Search results: word nerd

Word Nerd: 4 words for mindfulness on International Earth Day 2020

22 Apr

It should not take a crisis to shock and center us, but if the mythic tradition is to be believed, that’s exactly what we need. We have all become familiar with the good news emerging from COVID19 – altruism in the times of disaster, signs of nature restoring itself, even as we cope with the numbers.

In this context, on International Earth Day 2020, we look for to nature for inspiration – to teach us resilience and hope. She gives us these 4 words from her millions.


BrainGain Magazine

A shrub with yellow flowers in spring, it is native to North Africa and Western Europe. It is a common name for gorse and heaths. The plant needs very little to thrive and is used for reclaiming waste land. Why? Because furze can settle in and fix the soil’s nitrogen therefore prepping the land for other plants.

Another fascinating fact about this humble wildling species is how it responds to fire. It is highly flammable but it can regenerate quickly from stumps. The very image of resilience.

Glisk (Scots)

BrainGain Magazine

Not a word listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, glisk is a Scots words. It means glimpse, gleam or a brief instant. Glisk can also act as a verb to mean ‘to catch a glimpse’ or ‘take a look.’

On Twitter, where well-loved nature writer, Robert MacFarlane often shares a word for the day, he defined the meaning as… “Sunlight glimpsed through a break in the clouds; a fleeting glance at a glittering sight; a sudden flash of hope in the heart.”

Isn’t this beautiful?

Example: A glisk of gold over the mountain as the night is passing away.


BrainGain MagazineCaption: Photo by Suliman Sallehi from Pexels

The root of the word is the Latin ‘caes’ which means cut or hewn. In modern poetry, it means a pause in the middle of a line. When reading or listening to poetry (or music), the caesura gives us a chance to consider the information we have already been given. It is an opportunity to reflect.


BrainGain Magazine

Trees which yield fragrant, durable timber. It is also well known for its essential oil that is widely used. The cedar forest is also the ancient forest of the gods in Mesopotamian myth. Here is more context from MacFarlane, for us to consider: “In the Epic of Gilgamesh (composed c. 1800 BC), Gilgamesh travels to the Cedar Forest to cut down its greatest trees. It is the forest of world literature & the first to suffer human feeling.”


Are there words that you think we might have missed?
Email us or drop a comment below!
Check out other Word Nerd stories here.

“Word Nerd: How to use these 4 basic words for effective communication”

25 Nov

Word Nerd: How to use these 4 basic words for effective communication

We all communicate. But do we communicate effectively? Effective communication means sharing your perspective with another person in a clear and convincing style. If you aim at developing mutual understanding, winning people over to your way of thinking, and having quality conversations then you need to master effective communication.

To that end, having a good vocabulary is obviously valuable. An array of words that describe your emotions, opinions and thoughts, combined with a good understanding of grammar can open the doors to communicate what you’re thinking with precision and style.

However, the substance of your interaction is also important. Often connecting with another person involves seeing and appreciating who they are and what they do. There are many ways you can use language to encourage and appreciate. It’s not necessarily through hyperboles. Or the fanciest words. So, you don’t have to congratulate a classmate on a good maths score with a “Your perspicacity for maths boggles my brains.” Or, “Your sagacity as a maternal parent must be praised!”. Or, “Your outfit is the most aesthetically sound one I have seen in my entire life!”

Using the right words in the right context for your audience is one of the secrets to effective communication. In fact, here are 4 simple ones that, used wisely, will improve the quality of your interactions.

1. Yes!

Studies have shown the more you use this word in a conversation the more it instils motivation and confidence in you and the other person. According to reports* sales can grow from 18%-32% just by incorporating the word “yes” in a conversation. Imagine the impact it can have on communicating with someone effectively!

2. But?

Chances are that this word makes whatever you have said prior to it, redundant. The stress on the word ‘but’ mid-sentence puts an equal amount of stress on the person listening to you. They will be hanging on every word you utter after ‘but’. There is also a likelihood they will focus sharply on the words that follow. This can be used to your advantage if you learn how to use it.

