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 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.

A Glossary of ‘Veep’: Our 10 Favorite Words

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There’s so much to love about Veep: the biting humor, the swearing, the hilarious actors, and of course the words. Enjoy 10 of our favorites as this latest season comes to a close.


Amy: “Hey, Egan, is somebody gonna get fired over this AIDS-nami?”

“Data,” April 26, 2015

AIDS-nami, a blend of AIDS and tsunami, refers to the disaster of a massive White House data breach which results in the Reddit-outing of an 8-year old girl with HIV mentioned in the President’s speech.

The word tsunami is Japanese for “seismic wave.”

backup booty

Gary [to Selina]: “Listen, you are Beyoncé, and his is backup booty.”

“Storms and Pancakes,” May 17, 2015

The backup booty in reference here is that of Tom James, Selina’s running mate and potential out-shiner. Gary might mean that James is merely a backup (booty) dancer to Selina’s Queen Bey, or a backup booty call, i.e., not the voters’ first choice.


Ben: “Yeah, we just got to do a cock-thumb.”

“Joint Session,” April 12, 2015

A cock-thumb is when someone makes a radical suggestion in order to prompt the other person to make a more reasonable suggestion, which is actually what the first person wanted. In Veep’s case, the President’s office plans to propose “a radical cut to the military, cutting off the cock,” hoping that “the Joint Chiefs in turn propose their own more reasonable cut, cutting off the thumb.”

Colonel Kurtz

Amy [of Selina]: “She’s gone full Colonel Kurtz. Is she giving orders from under the desk?”

“B/ill,” May 31, 2015

The isolated, cruel, and possibly insane Colonel Kurtz is the main antagonist in the film Apocalypse Now, and is based on the character Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.


Leon: “Are you seriously detaining me again? Am I being rendered?”
Ben: “No. You’re being friendered, so just please accept our compulsory hospitality.”

“Tehran,” May 3, 2015

Leon is an American journalist who has been detained in Iran, only to be further detained by the President to accommodate her schedule for a photo op.

Those who are usually rendered — or sent to countries outside the U.S. for interrogation, imprisonment, and sometimes torture — are untried criminal suspects. Both the U.S. and the United Kingdom are known to engage in this practice of extraordinary rendition.

Friendered means being rendered by friends.


Sue: “He’s half-dead.”
Ben: “Half-ecuted.”

“Convention,” May 10, 2015

Half-ecuted, a shortening of “half-executed,” refers to the recent botched executions of several death row inmates. Since pharmaceutical companies don’t want to be associated with, well, killing people, death penalty states are having more and more difficulty obtaining the right drugs, and end up using new formulas in “untested doses.”

the Jonad files

Ms. Bennett: “Do you recall a document shared on the J-drive titled the Jonad Files?”

“Testimony,” June 7, 2015

The Jonad files — where Jonad is a blend of Jonah and gonad — is a “glossary of abuse” containing insulting nicknames for the hated (and very tall) Jonah Ryan. Such nicknames include Jizzy Gillespie, Jack and the Giant Jackoff, Wadzilla, One Erection, The Pointless Giant, The 60-Foot Virgin, Gimpanzee, Jonah Ono, Hagrid’s Nutsack, and Spewbacca.


Selina: “She’s a woman! She’s fucking ethnic!”
Amy: “This is Latina-geddon.”

“Convention,” May 10, 2015

The Latina-geddon referenced here is New Mexico Senator Laura Montez, the running mate of Selina’s opponent. Not only is Montez Latina-American, she’s brilliant, pretty, and charming, according to Selina. She also has the very un-PC moniker of “Sexy Mexy.”

The word Latina-geddon is a blend of Latina and armageddon, or the end of the world.


Dan: “Ladies, you are going to be our sale-bait.”

“Mommy Meyer,” May 24, 2015

Sale-bait is, as Amy puts it, “independent, well-educated young women. . .who also happen to be very hot to lure congressmen into the room in a way that is deeply feminist.” The word sale-bait is a play on jailbait.

Tangerine Dream

Mike [regarding his dyed mustache]: “I call it Tangerine Dream.”

“East Wing,” April 19, 2015

In his newfound fame as the President’s press secretary, Mike dyes his mustache bright orange. Tangerine Dream is a German electronic music group founded in the late 1960s.

One for the Road: The Words of ‘Mad Men,’ A Final Roundup


Mad Men has always shown, perhaps this last half-season more than ever, that everything must come to an end — jobs, relationships, life, and yes, even our logophilic round-ups of the show.

