Lexical Vexations

disburse 1. v. to pay out (esp. from a fund), to pay (e.g., a bill).

disperse 1. v. to break up, to spread something over an area, to make something evaporate.

Words in the Wild: When the bank refused to disburse their life savings to the townsfolk, George had to call the police to disperse the angry mob.

I came across this lexical vexation in a recent edit: a crowd that was supposed to be dispersed was instead disbursed. These two words sound incredibly similar, making this an easy mistake to make, especially when you’re on a roll and your hands are typing as fast as you can think. And, as is so often the case, spell checkers won’t help you uncover one of these errors. But if you remember that the -burse in disburse is also found in bursary, that’ll help. (By the way, the -sperse in disperse goes way back to the Latin spargĕre, meaning to sprinkle.)

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

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I don’t think it will surprise you to learn that I really like word games (though in my defense, I like other games, too, and am truly a well-rounded person, okay? 😀). I recently learned about a new game called Wordslay from its developer, who wondered if I’d be willing to tell you about it, too. It turned out to be a terrific game, and it got me to thinking that you might be interested in hearing about the other wordy games that have made it onto my phone. So, in no particular order, here are the 6 best word games for your phone, according to me.


WordslayWordslay is what would happen if you combined an epic word scramble with that duck-hunting game from the carnival midway. The letters are moving targets and you need to peck out enough of them to make words and score points, all while the clock ticks down. Different game play mechanics in different chapters of the game keep things interesting. Beautiful graphics and sound make this thoroughly addictive game stand out.

Languages: English
Type of Action: Speedy and frantically fun
Number of Players: 1 (or 2 with $2.99 in-app purchase)
Difficulty: This game has just one level of difficulty, but the game play makes Wordslay accessible and fun for everyone from master wordsmiths to second language learners.
Platform & Price: iTunes App Store (free with in-app purchases), Apple Watch ($1.99)
Website:  tylerapps.com


SynonomyFor something more meandering and thinky, look no further than Synonomy. You’re assigned a target word you’re trying to find, and the only way to get there is by choosing a chain of synonyms beginning with the first word you’re given. So, for example, you might be trying to get from the word obstacle to change, and you might do it like this: obstacle → chain → train → groom → fix → adjust → change. Stylish graphics and minimalist sound make this game the perfect one to go with a cup of black tea, an armchair, and a rainy day.

Languages: English
Type of Action: The tranquil and cogitative resolution of conundrums
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: With 5 levels of difficulty to choose from, most people can enjoy this game. Young kids and beginning language learners will probably find this one a challenge.
Platform & Price:
iTunes App Store($1.99), Google Play Store ($2.22), Mac App Store ($1.99), Steam Store ($2.19)
Website:  synonymy-game.com

Alpha 9

Alpha 9Looking for a fast-paced brain burner? Alpha 9 is a bit like Tetris but with raining letter tiles. In wall mode, a pile of letters begin to accumulate and you need to clear them (by forming words) before they reach the top of the screen. And the longer you play, the faster the tiles fall… In clock mode, you begin with a wall full of tiles and try to score as many points you can as the clock counts down. This is a pacey game that somehow manages to be mellow at the same time—chill music and smooth graphics set the tone.

Languages: English, French
Type of Action: An engrossing race against the clock
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Fun for everyone, this is a great game for second language learners.
Platform & Price:
iTunes App Store ($1.99)
Website: iTunes page


WordBoxerWordBoxer combines the strategic point multipliers of Scrabble with the word finding of Boggle in a head-to-head battle with the computer or a friend. You can play in a dozen languages, making it a fun way for second language learners to bone up on their vocabulary. If you or your opponent make a word you don’t know, tapping on the word will take you to its definition. Fun in any language (I would imagine—it was fun in the 2 I tried)!

