Imagine a big, loose drum being beaten: “Bo! Bo! Bo!” Or a big bull bellowing: “BO—! BO—!” How it echoes! How it resounds! How reboant it is!

Reboant? You may not know this word, but I am assured it is current. It’s just not, um, resounding through the language very much. Perhaps it needs a roborant. Well, this word tasting is one, such as it is.

We do have other words that mean about the same thing: echoing, resounding, reverberating. But they all have different feels to them. Echo is a crisp word. Resounding has the pound of ound in it, and you can see the sound although the s is /z/. Reverberating has the vibe of /v/ and verb (such an action word!) and fairly reverberates itself through its five syllables. It sounds as though you had dropped a lightsaber in a cavern.

But reboant!

I should first make sure you know that the stress is on the bo. That’s what really makes this word. If it were on the re it would be a rumbling bang petering off. But on the bo it has a wind-up and then a big bang followed by an echo. It gives you a sense of the sound it intends even as you’re saying it.

Where does this word come from? First from Latin – the re is the same one as in resound, meaning not so much ‘again’ as ‘back, in return’. The boant comes from Latin boare ‘bellow’, which traces to ancient Greek βοᾶν boan ‘shout, roar’. The origin of that is unknown, and I’m sure if etymological researchers had felt it traced to βοῦς bous ‘cow’ someone would have mentioned it. But it does at least seem a fitting coincidence, given that bellowing thing cows sometimes do, you know.

In Christmas music, there’s a lot of stuff about resounding and echoing and so on. Perhaps reboant is too boisterous a word for carols, or perhaps it really was always rather rare. But I recommend you use it on every occasion available this December, to describe bells and organs and baritones – and baritones’ bellowing organs – and choirs and whatever else you want. All those things that sent the Grinch snaky. Perhaps they send you snaky too. You can still use reboant. It’s a value-neutral word. For now.

snook (word review video)

Now that I’m done my month-long work of fiction, it’s time to head back into the word tastings and word reviews. It’s been more than a month since my last video, and I certainly don’t mean to thumb my nose at my readers…

Talking turkey

Last year I did an article on what the turkey is called in different languages – and why. This year we (specifically my splendid producer at The Week, Lauren Hansen, and I) made an audio version of it. So you get to hear me saying the words for ‘turkey’ in all those different languages. Give it a listen!

How the Thanksgiving turkey was named after the country Turkey


Normal, standard, regular, ordinary

Other writers on language have explored the word normalize and its history: Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, Nancy Friedman on her blog Fritinancy, Mark Peters in the Boston Globe, the lexicographers of Merriam-Webster on their blog… But the question no one has addressed so far is: Why can’t we use standardize or regularize in place of normalize? We could conceivably use make ordinary – but why doesn’t ordinary have a verb form, anyway?

So here’s my answer, in my latest article for The Week:

What does normalize even mean?



This is the twenty-first and final chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

“You don’t own that restaurant.”

Janet laughs. “Do you think I own everything? Just a few things.”

They’re walking back from dinner. The evening has gone well. They won’t run out of things to talk about, but he already feels comfortable when there’s silence. The goodness of fit unnerves him slightly. He has had little gapping, no involuntary anagramming. She has done no magic (that he has seen). It seems so… normal. Continue reading


This is the twentienth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

When he wakes up he has a vague headache, no surprise. He’s not sure what time it is but it’s probably not too late in the day. He gets up, opens his door to go to the bathroom

and looks across and sees Janet sitting at the kitchen table, looking at him as he emerges.

Does she know where he went last night? Continue reading


This is the nineteenth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

The room is pervasively red. He is lying, in his new white briefs, on a red b—spread ach bedspread how nice, spread fixed the ed gap. The walls are red, the furniture is red, one door, slightly ajar, is red. There is another door, closed, also red. There are just two interruptions in this sanguine colour scheme:

The walls are covered with posters. Some of them seem to be pages of an abstract modern score, some staves stretched like a sticky cat’s cradle, the notes trapped on them like flies, others like kaleidescope pieces and jumbles of letters. Some of them are posters for musical acts of bygone times: Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Jim Morrison.

Next to him, sitting on the bed, in a kimono, is one. In the flesh. In the flesh tone. One is no longer black-and-white. The kimono is many colours; one’s face is a light tone with a faint sunset glow, but unmistakeably unpainted skin. Our protagonist may be only in his underpants, and one is in a kimono, but he feels that he is seeing one naked while he is still clothed. Continue reading