The Wordnik 2021 Gift Guide for Word Lovers

Wondering what to get this year for the logophile in your life? Here’s a list of books, games, art, and other goodies for word nerds of all ages. 

Adopt a word

What better gift for a word lover than… a word? For $25, you can adopt a word—(almost) any word—in someone’s honor. The recipient will receive a certificate, Wordnik stickers, and other perks, and the money goes toward supporting Wordnik. Wordnik, $25.

Calligraphy Prints

Fans of illumination and typography will be impressed by these prints from the Public Domain Review that feature beautifully rendered letters, such as selections from Joris Hofnagel’s “Guide to the Construction of Letters” or the 18th century satirical “Alphabet de la Bourbonnoise.”  Public Domain Review, $25.00 and up.

Left: Guide for Constructing the Letter R (Joris Hoefnagel, ca. 1595) /Right: Bourbonnoise Alphabet (Unknown, 1789)

Public Domain Review

Heck Yeah, Descriptivism!

Lingthusiasm has a great selection of linguistics-themed merchandise, including kiki/bouba t-shirts, schwa pins, and everything IPA. We’re partial to these zippered pouches that “push back against language peevery.” Redbubble, $15.89

"Heck Yeah Descriptivism!" Pouch in white on green

Designed and sold by Lingthusiasm. RedBubble

Ideal Bookshelf Pins

These enamel pins by Jane Mount feature hand-drawn book covers you can display on your lapel, with dozens of classics from Middlemarch to Infinite Jest rendered in delightful miniature. Etsy, $11.

Book Pin: A Wrinkle in Time

Janemount on Etsy

Dictionary Subscriptions

Why not supplement the Wordnik experience with a subscription to a specialized dictionary, such as DARE, the Dictionary of American Regional English ($49/year)?

826 Merchandise

826 is a nonprofit that provides writing workshops and after-school tutoring to communities in nine cities across the US. Each location also doubles as an imaginative retail store, which means you can get vintage-inspired posters ($19.99) from LA’s Time Travel Mart, cans of antimatter ($8.00) from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, or an eyepatch ($5.00)and doubloons ($0.75 each) from the Valencia Pirate Supply Store. All proceeds from these shops go to support 826.  

Time Travel Posters: Pangaea (Left) and Tokyo 2.0 (Right).

Time Travel Mart,


Litographs take the full text of a book and make it into word art in the form of posters, blankets, jigsaw puzzles, shower curtains, and more. It’s a cool way to show off your love of literature, plus a guarantee you’ll never be bored in the shower again., $24-$74.  



Originally created through the NYU Game Center Incubator and funded through Kickstarter, Rewordable is a “uniquely fragmented” card game in which players arrange letter combinations to build increasingly longer and more complex words. It’s a great way for kids to build their vocabularies and linguistic skills, or for adults to flex theirs. Barnes & Noble, $15.99.

Rewordable game


Scrabble Fridge Magnets

If the word-lover in your life prefers word gaming at a more leisurely pace, these magnets are a fun twist on the classic fridge poetry formula. Etsy, $20.09-$33.26.

Wooden Scrabble letter fridge magnets by MagnificentMagnetsUK



There are just too many books to list—word lovers tend to like books, after all—but we’re making an attempt with our lists. There’s one for word lovers and an even-more-specific list for folks who love dictionaries. Check them out!

Wordnik Swag

Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt – or a tote bag, or a notebook, or a throw pillow – that says “I 🧡 words?” 

We also have a limited number of the Wordnik Kickstarter poster left—US$40, including Priority Mail shipping (to US only). Language is the Dress of Thought poster Get them while you can, as we won’t be reprinting these!

Holiday Food Words: Eggnog, A Riot of a Word

Homemade Eggnog 3

Happy Christmas, fellow Wordniks! Today we wrap up our little series on some of our favorite holiday food words. Our final installment, that holiday grog of champions: eggnog.

