Tasty Morsels from Groovy Hubs: Our Favorite Words from Succession

Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun from Succession

Photograph by Graeme Hunter/HBO

Whether you’re a con-head or a slime puppy, fans of HBO’s Succession know that no one can turn a phrase—especially a profane one—like the show’s writers. The drama, which features the members of the Roy family plotting for control over the family media empire, won awards for the whip-smart, hilarious dialogue of its first two seasons, going way beyond the strings of emphatic “f*ck off”s the show is known for. (Although there are quite a lot of those: in fact, star Brian Cox wore the signature phrase on a mask to the season premiere.) After a hiatus of over two years, Succession will be back for its third season on Sunday; in anticipation, we’ve gathered some of our favorite words and phrases from the show so far. 


Greg: What’s ortolan?

Tom: It is a deep-fried songbird, eaten whole.

Season 1, Episode 6, “Which Side Are You On?” 

As Tom explains to a deeply uncomfortable Greg, the ortolan is a small songbird native to Europe that, for centuries, was a delicacy of French cuisine. While Tom is incorrect about the method of preparation – the birds are traditionally roasted after being drowned in armagnac brandy(!) – he is correct about the way they are eaten: with a napkin placed over the diner’s head and eyes, possibly to concentrate the eating experience, or to shield the diner from the judgment of God at such a shameful act. 

The killing and eating of ortolans is banned in the E.U., which has made the experience all the more rare– and, for some, more exclusive. In recent years, ortolan has been featured in the shows Billions and Hannibal as well as Succession.  The bird, its exclusivity, and the ritual around eating it are all ripe for symbolic usage: in Succession’s case, it represents the callous indulgences of the ultra-rich, and also echoes the way its characters turn a blind eye to wrongdoing at the Waystar/Royco corporation.

closed-loop system

Tom: It’s cool though, because it’s like I didn’t cheat, because all the sperm stayed in my own body. Like a closed-loop system

Season 1, Episode 8, “Prague” 

In engineering, a closed-loop system refers to electro-mechanical control systems that incorporate feedback in their own operation, like cruise control. In Succession, it’s Tom’s euphemism for a certain act (we won’t go into detail here) that’s definitely “a thing, there’s a word for it.” 

bear hug

Logan: This is a fucking bear hug?

Kendall: That’s right.

Season 1, Episode 10, “Nobody is Ever Missing”

Succession is, at least ostensibly, a show about business dealings, and for some viewers (including your author) the show serves as a crash course in corporate jargon. 

The end of Season 1 sees Kendall and Stewy attempting a hostile takeover of Waystar/Royco via bear hug, a move that is not at all cuddly as its namesake, and far more akin to the wrestling move of the same name. In business terminology, a bear hug is an acquisition strategy in which the offering company tries to buy the target company’s shares at a price well beyond market valuation. 


Stewy: Fuck you too, you pusillanimous piece of fucking fool’s gold.

Season 2, Episode 1, “The Summer Palace”

When Stewy Hosseini hurls the above insult at former partner Kendall, he’s understandably mad after being double-crossed; in true Stewy fashion, though, he doesn’t miss a beat. 

The word pusillanimous, meaning ‘weak-willed and cowardly’, comes from the Latin pusillus, ‘weak’, and animus, ‘spirit’. It’s a good word to hurl at political opponents, as Spiro Agnew did in 1970, calling critics of Nixon’s Vietnam policy “pusillanimous pussyfooters”. 


Connor: I hyperdecant. You don’t hyperdecant? You’re just doing regular decanting?

Season 2, Episode 3, “Hunting”

Leave it to Connor, the out-of-touch eldest Roy sibling, to deploy one-percenter lingo in a way that was probably intended to be sophisticated, but just comes off as embarrassing. 

Decanting refers to transferring a liquid—usually wine—from one receptacle to another. In oenology and viticulture, decanting aerates the wine and separates it from any sediment it may have formed. Hyper-decanting—yes, it’s a real thing!—is a controversial method of putting wine in a blender, which supposedly has the effect of softening the tannins and speeding up the aging process. Does it work? Well, the jury’s out

attack child

Greg: A person can definitely fit through that window. A small person. An attack child.

Season 2, Episode 4, “Safe Room” 

You’ve heard of attack helicopters, attack dogs, and attack ads. Attack children, however, are a newer (and hopefully imaginary) concept cooked up by Greg in a moment of panic. The word attack—whether used as an adjective, verb or noun—has its roots in the Old Italian stacca, meaning ‘stake’: a weapon of questionable efficacy against an attack child, unless the child is also a vampire. 


Greg: My grandpa has made it clear that if I want to secure my future, then I need to sever my links. Negotiate a bit of a “Grexit“.

Season 2, Episode 8, “Dundee”

Succession loves its puns and portmanteaus almost as much as its insults: a (poorly) rapping Kendall is dubbed Ken-W.A., Frank is Bore Vidal, and everyone knows that “You can’t make a Tomelette (or Tomelet?) without breaking a few Greggs. 

