Category Archives: Use the right words

A look at the proper use of words. Sometimes two words can be similar, but their meanings so different.

Amiable — to describe a house?

amiable_definitionSometimes, I think people use word they think is right but it isn’t.  It may be close but not exactly the word to express the right message.

Case in point–I was reading some real estate adds. One said that the house listed was “amiable.”  That didn’t seem quite right to me.

You decide–Here is a dictionary definition of amiable:

having or showing pleasant, good-natured personal qualities
willing to accept the wishes, decisions or suggestions of others
Those do not seem to be characteristics of a house–at least to me.
The last line of the dictionary definition of amiable said lovable or loveable.
Maybe that is what the ad writer was going for.  They just had an obsolete dictionary.

Tessalation — you have seen it before

Tessellation_001Tessellation is a new word for me.

I heard it at a middle school of all things. The students had an evening where they displayed art, science, math and engineering projects from their efforts this year.

One young man stood in the hall with many colorful pieces of paper with design on them.  He explained that the class learned about tessellation to do the work.

Here is a definition of tessellation from

A tessellation is created when a shape is repeated over and over again covering a plane without any gaps or overlaps.

Another word for a tessellation is tilting.

A dictionary* will tell you that the word “tessellate” means to form or arrange small squares in a checkered or mosaic pattern. The word “tessellate” is derived from the Ionic version of the Greek word “tesseres,” which in English means “four.” The first tilings were made from square tiles.

I know you have seen these patterns before.

To see some interesting patterns, check out

One of my favorite artists, M.C. Escher used this concept in many of his works.





Use the right term

word-switchingWhile reading things on the internet, I have discovered some word oddities.  Actually, by odd, I mean they are using the wrong words.  In the two cases I will cite here, they used actual words that sound like the word they wanted.

Does anyone know what the name for this phenomenon is?  The closest I can come is that of the mondegreen.  I did a wordsbybob blog post on mondegreens earlier in this blog.

Example 1:   Someone said they felt like “crawling up in a ball.” They clearly meant curling up in a ball.

Example 2:  Another person said while commenting on the good effort of someone that they did “an admiral” job.  I am ninety-nine percent sure they really wanted to say admirable.  No offense to anyone who served in the Navy!

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that these people are not great readers.  They have probably heard these terms–or misheard them.


Nut graph What the heck?

What is a nut graph?


Not too long ago, I received an email from my editor about a newspaper article I wrote.  He referenced the nut graph that needed some work.

Not having a journalism background, I had to do some research on what a nut graph– or nut graf, nutgraph, nutgraf.

According to Wikipedia, in journalism, nut graph is a paragraph, especially in a feature story.  It explains the news value of the story.

It probably came from the term nutshell paragraph. This may be tied to the “in an nutshell” phrase.

Wikipedia says that writing a nut graph is called nutshelling and the writer is called a nutsheller.

Guilty as charged

P.S.  As an aside to some of my witty friends and readers, nut graph does not refer to a family tree–mine or others.


Moldering — not smoldering

moldering definition

Moldering is another word I have never used or heard of until recently. Just as my prior post on oddment, it comes from an essay submission by someone in my writers’ critique group.


This means to turn to dust by natural decay.  To crumble to pieces, disintegrate or waste away. (A building can molder.)

It is related to words like:

decompose, decay, rot and spoil.

Anticlockwise definition


anticlockwise_definitionAnticlockwise (or anti-clockwise) came up as a term in a recent podcast I was listening to.  I had to rewind to hear it again.

Sees this is a legit word, but has its roots in England.

The definition of anticlockwise is the same as counterclockwise (or counter-clockwise) here in the U.S.  turning in the opposite direction from the rotation of the hands of a clock.

First known use of ANTICLOCKWISE appears to be in 1879.




Bibulous definition

Bibulous  Now that is a word that I have never heard before.

As usual, I always look for different words as I read blogs, articles, etc.  I hear many on the podcasts I listen to.

In researching the fact that the inventor of the Pet Rock, Gary Dahl, died recently, one website had an interesting phrase.

In detailing how Dahl came up with the idea of the Pet Rock, the site stated that it all happened in a bar in a “flash of bibulous inspiration.”

Bibulous means excessively fond of drinking alcohol.  Additional definitions include absorbent or spongy.

Origin   1665-1665-Latin bibulus (bib (ere) to drink (cognate with Sanskrit píbati(he) drinks) + -ulus ulous )