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Sometimes I see random words and write them down to learn more about them later. I know you do the same thing.

A "seamstress" is a woman who sews clothes. The word has been around since about the 1500s. But what about a man who sews? I think of tailor, first. But "seamster" was around about a century earlier.

"Tailor" doesn't specify the gender of the stitcher.

"Sewer," as in one who sews, was another nongender-specific synonym the dictionary suggested for tailor, but that's too similar to those pipes that carry sewage.

"Tepid" means moderately warm, and not in a good way. You call some item of food tepid when you believe it should be hotter. It's from a Latin root.

I remember my friend Chris telling me years ago that when she was a waitress, a diner complained that his lamb was tepid. After that, I was never able to use the word. Doing so would make me feel snooty.

I do use the word "lukewarm," which means nearly the same as "tepid."

Both words also mean unenthusiastic or lacking passion. Try to avoid being called either one.

I like the complexity of the word "bankrupt," though I hope never to be bankrupt. I thought it might have something to do with banks. Maybe ruptured banks.

The "bank" portion is from Italian and French words for "bench" or "table." But it was the name for a moneychanger's table. That is where we get our word "bank," as in the financial institution where we might leave our money until we spend it.

The "rupt" part meant broken. (The same root is in "erupt and "rupture.") Apparently, it was a custom to break the table of a moneychanger's table when one had no money left. I'm not sure whether those were simpler or more complicated times.

Some words get my attention because of the spelling. "Misstep" always looks wrong to me. It means a wrong move, either actual or abstract.

The inept dancer's performance of the box step could accurately be called the misstep.

His move to a different company was turning out to be a tactical misstep.

I thought it might be a portmanteau, or smashing together of two words. I guessed it was "mistaken" and "step," but I couldn't find evidence of that.

I can't go too long without bringing up a word from a Scrabble game. Recently, my friend Jean-Marc played the word "unmeet" and said that he can't imagine how one can unmeet another person once they've met.

I agree, unless time travel is a real thing.

It turns out that unmeet isn't a verb. It's an adjective meaning "not fit" and dates to 900, even though it didn't take on the "unsuitable" meaning until the 1500s. "Meet" is also an adjective for "suitable."

A couple of dictionaries say "unmeet" is archaic. Scrabble thinks it's fantastic. That is so typical.

Where did we get "bevy"? It means a group of things. It might be many birds, particularly quails. Or it could be women. The Washington Post has used "bevy" with school supplies, stars (as in famous people) and football talent. Unfortunately, its origin is not known. At times like this, I could really use that time travel thing.

Add one "v" and you get "bevvy," a favorite of most journalists I know. (As in beverages. As in those with alcohol.) The word is in Merriam-Webster as an informal British word.

I always have to look up the definition of "fatuous." It means foolish and is from Latin.

Merriam-Webster offers a good synonym: "lunkheaded." I could remember that.

SO ...

I heard from a few of readers about "so," which I wrote about two weeks ago. (The average use of the word "so" in the emails I received numbered 12.) Readers had heard it from peers, a doctor, a theologian, a jeweler, on CNBC and CBS.

A couple of people reminded me of the term "so-and-so." That can mean an unnamed person, or it can be a euphemism for a harsher word. I remember a friend calling her 2-year-old son a "cheeky so-and-so" after he had lined up every toy car he owned in the upstairs hallway, thus causing a major roadblock for any pedestrians up there.

And one reader taught me that "Amen" translates from Hebrew as "so be it," a response to a prayer one agrees with.

And another taught me that a shortened version of a Japanese phrase sounds like "so." It's a response to a question and translates roughly as, "Yes, that's right."

Sources: American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,, Oxford Dictionaries, Bible Hub,, World Wide Words, The Washington Post

Style on 05/27/2019

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