Saturday, October 1, 2011



As you should know by now, I like to tell you about words that are fun to say, and hullabaloo is one of those words.  Also, it turns out to have a connection to dogs, so that makes it an even better word to talk about.  A hullabaloo is a big, noisy commotion.  Sometimes it involves people who are making a racket to protest something that they are angry about.

Now, here's the doggy part.  This word started out in England during fox hunts, because the hunters would call out "halloo-balloo" to the hounds to get them excited about chasing the fox.  A fox hunt is a very noisy event, once it gets going, with all the dogs baying and the people shouting.  So that's how a hullabaloo came to mean a loud commotion.


This is a Hebrew word, and it means the part of a plant that has grain in it, such as an ear of corn.  But that is not how we use this word today in English.  Now a shibboleth is something that shows where you come from or what group you are part of.  But in the past, a shibboleth was sometimes used to test whether you were an enemy that ought to be killed.

The way all this got started was because in the Bible, in Judges 12:5-6, there was a test that the Gilead people gave to the Ephraimite people who were trying to sneak back home after the Gileadites had already defeated them in battle.  So whenever a person from Ephraim tried to come back into Gilead, they were asked to say "shibboleth," but in their language, there was no "sh" sound, so they would say "sibboleth," and then they got killed.  I know this is a not-nice, bloody story, but I did not make it up.  I am just telling it to you like it is told in the Bible.

During World War II, American soldiers in the Pacific area used the word lollapalooza as a test of whether people who were hiding were native English speakers or not.  This word worked for that because the Japanese usually say "r" instead of "l", and they could not pronounce lollapalooza correctly.

Other types of shibboleths are things that people who grew up at the same time in the same country all share, like TV shows, songs, and stuff like that.  Or shibboleths might be shared experiences that people had in places like college or the military or working in the same office.


I think a lot of people probably know this word, and it's a funny one to say because it has "butt" in it.  What it means is rumors and gossip and other such stuff that is interesting to talk about.  But in the beginning, a scuttlebutt was a big wooden cask that was on the deck of a sailing ship, and it held fresh water for the crew to drink.  So when the sailors got thirsty, they would gather around the scuttlebutt and and talk while they were getting some water.  This is the same thing that happens nowadays in an office where people stand around the water cooler and talk about the latest gossip.

You might also be interested to know that a butt, which is a wooden barrel, holds two hogsheads of liquid.  This is the same as 126 US gallons.  They had some pretty strange names for measurements back in the old days, if you ask me.


Hubris is a word that comes from Greek, and it means extreme pride or arrogance.  If you have a bad case of hubris, you might get so out of touch with reality that you think you are perfectly wonderful and fabulous in every way, even if you are not.  In Ancient Greece, hubris was a legal term, and showing hubris was a crime because it meant that you were shaming or humiliating somebody else just to make yourself feel good.  Some examples of hubris are what today we would call assault, rape, theft, mutilation of a corpse, or heresy.

Nowadays, hubris is like the pride that goes before a fall, or the pride that blinds a person.  It means being so confident in your own abilities that you don't use common sense.  It means ignoring moral laws and feeling that you can do no wrong.  And I will just add that if you have hubris, I would really prefer that you stay far away from me!


This word came from the British Navy in the late 1800s.  It means a person who avoids their work or responsibilities.  It especially describes someone who tries to get out of serving in the military during wartime.  But it can also just mean anybody who is a shirker or slacker.  Another use of the word is for people who are tight-fisted and who try to avoid paying for their share of anything.

So anyway, that's today's vocabulary lesson.  I hope you have learned some new words and that you will use some of them as soon as you can!


  1. Very interesting! You blogged about two words I don't think I have heard before: Shibboleth and Scrimshanker. Again I thank you for increasing my vocabulary. I guess now that I know 2 new words I need to use them....hmmm...that will take some thinking on my part!
    Love, AP

  2. I think lots of people have not heard of those two words. I like to try to find at least one or two words that even Mom has not heard of. That way, maybe people will learn something. Except if they have better vocabularies than Mom, they won't learn a thing! LOL
    Love, Piper