Grexit, as Cousin Greg deems his own potential departure from the company, is clearly a reference to Brexit, the informal term for the United Kingdom’s departure from the E.U. Funnily enough, the words Brexit and Grexit were coined around the same time, though the word Grexit IRL referred not to Cousin Greg but to a potential Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone (from ‘Greece’ + ‘exit’). 

In fact, many Eurosceptic movements have since followed Britain’s lexicographic lead, dubbing their own anti-E.U. efforts Czexit (Czechia), Nexit (The Netherlands), Frexit (France), and more. Outside of politics, British tabloids and social media coined Megxit as a catchy term for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s break from the royal family.

funge me

Logan: You’re fungible as fuck.

Rhea: Fine. Then funge me. Go ahead. Try. 

Season 2, Episode 9, “D.C.”

Thanks to the NFT craze, the word fungible is having a bit of a moment. While the first non-fungible tokens have been around since as early as 2014, this episode aired well before the NFT buying surge of 2021, of which Logan Roy would no doubt disapprove. 

Fungible means ‘flexible’, ‘exchangeable’, or ‘easily substituted’, and usually appears in legal and economic contexts. The word comes from the Latin fungi, ‘to perform’—the same root that gives us function. Unlike many words that end in -ible, and a lot more that end in -able, fungible doesn’t have a corresponding verb (e.g. edible and eat, or dispensable and dispense). At least, not until now. 

Feel like binge-watching? Check out our other posts on television words.

Soap Opera Slang: From Horses to K-Dramas

Do you enjoy your stories? Today’s the perfect day to celebrate them. 

On this day in 1949 premiered what’s considered the first daytime soap opera on television. These Are My Children (no relation to All My Children, which debuted 21 years later) centered on the struggles of an Irish widow raising her three children in a Chicago boarding house. While the series was short-lived, ending a scant three months later, it kicked off a long tradition of melodramatic pauses, supercouples, and soap opera diseases. It also gave us some soapy slang. Here’s a brief look.

From horses to suds

Before there was soap opera, there was horse opera. Horse operas are Western films, TV shows, or radio programs. The term originated around 1927, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), first appearing in a magazine called Motion Picture Classic: “Horse Opera … is an opus of the West where men are cowboys.”

The phrase soap opera is from 1939, also according to the OED. The name come about because early sponsors of the shows included soap and detergent manufacturers, which were aimed at the target audience of stay-at-home wives.

Soap opera got shortened to soap in 1943, says the Online Etymology Dictionary. Meanwhile, the OED attests North American soaper to 1946; Australia, New Zealand, and South African slang soapie to 1964; and U.S. lingo sudser to 1968.

Plot twist!

Sometimes devices are used to help along a soap opera storyline. One is known as SORAS, “soap opera rapid aging syndrome,” in which a baby or small child grows offscreen at the speed of light, returning just in time to better remember their lines or spark a teenage romance.

Another plot device, not necessarily particular to soap operas, is the retcon, or retroactive continuity, “in which a new storyline explains or changes a previous event or attaches a new significance to it.” The OED’s earliest citation is from a 1989 posting in a Usenet newsgroup: “Wow! Talk about a retcon by another name! … Okay, so Superboy never existed; we’d already figured that.” The dictionary’s earliest one regarding a soap opera is from the New Hacker’s Dictionary published in 1993: “Revealing that a whole season of ‘Dallas’ was a dream was a retcon.” 

Soaps around the world

Of course drama happens in every language. A Spanish- or Portuguese-language soap opera is known as a telenovela, which first appeared in English in 1961, says the OED. A teleroman is the equivalent in French Canadian (first attested in English in 1964) while teleserye is a soap opera in Philippine English. The earliest appearance is from a November 2000 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ABS-CBN has coined a new term, ‘teleserye’, to hype up its latest project, ‘Pangako Sa ‘Yo’… The teleserye combines ‘the magnitude of a continuing series and the sophisticated artistry of filmmaking’.

A soap opera blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning K-dramas or Korean dramas. The earliest citation we could find was from 2006: “The series is a lively drama with fun and silly characters and content that is not nearly as soapy or melodramatic as most other K-dramas.”

Feel like binge-watching? Check out our other posts on television words.

Game of Words: Our 11 Favorites from ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7


There you have it, the penultimate season of the series most likely to make us scream at our televisions. As in seasons past, we’ve gathered our favorite GoT terms, from knee bending to wheel breaking to what exactly are a grumkin and snark.


bend the knee

Daenerys: “Send a raven north. Tell Jon Snow his queen invites him to come to Dragonstone — and bend the knee.”

“Stormborn,” July 23, 2017

To bend the knee means to formally submit to a king, queen, or lord. The sense of submitting in general has been in use since at least the 17th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). From Richard II: “I hardly yet have learned / To insinuate, flatter, bow, and bend the knee.” Bend the Knee is also the name of a beer.

break the wheel

Tyrion [to Daenerys]: “After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?”

