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Words Oct. 20

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 It isn’t reigning rain, you know, it’s reining violets:

Ruby Mettler of Hot Springs found this in the local paper — “When Dan Stuart and John Condon died, Louis Cella took the reigns, spearheading the return of live racing to the Oaklawn facility.”

 The Hot Springs paper’s Little Rock sister was reporting on a race between human competitors when it misquoted one of the runners: “First I caught them, and they kind of stayed on my heals, and when I passed [Rove] out of Pig Trail I told him, ‘There’s at least one on my heals.’ ”


“Plenty of oil left to tap, nabobs say.”

The nabobs of today’s headlines are a positive bunch, evidently. That wasn’t the case in 1970, when Vice President Spiro T. Agnew gave nabob more exposure than it had ever had before. The Vietnam war was raging; so were its critics. So too were Agnew and his speechThe phrase struck a chord in those hectic times. Some thought it apt; some amusing. James Reston of the New York Times called it “the worst example of alliteration in American history.”

The British got nabob from the Hindi title for the governor of an Indian province. In English, nabob was originally a scornful nickname for a man who returned to England with a huge fortune amassed in India. Today, it’s used for any man of wealth or power, but it still has a scornful connotation. Which is why Safire chose it.

 Mari B. Lee Cool stands out on Ms. Lee’s list. As a slang term meaning “excellent, attractive, socially adept, pleasing, etc.”, it’s been widely used since the ’50s. And yet it’s still cool to say cool. That’s amazing. Awesome too.

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