Today, I’d like to offer up what I hope is a little distraction from the problems that seem to swirl about us these days like a tornado by taking a look at some words and wordplay that I hope will bring smiles to our collective weary faces.

Let’s start with the oxymoron, which, as we all know, is a contradiction in terms. We’ve all heard of airline food, jumbo shrimp and postal service (hey, they’re trying), but how about army intelligence, hard water or tight slacks? One reader even suggested to word maven William Safire that our own Mount Desert Island might qualify as a “trioxymoron.”

A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet, such as, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Even better is “Mr. Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags a few lynx,” which is considered the perfect pangram because it uses each letter only once.

A rebus is a word puzzle in which — one example — letters of a word are replaced by pictures or symbols. Sandwich Islands could be spelled “S&wich Isl&s” for instance. You’ll have another type of rebus if you write “hill” on a piece of paper, and then write “John” directly below it, and finally write “mass” below “John.” What do you end up with? The address for John Underhill, Andover, Mass.

We owe The Rev. William Spooner of Oxford University a debt of gratitude for giving us spoonerisms, which are funny sayings resulting from the transposition of parts of words. Haven’t we all accused someone of telling “a lack of pies” when we meant to say “pack of lies”? No? OK, maybe just me then. But there’s always the wedding tradition when “it is kistomary to cuss the bride.”

Probably one of the earliest uses of the malapropism — the misuse of a word that’s confused with another — appears in Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing.” A pacific example in the play is when officer Dogberry reports that “Our watch, sir, have comprehended two auspicious persons.” The word “malapropism,” by the way, comes from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play “The Rivals,” in which Mrs. Malaprop is described as being “as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.”


Capt. Henry Honychurch Gorringe

“All this fun stuff is fine, word guy,” I hear you saying, “but what about us poets? How about giving us some words that rhyme with ‘orange’?” (Or don’t rhyme with ‘orange,’ as you’ll soon see).

First, of course, is good old Blorange, that hill in southeast Wales that everybody knows about. But if you’re tired of using that in all your many poems, the writers of “Jeopardy!” have offered up these five words that also sort of rhyme with the name of our favorite citrus fruit: grunge, porridge, door hinge, lozenge and manage. Their words, not mine.

But wait, there’s one more. “Sporange” (an uncommon botanical term for part of a fern, according to the Oxford English Dictionary) should rhyme with orange, right? Problem is, the correct pronunciation of sporange (which is short for “sporangium”) is “spuh-RANJ.” What to do?

Never fear, it’s Capt. Henry H. Gorringe to the rescue, by way of having the Gorringe Ridge, a seamount in the Atlantic Ocean, named after him. Looks like we’ll be able to keep writing poetry after all.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: