30-Second Word Whoop: “Fritter”

fritters

“Fritter” as a verb means to waste time, money or energy on trifling matters. Don’t suppose it would be a waste of my time to attempt this cauliflower-feta cheese-pomegranate fritter recipe someone just floated my way …

Focus. Language is no trifling matter.

The verb “fritter” dates to 1720–30, from the word “fitter,” a derivative of “fit” (Old English fitt), roughly meaning “to shred.” The noun, describing a small cake of batter sometimes containing corn, fruit, clams or other morsels then deep-fried or sautéed, derives from something else entirely. Yes, from bits of food! But its linguistic ingredients date to the late Middle Ages, 1350-1400, mixing the Middle English “friture, frytour,” the Old French “friture” and the Late Latin “frīctūra,” meaning “a frying,” equivalent to Latin “frict,” the past participle of “frīgere” to fry + -ūra -ure.

What the friggin’? How did all those word fragments come together into epicurean bite-size delights covering anything from appetizers to desserts that are by no means a waste of time, in my book?

Piecemeal.

Something filling for the pie hole, or to fill a void, like time. Kinda hippy trippy, and no fritter mashes up the concept better than “dandelion fritters.” Cue a bunch of trippin’ hippies gazing off in a field of weeds, frying their brains out:

Beware a flip side to fritters, because language, like cooking, can get messy. Spam fritters, banana fritters and mule fritters all have something to do with, without mincing words, poo or buttholes. You’ll have to consult the Urban Dictionary on those. Not worthy of my time.

Fritters of yam and sweet potato in Malaysia.
Fritters of yam and sweet potato in Malaysia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Whitebait Fritter
Whitebait Fritter (Photo credit: Fraser Lewry)
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30-Second Word Whoop(s): “Lottery” and “Lot”

You may feel you’re stuck with your lot in life, unless fortunes change and you win the lottery.

“Lottery,” defined as a game of chance, stems from the Italian lotteria. It’s rooted in the Old English “lot” — hlot, with a silent “H” — which means an “object (anything from dice to straw, but often a chip of wood with a name inscribed on it) used to determine someone’s share,” also “what falls to a person by lot.” In other words, a portion or share that is not necessarily meant for sharing.

There’s a lot about Lot in the Bible. In Genesis, he travels with his uncle Abram, has incestuous relations with his daughters — hey, this is the guy Jesus descended from? Indeed, “through David’s great-grandmother Ruth, who is descended from Lot’s son Moab,” according to Wikipedia. And, just guessing, the Bible as a second source.

I suppose we all take chances when we procreate.

Drawing lots can sometimes mean the “winner” is a loser, as some dreaded task befalls the one holding the short lot.

Parking lots allow us to fit a lot of cars in one place, saving lots of time getting in and out because of their orderly arrangement. One place you don’t want a ticket is a parking lot.

From order, we know, comes chaos.

An empty or abandoned lot offers either lots of potential or dread. It’s also a good place to find sticks and chips of wood in order to draw lots.

The game of lotto — which the dictionary defines as “bingo” — relies on a whole lotta luck and random forces being aligned in your favor. Chances are, you won’t win.

To increase your chances, though, dive in with a pool of people and divvy up shares — “lots” to be parceled out — which may prod you to trade in your current house and lot for something more stately, perhaps with pillars.

Just beware the fate of Lot’s wife who, when fleeing Sodom, looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

Dumb luck.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Homefront”

What’s new on the homefront?

If you’re in the news media business, the answer might be: “Everything.”

“Homefront” is the term we at USA TODAY use to refer to the “front page” of our website. More commonly, website designers and users refer to any dotcom landing page as a “home page” (coined in 1993).

The patriotic concept of “home front” hails from 1917, the World War I era.

The patriotic nation’s newspaper was established in 1982.

Something about the term homefront in our digital all-hands-on-deck race raises the stakes — as if we’re constantly at war.

And we are, against the clock and ourselves, as we are our own worst enemies, knowing full well haste makes waste.

One thing for sure: We at USA TODAY try to ensure our homefront always maintains a certain curb appeal.

World War I-era poster from U.S. Department of...

World War I-era poster from U.S. Department of Labor: “If you can use tools you are needed for patriotic service, at good wages to build ships…” Like all modern journalists, we’re hoping we aren’t laboring on a sinking ship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

30-Second Word Whoop: “Hogwash”

Happy as a pig in slop. That idiom is not hogwash.