“Beyond the Wall,” August 20, 2017

Daenerys first refers to breaking the wheel in “Hardhome”:

Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell. They’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top. And on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.

Tyrion makes a good point this season: despite her fireproof, dragon-whispering ways, Daenerys probably won’t live forever, and once she’s gone, who will succeed her? Unfortunately, denial ain’t just a river with Dany, and she refuses to discuss such matters.


Sansa: “Why would he give you a dagger?”
Bran: “He thought I’d want it.”
Sansa: “Why?”
Bran: “Because it was meant to kill me.”
Sansa: “The cutthroat. After your fall.”
Arya: “Why would a cutthroat have a Valyrian steel dagger?”

“The Spoils of War,” August 6, 2017

According to the OED, a cutthroat is a “ruffian who murders or does deeds of violence,” or “a murderer or assassin by profession.” The term has been in use since the 16th century. Cutthroat referring to ruthless competition seems to be from the late 19th century while he Online Etymology Dictionary says throat, 1970s college slang for a competitive student, comes from cutthroat.


Qyburn: “They’re on their way to the Dragonpit now.”

“The Dragon and the Wolf,” August 27, 2017

The Dragonpit is a large Colosseum-like structure at King’s Landing. It was once used by House Targaryen as a stable for their dragons and was destroyed in a civil war called the Dance of the Dragons. It’s said that the dragons grew smaller as a result of being confined to the Dragonpit.


Sam: “It’s a map of Dragonstone. The Targaryans built their first stronghold there when they invaded Westeros.”

“Dragonstone,” July 16, 2017

The castle on Dragonstone Island, Dragonstone is the “the ancestral seat of House Targaryen and in the beginning of the series, was “held for King Robert Baratheon by his brother, Lord Stannis.” Other castles in Westeros include Casterly Rock of House Lannister; Winterfell, the seat of the ruler of the North and traditional home of House Stark; and Pyke of House Greyjoy.

Golden Company

Cersei: “Highgarden bought us the most powerful army in Essos. The Golden Company.”

“The Dragon and the Wolf,” August 27, 2017

The Golden Company is a band of mercenaries, specifically sellswords, in Essos. Other types of mercenaries include freeriders, similar to mounted swellswords but who fight only for food supplies and a share of the plunder rather than regular payment, and sellsails, mercenary sailors.

grumkins and snarks

Jon Snow [to Tyrion Lannister of the White Walkers]: “Grumkins and snarks, you called them.”

“The Queen’s Justice,” July 30, 2017

Grumkins and snarks are mythical creatures in Westerosi folk tales and are spoken “in the same breath as ghosts, goblins, vampires, the bogeyman, etc.” Grumkins are “associated with granting wishes” and are implied to be “of short stature,” and “may also steal and replace children.” Snarks are often referenced as “an improbable danger.”

The word grumkin seems to have been created by George R. R. Martin, perhaps as a blend of gremlin and munchkin, given grumkins’ small size, while snark was coined by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, referring to an imaginary animal.

The Long Night

Sam Tarly: “If you tell every maester in the Citadel to search every word of every faded scroll about the Long Night, they may find something that lets them defeat the Army of the Dead for good.”

“Eastwatch,” August 13, 2017

The Long Night refers to a winter that lasts an entire generation. The last Long Night occurred 8,000 years “before the Targaryen Conquest.” As a result, “thousands starved as the crops and fields lay buried under dozens of feet of snow.” At the same time, the “White Walkers descended upon Westeros,” giving rise to the War for the Dawn.

Night King

Bran: “You’ve seen the Night King. He’s coming for us.”

“Dragonstone,” July 16, 2017

The Night King is the supreme leader of the White Walkers, an “ancient race of humanoid ice creatures” who come from the Far North, as well as the master of the wights, corpses reanimated by White Walkers (think Walking Dead zombies, only less bitey).

The Twins

Archmaester Marwyn: “We’re not like the people south of the Twins. And we’re not like the people north of the Twins.”

“Dragonstone,” July 16, 2017

The Twins are another castle in Westeros, this one the seat of House Frey. Also known as The Crossing and consisting of two almost identical towers and a fortified bridge, the Twins “represents the only crossing point over” a river “for hundreds of miles in either direction,” a major barrier to those traveling from the North to the western Riverlands. Avoiding the Twins “requires a lengthy detour hundreds of miles to the south or hazardously traversing the bogs and swamps of the Neck to the north.”

Want even more GoT words? Check out our posts on seasons six, five, four, and three.


Game of Words: Our 11 Favorites from ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6


As always, here be spoilers.

It’s June so you know what that means: time for the Game of Thrones season finale. We’ve been gathering our favorite GoT words for a while now, and this year is no different. Here are 11 of our favorites.

UPDATE: We’ve added a couple of terms from the season finale.

Bay of Dragons

Daenerys: “Specific orders will be left for you regarding the welfare of Meereen and the Bay of Dragons.”
Daario: “The Bay of Dragons?”
Daenerys: “We can’t call it Slaver’s Bay anymore, can we?”

