Lauren Krueger & Matthew David Brozik

Archive for the ‘Definally’ Category

Across this or that.

In Definally on December 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Daniel Z.W. of Philadelphia asks whether it’s correct to remark that someone has moved “across the country” if that person merely went from, say, Minnesota to New York. It is not correct, Dan.

“Across” means “from one side to the opposite side of” (something). In this case, (something) = the continental United States of America. One has moved “across the country” only when he or she has relocated from one coast (side) to the other coast.

But wait, you’re probably thinking, because you’re never satisfied, what about the other opposite sides of the country? The “top,” so to speak, and the “bottom”? The northern border (the one with Canadia) and the southern border (the one with Mexico)? A fair question, but no one would ever say that. No one would ever say, “She moved across the country… from Sweet Grass, Montana to El Paso, Texas.” But Definally. concedes, reluctantly, that one probably could say such a thing, if one knew such a person who had made such a move.

Regardless, it is an affront to all things right and good to say that one has moved across the country if one’s journey has not taken one from a Pacific State to an Atlantic one, or vice versa.


In Definally on November 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Pop quiz: You tell someone that your pet gerbil (or whatever) died (or whatever). He says, “I’m sorry.” What do you say next?

If you think you should say, “It’s not your fault,” then it’s really no wonder that your hamster died. You’re evidently not very bright. Because it’s extremely unlikely that the other person was admitting to killing your pet when he said, “I’m sorry.” What he was doing, rather, is expressing sympathy (or the like). “I’m sorry” in this context or one similar is shorthand for “I’m sorry that your mole/vole/stoat passed away” or “I’m sorry to hear that (thing you just told me).”

So what you should say, if anything, is “That’s okay. It was just a ball of fur with a tail and teeth.” You should not say anything that suggests that you think the other person was confessing to rodenticide, because that makes you look both foolish and oddly suspicious and will lead only to awkwardness on top of a dead-pet situation.

Right of way.

In Definally on August 8, 2012 at 10:00 am

Randall W(oodsman) R. of North Cuba, Florida posits this scenario: I’m entering a room and you’re exiting the room simultaneously through the same door. I’m pushing the door in as you are pulling on it. Who has the right-of-way?

You do, Randall. (And Definally. suspects that you knew that when you made yourself the one pushing the door, you crafty man.) You do, for two very scientific reasons:

1. Torque. It is much easier (that is, it requires less rotational force) for the one pulling on a door to hold the door open for the other person than it would be for the pusher to hold open the door. (This is because the puller is positioned at the end of the door farthest from the pivot, the hinge.) Indeed, to hold open a door after you’ve pushed it open, you pretty much need to be completely in the doorway—that is, in the way of the puller. So the puller should hold the door open for the pusher because it’s easier for the puller to do so.

2. Momentum. The pusher can push open a door and move through the doorway without breaking stride. The puller can not. The puller must come to a stop at the door to open it—in the process halting (if not actually reversing) his momentum.

Thus, physics dictates that the pusher goes through first. When he does, though, he had damned well better then hold the door open for the puller.

Weeks and/or months.

In Definally on July 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Sydney Amanda Krueger-Brozik asks: I understand that many parents, health care professionals, and baby products companies denote a newborn’s age in months (until 24 months, at which time a child’s age is given in years). I was born on June 27 of this year, four weeks ago today. So am I one month old today, or will I be a month old only on July 27?

What a precious—and precocious—question, Sydney! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to clear this up for you… and for everyone.

As nice as it would be to celebrate a one-month milestone today (with cake, cookies, ice cream, and chocolate pudding), we’re afraid you have to wait until Friday. This might seem a little unfair—for any (non-leap year) February baby would be one month old at the four-week-mark, indeed—but it all comes out even at the end of a year. If you celebrated monthly achievements every four weeks, however, at the end of a year you’d have passed 13 full “months” …but that just can’t be. There are only 12 months in a year. (You’ll learn these sorts of things—and also what sounds various farm animals make—soon enough, in public school.)

But congratulations all the same on four whole weeks of life outside the womb! Your parents must be very proud. Also very smart and very attractive.

Kids in water.

In Definally on July 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

Ronnie R. of Chicago asks, “What do you yell to get a child out of water? ‘Come in’ (like, in towards shore) or ‘come out’ (like, out of the water)? Same with the reverse: Is going out into the water considered going out or going in?”

The question, of course, presumes that the child in question (1) is in the ocean, and (2) will listen to you if you tell him or her what to do. Neither of these is a reliable presumption, of course.

Assuming that the child is in fact in the ocean, then it seems that “Come in!” is not the appropriate directive—notwithstanding that we do indeed speak of things (boats, boots, tidal waves) coming in toward the shore—because a child could just as easily get out of the ocean at the opposite shore, which would hardly be coming in. Certainly, it would entail going out considerably before coming in again, anyway. So the right thing to yell at a child who has been in the ocean too long and/or is in danger of being hit by a boat or an incoming tidal wave is: “Come out!”

But what if the child is in a pool? The answer depends whether the pool is indoors or outdoors, of course (but not whether it is in-ground or not). If the child is in a pool outside, and you want her simply to exit the pool (and, say, join the rest of the party for barbecue lunch), then you would still be correct to yell, “Come out!” If you want her to exit the pool and come into an enclosed structure—from where you are calling her—you do not need to yell, “Get out and come in!” Rather, “Come in!” will suffice, inasmuch as she necessarily has to get out of the pool to come into the house, cabana, or lean-to.

The converse (reverse?) is mostly also true: You would tell a child to “go in(to)” the ocean or a pool (wherever situated), although you would tell that child to “go out” (further) into the ocean (for whatever reason; this is not a parenting blog).

Pillow Talk

In Definally on May 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

A recent late-night conversation at Definally. HQ had us pondering the specifics of bedding. Here’s what we lost some sleep over, solely for your edification:

A quilt is a cloth coverlet composed of two layers and filled with stuffing or batting. Quilts are functional without additional covering. Decorative stitching, geometric patterns, and/or duck motifs can identify a quilt.

A duvet (or continental quilt) is a soft, flat bag filled with feathers or synthetic alternative, which is then protected by a removable duvet cover (big, floppy pillow; large, unwieldy pillow case.) As one would never use a pillow without its case, so goes the duvet. If a large, uncovered feather bag sounds like a good bed covering to you, we suggest that this might explain your lack of bedroom entertaining.

A comforter is a type of blanket shell filled with insulating fibers (natural or synthetic)… as opposed to the feathers one would find in a duvet. Birds are historically pro-comforter.

A bed spread is merely a thin blanket that covers the entirety of a bed, with sides extending to the floor. As a bed spread is decorative and typically kicked off a bed upon entry, it is easy to distinguish from a comforter: the bed spread provides no comfort.


In Definally on January 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

Everyone in the world has asked, “What’s the right term for glass that’s mirrored on one side but translucent on the other—you know, the stuff used, for instance, in interrogation (or execution) rooms?”

There really are too many terms—each of them contradictory with another—for this material. Definally. to the rescue.

The contenders for the title: one-way mirror; two-way mirror; one-way glass; and two-way glass. (See what we mean about the contradictions? How can the same thing be known as both one-way X and two-way X? Also, you might think that this calls for a table, and you might be right… but Definally. is feeling a little lazy today, so we’re going to do this in just words.)

At the outset, we can eliminate two-way glass. Regular glass is “two-way” glass. That is, if one thinks of glass as translucent by default, and translucent in both directions (such as window glass), then it’s glass in both (or, two) ways. Therefore two-way glass is a nonstarter. That was easy.

The same—or similar—logic applies to—and results in the elimination of—one-way mirror. The typical mirror is “one-way.” In fact, it has to be, because of what’s involved in turning a pane of glass into a mirror. You can’t have a two-way mirror… because if you coat both sides of a pane of glass with tin chloride, silver, copper, and paint, what you’ll get is a no-way mirror. So one-way mirror is out. And so is two-way mirror!

Would you look at that? One-way glass it is!

Okay, fine. Here’s a table:

Glass Mirror
One-way Yes. No.
Two-way No. No.

Trooper or trouper?

In Definally on January 6, 2012 at 11:00 am

Bill S. of Stratford-upon-Avon asks, “Is someone a real trooper or a real trouper? And why?”

(Haven’t we done this one already? No? Really? Well, then, let’s do it now!)

First, what is each of those things, real or otherwise? A trooper is, generally, a private soldier in a cavalry, armored, or airborne unit. (Specifically, “trooper” tends to refer to a state police officer, at least in the United States of America. In your country, Bill S., it refers to a ship used to transport troops.) A “trouper,” as you no doubt already know, Bill, is an actor or other entertainer, typically one with long experience. (Your friend Richard B., for example.)

So is a reliable and uncomplaining person a real trooper or a real trouper? Certainly, we might expect it to be the former much likelier than the latter. Soldiers and police officers are tough. Actors are… well, let’s say they’re tough in their own way. Believe it or not, though, the person who deserves recognition for being stalwart and stoic is a real trouper.

And why? No idea. None.

Definally. needs you.

In Definally on January 3, 2012 at 11:07 am

No, we don’t want your money. We want your arguments. Definally. has no more debates to resolve! Is everyone in agreement about everything all of a sudden? Pfft. That’s lame.

Please, submit your disputes to us. Anything you and your spouse/parent/child/friend/parole officer have debated. If you’ve ever “agreed to disagree,” then now’s the time to go back on your word! Find out who is actually correct. You might be surprised!

And happy new year to all.

The most romantic place in the world

In Definally on December 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

Definally. has just returned from Costa Rica and a hotel voted one of the five most romantic in the world. Of course Definally. spent no small amount of time wondering how such a thing can be quantified. By the number of outdoor shower heads? The species of towel animals left on the bed by the staff? The size of the private Jacuzzi®?

Then Definally. wondered what the most romantic place on the planet might be. And then Definally. decided to weigh in on the matter. Because that’s what Definally. does. According, of course, to its own particular idiom.

First, then, the groundwork: What does it mean to be “romantic”? In a nutshell, romantic indicates the presence of romance—naturally—and romance, as everyone knows, originally denoted (in the always reliable Middle English) the vernacular language of France, as opposed to Latin. The ME word romance came by way of the Old French word romanz, based on the Latin Romanicus (Roman).

Thus we have deftly narrowed the field to two places: France and Rome. This seems about right, no? You’re always hearing people talk about how romantic France is—and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Rome, too. (This comparison might seem at first blush to be a bit unfair, being that France is a country and Rome a city. But… well, c’est la vie.)

Definally. might have been tempted to declare a tie, were it not for this interesting tidbit: There is another definition of romance—“wild exaggeration; picturesque falsehood.” Therefore, the most romantic place in the world might be the place that is most picturesquely false, the place mostly wildly exaggerated. And that place is, of course, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Where to go to the bathroom.

In Definally on November 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

Lori N. asks whether it isn’t stupid and wrong and stupid to use the expression “go to the bathroom” to describe any activity that doesn’t involve actually going to a bathroom.

Yes. Yes, it is. You can’t go to the bathroom in, say, the woods. And we don’t mean at the ranger station. We mean in the woods.

“Go to the bathroom” has, obviously, become a euphemism for the principal activity in which one engages in a bathroom. Or does it? Definally. thinks the larger problem here is what to call the room where one “goes to the bathroom,” so to speak. Because, when you think about it, the principal activity for a bathroom should be bathing.

Off the top of our heads, Definally. can think of seven different terms (in current American use) for the room in question. Each, however, has its shortcomings:

(1) Bathroom. If the room has no bath, then this word really just doesn’t apply.

(2) Washroom. Similarly, the implication of washroom is that the principal relevant activity is washing. While washing is a commendable activity, it isn’t typically the reason for visiting the room at issue. That said, washroom is not a bad option at all.

(3) Lavatory. Lavatory comes from the late Latin lavatorium, a “place for washing,” and originally denoted not a room but a tub or basin. If you’re going to say lavatory, then, you might as well say washroom, especially if you mean a room (and not a tub or basin).

