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Dictionary and Word Games

Who among us has not spent time thumbing through a dictionary, whiling away some time finding interesting words and meanings? I’m betting that almost all of us have done this a time or two. Many (most?) among us would proudly admit  to being a logophile, a person who loves words.

One of the great things about the law school is that it’s filled with logophiles. The law is, after all, a text-based discipline; we work with words all day. It stands to reason that those who work with words would find them interesting in and of themselves and would enjoy reading and learning about words and even playing games with them.

 

If you count yourself among those who enjoy words, you probably know about Merriam-Webster’s “word of the day” site. If you subscribe to this free service, you will receive a daily email with a word definition that includes written and audio pronunciations. You can browse “words at play” (link at the top of the site) which is a variety of vocabulary and spelling quizzes, and you can play word games (link at the top of the site), read about trending words, and find articles about interesting words. Here, for example, is a sample article: 17 Red, White, and Blue Political Terms. Even those who are not true logophiles can find hours of fun stuff to read here.

New words and definitions are added to the dictionary at least every year. Reading the dictionary never gets old! Here are some examples of recent additions to reflect the pandemic (and other current developments) as well as an updated definition of racism.

 

(For those who also enjoy a bit of history, here is an interesting note about the name “Webster’s Dictionary.” Noah Webster’s Webster’s Dictionary, compiled in 1805, is widely recognized as the first true American dictionary. Today’s Merriam-Webster dictionaries are the direct descendants of that first American dictionary. All other dictionaries that use the  “Webster’s” name are just trying to capitalize on Noah’s legacy.)

 

If you appreciate the various word games available at the Merriam-Webster site, you will surely enjoy the challenge of finding “kangaroo words.” A kangaroo word is a word that contains within it its own synonym, with the letters of the included word in the correct order. The included word is referred to as a “joey,” a baby kangaroo.

 

For example, the word “blossom” has a joey: “bloom.” A “twin joey” is a kangaroo word that has two included synonyms. “Alone” has twin joeys: “lone” and “one.” The key to finding a joey is that the letters of the included word must be in order—no rearrangement necessary.

A gigantic (joey = giant) list of kangaroo words can be found at Wiktionary. If you want to challenge yourself, you can cut and paste parts of the list into a Word document and eliminate the bold and italic fonts and green highlighting that give you all the joeys, and then start finding those elusive joeys on your own. Here is a starter set of kangaroo words for you to play with, all from the Wiktionary list:

  • Aggravated

  • Before

  • Clump

  • Damsel

  • Exists

  • Feasted (look for twin joeys)

  • Grandiose

  • History

  • Insignia

  • Joviality

Once you’ve master kangaroo words, you may want to branch out a bit. The Washington Post runs several series of word games in its “Style Invitational” feature (the Post is available on Lexis— at the main page, under Secondary Materials > News > Top Publications > The Washington Post and enter “style invitational” with the quote marks in the search box). This week’s contest is called “’Covid’-free zone!” and readers are asked to coin a word or phrase without using a C, O, V, I or D, and describe what they have coined. The prizes are eccentric, often like a “Loser mug” or “Loser pen” for second or third place. Readers beware that the Washington Post has a distinct editorial—and game—bias, often also reflected in readers’ submissions. I am curious to see the results of this game, which will show up in about two weeks.

 

In addition to the Covid-free zone game, this week’s Style Invitational column runs the answers for a previous game,” Cut! Shortened movie titles” with the 4th place going to:

  • AN INCONVENIENT (t)RUTH: Alito and Kavanaugh find their plans stymied at every turn by a supernatural force.

 

Another frequent Washington Post word game—the neologism—challenges you to provide “alternative meanings for common words.”  Recent winners include:

  • Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

  • Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

  • Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

  • Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

  • Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

  • Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavoured mouthwash.

  • Flatulence (n.), emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

  • Flatulence (n.), emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

 

“Style Invitational” regularly offers yet another game that asks readers to take any word from the dictionary (logophiles rejoice!) and alter it in one of several ways, for example by adding a letter, removing one, or changing one, and then supply a new definition. Here are some examples:

  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
  • Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  • Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
  • Karmageddon (n): It's like, when everybody is sending off all these Really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
  • Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
  • Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
  • Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

 

An extensive archive of Washington Post games can be found here.

This weekend, for a change of pace, grab your favorite dictionary and browse through some of the million words in the English language (literally!). Afterwards, find a piece of paper and a pencil and play some word games. Your inner logophile will love it!