Stop using OCD as an adjective

May is mental health awareness month. This is of special importance to me because your dear Grammar Party blogger is crazy, psycho, nuts, mad, loony, insane, and any number of unkind labels people call the mentally disordered.

All of these labels can be hurtful, but one use in particular is prodding me onto my soapbox today. This is when people who do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) say they are “OCD” about something.

Example: I’m so OCD about keeping my desk clean.
Example: I’m OCD about making sure Fred does his share of the cooking.

OCD is not an adjective. It is not an alternate word for particular or concerned. OCD is a noun. It’s the name of a mental disorder. And I have it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not embarrassed about having OCD. Some people have allergies. Some people need glasses. Some people have OCD. In fact, I think having OCD makes me a better copy editor. I can concentrate on minute details better than others can; and, when people hire me to edit their books, they can be sure I have thoroughly inspected every letter and punctuation mark on every page.

But OCD is not funny, and it’s not a subject to take lightly. It’s a serious disorder. And, much of the time, it’s plain sucky to live with. It keeps me from being able to drive a car because of severe anxiety or leave my apartment without double-checking the doorknobs, as a couple examples.

If I may speak on behalf of others with this disorder, I would ask that if you use OCD as an adjective, consider how that feels to people who actually have it and stop using it that way. If you hear others using OCD as an adjective, please remind them of the proper way to use it—as a noun to represent a serious disorder.

Language is a powerful tool, and sometimes it can be used to hurt people—even without the speaker being aware of the consequences.

Officially stepping down from my soapbox . . . now. Thanks for reading this post.

You can learn more about mental health advocacy at the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

elicit vs. illicit

Lesson: learning the difference between elicit and illicit

elicit: to draw forth or bring out

illicit: not permitted

Here is yet another pair of words that sounds a lot alike but has different meanings. Let’s take a look at some examples to help us figure out the different usages.

elicit examples
Martha’s joke elicited thunderous laughter.

Martha elicits delight every time someone eats her cookies.

Danny has been unable to elicit funding for the cat shelter.

Danny elicited sympathy from the broke animal lovers.

Hint: You can see from the example sentences that elicit involves receiving (or not receiving) something, be it laughter, delight, funding, sympathy, or something else.

illicit examples
The cops arrested Harry because he had an illicit marijuana pipe in his car.

Harry told the cops the illicit drug should be allowed, and he shouted, “Legalize it!”

Fred smuggled an illicit bottle of water into the concert because the venue was selling them for five dollars.

The security guards threw Fred out of the concert because he was taking illicit photos of ladies in the bathroom.

Hint: You can see from the example sentences that illicit describes things that are against the rules.

Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either elicit or illicit in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The child hid an ________ piece of candy in his pocket.
2. Randy was in tears because he did not _______ approval from the nominating committee.
3. Hank was being charged for having _______ material on his computer’s hard drive.
4. The mouse managed to _______ a howl from the cat when he startled it.

1. illicit 2. elicit 3. illicit 4. elicit

Allude verses elude

allude: to make indirect reference

elude: 1) to avoid adroitly; evade 2) to escape the understanding, perception, or grasp of

Here are two words that give people troubles. They look similar. They sound similar. But they have very different meanings. Let’s look at some examples to help us understand the definitions.

Examples of allude:

Nancy alluded that something was wrong, but she didn’t give an exact reason.
As the boss alluded in last week’s email, we’re all getting fired.

When you use allude, you are saying that someone is hinting at a topic, but they don’t give specifics about it. For instance, with the second example, the boss could have said in last week’s email that “Changes are coming,” or “The department will be reorganized,” or some similar business speak, but she didn’t say in the email that everyone would get fired.

Examples of elude (first meaning):

The fly eluded the Venus Flytrap.
After a car chase, the robber eluded the police.

This meaning of elude means to avoid or escape from an obstacle (the Venus Flytrap in example one and the police in example two). However, the second meaning of elude is more abstract.

Examples of elude (second meaning):

Richard tried to understand the theory of relativity, but the concept eluded him.
The meaning of the word “no” eludes her.

Basically, you use this meaning of elude when you want to convey that someone doesn’t understand something (the theory of relativity in example one and the meaning of the word “no” in example two).

Are you an allude/elude expert yet? Test your knowledge with this quiz. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The beauty of operas ______s George.
2. Dennis _______d to being sick, but he never said he had leprosy.
3. The new concept _______d George, and he failed the test.
4. Dennis managed to _______ disaster when he called off the wedding.
5. George _______d to his secret plans.
6. George was able to _______ the muggers by running really fast.