So pour yourself a cocktail, light a smoke (actually, don’t), and enjoy these drinking terms, hobo words, and of course an anachronism or two.

battle royale

Peggy: “They all have their own toy. If we want enthusiasm, we should just have one toy.”
Stan: “Like a battle royale, just throw one in there, last kid standing gets the gig?”

“Time & Life,” April 26, 2015

Anachronism alert! While the term battle royal — that’s royal without an “e” — has been around since the 1670s, battle royale (with an “e”) didn’t come about until 1999 with the publication of the novel by Japanese writer Koushun Takami.

Both meanings, however, are the same — a fight involving many combatants —  with the added implication of a fight to the death for battle royale.

According to the Grammarist, the original battles royal were common as “huge boxing matches” in 17th and 18th century England. When they lost popularity, the big brawls migrated to the southern United States, and today exist “in the domain of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts.”

beer belt

Bill Phillips: “He lives in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio. Some call it the heartland. Some call it the beer belt.”

“Lost Horizon,” May 3, 2015

A beer belt (not to be confused with this snazzy accessory) is a swathe of countries or states where beer is the beverage of choice, or where it’s produced.

However, while certain countries in the UK and Europe have been referred to as the beer belt since at least the early 20th century, we couldn’t a reference to the beer belt of the U.S. earlier than 2014.

Other regional “belts” include the bible belt, parts of the U.S. dominated by Southern Baptist Convention or Protestant fundamentalism; the rust belt, an industrialized area with older factories, often no longer in use; the borscht belt, “the predominantly Jewish resort hotels of the Catskill Mountains”; and many more.


Mathis [to Peggy]: “You’re a catch.”

“Severance,” April 5, 2015

While to be a catch, someone desirable for marriage or a relationship, might sound modern, the idiom has been around since about 1722, and comes from an early meaning of fish as someone desirable to catch or hook for matrimony.


Peggy [to Don]: “Have a big idea. Create a catchphrase.”

“The Forecast,” April 19, 2015

A catchphrase is widely-used phrase originally created as a slogan for a group, movement, fictional character, advertisement, etc. The term originated around 1837 with the idea of a group of words that “catch” attention.

Another catch- word is, well, catchword, a well-known word or phrase that encompasses some idea; a catchy name or slogan; or in printing, “the first word of a page printed in the bottom right-hand corner of the preceding page.”

Draw-a-Man test

Mr. McDonald: “Your little girl scored very low on her Draw-a-Man test.”

“Time & Life,” April 26, 2015

The Draw-a-Man test — now known as the Draw-a-Person test — was developed by American psychologist Florence Goodenough in 1926. In the current evaluation, the child is asked to draw a man, woman, and herself. The drawings are then assessed for absence or presence of features, amount of detail, and correct proportion.

The test’s validity has been questioned as there is low correlation between Draw-a-Person scores and other intelligence tests. In addition, since at least the 1960s, the exam has also been used as an indicator of schizophrenia.

go cry in church

Marie [to Megan]: “Let her go cry in church.”

“New Business,” April 12, 2015

Go cry in church is a dismissal of someone’s self-righteous complaints. In a cursory search, we couldn’t find the origin of the phrase. If you have any information, let us know in the comments!

Mildred Pierce

Roger [to Diana]: “Hey, Mildred Pierce, can I get the check?”

“Severance,” April 5, 2015

Mildred Pierce is a 1940s novel and movie about a Depression-era woman who supports her family by working as a waitress.

The Milk and Honey Route

“‘The Milk and Honey Route’ derives its title from a 1931 book subtitled ‘a handbook for hobos.’ It’s an apt point of reference for Don’s aimless wandering.”

Scott Meslow, “Mad Men Recap: ‘The Milk and Honey Route,’” The Week, May 11, 2015

The Milk and Honey Route: A Handbook for Hobos was written in 1930 by American sociologist Nels Anderson under the pseudonym, Dean Stiff. Anderson’s earlier study, “The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man,” was based in part on his own experiences as a migratory worker.

As for the milk and honey route, according to Anderson, it’s how “hobos” referred to the railroad. The original milk and honey route referred to the train that traveled from “Salt Lake City southward through the valleys of Utah,” an area which became “the greatest feeding ground” — or a land of milk and honey — for itinerant workers.

The phrase milk and honey meaning prosperity and abundance comes from biblical description of the Promised Land.

one for the road

Peggy [to Roger]: “This is the one for the road, okay?”

“Lost Horizon,” May 3, 2015

It’s popularly thought that the phrase one for the road, a final drink before departure, comes from “the supposed practice of offering condemned felons a final drink at pubs on the way to the the place of public execution in London.” However, no historical record supports this, says The Phrase Finder, and more likely it’s simply a colloquial reference to “a departing drink in English pubs.”

