Languidge: (n.)

A dull, listless, and generally uninspired manner of speech or writing.


A few years ago, I was in a play. It was a Shakespeare play, and so I was as intolerable as you might expect – bursting around the room in fits of empurpled monologuery.

One evening at rehearsal, the director and I we’re discussing a certain scene I shared with another actor. Now, there are two things that are important to know here:

1. I didn’t understand what was happening in the scene.

2. The other actor and I didn’t like each other.

The other actor didn’t like me because, well, you’d have to ask him. I assume it’s because he thought I was difficult and obnoxious… both of which are fair observations about my personality.

I didn’t like the other actor because (aside from being a dull, tiresome human being) he didn’t bother to actually understand the words he was saying. He didn’t care to know. In truth, he didn’t really even seem to like Shakespeare all that much. He just liked being looked at. He’d have been just as happy standing up and eating a ham sandwich… so long as he was doing it on stage. Now, that’s a totally understandable experience… to get a thrill out of acting and performance (being noticed by other people). But comeon, man. Show a bit of bloody respect for the author – if nothing else, he’s the one who’s allowing you to get on stage in the first place.


So I’m talking with the director… and I’m trying to work out what the hell is going on. And the other actor’s sitting across from us, rolling his eyes and checking his cellphone.

After a minute or two it all clicks, and I realize what the scene is about. “Oh!” I say, “It’s a farce! I get it now!”

And the director claps me on the back and says, “Yes! Exactly,” and we exchange a pleasantry or two and then he walks away to help someone else.

I turn back to my scene partner, apologizing for the delay… and he glares at me and sneers:

“Why do you have to use big words?”

“Excuse me?”

“You. You use big words a lot. ‘Farce’ what’s that about?”

“But… the scene is a farce. Farce is the word you use to describe a farce…”

“It’s a big word.”

“It’s five letters long… how is that a big word?”

“I think you’re just being pompous.”

(and then I said something totally pompous)

“Well, no. I’m not. If you want to be technical… I was being pedantic. NOW I’m being pompous.”


Here’s the problem I have with this whole scenario:

Why is using a word… any word… a bad thing? How could that possibly be?

Why is an active and deliberate love of language, and more pointedly the use of a specific word anything other than wonderful? Words are always an opportunity. They can be anything – terse, clear, and simple… or something more florid… a overgrowth of phonemes and beautiful, wondrous syllabary. Words should be understood, studied, poked and prodded… and should always be celebrated. Anything else is a waste.

Or, to put it another way: Why am I pompous just because you don’t understand what I’m saying?

We are blessed to have our language. It’s the greatest invention – almost magical – how it takes even the most complex thought or idea, transmutes it into sound, wafts it through space and time and into your ear where it jangles an armature of impossibly tiny bones which sends crackles of energy through your nerves and into your brain where it’s molded back into an idea – all faster than you can think.

Words are thoughts suspended in glyph and song. They are magic. They are science. And with more words than any other language in the world, English itself is overwrought with bountiful opportunity. Lexicographically fecund one might (I might) say! Why don’t we dive in and swim and frolic and enjoy our language for its every syllable?

Shame on you for using the phrase as blank and odious as “big word” to diminish or deride.

Words are only big to people with small minds.


Purge Watch: (v.)

To plow through the remaining episodes of a show you don’t like, just to get it over with.


I’m lookin’ at you, Daredevil.


NB: I posted this word earlier today… but my suspicions were that I wasn’t the only person to come up with this phrase. I was correct. It turns out that Adam Sternbergh (good writer) over at Vulture wrote a piece last year about this very thing – he even sourced this exact term on Twitter to describe it.

I did not see that post… nor did I see the tweet from the woman who was the first to use the phrase “purge watch.”

I came up with this word on my own, but I can’t really claim to own it. In all fairness: they beat me to it.

But I’m going to post this entry anyway.

Firstly, because I genuinely like the word, and am proud of having thought of it (second).

And secondly, because I just can’t get over the fact that at least three other human beings, completely remote from one another, never having met, and certainly never to meet, all came to the exact same conclusion about the exact same show… and used the exact same term to describe it.

Isn’t that delightful?

So I’m posting this word to celebrate this near-magical concatenation of events, brought together by a love of language, and a shared appreciation for just how mind-numbingly laborious we find Daredevil to be.

Except for Jon Bernthal. He’s really wonderful this season.

Nice job, Jon.


Community Word, Verb

Community Word: Podcrastinate: (v.)

