“To scrump” is to steal fruit, although it generally is used to mean to steal apples.There appears to be some disagreement over whether the apples have to come from an orchard or garden as opposed to any other apple tree.

More on this word here and here.

Texas Sharpshooters


A “texas sharpshooter” is someone who fires at the side of a barn and then draws bull’s eyes around the bullet holes. It’s a common logical fallacy used to show false causation. Watch out for claims based on isolated bits of data, especially if there is no broader context.

More here and here.

From George Orwell


“The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

If you have never read this essay, the whole thing is here. Go read it now.



Someone who is undecided or wavering. The verb form is “to swither.”  Comes from Scotland (topical!) and is in much more common use there. Almost onomatopoeic, or maybe just close to “slithering.”

More on this word from The Bottle Imp:

Not necessarily on topic, but “The Bottle Imp” is a great name for a publication.

Mentee: a Reprehensible Neologism


“Mentee,” used to mean someone who receives mentoring, is a horrible word. Please don’t use it. It makes no sense. You can’t “ment” a person. No one is “mented.”

It is also pretentious. I know how weird it is for me to accuse something of pretension given what I am about to say, but it makes the speaker or writer look like something even worse than a pedant, which is an ignorant pedant. The use of “-or” or “-er” to mean “one who does something” comes from Latin. And using “-er” to mean “from a place,” as in “New Yorker” is a Germanic construction. But “mentor” comes from Greek, which is neither Latinate nor Germanic. And “mentor” is not even a verb in Greek; it’s a proper noun. Mentor was a guy in the Odyssey. If you really insist on using “mentor” as a verb (and I’m not entirely opposed to that) then it would probably be better to refer to “mentorers and mentorees.” Please don’t do that either, as they are both ugly.

In place of “mentee” use protégé, student, disciple, acolyte, padawan, grasshopper, or anything else really, as appropriate. I’m not saying we should have extradjudicial executions, but if we did, then anyone caught using the word “mentee” should be summarily executed.

Janus Words


A Janus word is a word that means both a thing (or an action) and its precise opposite.  The name is a reference to Janus, a Roman god with two faces.  If you didn’t catch that reference without it being explained, you probably aren’t very interested in this blog.

Some examples:

  • Sanction
  • Seed
  • Weather

here are some other examples and longer discussions:

Christopher Lasch on Initialism


“In accordance with the principle that good writing must always oppose the bureaucratic debasement of language, it is a good idea, wherever possible, to refer to the names of governmental agencies, voluntary associations, and other organizations by their full name, not by their initials. The widespread use of initials tends either to lend suspect purposes a spurious air of importance and dignity or, as in the now almost mandatory resort to acronyms in naming organizations, agencies, and weapons systems . . . to make remote bureaucratic agencies or deadly systems of destruction seem folksy, cute, and accessible. Good writing should resist such designs, although there are obvious limits beyond which it is not possible to avoid initials.”
– Christopher Lasch, Plain Style: a Guide to Written English, 69–70 (2002)