Totes amazeballs

I had never previously said totes amazeballs and don’t ever expect to again, and in fact the sooner it dies the better, but a lesson on ‘extreme adjectives’ was good much of an opportunity. The textbook had several synonyms for ‘very good’ and I elicited several more, then mentioned that people make up their own, including totes amazeballs. (Another is fantabulous.) One student expressed great doubt that such an expression exists, but I was able to show her on Google. (Most sources on the internet cast scorn on the expression and the people who use it.) She couldn’t figure out how a word ending with ‘balls’ can be an adjective. Basically, it can be an adjective because people use it as an adjective.

Another point is that terrific, terrifying and terrible, and horrific, horrifying and horrible should mean the same thing, but don’t. I didn’t mention Latin – I just said “Be careful about these words – they are different”. (Horrific didn’t occur in the lesson – I just mention it for the sake of completeness here.

I’m not quite sure exactly how I know this expression. No-one I know uses it. I’ve just read it on the internet enough times for it to sink in. The downside of being passionately interested in language.



I made joke in Korean and my wife and her friends totally failed to get it. We had dinner at a harbourside fish and chip shop, and she bought ginger beer for me, despite that fact that she’s next seen me drinking ginger beer, which is because I never do. I said “I don’t drink this. I don’t like this.” She said “It’s beer. You drink beer.” I said “진짜 beer?” (jin-jja beer, (is it) really beer?). Haha.

I found out later that 찐자 (jjin-ja) means ‘steamed’, so with my pronunciation it might have been possible that I was asking whether it was steamed beer (whatever that is). I asked her after we got home, and she said she thought I had simply said ginger beer.

Ginger, 진짜 and 찐자 aren’t homophones, but are close enough for the joke to potentially work. Ginger is actually closer to 찐자 so if I ever have steamed beer, I’ll try again.

‘Hear, hear’ and ‘Aw’

I have seen, enough times to notice, people writing in Facebook comments ‘Here, here’ instead of ‘Hear, hear’ and ‘Awe’ instead of ‘Aw’ (or ‘Aww’ or ‘Awww’ etc). These are homophones – they sound the same when spoken. 

Hear, hear!’ began in the British Parliament as ‘Hear him, hear him!’ – an imperative to other members to pay attention to what the speaker (the main speaker, not the person saying ‘Hear, hear’) was saying. Now, on Facebook, there is no element of ‘hearing’, and ‘here’ is a more common word than ‘hear’. Also, someone can signal their agreement by saying or writing ‘Same here’. Intriguingly, Google Ngrams shows that ‘here here’ is more common than ‘hear hear’, but I can’t find any examples of it other than in internet forum comments or in discussions of ‘here here’ v ‘hear hear’. I also can’t think of any context in which ‘here here’ would even be possible.

‘Awe’ is a real word, while ‘aw’ is an interjection which can express ‘sentimental approval or commiseration’ or ‘disbelief, disgust or protest’ depending on the intonation’. It is possible that a Facebook commenter is expressing awe at a video of a dog and cat playing together, but I doubt it. I also wondered whether the most common spelling is ‘aw’ or ‘aww’ or ‘awww’ etc). Google Ngrams shows ‘Aw’ a long way ahead, and has an entry for ‘aw’ but not for any of the other spellings.


Yesterday our editor suddenly exclaimed “Doesn’t anyone know how to use a semicolon?” (with regard to an article he was editing). Very soon after, he added “Or a colon?”.

I said “You’re obviously suffering from colonic irritation”.

A patient patient

I have posted before about the dangers of students picking the wrong meaning from a dictionary or translator, because many words have multiple meaning or senses. Sometimes the two words are related, sometimes they’re not.

Today, a sentence included patient as an adjective. One student used his dictionary/translator, then about a minute later said “What does this sentence mean?”. I said “You wrote down that word. You tell me what it means.” He said “A sick person”.

Interestingly, patient-noun = a sick person and patient-adjective = bearing with fortitude without complaint are related, through Latin pati, patiens to undergo, suffer, bear. A patient is someone who is suffering illness or injury. They are patient if they do so without complaint, but a patient can be very impatient (and many are). Conversely, a doctor can be patient (and, at times, a patient) or impatient.

The relationship between patient-noun and patient-adjective may not be obvious, but the two words share the same form. Also today, another student said that the adjective related to happiness is happen (and immediately realised their mistake). Happen is not an adjective, but, surprisingly, is related to happy and happiness. The connection is the very old (1150-1200) noun hap, meaning one’s lot or luck – something that occurs for some reason. Happen dates from 1300-1350 and means the actual occurrence of a hap. Happy emerged at the same time and means the feeling resulting from a fortunate occurrence – not the feeling resulting from any occurrence. Finally, happiness dates from 1520-30. Generally speaking, the more basic form came first and the more affixed form came later (though there is also the opposite process of back-formation). Hap is now a very rare word, alongside mayhap, but perhaps (by lot or luck) and maybe are very common.

Carmen as she is sung

Some years ago, before the internet, there circulated by various means an “English-as-she-is-spoke” synopsis of the opera Carmen, purporting to have come from an opera house in Italy. One version now on the internet runs:

Act 1. Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: ‘Talk me of my mother’). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses burst into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape.

Act 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquito, Mercedes, Zuniga, Morales. Carmen’s aria (‘The sistrums are tinkling’). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smuglers (Duet: ‘We have in mind a business’) but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated her from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: ‘Stop, here who comes!’) but hear are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by Carmen shrieks the two smuglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: ‘Opening sky wandering life’).

Act 3. A roky landscape, the smuglers shelter. Carmen sees her death in cards and Don Jose makes a date with Carmen for the next balls fight.

Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heard in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: ‘Toreador, toreador, all hail the balls of a Toreador’). Enter Don Jose (Aria: ‘I do not threaten, I besooch you’) but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: ‘Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me, I did kill her’) he sings ‘Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen.’

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