Languages: Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, French, Frysk, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Type of Action: Relaxed, competitive fun
Number of Players: 1 (against the computer) or 2
Difficulty: The game’s 3 levels of difficulty and its mode of game play make this an accessible game for everyone while keeping everyone challenged.
Platform & Price: iTunes App Store (free with in-app purchases), Google Play Store (free with in-app purchases)
Website:  wordboxer.com

Whirly Word

WhirlyWordIn this game players are given 6 letters and must form as many words from them as possible. Once you’ve reached the minimum score, you can move on to the next word. But beware: if you’re a completionist, you won’t be putting this game down soon. The game shows players how many words they could still make if they just stuck it out, and I, for one, am loath to move to the next word if I haven’t found every single answer for the current challenge! This is a great game for second language learners, too—when the game is done, the meaning of any word that’s been played can be accessed by tapping on the word in the list. The game lets players choose their preferred colour scheme and music (or silence).

Languages: English
Type of Action: Satisfyingly obsessive
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: The game offers the choice of 2 English dictionaries the player can use—the abridged includes only commonly used words while the full dictionary includes lots of arcane words to make things more difficult.
Platform & Price:
iTunes App Store ($1.99)
Website:  whirlyword.com


WordBrainDon’t be deceived. WordBrain starts out easy, but after the first couple of levels, it’ll start to bend your noodle. Players are given a field of letters and must make words with them. With game play in 15 different languages, it’s a good resource for second language learners who want to play their way to a bigger vocabulary. One note of caution, though: the game is looking for a specific word, and anagrams won’t be accepted. So if the offered letters are O – P – S – T, the game won’t accept TOPS or STOP or POTS if it’s looking for OPTS. Playing in both my native English and my second language, French, I found this to be a bit vexing in the beginning. But I have to admit, it does just make the game that much more challenging, which can’t be a bad thing, right?

Languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish
Type of Action: Relaxed, sleuthy fun
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty:  This game doesn’t offer more than one difficulty level. It is easy in the beginning, but it quickly becomes quite challenging.
Platform & Price:
iTunes App Store (free with in-app purchases), Google Play Store (free with in-app purchases)
Website:  maginteractive.se


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by Heather

Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

E’gotheism, n. deification of self.

Word in the Wild: A devout practitioner of egotheism, Danica insisted that not only she, but all of her coworkers, should get her birthday off as a paid holiday.

If enough of us got on board with the practice of egotheism, just think of all the paid holidays we could have!

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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Vicious vs. Viscous

by Heather

Lexical Vexations

vicious 1. adj. cruel or violent.

viscous 1. adj. gluey, thick, slow moving (used to describe liquids).

Words in the Wild: The vicious baker punished her misshapen gingerbread people by drowning them in sweet, viscous icing.

When I edit, I sometimes see these words standing in for one another, often to comic effect. I now know that one must watch out for cruel glue as well as gooey serial killers. These words look very similar on the page, and autocorrect has no idea, of course, which one is correct in a given situation. This is another tricky pair you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

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Need a handy guide to help you keep your gadzookses and your swashes straight? Look no further than this handy glossary of typographical terms from Canva. Go to their website to get even more juicy information about alternate glyphs, kerning, and more: https://designschool.canva.com/blog/typography-terms.


If your appetite for typographical info still isn’t sated, you can always watch this animated film short about the history of typography or check out one of these excellent books on the subject:

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Hochelaga RevisitedHochelaga Revisited was an art exhibition at the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), which has become an important centre for culturally diverse artistic expression in Montreal. And while we’ve lost our chance to attend this exhibition in person, we can still check out the bilingual exhibition catalogue from the Montreal Public Libraries Network.

This 2009 exhibition set out to display works by a group of artists interested in exploring “Montreal as First Nations urban territory. Refuting Hochelaga’s vanishing narrative, they depict personal experiences that cast a light on the still existent – yet often ignored and marginalized – Indigenous presence in the city.”1

Histories of the European settlement of Montreal typically include some account of the indigenous village of Hochelaga found by Jacques Cartier in 1535 on what is now the Island of Montreal. He published his description of the village in his Bref Récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en 1535 et 1536, and it tells of a sizeable village surrounded by fields of corn very near the slopes of Mont-Royal. However, Cartier’s description is considered to be inaccurate and biased by scholars, reflecting as it does “the European perspective on urban planning during the Italian Renaissance.”2 Cartier’s village bears no resemblance to other villages from that time that have been found by archaeologists. Even as he’s reporting on the culture he’s encountered in his voyages, Cartier is already overwriting their culture.