The origins of both the drink eggnog and the word are unclear. Some say the beverage originated from the 14th century English posset, although posset, while milky, spicy and spiked, doesn’t contain any actual eggs.

As for the word eggnog, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1825: “The egg-nog..had gone about rather freely.” However, both Barry Popik and the Online Etymology Dictionary say eggnog is from at least the 1770s. CNN also states the “late 18th century” is the first recorded instance of the term eggnog and even claims that George Washington himself had a recipe.

This genius was hospitalized after “winning” an eggnog chugging contest.

While the egg part of eggnog comes from, well, egg, the nog part is less straightforward. While it originated in the early 1690s and refers to a strong type of beer brewed in Norfolk, England, so say both the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s not clear where the word came from. Nug is a possibility, as is noggin, a small cup or mug. By the way, noggin meaning “head” came about in 1769, says the OED, originating from boxing slang.

Finally, think eggnog isn’t anything to get up in arms about? Think again. The Eggnog Riot of 1826, also known as the Grog Mutiny, occurred at the West Point military academy over the course of two days.

What began as a Christmas Day party escalated into destructive drunkenness as cadets downed whiskey-laden eggnog, broken windows, and fired weapons willy-nilly,  (which just goes to show white people have been rioting over dumb stuff for a long time). One of the rioters was none other than Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America.

In case you missed it, check out our posts on clementines, Dundee cake, and panettone.

[Photo via Flickr, “Eggnog,” CC BY 2.0 by Natalie Maynor]

Holiday Food Words: Panettone (Not Bread of Toni)


Merry Christmas Eve! Welcome to our third and penultimate installment of our mini-series on holiday foods and their origins, linguistic and otherwise.

You’ve already learned about the darling clementine and the Scottish Dundee cake. Today we’re looking at a baked good of the Italian variety: panettone.

You know panettone as those ubiquitous boxes of sweet bread you see piled up pyramid-high in grocery stores. You’ve probably given them and gotten as gifts. But do you know where it comes from?

While Wikipedia says the bread originated in the early 20th century (by “two enterprising Milanese bakers”), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the Italian panettone, or “fruited loaf,” as coming from Milan in 1831. The earliest recorded usage in English is from 1865: “Biffi Paolo,..Milan.—Panattone (pastry); various kinds of liqueurs.”

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the bread gained popularity. In 1919, entrepreneur Angelo Motta changed the traditional recipe by “making the dough rise three times,” which gave the bread its now well-known domed shape. A few years later, another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, adapted the recipe and sold the bread under his own brand. It was the competition between Motta and Alemagna that “led to industrial production of the cake.”

There are a few myths about the origin of the word. One says that panettone derives from the Milanese pan del ton, “cake of luxury.” Another, our favorite, claims it translates as “bread of Toni.”

The Toni in question was a 15th-century Milanese baker with a beautiful daughter. A nobleman was in love with said daughter, and decided to help her by way of her father by posing as a baker and promptly inventing this rich and delicious bread, the bread of Toni. The nobleman married the daughter, and even Leonardo da Vinci was there to give his blessing to the “Pan de Toni.”

The actual origin of the word panettone is far less exciting: it’s an augmentative of the Italian panetto, “small loaf,” which is a diminutive of pane, “bread.” Pane comes from the Latin panis, “bread.” Panem et circuses, also Latin, translates as “bread and circuses” and refers to “offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.”

The Hunger Games’ trilogy takes place in the nation of Panem, where gruesome “games” are held to distract the population from huge class divisions and its totalitarian government. Peeta Mellark, the protagonist’s love interest, is a baker’s son.

[Photo via Flickr, “Homemade Panettone,” CC BY 2.0 by Nicola]

Holiday Food Words: Dundee Cake, Not Just Any Fruitcake


Yesterday we kicked off a mini-series on some of our favorite holiday food words. While we started with the well-known clementine, today we’re examining a lesser known edible tradition, at least to those of us on this side of the Atlantic: the Scottish Dundee cake.

