Tag Archives: English language

Most hated word: The envelope, please?

There is a word that I absolutely abhor. In fact, I have difficulty convincing myself to write it, let alone speak it. For the longest time, I couldn’t admit this to anyone. If I heard someone use it or saw it written down, I’d cringe with horror. I am not making this up.

Ask my husband and daughters. Until now, I’ve never admitted this to anyone but them. In fact, I don’t remember how or when I admitted it, but it was long after my mother-in-law (who I loved dearly) first said it in my presence. This would have been more than 30 years ago, so obviously I’ve been hiding my feelings for a long time.

I’ve long suspected that there is a Freudian explanation for this. My brother-in-law, the psychiatrist, probably could explain it to me. On the other hand, maybe I’d rather not know.

So here’s the thing. My family knows this word irritates me, so they use it selectively. Sometimes they whisper it furtively in my presence, sneaking glances at me to see how I’m reacting. Or they say it really loud just for fun.

Well. I have been vindicated. It seems I am not alone in my disgust for this word. In the New Yorker‘s “Culture Desk” blog, author Ben Greenman asked readers for the word they’d like to see zapped from the English language. My word came up most frequently.

If that’s not enough proof that I am in good company, I am now one of 3,229 members of a Facebook page dedicated to those who shudder at the mention of this word.

THE WORD? Ugh. Okay…deep breath…here we go…moist. Yep, that’s it. Can’t stand it. Can’t stand the sound of it, the sight of it, the feeling that I get when I hear it. This is one of the first times I’ve actually written it down and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure I could spell it correctly.

Sadly, my word was not the word chosen to be eliminated. That word was “slacks”. What’s up with that? How could they have chosen “slacks” over than “moist”? Makes absolutely no sense to me.

So now I’m really curious…what’s your word? What word would you like to zap from existence?

Check out my mom’s fingers — they’re all green

Ever wonder where the term “green thumb” originated? One of the more plausible answers originated with the Brits, whose version, “green fingers”, actually makes more sense because how many gardeners do you know who use just their thumbs?

What I discovered is that just before and during World War II, one of the most popular programs on BBC radio in Britain was called “In Your Garden,” the host of which was a Mr. C.H. Middleton. A well-known etymologist, Eric Partridge, suggested that this program might have popularized both phrases, and that “green thumb” was actually a reference to the very old English proverb “An honest miller has a golden thumb.” Millers, merchants who grind corn for farmers, used to judge the quality of their product, corn flour, by rubbing a bit between the palm and thumb. But millers were often suspected of cheating their customers, and “golden thumb” was often used sarcastically, including by Chaucer, to mean a talent for duplicity. In any case, the proverb was sufficiently well known in Britain in the mid-20th century to make the “golden thumb” and “green thumb” connection plausible, and would explain why the thumb in particular is found in the most common form of the phrase.

What prompted this interest in green thumbs? My 89-year-old mother — a shining example of green fingers. When she moved from her condo to an apartment in an independent living facility, she gave up a lot — her piano, many antiques, family heirlooms, furniture, etc.

But she insisted on taking along many of her indoor plants (and some outdoor ones). After all, she’d nurtured many of these potted bulbs for years, letting them lie dormant until it was time for them to bloom. In fact, she has so many I worried that she would trip over them. She solved that problem by acquiring a second storage space in her building — this one just for her plants.

This is the scene in her living room right now — most of the plants are placed in front of her large patio doors where they get what little winter light is available.

Every winter, she babies her amaryllis bulbs (she has three pots) watering and staking them carefully to be sure they are productive. And they are, indeed, productive. So much so that my husband is green with envy. He’s attempted this several years, with limited success.

Last week, one of Mother’s amaryllis plants had produced seven (yep) blooms. By the time I took this photo, it was reduced to four. But no matter. Trust me. On a gloomy day, just take a look at this beauty and you’ll find your spirits quickly lifted.