(4) Toilet. Although these days, in English, we call the bodily-waste receptacle a “toilet,” the path taken by the word to arrive there is both long and winding. Four hundred years ago, the French toilette meant a small cloth or wrapper (for clothes); three hundred years ago it referred to a cloth cover for a dressing table… the clothing itself… and even the process of getting dressed; later the definition included washing oneself; a hundred years ago toilet came to mean a dressing room… and in many cases one with facilities for washing—that is, a lavatory. The problem, then, is that while toilet might have been the perfect word for the job, it has become too specific, at least in the United States. Because what if you want to go to the room where the toilet is, but you don’t want to use the toilet?

(5/6) In a restaurant, or any other place where there are separate facilities for men and women, there’s no problem at all. One says, “I’m just going to pop in to the (wo)men’s room.” Simple. That takes care of everything! Unfortunately, most homes do not have separate rooms for the different sexes.

(7) Restroom is just dumb. Unless you’re going to there to rest. If you are, and you plan to curl up in the tub, call it the bathroom.

So, after all of that, Definally. prefers washroom. Here’s why: No matter what you do in a room where there is or is not a toilet, bathtub, dressing table, or place for resting… there will be a sink and you should, without question, wash at least your hands before you reëmerge. Whether you’re an employee or not.

Adverbs, for better or worse.

In Definally on November 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Dov S. of a magical land asks, “Can words like terrifically, fantastically, amazingly, etc. be used to describe something bad?” And Definally. responds, Why the hell not, Dov?

In fact, some adverbs often used today to modify positive (or “good”) adjectives (or verbs or other adverbs, for that matter) seem, when you look at them closely, to be better suited to describe bad things.

Terrifically, for instance: “Terrific” originally meant “causing terror”—so “terrifically” would have meant “in a manner that causes terror.” It was once more natural, therefore, to remark that someone was “terrifically snaggletoothed”… rather than, say, “terrifically buxom” (or merely “terrifically busy”).

Fantastically is terrifically interesting in a different way. “Fantastic” literally means “remote from reality.” That is: unreal. Also: bizarre. So to suggest that something is fantastic is not so much a compliment, really. “Fantastically” is just one step removed from “incredibly,” which is the functional equivalent of “unbelievably,” which can go either way, as far as ways to do something go. For every “(s)he’s unbelievably compassionate” there’s a “(s)he’s unbelievably insensitive.” Circling back to fantastic, though: Bear in mind that while many of us believe that imagination is an asset in a person, most of us prefer to deal with people who live in the real world, not some fantasy land (where gryphons abound and double rainbows are the norm). If your boss tells you that your ideas are fantastic, don’t assume you’ll be getting a raise.

Amazing(ly) is neutral, Definally. thinks. One might be amazed by anything at all, especially if one is simple. If you’ve only ever seen… um, red apples, then a green apple could be downright amazing. (But don’t quote us.)

All of this having been articulated with great eloquence, Definally. is not in favor of using adverbs, generally. Better than a strong adverb and a weak verb or adjective is a strong verb or adjective. But that’s a different lecture entirely.


In Definally on October 31, 2011 at 10:15 am

Hard to believe, but Definally. hasn’t yet addressed the ages-old question: What’s the difference between a diary and a journal? Maybe it’s because the distinction is pretty straightforward, though perhaps more honored in the breach… etc.

A diary is where one jots one’s mundane thoughts about the day. A journal is where one records the exciting details of one’s travels! Indeed, one could have both a diary and a journal. Luke Skywalker, for instance. Let’s take a peek:

Luke Skywalker’s Diary Luke Skywalker’s Journal
Another hot, humdrum day on the planet farthest from the bright center of the Universe, if there even is one. Had plans to go to Tosche Station with my friends to pick up some power converters, but I had to clean up some new droids instead. Stupid mean Uncle Owen. I bet he isn’t even my real uncle! Oh, and get this: I’m not going to be able to transmit my application to the Academy this season after all…. Although it’s been a week since we blasted out of Docking Bay 94 with our new friends, I have yet to actually set foot on another planet. The Death Star doesn’t count, of course… and even Yavin IV is just a moon. On the other hand, I believe I have found the bright center of the Universe, and her name is Leia….


In Definally on October 24, 2011 at 10:00 am

Now that Definally. has joined a gym, Definally. watches less television, and therefore fewer infomercials for home exercise equipment. But Definally. is still irked by the suggestion that one can use a single piece of equipment for an entire exercise regime.

Because the right word is regimen.

“But Definally.,” you might rejoin, “isn’t one definition of regime ‘a system or planned way of doing things’?” (In other words, a regimen?) No. Or, to be more accurate: Definally. doesn’t care. Stop it. When you talk of an authoritarian government, refer to it as a regime. When you speak of a course of treatment, exercise, or the like, use the word regimen.

Consider this: If, when you go to the gym, you typically do twenty minutes of cardio, followed by thirty minutes of resistance training… but now you think you’ll do half an hour of cardio, fifteen minutes of weights, and then another ten minutes of cardio to finish, would you tell someone that you’re instituting a regime change? You most certainly would not. Think about that during your spin class.

“…all the t in China”?

In Definally on October 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm

There’s no “t” in “China”!

…all the t in Tortuga would make more sense. Or even …all the t in Pittsburgh. No?

Might and/or might not

In Definally on October 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Each of us has been rebuked at one time or another about the proper respective uses of “may” and “can,” and Definally. isn’t going to repeat the conventional wisdom here. Definally. happens to prefer that “may” not be used to mean anything besides “is permitted to,” and specifically not when the meaning “perhaps will” is wanted—that’s what “might” is for. But even that’s not the thrust of this entry. Rather, just bear in mind that “might” is different from both “may” and “can” in that “can” and “can not” (and, likewise, “may” and “may not”) can not coexist simultaneously. They are, as we say, mutually exclusive. (And there’s no such thing as “Schrödinger’s can.” Get it?)

On the other hand, “might” and “might not” by definition always coexist simultaneously, and therefore a clause in the general form of “he might do this, or he might not [do this]” (or, “she might do that, but she might also not [do that]”) is just plain wrong. Because it isn’t or that’s called for, it’s and. That is: Anyone always might do something and might not do it. That’s what “might” means! “Might” encompasses both possibilities. But: The flip side of the same token is that “He might do something, and he might not [do it]” is redundant.

To summarize:

INCORRECT: They might be giants, or/but they might (also) not be giants.

INCORRECT: They might be giants, and they might not be giants.

CORRECT: They might be giants.

When is a table not a table?

In Definally on September 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Janine S. asked, “When you want to put off a topic of discussion, do you shelve it or table it?” And then Robert B. asked, “Don’t you bring up a topic for discussion by putting it on the table?”

Yes, yes, and yes.

Imagine a room with a table and a bookshelf. You sit at the table… with Janine and Robert. Robert is hungry and suggests ordering a pizza. Robert has thus put the idea of a pizza on the table.

Janine isn’t hungry, though; Janine is angry: Robert hasn’t paid his share of the rent for the room. Janine demands that the topic of ordering a pizza be tabled.

“But it’s already tabled,” Robert counters. “I put it on the table.”

“No,” Janine insists, “tabled, as in… um, taken off the table. You know what, let’s just shelve it.” So the topic of ordering a pizza moves from the table to the shelf. Which only makes sense, since a shelf is where you store things—to be removed (from the shelf) and (re)considered later, if ever. The table, on the other hand, is where you put the things you want to consider now.

So what’s this about “tabling” something you don’t want to think about now? Or: When is a table a shelf?

As is often the case, to solve this riddle we need to look back in time. We must ask, “Whence table?” The word, that is. Not the item. Tables and table-like structures have been around forever. The word “table,” though, has been around since medieval times, when it came to mean the piece of furniture (as the Old English tabule… which became the Old French table). Before then, however, the Latin tabula meant “tablet” or “list.” That is: tablet, like a writing pad; list, as in a “To do” list. As in: Put this topic on our list of things to consider later.

Table(t) it, in other words.


Now, about that pizza….

A contest!

In Definally on September 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

We here at Definally. have taken a renewed interest in the Muppets of late, and in particular the Muppet Movie, a cinematic masterpiece (a classic, even) that dared to ask the tough questions. You know the questions we mean. The ones about about rainbows. But there’s also a challenge hidden in that film, and Definally. is surprised that no one has, in 32 years, risen to that challenge.

Gonzo the Great, in a keenly touching song, sings, “There’s not a word yet… for old friends who’ve just met.”

Well, why isn’t there a word yet, in 2011 no less? Have we really all been too busy since 1979 to think up a good word? Just one word?

Definally. therefore puts the challenge directly to its readership: Come up with a word for old friends who’ve just met. And we’ll pick the winner from the nominations, assuming there are any. (If there aren’t any, we will promptly delete this post, so as to save us all some embarrassment.)

Ready? Go!

Instant classic

In Definally on September 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

Someone (you don’t know her; she lives in Canada) asks, “Can something really be an instant classic? Doesn’t a classic have to stand the test of time?”

If you know Definally., you’re probably expecting a swift, decisive, “Hell, no. Instant classic is an oxymoron.”

You’re an oxymoron.

Ha! Just teasing you. But, to your great surprise, Definally. gives the green light to instant classic. Because although some might maintain that something “classic” has been judged—over time—to be of the highest quality, sometimes it just doesn’t take any time at all to recognize a thing as outstanding. And, really, classic doesn’t mean old; rather, it means exemplary… the best of its class. (You might be thinking of “classical.”)

In a way, classic means timeless. So a true classic is always of the now, no matter its vintage. Some things might take time to be appreciated as classic, while others are immediately—instantly—classic.

Examples might have been helpful here, but Definally. just can’t think of any.


In Definally on September 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm

“Grizzly” Aaron Y. of Long Island, NY, who evidently spends a lot of time outdoors (but never far from man-made structures), asks Definally. to chart the differences among several particular architectural features, and Definally. obliges, as follows:

A porch is a covered, ground-level shelter projecting from the front of the entrance of a building. (A porch in the back of a building is a “back porch.”) Also known as a veranda. [UPDATE: A lanai is a porch/veranda in Hawai’i or Miami.]

A deck is a simple platform-like structure, typically made of lumber and unroofed, attached to a house or other building.

A patio is a paved outdoor area adjoining a house. (Also the basis for one of Definally.’s favorite jokes: What’s Irish and stays out all night? Paddy O’Furniture.)

A balcony is an a enclosed platform on the outside of a building, accessible via an upper-floor window or door.

(Now get this: Some sources equate a terrace with a porch, while others suggest that it is just another word for patio—but those are not the same things (the difference being whether there is shelter). Etymologically, the word terrace comes from the Latin terra (“earth”), but in Old French meant “platform,” and in the early 16th century meant, at first, an open gallery… but then later a balcony in a theater! Terrace, it seems, wants to be all things to all people. Definally. therefore recommends that no one ever again use the word terrace to mean anything. That’s the punishment for being greedy.)

So, what we see is that a single structure can have all of the above architectural features at once. One might enter a house through its front door, stepping inside from the porch, making his way through the building only to emerge again (after changing into swim trunks) in the rear, exiting onto to the veranda before venturing to the stone patio, where the wet bar is, for a gin and tonic, which he might take to a chaise longue on the wooden deck surrounding the in-ground pool, all the while oblivious of the contract killer with the high-powered rifle on the second-story balcony drawing a bead on him….

Ground level? Basis of joke? Useful to snipers?
Porch Yes Yes No No
Deck No Maybe No No
Patio No Yes Yes No
Balcony Yes No No Yes

Privately printed vs. self-published

In Definally on August 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

Here’s one that has troubled Definally. for years—and by “troubled” we mean “bothered us that others don’t know the difference.” To be fair, though (to those others), there isn’t a whole lot of private printing going on these days/decades. Here’s the skinny all the same:

Imagine, if you will, and you should, writer Simon LePlume. Simon has penned a novella of which he is quite fond. Sadly, no agent will represent him and his work, because the book-buying public isn’t interested in novellae. The public demands tomes. Nonetheless Simon believes that the public would love his novella if only it were available for public consumption. So Simon, solely and wholly at his own cost, has 5,000 copies of his novella printed and bound, in softcover. Simon then arranges with, say, for copies of his novella to be offered for sale to anyone who wants it. Simon has thus self-published his book.

At the same time, Simon collects some short stories of his into a small booklet—also printed up and bound at his own expense (although in this case who pays for it is not determinative)—but not to sell or otherwise distribute publicly. Rather, Simon sends copies of his little book of stories to specific persons known to him personally, perhaps as tokens of his appreciation for their years of support of his creative endeavors, or for just being his friend. This is private printing.