The Dundee cake, a rich cake made with raisins, currants, sultanas, and sliced almonds, is named for Dundee, Scotland, its place of origin. The earliest citation the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has for Dundee cake is 1892 although the BBC says an early version of the recipe can be traced back “a kitchen in Dundee in the 1700s.” It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the cake began to be mass produced, namely by the company, James Keiller & Son.

Prior to the Dundee cake, James Keiller & Son was famous for its Keiller’s marmalade, named for its supposed creator, Janet Keiller, James’s wife. Legend says that James bought a large shipment of oranges, which after being held up became “less fresh.” Rather than let the oranges go to waste, enterprising Janet turned them into marmalade. (The word marmalade, by the way, is French in origin and ultimately comes from the Greek melimēlon, “honey apple.”)

But the real story, as real stories often are, is less interesting: the Keillers simply “adapted an existing recipe [for marmalade] for manufacture, by adding the characteristic rind suspended in the preserve.”


Keiller’s marmalade is also known as Dundee marmalade, which the company trademarked in 1880, according to the OED.

As for the Dundee cake, Scotland recently launched an official bid to obtain European protected status for the hearty sweet. Food and drink under such a status are protected from “the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.” In other words, products that have originated from a particular region — such as Gorgonzola cheese or Champagne  — “can only be labelled as such” if they actually come from that region.

A Scottish baker said that Dundee cake “has become so far removed from its roots that it has almost become a catch all term for any fruit cake with peel and almonds in it.”

Other Scottish foods that already have protected status are the Scotch Beef brand and Stornoway black pudding, which has been called “the best sausage made in the UK.”

[Photo via Flickr, “Dundee cake (icing),” CC BY 2.0 by Lucy Downey]
[Photo via Flickr, “Marmalade Jar,” CC BY 2.0 by Smabs Sputzer]

Holiday Food Words: The Darling ‘Clementine’


What’s better than holiday treats? How about the origins of some of those treats, linguistic and otherwise? That’s what we’ll be taking a look at this week in this mini-series on holiday food words. First up, the clementine.

Along with all those chocolates, cookies, and giant cans of gourmet popcorn, you may also receive a box of juicy clementines. The clementine — also known as the Christmas orange since the breed peaks during the winter season — is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. It began as an “accidental hybrid,” says Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The word seems to have originated in French around 1902 and might be named for Father Clement Rodier, a French missionary who is said to have discovered the breed “in the garden of his orphanage in Misserghin, near Oran, Algeria.”

The OED’s earliest citation in English is from 1926 — “The Clementine orange (a cross between tangerine and sour orange) is very severely affected [by citrus rust]” — although the Online Etymology Dictionary says the fruit might have been introduced into the U.S. as early as 1909.

Clementine is also an adjective that refers  to “various popes who took the name Clement.” This is much older, originating around 1705. The name Clement comes from clement meaning mild in temper or weather, which in turn comes from the Latin clementem, “mild, placid, gentle.” Clemency is “a disposition to show mercy, especially toward an offender or enemy.”

The female name Clementine pre-dates the orange variety, although by how long we couldn’t find. A famous Clementine — Princess Marie-Clementine Bagration — was born in 1810 while the song, Oh My Darling, Clementine, is from about 1884.

Now how about what a clementine actually is? Like we said, the OED and other sources say it’s a cross between a tangerine and an orange. However, others describe it as a cross between a mandarin and an orange, and still others call it an “often seedless mandarin orange.”

A tangerine (named for Tangier, Morocco, its place of origin) seems to be either a kind of mandarin orange or closely related. Thus, using tangerine and mandarin interchangeably appears to be acceptable.

And while we’re at it, where does the name mandarin come from? The Online Etymology Dictionary says it’s after the color of the robes worn by mandarins, or imperial Chinese officials. However, the OED describes the mandarin as “the better kind of Chinese orange” (although better than what, it doesn’t say) and suggests that mandarin here “carries connotations of choiceness.”

