A Glimpse Into the Kitchen of Language

By Rob Kyff

October 14, 2020 4 min read

We often create words in the same way we prepare delicious foods: We slice them, dice them, season them, shake them and bake them. Voila!

Can you determine the method used to form the words in each set:

1) piano, aps, abs, sophs.

2) maudlin, tawdry, fortnight, bedlam.

3) chortle, brunch, motel, smog.

4) cuss, bust, passel, buddy.

5) burgle, enthuse, intuit, emote.

6) pea, cherry, succor, kudo.

7) laser, scuba, modem, sonar.

8) boycott, shrapnel, saxophone, sandwich.


1) They're all clippings of longer words — pianoforte, applications, abdominals, sophomores.

2) They're all contractions of much longer phrases: maudlin — Mary Magdalene (because she often cried); tawdry — St. Audrey's lace (which was considered cheap and gaudy); fortnight — 14th night; bedlam — Bethlehem (from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, an asylum for the insane).

3) They're all blends of two words: chortle — chuckle + snort; brunch: breakfast + lunch; motel: motor + hotel; smog: smoke + fog.

4) They're all words formed by dropping the "r" from an existing word — curse, burst, parcel, brother (believed to be derived from toddlers' pronunciations of "brother").

5) They're all verbs back-formed from nouns — burglar, enthusiasm, intuition, emotion.

6) They're all false singulars (singular English nouns formed when a singular foreign word ending in "s" was mistaken for a plural) — "pease" (Old English for "pea"); "cherise" (Old North French for "cherry"); "sucurs" (Old French for "assistance"); "kudos" (Greek for "praise").

7) They're all acronyms (words formed from the first letters of words): laser — l(ight) a(mplification by) s(timulated) e(mission of) r(adiation); scuba — s(elf-) c(ontained) u(nderwater) b(reathing) a(pparatus); modem — mo(dulator) + dem(odulator); sonar — so(und) na(vigation and) r(anging).

8) They're all eponyms — words derived from people's names. Charles Boycott, an Irish land agent, was ostracized and shunned by angry farmers during the 1880s, so "boycott" came to mean "to refuse to have dealings with a person or business." During the early 1800s, Henry Shrapnel, a British ordnance officer, developed a weapon that dispersed lethal metal shards. The Belgian instrument-maker Antoine Joseph Sax devised this instrument during the mid-1800s. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, so relished pieces of meat between slices of bread (sometimes with actual relish) that this culinary creation was named for him.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: Daria-Yakovleva at Pixabay

Like it? Share it!

  • 0

The Word Guy
About Rob Kyff
Read More | RSS | Subscribe