Sadly this tradition of overwriting indigenous culture in Montreal was just getting started. As Ryan Rice points out in his essay in Hochelaga Revisited, “Montreal is a city admired for its melding of old-world sophistication and charm, technological savvy, and multicultural and distinct societies.…However, colonial strategies of erasure and dominant settler narratives have excluded, ignored and removed its original occupants….Hochelaga Revisited reaffirms an enduring indigenous presence….often absent from official histories of this gathering place.”3

The Artists:

Jason Baerg’s large-scale 5-panel painting Flourish combines colour fields, graffiti and graphics.

Lori Blondeau opened the exhibition with her performance as Cosmosquaw, and contributed her poster-sized photograph I Fall to Pieces to the show.

Martin Loft contributed black and white photography from his Montreal Urban Native Portrait Project series.

Cathy Mattes’s installation Le Twist invites viewers to recognize the cultural contortions demanded of indigenous citizens of Montreal.

Nadia Myre engages with Canada’s national anthem in her video Rethinking Anthem.

Ariel Lightningchild Smith shot her video titled Lessons in Conquest in Montreal

 * * *
Next up: Girl Unwrapped by Gabriella Goliger

Girl Unwrapped


1 Rice, Ryan. Hochelaga Revisited. MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), 2009. p. 12–13.

2 Gagné, Michel. “Hochelaga.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Last updated April 2015. Accessed November 2015.

3 Rice, Ryan. Hochelaga Revisited. MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), 2009. p. 12.


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NoCrystalStairNo Crystal Stair, set in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy in the early 1940s, tells the story of Marion Willow as she tries to give her girls the confidence and refinement they’ll need to rise up in the world, even if she knows that “to be coloured is to be at the bottom of the ladder” in Montreal.

The diverse characters Sarsfield draws in No Crystal Stair are forging their identities and communities in the shadow of the Second World War. The war has taken many men from Montreal households but also created a labour vaccuum, giving Black men access to better quality jobs. The question of what will happen when the soldiers return leaves those workers with little security. And, while Quebec women got the vote in 1940, this is still a Montreal where “No woman, not even the wealthiest woman in Westmount, is permitted to sign for utilities” or sign leases, and widowed Marion must find men in the community to sign for her.

It is, ultimately, the bonds within and without the community that help Marion and her girls to succeed. In fact this story is really more about the community than any one person or family— it’s about Torrie, the worldly sophisticate from down the street; Emily, Marion’s adoptive daughter, and her two girls themselves; the women of the Coloured Ladies Club; the flock at the Union United Congregational Church; railway porter and union organizer Otis; and Poppa Dad. It’s about the provincial citizens of Chatsworth, Quebec; the francophone butcher’s boy from across the way; the Scottish manager where Marion works; the Russian emigrés at the ballet school; and a well-meaning if stubbornly race blind feminist in Westmount. Marion takes care of all of them and they look after her girls and her in turn.

In No Crystal Stair readers are introduced to Montreal through many characters’ eyes. Here’s Redd Foxx’s Montreal:

 “It’s the Paris of the New World. They speak French, play hockey—and it’s got a great Negro nightclub! Canadians didn’t suffer during Prohibition—they prospered. It’s a racy town—you gotta see those de Montigny Street bordellos. Whoo-ee! Not many coloured folks there, though.”¹

Montreal landmarks in No Crystal Stair: Little Burgundy, the Westmount Y,  Rockhead’s Paradise, Ogilvy’s, Chinatown, Mont-Royal Park, Ben’s Deli

sarsfield-mairuth-hodgeMairuth Sarsfield (1925–2013) was born and raised in Montreal, and over the years, she worked for CBC Canada, TV Ontario and CTV. She also worked for the Canadian External Affairs Department, where she was involved with Montreal’s Expo ’67. While working for the UN as senior information officer for the United Nations Environment Programme, she developed the “For Every Child a Tree” program. She received the Chevalier à L’Ordre National du Québec in 1985, and, in 1997, the National Congress of Black Women Foundation’s First Literary Award for No Crystal Stair.