3. Thanks!

It is important to let the other person know that you are showing them gratitude for the services/ help they have provided to you. If someone has done you a favour, or offered any service, it is imperative that they feel their effort was valued and appreciated. Otherwise, they are less likely to offer any help/favours in the future. And even if they do, the quality of that offer will not be the same.
Another important use of thanks is to simply acknowledge the effort someone (whether a classmate, a colleague or a friend) has made. If in a meeting, if you begin by thanking a colleague for their contribution before evaluating it critically – you will be less likely to turn them against you.

4. Help?

This word is more powerful than you might expect. There is a social stigma against asking for help from others. You might believe it is a sign of weakness. However, it’s quite the contrary. It shows that you have the intelligence to identify your limitations, and courage to speak up and ask for help to overcome them.
A simple gesture that can help forge a genuine connection. Don’t be afraid to ask!

What are your secrets for effective communication? Email us or comment below.

Have you checked out other Word Nerd stories?

Word Nerd: Do you speak Latin? Yes, you do!

27 May

Do you speak Latin? Yes, you do!

If I were to say to you, “She recruits students for the university on a pro bono basis,” would you realise that I’d spoken almost as much Latin as English?
Although Latin’s use is itself limited, for instance to the Catholic Church, and certain military organisations, like the US Marine Corps, its influence on English remains marked.

And when we are speaking in formal contexts, whether we know it or not, we frequently take recourse to a more Latinate diction. Just as I did with that sentence. Overdone, Latinate English can appear as unnecessarily ornate as a woman wearing a bridal gown to the supermarket, or a man wearing peacock feathers to the gym. It can also be boring. Sample this infamous opening of the novel, Paul Clifford, which is both, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

You can understand that readers today will have little patience with writers with a style like that. So, the next time you stumble across a big word, which sounds like it belongs in mass, a court ruling, or a state motto – think again about whether you should be using it. A big vocabulary does not a fluent speaker make.

In the meanwhile, there are several Latin words which fit cozily into contemporary constructions. You can find 7 of them listed below.

1) Ad hoc: Latin for to this. The word means made for a particular purpose or situation. The study group was ad hoc. Or, politicians fulfil promises on an ad hoc basis.

2) Alibi: If you’ve watched a single episode of any crime thriller, you will know exactly what this word means. In Latin, alibi means elsewhere. It has been used as a noun since the 18th century – she has an alibi. But it can also be used as a verb – ‘I’ve agreed to alibi her in return for a month-long supply of chocolate.’

3) Bonus: It comes from the Latin for good. In the modern context, it means a sum of money added to the salary for good work (OED). In real life, it can also mean something rare.

4) Carpe diem: You’ve said it. Or heard it. Or seen it tattooed. It means seize the day and is a translation from the Odes of Horace. The same poet who gave us the phrase purple prose.

5) E.g.: For the sake of an example, or in Latin, exempli gratia. It’s everywhere but did you know it came from Latin, something as basic as this?

6) Ego: The Latin for I. In modern English, it’s what your weekly forecasts tell you to keep in check for the sake of your relationships.

7) Extra: Love this word. At first, it just meant extra. Like when your tutor would say it, “You should put in an extra hour on that Trigonometry chapter.” But now it means the most. For e.g., when you answer your mother’s 9th phone call on a night out, and snap, “Mom, you’re so extra!”


More word nerd blogs can be found here. Nerd is not Latin as you might know.

Are you a serious word nerd? Here are 7 signs that give it away

13 May

BrainGain Magazine

BrainGain Magazine started this Word Nerd series in March 2016. Since then we’ve written about Americanisms, the secrets to writing a good sentence, to best way to insult someone, accents, and other oddities of this common language we speak.

For this edition, we thought about the series itself, and its name. We thought too about the person it was named after – that’s you, the reader. And we wondered what it is that makes a word nerd a word nerd. We wanted to write about signs which help us identify you who care so deeply about words. You, who would be interested in finding out that the credit for this widespread use of the word ‘nerd’ goes to Dr. Seuss. He wrote about, “a Nertle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too,” in If I Ran the Zoo.

And there are signs. We’ve listed 7 of them here. If you score 7, you’re a certified Word Nerd and should, on all occasions, carry a badge to announce that. If you score between 4-6, you’re nearly a nerd and can take it further if you choose. If you score below 3, well, we’re still happy your’re here.

