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“Dallas firm has dibs on stadium’s design.” I thought dibs, as in “Dibs on the front seat!”, had largely faded away, but apparently it’s livelier than I thought. It means “claims, rights.” John Ciardi says it probably comes from dibstones, “an old child’s game involving the distribution and capture of small bones or stones used as counters.” (How old is an old child? I think he means it’s the game that’s old.)

“The Observer was not so copasetic with the sight of Minnijean Brown decked out in a cheap hat with a merry greeting on it.”

Copacetic isn’t used as much as it once was, which may be why the columnist’s spelling was a little off. It means “satisfactory, OK.” According to Random House, it dates from 1915-1920 and its origin is obscure. “Listening to America,” by Stuart Berg Flexner, says copacetic was popularized by the tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, “who used it heavily in his vaudeville and stage appearances in the 1920s and ’30s.” Flexner agrees that the origin of copacetic is uncertain.

An editor overheard referring to “a ring-tailed bitch” was asked to explain where the term came from. He responds:

“I think I learned it from my mother, I’m somewhat embarrassed to confess. (And, difficult though my mother could be, I don’t think she fit the category.) I guess the phrase puts me in mind of particularly ferocious cats, the kind that hiss and yowl and claw without provocation. Whether ringed tails are any indicator of cat demeanor, I couldn’t say. I find all cats unpleasant.”

I have no other explanation to offer, although bitch is usually applied to female dogs, not female cats. On the other hand, cats are more likely than dogs to have ringed tails.

Something the whole family can watch:

“Dewey denied that he had hoped to play on gay prejudice and also disagreed with Cheatham’s statement after the trial that the DVD was merely ‘plain old vanilla gay porn.’ ”

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