Gendarme, Socialism, and More: It’s Last Week in Words


1. Words New to Me: Gendarme

1280px-France_in_XXI_Century._Air_policeA few days ago, I came across the word gendarme in The Oxford Book of Death. Here’s the context:

Aversion to death is necessary to the survival of the species, rather in the spirit of the French proverb to the effect that fear of the gendarme is the beginning of wisdom.

The what is the beginning of what? The context here doesn’t help. So I hit the dictionaries. Here’s what I found in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:

1. A member of a body of soldiers especially in France serving as an armed police force for the maintenance of the public order.

2. Police officer.

And the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

I. (Chiefly plural) In the older French army, a horseman in full armor, having others under him; later a mounted trooper. Now historical

2. A soldier, who is employed on police duties, especially in France

2. figurative: Projecting pieces of rock, which are called gendarmes; apparently from their … stopping travelers 1883.

Okay, so gendarme = French police office, sometimes on horseback. And the word’s etymology? Partridge’s Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English explains it like this: Middle French-French gendarmes (plural): gent, people + de, of + armes, weapons.

Now I get it: Fear of the people of weapons just may be the beginning of wisdom.


2. What Does “Socialism” Mean?

This is the question asked by a recent article in The Fort Worth Star Telegram and, depending on where you get your news, the answer could be everything from a government that tosses people in gulags for no reason to healthcare for all.  I won’t deprive you of the joy of reading that piece. Instead, I thought I’d hit you with some dictionary definitions of the word so you can judge for yourself. That said, it should be clear to anyone with a solid head on their shoulders that the socialism called for by some of our more progressive legislators does not include the government taking over the means of production.

1. Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means production and distribution of goods. 2 a. A system of society or group living in which there is no private property. b. A system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state. 3. A stage of society  in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done. – Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.)

1 a. A social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are owned collectively and political power is exercised by the whole community. 1b. The theory or practice of those who support such a social system. 2. The building of a material base for communism under the dictatorship of the proletariat in Marxist-Leninist Theory. – American Heritage Dictionary

A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be regulated or owned by the community as a whole; policy or practice based on this theory. Socialism has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state Communism, and social democracy; however it mainly applies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market…. – Oxford English Reference Dictionary

An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists. – Dictionary of Cultural Literacy


3. Is the Term Paddy’s Day Offensive?

800px-Vasnetsov_RazvlechenieAccording to the website Irish, “every March 17, a minority of people complain that the term “Paddy’s Day” is offensive.”

I have no doubt that this is true, but I have never heard anyone use the phrase “Paddy’s Day” in place of  St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m an active participant in the day (my daughters are Irish dancers). Nevertheless, here’s the argument/rationale:

It seems that some people see the “Paddy” in “Paddy’s Day” as derogatory, connecting it with “Paddy Wagon,” or “Plastic Paddy.

“However, to those who say “Paddy’s Day” and see no problem with it … “Paddy” in this case is simply the logical abbreviation of the Irish word Pádraig.

According to Wikipedia:

Pádraig (Pádraic or Páraic) is an Irish male name deriving from the Latin Patricius, meaning “of the patrician class,” introduced via the name of Saint Patrick. Patrick is the English version, via Old French.

Diminutives include Páidín (Anglicised as “Podge” and “Paddy”); the latter Anglicisation is often used, sometimes pejoratively, as a term for Irish people as a whole.

Okay, so there is some relation between Paddy, Pádraig, and St. Patrick, but I still think “Paddy” sounds stupid and would never say it. That said, I don’t expect this kerfuffle to end any time soon. As noted by Irish Central, this article from 1994 (!) article from the Baltimore Sun, this debate has been raging for a while.

For more about St. Patrick, check out this previous Butter Lamb post: Facts and Legends about St. Patrick.


4. New Words: Hangxiety

I came across the following from the website

I didn’t see the original article, and I’m not sure who the singer Charlotte Church is, but it seems she wrote an article in for the Guardian in which she vowed to never again experience “hangxiety.”

Hangxiety, it seems, is a new word for “the feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge.” Although the word is not yet recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary, it is registered in the Urban Dictionary.