1. To put off what clearly needs doing in increments of 15-30 minute podcasts.

2. To continually postpone listening to a podcast, regardless of your interest in the subject.


A few months ago, I had the stupendously good fortune to be interviewed by Ryan Starr on his HiRes podcast. We met at my office and talked for well over an hour about writing, advertising, the creative industry… and most excitingly: words.

Ryan had a word of his own, actually – and it’s a doozy. So here it is, in all of it’s lexicographical splendor.

Check out my interview on HiRes here.

Follow Ryan and HiRes on Twitter @HiResPod, and online at his website.


Hothstage: (n.)

One held captive for a time by an insurmountable amount of snow.



I’m a sucker for a snow day.

I love everything about it – the peacefulness of it, the white noise that fills the house as snow tings against the windows, the slow, patient obliteration of every discernable shape outside. Getting snowed in is an event, a little bit of home theater complete with set dressing and props: the blanket cocoons and muppet movies on repeat, the stovetop cauldrons of chicken soup and half-finished board games. There’s something illicit about snow days; they feel like you’re getting away with something… or from something – the humdrum responsibilities that come with being a living, functioning human being.

Big storms throw everything into chaos. They shut down cities and ground airlines. They force the purveyors of public transportation to cancel their routes. They stuff grocery stores to bursting with the harried and the panicked… thousands upon thousands of gortex-clad people in a desperate scramble for perishable necessities – bread and eggs and milk. Big storms upend routine. Force you to stay in place. They make you sit. Hunker down. Talk. Go slow. Snow storms make you make the most of them.

And in this way, they are very much like the opening of The Empire Strikes Back.

How’s that for a transition?

I can hear you duh’ing me, Internet. Snow. Hoth. Snow on Hoth. Duh. I get it. But it’s more than that.

The first third of ESB is a great piece of storytelling. It opens on the second chapter of a massive saga by slowing things waaaay waaaay down. It takes its time to set the stage, reintroduce its characters and remind us of what they’re up against. It’s in those slow opening moments that we start to see real characters develop. We see them deepen their friendships and start falling in love, we see a hero take the next essential steps in his journey, and we get a crystal clear metaphor of just how plucky and hardscrabble the good guys really are: fresh from their big victory at the end of the previous film and with the bad guys hot on their trail, the Alliance takes a deep breath, bundles up, and carves a tiny bit of solace out of a miserable, frozen wasteworld. Good metaphor.

All of this comes about because the story, essentially, takes a snow day. It stops. It wraps itself up. It snuggles up to the people who matter most, and lets the snow fall outside. ESB is my favorite (my only favorite) Star Wars movie… due in large part to that very thing.

It takes its time.

I love taking my time. It’s my favorite way of getting where I’m going.

So, me? I’m excited about Jonas. I can see him scudding closer and closer, and I don’t mind a bit. I’m locked and loaded; got my kitchen fully stocked, two dozy cats, a girlfriend, some books, a video game, and some movies. Empire Strikes Back, naturally.

I’m staying put this weekend. And I can’t wait to see where that takes me.



Community Word, n

Popepourri: (n.) – Community Word Extravaganza!!!

A pleasant pastiche of Pope-themed phrases.


Well… the Pontiff doth impend.

Most Philadelphians have fled out of town, or are hiding indoors… and the streets are bustling with packs of chirpy out-of-towners, sporting brightly colored lanyards and adorable backpacks (courtesy of the Knights of Columbus – AKA: The Secret Society of Italian Grandpas). For the last few days, laborers have been hauling heavy guardrails around town in preparation for this weekend. It’s nice to see people start to fill the spaces they’ve provided. All in all everyone seems rather cheerful and happy to be here, aside from the occasional puffy, neckless cop.

Never a smile from these guys. Ever.

A few weeks ago, I invited some fans of Words That Aren’t to submit their own Pope-related terminology. The result was a lexicographical delight.

So now… on the eve (day) of the Apopecalypse… here is that list of invented words apropope (!!!) of el Papa’s arrival.

NB: I choose to use the term Apopecalypse instead of Popepocalypse because it is CLEARLY A BETTER INVENTED TERM… one which makes appropriate use of the letters at hand, and therefore producing a more natural and pleasing portmanteau.

