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May I have a word: Signs of our times

Coinages for the uplifting words that deck the walls in some people’s homes.


Last time, I challenged you to come up with a name for the inspirational or humorous signs that some people hang on their walls: “Live Laugh Love” and so forth. I mentioned that such signs tend to annoy me, and the responses I received made it clear that I am far from alone in this.

Reader Cyndy Overgaag, of West Springfield, told me: “Those sayings that folks love to put up in their homes leave me cold as well. Even worse in my opinion are those that are actually painted on the wall — over the bed, for instance.”


Cyndy thinks of a particular store as “a treasure trove of these kinds of sayings.” So, she wrote, “I offer up that they should be collectively known as TJ Maxxims.”

L.H. Dickson, of Duxbury, Vt., proposed cornography.

In an attempt to cover both the inspirational and the humorous bases, Michael Bohnen, of Newton, sent me a coinage for each: “For sage wisdom: epigrammas. For humorous wit: laphorisms.”

But Steve Boudreau, of Lisbon, N.H., felt that two new words were nowhere near enough. After reminding me that I’d said people “post” these signs around their homes, he launched into the following: “Since the signs are posted, we may refer to them as posts. In a vacation rental, they are hostposts. Those with a seashore/nautical theme are coastposts. Anonymous sayings are ghostposts. Those having to do with food or drink are toastposts. Self-centered claims are boastposts.” And in this column, coinages that almost but not quite win bragging rights are close posts.

Moving on . . . Liz Kelley, of Orleans, told me: “I was sitting in my friend’s RV yesterday, which contains no less than three such signs. How about plaquitudes?” Bob Mangano, of Natick, and Howard Morris, of Needham, had the same suggestion, though they both wanted there to be an e before the i. As you like, guys!


Howard proposed another word as well: wall haranguings. Tom Hayden, of Chelmsford, came up with that one too.

Tom, however, not content to leave it at that, also turned ChatGPT loose on my challenge. The first time he did so, the bot played it straight and suggested decorative plaques or decorative signs. But after Tom added the request “Please coin a humorous word to describe these signs” and called on it to respond to the prompt multiple times, it got into the spirit and gave him 10 answers (seven of which began with a cheerful “Certainly!”). Among them, my favorites were motto-tchotchkes and decoraphernalia.

Tom inevitably wins bragging rights for being the first correspondent of mine to get ChatGPT involved. I’m not sure I’m eager to see more generative AI responses — but if ChatGPT or one of its cousins wants to pose a challenge, bring it on!

As for my favorite coinage this time, wall haranguings is a great one. Plaqu(e)itudes ain’t bad either. Congratulations to all who came up with either — or both — of these.

Now on to our new challenge, which I’d like to begin by setting the scene:

I’ve been seething for weeks about the cherry tomatoes I’ve been trying to grow in a big pot in front of my house. Again and again, as soon as they start to redden, they disappear. I’ve been muttering to myself, Who would sink so low? And whoever it is doesn’t even wait until they’re ripe!


So when my partner told me he’d caught the culprit en flagrante and asked me to guess who, I remembered the plague of ravenous rabbits that New Englanders have been remarking on this summer.

“Rabbits?” I asked. Nope. “Squirrels?” Nope.

Turkeys. Yep. During the pandemic, our neighborhood in Cambridge took in a flock of turkeys — which now hang out in the local pocket park. They stroll across Mass. Ave. without a care in the world while traffic backs up. Jim had just found one of them nosing, or rather beaking, around my tomato plant.

A professor in Georgia who has been researching wild turkeys for three decades reports that they have “extremely acute” color vision — which would explain why even a hint of change of tomato color could set them off.

So it struck a chord with me when reader Paula Sable, of Haverhill, wrote: “I’d love to have a word for what happens to veggies in my garden that have been ‘sampled’ by rabbits, squirrels, or other critters. Seems like they often take a bite or two, then decide the morsel isn’t as tasty as they anticipated and I’m left with, say, a tomato that is only fit for the compost.” Or sometimes no tomato at all, Paula.

Send your suggestions for Paula’s word to me at by noon on Friday, Aug. 25, and kindly tell me where you live. Responses may be edited. And please remember that meanings in search of words are always welcome.


Barbara Wallraff is a writer and editor in Cambridge.