There you go. Use it at will.


5. 15 of My Favorite Dictionaries

I recently came across an article from titled “15 of the Best Dictionary Apps for Your Every Nerdy Need.”

Putting aside the question as to why a site named “Book Riot” would publish an article about 15 of the best dictionary apps rather than 15 of the best dictionaries (I mean, where’s the love?!?), I thought, “Hey, since I don’t traffik in apps, I should produce a list of my 15 favorite dictionaries. So that’s what I’ve done. Check ’em out at the links provided! [Note: the links here are to, but if you can, please purchase any of these books at a local bookstore.]

The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art

A big book with a lot of beautiful art and very thorough definitions. If you’re into classical mythology and everything related to it, this book is for you. Surprisingly, I find myself going to this book a lot … and that’s okay with me.

A Dictionary of Symbols

J.E. Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols is kind of the gold standard of symbol dictionaries. Like the aforementioned Dictionary of Classical Mythology, it has thorough definitions, cool artwork, and I simply love flipping through its pages.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

This book is just freaking wild. Such a cool idea and pretty wide ranging. From fiction to myth to movies, if there’s an imaginary place you’ve heard of it’s in here.

Dream Dictionary from A to Z

Do you have crazy dreams (or even not so crazy dreams)? Do you want to know what you might be dreaming about? If you answered yes to these questions, get your hands on the Dream Dictionary from A to Z. I have several dream dictionaries, but I prefer this on because it’s the biggest, the best organized, and the most complete.

Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto)

John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins is great because it frequently offers contrary opinions about word origins, and the differences or discrepancies from other sources often ad an element of fun and mystery to the source of the words we use every day.

Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of English Language

Dictionaries like to “borrow” information from authoritative sources and, when it comes to etymology, Partridge’s Origins seems to be that authoritative source.

Wicked Words

When it comes to controversial words, there’s no better book than Wicked Words. It goes the extra mile when providing information on the controversy. It’s simply a great read.

A Dictionary of the Old West

Do you like the Old West? If you do, get this book full of Old West slang and western neologisms.

Psychiatric Dictionary

Detailed, thorough, authoritative, and all kinds of interesting.

Oxford Dictionary of Journalism

In this world of “fake news” and disappearing newspapers, this book provides some insight into how journalism works and the things reporters have to deal with and think about. It also helps if you’re interested in reporting, like I am.

Isms: A Compendium of Concepts, Doctrines, Traits, and Beliefs

There are a lot of wacky beliefs out there. This book chronicles them all. A fun read.

Oxford Companion to Philosophy

If you’ve ever wanted a big, fat philosophy reference, this is your book. It leaves no philosophical stone uncovered. An impressive work.

One Letter Words

From the dust jacket: This dictionary “illuminates the more than 1,000 surprising definitions associated with each letter in the English alphabet.

Dictionary of Modern War

Sinister in its way, this tome provides some interesting insights into a wide range of military-speak, and provides some detail on some of the weapons (missiles, etc.) that have been used over the decades.

Dictionary of Science and Creationism

A fantastic resource for understanding what the hell creationists are talking about and helpful in refuting their faulty premises. It’s also just an interesting book and is one of those dictionaries that one can’t believe exists but does.




Reference News Roundup (Vol. 5)

newspaper-peepsGreetings Papercutters!

It’s Friday … and I’ve got my proverbial shit together, so you know what that means: it’s time for another installment of the Reference News Roundup!

Once again, I’ve corralled the latest word, dictionary, and reference-related news and put it all together so you don’t have to go looking for it! I know, that might not sound like much, but I’ve been drinking, so pulling this together was a bit tougher than usual!

But hey, you don’t want to hear about me, so let’s get right to it, shall we? As usual, I’ll kick things off with my news item of the week.

Thanks for reading!



This one isn’t really about words, dictionaries, or references, but it’s super awesome, which is why I’ve given it top billing. Dig it.

Night time word vigilante goes out in dead of night to correct signs with rogue apostrophes

By day the he is a highly-qualified professional with his secret known only to a handful of close family and friends.