The difference that matters, then, is not who prints the books (for, in either case, it is almost certainly not going to be literally Simon himself, unless he is skilled in the arts of printing and binding as well as that of writing) but who gets the books. Private printing also typically involves a limited print run, whereas self-publishing might/can/should go on as long as people are buying the book in question and the sales revenue exceeds the production costs, thereby making the venture profitable.

Going downhill

In Definally on August 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

Shades of rolling stones gathering no moss! “Is going downhill a good thing or a bad thing?” asks Ray of Queens, NY.

When one says something like, “We were up by five runs in the eighth—it should have been downhill from there!” …the suggestion is that going downhill represents easy and/or quick progress toward one’s goal (presumably after overcoming some initial difficulty).

Yet when one says something like, “Our business—selling used (or, ‘previously mauled’) pet toys—has been going steadily downhill from the start,” he or she is expressing an unfortunate circumstance (an inexorable decline to complete ruin, likely).

How to reconcile the two, then?

It depends on where you start(ed), of course. That is, if you had to go uphill to get where you are (or where you were before things started to go downhill), then going downhill is a good thing. But if you only go downhill, then it’s bad. In other words, you want to be on level ground, ideally (a “level playing field” is desirable, after all), and probably at sea level (as being “underwater” is not a good thing).

Definally. might be going downhill. It’s hard to say.

The other half of the battle

In Definally on August 24, 2011 at 10:00 am

Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the G.I. Joe cartoon that aired on TV in 1985 and 1986, you’ve likely heard the expression, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

So you’ve possibly wondered—in a quiet, contemplative moment of repose: Just what the heck is the other half of the battle?! Fifty percent of the battle is accounted for, but another full fifty percent is undefined(/undefinalized). That ends here and now.

It should come as no surprise that the other half of the battle is not one thing. Frankly, it’s really quite astounding that knowing alone composes a full half of the battle. That’s really too much of the battle for any single thing to make up. To the contrary, the remaining 50% is a conglomeration of no fewer than eleven different things, as follows:

Knowing is graph the battle

Knowing is graph the battle.

  • Cooking (5%)
  • Cleaning (5%)
  • Popping (4%)
  • Locking (3%)
  • Singing in the rain (2%)
  • Watching cartoons (6%)
  • Solving crossword puzzles (5%)
  • Fighting (16%)
  • Running (2%)
  • Hiding (1%)
  • Crying (1%)

100: Elephants!

In Definally on August 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

For our 100th entry, Definally. will take you through the 100 different elephants that appear from time to time in conversational English. (You don’t want to offend someone/some elephant by referring to the wrong one. That said, this Pachyderm Correctness movement might have gotten a tad out of hand.)

Color Location Significance Origin
Any In the room A controversial or merely awkward issue that is obviously present yet avoided as a topic of discussion. Elephants historically have snuck into rooms and loitered there, just waiting to be talked about.
White In one’s possession Useless and troublesome—e.g., expensive to maintain and/or difficult to dispose of. The kings of Siam would give a white elephant as a gift to an obnoxious courtier (or a widower retained to teach the royal children the English language and British customs), in order to ruin the recipient with the great expense incurred in maintaining the animal, which he could not get rid of for fear of insulting the king.
Pink Anywhere there’s a drunk person Supposedly typical hallucination of one (human) who’s been hitting the bottle. Pink elephants like to party.
Blue The wild, presumably Q:How do you shoot a blue elephant?
A: With a blue elephant gun.
It’s a joke! Get it?

Okay… that’s really all the elephants we’ve got (without getting completely absurd). It’s not 100, and for that we apologize, a little. On the other hand, it really isn’t our fault that people don’t talk about elephants more.

Thanks for sticking with us through the first 100 posts! And with this, Definally. is going on elephanthiatus.


In Definally on August 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

If nobody’s singing, it ain’t a song.

That said, the singer need not be singing words, per se, but without a person’s voice, a piece of music is a tune, or a melody, or… well, a piece of music. The sine qua non of a song is vocalization.

What, you might ask, of this scenario: A person sings a melody. That is: A person sings, with her voice, a tune intended to be played on an instrument. Is that a song? The answer: Sort of. If someone were to overhear the vocal performance, he might properly remark, “I hear a song.” But if he were then to ask the singer, “What song were you singing?” she would properly respond, “I was singing a tune, actually: Bach’s Eleventh Concerto for Squeezebox and Handclaps, in G.”

What of the opposite, then? If a person were to play Hey, Jude (a song) on a piano or xylophone, but not sing, is he playing a song? No: He is playing a tune. A very catchy tune, yes, but still just a tune.

Now you might ask, Why is Definally. so stingy with what might properly be called songs? It’s because you can often buy something for a song, and if there are too many songs out there, the economy will suffer due to deflation of the value of currency.

Next: Definalization # 100!


In Definally on August 8, 2011 at 9:00 am

Definally. has touched upon the topic of coupons before, but somehow neglected to address the most basic coupon question of all: Is it kyoo-pon or koo-pon?

It’s koo-pon. Why? Because when you’re buying, say, toothpaste with a shelf price of $4.29, and you present to the cashier a slip of paper from your Sunday newspaper color insert that entitles you to a discount of $2.00 (courtesy of the manufacturer), which entitlement the store then doubles, so that your total savings is a full four dollars, bringing the final cost of the toothpaste to a whopping 29 cents (plus applicable tax)… you have pulled off what the French call a coup [koō]!

Spoiler alerts.

In Definally on August 5, 2011 at 10:00 am

After a full year has passed since the theatrical release of a movie, it is no longer incumbent upon one to give spoiler alerts when discussing the movie. If someone within earshot has not seen the film under discussion, despite having had twelve whole months in which to do so, that’s his or her hard cheese.

So, for instance, on August 2, 2002, one might without hesitation have mentioned that Grace Stewart and her children are the true Others.

On April 25, 2004, it became acceptable to reveal that the ten visitors to the hotel in the Nevada desert were all alternate personalities of real-life murderer Malcolm Rivers.

And on July 29, 2012, it will be okay for Definally. to reveal that in Cowboys & Aliens… well, you’ll see.

A ton of data.

In Definally on August 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

Michael D., originally of the Emerald Isle, asks, “How much is a ton of data?”

A very interesting question… for of course, a ton (as it is most commonly used) signifies a measure equal to two thousand pounds.

Now, consider that a single pound can be expressed as a pair of ASCII characters (to wit: lb).

A single ASCII character is one byte of data. Two characters is two bytes.

Two bytes x 2,000 = 4,000 bytes/characters.

Therefore a ton of data is merely four thousands bytes. Not much at all!

Here’s an example of a ton of data:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of an

Not even the entirety of the Declaration of Independence!

(Also: Since 1 byte = 8 bits, making a ton = 32,000 bits, exclaiming that a piece of news—such as might be contained in an email—”hit me like a ton of bits” is not all that impressive.)

Best friends.

In Definally on August 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Liz B. of Carle Place, NY didn’t ask a question, but she did refer to her three best friends in earshot of Definally., so now Definally. will address the propriety/protocol of having more than one best friend.

In the first place, there’s nothing wrong with having more than one best friend. “Best” does not necessarily refer to one person or thing only. There are such things as ties in competition (or mere comparison), so Liz can by all means have three best friends.

That said, the number of best friends one may have absolutely depends on the total number of friends one has. And Definally. asserts that one may have one additional best friend for every hundred total friends. But they have to be real friends—not Facebook friends, not friends of friends, not imaginary Canadian girl- or boy- friends.

Therefore: If you have between 100 and 199 actual friends, then you may have two best friends. If you have 200-299, you may have three best friends. And so on. Otherwise, you have to be less lenient in your labeling. You might have to make some difficult decisions, and feelings might be hurt. On the other hand, you might learn some things about your friends, such as how well they deal with disappointment.

Calling in/out

In Definally on July 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

No one asks, “When you call work to report that you’ll be home for the day, are you calling in sick or calling out sick?”

Definally. is torn on this one. For a long time, Definally. was aware only of the notion of “calling in sick”… but then our eyes were opened to a whole second possibility.

There’s simple logic behind each: You call in to your place of employment… but you’re calling to say that you’ll be out. So the question really is what the preposition is doing. Is it indicating where you’re calling… or why.

Looking at it that way helps, in fact… because calling in is redundant. You can just call work (rather than call in to work). But if you say merely that you’re going to call in… you could be calling in for any reason. You might even call in to confirm that the office is open, or that you’re scheduled to work. Saying that you’re calling out tells the whole story, on the other hand. “I’m calling out today” does the trick. So call out it is.


In Definally on July 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

Any body of water longer in any single direction than thirteen feet is not a pond. It isn’t necessarily a lake, but it is definitely not a pond.

Grand (Re-)Opening! Under New Management!

In Definally on July 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

No, not Definally. We’re still under the same old management. The title refers to the question, from Shannon V. of Minnesota, “How long may/should a business display signage indicating a grand opening/new management?”

Some places (New York City, for instance) have ordinances governing how long a store may lawfully display Going Out of Business signs… but as far as Definally. knows, only those signs have a legislated expiration date. Which means it’s up to us to make the rule:

A Grand Opening sign may remain up until a business turns a profit, but in any event no more than two years.

The appropriate lifespan of Under New Management signage varies with how well- or ill-liked the previous management was. If a business was run by a complete jerk, Under New Management signs can remain up for decades. If the establishment was, say, 1940s Germany, then Under New Management signs may remain up indefinitely.

Untruths and falsehoods.

In Definally on July 8, 2011 at 10:00 am
Lie “I was close, personal friends with Michael Jackson.”
White lie “Michael Jackson didn’t bleach his skin!”
Little white lie “Emmanuel Lewis didn’t help Michael Jackson bleach his skin!”
Fib “I don’t own all of Michael Jackson’s albums.”
Half-truth “That outfit doesn’t make you look fat on top, Ms. Taylor.”

Ways to hit the ground

In Definally on July 6, 2011 at 10:00 am
Fall To travel toward the ground, generically, usually unintentionally. (Nota bene: a fall can be arrested; one need not make contact with the ground.)
Trip The sine qua non of tripping is having something tangible interfere with one’s gait. That is, one must be moving, under one’s own steam, to trip. A trip then occurs when an object becomes insinuated among one’s feet, causing one to fall. The object might be foreign or domestic (as it were, such as one of one’s own feet).
Slip A slip is akin to a trip, but the interference comes from below one’s feet. A wet floor, a banana peel, or a loose-fitting, silk, dress- or skirt-length woman’s undergarment. Whereas one trips because some object intrudes on one’s footspace, one slips because an object or a condition reduces traction to an insufficient level.
Stumble One also needs to be moving to stumble, but one can stumble without help from any outside influence. One’s legs might simply give out.
Tumble A tumble starts out as a stumble, but as one flips head over heels, the s gets lost.
Topple One can topple when simply standing still. More often than not, one is toppled by an external force, and usually a substantial one, like an invading army or a gale-force wind.
Spill A spill is a hilarious fall.


In Definally on July 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Without getting technical, aqua is equal parts blue and green. It is no more blue than green, and no more green than blue. Aqua is the orange of the blue-green spectrum: dead center.

?! vs. !?

In Definally on June 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

Some dude named Jim (not his real name) asks, “What’s the difference between ?! and !? …?”

Definally. responds: Duh! Details in a moment, but first a typography tangent.

There is a character, called the interrobang, that combines the question mark (known to some as the “interrogative point”) and the exclamation point (known in printers’ jargon as a “bang”). It looks like this: ‽

Definally. likes the interrobang in theory, but not in practice—specifically because there is a difference between ?! and !? And it is just the difference you might suspect: which punctuation mark comes first absolutely sets a particular tone. !? tells you that the sentence it precedes is more an exclamation than a question (i.e., more a rhetorical question than an actual question), whereas ?! ends something that is more likely to demand an actual response.

Example: “When Jim came down to the kitchen in silver lamé pants, his mother could be heard even two floors above screaming, Are you crazy!? What were you thinking when you bought those?!

(Jim’s mom is not really interested in whether Jim thinks he’s crazy… because she already thinks that he is. But she does want to know what was going through his mind when he bought silver lamé pants, in case she needs to testify in a commitment hearing.)

Take it or leave it. Or both.