Here are 7 signs that you’re a nerd about words:

1) You have a favourite dictionary

It’s not just that you look up word meaning, etymologies, pronunciations – you even have a favourite dictionary. (Hat tip to good ol’ Oxford)

2) You have at least one word-game in your phone

Because words are fun; arranging them, playing with them helps you relax. We get it. We have that addiction too.

3) You know the difference between then & than, their & there, effect & affect and so on

Not only do you know the differences, but it surprises or annoys you when others don’t. You might point their errors out or purse your lips – but what matters is you know, you know.

4) Typos make you laugh and laugh. As do grammatical errors.

Not only are you the first to spot them but you actively scour the internet for those funny typo listicles. Move over adult humour, here’s funny grammar.

5) Well-spoken people instantly move into your crush zone

Guilty. It’s Tom Hiddleston for us. Him with his love of Shakespeare, his double first in Classics from Cambridge, and his turn of phrase, has us looking at him like the heart-eye emoji. (Yes, he also played Loki but that’s not entirely why).

6) You love language like cats love boxes

Not just the rules but the fun of it. You can be moved (to laughter or tears) by the way a sentence is written, you probably attempt writing yourself – even if it’s long Instagram posts or birthday cards or just your diary, and you enjoy reading – whether on kindle or paper.

7) You’ve reached the end of this blog

Yep. You’re here. You read an entire article when you could have just watched more of a YouTuber’s skincare routine, or played PUBG, or stalked the social media of that friend of a friend. You’re here. And we’re glad you are.


Hey word nerd, check out more on words here:

Word Nerd: 4 words from fantasy fiction that are now part of our real lives

29 Apr

In 1989, ‘hobbit’, a creature from from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It comes as no surprise that Tolkien, who is considered the godfather of fantasy writing thanks to his genre defining Lord of the Rings, had a word from his fictional universe recorded in the Oxford English dictionary. However, he was not the first author to do so. In the 20th century alone, the work of Roald Dahl and Lewis Carrol was similarly honoured.

What separated these writers and their words from others was their ability to shape the culture. Their worlds– the rules, customs and languages within– were and are debated, discussed and reproduced over and over, often in the form of role-play, which blurs the line between reality and fiction.  According to associate editor for Oxford Dictionaries, Charlotte Buxton, words from fictional worlds have to cross over in everyday use in the real world to be included in the large black (but also now available online) dictionary. Here are four words other than ‘hobbit’ that have successfully journeyed from fiction to non-fiction.


Jabberwocky was originally the title of a poem in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass. In it, the jabberwock is a creature with sharp claws and eyes of flame. The poem itself is absurd, full of made up words intended to confuse.  In recognition of Carrol’s nonsensical poem, jabberwocky is defined by the OED as “invented or meaningless language; nonsense”. Essentially, jabberwocky is a more sophisticated way of saying ‘gibberish’, and more self-aware of its ridiculous nature than ‘jargon’.

Oompa loompa

BrainGain Magazine

Oompa Loompas first appeared as workers in Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While in the book they are described as black– an unfortunate byproduct of the rampant anti-black times– in most cinematic adaptations, they are portrayed as short, orange men. Therefore, they are ‘officially’ described in the dictionary as “a person whose skin has an orange appearance, typically because they are very suntanned.” Remind you of a certain person up for re-election in 2020?


BrainGain Magazine

Harry Potter was a story that gripped the imagination of millions of children around the world in the late 90s and early 2000s. Perhaps that is why the only new words from fictional worlds included in the Oxford Dictionary in the 21st century were taken from the Potter books. In the books, a Muggle is used to refer to a non-magical person, weaponized later on in the series once Voldemort begins actively hunting muggles. However, in our world, Potterheads used Muggle as a derogatory term for someone with less than average abilities, defined in the dictionary as “a person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.”


This magical sport has perhaps seen the most successful cross-over into real life, effectively blurring the line between role-play and reality. In the books, quidditch is played on broomsticks, up in the air. The aim of the game is to have as many points, mostly by capturing the golden snitch, worth 150 points. Muggle quidditch works almost the same way, except the players can’t fly, and the role of the snitch is played by a person completely dressed in yellow. Universities in the U.S. and U.K. now have official quidditch teams and championship.