“Hogwash” seems an oxymoron, unless the pig in question is awash in mud.

The term comes from the slop that pigs sloppily eat — a farm mix of refuse that swine have a hard time refusing. Fascinating how many loosey-goosey synonyms for hogwash we can find on the farm:

  • applesauce
  • balderdash (on Scottish farms, a mix of milk and ale)
  • baloney (homonym for “bologna,” made from the pigs)
  • bilge water
  • balls
  • bull
  • bull dust
  • bullshit
  • crock
  • a load of manure, crap, shit, etc.
  • fiddle-faddle (using corn from the farm)
  • garbage
  • rubbish
  • trash
  • tripe
  • rot
  • horse feathers (mythically speaking)
  • horseshit
  • humbug (chasing the horseflies)
  • poppycock (daddy rooster? No, literally “soft dung”)

I’m on a sausage roll.

It’s all nonsense, however you slice it. Whether or not there’s truly a bacon shortage, there’s no shortage of ways to say “nonsense” — so no sense limiting yourself to “nonsense.”

A few choice more, for the rinse:

    • blather
    • drivel
    • drool
    • eyewash
    • moonshine
    • soft soap
    • swill

30-Second Word Whoop: “Piggyback”

When pigs fly … REALLY?! Try when pigs give each other piggyback rides. Because they don’t. They would sooner fly.

As promised, in time for holiday hams, we dissect “piggyback.”

This site doesn’t typically scrape so low as to piggyback on dictionary.com’s word of the day, but recently we slipped. The word was “dovetail,” a verb the urban dictionary calls a synonym for “piggyback.” Today, we’re piggybacking on that thought.

With “piggyback,” used as a verb since 1952, it seems we have a failure to communicate: It’s one of those words that got lost in translation, like piglatin. Most word detective sites say it’s a case of a folk etymology alteration — a corruption — of “pick pack” (1560s) or “pickaback.” The “pick” in this case is a dialectal variant of “pitch,” to throw. The 16th-century pickaback, then, described throwing something on one’s back to carry it, as a beast of burden might. Piggy power wasn’t harnessed in this way, though, because they are snooty and unruly beasts who’d rather pitch themselves into a pitch pit.

What’s interesting is that “piggybacking” today is not so much about work, but play. Most piggybacking observed across the animal spectrum is about parents carrying offspring — giving them rides, whether as a practical method of transportation or as an amusement — the organisms appear fused, but it’s really just strengthening their bond. A synonym is “pooseback” — you can picture the papoose. Like a human caboose.

Another modern definition of piggyback: “to obtain a wireless Internet connection by bringing one’s own computer within the range of another’s wireless connection without that subscriber’s permission or knowledge.” A free ride on the Internet. Executed by low-life swines.

Occasionally you’ll see animals riding piggyback who are actually mating. The better to create more children to give more piggyback rides to.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Dovetail”

These doves were just done interlocking when I snapped this instagram love-gram. (Photo by Terry Byrne)

A half-blind dovetail joint

A half-blind dovetail joint. A dovetail joint is comprised of a tenon and mortise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a birder, I admire hordes of dove tails.

I know by heart their rounded, tapering lines, like fancy Chinese fans; I know by sound their loopy wing whistle, which may or may not involve tail feathers. It signals that a mourning dove somewhere is hauling ass, so to speak.

Today, Dictionary.com plucked “dovetail” from the blue as its word of the day, defining it as the stock verb: “to join or fit together compactly or harmoniously.”

Often used in building trades to describe a joint with interlocking pieces shaped roughly like a dove’s tail, the compound noun form of dovetail fastens things together “logically,” according to Webster’s New World.

Logically speaking, then, why is “piggyback” a synonym for dovetail? In a work meeting, for instance, I might dovetail off your point. Things get disjointed if, say, in depositions, Witness A’s story doesn’t dovetail with Witness B’s story.

(Hey, do piggies really ride each other? I can think of loads of other animals who ride or get ridden in a superior fashion — how did piggies get chosen? Thought to be continued with an upcoming Word Whoop on “piggyback.”)

The lip of a beavertail trailer is sometimes called a dovetail.