In Definally on June 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

Maggie C. of Chappaqua writes, “Finally, I have found someone who can explain why people say I’m going to take a leak [or any one of a number of other excretory things]. But they aren’t taking anything. They are leaving something. Please discourse and/or edify.”

Was it Khalil Gibran or George Carlin who famously quipped, “You don’t take a shit, you leave a shit. That’s the whole idea! To leave it!” …? Indeed, this is a troubling construction… and its origins can not be attributed to a bent for euphemism. (“I have to see a man about a horse” is a euphemism; “I have to take a crap” is not.)

So whence this notion of seemingly acquiring something when one is actually lightening one’s load, so to speak? Definally. has a suspicion that this is a very American phenomenon. Because Americans are a people of action. We take action! (Rather than, say, acting.) We take everything, in fact. We don’t shower (or bathe); we take showers (and baths). We don’t rest; we take breaks (or we take five… or even ten!). Other, lesser peoples simply travel, but Americans take trips, vacations, journeys! We are a greedy, greedy nation. We take, take, take.

Even when we leave something: Everybody poops; Americans take them.

Ironically, however, we also don’t take shit from anyone. In conclusion, America is a land of contrasts.


In Definally on June 24, 2011 at 10:00 am

No, Definally. is not going to reiterate what you’ve already heard and/or read elsewhere: that “unique,” like several other words, is an absolute adjective—one that does not permit of modification by an adverb. That is, something is either unique (or complete; equal; perfect; or pregnant….) or it is not. Thus, uniqueness can not be graded. But can it be otherwise modified?

Certainly, something can be suddenly unique. Imagine if there were only two of something… and then one was destroyed! The remaining item would be suddenly unique. Cool, right?

And something might be… undeniably unique. Like, if the uniqueness of an item were called into question… but then proven scientifically, beyond doubt. (It would also be indubitably unique, in that case. Even scientifically indubitably unique.)

But can something be uniquely unique? That is, can something that is unique be unique in a unique way?

Unique means singular. Unique describes something that is unlike anything else, and like which there is nothing. Are there different ways to be unique, then? No. There are not.

There is only one way to be unique. A thing that is unique is (again, by definition) unlike anything else… but that defining characteristic is going to be shared by all unique things. (And yet the uniqueness of each is not defeated by this common characteristic. Consider humans: Each of us is unique… just like every other human. Right? Go figure.) So something can not, in fact, be uniquely unique.

Carry on.

How to be a beekeeper.

In Definally on June 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

Definally. just read the headline (only) of a piece in USA Today (online edition) about beekeeping, and specifically how one might start as a beekeeper. Definally. presumes (again, without having perused the article proper) that the process is not all that difficult, and therefore will now present its own primer on keeping bees, for those who don’t have time to read anything lengthy and/or involved:

Step 1: Acquire some bees.

Step 2: Hold on to (or “keep”) those bees.

As long as you can keep bees, you are a successful beekeeper. (Congratulations.) If at any time you are no longer able to keep your bees, but you still desire to be a beekeeper, start over with Step 1.

In our next installment, we will discuss generating buzz.

Have a catch

In Definally on June 17, 2011 at 10:00 am

A spirited discussion arose Wednesday night between famous author/cousin Howard Megdal and his advance team (Definally.) over whether or not throwing a ball back and forth constitutes “having a catch.”

Despite being both familiar with words and a typically reliable source for information regarding all things baseball, Megdal suggested that if we wanted to cut our dinner short and skip his scheduled speaking engagement, we could find the necessary equipment for “having a catch” in the trunk of his car. Misinformed on two counts (Megdal’s trunk lacked a ball), Definally. feels the need to set the record straight.

Notwithstanding what Megdal (and Ray Kinsella) would have us believe, one (two or more, actually) plays catch, or plays a game of catch. If something has a catch, it fastens (like the aforementioned trunk) or it has a complication (being ready to play, except for one minor detail…).

Reverse Commuting

In Definally on June 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

Even if you travel each workday morning from a city to a suburb, where your place of employment is, and then return in the evenings to the city, you are still just commuting. There really is no such things as “reverse commuting.”

Consuming costs

In Definally on June 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

Eva P. of Queens asks, “If, say, a restaurant sells a single glass of wine from a bottle, but then has to discard the remainder eventually, and the revenue of the single glass sold is less than what the restaurant paid for the bottle, would one say that the restaurant has to eat the difference (in cost), or, because it’s wine at issue, could it be said that the restaurant has to drink the difference?”

An interesting, if misleading question! For while it might seem… shall we say charming, in a way, to modify the expression “eat the difference/cost” to “drink the difference/cost” in the scenario you describe, Eva, the thing being consumed is still the difference/cost—not the wine (which might, in fact, be drunk by the restaurant staff, but it also might be just poured down a drain)—and cost is something to be eaten, not drunk. Even though cost is, of course, not a physical thing, and there is no particular reason to “eat” it. That what we say, though: Eat the difference/cost.

On the other hand (and I think you’re going to like this): We also say absorb the cost… and absorption is something more easily done of a liquid than a solid. So perhaps that’s the expression you want, as follows: Zut alors! Because we sold, for a mere $12, only a single glass of the 1983 Château Écailles de Poisson, for which we’d paid $50 (and we gave the rest of the bottle to the cat), we made no profit on that bottle and wound up having to absorb the difference.

Et voila!

How Jew-ish?

In Definally on June 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

It’s a table, why not?

Orthodox Obeys all laws found in every ancient book written in Hebrew or Aramaic, including the 4th Century Everyone Begets Poop.
Modern orthodox Orthodox without the beards.
Conservative Offended by Reform Judaism, but not enough to be Orthodox.
Conservadox Conservative, with a modern orthodox rabbi.
Conservaform/Reformative Conservative, but with yarmulkes made of ham.
Reform Yarmulkes not required; musical instruments in temple permitted.
Reconstructionist The Scientologists of the Jews. Believe in aliens.


In Definally on June 8, 2011 at 10:00 am

Jamie F. asks, “Why isn’t the word ‘sightsee’ spelled ‘sitesee’? Isn’t the former a bit redundant?”

Oh, Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. Jamie. (Now, that’s redundant!)

Definally. sees your dual point—that every sight is seen (by definition) and that one who spends time sightseeing is really seeing sites (that is, locations)… but, really, there are more sights to see than just sites. Consider the noble, selfless street performer: a sight (or, rather, a spectacle)—much more so, anyway, than the corner or curb on which he performs. (Usually. If not, he should change locations.)

Indeed, most sights are sites to be seen are in fact sites, but sightseeing is all-inclusive, like the vacation package Definally. recently booked. (We’re going to Costa Rica!)

Rock + roll = ?

In Definally on June 6, 2011 at 10:00 am

The sum of rock plus roll is which of the following?

a. Rock ’n roll

b. Rock ’n’ roll

c. Rolling Rock®

d. There is no d. The answer is b.

And the difference between a and b is, of course, one apostrophe. It’s small, but it’s important. Unfortunately, it is more often omitted than employed. Maybe that’s because true rockers don’t have time for proper punctuation, man. The music calls. Or the road. Or the drugs. Whatever calls, it’s not a second apostrophe. Yet, without that second apostrophe to indicate that there’s a letter missing from both sides of the n (betwixt the rock and the roll), it is not obvious that that n used to be an and.

With just one apostrophe present, to the left of the n, one might be forgiven for thinking that rock ’n roll means rock in roll or rock on roll (either of which could describe a sandwich). On the other hand, rock n’ roll might suggest rock no roll (which is a sandwich that Jack Nicholson might order in a diner).

The best way to avoid these pitfalls, while still being cool and not spelling out three actual words in a row, might be to write rock & roll. (Notwithstanding the title of this post, rock + roll is totally for squares.)

Eating pizza with a fork?!

In Definally on June 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

Several persons asked Definally. to weigh in on whether it is ever permissible to eat pizza with a fork. (It must have been in the news or something….)

Definally. says: No, one may never eat pizza with a fork. Pizza is meant to be served in slices (usually eighths of the entire pie, although sixths are acceptable), and a slice is intended to be grasped in the hand, folded, and delivered thus to one’s mouth. Even the Queen of England herself eats pizza with her bare hands. (This might not be true.)

Time was, a pizza pie was a simple thing indeed: A flattened and rounded ball of dough covered with a tomato-based sauce and adorned with only mozzarella cheese, then baked. Over the years since the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, however, pizzae have become increasingly complex things, with the possible toppings now numbering in the thousands (and including such nonsensical options as sawdust, molten lava, and pineapple). The more complicated (and heavy) one’s pizza gets, the more tempted one might be to leave one’s slice on one’s plate and eat it with the aid of utensils. One would be wrong to do this.

Do you hear what I c?

In Definally on May 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

Lauren S. of New J. writes, “Why are the words convicted and indicted spelled almost the same but pronounced completely differently? I know that English is not a logical language, but if they derive from Latin, shouldn’t they be consistent?”

This is really not the sort of question Definally. typically takes on, but Definally. is on vacation (as of the time you’ll be seeing this post), and Lauren’s is the only question left in the queue to be answered. So here’s the answer:

Blame the French. It’s really that simple. Look:

Convict(ed) comes to English originally from the Latin verb convincere (to convince), by way of Middle English.

Indict(ed), on the other hand, comes to English originally from the Latin verb indicere (to proclaim or appoint), by way of Anglo-Norman French enditer, and only then through Middle English. It was the Anglo-Normans who removed the hard c. (It reappeared, but silently.)


In Definally on May 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

Definally. offers another table today, this one to help you keep straight the various ways to make fun of something.

Spoof A spoof is the least sophisticated humorous imitation of something, relying on simple exaggeration of the the characteristic features of the original. One might spoof a so-called Spaghetti Western, for example, by giving the cowboys really large (20-gallon) hats, and absurdly long spaghetti.
Send-up A send-up is just marginally more urbane than a spoof, what with the hyphen and all.
Satire A satire has some actual wit—perhaps irony in addition to exaggeration. Moreover, a satire seeks to ridicule not just the original work but the stupidity and vices of people at large. Satirists are typically not well liked for some reason.
Parody A parody is in fact not a form of intentional comedic commentary, but rather a failure to create something as good as something else. It is a travesty. No one sets out to make a parody; it results when something has gone horribly wrong.
Lampoon The most high-brow of the lot, generally reserved for Harvard students and alumni. The word lampoon, coined by John Harvard himself, is a portmanteau of laugh + harpoon.

Who pays for dinner?

In Definally on May 23, 2011 at 10:00 am

Perhaps this question, from Jacob S. W. of England, should have capped off last week’s food-y series, but it didn’t. Jacob writes: “When my lovely wife and I visit the U.S., our friends insist on paying for dinner, because we have traveled a long way to see them. On the other hand, when those same friends visit us, they give us a hard time when we insist on paying for them. So: Who has the right to treat their friends to dinner—the out-of-towner, or the in-towner?”

Definally. agrees, Jacob: You do have a lovely wife.

Wait, what…? Oh. Ha ha!

The answer to your actual question seems straightforward enough, and not just because Definally. sometimes is those friends (to you and your lovely wife) of whom you speak: The ones who have not done the long-distance traveling have the prerogative to pay for dinner.

The logic is simple, isn’t it? Couple A has paid no small amount of money to fly from, say, London to, say, New York City. Couple B, thrilled to have the opportunity to have dinner with Couple A, pays much less to take the Long Island Rail Road from, say, Great Neck, to Manhattan. And then maybe the subway, as well. While commuters are forever complaining about oft-increasing rates on both the LIRR and the MTA, the cost to Couple B is still nothing compared to that of Couple A’s airfare. (That doesn’t mean, though, that you can order the lobster. Don’t be greedy.)

That said, there are some circumstances that might provide exceptions to this rule. One is if Couple A is wealthy and Couple B is not. If, for instance, Couple A comprises (1) a famous humor writer who has co-authored not one, not two, but three popular books—with another humor book written all by himself on the way—and (2) a lovely woman with a real job, and together they just rake in the pounds hand over fist… and Couple B consists of, say, (1) a former lawyer and (2) a freelance video editor (also lovely)… then perhaps Couple A should pay for dinner. Even if dinner is at Couple B’s small apartment.