1. eludes (second meaning) 2. alluded 3. eluded (second meaning) 4. elude (first meaning) 5. alluded 6. elude (first meaning)

Piles of –philes

Lesson: learning the suffix -phile and other awesomeness

If you find this photo strangely attractive, you might just be a Russophile.

Bibliophile. Logophile. Discophile. These are three words that describe me. Lover of books. Lover of words. Lover of “gramophone records.” When you add the suffix –phile to the end of a word, that’s what it denotes, a “lover of <insert whatever you love here>.” (That’s not all –phile means, but the rest is all sciencey, so we’ll talk about that after the cooler stuff.)

Here are more –phile words. Which ones describe you? (All definitions are from Oxford English Dictionary Online.)

Anglophile: a supporter or admirer of England (or Britain), its people, customs, etc.

astrophile: a lover of the stars

audiophile: a devotee of high-fidelity reproduction of sound

bibliophile: a lover of books; a book-fancier

cinephile: a film lover or enthusiast; a film buff

discophile: an enthusiast for and collector of gramophone records

enophile: a lover of wine

Francophile: fond of or having great admiration for France or the French

hippophile: a lover of horses

Japanophile: a lover of Japan or the Japanese

logophile: a lover of words.

necrophile: a person affected by necrophilia; one who is fascinated by death or dead bodies

technophile: a person who likes or readily adopts technology

theophile: one who loves God

pedophile: an adult who is sexually attracted to children

Russophile: friendly to, or favoring, Russia (or the former Soviet Union), its people, customs

xenophile: fond of or attracted by foreign things or people

videophile: one who is very keen on watching television or video recordings

If you’re a necrophile who’s reading this post: Hey, how are you doing? I think it’s great that you are interested in learning more about grammar and vocabulary and linguistics and all the other neat stuff we talk about on Grammar Party. You know, I try not to judge. And if you’re a Russophile, I think that’s okay, too. I mean, the Cold War is over. And, I have to admit, I think it’s cool that Vladimir Putin takes all those shirtless photos of himself on horses, and he beats up sharks or whatever. You’re also welcome to join in the conversation. But this next part is where I might lose some of you. This is the sciencey part I mentioned earlier. (Don’t worry. There’s other great stuff at the end.)

Other meaning of –phile

The suffix –phile is also used in biology and chemistry. This is how the Oxford English Dictionary describes it: forming nouns and adjectives with the sense “(a thing) having an affinity for a certain substance or class of substances, a particular kind of environment, etc., denoted by the first element.”

For example, the word halophile means (according to the OED) “an organism which grows in or can tolerate saline conditions.” Likewise, acidophile means (also according to the OED) “of a cell or cellular component: staining readily with an acid dye.” Yeah, sciencey stuff. But you get the drift.

-philia and –philic

The suffixes –philia and –philic are related to –phile. Philia is actually also a noun which means “amity, affection, friendship; fondness, liking,” coming from the ancient Greek word for “friendship.” (Thanks again to the OED for that one.) When you add –philia as a suffix, it means “love of <something.>” So, for instance, logophilia means “love of words.” And horolophilia means “a love of timepieces.” (Horloge is French for clock.) And, since we seem to be on some kind of roll with this one, necrophilia means “a love of dead bodies.”

Meanwhile, the suffix –philic means “liking/loving.” You can add it to the end of a word to make an adjective. As an example, for our friends of the dead, we could say, “He has necrophilic desires.” Okay, that’s enough with that talk. You get the idea.

Feel free to comment about while kind of –phile you are. And, as always, if you want more word nerdy stuff, you can follow me on twitter with the handle @GrammarParty. Happy trails.

Color and language

For the past week I have been fighting the flu. I’ve been, if you will, green around the gills, which is another way to say “I’ve been feeling yucky.” This got me thinking about all the other idioms and nouns and verbs we use that involve color. Yellow-bellied. Once in a blue moon. Pot calling the kettle black. Red herring.

I have collected some of them below for your enjoyment. If you can think of others, feel free to share them in the comments section.


black as a stack of black cats: very black
Norman’s electricity went out last night, and it was as black as a stack of black cats.

black as the ace of spades: very black
After his shift as a chimney sweep, Norman looked as black as the ace of spades.

black and blue: bruised
After the kerfuffle at the hop, Norman was black and blue.

black and white: either one way or the other, such as either good or bad
Norman’s view of the sci-fi versus fantasy debate was black and white.

black eye: a bruise near an eye that makes it look black
After Norman roughhoused with the roughnecks, he had a black eye.

black out: to lose consciousness
After Norman scrapped with hobnobbers, he blacked out on the pavement.

