The Toad's Words

Excursus #16

I received this comment on Toadie #15 from my friend, Lisa in Australia:

Sir Toad,

Perhaps a peculiarly Australian meaning for the word 'grouse'.... cool, excellent, great, wicked, etc. In context: "Silverchair are grouse" "saw a totally grouse movie yesterday"



Thanks, Lisa. I guess 'bitchin,' as a synonym to your version of 'grouse' would date me.

In an earlier one of the Toadies we investigated words that were based on real people's names. Here we look at words that come from fictitious people's names. When I started this one, I thought I could come up with a large list. I then discovered that you have to be well read to do that. I almost cheated and used Romeo and Scrooge, but figured that would be trite. I then thought about using names from mythology (Herculean, Bacchanalian, psyche, echo, narcissism), but decided they would make another column. Eventually, I remembered enough words to make a complete column. Here goes:

Malapropism, noun

A ridiculous misuse of words. This is usually made by switching the meanings of two (usually polysyllabic) words that have similar sounds.

This word comes from Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheriden's comedy The Rivals, written in 1775. Mrs. Malaprop regularly misused elegant words with usually funny results. Sheriden's "Malaprop" is a truncated form of "malapropos" which means out of place or at the wrong time. This comes directly from the French expression mal propos, which literally means bad for the purpose.

Malapropisms tend to fall in two categories: 1) classical malapropisms - when the mistake is due to ignorance, and 2) slips of the tongue.

After the doctor said she would give Fred an anecdote to treat his rattlesnake bite, Fred panicked until he remembered that she was prone to malapropisms when under pressure.

Paparazzo, noun

A free lance photographer who pursues celebrities to take candid photos to sell to magazines and newspapers. Paparazzi is the plural form. This comes from a character, Signor Paparazzo, in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Fellini based the character on the real life Tazio Secchiaroli, who is said to have created the concept of taking and selling candid pictures of celebrities.

The paparazzi were so thick outside the San Lorenzo that we had a hard time going from our taxi to the restaurant.

Yahoo, noun

Pronounced yaw (a as in jaw), hoo, the accent on the yaw.

A 'yahoo' is a brute in human form. A crude, brutish, uncultured person. The word was coined by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels. Swift's Yahoos are the uncultured vulgar human beings who work for the cultured ruling class, the "Houyhnhnhnms," who have the bodies of horses.

Certain people want us to believe that all paparazzi are yahoos.

Babbitt, noun

A self-satisfied, complacent person chiefly interested in business, middle-class ideals, and acceptance. He is a conformist by nature. Babbitt is the main character in Sinclair Lewis' book of the same title. Note that with this pejorative meaning, Babbitt is capitalized. A 'babbitt,' with no caps, is an alloy of tin, copper, and antimony used in bearings.

Despite her attempts at wearing bohemian clothes, volunteering for minority causes, and having an affair with a surfer, Mary Yuppie was a Babbitt at heart.

Quixotic, adjective

Pronounced kwik sot ik, with the accent on sot.

"To dream the impossible dream..."

"To right the unrightable wrong..."

"To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause..."

Lyrics by Joe Darion

Idealistic without regard to practicality. Impractically romantic and chivalrous. A visionary, after the character Don Quixote de La Mancha from Miguel de Cervantes' book Don Quixote. Note that 'Quixote,' the name, is usually pronounced (key ho tay) but the adjective is basically pronounced in gringo English.

During presidential campaigns the candidates quite often want to appear quixotic but usually come off more like Sancho Panza, and in many cases act like Aldonza.

Jabberwocky, noun

"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe."

Lewis Carroll

A form of nonsensical speech or writing. Lewis Carroll introduced the Jabberwock in Alice Through the Looking Glass. Alice found the poem Jabberwocky which was printed backwards. Upon holding up a mirror she read Jabberwocky. The first verse is printed above.

The Navy manual was so full of acronyms and abbreviations that it read like jabberwocky.

Goon, noun

A stupid person. A person hired to break up labor disputes. Named after the cartoon character, Alice the Goon, created by Elzie C. Segar for the comic strip Thimble Theater (commonly known as Popeye). Alice the Goon had a hulking body, a big nose, a bald head and hairy shins and forearms but was basically good-hearted.

It was easy to convince the quixotic Hiram to work as a goon against the striking journalists because he thought they were all yahoos who only wrote jabberwocky and encouraged paparazzi.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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