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!

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!

Rubbing Elbows with Hobnobbers

After hearing Rufus Wainwright’s cover of Puttin’ On The Ritz on last week’s So You Think You Can Dance (a Summer guilty pleasure and a better-produced dancing reality competition than Dancing With The Stars), I tweeted about the song this morning.

Here’s a live snippet of Rufus’ interpretation of the tune in case you can’t get to the version:

For those of us who grew up in the eighties, we probably all remember the synth-influenced version by Taco. Or maybe you recall Gene Wilder & Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein. Fewer still would have caught Fred Astaire’s performance in Blue Skies.

No matter where you’ve seen it or heard it (or tried to sing yourself, all misheard lyrics and bad syncopation [it can’t just be me]), you’ll never forget it.

In my most recent listening, the phrases “rubbing elbows” and “hobnobbing” popped into my head and couldn’t be dislodged.

Which is all a very long intro to the following blog post.

To “rub elbows with” seems to carry the kind of well-to-do, upper-crust society, urbane connotation I was envisioning:

There’s nothing like rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, or At the reception diplomats were rubbing shoulders with heads of state. Both of these terms allude to being in close contact with someone. [Mid-1800s]

Another source thinks the idiom is a little less haughty/aristocratic:

Fig. to associate with someone; to work closely with someone. (No physical contact is involved.)

So we’ve got some conflicting reports there, but it seems like the use I’m thinking of did in fact originate from the kind of close quarters party-style mingling one might do at a fancy soiree. It’s possible that there are now less hoity-toity uses for the phrase, but I think most folks (like me) hear a certain air and arrogance to the phrase.

I could be wrong; let me know.

Which brings us to hobnob (and/or hobknob, which I assumes was the correct spelling).

The always enlightening Urban Dictionary cuts right to the chase:

Hob-knobbing is how socialites spend their days.

Please note the spelling as well.

Other sources:

Etymology: from the obsolete phrase drink hobnob to drink alternately to one another
Date: 1813

1 archaic : to drink sociably
2: to associate familiarly


–verb (used without object)
1. to associate on very friendly terms (usually fol. by with): She often hobnobs with royalty.
2. Archaic. to drink together.
3. a friendly, informal chat.
1595–1605; from the phrase hab or nab lit., have or have not, OE habban to have + nabban not to have (ne not + habban to have)

Hobnobbing, it seems use to have something to do with drinking/toasting and may “have” to do with “haves” and “have nots”.

Although it sounds more posh, hobnobbing might have started out as the less “loaded” phrase, but now carries more of the connotation that both words certainly share.

In the end, I think the song – whatever form or remake or cover – it takes is far better than my wordy middling.

I still think those folks on Park Avenue who were Puttin’ on the Ritz were likely both hobnobbing and rubbing elbows, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Until next time.