The earliest citation according to both The Phrase Finder and the OED is from 1939: “Propaganda should be employed to train and fortify public opinion in the condemnation of persons who drink before driving—above all to discourage the practice of ‘one for the road’.” The phrase was popularized by the 1943 Johnny Mercer song, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”


Operator: “I have a person-to-person call for Betty Francis from Donald Draper.”

“Person to Person,” May 17, 2015

Person-to-person refers to a long distance phone call booked through an operator and “chargeable only when the caller speaks to an indicated person at the number reached.” The term, and presumably the practice, originated around 1919, says the OED.

Person-to-person calls still exist today, but, as a poster on Straight Dope says, “no one in their right mind” would actually place one. This type of call was useful in the past when long distance prices were exorbitant, but now with mobile phones and other technology, person-to-person calls are probably unnecessary.

Person-to-person also means direct communication between two people.

Want more Mad Men? Check out all of our Don Draper-esque posts.

‘Community’ Soup: 12 Best Words So Far


Community is back next week (at least via Yahoo Screen)! And while we’ll miss Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, we’re glad school is back in session for the rest of the Greendale gang — so glad we’re rounding up our favorite class Community-isms from Word Soups past.

accusational opposition disorder

Britta: “For our midterm, we actually get to diagnose a fellow student with something.”
Annie: “Don’t you do way too much of that already?”
Britta: “Accusational opposition disorder.”

“Contemporary Impressionists,” March 22, 2012

Accusational opposition disorder is a pseudo-psychology term for disagreeing with someone in an accusatory tone.


Jeff: “Somebody tell Britta what an analogy is.”

Britta: “I know what it is! It’s like a thought. . .with another thought’s hat on.”

“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” March 15, 2012

The traditional definition of analogy is “similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar,” and “a comparison based on such similarity.” So “a thought with another thought’s hat on” is actually pretty close.


Jeff: “You probably just Britta’d the test results.”
Britta: “Wait, are people using my name to mean ‘make a small mistake’?”
Jeff: “Yes.”

“Horror,” October 27, 2011

An eponym is “a word or name derived from the name of a person.” Another example is bowdlerize, “to expurgate in editing by expunging words or passages considered offensive or indelicate,” named for Thomas Bowdler, “who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1818.”

For even more eponyms, check out this list.


Dr. Kedan: “Changnesia is a fascinating and extremely rare disease on the forefront in psychological landscape.”

“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking,” March 14, 2013

Changnesia is “the complete loss of memory caused by sudden trauma that was, itself, also forgotten.” It’s named for, and perhaps only affects, one Benjamin Chang, Greendale’s erstwhile Spanish teacher.

Also known as “Kevin’s Disease” (Kevin being Chang’s amnesic name slash pseudonym), Changnesia is a blend of Chang and the Greek amnēsiā, “forgetfulness.”

It was also our selection for most ridiculous portmanteau-eponym of 2013.


Cop: “Love is not admissible evidence! I’m working on a cop opera.”
Everyone: “Copera!”
Pierce: “Policial!”

“First Chang Dynasty,” May 17, 2012

Copera is a blend of cop and opera. Cop originated in 1704 as a northern British dialectecal meaning “to seize, to catch,” and may have ultimately come from the Latin capere, “to take.” Opera comes from the Italian word for “work.” Policial is a blend of police and musical.

Cop Rock was a musical police TV drama that aired in 1990 for a staggering 11 episodes.


Cop: “Of course. The head of security of Greendale Community College has kidnapped the real dean and replaced him with a deanelganger.”
Jeff: “Well, when you say it that way, it sounds ridiculous.”
Troy: “The word we used was doppeldeaner.”

“First Chang Dynasty,” May 17, 2012

Deanelganger is a blend of dean and doppelganger, a double or apparition of a living person. Doppelganger translates from the German as “double-goer.” Sometimes doubleganger.

A deanelchanger, a blend of dean, doppelganger, and Chang, is a bell that Chang rings to summon the fake dean. Changer may be a play on clang, “a loud, sharp, resonant, and metallic sound,” and clanger, a British English word meaning “a blunder.”


Jeff [practicing foosball]: “I just thought the next time those deutschbags try to show off, I could catch them by surprise.”

“Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism,” December 1, 2011

Deutschbag — a blend of deutsch, German for the word German, and douchebag — is a douchebag from Germany.


Troy: “We dewhimsified ourselves.”

“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” March 15, 2012

To dewhimsify means to make less whimsical, “having odd fancies or peculiar notions.”

Whimsical probably comes from whim-wham, “fanciful object.”

Ferris Buellerian

Narrator: “Winger’s critics suggest he merely improvised hot-button patriotic dogma in a Ferris Buellerian attempt to delay school work.”

