet--"one may read."  John Aubrey uses the word "viz." many times in this 1898 edition of Brief Lives (1696).  I'll use this book to illustrate the two situations in which "viz." is typically used:

1) to enumerate the members of a group just referred to:
"They consist of severall stately trees of the like groweth and heighth, viz. elme, chestnut, beach, hornbeame . . . " (pp. 79-80).

"When these verses were made she had three children by Sir George Kenelme, who are there mentioned, viz. Kenelme, George and John" (p. 231).
2) to reiterate more clearly something already said:
"His deepest divinity is where a man would least expect it: viz. in his Colloquies in a Dialogue between a Butcher and Fishmonger . . . " (p. 249).

This commonly used differentiation is based on the original Fowler's Modern English Usage.  "Viz." was used where you, as a modern writer, should use "namely," "that is to say," or even (if you're in a jovial mood) "to wit."  Another solution is not to use any word at all.  At the top of the last paragraph I might have written ". . . is typically used in two situations, viz. . . ."  but I omitted it.  I got a more succinct, better-flowing sentence.

Some usage notes if you take the plunge: Viz. isn't italicized, or capitalized; put a period after the z; put a comma before it; do not follow it with a comma.

"I.e.," and "e.g." are soon to come!

Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926) and R.W. Burchfield's The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996) are useful sources, as is the Wikipedia page.

March 13, 2012


Here's a word I had only ever heard used once or twice, "mazuma."  Instead of saying "gelt" or "shekels," other words we've adopted jokily into English to mean "money," use "mazuma" or "mazooma."  Mazuma is the Yiddish word for cash or a ready amount; gelt is money or gold; shekelim were biblical units of weight and currency.

March 10, 2012

Rhymes with orange; rhymes with purple

It's hard to think of exact rhymes for these two color words.

According to this very nifty webpage from the Oxford English Dictionary people, there is a word in English that rhymes with "orange": "sporange."  "Sporange" is cited as a 19th-century word for "sporangium," a plant's spore case.  This (not that funny, I'm sorry) TV clip notes as well a place called Blorenge in Wales and the surname Gorringe.

Rhyming with "purple" is a lot more productive:
  • There's "curple," which OED calls a "phonetic corruption of curper." A curper is "a leathern strap buckled to the back of the saddle and passing under the horse's tail, to prevent the saddle from slipping forwards."
  • "Chirpal," a variant spelling of the Australian aborigine language Djirbal.
  • "Hurple," a Scottish word meaning to limp or walk lamely.
  • I suggest "Ashurnasirpal," the Anglicization of the name of at least two Assyrian kings, Aššur-nāṣir-apli (in Assyrian pronounced roughly /ashoor-natsir-aplee/)
  • Finally, the OED lists a single instance of "stirpal" as the adjectival form of "stirp," or branch or scion of a family.  Bryan Garner's Dictionary of American Legal Usage suggests the correct adjective is "stirpital" and cites a number of instances.
 Can you think of any others?  I hope this helps in your next poem.

March 1, 2012

Wen: a lost word?

Just saw someone looking on the internet at Wen shampoo, and I am reminded that a wen is a nasty skin growth or excrescence (although perhaps Wen Jiabao might beg to differ).  There's a famous story about how the Chevy Nova did poorly in Hispanophone countries because no va = "it doesn't go."