You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

breathe – This is a verb. It is an action; a thing you do. For example, when you breathe through your mouth like that, it makes you look like a dumbass.

breath – This is a noun. It is a thing you have, like that really stank coffee breath. Dude, do you need a mint?

psyche – Psyche is a figure in Greek mythology; the psyche refers to the ancient Greek conception of the self. That is all.

psych – This is the common abbreviation for psychiatric. Note that there is no "e." There is no "e" in psychology; there is no "e" in psychiatry or psychological or psychiatric. THERE IS NO "E." When you are mentally ill and have to check yourself into the psych ward, and when you blog about it later, quite famously, be sure to spell the effing word correctly.

faze – This is a verb, and it means something similar to "daunt." Yes, this is really how you spell it. Not that my exasperation fazes you.

phase – Not the same. Dude, stop saying you are "unphased." You?ll have to stop eventually. I mean, this is just a phase you?re going through, right? Right?

demure – This is an adjective; it describes things, such as your coyly decorous behavior, you little minx.

demur – This is a verb. It takes action! It objects to that suggestion!

bate – Hello friends, here we have another verb! What does it mean?. You are waiting with bated breath over there, aren?t you? Well relax, dude, because I am here to tell you that this word is another form of abate.

bait – Jail bait. Bait and switch. Bait the hook. Not the same as bate, above. Unless?.wait, are you able to bait your breath somehow? It?s the mint I gave you, isn?t it? Fess up.

rein – If this is a noun, it?s the leather strap you use to steer your horse, or the one your kinky boyfriend uses to?oh, never mind. If it?s a verb, it means hold back or keep in check. I see you?re excited over there, but please try to rein it in.

reign – A period of rule or sovereign power. You are entering the reign of reason; please wear your seat-belt at all times.

schwag – Dope. Pot. Mary Jane. Ganja. Weed. Bad weed, at that. The dry, seedy stuff. The brown frown. Don?t even think about bringing that schwag over to my house when I know you?re sitting on a bag of Northern Lights. Seriously, dude, that is just bad form.

swag – Loot. Booty. Free stuff, such as the fancy-schmancy free stuff they give actors just for showing up to awards shows and shit. Entertainment "journalists" of America, please stop saying that the Oscars gift bags are going to be full of great schwag this year. For one thing, great schwag is, by definition, an impossibility; for another thing, I don?t think you want to get Lindsay Lohan and Woody Harrelson all excited over something that is just going to turn out to be a free watch.


  1. That’s funny. I got an email from a prospective roommate recently that said “Cigarettes are the bain of my existence”. Peut-etre francais?
    PS I had to look up the schwag/swag thing recently too. What the hell, E entertainment television?


  2. Ooh, bain/bane, that’s a good one, too. And yeah, every time Ryan Seacrest says something like that about the schwag I just want to grab him and shake him!


  3. I want to talk with whoever came up with the verb “renew.” Because I been askin around, and I’m pretty sure “new” is not a verb. Adjective, adverb, and noun. Never a verb.

    Probably the fault of some 16th-century undergrad. Is it too late to unnew the damage?


  4. Well, actually, you’d have to go back to the 12th century to find the first occurrence of ‘renew’, so unless we’re throwing out Chaucer, I’m pretty sure we’re well into the realm of actual English here…


  5. unfortunately, the likelihood that your students will ever make the distinctions between these words is INCONCEIVABLE!

    (i just have to tell you, now that i’ve said the word, that my old friend from soca sent me a birthday card with vizzini on the cover which actually says, yes OUTLOUD, INCONCEIVABLE when you open it. this word should always be said and written in capital letters. the card is awesome awesome.)


  6. Wow, there are so many of these I may have to do a seond installment at some point.

    Dan & Katie- I am always interested in those words with a prefix or suffix that don’t seem to have the, um, prefixless/suffixless version, or the words that mean the same thing as words that seem to be their opposite.

    In the early days of this blog I wrote a bunch of nonsense about that. The worst one has to be “irregardless,” which, as Sars at Tomato Nation notes, has sadly made its way into the goddamned motherfucking dictionary.


  7. This prefix thing is killing my students right now, the idea that a prefix which looks and behaves exactly the same can actually mean two totally different (and, sometimes, even opposite) things. We should just get rid of the Latin and Greek borrowings altogether and make good English words for this stuff. Psychology, poo! Mindscience, I say! Computer? Hogwash! It’s clearly a Lighteningthoughttool! Telephone? What about Farsoundtool???

    This would make everyone’s life SO much easier.

    (This comment was going to be an in-depth historical analysis of the likely relationship between ‘swag’ and ‘schwag’, based on semantic shift and phonological change, but Xanax and Jack Daniel’s got in the way.)


  8. Heh. You know what also occurred to me today while I was vacuuming? (What? Vacuuming can be a very meditative time, like dish-washing.)

    Cubicle and cubical. All those damned office email forwards with “witty” thoughts about work (e.g. “You don’t have to be crazy to work here…but it helps!“), and they always, always spell it “cubical.” I’m all “Cubical? Cubical what?” Sigh.


  9. Ohhhh… “flaunting the law” makes me absolutely crazy. Also, “singing to the choir,” which makes no sense, as opposed to “preaching to the choir,” which does.

    Thanks for letting me get that out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s