“Pillows and Blankets,” April 5, 2012

Ferris Buellerian refers to the titular character in the film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, who plays hooky and encourages his reluctant best friend to follow suit.


Singer: “I’ve got a pocketful of Hawthornes.”

“Advanced Gay,” November 3, 2011

Hawthorne refers to the character, Pierce Hawthorne, who owns Hawthorne Wipes, a company that manufactures cleaning and disinfecting towelettes. It also refers to the wipes themselves.

A brand name that has become genericized is a metonym. Other trademarks that are often seen in semi-generic use are kleenex for tissues, xerox for photocopy, and saran wrap for plastic wrap.


Britta [to Jeff]: “Without anxiety to keep your vanity in check, you are vulnerable to a syndrome called hypernarcissosis.”

“Contemporary Impressionists,” March 22, 2012

Hypernarcissosis, another pseudo-psychology term, is excessive narcissism or love and admiration for oneself. It contains the Greek hyper, “over, above, beyond, exceedingly, to excess,” and narcissism, which comes from Narkissos, the “name of a beautiful youth in mythology. . .who fell in love with his own reflection in a spring and was turned to the flower narcissus.”

reverse bully-ism

Jeff: “Oh please, not liking glee club doesn’t make us bullies, and implying that is reverse bully-ism!”

“Regional Holiday Music,” December 8, 2011

Reverse bully-ism, like reverse discrimination, places the normally dominant group, in this case the bullies, in the position of the victim (the bullied).

[Image via Collider]

Like billy-o! Our Favorite Words of Downton Abbey, Season 5


Another season of Downton Abbey is ending, which means another batch of our favorite Downton Abbey words.

The fifth season (or series, the British way) takes place in 1924. Vladimir Lenin has died, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was performed for the first time, and Calvin Coolidge was elected President of the U.S.

Meanwhile, over in Yorkshire, meaningful glances were exchanged, acerbic quips quipped, and anachronisms dropped (we noticed three and a half). Pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy.


Edith: “Apparently, there’s a trial going on in Munich of the leader of a group of thugs there.”
Lord Grantham: “I read about this. They wear brown shirts and go around bullying people. They even tried to start a revolution last year.”

Episode 4, January 25, 2015

The brownshirts refer to members of the Nazi SA, or Sturmabteilung, who wore brown uniforms.

The Sturmabteilung, also known as Storm Detachment or Assault Division, was the “original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party,” and “played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s.”

cocktail party

Mary: “It’s very daring of the Lord Lieutenant to give a cocktail party. What do you think, Carson?”

Episode 5, February 1, 2015

Anachronism alert! While this episode takes place in 1924, the term cocktail party, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), originated in 1928. The earliest recorded citation from is D.H. Lawrence: “She almost wished she had..made her life one long cocktail party and jazz evening.”

However, it’s possible that the term was in use a few years before Lawrence used it in Lady Chatterley’s Lover since the word cocktail referring to a mixed alcoholic drink was coined in the early 1800s.


Mary: “What is your main objection to Mr. MacDonald? That the Prime Minister is the son of a crofter?”

Episode 1, January 4, 2015

A crofter is a tenant farmer, and a croft, as you might have guessed, a tenant farm. According to the OED, the word crofter is from the 18th century while croft is much older, originating in the 10th century. They both come from the Dutch kroft, “prominent rocky height, high and dry land, field on the downs.”

The “Mr. MacDonald” Mary refers to is James Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first ever Labour Party Prime Minister. His working class background — MacDonald “studied and worked his way from a village to London and from manual labor to a political career” — was at the time unusual for a politician.


Thomas: “I went to London for what they call electrotherapy, and the pills and injections were supposed to continue the process.”

Episode 6, February 8, 2015

Electrotherapy is medical treatment using “electric currents.” The practice, used for everything from neurological disease to wound healing, was first developed in 1855 by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne.

While electric shocks were used starting in the 1960s in homosexual conversion therapy, we couldn’t find, in at least a cursory search, the use of electrotherapy in the kind of conversion therapy Thomas is attempting in 1924.

In 1920, Sigmund Freud wrote in a paper that “changing homosexuality” would be difficult as it “was not an illness or neurotic conflict.” In 1935, Freud called homosexuality merely a “variation of the sexual function.”

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Ellen Terry

Lady Grantham [to Isobel]: “Ellen Terry has nothing on you when it comes to stringing out a moment.”

Episode 5, February 1, 2015

Ellen Terry was an English stage actress known for her Shakespearean roles. Above is a painting by John Singer Sargent of Terry in perhaps her most famous role, Lady Macbeth.

fit as a flea

Rosamunde: “She’s just very tired. She’ll be fit as a flea tomorrow.”