By: Anandamayee Singh


If you liked this, check out our other word nerd blogs:
Word Nerd: 6 magical words from Greco-Roman mythology
Word Nerd: 5 English words that owe their cool factor to hip-hop
Word Nerd: 5 words banished from the queen’s English in 2018

Word Nerd: 5 English words that owe their cool factor to hip-hop

16 Mar

By Anandamayee Singh

In 2018, rapper Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for his album DAMN. At 31, Lamar became the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer in a category normally overrun by classical composers. His win came fifty years after the explosion of hip-hop in the streets of Bronx, making it, more than anything, an indication of the dominant space hip-hop has earned in cultural and artistic spaces today.

Contrary to popular belief, hip-hop is not solely a genre of music. Since its inception, it has been a mode of expression that has shaped the fashion, art, dance, language, and music of the streets, steadily seeping into the mainstream. Today, hip-hop largely influences what is and isn’t cool. Whether it is Kanye West’s Yeezy’s, or Drake’s Kiki Challenge, the ‘youth’ as they say, drink all of the Kool-Aid poured by hip-hop artists. Much of the slang used for the past three decades also originates from specific moments in hip-hop. Here are five slang words that hip-hop has given to the world, and are in use today. Because you should know your history kids.



You may assume that extra means adding onto something. But as a slang word extra refers to over-the-top, dramatic behaviour, that is often inappropriate. For example, when your cousin who just got a modelling contract shows up to your birthday party in a bodycon dress, she is being extra, and should be kept in a corner until she leaves the party out of boredom or shame.


The world enjoys a good beef burger or medium rare steak. Except if you live in India, where your meat preferences can get you lynched, which is actually more relevant to the slang. As a slang word, beef refers to a grudge or a conflict between two people, particularly in rap. Beefing rappers write diss tracks singling each other out, but Gangsta rappers of the 90s considered diss tracks a ‘soft’ version of beefing. The Notorious B.I.G. even wrote a rap called What’s the Beef? calling out artists who beef on rap tracks, rather than with sticks and stones.



You may think that wavy refers to slightly curly hair. But as a slang word, wavy refers to something positive, cool, or impressive. The use of this word as slang was popularized by rapper Max B. through songs like Coke Wave and Wave Gods. The ability to do a handstand, or speak several languages is wavy.


A candle you ignited a few hours ago was lit. A hallway that is illuminated by a lightbulb could be considered well-lit. However, in the context of slang, lit takes on a slightly different meaning.  Initially popularized by jazz musicians in the late 50s or 60s, lit used to refer to someone who is buzzed enough to perform in a relaxed way, but not drunk enough to ruin to the performance.

Today, a person or event that is buzzing with activity, excitement, or is fun, is lit. So the next time your old classmate refers to an empty bar as lit in their instagram stories, tell them that it is, in fact, not lit.



Finesse is probably a word you envision in the context of a game of cards, or a diplomatic summit. However, the slang appropriation, popularized by hip-hop artists from Chicago, is used when a person uses great cunning to get something they want from another person. When Bruno Mars says he’s dripping in finesse, he isn’t actually referring to the gold and fancy clothes he’s wearing, but his ability to persuade other people to give him their things. So, the next time somebody slyly grabs a fry off your plate, ask them how they think they can finesse you like that?

If you liked this, check out our other word nerd blogs:

Word Nerd: 10 German loanwords that English is never giving back
Word Nerd: 5 Anlgo-French words that stole the limelight from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts
Word Nerd: 6 magical words from Greco-Roman mythology

Word Nerd: 10 German loanwords that English is never giving back

11 Mar

When stepping out of your comfort zone to study abroad, learning a new language is often one of the major reasons. At least it was for me when I traveled westward from Germany as a foreign exchange student to spend a year at an American high-school. For me, learning a language in a classroom, online, or in self-study often gets tedious unless you get to test it out on native speakers or even better, on the ground.

You probably agree that the first phrases and greetings are usually quickly learned; especially when the new language one is learning is related to one’s own. Did you know that there are over 6,000 different languages spoken in the world which actually derive from only three root languages: the Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Afro-Asiatic languages?

