Logophile Language Puzzlers: Goofs, Grumps, and Cheese

1. In a ______ that would follow him to his dying day, Geoffrey greeted the Queen by saying, “It is my majesty, Your Honor.”

  1. gaff
  2. gaffe
  3. guff

2. Which type of protester is likely to be the most disruptive?

  1. A truculent trucker
  2. A taciturn attorney
  3. A tractable actor

3. Sherry prefers daiquiris to margaritas, asiago to mozzarella, tangerines to oranges, and fig newtons to macarons. What’s the key to Sherry’s tastes?


Answers and Explanations

1) b. gaffe

Gaffe with that final e is the word that means “a social or political blunder,” which is certainly what Geoffrey committed when he transposed the words majesty and honor.

The e-less gaff has had a number of meanings over the years, including “a cheap theater,” “a painful ordeal,” and “a deception.” But most use of the word these days comes down to hooks: metal leg spurs used in cockfights, large hooks for moving heavy fish or hanging meat to be butchered, and smaller spikes affixed to boots to aid in climbing are all different types of gaffs.

On a film set, the gaffer is the head electrician, which doesn’t seem to have an obvious connection to hooks. It’s believed, though, that the term came from the name of the person in charge of stage lighting in the early theater. Gaffers would use a gaff — a long rod with a hook on the end — to adjust overhead lights.

Guff is a completely unrelated word that simply means “nonsense,” as in, “Don’t give me any guff!”

2) a. A truculent trucker

The three words truculent, taciturn, and tractable are by no means obscure, but neither are they common.

Truculent, the correct answer, derives from a Latin word that means “savage,” and that is more or less what the word means today — though it has lost some of its fierceness. A truculent person is easy to anger and likely to argue.

Taciturn, a synonym of reticent, means “inclined to silence” — the very opposite of disruptive. You might recognize the related word tacit in there, which usually describes a type of communication without the use of words or speech, as in giving tacit consent. A taciturn attorney might be effective for creating and interpreting complex paperwork but would likely underperform in a courtroom setting.

Tractable isn’t related to tractor but is a relative of treatise. From the Latin tractare “to handle, treat,” tractable means “malleable or easily controlled.” Far from being disruptive, a tractable actor would be easy to direct.

3) Sherry likes foods that are named after places.

News of the Week: After Christmas, Last Christmas, and What to Do On New Year’s Eve

That Christmas Feeling

I don’t know what it feels like at your home the days and nights after Christmas, but in mine it feels like it could be October 9 or January 16. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a tree and only got four cards this year, or maybe it’s because it’s currently 56 degrees, but that Christmas feeling practically vanished on the morning of December 26. It’s been like that for a few years now. I’m going to eat some festive-looking cookies and listen to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” several times to force the holiday mood back into me.


Actually, a lot of people don’t like hearing Christmas songs after the big day is over. For them, the songs need to stop at 11:59 p.m. on Christmas night. I’ve never been that way, though. I don’t mind if the holiday tunes continue until the night of January 1. Though anything after that just seems odd and … sad? Though I would make the case that a lot of Christmas songs are actually just winter songs. You can listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in January and February, because it is (or should be). You can crank up “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” until winter’s over because you want to let it. You can even play “Sleigh Ride” because that’s not something you only do in December (in fact, weather-wise, you’re more likely to do it in January or February).

I wouldn’t go with “Jingle Bells,” though. While one could argue that’s more winter/sleigh ride–oriented and isn’t geared toward Christmas, just try to listen to it without thinking of Santa.

RIP Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael, Richard Adams, and George Irving

When we all heard that Carrie Fisher had suffered a heart attack on a plane headed to Los Angeles last week, we thought that she would be okay. But the actress passed away on Tuesday at the age of 60.

Fisher, of course, is famous for playing Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films and last year’s The Force Awakens, and she’d already completed filming her parts for Star Wars VIII. But she was also in many other famous films, including When Harry Met Sally, Shampoo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Come Back, Little Sheba. She also appeared in TV shows like 30 Rock, Frasier, Laverne & Shirley, Smallville, The Big Bang Theory, and Family Guy (she played Peter’s boss, Angela). She was also an acclaimed writer, penning such books as Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking, and last month’s The Princess Diarist, which sold out on Amazon a few hours after her death was announced. She also worked as a script doctor on many films.

And if the death of Fisher wasn’t enough for her family to deal with, just one day later her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, passed away after suffering a stroke. She was 84.

