To Mirandize is to inform an arrested suspect of his or her rights. The word derives from the Miranda v. Arizona U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which held that self-incriminating statements made by a crime suspect are not admissible in court unless the suspect is first informed of his or her rights to … [Read more...]


Multitask works as both an adjective and a verb. Its adjectival sense is the original, arising in the early 1960s to describe computing systems in which multiple processes execute simultaneously. The verb sense---to perform multiple tasks at once---came about soon thereafter, as did the participial … [Read more...]


A svengali is a person who controls another’s mind or has the ability to control others, usually with sinister intent. In the 1891 gothic-horror novel Trilby, by George du Maurier, Svengali is a hypnotist who transforms the title character into a famous singer. The book was popular in its time, so … [Read more...]


To eighty-six something is to cancel it, reject it, or prevent it from coming to fruition, and to eighty-six a person is to eject them, especially from a business premises, or to remove them from a role. For example, a picnic might be eighty-sixed because of rain, an injured player might be … [Read more...]


Nimrod was an ancient Babylonian king known in part for his tyrannical rule and for his skill and might as a hunter. From this we can deduce the traditional definitions of the word nimrod: (1) a tyrannical ruler, and (2) a skilled hunter. In late-20th-century American usage, however, the word … [Read more...]


Fabulist traditionally refers to someone who invents or tells fables. Aesop, for instance, is perhaps history's most famous fabulist. In recent popular usage, however, the word has gained at least two new senses, both especially common in the U.S. First, the word tends to refer to bold … [Read more...]


One-upmanship is a spirit of competition in which one tries to stay a point ahead---one up---of the competition, usually figuratively. The word connotes an unwillingness to back off and allow one's competition to keep the upper hand. For instance, dueling tech companies might practice one-upmanship … [Read more...]

Wonkish, wonky

The adjective wonky has two unrelated senses that are both used throughout the English-speaking world. Its older and more commonly used definition is unstable, defective, unreliable, or wobbly. For instance, a bad knee or a table with loose fittings might be called wonky, as might a person who … [Read more...]

Shamble, shambolic

Most English speakers are familiar with the noun shamble, which in today's English refers to a disordered scene or a state of disorder. Though there's nothing wrong with the singular shamble, the word usually takes the plural form but is often treated as singular, as in the common phrase in a … [Read more...]


Gung-ho is adapted from a Chinese phrase that means, literally, work together. Brought to English during World War II by the American Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Evans Fordyce Carlson, it was originally used to describe a cooperative spirit, but it soon became a Marine battle cry. From this … [Read more...]

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