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40 Grandiloquent G-Words To Grow Your Vocabulary

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Just as the letter J is derived from I and the letter U is derived from V, G actually began life around 2,300 years ago as a variant of the letter C. Before then, C had been used in Latin to represent both the hard “g” sound and, alongside letter K, the softer “k” sound. But as K steadily fell out of popularity among Roman scholars, C ended up being used in so many different contexts that it soon became necessary to differentiate between them—and so the new letter G, championed by a former Roman slave-turned-educator named Spurius Carvilius Ruga, took over the “g” sound and has remained in use ever since.

Today, you can expect G to account for just under 2% of any page of written English, and roughly the same proportion of words in a dictionary—including grandiloquence, the use of haughty, extravagant language.

1. GABBLE-RATCHET

As well as being an old English dialect word for a noisy child, a gabble-ratchet is any nocturnal bird that makes a lot of noise at night, once considered to be an ill omen.

2. GADZOOKERY

The old-fashioned exclamation Gadzooks! dates back to the early 1600s but remained in popular use through to the late Victorian era. It’s an example of what’s known as a “minced oath,” a linguistic phenomenon in which a potentially offensive or blasphemous expression is transformed into a weaker, less offensive one. In this case, the exclamation “God’s hooks!”—a sacrilegious reference to the nails used to secure Jesus to the cross—morphed into Gadzooks!, Zookers!, Zoodikers!, and all manner of other much less offensive forms. In turn, Gadzooks itself is the origin of gadzookery, a term coined in 1955 to refer to the deliberate use of old fashioned language.

3. GALACTOPOTE

A 17th century word for someone who drinks milk.

4. GANDIVEESE

As a verb, the old Scots word gandiveese can be used to mean “to stare bemusedly.” As a noun, it’s a name for an fictitious illness invented as a reason to get out of doing something.

5. GARDEVINE

An 18th century word for a wine bottle. Literally means “wine-keeper.”

6. GASPIPE-CRAWLER

An old slang nickname for a thin, scrawny-looking man.

7. GAZING-STOCK

Just as you can be a laughing-stock, you can also be a gazing-stock—namely, someone who’s being gazed at by a group of people. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you can also be a gaping-stock, a mocking-stock, a scorning-stock, and a pointing-stock.

8. GEPHYROPHOBIA

The fear of crossing bridges. Other G-fears include gynophobia (fear of women), gamophobia (fear of marriage), and gymnophobia (fear of nudity).

9. G.H.!

Apparently derived from a London printer named George Horne who had a habit of retelling old news, G.H.! is an old English slang exclamation used as a reply to someone who has just told you something you already knew.

10. GITHERMENTS

A random assortment of unmatching things.

11. GLAAB

An old Scots word for a break or opening between two things—like clouds or hills—through which something distant can be seen.

12. GLABREATE

To make something smooth or plain is to glabreate it…

13. GLABREITY

…while glabreity or glabrity is a more formal name for baldness.

14. GLACITATE

Geese don’t just honk, they glacitate. Chickens, on the other hand, glocidate.

15. GLIM-FLASHEY

A 17th century slang word meaning “extremely angry.”

16. GLOAR

To stare at something vacantly.

17. GNOMON

The spike on a sundial? That’s a gnomon.

18. GOKEY

Any hole for peering through is a gokey.

19. GONGOOZLER

An old English dialect word for someone who lazes or idles around, staring vacantly at something. It originally specifically referred to people who like to watch the coming and going of boats on a canal.

20. GOTHAMIST

A Gothamist or Gothamite is literally someone who lives in Gotham—but probably not the Gotham City you’re thinking of. Long before it became another name for New York City (and, before that, Newcastle upon Tyne), Gotham was used as far back as the 16th century as a byword for any isolated backwater town or village whose population were seen as rough or unsophisticated; essentially, it was a Tudor English equivalent of what we might call “Nowheresville” or “Hicksville” today. Whether in this context Gotham derives from a genuine place or not is debatable, but nevertheless it and its inhabitants were once the subject of a number of old English folktales and folk songs about proverbially foolish country bumpkin-type characters going about doing predictably stupid things: one such song involved three men from Gotham who went to sea in a sieve, while another was about a merchant from Gotham who carried a huge sack of grain on his back while riding his horse so that the horse didn’t have to carry the excess weight. As a result, thanks to stories like these, a Gothamist is essentially a fool or simpleton, or else someone who goes about something in a misinformed, ludicrous way.

21. GRAMINOUS

Anything covered in grass is graminous.

22. GRAVEOLENCY

A bad smell.

23. GRAVIDATE

Gravid, derived from a Latin word meaning “heavy” or “burdened,” is a more formal word for being pregnant, and so to gravidate is to make or become pregnant. If you’re gravigrade, incidentally, you’re heavy-footed, while graviloquence is heavy, sombre speech.

24. GREASEHORN

An 18th century word for a toadyish, sycophantic person.

25. GRINAGOG

A 16th century word for someone who always appears to be grinning.

26. GRINNING-STITCHES

Noticeably wide or loose stitches done in haste (or by someone who isn’t good at sewing) are grinning-stitches.

27. GROOFLINS

Derived from an old Scandinavian word, if you’re lying grooflins, then you’re lying face down. Grufeling, derived from the same root, is an old Scots word meaning “closely wrapped up” or “comfortable-looking.”

28. GROWLERY

“This, you must know, is the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.” Coined by Charles Dickens in Bleak House, a growlery is anywhere you like to retreat to when you’re unwell or in a bad mood.

29. GRUGGLE

To crease or crumple something is to gruggle it.

30. GUBERNATRIX

To gubernate is to govern, and so a gubernator is a governor while a gubernatrix is a governess.

31. GUESSING-STORY

A puzzle or riddle.

32. GULLY-FLUFF

Early 19th century slang for the dust and lint that accumulates in your pockets.

33. GUMFLOUR

An old Scots dialect word for an artificial flower, followed by…

34. GURLIEWHIRKIE

…an old Scots word for an act of premeditated revenge.

35. GUT-FOUNDERED

Extremely hungry.

36. GUTTERING-PEG

What’s a guttering-peg? Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. Long before practical jokers were sending unsuspecting people on snipe hunts or to go and fetch left-handed screwdrivers, gullible workman were being sent for guttering-pegs—a 17th century fool’s errand.

37. GWENDERS

An 18th century word for the numbness or tingling felt in the fingers when they’re cold.

38. GWIDGY-GWEE

An old English dialect word for a small bruise or blood blister caused by a nip or pinch.

39. GYNOCRACY

A government ruled by women.

40. GYTRASH

An old Yorkshire dialect word (pronounced “guy-trash”) for a ghost or spirit that takes the form of an animal. Charlotte Brontë described one in Jane Eyre.

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5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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