Monday, February 25, 2013

Another Thing / Think Coming

Not too long ago, when I was a young and vibrant stage actor—oh, all right, it was 30 years ago—I appeared in the world premiere of a play in which the author, a New Englander, had written some dialogue that went something like this: 

            I believe she is a very nice person.

To which another character replied: 

     If you believe that, you’ve got      
     another thing coming. 

The actor who had the latter line assumed there was a typographical error, and what he read was: 

            If you believe that, you’ve got   
      another think coming.
When the author corrected the actor, a heated discussion ensued as to which was correct.  You know how playwrights are.

The meaning of the phrase—“you’re wrong, and you should reconsider”—would seem to support think, which was recorded as a noun in 1834. Tait’s Magazine contained a phrase about “having time for our… think.”

In fact, most authorities agree that the correct phrase, which can be traced to 1898, is “you’ve got another think coming.” In that year an article in The Syracuse Standard related, "Conroy lives in Troy and thinks he is a coming fighter. This gentleman has another think coming.” 

The earliest citation for the phrase using thing is 1919, in another Syracuse paper, The Herald: "If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you've got another thing coming." 

“Another thing coming” is what is known as an eggcorn—a spoken word or phrase that is misunderstood by the hearer. The coinage of eggcorn is attributed to Geoffrey Pullum, writing in a blog in 2003 about a woman who substituted the phrase egg corn for acorn. Related to malapropisms and mondegreens, eggcorns are usually one-word mishearings in a phrase, resulting in a new usage, such as “spurt of the moment,” “duck tape,” and “anchors away.”  For more information about eggcorns, see my earlier blog at:

Or better yet, read page 132 in my book Words Gone Wild, of which a dwindling few copies are still available in a few book stores or via

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is also dwindling, especially in popularity, financial resources, poetic quality, and good sense.  One cannot say the same of his output of drivel, which is egregiously represented by this atrocity, apropos of nothing, making us wish we had another thing coming:         

                        Is that Henry Fielding? 
                        Yes—also he’s tippling, 
                        To temptation he’s yielding, 
                        While Rudyard is Kipling. 

                        And is Sir John Suckling? 
                        He seems to be frowning, 
                        While Robert is buckling 
                        His belt as he’s Browning. 

                        Now who is George Gissing? 
                        Whose hand is he holding? 
                        Or is he just hissing 
                        To watch William Golding? 

                        Ian seems to be Fleming, 
                        Or maybe he’s bowling, 
                        He’s hawing and hemming, 
                        While J. K. is Rowling.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Anent the Stent

A stent is a tube, usually made of wire mesh, inserted into a natural passage that has been narrowed by disease, in order to enhance the flow of bodily fluids.  Most commonly we think of coronary stents, placed in clogged arteries to allow blood to flow to the heart.

The word has been around at least since 1380, but it has meant a variety of other things not connected with the present usage.  Among earlier definitions of stent  are a “tax evaluation,” a “hole to receive the end of a bar,” a “stake for stretching fishing nets,” and the “rubble of a tin mine.”  As a verb, stent has also been in use since the fourteenth century, and has meant to “stretch something out to its full length,” to “erect a tomb,” to “hang a curtain,” to “stretch out a person on an instrument of torture,” and to “distend the stomach.” 

According to the Merriam Webster’s Second New International Dictionary, stent evolved from the Middle English verb stenten, shortened from extenten, meaning to stretch, which in turn came from Latin extentus, past participle of extendere, to stretch out.

Most word gurus agree that the current medical meaning of stent, in use since about 1960, has nothing to do with all that. They think it can be traced to an English dentist, Charles Stent, who was born in 1807 and died in 1885.  He devised a framework structure to support the facial tissues during reconstructive surgery. It became known as a “Stent” and the name was picked up for subsequent devices similarly constructed.

In Texas and other areas that have difficulty distinguishing the sound of “pin” from “pen,” a stent may be confused with a stint, which since the 1590s has meant a brief period of time devoted to an occupation, adapted from the verb stint (“restrict”), and derived from Old English styntan (“dull” or “blunt”).

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is urgently in need of a stent to his brain, to facilitate the flow of poetic inspiration from his sluggish Muse.  On second thought, a stent probably wouldn’t do the trick; what the Bard needs is a complete transplant.  Judge from the following:

            Old Doctor Stent, 
            The dental gent, 
            Had not a cent 
            To pay his rent, 
            So off he went,
            And did invent 
            An instrument 
            He called a stent. 

