It’s unclear when or why the words tussle and tousle divided into different meanings. A tussle is a physical struggle that suggests shoving and pulling. When you mess up someone’s hair, the word is tousle. If you’ve tussled with police breaking up a language debate that got out of hand, your hair might end up tousled. The words are close cousins, but for some reason we have two spellings for similar concepts.
We’ve been parboiling our food for centuries despite an odd, early shift in the meaning of the word from fully boil to partly boil. I was recently asked about a new-to-me word: parbake.
A par baked or par-baked or parbaked pie crust or loaf of bread is partially baked and then frozen, to be thawed and fully baked later. I might have used half-baked, but that’s not accurate. Parbaked items are mostly baked, needing a quick visit to the oven to finish them off.
If we lived in medieval times, we word lovers might participate in an amusement called Ragman, the key component of which was the Ragman Roll. A roll of parchment contained verses that were connected to strings that players would choose at random. The connected verse was said to say something about the character of the chooser.
Some sources say the roll was named after one of the characters in the verses, Ragemon le Bon. Ragman also was an early name for the Devil.
Crevasse is clearly a French word that means, pretty much, a big crevice. We’re most likely to find a crevasse in a glacier, because that’s where it gained a foothold in English.
Both words come from the word crevace, which English borrowed from French in the 14th century. Crevace became crevice in English and crevasse in French. Climbers used the French word as they hiked around Switzerland, avoiding deep fissures and chasms in the Alpine ice.
One of the language newsletters I read has a feature that gives quick lessons on usage problems. The feature is often informative, reminding readers of the difference between loath (an adjective) and loathe (a verb) or that descend doesn’t need to be followed by down.
But once in a while, the feature baffles me, as with this recent (paraphrased) lesson:
Recently, I initiated a mentoring program here at Copyediting. I put the call out for mentors and mentees and matched people up.
Over on Twitter, though, @MANUALOFHULK (aka Chicago Style Hulk) asked in Hulk-like fashion: "@Copyediting MENTOR PROGRAM SOUND PROMISING, BUT HULK ALSO CURIOUS—MIGHT 'PROTÉGÉS' HAVE LEG UP ON 'MENTEES'?" @MANUALOFHULK linked to an entry in Garner’s Modern American Usage as support.
If you have been living in North America this winter, you’ve probably used several words for snow, some of them not so polite. I come from the land of snow, where nine and twelve foot accumulations were typical. This year, that town has shut down nearly a dozen times. I mean, they closed the schools and pulled the ploughs off the road.