Another exception might be if the dinner is occasioned more by convenience—or even coincidence—than intention. If Couple A and Couple B happen to be in the same restaurant (in Couple B’s country), and, upon noticing each other, decide to join their tables… then Couple B should not have to pay for Couple A’s meal. And Couple A should not let them, even if Couple B insists.

Finally, if Couple A asks Couple B to dinner specifically in order to break up in a public place, hoping that Couple B will be less likely to make a scene, Couple A should pay for dinner. That’s just good manners.

Toilet lids

In Definally on May 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

Turning from food and drink, we end the week with a post about where food and drink end up.

This one is a no-brainer, but Definally. has gotten several requests to address it. So here’s the poop:

When a toilet is not in use, the lid (not just the seat) should be down. In fact, the lid should go down before the toilet is flushed, to prevent (or at least counteract) aerosolization of the water in the bowl (not to be confused with eau de toilette) and the consequent contamination of such exposed things as toothbrushes, soap, towels, the bathroom scale, the shower curtain, scented candles, cotton swabs, cotton balls, reading material, etc.


In Definally on May 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

In keeping with an emerging food-related theme, we turn to a question posed by Pamela of NYC: “When out to dinner, either alone or with friends, what is the appropriate number of alcoholic beverages to consume?”

Obviously, the answer to this question can be properly presented only in table form, as follows:

You (alone) You (with spouse/date)
No friends 7 2
Friends you like 3 4
Friends you don’t like 5 11

Print. Clip. Keep in your wallet or purse.

Double-decker (vs. triple-decker) sandwich

In Definally on May 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

A sandwich—a club sandwich, for example, or the Big Mac—that has three pieces of bread with two layers of fillings (each layer between a pair of slices of bread) is a double-decker sandwich. Each bread-with-filling-atop-it is one deck. The top piece of bread does not a deck make.

A triple-decker sandwich, therefore, has four slices of bread, with fillings between the slices.

In short, the number of decks is one less than the number of slices of bread. (Unless it’s an open-faced sandwich, in which case the numbers will be the same.)

Bed Bath & Beyond coupons.

In Definally on May 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

There are three different standard BB&B coupons, as follows:

  • 20% off a single item
  • 20% off your entire purchase
  • $5 off your entire purchase (over $15)

When to use which:

If you have a coupon for 20% off your entire purchase and one for 20% off a single item, obviously use the latter if you’re buying only one item. On the other hand, you probably have multiples of the latter (which never, ever expire), and you are permitted to use as many of these coupons as you have items, so if you are buying more than one item and you have as many 20%-off-any-single-item coupons as you have items, you can really go either way.

It’s the $5-off-your-entire-purchase (over $15) coupon that trips people up. Here’s the key (assuming that you can also get 20% off your entire purchase, via either method above):

If your purchases total more than $15 but not more than $25, use the $5 off coupon.

If your purchases exceed $25, use the 20% off.

20% of $25 is $5, so you want to use the $5 off when 20% off would be less than or equal to that… and on the other hand, you want to use the 20% off when it would be more than $5.

Please send 15% of your savings to Definally.


In Definally on May 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

Notwithstanding that there are different and precise measurements involving spoons (e.g., teaspoon and tablespoon), the amount of soft foodstuff that is served as a shapeless mass dispensed from a spoon of any size is a dollop.


In Definally on May 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

Ray A. inadvertently asked “Do you say exclamation point or exclamation mark?”

This is a question that has plagued Definally. for years, and we are grateful for the opportunity to put the matter to rest. In a moment.

The first (and only) dictionary that Definally. consulted has an entry for “exclamation point” with a parenthetical note that the alternative “exclamation mark” is chiefly British. Definally. thinks this distinction misses the point (or, as the British might say, misses the mark)… especially since the definition of “exclamation point” is a punctuation mark (!) indicating an exclamation.

Definally. has so many problems with that dictionary entry, we hardly know where to begin. That “(!)” is in the actual definition, but if it hadn’t been, Definally. would have put one in the quotation, in the very same place.

Definally. has decided to split the difference on this one, after all that, as follows:

When the exclamation itself is intended to make a point, then the punctuation device is an “exclamation point.” As in, You promised you’d stop pointing out inconsistencies in my logic!

When, on the other hand, the exclamation is merely intended as a cry of surprise, anger, pain, or what have you, then the device is an “exclamation mark.” As in, It’s Mark!

Thanks, Ray!

Word counts

In Definally on May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am
Twitfiction ≤ 140 characters
Blink ink/smudge fiction ≤ 50 words
Nanofiction 55 words exactly
Drabble 100 words exactly
Flash fiction ≤ 1,000 words
Littlerature 1,064 words exactly
Small story ≤ 2,999 words
Short story 3,000-7,499 words
Novelette 7,500-17,499 words
Novella 17,500-39,999 words
Novel ≥ 40,000 words
Tome ≥ 400,000 words

How Naked?

In Definally on April 29, 2011 at 9:00 am

Keeping with our current, inadvertent theme of body parts, Michael D., originally of Éire, inquires: An bhfuil sé ‘Butt nocht’ nó ‘nocht buck’? …which Definally. translates as “Is it butt naked or buck naked?”

It’s easy to see (and how!) why one would hear “butt naked,” no matter what another person actually says. The thinking goes something like: She’s so naked that one can see her butt. She is therefore “butt naked.” And this is correct.

Consider that Definally. chose to make the imagined naked person a “she” not at random but to help prove the point. For a female person can not be “buck naked,” given that a buck is the male of animals such as the fallow deer, roe deer, reindeer, and antelope, among others. If a nude man or boy were to be properly described as “buck naked,” then a nude woman or girl would have to be “doe naked.”

Unless that woman was the Nobel Prize-winning author of such works as The Good Earth and Dragon Seed. She would be Pearl S. Buck naked.

Sláinte, Michael!


In Definally on April 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Jill P. (formerly K.) writes, more or less, “Please explain whence the term ‘busted,’ as in I got busted by my mom for smoking cigarettes or I got busted by the cops for selling weed. Since neither of those has anything to do with a bust (sculpture) or part of the female anatomy, I was wondering how it came to be slang for getting caught/arrested.”

Before Definally. busts this one wide open (see what we did there?), we want to offer this brief word of advice to you, Jill: Get some new hobbies!

But now to the matter at hand: In fact, Jill, you might be surprised to learn that the term “busted”—in the sense of “found out” or “discovered”—comes directly from both sculpted busts and the chests of busty women. For it is in both of these places that scoundrels historically secreted contraband.

It was not at all uncommon for a pirate, for instance, to stash booty (in a moment of panic, often, when the authorities were at the door) down the bodice of the nearest wench. If the authority figure was not concerned with propriety (or the necessity of a search warrant), he might have a look into the cleavage of a woman of ill repute to find treasure.

Similarly, or not really, more respectable persons with homes furnished with objets d’art would often avail themselves of hollow busts (of Beethoven, Napoleon, or Darth Vader, for example) to store their opium, marihuana, or Yanni concert ticket stubs out of sight from disapproving eyes.

Thus, when such items worthy (arguably) of scorn and/or derision were found in either place, the one who attempted to conceal them there were said to be “busted.”

Does God have feet?

In Definally on April 22, 2011 at 9:00 am

And… we’re back from an unscheduled break with this innocent question, posed by the twin first-grade daughters of a college friend of Definally.: “Does God have feet?”

The answer: Of course He does! Consider these instructive lyrics:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored

In order to trample a vintage, God needs feet. Q.E.D.

(Moreover, in the same way that “God’s wounds!” gave us Zounds!… “God’s feet” gives us the common tempered oath Zfeet!)

Fingers(+?) crossed.

In Definally on April 13, 2011 at 9:00 am

A person from a place wrote in to ask whether there is anything to be gained by crossing other body parts, in addition to one’s fingers, when hoping for something.

That depends, as set forth in the following table:

Eyes: Detrimental. You might walk into something, and/or your eyes might get stuck like that.
Arms: Practical. Says to others, Leave me alone. Do not distract me from my hoping.
Testicles: Unavailing and extremely painful.
Legs: Useful if the anxiety of waiting for a favorable outcome is causing you to feel like you need to relieve yourself. Not useful if you need to go somewhere.
Toes: Impossible. If not impossible, Definally. doesn’t want to know about it. Do not send photos. They will be deleted unviewed.

Postscript. (Post[-post]script?)

In Definally on April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

Yesterday’s entry was prompted by a question from a man named David, forwarded to me by his sister, Jennifer. I know both David and Jennifer, having grown up with them, though Jennifer more than David, as she and I are closer in age. But there was a period when David (who’s a couple of years older than Jennifer, who’s a a couple of years older than I am) and I did spend some quality time together, and I’m going to tell you about that time now.

When I was in seventh (or eighth, possibly sixth) grade, I was in a program for talented and gifted students (the “TAG Program”… get it?!), and this program had us smartypantses travel from our middle school (sixth through eighth grades) to the high school of our district (Union Free School District 14, Hewlett-Woodmere, New York… represent!), once, maybe twice, a week to be mentored by high school kids. The details are obviously quite hazy in my brain, this all having happened some 25 years ago, but the important facts are these:

David, then probably a high school senior, was my mentor for a part of the program; our project was to build an educational game for young children. I proposed that we construct a device very similar (or, really, exactly like) a game that one of my kid brothers had. It was essentially a short cardboard box onto which you placed a stiff card with written questions and answer options, each option having next to it a small metallic circle. You would touch the circle next to the answer of your choosing with a metallic-tipped stylus connected by wire to the box. If you chose the correct answer, a colored bulb on the box would light up(and maybe a bell would ring? I don’t remember).

It was a very, very simple device that all the same I had zero idea how to build. But David knew, or he figured it out. At the session before the last session of the program, at which we were supposed to present our finished projects, I had nothing. But for the final session, David brought in a complete, fully functioning “Masterful Matthew” device that did exactly what it was supposed to do. And David even let me call it “Masterful Matthew” despite that I’d be useless in the process of making this thing.


Mellifluous, flensive, et al.

In Definally on April 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

David B. of parts unknown writes, “There ought to be a word for words that sound like what they mean. Not onomatopoeia, but rather the way ‘mellifluous’ is a pleasant sounding word and ‘flensing’ sounds just about as bad as what it means. So what does Definally. have to say about that?”

Congratulations, David: You’ve pretty much confused the hell out of Definally. Usually Definally. is the confusing one! But let’s see what can be done here.

First we need to establish our premises:

Mellifluous means “sweet or musical; pleasant to hear.” You’re suggesting that the word mellifluous is itself mellifluous. Definally. agrees.

Flensing is the slicing of skin or fat from something (such as a carcass, usually that of a whale). Flensing doesn’t actually describe a word… although flense is related to flinch, so we might imagine a flensing (or flensive?) word to be one the sound of which makes someone flinch.

Fair enough. Now the challenge is to find, or just make up, a term that describes a word that has the quality of being self-descriptive.

Um, wait. Isn’t that the term? Self-descriptive word? Definally. thinks so.

Also: autological word (noun form: autonym), and sometimes homological word.

Damn it, David. You tricked us into looking something up. There will be payback….

Head over heels

In Definally on April 8, 2011 at 9:00 am

A curious and loyal reader who actually exists wants to know what the deal is with the expression “head over heels,” which is supposed to suggest an unusual circumstance (as in “head over heels in love”), even though having one’s head over one’s heels is the common state for most people who do not suffer from vertigo.

Some have suggested that “head over heels” is intended to convey the idea of flipping head over heels (e.g., as in performing a somersault), prompted by great enthusiasm, jubilation, or the like. Those persons are very much mistaken and should keep their irresponsible suggestions about the origins of common phrases to themselves.

In fact, the meaning of the phrase in question can only be perceived if we know the actual, original phrase: The Heel Bar was a popular pub in Victorian Framptonshire, England. (The name of the establishment was itself a pun on “heel bar,” a store counter where a customer’s shoes could be repaired while he waited. In fact, next door to the Heel Bar was a cobbler’s, Ye Olde Sole Shoppe.) Men (mostly) who had something to celebrate would “head over to Heel’s.”

If Heel’s were still around, Definally. would head over there to celebrate this, our 61st entry.


Let alone

In Definally on April 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

A naïve girl of our acquaintance writes: “I hear the term ‘let alone’ thrown around a lot in conversations. For instance, ‘I never learned how to roller skate, let alone ice skate.’ I’m confused by what ‘let alone’ really means. And in what order do we put the subjects—does the more extreme one come first or second?”