Next up: Hochelaga Revisited, text by Ryan Rice

Hochelaga Revisited


1 Sarsfield, Mairuth. No Crystal Stair. Women’s Press, 2004. p. 80. (first published in 1997 by Moulin Publishing)

Photo credit: unknown


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ruRu, first published in French and translated into English, is an autobiographical novel by Kim Thúy. In Vietnamese ru means lullaby; in French it is a stream, often a metaphorical flow of money, tears or blood. This is the story of a girl and her family who were among the many refugees who boarded boats to flee postwar Vietnam in the 1970s. They left in hopes of finding safer shores on the other side of very dangerous seas.

Kim Thúy tells her story in a series of vignettes that jump forward and back through the life of her protagonist, Nguyễn An Tịhn. An adult Nguyễn remembers how her family made landfall in Malaysia where they lived in a refugee camp until they were able to continue their journey to Canada. She remembers their plane landing in Montreal, where they were met by alien vistas of snow, and she remembers her younger self in nearby Granby navigating the ins and outs of lunch hours at the neighbours’, membership in an anglophone cadets corp, and after-school jobs. She remembers, too, the life in Saigon she and her family left behind and how it has informed the way she’s raised her own sons.

Much like memories breaking the surface of one’s mind only to bob down again, replaced with a memory from another time and place, Ru’s chapters, though short and out of sequence, organically assemble themselves into a life remembered. Kim Thúy’s writing is spare and objective, compelling readers to tap their own feelings when confronted with the dangers and kindness Nguyễn encounters rather than borrowing hers.

For readers who are learning French, this is a great read. I’d characterize myself as an intermediate-level reader, and this book’s short length, spare language, and short chapters combined with its beautiful writing and serious themes make it an accessible and engaging read for adult FSL readers.

Montreal (and environs) landmarks in Ru: chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges, Mirabel International Airport, Granby, Granby Zoo

Kim_Thúy_2011-04-16Kim Thúy Ly Thanh arrived in Canada as a Vietnamese refugee in 1979 at the age of 10. Since then she’s worked as a vegetable picker, seamstress, cashier, food commentator, and restaurant owner. With her degrees in law and in linguistics and translation from the Université de Montréal, she has also worked as a lawyer, translator, and interpreter. Ru was her debut novel; she has since written À toi (with co-author Pascal Janovjak) and Mãn.

Kim Thúy’s first impressions of Montreal: “It was a new birth really and that purity, you know, when you come from a country at war…with men in uniforms and curfews, and we didn’t see blood as such but still it was on our mind—that was the background of Vietnam. And then afterwards we were in the refugee camp in Malaysia and we were surrounded by dirt, basically, and [pit latrines] and when we got here it was all white from the plane and that purity really gave us a second birth.”¹

Next up: No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield



1 Ly Thanh, Kim Thúy. from “A Refugee’s Multilayered Experience in Ru.” NPR, November 24, 2012.

Photo credit: Asclepias


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by Heather

Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Direp’tion, n. the art of plundering.

Word in the Wild: After an unknown co-worker stole his lunch out of the communal fridge for the third day running, Amir posted a snarky note demanding the sneak cease all direption.

I’m in favour of a world with a lot less sacking and pillaging, but I think there may still be room for this obsolete word to make a comeback. I, for one, am not above a little direption if it means I can get the first grilled cheese sandwich out of the pan. I guess I’m just plain direptitious.

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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