Column: Gamut of kooks, coots and hearty soups


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

The English language is nutty. It can be understood through tough, thorough thought, though. I wanted to find a way to add the word “trough” to the last sentence, but I feared being thrown out throughout the touted trout throat. See? I knew it wouldn’t work.

Yes, English is wild. That’s why I want to help clear up a few syntactical slip-ups we make from time to time. After all, mastery of the English language will make you irresistible to attractive people and will cause rich people to hand you heavy, velvet-lined sacks filled with gold bars.

Let’s start with “kook” and “coot.” As a grammar columnist, I’ve been bestowed with both monikers from avid readers. But, beware: These words aren’t the same. In general usage, a “kook” is an unrestrained eccentric person. In surfing terminology, a “kook” is a poser who has no idea what he’s doing and shouldn’t even be allowed on the beach. A “coot,” on the other hand, is a foolish person and usually an older foolish person. A “coot” also is a type of dark gray aquatic bird.

When I think of a “kook,” I think of a free-spirited eccentric person, while I consider a “coot” an elderly eccentric person. See the difference?

Now, I want to tackle “gamut” and “gambit.” A “gamut” is a complete range of musical notes, or, more broadly, the entire range or scope of something. Someone who “runs the gamut” experiences the entire range of whatever they’re experiencing (e.g., emotions). In general, a “gambit” is a calculated move. The term comes from chess, for making a deliberately risky opening move intended to give a player a strategic advantage.

How do you know if something is “hardy” or “hearty”? If you’re involved in a fictional mystery being solved by a pair of brothers, you’re in a “Hardy Boys” book. If you’re looking for a plant that is difficult to kill, you want a “hardy” plant. “Hardy” means tough and capable of enduring hardship. If I want a warm meal that will satisfy my hunger, I might opt for a “hearty” soup. Something is “hearty” if it is flavorful and satisfying. “Hearty” also is when someone gives enthusiastic support to a person or endeavor.

Call me an old coot, but sometimes I need a hearty dose of lexical lessons so I don’t look like a kook in front of my acquaintances at an organic wine tasting. So, there you have it. What words do you find confusing? Send me your thoughts and I’ll do my best to decode our daft dialect through deft, didactic tactics.


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