Monthly Archives: April 2009

omelet /’ɒmlɪt/

My older and more culinarily challenged daughter is able to make only a small selection of meals. Broccoli-cheese soup is probably her masterwork but close behind is the cheese omelet. OK, so maybe there is a little effort involved in the post-omelet phase, when I have to scrape burnt cheddar from the pan and then soak it for three days before it can be used again. Alternatively, I believe a burst of napalm would also remove caked-in fromage but fortunately I don’t have easy access to such kitchen equipment.



An omelet (or omelette depending on how much more effort you want to put into your writing) is, of course, made by whipping up eggs in a hot pan and tossing in any odd bits of food you may have lying around in the refrigerator.

But the actual word has nothing to do with eggs but the method of cooking – using a thin, flat pan. In the 14th century, references can be found to an alumelle or alemelle, which is literally a thin plate like “the blade of a sword or knife.” The word became alemette and alumette in the 15th century.

Other variations include aumelet, amulet, ammulet, and aumulet. As you can see, spelling was not always a big thing many years ago. You can even use it as a verb to describe the process of making into an omelet: “I don’t want to be omeletted!” (from the Westmorland Gazette, 6th October, 1908).


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hapax legomenon /’hæpæks lɪ’gɒmənɒn/

hapaxI was re-reading a copy of Verbatim magazine a couple of days back and came across the word mansquibbing. It was used by the playwright, David Garrick, in his play Miss In Her Teens (1747), when talking about a housemaid:

“As for Cautherly mansquibbing her (which he certainly does), I don’t mind—but I suspect she has all kinds of fellows in our absence, and I don’t know what may be the consequence.”

The word mansquibbing only appears in this book and doesn’t seem to exist in any dictionary. It’s also significant that it has a ghit of 2 – and both are to the same Verbatim article. I’ve already talked about the word squib, so there may be some relation between that and mansquibbing, but

There’s a really cool word for words that only appear once in a piece of text – a word you can use gratuitously at parties: a hapax legomenon, or simply a hapax. The OED defines it as, “A word or form of which only one instance is recorded in a literature or an author.”

Its original Greek form, ἀραξ λεγόμενον, means “thing once said.” Shakespeare, for example, uses the hapax honorificabilitudinitas in Love’s Labors Lost, and Tennyson used the word achage in his drama, Queen Mary.

Biblical scholars like finding hapaxes, as do linguists working with ancient scripts. The problem with a hapax is that if you cannot work out what it means in a particular sentence, you have no way of seeing it in other contexts where you can make more guesses.  So when you are working on deciphering Mayan scripts carved on the side of a temple, if you come across a glyph that has never been seen before, it is an example of a hapax.

So go ahead – write it down, along with honorificabilitudinitas and achage, and feel free to trot them all out the next time you’re propping up the bar at the pub.

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Bad Grammar

Whilst trawling the web, I came across a neat parody of a Justin Timberlake song. Two things make it particularly worth watching; the first is that it makes fun of the the bad grammar found in songs -including those of the said Mr. Timberlake; and it features the linguists’ pin-up grrl, Marina Orlova or, as she is commonly known, Hot For Words. Marina’s site is the best excuse ever for stuffy old language pedants to ogle a very attractive blonde. Shamelessly sexist I know, but then I make no apologies for being a regular who find women attractive. And Ms. Orlova is no exception.

So sit back and click this video., and then the guys can stop over at Marina’s site, Hot For Words, and add it as a bookmark. Or as a podcast 😉

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ghit /ghɪt/

One of the techniques I use for checking a word’s provenance is to do a search using Google and check the number of hits. It seems that I can save some keystrokes by using the word ghit instead – short for “Google hit.” Well, duh! In the image below, the graph shows the ghits for the word gold plotted against actual gold prices.

Ghits for word "gold" against gold prices

Ghits for word "gold" against gold prices

As you might expect, it’s a very new word. One of the earliest uses I can find is in a  Language Log blog posting from Mark Liberman, where there’s a reference to “Trevor,” whose second name I couldn’t find, who appears to have coined it. The actual link to the archive where he first uses it is a dead link – boohhh!

On that February 9th, 2004, the plural form, ghits, had a ghit of 2380. Today (April 1st – and no, this is not a joke posting) it has a ghit of 21,000. The singular ghit has a ghit of only 72,700.

I also looked for “to ghit” and “ghitting” to find that no-one has, as yet, verbified the word. So here’s my chance…

I ghitted ghitted and that didn’t show any verb use neither. The ghit for ghitting was only 107, and they turned out to be misspellings of hitting (clearly a slip of the keys because G is just to the right of H on the keyboard) or a phonetic spelling for “getting” – as in “I’m ghitting out of here!”

The word ghit turns up in the Urban Dictionary as a variation on the pejorative word git, meaning “a moron, idiot, fool…” as in “Get stuffed you fat git!” This word sounds the same and comes from the word get meaning “a bastard; hence as a general term of abuse: a fool, idiot”  (OED, Vol VI, p. 476). The word get for a person is dialectical, typical of Scotland and the north of England. Being a Lancashire lad myself, “you stupid get” has been in my vocabulary forever.

Linguist Geoff Pullum has suggested ghit should be pronounced /’dʒihɪt/ but I don’t buy that. He suggests we should use the spelling Ghit because the G is from Google,and the company should be recognized. I prefer the simple ghit because I prefer the single syllable word to the double, and a “jee-hit” is double. There’s an old, old school of thought that suggests you should prefer the short word to the longer, and in this case I’m OK with the rule. Mind you, I prefer loquacious to wordy, so go figure!

A Danish company has appropriated the word for their web site,, which, as you might expect, measures page hits for specific words, although they also use other search engines. What is fascinating is that the word is becoming “uprooted” from its “Google hit” origin to become a word-in-itself meaning “a measure of page hits using one, or many, search engines.” Clearly the etymon of “Google hit” will remain, but its new gloss will probably take over, casting aside its specific link to that one commercial search engine.

Henceforth on, I will be using ghits often. Ghit use to it!


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