But at night he becomes a shadowy figure who patrols the streets of Bristol, armed with his homemade ‘apostrophiser’ and purpose-built trestle.

His specially-made tool reaches the higher signs on shopfronts and road signs, replacing or covering rogue apostrophes wherever he sees them.


Trump says he has the ‘best words.’ Merriam-Webster disagrees (Op-Ed)

Words, like facts, have absolute meanings and spellings, despite Trump’s efforts to revise both.

Meet the Woman Behind Merriam-Webster’s Viral Twitter Account

After Ivanka Trump told CBS’ Gayle King that she didn’t know “what it means to be complicit,” Merriam-Webster took up the case.

How did the word “liberal” become a political insult? (UK)

Liberal is becoming a political insult. Used in such a fashion, it has little or no determinate meaning. Instead, it denotes that the liberal in question is wealthy and, precisely because he or she is doing well, out of touch with people who are not. It’s a stupid usage, and it is time to speak for liberal Britain, or at least to ask who can do so.


I’m just going to say it: the addition of these stupid, trendy words smacks of desperation and I wish dictionaries, whether in print or online, would cut it out. I mean, “hangry”? Who the fuck will be saying that in five years? Make it stop.

Weed Rules At 420, ‘Dabbing’ And ‘Kush’ All Included

Hangry, struggle bus and smackdown among 300 “new” words


You can now spell ‘Earthling’ with a capital ‘E,’ and here’s why

Hear ye, hear ye! From this point forth, and for the rest of time, it shall be permissible to spell the word “Earthling” with a capital “E” — just so long as you are judicious about it and don’t overuse the term as a synonym for humans, okay?

This ruling comes to you via The Washington Post copy desk and the fine folks at the Merriam-Webster dictionary after a spelling debate that called into question the dignity of humanity itself.

Universities are telling students to use “gender-neutral” language or be penalized

Universities are telling students that they should use “gender-neutral” language in their essays, or risk being marked down.

[Editorial remark: I am sensitive to and a user of non-sexist language, but this is ridiculous. Here’s to hoping this is “fake news.”]


Merriam-Webster editor on her new book — and why dictionaries matter

” A dictionary is a living record of a living language, and they’re important because language is important to us.”

‘It’s part of what makes people Canadian’: Updated dictionary compiles ‘Canadianisms’

An updated dictionary provides a fascinating look at words and expressions distinctively Canadian, with entries from “all-dressed” to “zed.”

Beloved lexicon for wordsmiths

Dictionaries are not closed archives but ceaseless endeavours; mere fractions of an impossible whole. They are “glorious gallimaufries”, observes the writer Robert Macfarlane in his own comprehensive glossary of place-words, immediately driving us all back to our dictionaries to discern his meaning.

A Modern Dictionary Of London Terms

“London changes so fast, [the writers of this piece] decided it was time to create a dictionary of contemporary words and phrases.”

[Editorial remark: It’s basically a list of terms snarkily defined. Think The Devil’s Dictionary, but not as clever.]

A Visual Dictionary for Sign Language

Although American Sign Language, used by 250,000 people in the United States, is widely recognized as a rich, complex language, ASL learners and researchers have never enjoyed the kind of large, comprehensive database available in other languages—until now.


Clark Professor’s Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies Named Best Reference Title

The text includes over 400 signed entries by top researchers and clinicians from the fields of psychology, sociology, human development and gender/queer studies and offers an appendix with information on organizations, journals and websites related to various topics within the larger field of LGBTQ studies. It was designed for undergraduate students, graduate students, scholars of LGBTQ sexualities and lives, and others.

New Pa. German encyclopedia includes the devil even

This is a comprehensive study of Pennsylvania German history, geography, culture, society, the arts and anything else that relates to the unique people — plain and fancier — who live in or have migrated from central Pennsylvania.

Remembering encyclopedias

“I bought an Encyclopedia Britannica so my kids could do all their school research at home. It came with its own bookcase. It was classy. I felt smart.”

[Editorial remark: I don’t thing this guy was really into encyclopedias at all….]