“The Winds of Winter,” June 26, 2016

In Vietnam you can find a real-life Bay of Dragons. Called Hạ Long Bay, which translates literally as Bay of the Descending Dragon, the bay is either named for the dragon-like sea creatures spotted by early explorers or, according to Vietnamese legend, dragons sent as protectors against invaders. The dragons spit out “jewels and jade,” which became the islands and islets of the Bay, linking together to form a wall.

Brotherhood Without Banners

The Hound: “They’re from the Brotherhood. They follow the Red God.”

“The Broken Man,” June 5, 2016

This season the Hound encounters the Brotherhood Without Banners, an “outlaw group” whose goal is to protect the smallfolk, or peasantry, “regardless of which King or Lord they support.” The Red God is another name for the Lord of Light or R’hllor. The BWB members the Hound runs into are renegades themselves, slaughtering a settlement of smallfolk rather than protecting them.

dosh khaleen

Ser Jorah: “When Khal Drogo died, she was supposed to come here and join the dosh khaleen, the widows of the dead khals.”

“Book of the Stranger,” May 15, 2016

Dosh khaleen translates from Dothraki as “council of crones.” These widows of slain khals, or clan chieftains, serve as seers for the Dothraki and “preside over the holy city of Vaes Dothrak.”


Daenerys: “Dracarys.”

“The Battle of the Bastards,” June 19, 2016

Dracarys is a High Valyrian word that means “dragon-fire,” and is what Daenerys says to her dragons to make them unleash their blazey breath.


Randyll Tarly: “See that sword? It’s called Heartsbane. Been in our family for 500 years. . . .It’s supposed to go to my first born son after I die. He will never wield that sword.”

“Blood of My Blood,” May 29, 2016

The word bane comes from the Old English bana, “killer, slayer, murderer; the devil,” and refers to “that which causes death, or destroys life,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Bane came to refer especially to poison, in particular poisonous plants such as wolfsbane, ratsbane, and dogbane. A later meaning is a cause of ruin or woe, as in “the bane of one’s existence.”

iron price

Euron Greyjoy: “I wasn’t born to be king. I paid the iron price, and here I stand.”

“The Door,” May 22, 2016

To pay the iron price means to have gotten something by seizure rather than buying out the other party. That shameful practice, at least among the ironborn, is known as “paying the gold price.” The iron price is a tenet of the ironborn’s traditional lifestyle, also known as the Old Way.

little birds

Cersei [of the children]: “Varys’s little birds.”
Maester: “Your little birds now, your grace.”

“Oathbreaker,” May 8, 2016

The little birds, mainly street children, are the network of spies once employed by Varys, also known as the Spider and the Master of Whisperers, and “adviser in matters of intelligence and espionage.” The name little birds might come from the idiom, a little bird told me, which itself might come from the Bible.


Varys: “Mhysa means ‘mother’ in Valyrian.”
Tyrion: “I know what mhysa means.”

“The Red Woman,” April 24, 2016

Mhysa is, more specifically, Low Valyrian. The Low Valyrian spoken in Slaver’s Bay was influenced by Old Ghiscari, an ancient language of which a few loanwords remain. Mhysa is one of them. The High Valyrian word for mother is muña. Muño ēngos means “mother tongue”; muñar means “parents”; and Muña Zaldrīzoti is “the Mother of Dragons.”


Tyrion [to the dragons]: “When I was a child, my uncle asked what gift I wanted for my nameday. I begged him for one of you.”

“Home,” May 1, 2016

A nameday in Game of Thrones land is basically the same as a birthday since Seven Kingdom-ers receive their names on the day that they’re born. A name day in Christian faith is “the feast day of the saint after whom one is named,” as well as the day one is baptized.

take the black

Sansa [to Theon]: “When you take the black, all your crimes are forgiven.”

“Home,” May 1, 2016

When someone joins the Night’s Watch, it’s said that they take the black. The members of the Night’s Watch wear only black and are also referred to as the black brothers and, disparagingly, crows.

trial by faith

“After much prayer and reflection, the Crown has decided that from this day forward, trial by combat will be forbidden throughout the Seven Kingdoms. . . .Cersei Lannister and Loras Tyrell will stand trial before seven septors as it was in the earliest days of faith.”

“No One,” June 12, 2016

Trial by faith or trial of the faith is the idea of being tried by members of the Faith Militant. This is opposed to trial by combat, in which the accused and the accuser appoint fighters to battle each other to the death. A variation of trial by combat is trial by seven, in which each side appoints a team of seven fighters.

white raven

Sansa: “Jon, a raven came from the Citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.”

“The Winds of Winter,” June 26, 2016

While black ravens deliver messages, the white raven is sent from the Citadel specifically to announce the changing of the seasons, which, as every Game of Thrones fan knows, can last for years.

So what does it mean that winter is finally here? Comicbook.com breaks it down: previous to winter was the longest summer ever, “which many believed was an ominous portent of things to come,” such as an especially harsh winter, and with that the Night King and his White Walker army, and, as Melisandre warns, the Great War still to come.