Episode 5, February 1, 2015

Fit as a flea is an idiom meaning “in good health,” and originated around the 1880s, says the OED.

While the phrase probably plays off as fit as a fiddle, which came about in the 17th century, we don’t know why fleas would be considered hale, except perhaps because of their energetic jumping abilities.

So what does a fiddle have to do with being fit? Fit hasn’t always just meant healthy. In the 16th century, the word meant “possessing the necessary qualifications” and “in suitable condition,” according to the OED. So, presumably, a fiddle that was fit meant that it was fit for playing. It was around 1869 that fit came to mean being in good physical condition.

like billy-o

Lord Grantham: “But darling, you don’t want to rush into anything.”
Rose: “But I do. I want to rush in like billy-o.”

Episode 7, February 15, 2015

Like billy-o is an intensive phrase similar to like the devil, says the OED, and originated around 1885.

But where it comes from is less clear. While the town of Maldon in Essex attributes the saying to Joseph Billio, a minister who arrived in 1696 to build a chapel there, World Wide Words says the phrase billy-o arrived too long after the minister Billio, and that a connection is unlikely.

Other possible origins include “Lieutenant Nino Bixio, an Italian soldier at the time of Garibaldi (whose name was said a little like billy-o)”; Puffy Billy, industrial engineer William Hedley’s early steam engine; or Good King Billy, William III of England.

Marie Stopes

Mary [to Anna]: “I have a copy of Marie Stopes’s book. Tells you everything.”

Episode 2, January 11, 2015

Marie Stopes was a campaigner for women’s rights and “pioneer in the field of birth control.” While her most well-known publication is Married Love: Or, Love in Marriage, the book Mary is referring to is probably Wise Parenthood: A Book for Married People, which describes the diaphragm Mary asks poor Anna to purchase for her:

The best appliance at present available for [closing the minute entrance of the womb] is a small rubber cap, made on a firm rubber ring, which is accurately fixed round the dome-like end of the womb…and should be procurable from any first class chemist.


Rose [modeling a dress]: “You don’t think it’s a bit mumsy?”

Episode 8, February 22, 2015

Another anachronism! While mumsy has been in use since the 1870s as a childish imitation of mum or mummy, says the OED, the word meaning motherly, homely, or conventional didn’t originate until 1961.

(one’s) thing

Edith: “I thought you’d gone with them.”
Tom: “No, I have a lot to do. And to be honest, it’s not really my thing.”

Episode 6, February 8, 2015

While it may seem quite modern to use a possessive pronoun with thing to mean something one is interested in, the construction has been around since at least the 1930s, according to the OED: “If pottery’s your thing. Mountains are not my thing. The sea is my thing.”

But of course since this episode takes place in 1924, the phrase is still an anachronism.

shell shock

Mrs. Hughes: “Mr. Carson, surely by now we know enough about shell shock to be more understanding than we were at the start of the war.”

Episode 3, January 18, 2015

Shell shock is also known as combat fatigue, or “posttraumatic stress disorder resulting from wartime combat or similar experiences.” According to the OED, the term combat fatigue originated in the early 1940s.

The OED describes shell shock as a disorder identified specifically in soldiers from World War I, with the earliest recorded citation from 1915:

Only one case of shell shock has come under my observation. A Belgian officer was the victim. A shell burst near him without inflicting any physical injury. He presented practically complete loss of sensation in the lower extremities and much loss of sensation.

While the usage of shell shock spiked in 1920, both shell shock and combat fatigue leveled off after World War II, and the term PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, rose sharply after the early 1980s.

small beer

Carson: “This is very small beer.”
Mrs. Patmore: “Mr. Carson, it’s my kind of beer and I know how to drink it.”

Episode 5, February 1, 2015

The phrase small beer originated in the 15th century, says the OED, and referred to beer that was weak or of inferior quality. About two hundred years later, the phrase came to mean something unimportant or trivial, as first used by Shakespeare in Othello: “To suckle fooles, and chronicle small Beere.”

To think small beer of means “ to have a poor or low opinion of (oneself or others),” while a small-beer chronicle is “a narrative of trivial, usually domestic, events.”

sympathy butters no parsnips

Mr. Carson: “I don’t want you think I’m unsympathetic.”
Mrs. Patmore: “Yes, well, sympathy butters no parsnips.”

Episode 3, January 18, 2015

Sympathy butters no parsnips is a variation on the saying, fine words butter no parsnips, which means fine words achieve nothing.

