June 2018


I can’t actually remember where I saw this, but I wrote it on my whiteboard some time ago as a potential WotW (as no one’s calling it), and who am I to disagree with the whiteboard?

So, prognathous is an adjective which describes someone or something with a protruding lower jaw or chin. You don’t see it so much in us homo sapiens these days, but it was common among Paleolithic humans. The etymology’s pretty straightforward – it comes from the Greek ‘pro’ for ‘forward’ and ‘gnáthos’ for jaw. ‘Normal’ people (by which I mean straight-jawed ones) are orthognathic, and people with overbites (i.e. me when I was at school) are retrognathic (or ‘goofy’ according to a particularly mean girl at St Mary’s Convent School).

Hmmm, this isn’t terribly interesting is it (it’s certainly no ‘avocado’)? I’m rather disappointed in my whiteboard.


But Emma, I hear you cry, everyone knows what an avocado is! They do indeed. But I’ve chosen it because it has really interesting etymology (not an oxymoron if you’re a word geek like me).

The word avocado comes from the Aztec (technically Nahuatl Indian) word ‘ahuácatl’ which means, wait for it... testicle. Whether that’s because of its shape or the fact that the Aztecs thought it was an aphrodisiac is up for debate. In 1915 a group of American avocado farmers met up to talk about the fact that they weren’t selling very well. They decided it was because ‘ahuácatl’ was too hard for people to say (and, presumably, they didn’t appreciate the whole testicle thing). So they just changed the name. They also decided that the plural would be ‘avocados’, not ‘avocadoes’ which was very conscientious of them (I appreciate that). They then wrote to dictionary publishers to let them know that they’d renamed the ahuácatl. And, somehow, everyone just got on board with it.

Avocados have also been rebranded much more recently. When M&S started stocking them in the 60s, they were sold as ‘avocado pears’ (even though botanically they’re actually large berries). They immediately got lots of complaints from customers who’d stewed them and served them with custard, which was obviously disgusting. So M&S stores then started giving out leaflets with each avocado explaining that they were for salads, not for dessert. (Thanks to the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast for the avocado info.)

Last year, M&S started selling stoneless avocados to try to reduce the amount of injuries that they cause. Yep, you did read that right. A&E departments now see regular cases of ‘avocado hand’ which can have serious surgical ramifications (even greatest-actress-of-her-generation Meryl Streep had to have hand surgery in 2012 after cutting herself while preparing an avocado – NO ONE’S SAFE). As someone who regularly injures herself in the kitchen (and elsewhere in the house – the other day I cut my thumb while I was in the bath), it’s probably quite lucky that I don’t like avocados.


I chose this purely because it’s fun to say. Go on, give it a go. Nice, right?

A whiffler is someone who constantly changes their mind or opinion – one who whiffles. Etymology-wise, it’s onomatopoeic, which might be why it’s so nice to say. It’s named for the sound the wind makes. Aw.

There are actually loads of definitions of the verb ‘to whiffle’ – so many in fact that I’m amazed it’s not still in general use. If you’ve got some time on your hands you can find out what they are on Wikipedia (and also more about the game Whiffleball. That’s really a thing). Oh, and there’s also a Wetherspoon’s pub in Norwich called The Whiffler. When I googled it I found this gem in the Q&A section, apparently from former Bond actor Roger Moore:



The word of the week was going to be something I heard at the choir I sing in last night (‘chromatic’). But I had a couple of beers last night and now it seems way too complicated to work out what it actually means. So instead I stuck my finger in the nearest book, which happened to be the ‘Norton Anthology of English Literature’ (I definitely didn’t have to move loads of Jilly Coopers and Stephen Kings out of the way before I got to that). And the word of the week, clodpole, comes courtesy of ‘Volpone’ by Ben Jonson.

A clodpole is a foolish, clumsy or awkward person. ‘Clod’ is middle English for a lump of earth and ‘pole’ means ‘head’. So it’s ye olde worlde version of ‘blockhead’.

Interesting fact alert: Ben Jonson was buried standing up in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only one – everyone else is in the more traditional lying-down position). Apparently this was because he could only afford a plot that was two feet by two feet. And just to add insult to injury, they then spelled his name wrong on his tombstone (‘Ben Johnson’). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – everybody needs a proofreader. (If you fancy some insults from days of yore, have a look at my blog, featuring gems like ‘scobberlotcher’, ‘beardsplitter’ and ‘gillie-wet-foot’.)