Hail to the ‘Veep’: Our 10 Favorite Words of Season 5

VEEP Season 5

Another crazy and hilarious season of Veep is coming to a close, and as per tradition, we’ve kept our ears open for the most interesting Veep-isms. Here are 10 of our favorites. (Warning: some spoilers and awesomely strong language ahead.)

UPDATED: We added an additional term from the season finale.


Selina [to Bob]: “See? Crappenstance calling.”

“The Eagle,” May 8, 2016

A happenstance is something that’s happened by chance or coincidence. Crappenstance, a blend of crap and happenstance, refers to something crappy that’s happened.

death bump

Selina: “Just out of curiosity, if I were to [mimes pulling a plug], would [the increase in approval ratings] end?”
Kent: “There is a possibility of a shorter-lived by numerically greater outpouring. If you will, a death bump.”

“Mother,” May 15, 2016

A death bump refers to a bump in approval ratings from the perception that a politician is grieving.

full-metal Nixon

Amy: “She’s becoming seriously unhinged. She has gone full-metal Nixon.”

“C**tgate,” May 29, 2016

The term full-metal Nixon seems to have been created by Michael Raysses in Daily Kos regarding Condoleeza Rice’s response to a child’s question about “the methods used by the Bush administration to get information from detainees”:

Going full-metal-Nixon in her response, Ms. Rice asserted that if an act was ordered by the President, it was per force not illegal.

The full-metal part of the term likely comes from full-metal jacket, a bullet encased in a copper alloy, and full-metal’s figurative meaning of going full force, perhaps to a manic degree. The Nixon part is based on a quote from the former president in an interview with journalist David Frost: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

Jimmy Carter

Selina: “Hey, I’m going to be president. So I can go take a shit in the Rose Garden if I want to.”
Ben: “We used to call that a Jimmy Carter.”

“Nev-AD-a,” May 1, 2016

The term Rose Garden strategy or campaign refers to when an incumbent president stays in the White House — perhaps in the Rose Garden, which borders the Oval Office and West Wing — rather than hits the campaign road, using “pressing White House business” as an excuse.

According to linguist Barry Popkik, the term was popularized in 1976 “when President Gerald Ford spent time in the White House to look presidential, rather than to appear on the campaign trail.” Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, then a relatively unknown from Georgia. Carter used the same strategy during his 1980 campaign, losing to Ronald Reagan.

The Red Room

Selina: “Here’s an interesting fact. Would you believe that it was called the Red Room before it was actually painted red?”

“Inauguration,” June 26, 2016

According to the WhiteHouse.gov, the Red Room was named for the red fabrics that “were used for the draperies, upholsteries and floor covering in the 1840s.” It met with controversy in 1876 with the “secret swearing-in of President Rutherford B. Hayes right after his hotly contested defeat of Samuel J. Tilden.”

sham ham

Catherine: “We just thought maybe we could have, like, a sham ham for Christmas.”
Selina: “What is that, sweetie? Is that like tofurkey?”
Marjorie: “No, ma’am, tofurky is cooked. This is a raw log made of mushrooms and soaked walnuts.”

“Camp David,” June 12, 2016

Other catchy meat substitute names include Fakin’ Bacon, wheatballs, and Phoney Baloney’s.


Marjorie: “We’re clear. Bring in Sparrow.”

“The Eagle,” May 8, 2016

We can’t help but wonder if President Meyer’s Secret Service code name is a reference to the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones, another controversial ans powerful figure. Check out 11 more great code names from the Secret Service.

a tie is like kissing your sister

Gary: “My bowling coach used to say a tie was like kissing your sister.”
Selina: “Well this feels like my sister took a shit on my chest.”

“Kissing Your Sister,” June 19, 2016

The phrase, “A tie is like kissing your sister,” originated in the early 1950s and is attributed to Navy football coach Eddie Erdelatz.


Ben: “Qataris likes to assert themselves. They’re wet-fingered.”
Selina: “They’re into ass play?”
Ben: “They have a gift for sensing prevailing political winds.”

“Mother,” May 15, 2016

The term wet-fingered politics — with the idea of holding up one’s damp finger to feel for the direction of the wind — means voting according to public opinion or “political breezes,” as a 1991 article in Deseret News puts it.

The earliest citation we could find for wet-fingered politics is from a 1972 article in The Morning News of Wilmington, Delaware. “I’m against wet-finger politics,” said Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden at the time. “Testing public opinion before you do anything.”

whip the vote

Selina [to Catherine]: “I have to be here, sweetie pie, because I’ve got to call all of these congress people. Whip the vote….Mommy’s gotta whip. Whip it good. What is that?”
Gary: “Devo.”

“Thanksgiving,” May 22, 2016

Whip the vote might be a play on the game Whip the Vote. Created by Ryan Lambourn, the game “tasks players with negotiating Congressional votes as a Democratic whip.”


