Monday, August 27, 2012


It is common enough in the English language for words to have multiple definitions, some of which are very different in their meanings. For example, the word "skate" refers not only to an aerobic activity performed on wheeled or bladed shoes (as well as the wheeled or blades shoes you perform the activity with), but also a sea creature that resembles a ray. During a conversation with someone, however, they're highly unlikely to be unsure which one you're referring to. "I have to go get my skates sharpened before playing hockey tonight" isn't likely to make anyone think you're going to take your whetstone out to the ocean in search of marine animals that have become dull.

This, unfortunately, is not the case with biannual, as its two meanings are - in some ways - complete opposites. The context in which you use the word is likely to be unhelpful to another person, because the two definitions are also very similar. Biannual can mean either "twice a year" or "every two years." How is that productive? I can tell you right now that I see my dentist biannually and I go to an eye doctor biannually. Can you tell, from my sentence, who I see twice a year and who I see every other year? Not at all!

I've always found it weird that biannual could have such confusingly similar, yet meaningfully disparate, definitions. Luckily, I have come up with a solution to help everyone out. The word "biennial" means "occurring every two years" and it doesn't mean anything else. If we could just convince the entire English speaking world to use biennial for that meaning, and stick to biannual for those things are twice a year, then we will be all set. You start telling your friends today, and I'll do the same! (We will have to figure out what to do with the similarly afflicted "biweekly" another time.)

It's Monday, so I hope everyone's week gets off to a good start. This is David Wartik. Word up!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Good morning, readers! Today marks the two-week anniversary of this young blog. In those two weeks, I've gone from a daily post to a buncha-times-per-week posting plan. I guess that's the way it goes - you can't force wordly inspiration. (If I can be bold enough to call it that.) Nor can you fight early morning laziness.

No matter, I'm back with "awry." I've always found this word amusing because it just sounds so funny and doesn't seem to have any connection with its meaning. When "things go awry," what does that truly mean? I think of the word "wry," which means dry or clever or ironic humor. How does that get an A attached to the front and then be allowed to describe disaster or a mess? Having "a" as a prefix more commonly makes a word into its opposite ("moral" becomes "amoral," for example).

What makes awry stand out even more for me is actually an embarrassing situation. As some of you know, I'm a stronger visual learner and pick up things much faster by seeing or reading them than I do by hearing them. So as I grew up and took things in from others, my vocabulary increased. I discovered the word awry and understood from people using it in conversation that it describe things not going as planned. As a voracious reader, I had also come across "awry" many, many times. But I thought it was a word pronounced "ah-ree"and made no connection whatsoever (despite its identical meaning) to the word pronounced "uh-rye". Until, of course, I used "ah-ree" in a conversation (as an adult) with someone and caused endless fits of laughter to erupt from my friends. That's when I learned "ah-ree" and "uh-rye" were the same "awry." I felt like a moron.

Sadly, I have the same story to tell about another word. I'll save that for another day.

Until then, this is David Wartik. Word up!

Friday, August 17, 2012


So, clearly the everyday post has gotten away from me, but I think even if I get 4 or 5 posts up every week, that would still be a pretty good accomplishment. And because today is Friday and everybody loves Fridays, I decided that Fridays on this blog would be Fun Fridays!

Now, you may be thinking, what is fun or funny about the word embargo? Its definition isn't very entertaining, as it means to ban or stop the transport or trade or sale of things between parties. We hear it a lot in the news, with Iran and China and other people that the U.S. has had issues with. Sometimes the embargo appears in the form of sanctions.

Why then did I choose embargo for my first official Fun Friday? Well, as someone who enjoys word and wordplay, I have always chuckled at embargo because if you reverse the word, it becomes a phrase, "O Grab Me." Childish? Perhaps. But funny nonetheless. It reminds me of growing up in LA and having a friend point out that a local street, Moorpark, spelling "krap room" backwards. I'd hate to think that my love of words and wordplay started there, but you never know.

Have a great weekend. This is David Wartik. Word up!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


A hearty welcome back to me! I accidentally skipped yesterday's blog post after getting preoccupied with some other things. Today's word, syzygy, was supposed to be yesterday's word because Tuesdays are supposed to Tongue-Twister Tuesdays on my blog. Oh well...we will all survive with a day's delay.

Syzygy (pronounced sizz-uh-jee) has a variety of meanings, but the most common one refers to the alignment of three celestial bodies. We hear this in the news most often when the Earth, Sun and Moon are lined up, which happens from time to time. Fans of the Broadway musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee might also be familiar with the syzygy as it appears in one of Rona's songs and is also the word that she spelled correctly when she was in a spelling bee as a child (as shown in a flashback).

But for me, I love this word for its lack of true vowels. Yes, "y" can be considered a vowel and it most certainly is in this word. But outside of short words like wry and cry, there aren't too many words of six letters or more without a, e, i, o or u. Not to mention, it's just cool to say. (Well, to me it is. And this is my blog, so, of course, my opinions do count for something!)

That is all. I will be back tomorrow with more word fun. (Again, fun being an opinion. Mine.)

This is David Wartik...word up!

Monday, August 13, 2012


My capacity for remembering the unimportant, unusual and mundane has always been strong. And this has especially applied to words. I find it curious that words, phone numbers, even license plates can stick in my head, but lines from movies, jokes and book plots often vanish within a short period of time.

