An Example That Defines “Humblebrag” defines “humblebrag” as:

Subtly letting others now about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or “woe is me” gloss.

Here’s a prime example, which I overhead last week at the Aspen Music Festival and School:

Music Student 1: I had this strange gig last night.

Music Student 2: Yeah?

humblebrag City_of_Martin_Folk_Dance_Music_Group_Eyes_of_Violin_Player…Eyes_of_Violin_Player.JPG                                               By JacquesDuivenvoorden 

MS1: It was this tribute dinner for James Levine? And we had to play these, you know, Johann Strauss waltzes? And, like, they only gave us the scores 36 hours before? And they had me play First Violin. I was so nervous; I had way more notes than anyone else. Good thing James Levine wasn’t there.

Both: [Laughter]

MS1: But Bono was there!

MS2: And you think he judged you harshly?

MS1: Yeah…

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Extra Lex: 14 Food and Beverage Words with Arabic Origins

imageAn  alcoholic’s first nip of the morning may be called an “eye opener,” but who would have thought that the word “alcohol” derived from a term related to eyeliner?  Get the scoop here:

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Extra Lex: A Three-Letter Word That Defies Definition

It’s a common word with only three letters. But can you define “art”?

To Plato, art was imitation of nature, but in the 19th century, photography took over that function, and in the 20th, abstract art overturned the whole notion that art was about representation. And although art meant skill early on, conceptual artists elevated ideas over execution. So what is art? Does it have to be beautiful? Expressive? Original? Uplifting? Intellectual? Here’s how 27 artists, critics, and others answered the question, “What is art?”

Paris Photo20140427_174833


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Extra Lex: Treacherous Look-Alike Words in Spanish and English

According to an old ditty, “Spanish is a funny language where ropa isn’t rope, sopa isn’t soap and the butter is meant t’ kill ya.” Here are 48 more examples of Spanish-English “false friends”:

Spanish-English faux amis


Incidentally, mantequilla, butter, is the diminutive of manteca, lard.

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Lexie and Election Electricity

“Does that answer your question, ma’am?” Ms. Khan said into her phone. I hadn’t realized she had me on speaker. She looked down at the phone. Apparently Mrs. Big was responding by text.

“Thanks, Ms. Kahn. My employer says she sees how the different meanings of spring fit together. You don’t have to explain about the coiled metal type; she sees how it bounces up like the spring of water. She has another question now.”

I squeezed the envelope of cash. “Sure. Shoot.”

“She wants to know if elect and electric are related.”

“Is it true the reason her corporation is supplying electronic voting machines for several states has less to do with profits than with swaying elections?”

Election 512px-Urna_eletrônica

She wagged her finger at me. “No you didn’t. You didn’t try to use the old ‘How did you know? I didn’t; you just told me’ trope on me. I never revealed the identity of my employer.”

“You got me there. OK. No, the two words are not related. Elect is from Latin ēlectus, past participle of ēligĕre to pick out, choose. Eligĕre breaks into ē- out, and legĕre to chose, from the Indo-European root leg-, to collect.

Electric originally meant ‘possessing the property (first observed in amber) of developing static electricity when rubbed. It comes from post-classical Latin electricus of amber, amber-like, which is from classical Latin ēlectrum amber, ultimately from Greek ēlektron.”

“If elect means to choose, it must be related to select,” she said.

“Mmm-hmm. From the Latin verb seligere with the same root, legere, preceded by se- ‘apart’ instead of ē- out. Basically the same thing. The root leg- appears in a lot of other words you wouldn’t think are related. But I’ll have another Frappuccino before we get into that.


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Extra Lex: Retronyms for when you’re talking old school

If Don Draper of “Mad Men” asked his secretary to place the GM file on his desktop near the dashboard icon, she might wonder what joker got him a plastic figurine for his car. Those terms have different meaning since computers revolutionized offices, so we need “retronyms” to refer to the old technology.

Lexie’s alter ego discusses retronyms at Mental Floss.


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Extra Lex: Century-Old Words

If you took our 100-Year-Old Words quiz, you may recognize some of these, but it’s hard to believe these words have been around for a century. Imagine Mr Selfridge spouting some of these words and phrases.


        Harry Gordon Selfridge circa 1910. Wikipedia


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Extra Lex: Debunking Myths about Phrase Origins

A widely-circulated email called “Little History Lesson” gets the history of phrases like “big wig,” “to cost an arm and a leg” and “mind your own beeswax” all wrong. Here are the true stories from Mental Floss.

big wig 150669241_0


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Spring Bounces In

I didn’t see her slip in — the tall, wavy-haired figure silhouetted in front of me.

“Afternoon, Ms. Kahn,” she said.

“And to you, Ms. Khan.” It was Amira Khan, the anonymous Boss Lady’s go-fer. Things were looking up. “Mrs. Big” was loaded and generous. After a long drought, the spring was bubbling again. The novelist barista’s questions would have to wait.

“My employer decided to spring for a few etymology questions,” said Ms. Khan, sliding a bulging business-sized envelope toward me. I swear I could hear the crinkle of crisp bills over the hiss of the espresso maker.

“Please, have a seat. What can I do for you?”

“It’s about spring.”

“The season, the water source, or the bouncy kind?”

“All of them. But those are just the nouns. She wants the verbs too.”

I peeked into the envelope and riffled through the green stuff with a thumbnail. “OK. She’s got it covered.


Lupine in Portuguese Bend. J.B. Herman

“The verb meaning ‘to bounce up, move forward with a sudden jerk or bound’ goes back at least to 888, a nice round bouncy year, when the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred translated a 6th century Latin work into English.

“In Anglo-Saxon (or Old English) the noun spring meant ‘the place of rising or issuing from the ground, the source of a well, stream or river.’ It was springing up from the earth, see? Figuratively it came to mean ‘the source or origin of something.’ That meaning broadened out to mean ‘the action or time of rising or springing into existence.’ From around 1380 to 1600 it was common to refer to the spring of day or the spring of dawn. In the 1500s we find writings about the spring of the year.

“Wouldn’t that mean ‘the beginning of the year’?” Ms. Khan asked.

“Exactly. Until the calendar reform of 1751, the new year began on March 25 in England.”

“Spring does seem like the time of new beginnings. It makes sense that the year would begin then.”

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Extra Lex: “Life in the 1500s” Phrase Origins Hoax

While Lexie waits for the return of the novel novelist, check out these articles from Mental Floss debunking a popular email with fake origin stories for many expressions:


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