The word mandarin, by the way, is Portuguese in origin and ultimately comes from the Sanskrit mantrī, mantrin-, “counselor.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Clementines,” CC BY 2.0 by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble]

Giving Words: Gifts, Tips, and Bribes

Day 134

Photo by pasukaru76

It’s that time of year when we’re all running around getting last minute gifts for our loved ones, not-so-loved ones, co-workers, the mailman, the dog walker, the babysitter, and – exhausted yet?

Take a break and have some fun with 10 of our favorite words about gifts, tips, and bribes.


“According to its decoration, this ‘ongaresca,’ or plate on a foot, represents what was known as an ‘amatorio,’ love gift. The hands clasped over flame indicate an acceptance and betrothal. Above the hands is a heart pierced with an arrow.”

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, January 1916

An amatorio is “a decorated vase, dish, bowl, or plate, intended or suitable for a love-gift.” The word comes from the Latin amare, “to love.”

The Ars armatoria, or The Art of Love, are a series of instructional books by Ovid, an ancient Roman poet. The books teach basic “male and female relationship skills and techniques.”


“The two boys were sent away happy, with a generous baksheesh or present, and the next day Kitty’s father sought out the kind-hearted jewel merchant and bought many a gem from his choice collection.”

St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, V. 5, April 1878

A baksheesh is “a gratuity, tip, or bribe paid to expedite service, especially in some Near Eastern countries.” The word came into English in the 17th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and comes from the Persian word for “present.” Also bakshish.


“This the mafoo does with great pleasure, as, apart from the keen interest he takes in racing. . .it is an understood thing that he will receive a good cumshaw from his master for each race that his stable wins.”

Oliver G. Ready, Life and Sport in China, 1904

A cumshaw is “a present of any kind.” The word comes from Amoy, a Chinese Hokkien dialect now known as the Xiamen dialect. Cumshaw entered English in the 19th century, says the OED, and is an alteration of kam-sia, “a phrase of thanks by beggars.”


“A friend of mine, on leaving an hotel at Niagara, offered a douceur in the shape of half a dollar to one of [these chambermaids], but she drew herself up, and proudly replied, ‘American ladies do not receive money from gentlemen.’”

Isabella Bird, The Englishwoman in America, 1856

The word douceur can refer to “sweetness or mildness of manner”; “a kind or agreeable remark; a compliment”; or “a conciliatory offering; a present or gift; a reward; a bribe.”

According to the OED, douceur also refers to “a U.K. tax benefit given as an inducement to a person to sell something of historical value (esp. a work of art) by private treaty to a public collection in the U.K., rather than on the open market.” This sense originated around 1979.

Douceur comes from the Latin dulcis, “sweet,” which also gives us dulcet, “pleasing to the ear.”


“I arrived here not long before 1st of January, and, on the morning of that day, a gentle tap at door of the room in which I was drew my attention, and when I desired the person who knocked to walk in, I was surprised by an unexpected visit from the young and pretty daughter of my landlord. . .of which, avec toute la grace francoise, she requested my acceptance as étrenne or New Year’s Gift.”

The European Magazine and London Review, July to December 1823

An étrenne is “a present; properly, a New-Year’s present.” The word is French and ultimately comes from the Latin strena, “favorable omen.”


“The first Monday of the New-Year has been long known in Scotland, more especially the northern half of the Lowlands, as Hansel-Monday, from the custom among people of the working class of asking or receiving gifts or handsel from their well-to-do neighbors, and from each other, on that day.”

Auld Hansel-Monday,” Bruce Herald, March 28, 1890

The word handsel can refer to “a gift or token of good fortune or good will; especially, a New-Year’s gift,” as well as “a sale, gift, or delivery which is regarded as the first of a series,” such as “the first money taken in the morning in the way of trade; the first earnings of any one in a new employment or place of business; the first money taken in a shop newly opened; the first present sent to a young woman on her wedding-day, etc.”

