verbicide I


< getting to the bottom of words>



means “by oneself”. Take away the first letter, and you get lone, which means “by oneself”. Now take away the first letter of lone, and you get one, which means ” by itself”.



from Latin roots meaning “using both the left and right hands with equal ease,” is a twelve-letter word in which the first six letters – ambide– are drawn from the left-hand side of the alphabet and the second six letters- xtrous– are from the right side. Ambidextrous is also a twelve-letter isogram, meaning that no letter is repeated. The word features all five major vowels, almost in order, and remains an isogram with a sixth vowel in ambidextrously.

The opposite of ambidextrous is ambisinister: “clumsy,as if possessing two left hands.”



descends from the Arabic hashshashin, literally “hashish eaters.” The original hashshashin were members of a religious and military order located in the mountains of Lebanon, These fanatics would commit political murder after being intoxicated with great quantities of hashish.



We can thank early Dutch settlers for our word boss, which began as baas, “master”.


 Bite the bullet

Visit a Revolutionary War battle site such as Fort Ticonderoga, and you may see some gruesome artifacts in its museum- bullets with teeth marks in them. Possessing no real anesthesia to ease the agony of amputation,long-ago surgeons offered wounded soldiers the only pain reducer they could- a bullet to bite hard on. Just thinking about such trauma is enough to make one sweat bullets. After anesthesia was introduced in the United States in 1844, the expression came figuratively to mean ” to deal with a stressful situation resolutely”, as in Rudyard Kipling’s lines:

Bite the bullet, old man

And don’t let them think you’re afraid


From the Greek enthousiasmos ” a god within” , first meant “filled with God”, as did giddy, from Anglo Saxon gydig, “god-held man”.


“Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.” That’s not only a profound statement and a common-sense truth. It’s also an example of chiasmus – a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases in order to produce a rhetorical or humorous effect. The chi in chiasmus stands for the letter X in the Greek alphabet, and the word comes from the Greek khiasmos, meaning ” crossing;to mark with a X.” In most chiastic statements, if you stack the first clause on the second and then draw straight lines from the key words in the first to the second, you will draw an X. Try it with a chiastic quotation like ” When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Chiasmi ( the formal plural form) show up in some of the most clever,thought-provoking, and memorable pronouncements in history:

  • ” One should eat to live, not live to ear.” – Cicero
  • ” If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”- unofficial slogan of the NRA
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy



In ancient Greek mythology, a dreadful monster called the Minotaur lived in a labyrinth on the island of Crete. Theseus, the founder-king of Athens, volunteered to enter the labyrinth and slay the beast in order to stanch the constant slaughter of Athenian youth fed to the creature. Ariadne, the daughter of the Cretan king, had fallen in love with Theseus and provided him with a clewe ( Middle English), a ball of thread, that he unwound as he went into the maze. After Theseus decapitated the Minotaur, the thread guided him out of the heart of the maze.

Gradually clewe, now clue, came to mean anything that helps us to solve a baffling situation, something that leads us from the unknown to the known.



originated from the Latin com, “together”, and panis, “bread”, You and I are companions in our love of language because together we break the bread of words. That wage earners are called breadwinners reminds us of the importance of bread in medieval life. Not surprisingly, both lord and lady are well-bread words. Lord descends from the Old English hlaf, “loaf”, and weard, “keeper,” and lady from hlaf, “loaf”, and dige, ” kneader.”

In days of yore, housewives often needed to scrimp, even on essentials. Whenever wheat was in short supply, the bottom crust of pies was made with rye meal. Wheat was used only for the upper crust. Soon upper crust entered everyday speech to mean the socially select.



Have you noticed that a great number of two-syllable words are nouns when their first syllable is stressed and verbs when their second syllable is stressed, as in ” If they conVICT me, I’ll become a CONvict”? This phenomenon is sometimes known as Phyfe’s rule.


 Couch potato

compares lumpish watchers of television to lumpy potatoes: The longer couch potatoes sit, the deeper they put down their roots and the more they come to resemble potatoes. But there’s more than just a vegetable image here; couch potato is a pun on the word tuber. A potato is the tuber of a plant, and boob tuber was an early term for someone watching television, i.e. the boob tube.



In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius warns Brutus that fate lies “not in our stars,but in ourselves.” Nevertheless, for centuries, people have believed that the stars and their heavenly positions govern events here on earth. In the ghostly opening scene of Hamlet, Horatio speaks of “stars with trains of fire and dews of blood/ Disasters in the sun…”

If a conjunction of the heavenly bodies is not propitious,disaster will strike. Cobbled from the Latin dis, “bad,against,” and astrum, “star”, disaster literally means “against the stars,ill-starred,star-crossed.”

Astrum is a prolific root that gives us aster ( a star-shaped flower), astrology ( “star study”), astronomer (“star arranger”), asteroid (“star form”), and astronaut (“star sailor”). Then there’s the asterisk,the symbol that looks like a “little star”.


Lederer, Richard. Amazing Words: An Alphabetical Anthology of Alluring, Astonishing, Astounding, Bedazzling, Beguiling, Bewitching, Enchanting, Enthralling, Entrancing, Magical, Mesmerizing, Miraculous, Tantalizing, Tempting, and Transfixing Words. Portland, OR: Marion Street, 2012. Print.


3 responses to verbicide I

  1. Cool on the rest, but I’m not sure about that first one… surely “lone” means “by itself” (the lone tree on the hill) and “one” means… I dunno… “single”?


    • Midnight Blahs – Author

      Thank you for raising this issue. I’ll have you know that it challenged me to learn about the intricate details of the English language. I have never studied the language grammatically, something for which I’m ashamed 😀

      Anyhoo, though it’s an excerpt from a book, I decided to investigate the words ‘lone’ and ‘one’.
      I found that though lone could mean situated by itself as in ‘lone tree’, it could also mean solitary,unaccompanied, as in ‘ the lone traveller’.

      Likewise, I found that ‘one’ has a myriad of denotations, but it seems to me that in this context ‘single’ and ‘by itself’ are synonymous. Both mean ‘distinct from other things’.

      I didn’t catch onto your word play in your name until recently 🙂


      • Your English is excellent — I had no idea it wasn’t a first language! And you’re right — a very weird and intricate language it is.

        You’re also correct that “alone” and “lone” mean nearly the same thing. “Alone” more often applies just to people, whereas “lone” is more universal. (In reality, “lone” is just a short form of “alone.”) And in either case, it is “one that is “alone” or “lone.”

        It is very cute how removing letters gives you words that mean almost the same thing. 🙂


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