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Oddity with Words

September 30, 2018

Today I ran into three common words that I’ve heard most of my life, yet I had to look them up to be certain what was true about each one.
The first is rather simple: was alm singular for alms? We had a guest speaker today at church. He asked a person in the congregation, “What is an alm?” He repeated the question, still using no ‘s’ on the ending. I’ve always thought alms was one of those words that was singular in spite of having an ‘s.’
alm: I was surprised to see that alm was in the dictionary. It is a proper noun, being the name of a book character and also a mountain.
Example: After a climb of more than three-quarters of an hour they reached the top of the Alm mountain. (Heidi Johanna Spyri)


alms: noun (used with a singular or plural verb)
It is money, food, or other donations given to the poor or needy; anything given as charity: Example: He was in rags, and carried the usual beggar’s wallet for food or alms. Welsh Fairy Tales William Elliott Griffis
My second run-in with a word definition was incarnation:
This sentence is from an article in our the local paper for my Writers Guild project that I’m participating in. Charlotte Ehney, with the Greenwood Writers Guild, and Dana Gonzalez, with the Greenwood Artist Guild, are among those who have coordinated the third incarnation of this project.
Incarnate means “having a bodily form.” If you encounter someone who pulls off butterflies’ wings for fun, you might describe that person as “evil incarnate.” The meaning of incarnate is precisely what its Latin roots suggest. The prefix in– means “in” and caro means “flesh,” so incarnate means “in the flesh.”
Wikipedia says: Description and development of the traditional doctrine. Incarnation refers to the act of a pre-existent divine being, the Son of God, in becoming a human being.
Merriam-Webster has: a person who represents a quality or idea. the Incarnation in the Christian religion: the belief in Jesus Christ as both God and a human being.
Collins English Dictionary has 3 definitions:
1. endowment with a human body; appearance in human form
2. any person or animal serving as the embodiment of a god or spirit
3. any person or thing serving as the type or embodiment of a quality or concept
the incarnation of courage
Incarnation is one of the 10,000 most commonly used words in the Collins dictionary. So why can’t I see how it fits in the sentence in the article?
The third word I found myself doubting my definition of was flibbertigibbet. (I ran into this while researching the words. The article was on the Merriam-Webster site, 10 Polite Words for Impolite People.) I’ve included several sentences because I thought it helped explain it better: I wasn’t always such a, shall we say, flibbertigibbet. Quite the opposite, actually. I was a devastatingly shy child. I whispered instead of speaking.
Merriam-Webster has: Flibbertigibbet is one of many incarnations of the Middle English word flepergebet, meaning “gossip” or “chatterer.” (Others include “flybbergybe,” “flibber de’ Jibb,” and “flipperty-gibbet.”) It is a word of onomatopoeic origin, created from sounds that were intended to represent meaningless chatter. Shakespeare apparently saw a devilish aspect to a gossipy chatterer; he used “flibbertigibbet” in King Lear as the name of a devil. This use never caught on, but the devilish connotation of the word reappeared over 200 years later when Sir Walter Scott used “Flibbertigibbet” as the nickname of an impish urchin in the novel Kenilworth. The impish meaning derived from Scott’s character was short-lived and was laid to rest by the 19th-century’s end, leaving us with only the “silly flighty person” meaning.
Example: forced to endure a long flight with a flibbertigibbet as a seat companion
I love the word flibbertigibbet. It’s silly sounding. I had no reason to look it up other than because I could. You cannot imagine my surprise to see the word incarnations used! I reread the newspaper article and thought about concept that Collins Dictionary used. It gives me a better idea, but I still don’t feel I have a firm grasp on it.

From → Everyday Life

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