The phrase let alone in this context is the equivalent of “much less”—as in, “He can’t do X, much less Y”. In other words, he is capable of doing Y much less than he is capable of doing X (which is very little, or not at all. This raises the question whether one can be capable of doing something less than not at all).

Note that a let alone/much less sentence is always going to be a negative statement. You wouldn’t say, I hate cheese, let alone milk, let alone I love cheese, let alone milk. (See what Definally. did there?)

But why “let alone”? Because you’re telling the listener/reader to literally let the other thing be alone. As punishment, perhaps, for being worse than the first thing. Put it aside, you’re saying. DO NOT SPEAK TO IT! DO NOT SPEAK OF IT!

Now, as to which comes first: The one to be let alone should be the thing that is even more [whatever] than the other. But for this construction to work, the two things must be obviously related in a way that is relevant to the statement. You can’t say (and make any sense), “Jimmy can’t speak Ancient Greek, let alone replace a toilet.” These things have nothing to do with one another. Usually.

Therefore, there generally needs to be a context for a let alone statement. Returning to the original question, we might argue that the confession I never learned how to roller skate, let alone ice skate is meaningless by itself. There is an implication that learning to ice skate is more difficult that learning to roller skate, but this might not be true for everyone. If one were to say, on the other hand, “I never learned how to ice skate, let alone play ice hockey,” one would make more sense, since it is by definition more difficult to play hockey on ice than to skate on ice alone. (Another example might be, “I never learned to say the alphabet, let alone burp it.”)

(Passive) aggression

In Definally on April 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posting a sign to make someone (or, more likely, a group of persons, identities perhaps unknown) aware of a problem or circumstance is not, in itself, passive-aggressive (a term bandied about recklessly). The content of the sign might be passive-aggressive, of course, such as:

Are we collecting these empty boxes for a craft project? or Hey, it’s great that Definally. goes on hiatus, without notice, for a few days at a time, every so often. You guys deserve frequent breaks from putting up entries of fewer than 100 words three days a week.

Whereas these:

Throw out your fucking empty boxes! and Provide new Definally. entries every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 a.m., as you’ve promised to, damn it!

…are simply aggressive.

But there’s nothing inherently passive about posting a sign, is our point. In fact, it takes action to make and hang a sign! And action, by definition, is not passive.

The 4-1-1(1)

In Definally on April 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

Doug M., Ph.D. of Baltimore writes: “I was telling my partner about Definally. and what a great idea it seemed to me to be, but he thought it was totally stupid. Can you settle this for us?”

The answer might surprise you, Doug: Definally. is totally stupid!

Saying thanks.

In Definally on March 25, 2011 at 9:00 am

You do not need to thank someone for giving you a gift, if that gift is a token of the other person’s gratitude for something you did. Why? Because… well, where does it end? It should end with your accepting the thank-you gift and saying “You’re welcome,” if you feel you must say anything at all.

You’re welcome.


In Definally on March 23, 2011 at 9:00 am

BOGO is a bogus term. It stands for Buy One, Get One, which is meant to be an enticement to shop at a particular establishment. But every sale transaction is “Buy one, get one.” The ones are one and the same.

What stores that advertise “BOGO” really mean is BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free)—which is what BOGO used to be, in fact—or BOGT: Buy One, Get Two.

But BOGT is also not quite correct, because even if you get two items for the usual price of one, you’re still buying both. So BOGT should rather be Pay for One, Get Two, or PfOGT. (The P is silent.)

Joke or riddle? Comic or cartoon?

In Definally on March 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

What’s the difference between a joke and a riddle?

If there were a funny answer to that question, would it make the pair of question-and-answer a joke or a riddle?

The answer (to the second question) is: a joke. Because the answer to the first question is: A joke is funny; a riddle is not.

A riddle is a challenging question with a witty but not necessarily humorous answer. The most famous riddle is the so-called Riddle of the Sphinx: Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be? The answer—man—doesn’t exactly elicit guffaws. Sphinxes aren’t in the comedy business.

A joke, on the other hand, is intended to make a person laugh. Even when a joke is presented as a question and answer, the listener is typically not expected to actually try to answer the question. The joke-teller isn’t really asking, and for that reason doesn’t give the audience time to respond. (Indeed, jokes of this format are more often presented in print than delivered aloud.)

Speaking of print brings us to comics and cartoons, by way of those of previous generations who called the comic strips (in newspapers, for instance) the “jokes” (also the “funnies”). We’re talking now about those single- or multi-panel creatures (some of which also were not intended to be funny, in fact. Mary Worth, for example), in color or not. These are comics. But aren’t some of them cartoons? Or are cartoons only animated programs such as were Saturday morning television staples?

To be sure, animated programs are cartoons. But so are some comics. Or, rather, some items that look like comics are really cartoons (though they are not, of course, animated, appearing as they do in static media). A print cartoon is typically less funny than pointed, the prime example being the political cartoon. One typically doesn’t read political cartoons for amusement as much as for comfort in knowing that someone else finds what government is doing to be… well, laughable. (But not in the sense of funny.)

(For a post about some funny things, this post isn’t that funny. Definally. makes no apologies.)

Unscientific food temperature spectrum

In Definally on March 18, 2011 at 9:00 am

A spectrum of unscientific temperatures (of such things as food, for instance) might look like this:

  • Frozen (not necessarily literally frozen)
  • Cold
  • Cool
  • Tepid
  • Lukewarm
  • Warm
  • Hot
  • Piping hot
  • Scalding (even if there is no actual scalding involved)

In general, there are two things one can do with food to make it more palatable temperature-wise: heat it or cool it. That said, one might also ask that an item of food be “warmed.” Warming goes in one direction only: toward hot. You would never, ever ask that something be “warmed” or “made warmer” if it is too hot and you want it more toward the middle of the spectrum. People just don’t talk like that.


In Definally on March 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

A reader who wishes strenuously to remain anonymous writes, “Doughnut or donut? I have seen each spelling used both professionally and by laypersons. Does the product taste better when consumed with the understanding of the correct spelling?”

Well, Randy, you’ve actually stumbled upon a very interesting, if subtle, experiment undertaken by the Sweet, Deep-Fried Torus lobby. You see, in the beginning (1808), the baked good in question was termed a dough-nut (hyphenated) because it was, essentially, a nut (in the sense that it is shaped like the item that keeps a bolt in place) made of dough.

Over time (1808-1809), the hyphen fell out, and dough-nut became doughnut. This development presented a problem, however, as now in the middle of the treat was (the unpalatable) ugh. So a clever marketer decided (circa 1900) to take the ugh out of doughnut… et voila! Donut.*

The result is that one might enjoy a donut less when consumed knowing that it is properly spelt doughnut. Or that eating deep-fried, sugared dough will kill you.


*This is why the treats known as “donut holes” are also referred to as “ughs.”


In Definally on March 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

Janine S. of New York City writes, “On a recent episode of Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump gave the contestants what he called ‘two choices’: They could operate a pizzeria in either the West Village or Times Square. I say that’s just one choice.”

You’re correct, Janine. You trump The Donald in the vocabulary department.

Regardless of the number of options from which a person has to choose, she has a single choice to make. And then, when she has chosen (an option), she has not made her choice, but rather made her decision.

But there’s another important issue here, and that is of course where to operate a pizzeria. Let’s consider the pros and cons of each neighborhood:

West Village

Pro: Perpetually stoned residents with the munchies

Con: Residents require artisinal cuisine

Times Square

Pro: Heavy tourist traffic

Con: Exorbitant rents (in Trump-owned buildings)

* * *

After serious consideration flipping a coin, Definally. chooses option number one: the West Village. And that’s our decision.*


*Note: Definally. will not be opening a pizzeria in the West Village.


In Definally on March 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

You absolutely can dig yourself out of a hole.

Imagine yourself standing in a large hole in the ground. The lip of the hole is well over your head; you can’t simply step out. Also, the walls are too sheer to scale. You have a shovel. What do you do?

You dig, of course.* If you dig into the earth around you, moving the dirt from there to under your feet… eventually, you’ll displace enough to raise the floor of the hole, and with it yourself, so that you’ll be able to reach the edge with your hands, if not your feet.

Ta da.


*In the alternative, you might be able to shove(!) the shovel into the wall of the hole and use it (the shovel) as a step. But you’d have to be able to place it low enough that you could step onto it and yet high enough that you’d be able to reach the lip from there.


In Definally on March 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

Brian E. of New Hampshire writes from his rustic shack in the wilderness to ask, “How much is one iota?”

To answer this, we must first look to the source of the notion that one iota is in fact a measure of something, and that source is none other than the Gospel of Matthew (no relation). Matthew 5:18 states: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Hold that thought. It is important, before we go any further, to note that “iota” is properly pronounced not “i•o•tuh,” but rather “yo•ta.” (Bear this in mind.)

Returning to Matthew 5:18, we find a cross-reference to Luke 16:17, a very similar verse, at least in sentiment: But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Conspicuously absent from this verse, however, is iota! Therefore, our quest necessarily takes us to… Dagobah—where Luke was present when Iota passed (to become one with the Force). And what wisdom had Iota imparted unto Luke on Dagobah previously? “Size matters not.”

And there, Brian E. of New Hampshire, is the answer to your question.

(On a related note, the idea of heaven and earth passing away is obviously a prediction of the destruction of Alderaan.)

Lottery tickets

In Definally on March 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

The coin (as in, a quarter versus a nickel) you use to scratch off an instant lottery ticket in no way affects the outcome.

The runaround

In Definally on February 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

Jennifer K. of Philadelphia writes, “My friend Rachel is getting the runaround, but being told that it’s not the runaround. Is there any word for that?”

Indeed! The word is “Rachelround.” As in: If your friend needs to get her boss off her case, she could always give him a Rachelround.


Stones and moss

In Definally on February 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

Back to being decisive/divisive:

“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” So it is said. But is it a good thing for a stone to have no moss, or is it a bad thing? Presumably, it is one or the other, or else there wouldn’t be a saying about it. Consider our friend the early bird, who catches the worm. Catching a worm is a good thing, if you’re a bird… so being early is beneficial. But what about rolling, if you’re a stone?

The point is not merely academic, mind you. There are two schools of thought. Some believe that the moss in the adage represents stagnation, a dullness that results from inactivity. A bad thing, that is. Others maintain that moss is rather a positive growth, like roots. Therefore, the stone who never stops moving will make no friends, nothing to keep it in any one place for long. So which is it?

Gathering moss is a good thing… but for a reason other than the one posited above. “Moss” was once a slang term for money (in much the way that today “lettuce” and “cabbage” are; also “cheddar”). And “stones” were dice—to “roll the stones” meant to toss dice (just as today to “roll the bones” means as much). A die that has been tossed (as in a game of chance) but has not yet come to rest will bring the shooter (or, in the alternative, a person betting against him) no money because the outcome of the roll can not be yet determined. It is better, therefore, to be an unequivocal stone, one that stops rolling and can gather some moss, even if it’s for someone else’s benefit.


In Definally on February 23, 2011 at 10:00 am

This might seem unlike us, but today—in response to an inquiry from Rabbi Aaron Yeres of Long Island, New York—we tell you that there is no wrong way to write it. That is, each of the following is equally acceptable:

  • OK
  • O.K.
  • ok (Ok if at the start of a sentence)
  • o.k. (O.k.)
  • Okay

The controversy will return on Friday. Okay?


In Definally on February 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Washington would beat Lincoln in a fight, but Lincoln would beat Washington at both Scrabble and Donkey Kong.


In Definally on February 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

Randy R. from Florida, previously Georgia, writes, “Gray or grey? I spell it one way; my wife (incorrectly) spells it the other way.”

Well, Randy, while we commend you on your refreshingly proper use of the semicolon, we regret* to inform you that you and your beautiful wife are both (incorrect). The word you want is “blue,” as in the following sentence:

The American Civil War, fought between the northern states (known as the “Union”) and the southern states (the “Confederacy [of Crackers]”) over the issues of slavery and states’ rights, began when the pro-slavery southern states attempted to secede from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln on an anti-slavery platform; the brave Union soldiers (who soundly thrashed the cowardly, racist Southern soldiers) wore blue.