The word ultimately comes from the Old Norse handsal, “legal transfer,” where hand means “hand” and sal, “a giving.”


“It is clear that handy-dandy in this passage means a covert bribe or present, as, for instance, a bag conveyed to the judge’s hand which he was to open at leisure when he would find the contents satisfactory.”

William Langland, The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman, 1885

While handy-dandy is another way of saying “handy” or “useful,” an older meaning refers to “a bribe paid secretly,” as well as “a play of children in which something, as a pebble or a coin, is shaken between the hands of one, while another guesses which hand it is retained in.”

The Century Dictionary implies that the bribe sense comes from the children’s game. However, the OED cites a much earlier reference of the bribe meaning, the 14th century, while the first record of the game meaning is from the 16th century.


“We picked up one excellent word – a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — ‘lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. . . .It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1906

A lagniappe is a chiefly Southern Louisiana and Mississippi word that means “a small gift presented by a storeowner to a customer with the customer’s purchase,” or “an extra or unexpected gift or benefit.”

The word is Louisiana French, coming from the American Spanish la ñapa, “the gift,” which may come from the Quechua yapay, “to give more.”  The word attests to 1849, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.


“The deserted farmsteads no longer echo with the sounds of rural revelry; the cheerful log-fires no longer glow in the farmer’s kitchen; the harvest-home song has died away; and ‘largess’ no longer rewards the mummers and the morris-dancers.”

P.H. Ditchfield, Vanishing England, 1910

Largess is “liberality; generosity,” or “a liberal gift or donation; a present; a bounty bestowed.” The OED says that largess! is “a call for a gift of money, addressed to a person of relatively high position on some special occasion.” The word ultimately comes from the Latin largus, “abundant.” Also largesse.


“After that, we came back to the Barriere de l’Etoile, where she gave me a good ‘pourboire‘ and got into a hackney coach, telling me to take the travelling carriage back to the man who lets such carriages in the Cour des Coches, Faubourg Saint-Honore.”

Honore De Balzac, The Lesser Bourgeoisie (The Middle Classes)

Pourboire is “money given as a gratuity; a tip,” and translates literally from the French as “for drinking.” The word came into English around 1788, according to the OED.


“Giving VDay gifts to us is super easy. We like cool stuff. The Chumby you got us for our desk at work is the perfect Valentine’s Day prezzie.”

Adam Sachs, “An Open Letter to the Ladies on Valentine’s Day. . .From Some Dudes,” The Huffington Post, February 12, 2009

We promised 10 words but here’s an extra, a lexical lagniappe. Prezzie, a shortened form of present, is an alteration of the British English slang word, pressie. According to the OED, pressie originated in the 1930s. An earlier alteration is prez, which in American English now more commonly refers to a president. “Accept my little pres.” James Joyce, Ulysses.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by pasukaru76]


The whole War on Christmas nonsense drives me crazy. I lived for years in a predominantly Islamic neighborhood, and currently live in a predominantly Jewish one. Just because I celebrate Christmas is no reason for me to assume my neighbors do, and a seasonal greeting like “Happy Holidays” is simply more polite. More Christian even, if you believe one should love thy neighbor. The only war here is the ongoing one by the religious right against everyone else, including the silent majority of open-minded and compassionate Christians.

Now you can strike a blow for freedom, and conveniently punt on this whole issue, with the Holiday-O-Matic! Its three Wheel of Fortune style wheels, each containing 20 or so holidayish phrases, mix and match to form a ridiculous and ecumenical holiday greeting. And for every spin of the wheels Worktank, the creator of the site, will make a donation to Rotary First Harvest. A lovely holiday sentiment indeed.

Cheers to SonofGroucho for the link, and for the friendly and civil discussion he got rolling on Merry Christmas.