Ben: “Zitzilla just stomped all over Wall Street.”

“Morning After,” April 24, 2016

Zitzilla, a blend of zit and Godzilla, refers to a monster pimple Selina tries (unsuccessfully) to hide.

‘Downton Abbey’ Takes the Biscuit: Our Favorite Words of Season 6


We don’t want to believe it but it’s true: Downton Abbey is coming to a close. We’ve been there since (almost) the beginning, collecting British idioms, cultural references, and plenty of anachronisms.

This final season doesn’t disappoint. Check out our favorite words and expressions from Downton Abbey, season 6.


Mary: “You don’t really mind, do you?”
Lord Grantham: “No, but I think it’s crackers.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Crackers, British English slang for insane or crazy, has been around since 1925, the year this episode takes place. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term began as soldier and sailor slang — “To get the crackers, to go off one’s head” — and comes from cracked, “mentally unsound.”

But would Lord Grantham be using such a new slang term? Perhaps: he did serve in the military (although he wasn’t active in the trenches of World War I) and the word was widely used in print beginning in 1928, which means it might have been used in everyday speech shortly before then.


Lord Grantham [to Mary]: “I suppose you were a widow after all and not a deb in her first season.”

Episode 1, January 3, 2016

Deb is short for debutante, a young woman formally introduced into society. While debutante entered English from French in the early 19th century, deb began as U.S. slang around 1920, says the OED. F. Scott Fitzgerald used debbie in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise: “Tom and Amory had outgrown the passion for dancing with mid-Western or New Jersey debbies at the Club-de-Vingt.” In 1922, James Joyce used deb in Ulysses: “Josie Powell that was, prettiest deb in Dublin.”

hold onto your hat

Mr. Finch: “If you could just tell me who’s replaced him.”
Mary: “Hold onto your hat, Mr. Finch, but I’m afraid I have.”

Episode 2, January 10, 2016

Hold onto your hat or hang onto your hat means “get ready for something big.” The idiom has been in use since the early 1900s with the OED’s earliest citation from American journalist Damon Runyon: “Hang onter yer hat—th’ cavalry’s comin’ through!”


Mary: “I thought all the fatstock shares took place before Christmas.”

Episode 2, January 10, 2016

Fatstock is a British term referring to marketable livestock and comes from the idea that farm animals such as pigs or cattle have been fattened for market. The term has been in use since either 1880 or 1812, depending on if you’re referring to the OED or Merriam-Webster, respectively.

golly gumdrops

Lord Grantham: “Golly gumdrops, what a turn-up!”

Episode 8, February 21, 2016

While we couldn’t find an exact origin of golly gumdrops, we assume it’s an alteration of golly, a euphemism for God or by God used to express wonder or surprise. Golly originated in the U.S. around 1743, says the OED. Another phrase involving gumdrops, goody gumdrops, is also a U.S. expression and came about in 1930.

I’ll say

Lady Rosamund: “This must be a strange and unsettling time for you.”
Bertie: “I’ll say.”

Episode 8, February 21, 2016

Used to express emphatic agreement, I’ll say originated around 1919.

Madame Defarge

Daisy: “’Not possible’? Don’t give me ‘not possible.’
Mrs. Patmore: “All right, Madame Defarge, calm down and finish that mash.”

Episode 4, January 24, 2016

Madame Defarge is a character from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and a “tireless worker for the French Revolution.” In this episode Daisy is angered about the ill treatment she thinks her ex-father-in-law has received at the hands of the upper class, namely her employer Cora Grantham.

make a pass

Mary [to Henry]: “I hope this means you’re boiling up to make a pass before we’re done.”

Episode 4, January 24, 2016

The term to make a pass, to make a sexual or amorous advances upon, originated in the mid-1920s as U.S. slang, says the OED, and possibly by Dorothy Parker: “Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.” Confusingly, the expression also means to make a threat of violence against.

medium smart

Mary [to Anna]: “Pack something for the evening. Medium smart.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Smart here means “attractively neat and stylish,” as the OED puts it, or “relatively formal.” We couldn’t find any references for medium smart, beyond those for the show itself, but we’re guessing it means something like a little less formal.


Carson: “Before we take our seats, I believe, as the groom, that I have the right to a few words. I will not be prolix, but it must be right that I mark that I am the happiest and luckiest of men.”

Episode 3, January 17, 2016

Prolix is a rather stuffy term well-suited for Carson: it means overly long or wordy, and comes from the Latin prōlixus, “poured forth, extended.”

sex appeal

Lord Grantham: “What’s he got that fascinates Mary when poor old Tony’s rolling acres and glistening coronet didn’t? You’ll say sex appeal, but isn’t Mary too sensible?”

Episode 7, February 14, 2016

In addition to making us uncomfortable coming out of Robert’s mouth, the term sex appeal originated around 1904. Twenty years later, a verb form of the phrase arose: “She’d sex appeal me all right!”


