It’s been a weird week here at Word Guy World Headquarters in suburban Lewiston. I’ll begin by admitting that Mrs. Word Guy has been figuring out the solutions to our morning games of Wordle and Quordle before I can even write all the letters on my whiteboard (which is a real blow to Word Guy’s ego).

Oh sure, I do come up with a relatively obscure five-letter word now and then and she pretends to be impressed, but I really think that she’s secretly gloating about her recent superiority. I demand a rematch! Be sitting across the kitchen table tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. – sharp!

But it gets worse. Yup, sometimes I even have to look up some of those five-letter words. Can you imagine? For example, I knew that “swashbuckling” meant something like “engaging in daring adventures with bravado,” but did I know what “swash” meant? Nope, I had to look it up to find out that it means “to flamboyantly swagger or wield a sword.”

I also had to look up “deign” (to do something that one considers to be beneath one’s dignity – such as look up monosyllabic Wordle words), “utile” (which comes from French and means “useful”) and “trice” (in a moment).

But it’s not just our morning puzzles that raise my word hackles, there are lots of other things, so please bear with me as I blow off a little steam about things I recently read or heard, beginning with a newspaper headline from 1933. “Conflagration sweeps New Auburn” yelled the first line. It goes on to state that many large buildings “are completely demolished” in the fire.

First of all, “conflagration” is a cool old word, even though I hope there’s no need for reporters to use it anytime soon. The word I’m having trouble with is “demolished.” According to Merriam-Webster, “demolish” means to “pull or knock down (a building),” as opposed to having it burn down. This just goes to show how much the meanings of words can change over nine decades.


Next, I had to learn from the Parade Magazine column of Marilyn vos Savant, who’s famous for being smart, that soap has curd. I’m pretty sure that the curds and whey little Miss Muffet consumed while sitting on her tuffet (whatever that is) are the same as cottage cheese. But I had to find out from Miss Marilyn that soap curd is just a residue that’s left when soap is used with hard water.

It was from television, specifically the game show “The Chase,” that I learned that a person afflicted with “monologophobia” would be in need of a thesaurus. It turns out “monologophobia,” which was coined by New York Times editor Theodore M. Bernstein in 1965, is “a fear of using the same word more than once in a single sentence or paragraph.”

Then, when my recording of “Jeopardy!” abruptly ended halfway through the final Jeopardy! clue, I was left to ponder which adjective referred to the name of metal element 22, pertained to Greek gods, and meant great in strength or size.

Once I realized that the Greek gods who’d preceded the Olympians were the Titans, and that titanium is the metal of titans, it was logical that the correct response was “titanic,” you know, like the ship. What could go wrong when something is titanic?

My final comment, which apparently is a losing battle, is about TV news readers’ ongoing misuse of “myriad,” which simply means “many.” In other words, please say things like “myriad problems,” and not “a myriad of problems.” You wouldn’t dream of saying ”a many of problems,” right?

Thanks for reading, I feel better now.

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.” He can be reached at

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