I can remember first learning about the concept of “agape” in church when I was younger. Maybe even in a Sunday School class on a cool, Michigan morning. Either way the word sounded foreign to me, much like the biblical names.


Greek for “love” (one of a few). It was explained to me at the time as “Christian love” and is not like Eros (romantic love) or Philia or Storge.

When I recently heard the word used again – we haven’t been to church in a very long time – it was on Sirius XM The Spectrum (Channel 28) as the title to a song by Bear’s Den:

The DJ or promo pronounced the word “ag-uh-pay” where the beginning sounded like the “ag” in agriculture. Like this, I believe: ă-gə-pā

I would have said it like this Merriam-Webster pronunciation: “uh-gah-pay” / ä-gä-pā

As a point of reference and fact, the band says it “ag-uh-pay” in the song. They make the word rhyme with “dissipate” if that makes any sense.

It seems like a perfectly cromulent pronunciation, albeit one I’d never heard of before hearing the song or writing this blog post.

In fact the inimitable Richard Blade pronounced it as “uh-gayp” (ə-gāp) just this morning, jarring my memory and making me laugh. If you ever wondered if Deejays are actually listening to the songs they play, that’s pretty much an acknowledgement that they aren’t.

If you want to hear all 3 pronunciations of “agape” spoken out loud (to distinguish betweens the two Greek versions), here’s a good link.

Semi-sequitur: WordPress needs a good plug-in for dealing with international phonetic alphabetic spellings.

Non-sequitur: Here’s a discussion of the various & conflicting accents in HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s interesting to note that the tongues of Westeros (and beyond) aren’t as uniform as one might suspect, especially given some of the actors’ own mother tongues.

Excelsior! (and Agape!)

The “Nonplussed” Problem

The title of this post is also the title of a great (and word-wonky) article on Slate as forwarded to me by Russell Sauve. Thanks!

The first paragraph is the most important and illustrative of the ways in which language changes over time:

Suppose a friend said to you, “I know you’re disinterested, so I want to ask you a question presently.” Then he didn’t say anything. Would you be momentarily nonplussed?

The four words being questioned – disinterested, presently, momentarily & nonplussed – are all misused or, more accurately, used in their newly-evolved meaning by yours truly.

I can use momentarily in both ways, but for the other three – especially nonplussed – I’ve move on to the newer meanings.

Read the whole article. Well worth your time and much better than those “versus” and etymology posts I’m prone to doing here every so often. And while I can be a pedant about pronunciation and grammar, I’m not nearly so anal as to recognize that language is fluid because its speakers change over time.

Happy Monday!

Ham-handed vs. Ham-fisted

My initial guess was that the only difference in definitions between ham-handed and ham-fisted was going to be that the latter would be more, I don’t know, clenched? [Insert annoyed groan here]


Merriam-Webster: lacking dexterity or grace.
First known use: 1918
Synonym: ham-fisted

wiktionary: Clumsy, heavy, or inept; not delicate, light or gentle
See also: ham-fisted clumsy, inept, or heavy-handed: a ham-handed approach to dealing with people that hurts a lot of feelings.
Synonyms: ham-fisted (British)


Merriam-Webster: ham-handed
First known use: 1928
Synonym: ham-handed

wiktionary: Lacking skill in physical movement, especially with the hands
Synonym: ham-handed

The Free Dictionary: lacking skill with the hands; lacking skill in the way that you deal with people
ham-fisted (British) also ham-handed (American)

Some folks think there’s some ambiguity about the phrases, but I don’t see it. I think the heavy-handedness of’s ham-handed definition deals with hands that are literally heavy, not figuratively heavy, which would imply being overbearing. But that’s only my opinion.

The online etymology dictionary describes the differences, such as they are, thusly: Ham-fisted (1928) was originally in reference to pilots who were heavy on the controls, as was ham-handed (by 1918). So we have yet another reference to the first appearance of each phrase, but no distinction between one being British and the other American as several of the above sources mention. If anyone can hunt down the original source, I’d love to see them.

I honestly wish the insightful Paul Brians had a list of idioms like the one he maintains for common errors in English. Great resource. I’d also take an entry from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words, but it doesn’t exist as of yet.

In the absence of any definitive link to the actual first appearance of either phrase, here’s a neat Google Ngram that shows how the phrases have been used in print over the years. Please note that the phrases are non-hyphenated (see what I did there?) so your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Lastly, there’s good evidence that both phrases have moved beyond their more literal meanings dealing mostly with physicality to being acceptable as phrases describing someone’s demeanor, attitude and ability in social situations as well. Not a big leap, but I thought it bore mentioning.

Don’t like this post? Maybe I’m just a ham-handed/ham-fisted blogger.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Oft times I pronounce Often wrong

Consider the following pairs of words for a moment.
Roll them over your tongue and maybe even say them out loud a few times.
It’s OK. Your cubicle farm buddies won’t notice (too much).


If you’re like me (and, really, you should be) you pronounced the ‘t’ in Oft & Soft and dropped it in Often & Soften.

Based on the pronunciation of my wife and daughter, only Soften deserves the dropped ‘t’; Often is pronounced ‘OFF-TEN’ or so they say.

Being the diligent blogger that I am (natch) I took to the internet.

Turns out we’re all right:

The definitive answer was unearthed by a fellow blogger just a few weeks ago, via

During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people’s awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent.

So dropped consonant clusters have been around for a long time (in English) but some of those sounds have crept back in to spoken usage with the advent of more literate (if not educated) readers. Got it.

I can see how this would happen but I’d hasten (get it?) to pronounce all those pesky ‘t’s all the time. It would get tedious (groan).

You wouldn’t say LIS-TEN or FAS-TEN, so don’t say OFF-TEN. OK, kiddies?

One brief pronunciation clarification: I do find myself shortening the second syllable in these types of words to just a nasal consonant ‘n’ [n].
Like off’n.
Never like orphan.

Enjoy your Tuesday!

A Mnemonic Device For Remembering Pneumonic

A more clever man would actually have a mnemonic device to remember this sort of thing, but I’m not that guy. I just know it’s mnemonic and NOT pneumonic.

That just sounds terrible (and Firefox spellcheck doesn’t even register it as a cromulent word).

In a meeting earlier today someone pronounced (or misrepresented) a mnemonic as a pneumonic. While the former can deal with sound and the latter deals with lungs (which are required hardware for people to make sounds), they ain’t the same thing.

Anyhow, given my well-documented pedantry for this sort of thing, I thought I’d share.

Anyone else know someone who called it a “New Monic” device?


Happy Monday!