A lot of us have heard of phishing. It's a lot different from fishing. Merriam-Webster says phishing is a scam by which an internet user is duped (as by a deceptive email message) into revealing personal or confidential information that the scammer can use illicitly.
(If you need a definition of fishing, email me.)
But while editing a story recently, I learned about phishing's cousins, vishing and smishing. They sound like something in a fairy tale, don't they?
The Oxford Languages site says smishing is the fraudulent practice of sending text messages purporting to be from reputable companies ... to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.
Smishing is a portmanteau because it smashes together SMS and phishing. SMS stands for short message system, which is the same as a text.
Vishing is the fraudulent practice of making phone calls or leaving voice messages purporting to be from reputable companies ... to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as bank details and credit card numbers. I guess it's a portmanteau of voice and phishing.
LONG TERMS THAT COULD BE SHORTER
Have you heard people say they were instrumental in achieving a thing? Doesn't it simply mean they helped in some way? Why is a big word like instrumental needed?
In both of these examples from The Washington Post, the sentence could be shorter:
"He [was] instrumental in founding the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP."
Instead, maybe: "He helped found the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP."
"Cameras were instrumental in reviewing use-of-force incidents and other complaints."
Instead: "Cameras assisted in reviewing use-of-force incidents and other complaints."
On police shows, I hear officers say they gave chase. You can give blood. You can give a gift. But why not simply chase a person instead of giving chase?
Have you noticed how often a departure is a marked departure?
An example from The Post:
"Recall that the Paris agreement was a marked departure from previous climate agreements in that the pledges were voluntary country-determined targets of intent."
Hey, here's the perfect place to use different. How about this?
"Recall that the Paris agreement was far different from previous climate agreements ..."
Do you make a determination or do you determine? I know you know which I prefer.
My father was a woodworker, so in our house shellacking meant brushing on some coating to finish a wood project.
First, here's a small digression. In looking up the word shellac, I learned that the substance shellac is made of lac, a resinous secretion of lac insects. I didn't know this, but ick.
But somehow shellacking has also come to mean beating decisively, as in a sporting event or contest, or just a downturn. Whenever I see the word, I imagine one side sneakily brushing shellac on the other side. I couldn't find a theory on how the word came to mean beating.
Here's a mean headline example from The Post:
"Lions' legitimacy as contenders challenged after shellacking from Patriots"
And speaking of home projects, do you know the reassuring sound that a can of spray paint makes when you shake it? That thing making the sound is called a pea. This one's not a legume. It's made of metal, glass or plastic.
Now back to a sound beating. I think I first heard the word drubbing when I read "Don Quixote," but that could be my imagination. It's used in sports stories often, but I did find an election usage in The Post:
"The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front suffered a drubbing in February's national elections."
Merriam-Webster provided an early usage of the word:
"When drub was first used in English, it referred to a method of punishment that involved beating the soles of a culprit's feet with a stick or cudgel. The term was apparently brought to England in the 17th century by travelers who reported observing the punitive practice in Asia."
I'm taking a stand against drubbing. It sounds awful.
DO YOU TOUT?
I can't believe I neglected to mention this news cliché that often would end up in tight headline spaces: tout. I'm not sure I've ever heard a person say tout unless horseracing was involved. In headlines, tout means to advocate, praise or support. I found this headline in a Washington Post article:
"Myanmar coup foes tout minority-backed shadow government"
Alas, tout makes its way into articles, too. Also from The Post:
"A teenager who prosecutors say touts himself as subscribing to an online subculture that has been linked to violent attacks was arrested Wednesday on a bomb threat charge."
I'm sorry to end on this somewhat disturbing note. The teenager in that bomb threat article was described as an incel, a word that doesn't appear in the three dictionaries I normally rely on. Sites ranging from Psychology Today to The Washington Post helped me understand the meaning.
Here's The Post's description:
"Incel is short for involuntary celibate, and as their self-imposed name implies, these mostly young men have come to define themselves by their inability to find a sexual or romantic partner. Men who identify as being #ForeverAlone have gathered online in forums such as Reddit to trade stories of woe."
Here's more from Psychology Today:
"Young men [are] also teased or bullied for being socially awkward or being different. This can often be due to physical disabilities, physical characteristics (weight, height, facial features, acne, etc.), and a lack of understanding social cues (not knowing when to start or stop talking, not knowing how much to share and possibly oversharing in certain situations)."
As always, I am amazed by what I learn when I read.
Sources include Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary, Oxford Languages, The Washington Post, Psychology Today. Reach Bernadette at