The phrase comes from the historically British practice of generously applying butter to most foods, including parsnips, apparently “much to the disgust of the French” as well as to the Japanese, who referred to Westerners as bata kusai, or butter-stinkers.


Lord Grantham: “So every time we entertain, we must invite this tin-pot Rosa Luxemburg?”

Episode 2, January 11, 2015

Something or someone tin-pot is unimportant, inferior, or shoddy, the way tin is considered an inferior or shoddy metal. Rosa Luxemburg was a revolutionary socialist who co-founded the Communist Party of Germany.


Mary: “He looks after the pigs.” [Focuses on a dress.] “Oh, yummy.”

Episode 4, January 25, 2015

Yummy meaning delicious or delectable might be a bit of an anachronism. While in 1899 Rudyard Kipling uses the word — “Kissy! come, come!.. Yummy-yum-yum!” — it might just be a play on the word yum meaning “an exclamation of pleasurable anticipation,” as per the OED.

The OED’s first post-1899 citation of yummy is in 1934 as a listing in Webster’s New International Dictionary of English Language, and then in 1950: “Lora’s attractive face or Dorothea’s yummy figure.”

[Image via PBS]

The Best of Jon Stewart Words

We didn’t want to believe it but it’s true: Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.

While it’s been a while since we’ve covered the most trusted man in America for our Word Soup column, we still have vivid memories of our favorite Stewart-isms, from words in the news, to original portmanteaus, to guest-coined neologisms.

Let’s revisit 12 of our favorites.


Jon Stewart: “By using the phrase ‘you didn’t build that,’ you create confusion by using the demonstrative singular pronoun, ‘that’ instead of the plural anaphor, ‘those,’ which of course would be referring to the antecedent, ‘roads and bridges’. . . .My butt is giving myself a grammar wedgie!”

July 25, 2012

An anaphor is a word, such as a pronoun, “used to avoid repetition,” where “the referent of an anaphor is determined by its antecedent.” The word anaphor ultimately comes from the Greek anapherein, “to carry back, to bring up.”

Anaphor was our 2012 choice for Best Use of a Grammar Term on the Comedy Channel.


Jon Stewart: “Remember when you oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden? You must have known this photo would go viral. You had to think of it as an assassitunity.”

June 13, 2012

Assassitunity, a blend of assassinate and opportunity, refers to using the assassination of Osama bin Laden as a PR opportunity. Other opportunity portmanteaus include disadvertunity, hobbyturnity, and talk-portunity.

The blend assassitunity is one of the reasons we picked The Daily Show for Best Use of Portmanteaus (tied with The Colbert Report) in 2012.

Benghazi flu

Jon Stewart: “Secretary Clinton was supposed to have testified back in December but kept postponing it for ‘health issues’ which came to be referred to by ‘medical professionals’ as [the Benghazi flu]. . . .The Benghazi flu turned out to be a cerebral blood clot.”

January 24, 2013

The term Benghazi flu was coined by Rep. Allen West, a Republican from Florida, who claimed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was faking illness in order to avoid testifying about the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

It was later revealed that Clinton had been suffering from a “blood clot near her brain.”


Jon Stewart: “Ladies and gentlemen, the fiscal cliff! It’s the subject of tonight’s cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust, our nation’s totally solvable budget problem.”

November 29, 2012

Cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust is blend of cliff of fiscal cliff, apocalypse, armageddon, and holocaust. For more end-of-the-world words, check out Arnold Zwicky’s apocalypse posts.

This ridiculous portmanteau was our pick for Most Ridiculous Portmanteau of 2013.


Larry Wilmore: “Racism works best in person. Distrust but verified.”
Jon Stewart: “Like a cop pulling you over for a DWB.”
Larry: “I’m sorry, what’s that, Jon?”
Jon: “A DWB, you know. . .Driving While Black.”

October 2, 2012

DWB, or driving while black, “refers to the racial profiling of black drivers.” The phrase is a play on DWI, “driving while intoxicated,” and originated in 1990 in a New York Times article, says the Oxford English Dictionary.


Jon Stewart: “All that remains is the bloody gaffe carcass to be picked over by our nation’s most esteemed gaffestronomists, who will measure the gaffe using the exact science of gaffestronomy.”

June 11, 2012

Gaffestronomist is a blend of gaffe and gastronomist. A gastronomist, also known as gastronomer, is “one versed in gastronomy,” or “the art of preparing and serving rich or delicate and appetizing food.”

Gaffe, “a foolish and embarrassing error, especially one made in public,” may come from the French gaffe, “clumsy remark” which originally meant “boat hook.” The sense connection may be, says World Wide Words, “because the emotional effect [of a blunder] is like being gaffed,” or pulled by a hook.