            The reverent 
            To compliment 
            The gentle Stent, 
            Was then content 
            To implement 
            To all the rent 
            That Stent had spent, 
            And to augment 
            This blandishment, 
            A monument 
            Was their intent, 
            To document 
            The doc’s ascent 
            To eminent 
            Another gent, 
            The decadent 
            And corpulent 
            Professor Trent, 
            With wonderment 
            Then gave consent 
            And underwent 
            A new event: 
            To place a stent 
            To circumvent 
            To some extent 
            The sediment 
            That, like cement, 
            Was evident, 
            And thus prevent 
            Trent’s subsequent 
            And quick descent 
            To vile torment. 

            Anent Trent’s stent: 
            The stent was bent, 
            It had a dent-- 
            Not worth a cent! 

            And as for Trent:
            He's vehement,
            And violent--
            He does lament 
            He did relent 
            To give consent 
            For negligent,
            And just to vent 
            His discontent,
            Trent rashly sent 
            A harsh comment
            To represent 
            Just what he meant: 

            “I now have spent 
            My last red cent 
            On this bent stent-- 
            I do resent 
            My pestilent 
            No monument 
            To Doctor Stent 
            Or supplement 
            To pay his rent 
            Wins my assent!” 

            And so it went.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fraffly Fain Spitch

Watching an old Hitchcock film from the 1930s, I noted the actors, portraying members of the British upper-class, spoke with such tortured vowels and clipped consonants that it was virtually impossible to understand a word (a phenomenon not helped by a scratchy sound track).  What these folks were speaking is “Fraffly”—a term coined by the pseudonymous linguist Afferbeck Lauder to describe the affected English dialect sometimes spoken in certain parts of London’s West End such as Mayfair and Belgravia.

The name “Fraffly” comes from the way Lauder suggests these Brit twits pronounce “Frightfully,” which is often used as a synonym for “very.”  The classic example is the phrase “Fraffly caned a few”—which translates as “Frightfully kind of you.”

Can you get the sense of these other examples of Fraffly?  (It helps if you say them aloud through your nose and think of yourself as Bertie Wooster.)

Ashered if thotty would hef bin myrrh kretful.

Wong con blemmer, relleh, when won nerzer bare crond.

Earce and nir.

Shiss fay caned, and fay swit; aim fay fawn torfa.

Ah peck your poncer, putt mairn trop choofra merment?

Sweller’s bing a jollickered spot, yolso plessy fittel.

Aim Kuwait sheer hiss nert kirming to the fermly mitting.  

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has no truck with Fraffly; in fact he has no truck of any sort.  His preferred mode of transport is a little red wagon, which many of his unfortunate readers would like to fix.  He does, however, know a tale or two about Belgravia and Mayfair. 

            A vicar who preached in Belgravia
            Engaged in most shocking behaviour:
            He’d blaspheme the bishop
            In sermons he’d dish up--
            Then blame them on St. Francis Xavier!

            An asthmatic vicar in Mayfair,
            Used a filter to guarantee safe air,
            Then, with no bronchial strictures,
            He’d go to the pictures,
            Where he liked to watch nothing but gay fare.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Getting in Kilter

Since I dealt with the origins of the phrase out of whack, a few blogs ago, some troublesome customers have raised the question of why I failed to explain out of kilter at the same time.  Well, there are good reasons not to go there, but I guess I’ll have to, just to satisfy the curious. 

Kilter is defined by Webster as “proper or usual state of order” (origin unknown).   The O.E.D. says the word should be kelter, except that Americans call it kilter, and it means “good condition or order” (origin obscure).  Now if these two renowned sources don’t know where the word came from, how do you expect me to provide an answer?

Evidently the phrase out of kilter first appeared in print in the 1620s, but as the Word Detective website points out, “No one has ever come up with an even vaguely plausible explanation” of its origin. 

Kelter can mean several other things in various English dialects—“a coarse cloth,” “rubbish or nonsense,” “money or cash”—but none of these seem to point to something being in “good order.” Kilter is also defined in some usages as a “useless hand in cards.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the Dutch word keelter means “stomach,” but to say something is “in or out of stomach” doesn’t make much sense either.  It’s also pointed out there is a Scottish dialect verb—kilt—meaning “to make things neat.”  The noun kilt is from the Scandinavian kjalta, meaning a fold in a skirt.  As a verb, kilt can also mean to “tuck up.”

None of this really gets us any closer to out of kilter, and my suggestion is just to stop using the phrase and maybe it will go away.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou will not go away, no matter how hard people may try to make him. The following will explain why they’d like him to go away, the sooner the better:

            My whack is out of kilter,            
            And my kilter’s out of whack,
            My wallet’s out of money,
            And my train is out of track.
            My friends are out of sorts,
            And my stove is out of coal,
            My serve is out of bounds,
            And I’m out of control.
            My computer’s out of order,
            And my car is out of gas,
            My expense is out of pocket,
            Gosh, I hope that this will pass.