The Interesting Ways That We Use Words

bird with glassses looking at a dictionary
Image by MonikaP from Pixabay

As bloggers, we play with words. Some of them are more fun quirky than others. Here are a few of the interesting ways we use words.

The pond that separates us

Despite speaking the same language, there are a lot of differences between British-speak and American-speaking, with Canadian-speak thrown in there somewhere in between. Blogging has brought me into more regular contact with Brit-speak than ever before.

I always have to pause and think when I hear “half ten”. Is it 9:30 or 10:30? I know it’s 10:30, but I need an extra second to be sure about that.

I still haven’t gotten used to “GP’s surgery.” I know what it is, but it still doesn’t make sense. Unless they’re performing surgery, why is it a surgery?

Speaking of healthcare, what on earth is with the nursing sister and matron job titles in the NHS? Most of the world is moving away from gendered job titles, but not the NHS! The term “modern matron” in particular seems like rather an oxymoron.

What’s up with the pronunciation of lieutenant and colonel? The American pronunciation of lieutenant is fine; it’s a reasonable anglicization of the French. But why in Canada and the UK are we throwing an “f” sound in there?

Then there are words and expressions I’ve learned from fellow bloggers across the pond, like cracking, pootlings, and “got on my tits,” which creates some interesting imagery.


If someone can be discombobulated, does that mean that they were combobulated to start off with? What about someone who is disgruntled? Did they start off gruntled?

It turns out that gruntled is actually a word. Combobulated, on the other hand, is not. However, if you’re going through TSA screening at the airport in Milwaukee, there’s a designated recombobulation area. That’s not an actual word either, but at least people have been making it up with somewhat greater frequency than combobulated.

Normally, “-less” gets tacked onto the end of a word to make it mean “without”. Except there is no “normal” in English. A couple of exceptions are feckless and shiftless; there are no fecks to be given, and there are shifts, but they have nothing to do with shiftlessness. Oh, and irregardless? Not a proper word. Regard-less does the job on its own; no ir- required.

Words & phrases from TV

In my mind, Seinfeld will always be the best show to ever be on TV. Aside from that, though, it’s contributed many sayings that are still well recognized, including soup Nazi, low talker, shrinkage, anti-dentite, and not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And chances are the word “pivot” will forever be pronounced in your head the way Ross shouted it in an episode of Friends.

Me or her?

Some people like to refer to themselves in the third person. I find it rather strange, but that’s just me. I used to work with someone who did this frequently. His girlfriend also worked with us, and she said she tried to break him of the habit, but she had no success.

The versatility of swear words

Talking about emotions coming and going, Paula of Light Motifs II said “Sometimes it’s a long-ass train.” In general, swear words can be added on to either the beginner or end of most words to add a nice bit of emphasis. A long train is just so much less interesting than a long-ass train or a long as fuck train.

A few assorted others

The word “up” is the most versatile two-letter word going, e.g. get up, speak up, screw up, line up, dress up, open up, close up, etc. (University of Arizona). Then there’s up for and down for, which perhaps should be opposites, but they’re not.

You may also have noticed there’s no ham in hamburger, no apple or pine in pineapple, no egg in eggplant, and no sweets or bread in sweetbreads (while sweetmeats have no meat).

Some people say “I’m on my period,” but I’ve always said “I have my period.” I’ve tried to look up this difference, because I’m curious that way, but I haven’t figured out if it’s a regional thing, something else, or just random.

Canada has some quirky regional terminology for men’s underwear. Gotch and gitch are used in central Canada, and gonch and ginch are used in western Canada. My dad is from central Canada, so I grew up in a gotch household. I despise the word almost as much as I despise the word panties.

Personal quirks

I’m not that big a fan of Batman, but there are some gems from the Adam West era, such as “Holy purple cannibals, Batman” (and yes, that’s a real example). I was particularly taken by this about 20 years ago, but rather than being creative enough to come up with the word(s) in the middle of that sentence, I just shortened it to “holy Batman!”

I’ve gone through assorted other idiosyncratic phrases over the years. A current one is “grates my rutabagas” (annoys me). Perhaps it stems from my brother’s prolific creation of his own words when he was a kid.

Do you have any personal favourite odd or interesting expressions?

an assortment of idioms for describing people

43 thoughts on “The Interesting Ways That We Use Words”

  1. OK, I get the ‘f’ sound in lieutenant (leftenant) but how the heck do you get an ‘f’ sound in colonel? I have to say that I am not a ‘Seinfeld’ fan because those people are real – I worked with them, I even dated a few – talk about ‘got on my tits’ – yes they did literally, well they tried, and figuratively. I’m an Italian-American from New York City, I’ve got more odd expressions than Carter has liver pills LOL

    1. Oops, I didn’t’ get that quite right; I meant the “r” sound that magically appears in colonel is like the magic “f” in lieutenant.

      I’m guessing New York has a huge variety interesting expressions from different ethnic groups and neighbourhoods.

  2. I sometimes like to translate Dutch expressions (or very local ones) into English. It sounds fun to me and normally speaking the context provides enough clarity for people to understand what I’m saying.

  3. Interesting post Ashley.
    I believe, as a child, I heard the word ‘goof’ used somewhere. (I am from the UK for those that don’t know.) I can’t remember if I heard on tv, or somwhere else, but it was used in fun, as in goof for idiot. Thankfully, I only heard that once, so it’s shocking to hear this same word used for something else.