Unless you’re referring to the inventor Elisha Gray, rival of Alexander Graham Bell for a patent on the telephone, whose small business eventually became the Western Electric Company, in which case it’s “Gray.”


*not really

The squeaky wheel

In Definally on February 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

The squeaky wheel gets the grease: The idea is supposed to be that one who voices his complaint will have that complaint addressed. But actual squeaking from an actual wheel is itself the problem. A wheel that doesn’t squeak is not a shy wheel, but rather a wheel that discharges its duties properly—and such a wheel isn’t going to get grease… because it needs none! So what the adage tells us, if anything, is that the complainers will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

“Happy new year.”

In Definally on February 14, 2011 at 10:00 am

Yesterday was the last day it was acceptable to say that to someone.

Partly cloudy vs. partly sunny

In Definally on February 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

Dana L. of New York asks, “Doesn’t partly cloudy mean partly sunny, and vice versa?”

Definally. did some research (notwithstanding that research is antithetical to our mission) and discovered a simple answer: Partly cloudy should be used to describe predominant sky conditions only at night, when it is not possible for the conditions to be at all sunny. During the day, on the other hand, sky conditions should not be described in terms of cloudiness until they reach mostly cloudy, which is more cloudy than partly sunny, but less cloudy than simply cloudy.

Thanks for the question, Dana (and for the opportunity to answer it in a way that links to so many other Definally. posts).

Supposedly, reportedly, seemingly, evidently, apparently, and obviously.

In Definally on January 31, 2011 at 10:00 am

Supposedly: Use when a fact is rumored to be true. “Supposedly, the Earth is not flat, but round.”

Reportedly: Use when an source more authoritative than the grapevine disseminates a fact. “Reportedly, Christopher Columbus sailed his ships beyond the horizon.”

Seemingly: Use when an observable fact is contrary to the truth. “Columbus is seemingly in search of new lands for Spain to colonize, but it’s more likely that he left Europe to escape the Inquisition.”

Evidently: Use when there is observable but circumstantial proof of the truth of a fact: “Evidently, Queen Isabella does not care about Jews or Moors.”

Apparently: Use when the truth of a fact is observable, if one looks. “Queen Isabella is apparently crying. I noticed mascara running down Her Majesty’s cheeks. Perhaps she feels bad about the Inquisition.”

Obviously: Use when the truth of fact is unavoidably manifest. “Obviously, it is raining, Ferdinand. I mean, we’re soaking wet! And the royal mascara is running!” (FERDINAND: “Reportedly, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, yet we’re in the highlands. Who would have expected this?” ISABELLA: “Supposedly, nobody expects the Spanish precipitation!”)

Pie v. cobbler

In Definally on January 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

Otis J. of Durham writes: “Yesterday, I made an apple pie and a blueberry cobbler. What’s the difference between pie and cobbler?”

Well, Otis, a pie is a baked dish of fruit, or meat and vegetables, typically with a top and base of pastry. (Or it’s a pizza.)

A cobbler is a person who mends shoes for a living.

What? Okay, fine… A cobbler is a fruit pie with a rich crust on top. So the difference between pie and cobbler is the bottom crust. (As in, a cobbler has none.)

Being that Otis is a mathematician, let’s put this into arithmetic terms:

x pie – bottom crust = x cobbler*

Thanks for writing, Otis. May all your baked goods and footwear be serviceable.


*(where x = fruit)


In Definally on January 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

Even though one does something “on purpose,” she might do something else by accident (not “on accident”).

Jams, Jellies, Preserves, Conserves, Marmalades, Chutneys, and Dips

In Definally on January 24, 2011 at 10:00 am

As a rule, Definally. doesn’t post about things that can be looked up elsewhere. Definally. is not a dictionary, encyclopedia, or wiki-anything. Definally. resolves debates and disputes over matters of opinion. That said, from time to time we will clarify the differences between/among definitions of things that can be researched, albeit for reasons unclear. Today is one of those times.

(One more thing before we get to it. The verb form of Definally. has been chosen: It is Definalize. As in, “Would you please Definalize something for me?”)

Jam a sweet spread or preserve [ed.: !] made from fruit and sugar boiled to a thick consistency
Jelly a sweet, clear, semisolid, somewhat elastic spread or preserve [ed.: !!] made from fruit juice and sugar boiled to a thick consistency
Preserves food made with fruit preserved in sugar, such as jam [ed.: !!!] or marmalade [ed.: !!!!]
Conserves a food made by preserving [ed.: !!!!!] fruit with sugar; jam [ed.: !!!!!!]
Marmalade a preserve [ed.: !!!!!!!] made from citrus fruit, esp. bitter oranges, prepared like jam [ed.: !!!!!!!!]
Chutney a spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar, originating in India
Dip any thick sauce in which pieces of food are dunked before eating


In Definally on January 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Vanilla does not mean, and should never be used to mean, “bland.”

Vanilla is a spice—and the second most expensive spice after saffron, in fact. Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced rum? Spiced with vanilla.


In Definally on January 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

To encourage (literally: to put heart into) someone to do something, you need to do more than say, “I encourage you to [do that thing].” Merely saying that you encourage another person is tantamount to… enarming a knight before battle by saying, “I enarm you, Sir Tantamount,” without actually giving him any weapons. Saying, “I enarm you” is not effective.* Likewise, you need to give actual encouragement, typically by means of a full-blown pep talk. Or you could give someone an actual heart.


*It might also not be English.


In Definally on January 17, 2011 at 10:00 am

If you describe something as “proverbial,” there had better be a proverb that mentions that thing. Proverbial does not mean “figurative” (although a proverb itself is likely to be metaphorical); it doesn’t mean “famous,” either, per se. It means “as alluded to in a well-known, pithy saying.”

For example: Referring to the proverb “When the cat is away, the mice will play,” you might tell a friend, We caroused like the proverbial mice when our boss was at the management seminar. We photocopied our naughty parts, made prank calls, and didn’t complete our TPS reports….

Or you might brag that you were able to get a good parking spot at the office, like the proverbial early bird (who catches the worm).

But you can’t say, for instance, that the woman in the next cubicle babbles like the proverbial brook… because there is no proverb about a brook. (Well, in fact, there are several, but none—— oh, crap: “The shallower the brook, the more it babbles” is an Indonesian proverb. Who knew?! We need a new example… but anyway, we’re sure you get the point, unlike the proverbial imbecile who looks at the finger, when the finger points at the moon.)

What you may do with a tie

In Definally on January 14, 2011 at 10:00 am

It is perfectly acceptable to refer to the procedure of fastening a necktie around one’s collar as “making” a tie. That is, making a tie does not imply actually constructing one. It is too awkward to remark that one is “tying a tie” (or, worse, “going to tie a tie”—or, even worse than that, “trying to tie a tie”) …but one need not say that he needs to knot a tie or anything likewise affected.

Ice(d tea and otherwise)

In Definally on January 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

Tea with ice cubes in it is iced tea.

“Ice tea” is not a thing, but if it were it might describe tea that is frozen to solid form. On the other hand, it might not, as ice is frozen water only. And, for that matter, “ice cold” (or “cold as ice”) refers to a specific temperature, to wit: 0 degrees Celsius/32 degrees Fahrenheit/273.15 degrees Kelvin. Therefore, for something to be “ice cold,” it needs to be this temperature, and no warmer. Ice cold beer, for example, is very cold but still liquid beer (the freezing point of beer being lower than that of water). “Ice cold water,” however, is ice (the solid).

So water served with ice cubes might be best called “ice cooled water”… but nobody says that. Instead, our choices are, as with tea, “ice water” and “iced water.” As it happens, unlike with tea, water with ice cubes in it is ice water. Definally. takes no responsibility for the inconsistency.


In Definally on January 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

Disappointment is what one experiences when one’s expectation is not met. So, as an initial matter, if you have no expectation (about the outcome of a particular circumstance), then you can not be disappointed, no matter the outcome.

Disappointment is not the same things as sadness: If you expect your house to be blown down by a hurricane, for instance, you can be sad when exactly that happens (because you will have to live in a motel for a while, perhaps)—but you can not be disappointed. Just the opposite, for your expectation will have been fully met. To the contrary, if your house remains standing when the hurricane has passed, you will (presumably) be glad, but you should feel disappointment. And there’s no reason to feel bad about that.


Closet space

In Definally on January 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

Erika P. of Texas writes: “What’s the appropriate proportion for sharing a master bedroom closet? Is it based in gender, who owns more clothes, or some other metric?”

A terrific question, Erika. And perfect for us to answer, since we are a married couple of different genders (or sexes, if you want to be technical) with a single master bedroom. That said, our master bedroom has two closets. Ha, ha… no, we aren’t wealthy, and if we were it wouldn’t because of any sort of Definally. book deal… but our bedroom happens to have one built-in closet and one built-out closet, if that makes sense. Even if it doesn’t, that’s still what we have.

So let’s give this Definally. entry the personal touch: Before we became a couple, we were two single people, one of whom was already living in the apartment we now share. We’ll call that person “Matthew.” Matthew owns a lot of clothing—enough that he had filled not just both bedroom closets and a chest of drawers, but also a hall closet and part of another hall closet as well. (Yes, our apartment has many closets.) So when “Lauren” moved in, with her clothing (also in substantial quantities), we faced this very dilemma, more or less.

What did we do? We split both closets. That is, in one closet hang Lauren’s dresses and pants and Matthew’s 105 neckties (on the inside of the door); in the other are Matthew’s suits, dress shirts, and dress pants and many (but by no means all) of Lauren’s T-shirts. (The rest are in a chest of drawers of her own. One drawer, believe it or not, contains T-shirts she does not wear but is saving for crafts projects.)

But you asked a general question, Erika: What consideration(s) to take into account in order to divide (which by definition means to split into two, although not necessarily equal, parts) a limited amount of space. Let’s consider the ones you mentioned:

Gender. That is, should the woman get more space because… well, because she’s a woman? That makes no sense. Likewise the converse. And this presupposes that the two persons sharing a closet are of different sexes, of course. If both partners are of a single sex, then obviously preference for one sex is meaningless. And if a method would not work for same-sex couples, then it can’t be the right one for different-sex couples. So it’s not this one.

Quantity of clothes. But one suspects that the suggestion of giving one partner more room based on her (or his…  but probably her) sex is really based in the stereotype that women have more clothing than men. So that last paragraph was a red herring anyway. The real question is whether the partner with more to store gets a greater part of the storage space. This doesn’t seem fair, either. For what if the proportions change over time? What if, say, the proportions of one partner himself or herself change over time, necessitating the acquisition of new clothing… without the immediate discarding/donation to a legitimate charity/use in crafts projects of the old clothing, perhaps because the partner who has unintentionally put on or lost some poundage intends, in the new year, to get back to his or her fighting form? Does that entitle the partner with the fluctuating body mass index to annex the other partner’s closet space? Hardly. Such inattention to one’s own health and well-being should not be rewarded!

So what remains? Really, only two options could ever be considered even remotely fair: A strict 50/50 split of the closet space, or (and this is the option Definally. endorses) an all-or-nothing arrangement (wherein one partner gets the entire closet and the other makes do with whatever storage space can be found elsewhere in the home—garage (and car) included), as determined by a simple coin toss. Definally. recommends calling “heads,” because, as everyone knows, a coin comes up heads more often.

Chicken or egg?

In Definally on January 5, 2011 at 10:00 am

It’s hard to believe it’s taken us two months to get to this classic debate, but here we are now, (de)finally.

The question typically posed as “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” is both a literal theological/philosophical question about how the Universe (or, at least, chickens) came into being and a metaphysical metaphor for a causality dilemma. Definally. is interested in neither of these, but rather in a third concern, that being one in which the chicken and the egg are foodstuffs, and the issue is which is to be eaten first. And the answer to that is obvious: the egg. Who has chicken for breakfast? No one. But there are hundreds of egg-centric recipes for breakfast foods, from the simple hardboiled egg to the omelette to huevos rancheros to shakshouka! Heck, some people eat raw eggs first thing in the morning, and to them we say: Thanks for cracking (open) this centuries-old conflict.


In Definally on January 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

Kate L. of California shows how it’s done and writes: “King-size bed or king-sized bed?”

King-sized bed, Kate. As in, a bed that has been sized for a king (and therefore is large enough to hold all of his majesty).

