Friday, January 30, 2015



This is an extremely fun word to say, and besides that, it's fairly useful.  A kerfuffle is a disturbance or disagreement, often within an organization.  Whenever a kerfuffle happens, there are bound to be misunderstandings, accusations, and defensiveness.

One definition I looked at said that a kerfuffle is smaller than a contretemps, larger than a snag, and involved more people than a SNAFU or a stink.

The word comes from the Scottish Gaelic word cearr, which means "wrong" or "awkward" and fuffle, which means to become disheveled.  The first known use was in 1946.

Unholy Matrimony (1821), by Thomas Rowlandson

The original meaning of virago was a woman who was strong, brave, and warlike.  This was a very good meaning, I think, but now the word is used in a totally different way.  If you call a woman a virago these days, you mean that she is loud and bad-tempered, a scold, and a shrew.


People who are abstemious are very moderate in what they eat and drink.  They do not indulge themselves in anything, really, and they are especially sparing in their diet.

You might think that the word abstemious is related to the word abstain, but the only thing the two words share is the abs- prefix.  The second part of the word, -temious comes from the Latin temetum, which means "intoxicating drink."  So the original use of abstemious was to describe a person who stayed away from alcohol.

The troglodyte city of Khyunglung was the capital
of the ancient Shangshung Kingdom in Western Tibet.

Troglodytes were ancient peoples who lived in caves.  Nowadays, most people live in regular houses, so troglodyte is used to describe someone who has outdated ideas and maybe even lives all alone, away from society.  You can also call a person a troglodyte if you think he or she is a brute.

An animal that lives underground can also be a troglodyte.  I think this is a strange use for the word, though, because lots of animals live underground in burrows.  Would you call a prairie dog a troglodyte?  That just seems silly!


People are always telling other people "Don't take any wooden nickels!"  So I got to wondering where this phrase came from.  Of course, it's clear that if someone gives you a nickel that is made of wood instead of metal, it is worthless because you can't spend it.  But why would anybody even think there might be nickels out there that are made of wood?

Well, it turns out that during the 1930s, when the Great Depression was happening, some banks and chambers of commerce issued wooden nickels to help merchants make change.  These wooden nickels had expiration dates, so you had to turn them back in before that date.  Otherwise you lost your five cents, which would not be a big deal nowadays, but in the 1930s, you could actually buy something with that amount.
1934 Chicago World's Fair

There is another type of wooden nickel that is used to commemorate or promote some special event.  This sort of nickel was mentioned in print as early as 1888.  Wooden nickels like this are very collectible, especially for people who do geocaching.  So if you're into this sort of thing, it would actually be good to take wooden nickels, because that is the whole point!


  1. Very interesting, Dorrie! I remember once someone gave me a wooden coin about the size of a half dollar, I believe. Instead of a nickel, it claimed to be a "round to-it." The intent was to eliminate the need to say, "I'll do that when I get around to it." But I knew just what to do about that: I promptly lost my round to-it!

    You also reminded me of my grade school teachers' habit of making us use our new vocabulary words in a sentence. Just for fun, I'll take a stab at using your words in a sentence: Only a virago would get into a kerfuffle with an abstemious troglodyte over a wooden nickel. How's that for ridiculous!


    PS--Thanks for one more new word: geocaching. Thanks to a Google search, I know all about it now. Maybe sometime you and your brothers can create a doggy version of geocaching.

    1. Dear Aunt Sharon,
      My mom thinks that round tuit thing was something the minister gave out at church when you two were growing up. Of course, Mom could be wrong, because she is old and forgetful these days! I like your sentence that you made out of all the new words. I only know a little bit about geocaching, but I think a doggy version would be a good idea. We could bury stuff and then another dog could find it and dig it up. Of course, there are already tracking classes and competitions that dogs can take, and that is sort of the same thing, in a way.
      Love, Dorrie