Reference News Roundup! (vol. 2)

Don’t look now, but dictionaries are cool again. (And yes, this is a terrible graphic!)

Greetings Papercutters! It’s Sunday, so that means it’s time for a little RNR (aka: Reference News Roundup)!

I know, the RNR is supposed to be on Friday, but I posted something else last Friday, so I thought I’d do it now. Besides, let’s be honest … it really doesn’t matter.

Anyway ….

As mentioned last time, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of reference and reference-related news from the past week. Rather, the items contained herein are those that struck my fancy and/or say something important about our world and the role reference books play (or should play) in it.

Not mentioned last time, because I didn’t include them, are two fun reference factoids that are not related to the week’s news, but still kinda fun and interesting nonetheless: a symbol of the week and an allusion of the week.

With that, I’ll say thanks for tuning in and, if you feel like discussing any of the contents below, leave a comment and we’ll chat!


PS) If you like what we’re doing here, link to it, share it on your channels, or tell your peeps the old-fashioned way and talk to them (or send a note via the trained bird of your choice).



Move Over, Wikipedia. Dictionaries Are Hot Again
New York Times

“Dictionaries are not regarded as sexy or interesting, but what dictionaries are known for is telling the truth,” said Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer and past president of the American Dialect Society. “Right now there are a lot of questions about what is true. We want clear statements about what things are, and dictionaries provide that.”

[By the way, this item is our News Item of the Week!]

How the Word ‘Terrorism’ Lost Its Meaning
CBC News

Terrorism is political invective, nothing more. It’s a great favorite of demagogues, widely accepted by audiences, and is almost always applied exclusively to the other, never to ourselves.

Merriam-Webster Adds New Words
Times-Tribune (Scranton)

In addition to elevating “surreal” in 2016 to word of the year, the dictionary company on Tuesday added about 1,000 new words and new definitions to existing listings on its website,

Additional articles on this matter. The first does a good job of putting this news about Merriam-Webster’s additions in some sort of context:

Merriam-Webster Keeps Up with the Times

To maintain any usefulness in the modern age, the dictionary cannot be only an archive of traditional language. It must be a living, breathing document that changes with the times.

Check Out Which Sports Words Have Been Added to the Dictionary
Dayton Daily News

Since we can’t be bothered to learn the real words for things anymore, Merriam-Webster has made a regular habit out of adding new ones to the dictionary to make things easier. The latest crop is out, and it includes a few from the world of sports.

‘Plyscraper’ Named Word of the Year Finalist

Among the lesser-known finalists in Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year choices was the word “plyscraper,” which has been spawned from a building typology with growing popularity around the world.

II. And Now for Some Stuff that Wasn’t in the News:

From the A Dictionary of Symbols

Symbol of the Week

Anchor: A sign of Hope for “Boatloads” of Christians

In the emblems, signs and graphic representations of the early Christians, the anchor always signified salvation and hope. It was often shown upside down, with a star, cross or crescent to denote its mystic nature.

– A Dictionary of Symbols

Attribute of various sea gods — because the anchor symbolizes a ship’s only stability during a storm — it is a symbol of hope, especially in Christian symbolism (appearing frequently on grave stones and coffins), and a symbol of consistency and fidelity. It was used as a secret symbol (anchor cross) in early Christianity by the addition of a crossbar.

Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols


Allusion of the Week

Halcyon Days

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Allusions defines “halcyon days” as calm, peaceful days, a happy golden period; prosperous, affluent times.

Halcyon is the Greek name for the bird we know as the kingfisher. The ancient Greeks believed the bird nested at sea at the winter solstice and calmed the waves while it incubated its eggs. This halcyon period lasted 14 days.

There is an explanation in Greek mythology, of course. Halcyon was the daughter of of Aeolus, god of the winds. She was married to a mortal who died at sea, and threw herself into the ocean to be near him. The gods changed them both to kingfishers–it is unclear whether this was an act of compassion or anger.

There’s only one problem with this explanation. According to both the Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art and the Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, it seems Aeolus’s daughter was named Alcyone, not Halcyon.