Rebarbative is one of those words that has stuck in my head, although it's only been rattling around my brain for a little while now. A few years back, I had a Word of the Day calendar in my classroom and during our morning meeting time, I'd take the calendar to our gathering spot and share it with my class. Most of the time, we'd look at the word, someone would have a comment or two, and then we'd move on. But not "rebarbative" - and for two reasons. One, it just sounded good. It was one of those words that is fun to say, and since it's unfamiliar, you could probably get some quizzical looks from people if you use it in front of them. Second, one of my students started using it - a lot. He paired it with another unique word we'd stumbled upon (that one does escape me but I'm committed to finding it) and used it to refer, I believe, to his mother!

Well, you wouldn't know whether or not that's an insult (although you can imagine if I'm sharing the story, it probably was) until you found out what rebarbative meant. Well, it means "unattractive and objectionable," a synonym of repellent and abhorrent. Yikes! Now, I know this student was being playful and I think we all laughed whenever he threw rebarbative out there.

Interestingly, the origin of the word comes from the Latin barba, which means beard. Good thing I shaved my goatee a few years back!

Have a Happy Monday. This is David Wartik, signing off. Word up!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


For the first weekend post of this blog, I have chosen that word itself - weekend. Unlike some of my other choices so far, it's not the sound of the word that intrigues me. Nor is it the usage. Rather, weekend stands out due to the immediate joy it typically brings to people. As words go, it is fairly mundane. It's your average compound word, comprised of "week" and "end." But say it to someone stuck in an office all day, any school-age kid, or - well - almost anyone, and their eyes light up.

A weekend is something that never gets old, never loses its majesty, never gets forgotten. We get 52 of them every year, and I don't think we ever tire of them. I know I certainly don't. Rare is the person who looks ahead to the weekend and groans, "I can't believe I have to take a break instead of working more. Grrr."

As you probably know and might have guessed anyway, the weekend's origin is based in religion. We rested in honor of our deities, starting with the Sabbath as ordained in the Ten Commandments and moving forward from there. Jews celebrate Saturday as their day of rest and most Christians celebrate on Sunday. At some point in the past (and truly, I'm too lazy to research the when or where...after all, it is the weekend), societies joined those two forces together and we arrived at the present-day system of Saturdays and Sundays off (for most people).

The only thing that takes weekend to a higher level, of course, is that rare creature, stuck to the front just a few times a year: "three-day".

That's all from David Wartik today and for the rest of this weekend. See you Monday. Word up!

Friday, August 10, 2012


To close out the workweek, I've chosen the bane of my (and any teacher's) existence...words that aren't words. There are more of these to come, but I'm starting with a big one.

Let's think about irregardless for a moment. What do you think it means? Most people who use it say something like, "Irregardless of the weather, we are still going to the movie tonight." That would make it seem as if you're going to the movie no matter what the weather is. Without regard to the weather, right? Well, that's what regardless means: without regard. So if you think about ir- as a prefix that means "not," then irregardless would have to mean "not without regard." After canceling out the double negative there, irregardless truly means with regard! And I don't think anyone who uses it means it that way.'s quite understandable why people have adopted irregardless the way they have. There are plenty of similar words that start with R and have the same prefix - irregular (without regularity), irrational (without ration/reason), etc.  The difference is, of course, is that regard already has a suffix (-less) that means without, so it doesn't also need a prefix meaning the same thing. We don't say irregularless, do we, when referring to something that isn't regular?

To wrap up, despite the peculiarity of this word and its sometimes frustrating omnipresence, it signifies a key part of our language. English is a fluid, evolving and living thing, constantly changing to reflect the people who use it and the world we all live in. And you have to appreciate that!

This is David Wartik, wishing you a great weekend. Word up!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


For today's entry, I've take a slightly different approach. Instead of choosing a word that has appeal for its sound, I chose one that stands out for its irony. As I'm assuming most of you know, monosyllabic means "one syllable". So the fact that the English language needs a five syllable word to describe one syllable has always amused me.

This is David Wartik, thanking you for checking out my blog. I'll be back with more tomorrow! Word up!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Made famous (to me, and all my then junior high friends) by Jefe in the '80's comedy classic The Three Amigos, "plethora" has such an interesting sound. It doesn't quite roll off the tongue, but it isn't that much of a mouthful either. What does it mean, some of you may wonder? Ah...well, let's let Jefe and El Guapo clue us in:

Jefe: We have many beautiful piñatas for your birthday celebration, each one filled with little surprises!
El Guapo: How many piñatas?
Jefe: Many piñatas, many!
El Guapo: Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of piñatas?
Jefe: A what?
El Guapo: A plethora.
Jefe: Oh yes, El Guapo. You have a plethora.
El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo: Well, you just told me that I had a plethora, and I would just like to know if you know what it means to have a plethora. I would not like to think that someone would tell someone else he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe: El Guapo, I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education, but could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

 Courtesy of Wikipedia

This is David Wartik, signing off. Word up!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Word of the Day Begins with Darkle

Today's word, and the first word of this new adventure, is darkle. First seen (by me, of course) in a Stephen King novel, when Roland comes across the Man in Black and says about him, "He darkles, he tincts." Both are interesting verbs but having heard of tinct before (thinking of a "tincture" from high school chemistry), darkle stood out in its uniqueness. It just sounded magical and mysterious.

I plan to share a new word and its impressions on me each day. Entries will probably be short, in many cases, just a little too long for what Twitter could handle. But I'm fairly old school when it comes to sharing my I'm going for blog entries instead of tweets. Of course, I'll be sure to tweet about my new blog. :)

This is David Wartik, signing off. Word up!