Cockalorums, Lickspittles and Snollygosters

Today I’m on my way to Hamburg, Germany, where I’ll be doing publicity for my German TV movies, plus spending time with my German publisher, CORA Verlag.  I wrote this blog in preparation, but I’ll catch you up on my trip next Friday.  Meantime enjoy.

Let me tell you about my secret addiction.  Nothing illegal, mind you, not even shameful.   I’m hopelessly attached to the Merriam-Webster online game of the day.  Along with a cup of coffee, a half-hour walk with beagle Nemo, my daily email from my good friend Casey Daniels, a bowl of my husband’s muesli and a peek at my Facebook page, I have to play whatever Merriam-Webster cooked up for me that day before I can hunker down and write.

The M-W site has a cycle of five different games, and while we wait for the day’s game to load, we can peruse the site’s Top Ten Lists, their Trend Watch (did you know Charlie Sheen popularized the word “charlatan?”) or their Word Well Used.  Since writers love words, this pause in my day is a good one.

Recently the Top Ten List has been “Ten Rare and Amusing Insults.”  Always on a search for oaths my characters can mutter that will not get me in trouble with the Four-Letter-Word-Police–who are alive and well and happy to tell me how disappointed they are in my occasional lapse–I paged through, looking for new possibilities.

What springs to mind when you read “cockalorum?”  And yes, several things, but this is a G-rated blog.  For our purposes today a cockalorum is a boastful, strutting little fellow, like my rooster here.  I’d say Brownie Kefauver, in my Ministry is Murder series might deserve this one.  Level your finger and shout:  “You, cockalorum, you!”  Bring anybody to mind?  Do you know anybody in your immediate life who fits the cockalorum bill?  I’ve filed the word away, although something tells me I’ll have to write fantasy or at least medieval historicals to use it.  The word hails from an obsolete Dutch verb, and until I have an obsolete Dutchman strutting through my novel, cockalorum‘s probably going to stay on the shelf.

Then there’s lickspittle.  I’ve heard that one, haven’t you?  The definition is pretty easy to come up with if you break it into two words.  Know any lickspittles?  Actually, now that I think about it, poor Brownie Kefauver (this is “Dump on Brownie” day) fits this one, as well.  When he’s not strutting he’s, well, licking spittle. 

Smellfungus was word number three, an excessive fault-finder.  I like this one for Brownie’s wife, Hazel, who, alas (this is a mystery series, remember) didn’t live past book three. 

Snollygoster was word number four.  Now that’s a word I could sink my teeth into.  “You wretched snollygoster, Bernie Madoff, you took my home, my income, and my little dog Blue, all because I trusted you with Granny’s millions!”  Of course Bernie Madoff is no joke and deserved a worse insult, but he fits the “unprincipled but shrewd,” definition like his hands fit his kidskin gloves.  Pettifogger, another word on the list, is similar, only it refers to lawyers.  Since I have three (lawyers, not pettifoggers)  in my immediate family, I will not comment further.

There are more words, and more lists at the Merriam Webster website.  If you love words, have fun with these.  Maybe I’ll meet you between “Ten Unusually Long and Interesting Words,” and “Ten Words with Remarkable Origins.”  Just don’t expect to see too many of these wonderful words used in my novels.  I’m not a ninnyhammer or a mumpsimus, but I do believe in clarity and brevity.  I don’t want you to read my work with a dictionary in hand.  Not even a Merriam-Webster.

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