Wednesday Words: A Case of the Quirky

I was listening to preacher James MacDonald recently and he commented that his children used to ask silly questions that have to do with quirky words.  His two examples were “Why is the word abbreviation so long?” and “Why is the person who handles your money called a broker?”

That led my brain on a wild goose chase for other strange examples.  My sister pointed out that valuable and invaluable mean the same thing – even though in should negate that whole valuable thing.  Is that like inflammable and flammable?  Which both mean: “Hey, don’t get sparks close to this thing or it will light it up like an inferno!”

There are a couple of sports anomalies as well.  While a baseball diamond is correctly named, a boxing ring is actually a square.  A kickball is kicked, but a football is mostly carried, thrown, and caught with hands.

Foods are confusing, too.  There is no egg in eggplant, no apple in pineapple, no ham in hamburger, and while chicken breasts are in fact chicken breasts, thankfully chicken fingers are not chicken fingers.  And I still don’t understand why we call it chicken-fried steak; yes, it’s fried like chicken, but so are half the dishes in Southern cuisine, so why not just fried steak?  Speaking of fried, French fries are not from France.  Hot dogs are hot, but certainly not dogs (unless you live somewhere that the meat source is questionable).  

Fat chance and slim chance are synonyms.  How is that possible?

Why is that to cleave means to stick together, but a cleaver divides things?  Also, one parks in a driveway, and drives on a parkway.  By the way, quicksand works slowly.

Why does an inanimate clock have a face and hands?

Now fill in this blank:  If vegetarians eat vegetables, then humanitarians eat                        .

These are a few samples of the quirky side of language.  There is most certainly an etymology (word history) to what things are called, but on the face of it, these words and phrases don’t make sense.

Can you think of any other examples?  What quirky things have you noticed about our English language?

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8 thoughts on “Wednesday Words: A Case of the Quirky

  1. Funny! Our language is certainly quirky. And LOL about abbreviation being such a long word. TRUE!I read somewhere that flammable was actually created to avoid confusion on warning signs. Inflammable is actually the correct word, but the "in" often means "not" on other words, so they shortened it. Interesting, huh?

  2. LOL shipments go by trucks and cargo travels on boats… 😉 I used to love these as a kid (my nerd is showing!) Thanks for the reminder!Great post, Julie!

  3. That was fun! Let's do it again!I think words are so fascinating and the English language is full of some really great ones. Thanks for pointing all that out.

  4. As an ESL teacher I am made aware of our strange language from time to time by one of my students. The latest one…. In reading a story together, the word "escalator" appeared. A student asked what that was. I explained, drew a picture, referred to Macy's, and saw the lightbulb go off in her head. I had told her that it's the moving staircase that takes you up to the next level because "escalate" means to get higher. She then asked, "So what is the one called that takes you back down?" My sheepish reply: an escalator.

  5. Thanks, y'all! I think these quirks of our language are really fun too!The escalator explanation was so funny, Bonnie. You really get a sense of the oddities of our language when you have to explain them to a non-English speaker.

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