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Word Wisdom: Cockamamie

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

The other week Patti cleaned the oven inside and out and when she was finished noticed a streak down the glass front window as some liquid leaked into it. So, we took the door apart and cleaned the glass. Of course, when I loosened the screws on the door one of the glass panes crashed. It did not break the glass but bent a metal bracket holding the bottom side of the glass. By the time I bent it back and reassembled the door the metal bracket was scratched and scarred. I needed to buy some white touch-up paint. I thought I would buy a spray can of Tremclad, so I could use it for other things. When I mentioned that to Patti, she said that it was a cockamamie idea. Could I spray that accurately so that no paint would get on the floor or other parts of the oven? I had to agree with her.

Cockamamie means ridiculous and incredible. She told some amazing cockamamie story about snow mold and drunk chickadees. Cockamamie started to be popular in the English language only recently, in the 1960s. Cockamamie is believed to be an altered form of decalcomania of the mid-19th century. Decalcomania refers to the process of transferring pictures and designs from special paper to surfaces of glass or porcelain. The word decal developed as a shortening of decalcomania, referring to the picture or design itself. Decalcomania derives from the French word decalcomanie, formed from the verb decalquer, meaning to trace or to transfer by tracing. In the 1930s the painted strips of paper capable of being transferred to the skin were called decals, or in slang, cockamamies, as they were regarded as silly novelties. In 1962 this morphed into application for anything ridiculous.

Synonyms for cockamamie include absurd, farcical, ludicrous, and preposterous.

Absurd means unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous. The thought of going against centuries of tradition to reset the date for Easter to cater to those wanting a fixed date for a long weekend seems absurd to me.

Farcical implies laughably inept. The effort one must go through to get a refund from many corporations is a farcical procedure.

Ludicrous indicates amusing or laughable through obvious exaggeration. We were disappointed with the movie which was a ludicrous attempt at a romantic comedy.

Preposterous means contrary to nature, reason, or common sense. The resurfacing idea that Princess Diana was not killed in a car accident is a preposterous theory.

How words enter language is always interesting, at least to me. In 1962 there were several popular words or phrases that made an appearance along with cockamamie.

Yakitori, which came from Japanese, meant bite-sized marinated pieces of beef, seafood, or chicken on a skewer. In Japanese yaki means fried, and tori means bird, and is still used in Japan for chicken on a stick, especially from street vendors

Bait and switch developed as a sales tactic in which a customer is attracted by the advertisement of a low-priced item but is then encouraged to buy a higher-priced one.

Win-win meant the arrangement is advantageous or satisfactory to all parties involved.

Buckle up was used to encourage one to fasten their seat belt, as they become more popular in most vehicles. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that buckle up became mandatory in Canadian provinces.

Of all the cockamamie excuses I have ever heard for not handing in assignments, the best is still that the dog ate it. Enjoy April Fool’s Day coming up and see if you can develop some cockamamie story to fool someone.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 



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