Jon Stewart: “Note to self: A Jewish potato treat with the flavor of the southwest. I call it the Mexiknish.”

June 25, 2012

Mexikinish, or “somewhat Mexican,” combines the word Mexican with the suffix ish meaning “approximately,” and refers Romney’s claim that his father’s being born in Mexico ties him somehow to the Latino community.

The term is also a pun on knish, a hearty eastern European potato snack.


Jon Stewart: “Or the incredible tax breaks the government gives the investor class, whose money is taxed at a capital gains rate of 15% as opposed to ordinary having-a-job income which can be taxed up to 35%. Boy I wish we had a poster boy for that element of moochacracy. Oh right.” [Cuts to picture of Mitt Romney]

September 19, 2012

Moochacracy is a blend of mooch, “to get or try to get something free of charge,” and the suffixcracy, “rule or government by.” Mooch probably comes from the Old French muchier, “to hide, skulk,” while –cracy comes from the Greek kratos, “strength.” Stewart continues:

In 2010, Governor Romney had an adjusted gross income of $21.6 million yet paid only $3 million in federal income tax, or 13.9%. Without the preferential investor tax code, Romney would have paid $7.56 million – a government subsidy of $4.56 million, or. . . .enough food stamps to feed Mr. Romney through the year 4870.

nerd glaze

Jon Stewart: “I have people who work here, in this office, who disappear for days on Game of Thrones jags, and they just come back with that sort of, ‘Can’t wait – ‘”
Peter Dinklage: “Nerd glaze.”
Jon Stewart: “You just coined something, sir. If somebody doesn’t have nerdglaze dot com right now, you have to register that.”

March 25, 2013

The term nerd glaze, created by Games of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, refers to an expression of daze and awe as a result of binge-watching a favorite TV show; or awe-struck fandom in general.

We’re glad to see is still up.


Jon Stewart: “We’re talking about Mitt Romney who will be the Republican Presidential nominee, or as I now call it, the Rominee. That’s trademarked.”

May 2, 2012

Rominee is a blend of Romney and nominee, a word that won’t be used in the election next year.


Jon Stewart: “Al, I think you’ve been had by Hawaiian uber-prankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.” Al Madrigal: “What? No. I got Tuiasosopoed? No!” January 21, 2013

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is the suspect behind the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, and so to be Tuiasosopoed means to be fooled by such a hoax. The word is both an eponym, a word derived from a person’s name, and anthimeria, using a word from one part of speech as another part, such as a noun as a verb. A synonym is catfish. Tuiasosopo was also a word that Stewart really enjoyed saying, as evinced in this clip.

More words that are fun to say.


Jon Stewart: “Are you not under-tained? There goes my whole night. Sorry, kids, Daddy can’t read you a bedtime story because he’s got to spend the next five hours watching Blitzer and John King fingerbang Ohio on a magic touchscreen to find out how differently 35-42 year old Catholics voted in Adams County versus this time in 2008.”

March 7, 2012

Under-tained is blend of under and entertained, and means to be entertained in an underwhleming way. It plays on the phrase from the film Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?”

In regards to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, we were never under-tained.

Boardwalk Empire: Our Favorite Words from the Final Season


Our favorite Prohibition era gangster show has ended, and what better way to pay homage than with a last round-up of our favorite words?

While you’re at it, check out our Boardwalk Empire glossary from last year.

agony aunt

Psychiatric patient [to Gillian]: “I do love a bit of the agony aunt, don’t you?”

“The Good Listener,” September 14, 2014

Agony aunt is such a great term — too bad it’s from the 1970s. While advice columns have been around since at least 1690, this particular phrase referring to a presumably female newspaper advice columnist wasn’t coined until 1972, according to Oxford English Dictionary (OED). This episode takes place in 1931.

Agony uncle, a male advice columnist, was coined in 1981.

Big Boy

Eli: “We came to rob the joint? . . .We knew the Big Boy would be out.”

“Devil You Know,” October 12, 2014

Big Boy was just one of many nicknames of gangster Al Capone. Among others were the Beast, the Behemoth, Big Al, the Big Fellow, the Big Guy, Al Brown, Tony Scarface, and Snorky.

This Vanity Fair article from 1931 also refers to Capone as Big Boy:

[Capone] is acknowledged to be an enlightened employer. His are the happiest, best-fed and most contented machinegun-chuggers in Chicago. . . .The Big Boy pays them well and does everything to make them comfortable.

Where this nickname comes from is unclear.


Charlie Luciano: “I told you to be careful.”
Bugsy Siegel: “I got a bullet in my leg. You gonna hock me now?”