A king-size bed, in contrast, would be a bed simply the size of a king, which could be not very large at all, if it needs to accommodate only His Majesty. (Consider Pepin the Short, first King of the Franks (752-768), who was all of four feet, nine inches tall, and slept in a armoire drawer—well appointed, but still pretty small).

Thanks for writing, Kate!

Best of the Beatles

In Definally on December 27, 2010 at 10:00 am



In Definally on December 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

A hideout describes any hiding place, but especially one used by someone who has broken the law. (A hideout that is not spacious—such as one in a major metropolis, where rents are exorbitant and owning isn’t a option for any but the most successful criminals—might have a hideaway bed.)

The term lair—which comes from the German word Lager (“storehouse”)—is a hideout that serves beer.

A fortress is a heavily armed and protected stronghold. While a fortress is, technically, a hideout (if someone is in fact hiding out there), the fortress itself will be difficult, if not impossible, to hide, unless it is located in a neighborhood zoned for fortresses.

A retreat is a any hideout near a beach or where visitors engage in team-building exercises.


In Definally on December 22, 2010 at 10:00 am

It is always T-shirt, never “t-shirt.” (If your torso and shoulders resemble a lowercase t, you might need medical attention.)

And, really, every shirt is a T-shirt, as long as it has sleeves (2).

Selected bugs: Disgusting, not so gross, or awesome.

In Definally on December 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

Ladybugs: Ladies are never gross.

Silverfish: Disgusting. Not silver, not a fish, and creepy as hell.

Crickets: Disgusting to look at, but awesome because they reveal the secrets of the weather…  if you know Dolbear’s Law. (If not, go outside for a minute without a jacket; you won’t need a cricket.)

Spiders: Not so gross, due in no small part to good PR from Charlotte’s Web… but still sort of creepy.

Flies: Disgusting. Too many eyes, and nasty landing habits. Plus: dung fetish.

Centipede: Not so gross. Kind of cool, actually.

Millipede: Disgusting, and showy.

Caterpillar: Not so gross if it plans to turn into a butterfly, but disgusting if it grows up to be a moth. Awesome if it becomes Mothra.

One hand vs. the other hand

In Definally on December 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

When someone makes two suggestions, introducing the first with “on (the) one hand” and the second with “on the other hand,” if the person is left-handed, then the first hand is his/her left hand, making the second suggestion the right suggestion, always. Otherwise, the first suggestion is the right one.



In Definally on December 15, 2010 at 10:00 am

When you ask someone, “How are you?” and you receive the response, “Fine,” the other person is telling you only that he or she is still alive and no member of his or her immediate family has died since you last asked.


Going “on 3”

In Definally on December 13, 2010 at 10:00 am

If you make up with someone to “go on 3,” then you have to go on, not after, 3. So your cohort and you count together, “One… two… three!” You are already going by now. You do not first start to go after you both say, “Three!” You say, “Three!” and you go at the same time (as each other, and as you are saying “Three!”)

Easy as pie

In Definally on December 10, 2010 at 11:00 am

If something is “easy as pie,” it is precisely as simple to do as combining, in a bowl, two cups of all-purpose flour and one teaspoon of salt, cutting in ¾ of a cup of shortening; gradually adding four tablespoons of cold water, one tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture lightly with a fork until the dough forms a ball; chilling the mixture for 30 minutes; rolling, on a floured surface, half of the dough into a 10-inch circle; placing the dough into a nine-inch pan; tossing, in a bowl, seven cups of thinly sliced peeled baking apples with two tablespoons of lemon juice; combining one cup of sugar, ¼ of a cup of flour, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and ¼ of a teaspoon of ground nutmeg and adding these to the apples and tossing; pouring this mixture into the crust; dotting it with two tablespoons of butter; rolling out the remaining pastry to fit the top of the crust, cutting slits in the top, and placing it over the filling; sealing and fluting the edges; beating one egg yolk and one tablespoon of water and brushing this mixture over the pastry; baking the whole thing at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes; then reducing the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and baking it for 40-45 minutes more or until the crust is golden and filling is bubbly, no more and no less.


In Definally on December 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

Moving a scheduled event forward (or “pushing it up”) does not mean moving it forward in time (e.g., further toward the end of days), but rather means holding it sooner. Pushing or moving it back means holding it later.

How to spell selected sounds (part 3)

In Definally on December 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

Ch-ching! (also ka-ching!) is the sound of a(n old) cash register. (The sound of a modern cash register is beep.)

Hmm… is the sound of thinking. Hmmph! is the sound of scorn. Harrumph! is the sound of scorn in the 1930s.

Meh expresses apathy. Meow expresses catpathy.

Ooh! is a sound of delight. Oof! is a sound of being punched in the stomach.

Um is a sound of simple hesitation. Er is a sound of… er, more sophisticated hesitation. Erm is used to express abashed hesitation.

Wah waah is the sound of a sad trombone. Whoo (hoo)! is an exclamation of glee.

Yikes! is a word expressing shock and alarm. Yoicks! is a word used by fox hunters to urge on the hounds.

Zounds! expresses surprise, indignation, or indignant surprise.


In Definally on December 3, 2010 at 11:00 am

In the phrase “the nth time”—as in, “for the nth time during the trial I was asked to account for my whereabouts on the night my neighbor’s dog and shovel disappeared”: n = 7.

In the phrase “the nth degree”—as in, “the gullibility of the jury was tested to the nth degree by my testimony”: n = 1,304.

It’s Chanukah.

In Definally on December 1, 2010 at 11:00 am

















How to spell selected sounds (part 2: laughter)

In Definally on November 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

Ha is a single syllable of good-natured laughter. (Often doubled for “Ha ha”).

Har is a single, syllable of sarcastic laughter; har-de-har-har is four of them.

Heh, heh is sniggering. Comma required.

Hee hee (or Tee hee) is tittering. No comma.

Ho ho (ho) is jolly chuckling. Comma(s) optional.

Haw haw! is an expression of derision. Hyphen optional (“Haw-haw!”)

Evil laughter begins with Mwa ha ha…, hysterical laughter with Bwa ha ha….

Nyuk is a syllable of Stooge laughter. (Often doubled or even tripled.)

The jet set

In Definally on November 26, 2010 at 11:00 am

There is no such thing as a “jet-setter.”

One might be a member of the jet set (that is, those wealthy and fashionable persons who travel widely and frequently for pleasure), but each such person is, at most, a jetter.

Usage examples:

Andy Pettite is in the jet set. Derek Jeter is a jetter.


In Definally on November 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

In descending order of value to society:

Nerd. While single-minded, the nerd possesses a redeeming intelligence: A nerd might prefer to program a computer than to go on a date, but the world needs computer programmers.

Geek. A geek has an eccentric devotion to an interest not usually of widespread benefit, such as role-playing games.

Dweeb. A dweeb is, like a nerd, extremely studious. The defining characteristic of a dweeb, however, is that he is boring. (Also, often, abnormally small.)

Dork. Dorks are slow-witted.

Twit. Twits are downright foolish.

Freak. A freak is typically physically deformed and addicted to drugs.

How to spell selected sounds (part 1)

In Definally on November 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

Aye, aye is what a seafaring subordinate says to his superior to indicate assent. Oy, oy, oy is what a Jewish mother says upon learning that her child is going to sea.

Oh! expresses surprise; Ow! expresses pain. Aw(w) expresses sympathy (or reaction to a video of, for example, a baby panda and a kitten rolling a duckling back and forth). Ew expresses disgust; also ugh. Uh oh expresses trepidation/unease.

Guh is the term for frustration commingled with resignation.

Huh? is how one indicates confusion. Uh huh indicates agreement. Unh uh indicates disagreement. A ha! indicates understanding, finally.

Relief is spelt either Phew! or Whew!

Whoa! is how you spell what you say to make a horse stop.

Yea is an affirmative vote. Yay! is a cheer. Yeah! is a cry of exultation.


In Definally on November 19, 2010 at 11:00 am

A secondas in “I’ll just be a second” or “Wait a second”—is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.

A minute is sixty seconds.

A moment is three seconds.

Dessert drinks (dairy)

In Definally on November 17, 2010 at 11:00 am

A milkshake is made of milk, a sweet flavoring such as fruit or chocolate, and ice cream, whisked until frothy.

A float is a soft (i.e., nonalcoholic, usually carbonated) drink (e.g., soda) with a scoop of ice cream floating in it.

An ice cream soda is a float in which the ice cream is no longer floating. Also known as an ice cream sunk.

A malted combines milk, a malt preparation, and ice cream or flavoring.

A frappe [pronounced “frap”] in New England is a milkshake, especially one made with ice cream (which, reportedly, is optional in a New England milkshake). A frappé is a foam-covered cold coffee.

An egg cream contains neither egg nor cream, but rather consists of milk and soda water, flavored with syrup (typically chocolate, sometimes vanilla). The longstanding debate over who invented the egg cream will not be resolved here.

Who gets the last seat on a bus

In Definally on November 15, 2010 at 11:00 am

In ascending order of priority:

Able-bodied adult male



Pregnant or perhaps just fat woman

Definitely pregnant woman

Elderly woman

President of the United States of America

Elderly pregnant orphan

Bus driver

Times of day

In Definally on November 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

Morning: From sunrise to 11:00 a.m.
Late morning: 11:00 a.m. to noon
Noon: 12:00 p.m. (the whole minute)
Afternoon: From 12:01 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Prevening: From 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Evening: From 6 p.m. to sunset
Night: From sunset to sunrise


*If sun sets before 6 p.m., then there is no evening. If before 4:45, then afternoon goes straight into night.

Crossword puzzles

In Definally on November 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

If you’re doing a crossword puzzle and you look at a Down clue to help you with an Across clue, even if you know the Down answer, if you think of the Across answer immediately, you are ethically obligated to fill it in first.


In Definally on November 8, 2010 at 10:00 am

An “all-star” team or cast is one composed wholly of outstanding players or performers. (The “wholly” is what gives the term “all-star” its first part.) The players or performers themselves are not “all-stars.” They are just stars. (An “all-star athlete” would himself or herself have to comprise only star components—like star arms and star legs and a star torso and a star head, and maybe even a star attitude as well.)

A nice day versus a beautiful day

In Definally on November 4, 2010 at 10:00 am

A beautiful day:

Sunny, no clouds.

72° F.

Slight breeze.

No precipitation, but a rainbow.

Birds singing.


A nice day:

Sunny, with some clouds.

70°, 71°, 73°, or 74° F.

Gentle wind.

Possible brief sun shower.

Dogs barking.

Liberal = Conservative

In Definally on November 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Conservatives hold to traditional values and attitudes and are averse to change. What, exactly, do conservatives in the United States want to conserve? Freedoms, of course, and specifically those freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Liberals are open to new opinions and willing to discard traditional values. The word liberal comes from the Latin liberalis, from liber, meaning “free.” Conservatives and liberals both want to be free. They are therefore exactly the same.


Air conditioning

In Definally on November 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

“Turn the A/C higher” means “make the cold air come out stronger,” not “raise the temperature.”

Numbers of things

In Definally on November 1, 2010 at 12:15 am
A couple (of magic beans) 2
Some (magic beans) 3-4
A few (magic beans) 5
Several (magic beans) 7-11
A dozen (magic beans) 12
A baker’s dozen (of magic beans) 13
Many (magic beans) 14-20
A lot (of magic beans) >20


In Definally on November 1, 2010 at 12:00 am

“Next,” when used to modify a day of the week, indicates that instance of the day that will arrive with the turn of the week. (Nota bene: The standard week begins on Sunday and ends on Saturday.)

If it is, for example, Tuesday, March 12, and you want to tell your spouse that you will be home late from work on Thursday, March 21, then you say, “Honey, I’ll be home late next Thursday,” and then your spouse will have no reason to think that you will be home late two days, rather than nine days, hence. If you want to advise that you will be home late in just two days, then say, “I will be home late Thursday.”

If you will be home late eight days hence, on March 20, then you may say, “Honey, I will be home late on Wednesday.” This is not an exception to the rule, however. The reason that you need not say “next Wednesday” even though there is an intervening Wednesday between the day you are advising your spouse and the day you will be home late is because there is a more appropriate term for the intervening Wednesday, viz.: “tomorrow.” (If it is Tuesday and you say that you will be home late “on Wednesday,” and your spouse is surprised the following night when you arrive home at your usual time, the fault is not yours.)