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.