BrainGain Magazine

Learning English as a native German speaker, I quickly figured out that both  are  West Germanic languages from the Indo-European language family. Hence, it came as no surprise that both languages share many cognates – words that have the same root and therefore look and sound similar even though they belong to different languages. True cognates have the same, or similar, definitions in both languages, e.g. the German word “Haus” is a cognate to the English word “house.”

Unfortunately, I also learned quickly that relying on these similarities isn’t foolproof. For the many cognates I found, I also learned that there are false cognates – words that look similar but have different meanings, e.g. the German word “bald” meaning “soon” which to the English speaker translates to “hairless.”  (So when I say “Bis bald” I am hoping to see you soon…not commenting on your hairstyle!)

In the beginning, I might have been overwhelmed by the newness of it all, struggling to make sense of not only a new language, but also the new cultural context, and never-ending new experiences that came my way as I traveled the world. I realized that language is much more than the words in a dictionary or a rule-book; it is shaped by people and by their experiences over time. Learning English as a German speaker opened my mind up to not only a new language but also the history that shaped its  use today – in my case, it was the stories of the many Germans before me who had arrived in America through waves of migrations over the last 400 years and left  their mark on the English language. With Germans settling in America, German words – known as loanwords (leihwörter,) started getting integrated into the English language.  

Below are 10 of my favourite leihwörter, first translated literally, and then as per the Oxford English Dictionary, followed by a sentence that you and I would use on ground. Besides earning a bunch of brownie points with my English teacher, discovering these loanwords helped me ease my journey into mastering and enjoying the (American) English language.

1. Angst – German: fear, panic, anxiety; English: a strong feeling of anxiety about life in general.
Angst is what you feel when you decide to uproot yourself and study abroad.

2. Wanderlust – German: the longing to wander / travel / roam around, near and far; English: a strong desire to travel

Wanderlust is a gene commonly found in those who yearn to study, live or travel abroad.

3. Weltanschauung – German: the way we view the world; English: a particular philosophy or view of life; the world view of an individual or group.

An international student graduates not only with a degree but also weltanschauung – that unique ability to see the world from different angles.

4. Heimweh – German: the pain for home; English: the distress one feels when being homesick (not to be confused with the happy feeling of nostalgia)

Those moments in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam is overcome by  heimweh, are the ones that moved me the most.

5. Dopperlgänger – German: double walker; English: an apparition or double of a living person – a ‘doppelganger’ is someone who looks spookily like you, but isn’t a twin. Also referred to as a type of a ghost or a shadow of oneself!

We all are said to have a doppelgänger but are often surprised when we find him/her halfway across the globe!

6. Hinterland – German: the land ‘behind’; English: An area lying beyond what is visible or known; The remote areas of a country away from the coast or the banks of major rivers.

I am always drawn to the big cities, but not so much the hinterland.

7. Kaputt – German: not working, broken; English: Broken and useless; no longer working or effective.

My brain is often kaput after a long day spent practicing a new language – kaput but happy!

8. Verboten – German: forbidden; English: something that is not allowed to be said or done, something that is inappropriate or taboo.

Chewing gum in Singapore, sunbathing in the nude in Spain, bringing a gun to a BBQ in Germany are all  verboten!

9. Schadenfreude – German: Schaden is ‘harm’, Freude is ‘joy’ – to laugh at somebody else’s mishap. (English): Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

Letting people gossip in a language they think you don’t understand, and joining in suddenly, calls for a touch of schadenfreude. 

10. Über – German: over, above, across (and so much more – go ahead and google it, its uber-cool), English:
1. referring to an outstanding or supreme example of a person or a thing: an uber-babe.
2. To a great or extreme degree; an uber-cool bar.

Honestly, you don’t need to be an Übermensch aka super human (yup, mensch is German too) to learn a new language!

Any interesting German words you think we’ve missed? Email us or drop a comment below.


Author: Julia Regul Singh has a master’s degree in urban planning and urban design from the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (Germany) and a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Bayreuth (Germany). Julia attended Columbia University as part of her masters on a scholarship from the German government. After graduating, she worked as an Urban Planner and Urban Designer in Germany and New York City before turning her hand to writing. In 2010, the Urban Crayon Press published her first book – Boris the Bench. In 2015, her novel Leap of Faith was published by Rupa Publications. Julia currently splits her time between New York City, New Delhi and Bielefeld.