“Friendless Child,” October 19, 2014

Hock is a Yiddish word meaning to bother, pester, or annoy incessantly. It comes from the expression hak mir nisht ken tshaynik, or “don’t hock a teakettle at me.”

A variant seems to be hack, says the OED, meaning “to embarrass, annoy; to disconcert, confuse.”

UPDATE: Wordsmith Nancy Friedman, aka Fritinancy, just let us know that hock actually translates from Yiddish as “hit” or “knock,” and the Yiddish expression above means “don’t hit a teakettle,” or make noise. The figurative meaning seems to be to bother or annoy. Thanks, Nancy!

Jersey devil

Nucky: “Next time it’ll be the Jersey devil.”
Sheriff: “She is the Jersey devil.”

“King of Norway,” October 5, 2014

While we couldn’t find a first citation for this creepy creature of the Pine Barrens, the name seems to have originated in the early 18th century — not, however, as “a monster of the woods,” says historian Brian Regal, “but of politics.”

Originally known as the Leeds Devil, the cloven-hoofed one was named for the family Leeds, whose patriarch, Daniel, arrived in America in 1677. Daniel was dubbed “evil” and “Satan’s Harbinger” by Quakers offended by the inclusion of astrology in an almanac Leeds published in 1687 and for satirizing them in later books.

In the mid-18th century, the Leeds were targeted for having “sided with the empire” (Daniel had been a fan of Lord Cornbury, the first royal governor of New Jersey) and for “somehow being in the occult,” says Regal. By the time Revolutionary War rolled around, “the ‘Leeds Devil’ stood as a symbol of political ridicule and scorn.”

In the early 1900s, the Philadelphia Dime Museum claimed to have the legendary monster on display (in reality, a kangaroo with wings attached).

Somewhere along the way, the Leeds Devil became the Jersey devil, although it’s not clear when. The earliest citation we could find was from 1910: “For fully a month the ‘Jersey Devil’ had the world agog, leaving fur, feathers, and footprints, sometimes, in half a dozen places at once.”

let go

Margaret: “Am I being let go?”

“Golden Days for Boys and Girls,” September 7, 2014

We were surprised to learn that to be let go, or fired, is not an anachronism. This euphemism dates back to 1817, says the Word Detective.

Liberty bond

Marie: “Liberty bonds! From the war! They’re nothing to you.”

“What Jesus Said,” September 21, 2014

Liberty bonds were war bonds sold in the U.S. “to support the allied cause in World War I.” The point of war bonds was not only to finance military operations but also to “remove money from circulation” and help control inflation.


Bugsy Siegel [moments before being knocked out]: “If any of you mamzers rats me out about being at that apartment, I’ll pop a slug so far up your ass, I swear to God your back teeth — ”

“Friendless Child,” October 19, 2014

Mamzer is a Yiddish term that literally means “bastard,” or a child born out of wedlock, incest, or parents of different faiths. More commonly it refers to any contemptible person.

posing for animal crackers

Bugsy Siegel [to prostitute]: “Posing for animal crackers?”

“The Good Listener,” September 14, 2014

While we couldn’t pinpoint an exact origin of this phrase meaning “standing around doing nothing” presumably like the animal-shaped cookies, we did find this citation from 1917: “Pee-wee, you look as if you were posing for animal crackers.”

public enemy number one

Announcer: “Chicago, the windy city, long home to colorful citizens but perhaps none so blustery as the man called public enemy number one.”

“Cuanto,” September 28, 2014

Al Capone was declared public enemy number one by the Chicago Crime Commission in 1930. The public enemies list was brought about by the Commission that same year.

The term public enemy is much older, originating around 1548, says the OED, and refers to “an enemy common to a number of nations, a general enemy,” or “a person considered as a threat to the community.”

wets and dries

Senator: “It doesn’t matter what the wets are saying — ”
Joe Kennedy: “It’s the wets and dries alike.”

“Eldorado,” October 26, 2014

The wets and dries refer to those who were against and for, respectively, Prohibition in the United States.

Since at least 1719, wet has meant an alcoholic drink, according to the OED, and came to mean “permitting the sale of alcohol” around the 1870s.

While dry referring to a prohibitionist originated in the 1880s, dry meaning someone “abstaining from drink, esp. after becoming a addicted,” originated later, around 1941.

The phrase wets and dries gained another meaning in the 1980s. Opponents of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were deemed the wets, apparently coined by Thatcher herself, meaning “feeble, lacking hardness, or willing to compromise with Labour.”

Thatcher’s opponents began “referring to her supporters as the ‘dries,” those who were for “reducing public spending, cutting taxes, lowering interest rates, tightly controlling the money supply, and reducing the regulatory power of the state.”

[Image via Vibe]