Become A Better Writer
a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the): We all developed the fantods when the plane was late in arriving.
In chapter eight of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck, hiding on Jackson’s Island, spots a man sleeping on the ground: “It most give me the fantods.” Here the meaning of fantods is plain enough: “acute distress, fear, panic”; the meanings of fantods range between irritability, tension, an emotional fit or outburst, and physical or mental disorder—not at all specific. Fantods has no reliable etymology: it may be a jocular formation based on fantasy or fantastic. Fantods entered English in the 19th century.
It gave me the fantods to discover myself cooped up in that narrow room with such a ghastly figure beside me, which I’ll describe to you as best I can.
What would Mr. Gorey make of his status as an All Hallows’ Eve grand ghoul were he alive to see it?
“That would have given Gorey himself the fantods,” said Mark Dery, using one of the antiquated words the artist loved to collect and trot out in his books.
the highest social class.
The noun phrase upper crust is perfectly plain, self-explanatory: it is the top crust on a loaf of bread or a pie, a meaning the phrase has always had. Other meanings have come and gone, e.g., “exterior layer or surface of the earth” (from the mid-16th through the mid-18th centuries), “a person’s head; a hat” (from about 1825 to 1850). The most common meaning of upper crust, “the highest social class,” was originally an Americanism dating from the 19th century. Upper crust entered English in the 15th century.
… the 1922 edition of Etiquette promised its readers that they could learn to fit in among intimidating elites, or just emulate the American upper crust within their own circles.
From his perspective, graffiti forced the upper crust to reckon with the names and the fugitive dreams of a forgotten underclass …
the quality or state of lacking confidence in one's ability, worth or fitness; timidity.
Diffidence is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun diffīdentia “distrust, mistrust, lack of confidence.” In the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d., diffīdentia also meant “lack of faith, disobedience (to God).” The original sense of diffīdentia, “distrust of other people,” is obsolete; the current sense “distrust of one’s own ability or worth,” shading off to “modesty, retiring nature,” dates from the mid-16th century. Diffidence entered English in the 15th century.
For an artist, insofar as modesty implies diffidence, an unwillingness to exhibit oneself or one’s work, it’s a virtue so dubious as to be a handicap.
I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck …
amusing or witty remarks or writings.
Facētiae is a Latin plural noun meaning “skillfulness, cleverness, wittiness.” It is a derivative of the adjective facētus “clever, good-humored, whimsical,” which has no reliable etymology. In the olden days, in less enlightened and progressive times than our own—say about 1850—facetiae was used in book catalogs as a euphemism for pornography (now also called erotica). Facetiae entered English in the 16th century.
Even the facetiae of the gallant expressman who knew everybody’s Christian name along the route, who rained letters, newspapers, and bundles from the top of the stage … failed to interest me.
… you had better beware how you excite that comic vein to its fullest current of facetiae.
unable or unwilling to act prudently; shortsighted.
Myopic ultimately comes from the Greek noun myōpía “nearsightedness,” which in Greek has no extended or metaphorical meaning. (The suffix –ic is English, not Greek, i.e., there is no Greek adjective myōpikós.) Myōpía is a compound formed of the verb mýein “to close the eyes or mouth,” which is close kin to the Latin mūtus “inarticulate, dumb, silent” (English mute). The same mýein appears in the noun mystḗrion “secret, secret rite” (English mystery) and its adjective mystikós “connected with the mysteries” (English mystic). The second element of myopia, –ōpía, is a combining form of ṓps (stem ōp-) “eye, face, countenance.” Myopic in its original sense entered English at the end of the 18th century; the sense “unable or unwilling to act prudently” developed in English at the end of the 19th century.
The belief that simply running a data set will solve for every challenge and every bias is problematic and myopic.
Science provides us with a new perspective on our place in the cosmos and a better understanding of ourselves as human beings. It helps us overcome our otherwise myopic preconceptions about how the world works.
to be indecisive or evasive to gain time or delay acting.
The current, somewhat negative, meaning of temporize, “to be indecisive or evasive to gain time or delay acting,” is a relatively modern development of Middle French temporiser “to pass the time, await one’s time,” from Medieval Latin temporizāre “to delay,” equivalent to Medieval Latin temporāre “to delay, put off the time.” All of the medieval words are derivatives of Latin tempor-, the inflectional stem of tempus “time,” which has no certain etymology. Temporize entered English in the 16th century.
I’ll temporise till we are all dead and buried.
He is as likely as any man I know to temporize—to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage …
Eyewinker is a very rare noun, originally Scottish and now mostly an American regionalism. Eye needs no explanation; winker has several meanings: “eyelash, eyelid, eye, something that gets in the eye and makes one blink.” Eyewinker entered English in the early 19th century.
“Last night—at dinner”—Mrs. Appel eyed him accusingly—“I found—an eyewinker—in the hard sauce.”
Not even an eyewinker was left to her.