Dovetail juxtaposes neatly with “beavertail” — for those occasions when you’re fixing not to haul ass but to haul something.A beavertail trailer has a slight decline at the end of the deck, to make loading and unloading easier. The slanted part is also called a dovetail, I’m guessing, for its interlocking joints that allow it some flux. Not to be confused with “fishtail,” which suggests too much flux.

A dovetail jig. The jig is up.

Beautiful dovetail joints can be seen on the drawer that is piggybacking another.

Turns out “dovetail” is a pretty handy term. There are dovetail jigs (used to cut dovetail shapes, for drawers, for instance) and dovetail saws for crafting things of wood — anyone have cause for a wooden craft or an ark at this juncture?

Here’s a description from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks’ website trumpeting its dovetail saw:

“Since dovetailing is a ripping operation, where the kerf is running with the grain, our Dovetail Saw has its teeth filed to a rip profile, unlike other dovetail saws on the market today.”

Kinda wrenches the dove from its peaceful image. In truth, doves are voracious eaters, more like pigs, and will let nothing get between them and their millet.

Whether you’re trying to connect 4-by-4’s, or connecting doves, pigs, beavers, even turtle doves when animals go marching two by two, here’s hoping it all dovetails nicely for you.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Redoubt”

Peter Falk as “Columbo” was this word detective’s favorite television detective.

If the prefix “re-” means “again” or “return to” / “go back” (see previous post on “Reserve”), then why wouldn’t “redoubt” mean “to second-guess” or to pose — with a skeptical Columbo-esque turnabout — one final probing question? (The rumpled TV detective was known to press prime suspects with “Just one more thing …”)

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t dissect “redoubt.” The definition is so counterintuitive as to be ridiculous.

“Redoubt” is not even a verb. It’s a noun meaning — wait for it — “a breastwork outside a fortification, to defend approaches, etc.”

SAY, WHAT? Breast … fornication? I shoulda known. It’s from the French. Another take: “a breastwork within a fortification.” Sure, that clears things right up.

Oh, hold on. The second definition is easier to penetrate: “any stronghold.”

I’m still stuck on the breastwork thing. Doncha love definitions that make you reach again for the dictionary? A sort of re-lookup. Redoubting the dictionary’s efficacy as a tool of information.

This is “breastwork” and some French guys waiting for action.

“Breastwork” is simply this: “a low wall put up quickly as a defense in battle.” OK. That’s pretty much striking out at second base. Got it.

So what gives on “redoubt”? Its basic etymology:

1608, from Fr. redoute, from It. ridotto “place of retreat,” from M.L. reductus “place of refuge, retreat,” from L. reduct-, pp. stem of reducere “to lead or bring back” (see reduce). The -b- was added by influence of unrelated Eng. doubt.

I give up.

Now, the American Redoubt I’ve heard of. This “strategic relocation movement” was popularized by 2008 presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party), who marched his whole clan first to colonize western Montana. The movement spawned weekly podcasts by Christian Libertarian journalist John Jacob Schmidt, called Radio Free Redoubtbilled as a “Refuge for God-Fearing, Liberty-Loving Patriots of the Western United States.”

First proposed by survivalist novelist and blogger James Wesley Rawles, the American Redoubt pinpoints three states — Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (all decidedly red), plus adjoining parts of Oregon and Washington (blue) — as havens for survivalists, conservatives, doomsday preppers, etc. Utah and New Hampshire also have made “free state” inroads.

Seems like the opposite of patriotism, and freedom, to me. My readout: I feel safer living as far as possible from people hoarding ammo and explosives.

Mount Redoubt, or Redoubt Volcano, is an active stratovolcano in the largely volcanic Aleutian Range of Alaska. Located in the Chigmit Mountains, Mount Redoubt towers 9,000 feet above its surrounding valleys.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Reserve”

Would you like a reservation with that reserve wine?

Possibly nothing illustrates delayed gratification better than stashing something valuable away to be enjoyed much, much later.

Squirrels get it. They scramble for what they need to survive for the day, then add a cushion of comfort — a reserve of nuts in some tree pocket.

Some things get better with age, the longer you don’t touch them. A private wine stock in reserve. An investment in reserves. Futures.

Future delights.