Word Nerd: 5 quick and easy tips for writing great emails

15 Oct

5 quick and easy tips for writing great emails

There are no rules to winning at life, but here are 5 rules to winning at emails.

Do you groan at the thought of reading a long, boring email? If your answer is yes, you’re just like us. No one likes to go through a sloppy email without a beginning, a middle, or an end. Writing a great email is not a difficult thing to do, but it certainly is an important skill to acquire. Be it a friendly invite, a reply to your professor or boss, or a marketing pitch, getting it right will make a whole lot of difference. Now as with everything, writing a perfect professional email may come with a little practice. Here are 5 quick and easy tips for writing great emails.

1. Sharpen the subject line

Compare the following subject lines:

List of documents required for university admission


Admission documents checklist

To put it simply, only a specific number of words can appear in the unread email bar on a phone/computer screen. So, the clearer your subject line is, more likely your reader is to click on it.

2. Start with the right salutation

It cannot be emphasized enough that an email is nowhere close to a text message. Therefore, it needs to be written professionally – we mean fully spelt out words and no slang (mostly!). And it means starting it off with a proper salutation. How you begin an email shapes the recipient’s perception of you.

Usually, Dear works with both people you know and people you don’t. If you’re writing to a Professor or a Dean, do use their full professional titles. Avoid guessing a person’s gender – it’s ok to use their full name. As you continue emailing each other, you can graduate to Hi. Hey is nay for all professional communication.

Additional tip: Avoid saying Good morning or Good evening because you don’t know when the recipient will read your mail. Go with Greetings!

3. Structure your email

An email with a clear structure is simpler to understand and respond to. Follow the inverted pyramid principle for the email body:

Inverted pyramid style of content

For instance, if you are writing to your project group about an idea for your next assignment, mention the key idea at the top. Follow it up with some figures, facts, and why you all should work on it. Towards the end, talk about how you came up with the idea and add maybe a relevant link to an article.

4. Use the right tone

Remember, your words represent you. Keeping the tone polite yet professional is essential. Here are a few things to remember about tone:

Use Please instead of Kindly: Please implies a polite request, while kindly suggests an instruction to be obeyed. Kindly is an old-fashioned word that was used by people in authority (mainly the British) to instruct their subordinates. Please is less imposing, yet professional.

Use softeners (such as could, would, should): Softeners are words that make your speech polite to read and add a deferential touch to your mails. Say the following out loud and compare:

Please send me the file again

Could you please send me the file again?

Don’t you think the second sentence reads more positive and would naturally invoke a response? Read more about it here.

Be positive: Avoiding negative words and using positive phrases are your non-verbal cues (compare body language in face-to-face conversations). For instance, compare the two ways your Professor could respond to your deadline extension request:

Mr. Smith,

The deadline for your assignment cannot be extended under any circumstances. I may have to give you a failing grade in case you fail to submit your work on stipulated time.


Hi Patrick,

Unfortunately, the deadline cannot extended as the college administration has formalized it. What I can surely do is convey your request to the administrative head and support your case.

Signing off: When signing off, polite words such as regards, sincerely, and thank you are important. The simplest way to ensure your email includes them is by creating a signature and then adding your personal sign-off.

Use standard fonts and colors: Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Helvetica – the simple and sensible family of fonts is your best bet. Don’t make your emails an exercise for the eyes by using technicolor Comic Sans, or Lucida Handwriting. Those belong in memes.

5. Proofread and fact check

Have you ever received an email riddled with typos? Nothing is more annoying than that, right?

Using tools such as Grammarly often helps. Even the humble Microsoft Word will do a basic spellcheck for you. Double check or, in fact, triple check your complete email, not just the body. See that you have added a good subject line, addressed it to the right recipients, attached any file you need to, and don’t forget your signature.

So, there you have it. Your very own guide to make the internet a better place with cleaner emails.

Related articles:
The Art of Emailing at Work

Word Nerd: 6 magical English words from Greco-Roman mythology

17 Jan

Since ancient times, mythology has helped form a bridge between abstraction and personification, between imagination and belief, and mind and speech. Myth is a feature of every culture. In fundamental ways, it helps explain the world to us.

The means of that explanation is language. Naturally, myths are embedded in our vocabulary. Often, we use words from myths without being aware of their fascinating origin. The source stories, however, can help us understand and use the words even better.