Mary: “A table of singletons at our age. Well done.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Anachronism alert! While the word singleton has been in use since the late 1800s, says the OED, it began as a bridge or whist term referring to the only card of a suit left in a player’s hand. About 20 years later it came to mean “a single thing” and “a single entry in a competition,” and 10 years after that, a child born from a single birth as opposed to twins, triplets, etc.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s, more than a decade after this episode takes place, that singleton came to mean an unaccompanied or unmarried person.

take the biscuit

Gladys Denker [to Septimus Spratt]: “Well, if that doesn’t just take the biscuit.”

Episode 7, February 14, 2016

The British idiom take the biscuit might be used to express surprise. In this scene, Denker’s having the opportunity to accompany Lady Grantham on her trip to the South of France is what takes the biscuit. The American expression take the cake could mean being ranked first, but is also an expression of surprise, either good or bad.

To make matters even more complicated, in Canadian English, to take or have the biscuit means to be of no further use or to be near death. The biscuit, says World Wide Words, refers to the Communion wafer taken during extreme unction, a Roman Catholic sacrament, and implies that if you take the biscuit slash wafer, you’re nearing the end of your life.

Not enough Downton Abbey for you? Check out our favorite words from more seasons past.

Game of Words: Our 14 Favorite Words from ‘Game of Thrones,’ Season 5


Spoilers galore!

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The latest season of Game of Thrones is coming to a close. We’ve seen uprisings, great battle scenes, a giant we totally want to hang out with, another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad wedding, and finally — finally! — Dany flying on a dragon, even if it was a bit Falcor-esque.

And as with seasons past, we’ve been collecting the most interesting GoT words. Here are 14 of our favorites.

Black Wedding

“Game of Thrones is famous for its tragic weddings, but last night the show pushed that into even darker territory with what fans have dubbed ‘the Black Wedding.’”

Mallory Busch, “Twitter Was Not Okay with the ‘Black Wedding’ on Game of Thrones,” TIME, May 18, 2015

Another season of Game of Thrones, another horrible wedding. We’ve already had the bloody Red Wedding and the poisonous purple one. Now we have the Black Wedding to add to our GoT lexicon.

The Black Wedding is what fans have dubbed the nuptials between Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton, nee Snow, in the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” The ceremony takes place in the darkness of the Godswood, but the situation turns even darker when Ramsay horrifically assaults his young bride on their wedding night.


Stannis: “You don’t look like a soldier. But I’m told you killed a white walker. . . .How?”
Sam: “With a dagger made of dragonglass.”

“Kill the Boy,” May 10, 2015

Dragonglass is Westeros vernacular for obsidian, a volcanic glass formed from rapidly cooling lava. The word obsidian comes from the Latin obsidiānus, a misprint of obsiānus, “lapis,” named after Obsius, the Roman who supposedly discovered the stone.

Dragonglass and Valyrian steel are the only two known substances that can kill White Walkers.

Faith Militant

Cersei [to the High Sparrow]: “In the days before the Targaryens, the Faith Militant dispensed the justice of the Seven.”

“Sons of the Harpy,” May 3, 2015

The Faith Militant are the barefoot and berobed army of the Faith of the Seven, the dominant religion of the Seven Kingdoms. The religious regiment was disbanded long ago by King Maegor Targaryen but has made a fast and furious comeback.

Author George R. R. Martin has said the Faith Militant are based on the medieval Catholic Church, complete with corrupt religious leaders, aggressive reformation, and one god with multiple aspects, in this case seven as opposed to the three of the Trinity of the Catholic Church.


Announcer: “Free citizens of Meereen! By the blessings of the Graces and her majesty the Queen, welcome to the Great Games!”

“The Dance of Dragons,” June 7, 2015

The Graces are priestesses of the Ghiscari religion in Slavers’ Bay. While they have yet to appear on the show (at least as of this penultimate episode), in the books they wear different-colored robes according to their hierarchy. Red Graces are “cult prostitutes,” or those involved with sacred prostitution; Blue Graces are healers; White Graces are “young girls of noble birth” with yet undetermined grace-y skills; and the Green Grace, of which there’s only one, is the high priestess.


Gilly: “What do you call it in the south? What happened to your face.”
Shireen: “Greyscale.”

“The House of Black and White,” April 19, 2015

Greyscale is a contagious and often fatal disease that leaves the flesh scaly, gray (hence, the name), and “stone-like to the touch.” Princess Shireen Baratheon survived the disease, only to be left disfigured.

Greyscale might be likened to such real-life diseases as leprosy and ichthyosis. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is contagious and causes ulcers of the skin, bones, and organs, often leading to loss of sensation, gangrene, and paralysis. Ichthyosis is hereditary and characterized by “dry, thickened, scaly skin,” hence its nickname, fishskin disease. The word ichthyosis comes from the Greek ikhthys, “fish.”

High Septon

Cersei: “The High Septon‘s behavior was corrosive, as was his attitude.”