There’s a holding back, a restraint, maturity required to make what’s in reserve count. Then … prepare to lay claim to the finest stuff in life — the best table at a restaurant, the best seats in a theater — only with a reservation. Supply some collateral first: a ticket you’ve paid dearly for, a promise to spend freely on the establishment’s “Gran Reserva,” Spanish or Portuguese wine that is regulated and certified to have aged at least five years (two in the cask, three in the bottle). Once you have that reservation, look forward to not holding back. Whether it’s dinner at 8, or the in-room hot tub with the Vintage Hotel’s honeymoon suite.

It’s downright American to save. Not so much to be reserved. That’s British.

I say without reservation that the Federal Reserve is something of a contradiction. It jumps in and acts, allegedly on behalf of the people. Likewise reservists. We save them for a rainy day, but when bombs start raining down, we call on their reserve of energy, hoping their battle mettle isn’t rusty.

What if reservists re-serve? Re-enlist. Re-sign up. Love the contradiction in re-sign (back for more) and resign (quit). Just don’t try to re-serve that reserve wine. Tacky.

A reserve clause in baseball benefits the owners. A forest reserve might benefit those pack-rat squirrels.

I have reservations about holding my tongue.

Those counting the house stash can only hope that gamblers at an Indian reservation casino don’t hold back — rather, throw caution to the wind.

If someone seems reserved, no doubt he is likely to come uncorked later and blow the roof off the reservation.

Hope these folks are keeping something in reserve.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Binder”

Three binder clips, one with the arms up, one ...

The binder clip: Pleonasm at work? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world’s gone loopy, on a post-presidential-debate bender with the word “binder.”

A binder can be either a person or a thing that binds — anything from tar to cheese pizza to a leaf of tobacco wrapped around the innards of a cigar. “Binding” can be a verb, adjective or noun — such as the magic at work in the spine of a book.

Its taut meaning has never been at issue.

Until Mitt Romney’s stuffy reference to “binders full of women” — an attempt to boast of broad-mindedness when it comes to female hiring — sparked a collective groan. Was it because the phrase conjures up torturous images of an age-old Chinese custom of binding women’s feet to make them seem more dainty, a practice resulting in foot deformities especially in elderly women, leaving them unable to squat?

Or was it merely too cold and business-like, evoking the notion of quotas and binding contracts, objectifying women as notches in some boss man’s belt of “diversity”? The idea he couldn’t store ideas of women in his head, that he needed a reference book to find any qualified women to hire.

As a wordsmith, I enjoy seeing a household word get its day in the sun. “Bindergate” now lives  alongside such gems — flashes in the pan, really — as Nannygate I and II, Clipgate (Stephen Colbert’s mockery of Fox News’ display of President Obama’s clipped-together jobs bill), and, my favorite, Gategate. 

Up until now, the modifier I most associated with binder was “empty.” Romney aides are bound to have their hands full blotting these memes from voters’ minds.

30-Second Word Whoop: “Greek”

Greek Hoplites

Greek Hoplites (Photo credit: Dunechaser)

The Greeks have been taking a lot of guff lately about financial ruin and collapsing markets — clearly, the gods have not been on their side.

And yet we owe a lot to the ancient Greeks, apart from alpha leaders and utopian theories.

Not only has the age-old society been a pillar of myth, architecture, theater, philosophy, sport and yogurt  (ye gods, have you tried Ben & Jerry’s frozen Greek yogurt? To die a Greek tragic death for!), but also language.

Duh. You don’t need a higher education to associate Greeks with frat boys and sorority sisters, even if staring at those hieroglyphic Greek letters on buildings off-campus leaves one musing: “It’s all Greek to me” — aka anything incomprehensible.

In any arena, when “Greek meets Greek” it means one has met their match.  A Greek cross is one with four equal arms at right angles.

A Greek fire? Hearkens back to medieval times and refers to a secret weapon invented by a Syrian engineer and deployed successfully by the Byzantine Empire — especially in naval warfare, as the mixture mythically could burn in water. According to Wikipedia, “the composition of Greek fire remains a matter of speculation and debate, with proposals including naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, and niter.”

One of the most mysterious (to me) Greek derivations might have sprung at the dawn of the computer age, when impatient graphic artists and photo editors in the newsroom would suffer the time it took for artwork to “greek” — or materialize — on then-primitive 512-by-342 pixel, monochromatic  screens.

But only a media geek would know that — “geek” being not a typo for or even deriving from Greek but apparently stemming from the low German geck, an imitative verb rooted in Scandinavia meaning “to croak, cackle” and also “to mock, cheat.”

Somebody bail me out here.