In this blog, we share 6 words which have their roots in Greco-Roman myths.

1. Cereal

Not just breakfast for most of the western hemisphere, cereal is also any grain used for food – wheat, rice, maize. In this context it makes sense that the root of the word is Ceres – name of the Roman goddess of agriculture, fertility, and motherliness. In the Roman times, Ceres was synonymous with grain and bread. The association has lingered to this day.

2. Echo
The word means repeating or reflecting sounds, ideas and phrases.

In Ovid’s ‘Metapmorphoses’, Echo is a nymph from the mountains, who has a wonderful voice and gift for storytelling. She distracts Juno while Jupiter escapes for an affair. An angry Juno curses her that henceforth she will only be able to finish or repeat sentences.

Later, when Narcissus rejects her love, Echo prays mentally to Venus to exist as a voice without a form. This explains the aural effect named after her.

3. Narcissistic
Self-love taken to an unhealthy extreme is narcissism.

The origin of the term is in the myth of Narcissus – a proud hunter who broke several hearts (including Echo’s above). Nemesis, the Roman goddess who punishes pride, drew him to a pool where he saw his reflection and fell in love with it. He gazed at his image for so long that he wasted away and died.

4. Hypnosis
OED defines hypnosis as “the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction.”

The word comes from Hypnos – the Greek personification of sleep. Hypnos is the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness). He is said to live in a dark cave in hell, where no light or sound can enter. Poppies and other hypnotic plants grow in his garden. His children are gods of the dream. Because he is god of sleep, he owns half of a human’s life.

5. Morphine
A drug derived from opium, which is used to relieve pain, morphine is derived from the name of the Roman god of dreams – Morpheus. He is a son of Hypnos, one of thousands.

6. Tantalise

The verb means to excite or tease someone with the promise of something unattainable.
And the best example of this predicament is Tantalus. He is the first of that name in Greek myth. Tantalus was a son of Zeus who wined and dined with the gods. He stole from them and gave to his people. Also, he sacrificed his own son to the gods who hated human sacrifice. The gods brought the dead son back to life and threw Tantalus down to the depth of hell.

In hell, Tantalus stands in a pool of water under a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he stoops to drink water, it recedes. And when he reaches for fruit, the branches are beyond his grasp. A stone hangs above his head threatening to fall at any moment.

There are many, many more words inspired by myth – fury, chaos, chronology, grace, and so on.

Would you like to add to our list? Comment below or write to us.

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Word Nerd: 5 words banished from the Queen’s English in 2018

8 Jan

Off with these words!

Every year since 1976, the Lake Superior State University publishes an annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use, and General Uselessness. Although the first list was inspired by the pet peeves of LSSU’s late public relations W.T. Rabe and his friends, the list is now culled from thousands of international nominations.

“We’ve drilled down, and unpacked tons of pre-owned words and phrases deemed impactful by hundreds of nominators during 2017,” said an LSSU spokesperson. “Let that sink in.”

From 2018’s list of 14 words, we’ve chosen 5. These are words/phrases we can eschew because they are either clunky, cliché, or both. Try to avoid them, if you can, because “let us ask you” is that the way you want to talk? It’s probably the least “impactful” way.

1) Unpack – We can imagine the lure of the term initially – likening concepts, positions, and all carriers of meaning to suitcases. But, overuse has marred the charm. Use analyze, consider, and assess instead. Gives your language a touch of gravitas.

2) Tons – Technically, this means approximately 1000 kilograms. But now, dispersed through the language as it is – tons could refer to quantities of sunshine or work or friends. Rather a vague way to qualify things. Why not use lots instead?

3) Fake News – Any news broadcast with an intent to spread misinformation is fake news. However, the term is now used liberally to brand any story that a reader disagrees with.

4) Hot Water Heater – Unless there’s a specific kind of heater only for hot water, isn’t the term water heater just fine?

5) Covfefe – The list says this, “An impulsive typo, born into a 140-character universe, somehow missed by the autocorrect feature.”

And while the entire Twitterverse as well as the Interwebs have had a long and loud laugh about it, we think it’s now a bit tired. We’re sure the President will oblige us shortly.