NBB: I would like to make one thing abundantly clear – I am very excited about the Pope’s visit. The words below are cranky and funny and withering and wry… and that’s a good thing. But please let it be known that at least this Philadelphian is honored to share his home with people from all over the world. At least for the weekend. I am not a Catholic – far from it; I’m an atheist – nor am I particularly fond of the Church’s attitude toward women’s rights, contraception, and the dignity and equality of LGBT folks. But I’m able to compartmentalize those frustrations and remain a gracious and happy host to so many people for whom this weekend is a sincere opportunity (popertunity?) to share in something meaningful and beautiful for them.

That said… here is a list of words you should consider saying instead of Popepocalypse (which sucks).

Words courtesy of me:





Words courtesy of Rachael Silverstein: 


Diocease and desist


Words courtesy of Sean Carney: 


Words courtesy of Steve Clark:

Pope Francesspool


… of Vikram Paralkar: 


… of Laura Gallagher: 


… of Haley Zork McGlaughlin:

Cerebral Papalsy

… of Emma Hitchcock:


… of Kim Matthews:


… of Katherine Fritz:


… of Susan Horner:


Pope and circumstance

… and of those who (for whatever reason, chose to remain anonymous – hello there NSA):






I welcome people’s input and feedback. Have a word? Add it to the list.

Welcome to Philadelphia, Pope Francis.

I think you would really like my cat.


Folloathe: (v.)

To maintain social media contact with someone you hate, because you enjoy hating them.


Sometimes I cast myself in wonder at just how much there is to dislike about people on the internet. I want to quit you guys… but I just can’t. Oh, how I’ve come to need your outrage. Your casual racism. Your paranoid, conservative hysteria. Your irrational leftist tantrums. Your tedious lectures on social justice. Your calls for anarchy (the worst idea in history) and revolution… your political activism, your memes about God and how blessed you feel… your passive aggressive posts about how nobody really cares.

Oh you awful, awful creeps… I drink so deep from your cup.


Reb Herring: (n.)

A racist symbol that draws attention away from the systemic inequality and hatred it represents.


Let’s start here: South Carolina should take the Confederate flag down.

*NB: I will be using South Carolina as a stand-in for any government, institution, or individual who flies or wears that particular symbol.*

The First Amendment purist in me maintains they shouldn’t be made to take it down. I don’t think anyone has the right to do that. But the people (legislature, governor… whomever it is that makes the official decision) of South Carolina should absolutely choose to respect the wishes of so many Americans (and, ya know, the tenets of basic human decency), and remove the Confederate flag from their state capital – and ideally, everywhere.

But here’s the thing – even if it is taken down – it doesn’t actually change anything.

This issue has overwhelmed the media right now. It’s being discussed on every news channel – editorialized and analyzed and explored in countless magazines and blogs. Facebook is replete with endless threads debating and pontificating on either side of the issue. It’s the one hashtag to rule them all.

But all I can wonder is what the actual outcome of its removal would be.

The lowering of the flag would be a kind of victory, yes. For well over a century, it has been a symbol of hate and violence and treason, and to fly it today over a state capital is a symbol in and of itself. It is a tacit suggestion that the government of that place, and the people it represents, endorses those beliefs. It’s vulgar and hateful, and a daily reminder to some that they will never be truly welcome, and that the suffering their ancestors endured, and the inequities they themselves must face are alive and well right there… in the seat of that state’s political leadership.

Lowering that flag would be a victory of symbolism, for certain.

But we’ve had symbolic victories so many times in our history. Marches and elections and even legislation. And while those symbols have represented a beautiful and moral intention… they’ve honestly done little to render a meaningful change in the fixed and unjust realities they opposed.

Poverty has worsened. Racism has woven itself into every single institution of power. Rates of incarceration, drug policy, education, home ownership… you know the list… there’s no need for me to continue it. The effects of institutionalized racism have become a kind of offhand reality in this country. And those realities and the horrifying effects they have on our neighbors remain unchanged no matter how many symbols we upturn.

The men and women protesting right now understand far better than I ever will the toil that remains to turn a symbolic victory into something real.

Doubtless, they have known and lived an inequity I’ve only read about.

And really, I’m not writing this to them. I’m writing this to people like me. Those with the privilege to talk about these symbols, just to hear ourselves talk. People who rant and speechify and tweet tweet tweet about our thoughts and feelings, in the absence of real, substantive action.

We should take the flag down. Yes. And we should feel pride in its absence. But let’s not for a moment think that its removal erases the very real and persistent inequities it represented. Or that we are in any way released from our responsibility to act, to vote, to work, to toil, and to fight for the betterment and equality of our neighbors.