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Things I Learned Today

Thing one: Despite its appearance, the word contumely* is not an adjective. It’s a noun, and, according to my copy of the OED, it means “(An instance of) contemptuously insulting language or treatment, scornful and humiliating rudeness.” Or, you know, how CK usually responds to my first drafts.

Thing two: The British equivalent of “knock on wood” is “touch wood.” Curious about its origins? Here’s what Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable says:

An old superstition to avert bad luck or misfortune or to make sure of something good; also when feeling pleased with one’s achievement or when bragging. Traditionally, certain trees, such as the oak, ash, hazel, hawthorn and willow, had sacred significance and thus protective powers, Properly these should be the ones touched, but this detail has largely passed into oblivion and any wood to hand is now used. Often, jocularly, the head is touched.

Thing three: The phrase “spitting image” is incorrect. It’s actually “spit and image.” Its origins are a little murky, with some claiming that it has roots in black magic and voodoo, others that it refers to God using spit and mud to create Adam in his own image.

Thing four: Radiohead’s OK Computer is a masterpiece; quite literally a perfect album. (Kidding! I’ve known that all along.) But maybe this is your opportunity to learn something new today. Give it a listen.

*Be sure to look it up to discover all the various and sundry ways to pronounce it.



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