    Knickers I used to hear growing up and say myself. But I now use the term underwear.

    I used to watch Batman and can remember some of their words just being funny. As I got older, maybe a little irritating.

    In the UK, we say chips, but America its fries. Their chips are our crisps. So that was an interesting conversation when meeting an American friend for the first time as we came across some word differences.

    1. Goof is normally used the same way here, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that i learned it has a totally different meaning for people who’ve been in jail/prison.

      I like the sound of knickers, but it’s not really used here except in the phrase don’t get your knickers in a knot.

      I’d heard of the chips/fries difference. What sounds very odd to me is when people talk about tea as an evening meal. I think I’ve heard that’s a regional thing, but I’m not sure where it’s used.

      1. Yes. I was brought up to say dinner and tea.
        I now say lunch and dinner. But as I have sandwiches in the evening, it sounds strange saying dinner. Mum would cringe and say its tea, not dinner. I would laugh, just to wind her up while holding my mug of tea and say, I have got my tea. 😁

        Knickers in a twist, over here we say in the UK.

  4. I found this post amusing, I struggle sometimes with the different uses of language between England and America.

    Don’t get me started on the Scotish use of words (I have a Scottish friend who I quite often have to ask to explain what he means lol)

    1. Yes, it’s surprising how many differences there are. I used to work with someone from Sunderland and I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.

  5. Unless they’re performing a surgery, why is it a surgery?

    Ah, but MPs also have a surgery, and they don’t perform any surgery at all!

    In the nineteenth century, a guy tried to create an English-Portuguese dictionary and ended with a lot of hilariously literal or bizarre translations of idioms (or “idiotisms” as he called them); I have a little book somewhere that has some of the funniest. (It’s speculated that he didn’t speak English and translated into French and then into English via an English-French dictionary.) Next time you feel sick, you might call out, “I have mind to vomit.” You might lament that “the shurt him the doar in face,” Or you might simply “craunch the marmoset.” As the man said, “It is difficult to enjoy well so much several languages.”

    More examples here.

    1. I’d never heard of MP surgeries before; it’s not a term Canadian MPs use. That’s definitely a lot stranger than GP surgeries.

      I quite like “craunch the marmoset.”

  6. Great post! In Philly, we use the word “jawn.” It’s street slang for just about anything. Example: “Can you hand me that jawn over there?”

    I have no idea where this word comes from, but it’s used only in Philly for some reason.

  7. It has been said that the English language is one of the worst to learn.
    We have, to, too, two. Just one example.
    I loved this post because I grew up in Ontario. Now live in Saskatchewan. I literally had culture shock when I first moved to this province in the eighties. Now I find myself using the same terms that once left me wondering what they meant.

  8. I’m more used to British English as I’ve exposed myself to it more, so it feels kind of more natural, though since I’ve joined the English-speaking blogosphere and generally started to interact with people on the Anglophone Internet I see and hear just as much, if not more of American English. But since I don’t live in an English-speaking country anyway, a lot of expressions from all varieties of English feel strange.
    The GP’s surgery is a bit weird to me, too, haha.
    I do get the “f” in lieutenant, somehow, don’t know how, though there’s no logic behind it at all so perhaps through a similar pattern in another language that’s familiar to me or something, no idea, but the “r” in colonel makes no sense whatsoever.
    Chips and fries are so freakishly confusing in actual use! 😀 And the tea thing is so funny. When I was learning English at school, I used to think that it’s just a time for drinking tea, or perhaps only a very light meal accompanied with tea, but experienced utter shock when I read once in a book: “I had pasta for tea”! And I actually stumble quite a lot upon this in British books, or sometimes even on blogs, and read that people have all sorts of things “for tea”. It still makes me snort internally whenever I hear it and feels very absurd, but there’s some very cosy feel to it.
    Speaking of cosy, I used to confuse homely and homey for a long time – which is used where and in what meaning. – I now get it (well I believe I do at least), but I always use the British homely anyway and just clarify if I think someone may not get which kind of homely I mean. Might seem like a lot of unnecessary hassle but homely just sounds a little bit more homey to me than homey, lol. Also I was always told at school that you should stick to one type of English, so if I’ve always used British, I guess it wouldn’t make sense if I said homey. And since my use of English in actual interactions with people is limited to writing, I can always write home(l)y.

    1. I would use homey. I don’t think I’ve ever actually used the word homely, but what immediately comes to mind when I think of that word is an old-fashioned way of saying ugly.

  9. Well this was a very entertaining read! 🙂 Some I had heard before but most were definitely news to me – including the many Canadian versions of men’s underwear hahaha. I also enjoyed the batman slang -well done.

  10. Oddly enough I blogged a post today that sort of has the same train (it’s a short ass train though) of thought.

    This was written in response to Brian Lagose’s two recent posts about Southern (USA) phrases.

    Personally I use things like “Bull cookies or muffins” instead of B.S., ‘scrud” (a Utah word my father used to use) for sh*t, but I also use “shite” – the Anglicized version of that word, and scut which is German for the same thing. Maybe I’m preoccupied a bit with potty words. Uh.. Okay then.

    I’ll use the two finger salute instead of flipping the bird to people. That’s a lot safer to do over here because few recognize it for the insult British people do.

    I love weird words and archaic ones and the grandiose word of the day series is a favorite of mine. So much fun!

    What a great topic!!

  11. Oh my, I am no fan of Batman but I am of Batman theme covers! My initial thought after reading the post. Is something wrong with me?

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