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.

Logophile Language Puzzlers: Idioms, Animals, and Capitals

Put your knowledge of idioms, animals, and state capitals to the test with these questions from the Logophile that appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Answers and explanations are below.

1. Aunt Jenny’s doctor said not only that she had a clean bill of health, but that she was

  1. hale and hearty.
  2. hale and hardy.
  3. hail and hearty.
  4. hail and hardy.


2. A young mother named her triplet sons after the animals they resembled at birth. The first was born roaring like a lion, so she named him Leonine. The second had a prominent nose and piercing eyes, like an eagle, so she named him Aquiline. The third brother had big feet, skinny legs, and a long neck, like an ostrich. What did she name him?

  1. Corvine
  2. Pavonine
  3. Struthionine


3. What is the only state capital whose name shares no letters with its state’s name?

Answers and Explanations

1. a. hale and hearty

Getting this idiom correct requires detangling two pairs of homophones. We’ll take them one by one:

The word hail has many different uses in English. It’s a salutation (“Hail, good sir!”), an acclamation (hail to the chief), a summoning or calling out (“Hail the starship.”), one’s hearing distance (staying within hail), and, of course, a downpour of car-dinging ice balls. But none of these senses has anything to do with one’s health.

Hale, on the other hand, does. It is etymologically related to the word whole and means “free from defect” or “retaining exceptional health and vigor.” Noticing that hale is an anagram of heal may help you remember that it is the homophone related to health.

Hearty can mean both “vehement, unrestrained” and “exhibiting vigorous good health.”

Hardy, as you might guess, is related to hard. It means “tenacious, inured to hardship” — like hardy mums, for example.
While being hardy — having the ability to withstand hardship without damage — is a good outlook for one’s health, the idiom for being in overall excellent health is “hale and hearty.”


2. c. struthionine

The English lexicon includes a veritable zoo of words that mean “of or relating to” a particular animal. A few of them we use all the time, such as canine, feline, and bovine. Others are less well-known but rather transparent, as with hippopotamine, falconine, and serpentine. Others are not so obvious.

Like many of these “animal words,” struthionine derives from Latin: struthio means “ostrich.” Struthionine (or, alternatively, struthious) not only describes something that physically looks like or is related to an ostrich but can also refer to the figurative sense of “burying one’s head in the sand” that has long been attributed to ostriches — though the characterization is scientifically inaccurate.

Here are just some of the adjectives available and the animals they indicate:


3. Pierre, South Dakota

Coming up with this answer is simply a matter of remembering your state capitals and comparing letters.

While you’re thinking of state capitals, try this bonus question: The names of four state capitals begin with the same letter as the name of their state. How quickly can you name them?


This article is featured in the September/October 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.


Logophile Language Puzzlers: Politicians, Pep Talks, and Chintz

Put on your thinking caps and take on Logophile’s latest language puzzlers, which appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of the Post. Answers and explanations are below.

  1. A politician who is meretricious
    1. has earned his position through hard work.
    2. is an excellent researcher.
    3. is insincere.
  2. Which team hit the field with more confidence?
    1. The Bluehawks were enervated after Coach Terry’ pep talk.
    2. The Redhawks were innervated after Coach Jean’s pep talk.
  3. Betty is afraid of a ghost but not a ghoul, of a biopsy but not an endoscopy, of chintz but not paisley, and even of her own name. What one thing is Betty really afraid of?


1. c. is insincere.

Meretricious comes from the Latin verb merēre, “to earn, gain, or deserve,” which also gave us the words merit, meritorious, and emeritus. But meretricious is synonymous with none of them.

Merēre is also the root of the Latin noun meretrix, “prostitute,” and so meretricious originally meant “relating to or having the nature of prostitution.” Shortly after the word was adopted into English in the 17th century, people also began to use it to refer to things that were superficially attractive but that lacked true value or integrity, and that’s how the word is most commonly used today.

A meretricious politician, then, is insincere — making attractive statements and grand promises but lacking the integrity to follow through on them.

2. b. The Redhawks

The verbs enervate and innervate are antonymous near-homophones — they sound very similar but mean the opposite of one another. Both stem from the Latin root nervus, “nerve or sinew.” Enervate begins with the Latinate prefix e-, meaning “out of,” and so means “to drain of nerve, strength, or vigor.” Innervate, on the other hand, begins with in-, which means (unsurprisingly) “in,” and the word means “to arouse or stimulate, or to supply with nerves.”

One who is enervated is “out of nerve,” and one who is innervated has been stimulated to action, so the correct answer is b; the Redhawks have more confidence.

Here’s a mnemonic device to help you keep the two words separate in your mind: If someone is innervated, they’ve (metaphorically) had nerves put in them; if a person is enervated, their nerve has escaped, exited, emptied out.

3. Betty fears alphabetical words.

Did you catch what characteristic the words ghost, biopsy, chintz, and Betty share that ghoul, endoscopy, and paisley don’t? Here’s a hint: Other words that share this property are accent, billow, chimps, glossy, and knotty.

Here it is: Betty is afraid of words whose letters are arranged in alphabetical order.


These three questions appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of the Post. Not a subscriber? You can start a new subscription here.

Logophile Language Puzzlers: Palettes, Nonplussed, Julia Roberts

How well do you know the English language? Here are three puzzlers about vocabulary and usage from the Logophile. Do you know the answers?

  1. Vincent needs to cleanse his palette, so he reaches for
    1. toothpaste
    2. lemon sorbet
    3. turpentine
  2. Which boy is nonplussed?
    1. Tom gapes at the pile of hay, unable to speak. How will he ever find the needle in there?
    2. Jerry smirks and reaches for the magnet in his pocket.
  3. What characteristic do sequoias, pneumonia, and Julia Roberts share that sycamores, influenza, and Eric Roberts do not?

Answers and Explanations

1. c. turpentine

English contains three homophones that are easily and quite often confused:

To cleanse his palette, Vincent needs to clean old paint off a piece of wood. Of the three choices, (c) turpentine will work best.


2. a. Tom

The word nonplussed is all too often misused. It was originally an English use of the Latin phrase non plus, “no more,” and meant “a state at which no more can be done or said; a state of perplexity or befuddlement.” Nonplus was also occasionally used as a verb, and perhaps this is where the surviving adjective nonplussed originated from.

Someone who is nonplussed is puzzled or shocked to the point of inaction. It has a long list of fun synonyms, including befuddled, gobsmacked, dumbfounded, and flummoxed. The answer to question 2, then, is a.

Possibly because nonplussed begins with that negating prefix non-, people sometimes mistakenly believe that it means its opposite: unfazed, nonchalant, or unperturbed.


3. They use all the five regular vowels, AEIOU, exactly once.

This happens in the English language more often than you might expect. Other common words that use each vowel exactly once are education, nefarious, questionably, subordinate, and tenacious.

Abstemiously and facetiously are especially noteworthy. Not only do they use all six vowels, AEIOUY, exactly once, but those vowels appear in alphabetical order.


These three questions first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of the Post. Not a subscriber? You can start a new subscription here.