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OPINION | WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE! Filibusters filibuster by staging filibusters

by Bernadette Kinlaw | June 14, 2021 at 1:56 a.m.

Maybe you've heard the word filibuster in the news lately.

I, like many people my age and older, learned about filibusters in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Jimmy Stewart is a rookie senator who makes a marathon speech to block legislation he opposes.

A filibuster is a method to obstruct the passage of legislation. To end rampant usage of filibusters, the Senate came up with the cloture process to end debates on a bill. Cloture just means closure.

Britannica explains the origin of filibuster:

"The word is ... from the Spanish filibustero ('freebooting') and originally described piratical 16th-century privateers. It came ... to designate any irregular military adventurer, such as the Americans who took part in Latin American insurrections in the 1850s. Filibuster was in use in the political sense by the mid-1800s."

I am bringing up this legislative stuff because I noticed an entry for filibuster in The AP Stylebook. A person who uses a filibuster also is a filibuster, not a filibusterer.

I might rally for the word filibusterer. It sounds more entertaining.


After I learned the origin of nitpicking, I didn't want to use it anymore.

"The phrase comes from the task of removing the tiny eggs of lice (nits) from someone's hair and clothing, a tedious activity that required close attention and care," the people at World Wide Words say.

By the 1950s, we started to use nitpicking as "minute and usually unjustified criticism."

Collier's magazine at the time described two ubiquitous Pentagon figures: fly-speckers and nit-pickers. From World Wide Words: "The first of these nouns refers to people whose sole occupation seems to be studying papers in the hope of finding flaws in the writing, rather than making any effort to improve the thought or meaning; nit-pickers are those who quarrel with trivialities of expression and meaning, but who usually end up without making concrete or justified suggestions for improvement." The first of these two slang terms has died out, with the second taking on much of its meaning.

I hope no Pentagon people are reading this.


A while back I wrote about a boxed muffin mix that proclaimed that it contained "new blueberry-flavored bits." It turned out those bits were little bits of apples that are flavored and colored to look and taste like blueberries. That sounded ludicrous to me.

I think I found something to top it, though. I've also written about the overuse of the words artisan and artisanal, which describe food made in a traditional or nonmechanized way using high-quality ingredients.

I saw an ad for artisan ketchup, and I was intrigued.

Ketchup is familiar to me. My late husband put it on nearly everything he ate.

Still, I thought I should look it up to be certain of its meaning. Merriam-Webster defines it as a seasoned, pureed condiment usually made from tomatoes.

You read that right. Tomatoes.

This artisan ketchup, though. The first thing I zoomed in on was the phrase "tomato free."

Yes, this ketchup was made with apples, beets and carrots.

I'm befuddled. Couldn't they have called it a spread, a sauce or a condiment?


I received a marketing email about lower prices for a random product. The ad ended with "This price is no josh."

I hadn't heard that usage before — josh being a noun instead of a verb. I've heard, "I'm not joshing" and "Don't josh with me."

But here it was as a noun. I figured it was another case of nouning, or turning a verb or other part of speech into a noun.

My least favorite example of nouning is using the helpless verb "to ask" as a noun. "I have a big ask for you."

So I went to three dictionaries and found josh listed as a noun, too.

Well, I will still boycott josh as a noun. And, just to check, I looked for "ask" as a noun. One called its use as a noun informal. The other described it as not only informal, but also chiefly British.

I felt a little redeemed.


Urchin is a word I like but don't get to use often. I didn't expect to learn so much about hedgehogs when I investigated this word. It comes from the Old French word for hedgehog, herichun.

Hedgehogs are little creatures covered in needlelike spines. Apparently, the Asian hedgehogs don't have spines. They have coarse hair instead. But they also smell really bad, so I guess that keeps other creatures away nearly as well as spines. When hedgehogs get scared, they roll into balls. That pose, I suppose, is how sea urchins got their name.

Sea urchins are orb-shaped creatures with symmetrical spines. To me they look like burs, the spiny seedcases that I hate finding in the lawn or in my shoe. Also, until today, I thought bur had two r's: burr.

So how did mischievous kids get the name urchin? In parts of 16th-century England, urchin was still the name for a hedgehog. Then people would apply the name to various people. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives examples:

The word was applied throughout the 16th century "to people whose appearance or behavior suggested hedgehogs, from hunchbacks (1520s) to goblins (1580s) to bad girls (1530s)." The meaning "poorly or raggedly clothed youngster" emerged in the 1550s, but was not in frequent use until after about 1780.

It sounds like the word was interviewing for a few jobs.


And the Quite Interesting Twitter site found an interesting name for a sickness.

"In 2016, a 16-year-old girl's emergency hospitalization was reported in the Journal of Emergency Medicine under the title 'Boy Band-Induced Pneumothorax.' She had a collapsed lung from screaming so loudly at a One Direction concert."

I hope this teenager at least got a backstage pass for the next concert.

Sources include The United States Senate, The Washington Post, AP Stylebook, World Wide Words, American Heritage Dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, Quite Interesting, Britannica, Macmillan Dictionary. Reach Bernadette at


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