“High Sparrow,” April 26, 2015

The High Septon is to the Faith of the Seven as the Pope is to the Catholic Church. “As the High Septon of the Faith of the Seven,” says the High Septon shortly after being found in a brothel, “I give voice to the will of the Gods and I am their foremost servant in this world.”

You probably won’t find this definition of septon in traditional dictionaries. The Century describes septon as “a principle formerly supposed to be the essence of infection,” while the Oxford English Dictionary says it’s a name for nitrogen, “from its being regarded as the agent in putrefaction.”

A discussion at Wordsmith.org describes septon as a word commonly used in science fiction and fantasy to describe the leader of a sept, or a division of a family or clan. Sept is probably an alteration of sect, which comes from the Latin secta, “course, school of thought.”

House of Black and White

Ternesio Terys [to Arya]: “The House of Black and White. This is where you’ll find the man you seek.”

“The House of Black and White,” April 19, 2015

Both a temple dedicated to the Many-Faced God and the headquarters of professional assassins known as the Faceless Men, the House of Black and White is so-called because half its door is ebony and the other half weirwood, which is white.

In the House of Black and White is the Hall of Faces, a crypt for the faces of the dead, which the Faceless Men use to change their appearance.

The Long Farewell

Tyene: “My dagger was coated with a special ointment from Asshai. They call it the Long Farewell. It takes time to work, but if a single drop makes contact with the skin, death.”

“The Gift,” May 24, 2015

The Long Farewell is native to the city of Asshai, which is to “the distant east of the Free Cities, Dothraki Sea, and Slaver’s Bay.” Other poisons of Westeros include Wolfsbane; Essence of Nightshade, a calming agent in small doses but fatal in large doses; and the Strangler, the culprit in King Joffrey’s wedding death.

Many-Faced God

Jaqen: “Lana is very impressive. Very industrious. She will make a fine servant for the Many-Faced God.”

“Hardhome,” May 31, 2015

In the books, the Many-Faced God is also known as Him of Many Faces, and is only called the God of Death in the TV series. The Faceless Men in particular worship this god and believe that the god “is unknowingly worshipped by most faiths, simply under different names,” and, presumably, faces.

Other gods with multiple faces include Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, and Brahma, the creator god in Hinduism, depicted with four faces for each of the four Vedas, or sacred texts.

Master of Coin

Cersei [to Mace]: “As the King’s Master of Coin, I can think of no one more qualified.”

“Sons of the Harpy,” May 3, 2015

The Master of Coin is basically the royal treasurer of Westeros. The position was previously held by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, who was seen as a true money master, “always about to conjure up gold to meet the Crown’s demands,” but who was actually borrowing huge sums from the Iron Bank of Braavos, leaving the Iron Throne in debt.

Master of War

Kevan: “What mission?”
Cersei: “That is not your concern as Master of War.”

“The House of Black and White,” April 19, 2015

Unlike the Master of Coin, the Master of War isn’t a “real” position in the Small Council but one Cersei devised to offer to her uncle with the purpose of stacking “stack the Small Council with sycophants.”

Sons of the Harpy

Daenerys: “Sons of the Harpy. . . .They’ve never killed before.”
Ser Barristan: “It was only a matter of time, your Grace.”

“The Wars to Come,” April 12, 2015

The Sons of the Harpy are gold-masked anti-Khaleesi marauders, hell-bent on killing the queen’s army. The Sons’ masks resemble the Harpy, which “takes the form of a giant gold statue atop the Great Pyramid, aka Dragon Queen HQ,” and which Daenerys covered with “a black banner bearing the three-headed red dragon insignia of House Targaryen.”

But who are the Sons of the Harpy the sons of? Some believe they’re controlled by the Masters of Slaver’s Bay, who lost everything when Dany freed their slaves. A fan theory suggests the Harpy is the Green Grace, the Ghiscari high priestess of Slaver’s Bay.

The word harpy comes from the Greek Harpiya, “snatchers.”


Kevan Lannister [to Cersei]: “They call themselves Sparrows. Bloody fanatics.”

“The Wars to Come,” April 12, 2015

The Sparrows are the un-armed version of the Faith Militant. This extremist division of the Faith of Seven was originally formed in response to “the suffering being inflicted on the commoners,” and become the Faith Militant after Cersei appointed the High Sparrow, the leader of the Sparrows, as the High Septon, and gave the Sparrows weapons. Of course this ends up being to her own demise.

Stone Men

Tyrion: “Stone Men. Good luck stopping this spread of greyscale with prayer.”

“High Sparrow,” April 26, 2015

Stone Men is the moniker given to those severely afflicted with greyscale and who have been exiled in a colony in the ruins of Old Valyria, much like lepers were once exiled to such isolated places as the Kalaupapa Peninsula of Hawaii.

Leper colonies, leprosariums, and lazar houses are all places used to quarantine those with leprosy. The word leper comes from the Greek lepros, “scaly,” while lazar comes from the New Testaments’s Lazarus, the “beggar full of sores” who would rise from the dead.

Want more GoT? Revisit our favorite words from seasons three and four, and definitely don’t miss the musical.