black sheep: a person who is an outsider in a family or group
When Norman showed up to Sunday dinner in his red dress, he became the black sheep of his conservative family.

blackball: to exclude someone from a social event
After the dress fiasco, Norman’s family blackballed him from family get-togethers.

blackmail: to take money from someone after threatening them
When Norman found out his classmate cheated, he tried to blackmail him and said he’d tell the teacher if he didn’t give Norman his lunch money.

in the black: to be profitable
Norman’s family’s upholstery business was in the black last year.

pot calling the kettle black: the accuser is as guilty as the accused
Norman’s sister is like the pot calling the kettle black. They both eat too many cookies.


blue-collar worker: a worker who does manual labor
Norman’s grandfather had been a blue-collar worker in the coalmine.

blue in the face: for a long time
Norman’s mother can talk until she’s blue in the face, but it’s not going to stop Norman from building his treehouse.

blue-ribbon: being of superior quality; the best in the group
Norman’s recipe makes a blue-ribbon blueberry pie.

get the blues: to become very sad, depressed
Norman got the blues when he learned the tickets to the symphony were sold out.

once in a blue moon: very rarely
Norman would go to the movies once in a blue moon.

out of the blue: by surprise, with no forethought
Out of the blue, Norman decided to skip school.


brown bag it: to take lunch to school or work
Since Norman is a vegetarian, he finds it better to brown bag it.

brown-nose: to flatter someone in order to get in their good graces
Norman did well in school because he brown-nosed the teachers.


golden boy: a person idolized for great skill
When Norman won the manicure competition, the others called him a golden boy.

golden opportunity: a remarkable opportunity
It was a golden opportunity when Norman got an internship with a local glitter factory.


get gray hair: to be extremely stressed
Norman’s mother was so stressed from dealing with Norman that she was going to get gray hair.

gray area: something that does not conform to the rules; a situation without a clear answer
Norman exploited a gray area in the school dress code and showed up to class in sequins tights.


get the green light: to get the signal to start something
During Norman’s talk with his mother, he got the green light to start building his treehouse.

grass is always greener on the other side: to think another situation would be better than the present situation
Norman believes the grass is always greener on the other side, so he wants to change high schools.

green: new, inexperienced
This was Norman’s first day on the job, and everyone knew he was green.

green-eyed monster: jealousy
Norman was consumed by the green-eyed monster when he saw the girl he liked kissing someone else.

green thumb: having skills with gardening
Norman could make anything grow. He had a green thumb.


pink slip: to get fired
Norman hadn’t showed up to work in three days, so he got the pink slip.

tickled pink: to be very excited
When the girl Norman liked agreed to a date, he was tickled pink.


catch someone red-handed: catch someone in the middle of doing something wrong
Norman caught his sister red-handed shoplifting a pretty pantsuit.

in the red: to be in debt
Since Norman’s aunt’s donut shop has been in the red for years, she is going to close it.

like waving a red flag in front of a bull: doing something that will definitely anger someone or something
When Norman burped in front of his grandma, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

paint the town red: to have a good time
Norman and his lady friend decided to paint the town red Friday night.

red as a poppy: very red
After Norman’s aunt kissed his cheek, he sported a lipstick mark as red as a poppy.

red as a ruby: deep red
Norman picked out a dress that was as red as a ruby.

red-carpet treatment: special treatment
Norman really got the red-carpet treatment at the school prom.

red flag: a signal that something is not working properly
When Norman’s weight hit three hundred pounds, it was a red flag that he needed to stop eating so many cookies.

red herring: an unimportant matter that draws attention from the main issue
Norman’s sister’s argument was a red herring. It had nothing to do with the main problem.

red-letter day: a memorable day
The day of Norman’s prom was a red-letter day. He would never forget it.

red tape: excessive bureaucratic rules
Norman had to go through so much red tape to get the city to approve his treehouse design.

see red: to get angry
When Norman’s mom took away his cookies, he saw red.


raise a white flag: to show you have been defeated
Norman rose the white flag after the meathead broke his nose.

white as a ghost: being very pale due to shock or illness
After Norman startled me, I turned as white as a ghost.

white as a sheet: very pale
Norman couldn’t wait to sun himself in Cabo San Lucas. He was as white as a sheet.

white as the driven snow: very white
When Norman started using the new laundry detergent, his white shirts were as white as the driven snow.

white-collar worker: a worker who does not do manual labor
Norman wanted to go to college so he could be a white-collar worker and spend his days in a cubicle.

white lie: a harmless lie
Norman told a white lie to his mom when he said she didn’t look fat in that dress.


yellow-bellied: to be cowardly
Norman was yellow-bellied when he was too shy to ask the girl on a date.