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (Shutterstock)
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (Shutterstock)

Reynolds’s career started in the late ’40s with bit parts, which led to her big role in the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain in 1952. She also appeared in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Susan Slept Here, Tammy and the Bachelor, The Tender Trap, and How the West Was Won, as well as dozens of other films.  On TV she starred in The Debbie Reynolds Show, Aloha, Paradise, The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, and Family Guy, and was nominated for an Emmy for playing Grace’s mom on Will & Grace, along with a ton of other credits over the past 60-plus years. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

If I can inject a quick personal story: I met Reynolds in 1994 when she appeared in an episode of Wings where I appeared as an extra. I just met her for a quick moment (she was with her good friend Rip Taylor) when she talked to the extras that were gathered backstage. She gave a funny performance in that episode.

According to her son Todd, her last words before the stroke were “I miss her so much. I want to be with Carrie.”

I’ve heard “Last Christmas” a lot this month, and a friend commented that it’s odd that the singer of that song should die around the holidays. George Michaelpassed away Sunday at the age of 53.

Michael hit big fame as half of the duo Wham! (along with Andrew Ridgeley). Besides “Last Christmas,” their hits include “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper,” and “Everything She Wants.” When the band broke up in 1986, Michael went on to have solo hits like “Faith,” “Father Figure,” and “I Want Your Sex” (or “I Want Your Love,” depending on what radio station you were listening to at the time). He also teamed with Aretha Franklin for “I Knew You Were Waiting” and Elton John for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”

Richard Adams was the author of the classic children’s book Watership Down, as well as the novels The Plague Dogs, The Girl in a Swing, and Shardik. He passed away Tuesday at the age of 96.

George S. Irving was a Tony-winning stage actor since the early ’40s, appearing in such productions as Oklahoma!, Call Me Mister, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Twos Company, Can-Can, Irma La Douce, and the revival of Pirates of Penzance. He was also seen in such TV shows as The Patty Duke Show, Naked City, All in the Family, Ryans Hope, and the cartoons Underdog and Go-Go Gophers.

You probably heard his voice on TV this Christmas season; he was the voice of Heat Miser in the animated classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. Irving died Monday at the age of 94.

The Musketeers of Pig Alley

Scene from The Musketeers of Pig Alley

The Library of Congress has announced that 25 films have been added to the National Film Registry, and many of them share a theme. The list includes The Breakfast Club, Rushmore, Blackboard Jungle, East of Eden, and The Decline of Western Civilization, all films that center around teens and their problems.

Other films on the list include Funny Girl, The Lion King, Lost Horizon, and two films I’ve never heard of: D.W. Griffith’s 1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley (known as the first gangster film) and 1903’s The Life of an American Fireman, one of the earliest feature films.

Sorry, no Adam Sandler films are on the National Film Registry list, but maybe they just haven’t seen Grown Ups 2 yet.

This Week in History

Clara Barton Born (December 25, 1821)

The nurse and patent office clerk started the American Red Cross in 1881.

Norman Rockwells Discovery Cover Published (December 29, 1956)

Rockwell’s last Christmas cover for The Saturday Evening Post showed what happens when kids go snooping in their parents’ bedroom after Christmas.

“The Discovery” From December 29, 1956

“The Discovery”
From December 29, 1956


USS Monitor Sinks (December 30, 1862)

The remains of the steamship, which sank during a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, were found in 1973. Several parts of the ship are in the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport Beach, Virginia.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

The world can be divided into two distinct groups: people who go out on New Year’s Eve and those who stay home. I’m in the latter group. Have been for years. I don’t want to deal with the craziness, the crowds, the forced fun, the cold temperatures. Also, I might miss the Three Stooges marathon.

What are you doing on New Year’s Eve? Going out or staying in to watch the Times Square ball drop on TV? Let us know below in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Resolutions and Recipes

Curry Deviled Eggs
Curry Deviled Eggs

A lot of people say they don’t make resolutions. I’m not sure I believe them. You may not sit down and think of making resolutions in a specific, planned way, but when one year is ending and a new one is beginning, it’s natural for us to think about what has happened in the past year and how we’re going to change/improve things in the coming year, career-wise, family-wise, health-wise. You’re actually making resolutions without even realizing that you’re making resolutions.

If you’re entertaining this New Year’s Eve, how about trying some party-themed recipes? To start things off with an appetizer, try these Bacon Cheese Puffs or these Curry Deviled Eggs. For the main course, you can make this Classic Pot Roast or Coffee-Cured Chicken. For dessert, there’s this Caramel Fondue or this Chocolate–Peanut Butter Cheesecake. And to toast at midnight, how about this Grand Champagne Cocktail?

Happy New Year! I’m making the same two resolutions I made last year. I won’t tell you what they are, but if I actually succeed, I’ll let you know.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

New Years Day (January 1)

If you’re not skiing or traveling or sleeping really late because you had a hard night, maybe you can spend the day in front of the TV watching football, parades, the annual Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy, and at night catching the season premiere of Sherlock on PBS.

National Hobby Month (starts January 1)

It’s a good month to start a new hobby or get back to your old one. I used to collect TV Guide. Yes, I am Frank Costanza.