Category Archives: Word origins

Looks at where words came from.

Pangrams — using all the letters


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. How many times did some of us bang out this sentence on a typewriter (remember those?)  as we learned to type—oh so long ago.

I recently found out there is a name for sentences like this.  They are pangrams.  This is a Greek word meaning every letter.  In a pangram, a sentence contains every letter of the alphabet in one sentence. They are also known as holoalphabetic sentences.

Pangrams are a good way to display typefaces or practice calligraphy, in addition to aiding in learning where the letters on a keyboard reside.

What Examples:

We promptly judged antique ivory buckles for the next prize.

Brown jars prevented the mixture from freezing too quickly.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

Fred specialized in the job of making very quaint wax toys.



Hippotherapy – maybe not what you thought

Hippotherapy is another new word for me. I heard it on the radio, so I had to knowhippotherapy_definition  more.   (No, it is not where they put a hippo on a couch.)

In reality, hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy. A therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. It is meant to improving coordination, balance, and strength.

It is not the same as therapeutic horseback riding.

The word hippotherapy has its roots in the Greek word hippos (horse). It literally refers to treatment or therapy aided by a horse.

Hippotherapy is not new. It is mentioned in the ancient Greek writings of Hippocrates—Hence, the name.  Even though it is that old, the discipline was not developed until the 1960s, when it began to be used in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as an adjunct to traditional physical therapy.

Now you know a new word – HIPPOTHERAPY!

Titivate — look sharp now


Titivate is the word today.  I got this one from one of the Words By Bob readers.  She said the word was used in a television.    She thinks it was used incorrectly, and the interviewer was looking for the word tittilate.

Here are some definitions of titivate:

To make small improvements or alteration  to (one’s appearance etc.)

to add some finishing touches to.

to make smart or spruce

Synonyms for titivate include beautify, deck out, embellish, gussy up, prettify, smarten and spiff up

The word comes from a modification of earlier spelling– tidivate .  It may come from the word tidy  and-vate.  Some suggest it follows the pattern of words like cultivate and renovate

Alternate spellings are tidivate, tiddivate or tittivate

Lemniscate — it just keeps going

Lemniscate is not a term most of us use but we have seen the figure the term represents.


A lemniscate is a figure-eight shaped curve.  Many, like me, refer to it as the infinity symbol.

The label lemniscate makes sence because it comes from the Latin word lemniscatus—meaning decorated with ribbons.  This in turn relates to the Greek Island of Lemnos.  On this island, ribbons were worn as decorations.   Some think the word derives from the wool that the ribbons were made of.
The first usage of the word leminscate was in about 1781.

New Latin lemniscata, from feminine of Latin lemniscatus with hanging ribbons, from lemniscus

Words tell where you are from

regional_wordsThis article appeared in the January 1, 2014 issue of the Berthoud (Colo) Weekly Surveyor

My first exposure to people from different areas of the United States happened in 1963 when I joined the Air Force.

What a revelation for an eighteen-year-old with no travel experience.

I soon learned that people from Texas sound different that people from Pennsylvania.

I also discovered that different regions of the U.S have different names for some items.

This all came back to me this week when I was surfing—wasting time–on Facebook.

I discovered a quiz that can tell where you grew up from your answers to some simple questions. Go to to see if this NY Times test can decide where you are from.

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It’s all about meme

meme_definitionMeme is a term that keeps cropping up.

I spend a lot–too much maybe–time surfing blogs and social media like Facebook.   A read about meme’s but had no idea what they were or the definition of a meme.

If you are in the same situation, let me help you.

A meme is:

An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.

  • A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation.
  • A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”.

From Wikipedia:

A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα , mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai, “to imitate”, from μῖμος mimos “mime”)[and it was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.

Word nerds unite

Note: This article appeared in the December  5 edition of the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor


The advent of the internet, computers and smart phones all of us now allow us to waste time in ways we never imagined.

No one knows for sure how many people are playing Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Words with Friends, etc. any given time.

Well, here is a new suggestion on something to do on the computer, and this one has at least a smattering of education embedded in it.

The activity I am talking about is the N-graph. Find the Google N-gram Viewer at

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