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Words, July 29



Next time, try the fish. They're brain food:

"[T]his combo features seared tuna and lamb chops. ... Each bite is so stultifying you lean your faces closer together as if sharing some coterminous whirling rapture."

Here's a tip for those seeking stultification — martinis are even more effective than lamb chops. To stultify is "to cause to appear or be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical." Stultify is sort of like stupefy. Oldsters will remember a character in "Li'l Abner" called Stupefyin' Jones, a young woman so voluptuously beautiful that sightings of her rendered men insensible.

Like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," newspaper funnies used to be big. And like Norma, the funnies might respond that they're still big, it's the pages that got small. In any case, there are no comic strips around today with the cultural wallop of "Li'l Abner" or "Dick Tracy," or, more recently, "Peanuts." The Word Detective has written about wimwams, meaning "the willies, the jitters," as in "Her nose ring gave me the wimwams." He said he'd learned the word from his mother. I learned it from "Pogo," another classic comic.

Wimwams is synonymous with heebie-jeebies. When I looked up heebie-jeebies, I found that it was coined by Billy De Beck (1890-1942), in his comic strip "Barney Google."

"Our biggest worry is that amongst those rounded up are genuine refugees."

Lee Hunter of Lead Hill has been seeing more of "amongst" than agrees with him. "Is 'among' no longer good enough?" he writes. "Is 'amongst' becoming the new 'tarmac'?"

It may have made advances, but amongst is still uncommon in American English, according to the Cambridge Guide to English Usage. And if that's not enough guidance for you, the more opinionated Gardner's Modern American Usage says that amongst is an archaism in American English, pretentious at best.

If we hang together, maybe we can stop amongst from running amok the way tarmac did. In Journalistic English, every runway is now referred to as "the tarmac," whether it's made of tarmacadam or not.

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