Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.






Comments are OPEN.

We deeply appreciate the erudition and energy of our commenters. Your comments frequently make an invaluable contribution to the story of words and phrases in everyday usage over many years.

Please note that comments are moderated, and will sometimes take a few days to appear.



shameless pleading





October 2011 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


So I turned on the local news the other night to see when it would stop raining. I wasn’t really paying close attention; I actually had my back to the TV and was writing something. After a few minutes, however, it percolated into my frontal cortex that the people on the tee-vee were very excited about something, so I turned around and noticed that emblazoned across the screen in flashing orange was FEROCIOUS WILD ANIMALS ON THE LOOSE — RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! or words to that effect. Turns out that some … jerk, to put it mildly … had been keeping fifty or so lions, tigers, mountain lions, cheetahs, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and monkeys, plus a giraffe, in tiny cages on his “wildlife preserve” west of Zanesville. And now, for whatever reason, he had chosen a dark, rainy evening to turn them all loose and then shoot himself. You saw all this as the top story on CNN, the BBC, et al., I’m sure.

The particular problem for us at that moment was that the “preserve” was just about 25 miles due east of us. That sounds like a long way away, but it’s all open, mostly flat country around here, and the authorities seemed a bit unclear as to exactly how long these animals had been loose — at least five or six hours at that point. Still, it seemed unlikely that they would make it this far, or it did until the news helpfully reported that there had been credible sightings in southern Licking County, about seven miles away.

So it’s a dark and stormy night, and we’re sitting in the proverbial isolated farmhouse, with lots of big windows and flimsy doors, surrounded by cornfields and our own woods backing up on a few hundred more acres of cornfields. I have already learned to be careful when I take the dogs out at night because the coyotes around here are numerous and aggressive. And there have been consistent and credible reports in recent years of large cats, probably escapees from just such private zoos, being spotted (and in one case photographed) in our area.

And now we apparently had a wave of ticked-off tigers, grizzlies and lions headed our way. What I wanted at that moment was a bunch of floodlights and an AK-47. What we had were two arthritic dogs, both largely deaf, and a whole lot of useless but no doubt tasty cats. Around 2 am it occurred to me that for any large and hungry carnivore downwind of us, our house would smell like a big box of food. And these critters were accustomed to being around (and fed by) people, so the natural shyness that keeps coyotes (mostly) at bay would be, as HR Haldeman would say, inoperable.

After a nearly sleepless night, we awoke to learn that almost all the animals, sadly, had been shot by law enforcement agents. Under the circumstances there really was no other choice, but the pictures of dead lions and tigers were heartbreaking. Ohio really needs to make private ownership of such animals illegal for the sake of everyone, especially the animals.

Onward. I realized the other day that this month marks the five-year anniversary of my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Part of the diagnostic process (apart from MRIs and lumbar punctures and other fun stuff) involves trying to remember any earlier, undiagnosed symptoms, and I realized that I had actually been having the symptoms of relapsing-remitting ms since about 1990; difficulty walking, pain in my eyes and blurred vision, etc. I had gone to various doctors over the years and no one ever suggested ms, even though the symptoms I was reporting were absolutely classic. And as late as early 2006, when I went to see one of the “best neurologists in Columbus” (according to Columbus Monthly) because I couldn’t feel or lift my left leg at all and was periodically partially blind, he told me it must have been due to sleep deprivation.

So by the time I finally figured out what was going on, they classified me as having “primary progressive ms,” which is not treatable by drugs and just gets steadily worse, which it has. But I’m still walking, albeit usually with a cane, and writing these columns, albeit much more slowly than I used to. The problem is that I now have trouble just keeping up with this column, so outside projects, on which I have always depended for income, have become impossible. Just in the past year I have had to beg off participating in two TV productions because of this stupid disease.

I have been lucky enough to have readers who have contributed to our survival by subscribing to TWD-by-email. So if you can possibly swing $15 for a year’s subscription, I’d be much obliged.

Update: Our only vehicle is a 1997 Toyota (which we bought used). We recently took it in for an oil change and to get some funny noises checked out, and discovered that the power steering was kaput, some gaskets in the engine were leaking pots of oil, the parking brake was frozen and non-functional, and the timing and other belts were shot. Gee, I guess something in that list explains the burning smell. Anyway, this news precipitated a mad and mortifying scramble to borrow enough money to fix all these things, and ended up eating up a large chunk of our tiny reserves. So your support (i.e., by subscribing) would be deeply appreciated.

And now, on with the show….

1 comment to October 2011 Issue

  • Theo Mamalis

    I do not have a question. Merely a small statement. I feel sorry for people like yourself, blessed with so much talent yet having rotten luck wherever life takes them. I dont have very much money at all, but if I should win a large sum, without hesitation you are on my “Give Money” list. In the meantime your site is bookmarked till I can afford the subscription. I will also put out the word for your site wherever I should visit. Keep up the great work if you can. Ill be looking forward to giving what I can. Stay brave, and may your talents never tire

Leave a Reply to Theo Mamalis Cancel reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please support
The Word Detective

by Subscribing.


Follow us on Twitter!




Makes a great gift! Click cover for more.

400+ pages of science questions answered and explained for kids -- and adults!