The scoundrels’ dictionary revisited

scoundrelBack in September, I posted some of my favorite bawdy terms from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (Digest Books, Inc.), a collection of late 18th- and early 19th-century British slang and colloquialisms.

Since we all got such a kick out of the first batch, I’ve gone ahead and pulled a few more crude yet comical entries:

Beetle-headed: Dull, stupid.

Beggar maker: A publican or ale-house keeper.

Clack: A tongue; chiefly applied to women; a simile drawn from the clack of a water-mill.

Gutfoundered: Exceeding hungry.

Knowledge box: The head.

Low tide: When there is no money in a man’s pocket.

Morning drop: The gallows.

One of my cousins: A woman of the town; a harlot.

Pompkin: A man or woman of Boston in America; from the number of pompkins raised and eaten by the people of that country.

Resurrection men: Persons employed by the students in anatomy to steal dead bodies out of church-yards.

Word pecker: A punster; one who plays upon words.

A large volume of words in the dictionary are denigrative to women, signifying the inferior role of women in that culture (and the prevalence of prostitution). For example, the term “noozed” means both “married” and “hanged”—not the most positive view of marriage.

Likewise, the book contains dozens of terms about drinking and gluttony. “Barrel fever” is when one kills oneself by drinking, and “casting up one’s accounts” means vomiting. Clearly, debauchery was rampant in this society.

Read my original scoundrels’ dictionary post.

Two spaces or not two spaces: That is the question.

full stop by Leo ReynoldsDo you put one or two spaces after a period?

I always put just one, and I was surprised to learn that many people still put two.

Granted, back in high school typing class, we were all taught that two spaces belong after every period. But that was a long time ago, and in grammar (as in life), rules change with the times.

Old-fashioned typewriters used “monospaced” or “fixed-width” fonts, whose letters each occupy the same amount of space. Therefore, the second space was needed after a period for the reader’s eye to pick up on the beginning of a new sentence. Makes sense.

But nowadays, I’d venture a guess that most of us do our typing on computers.

Computers use “variable-width” fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Arial), whose letters differ in size to one another. And since most modern word processors automatically place the period close to the preceding letter, there is no need for the writer to add that second space. In fact, if they do, they can create unsightly “rivers” in a document. These unattractive blank spots can appear to run down a paragraph of text—especially when the two spaces line up approximately above one another in several consecutive lines.

Granted, some habits are hard to break. And those of us who have been typing for a long time may find this one especially difficult.

Bottom line is this: One space after a period is today’s typographic standard. However, if it is your organization’s style to put two spaces after a period—or if you’re a graphic designer who knows enough to break the rule for style—go for it.

That versus Which

By request of Urban Panther, this post is a tutorial on when to use “that” versus when to use “which.”

Now, Panther is by no means alone when it comes to the use of these puzzling pronouns. So, let’s go over it together:

“That” and “which” are both pronouns used when referring to inanimate objects and animals without a name (you wouldn’t use them in reference to Steph’s Lucy or Friar’s Basil, in other words).


“That” is used with essential (otherwise known as “restrictive”) clauses. These clauses provide additional information about a word or phrase in a sentence, and they cannot be left off without changing the meaning of a sentence.

For example: Panthers that are bred with leopards are known as pumapards.

The essential clause here is “that are bred with leopards.”

If we drop it from the sentence, we come up with a much different (and not necessarily true) sentence: “Panthers are known as pumapards.”

Note that there are no commas around the clause.


“Which” is used with nonessential (or “nonrestrictive”) clauses. These clauses also provide additional information about a word or phrase in a sentence, but they can be left off without altering the basic meaning of a sentence.

For example: Panthers, which are also known as cougars, pumas, and mountain lions, are native to Asia, America, and Africa.

The nonessential clause here is “which are also known as cougars, pumas, and mountain lions.”

If we drop it from the sentence, we come up with a new sentence that has the same basic meaning as the original: “Panthers are native to Asia, America, and Africa.”

Note that there are commas around the “which” clause. Always set nonessential clauses off from the rest of a sentence by commas.

Any other grammar questions? I’m taking requests!

The ampersand: form & function

Ampersand by healthserviceglassesWe all know the ampersand (&) as a sign that stands for “and.” Invented in the 17th century as a space-saver, the symbol is a ligature, or character combining two or more letters, of the Latin conjunction “et,” meaning—you guessed it—“and.” It comes from an old Roman system of shorthand signs authenticated in Pompeiian graffiti.

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “ampersand” is a contraction of “and per se and,” meaning “‘&’ by itself is ‘and.’” The term came into common English use around 1837.

How do I use the ampersand?

Sparingly. At least according to the AP Stylebook, which says that the ampersand should only be confined to names that formally contain it (e.g. AT&T, Johnson & Johnson).

Interestingly, with the advent of text messaging, the ampersand is making a bit of a comeback (because it’s SO much easier to text one character than three …).

I say, welcome back, &! I’ve always loved this sassy symbol, although I’ve never been able to draw it properly (mine usually ends up looking like a rounded “E” with a line through it). Thankfully, there are many beautiful typographic versions to choose from & enjoy.

Can’t get enough of &? Check out the ampersand blog.

2009 banished words list

(No Cursing??) Sign by christopherdaleEach year, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., releases its “List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

Compiled from thousands of nominations, the list is comprised of overused words and phrases and pet peeves from everyday speech, the media, technology, advertising, and politics.

Here are a few terms from the list that I would love to see banned in 2009:

Even after hearing the economic term a million times, I still can’t say I understand what it is exactly. I mean, couldn’t we all use a rescue from financial difficulties?

first dude
Cute. But I find “first gentleman” a bit more distinguished, personally.

This word drew the most nominations to the list, and I completely agree that it should be banned. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a longtime supporter of protecting the environment, but I’ve never approved of the widespread overuse of this term (and I cringe when I hear “green” used as a verb!).

not so much
It’s fine for high school parlance, but, beyond that, this phrase is completely useless. What’s wrong with “no”?

Here’s one neologism I’d like to send away on a permanent vacation.

<3 (a texted heart)
Sorry, it looks like a bum to me.

The rest of the list:

  • carbon footprint/offsetting
  • desperate search
  • game-changer
  • icon/iconic
  • it’s that time of year again
  • maverick
  • monkey (as a suffix on the Internet)
  • Wall Street/Main Street
  • winner of five nominations