T is for Termagant

Two badgers fighting in a field of grass.Most people likely think of termagant as an adjective describing a person prone to being overbearing or shrewish. I, however, conjure an animal, two, to be exact: the married badgers, Crab Apple and Fussbudget. The couple makes its appearance in Ken Gire’s Adventures in the Big Thicket, a children’s book similar to Aesop’s Fables.

Fussbudget, the female badger, more-or-less drives her husband mad. She harangues; she points; she complains. Poor Crab Apple never escapes her clutches. Their story ends with him escaping to the roof and contenting himself with a quiet, Fussbudget-free cornice.

Fortunately, the letter “t” begins words other than termagant. Some are positive. Others, like termagant, range toward a middling perspective or an altogether negative one. Here are some words that illustrate the letter “t’s” breadth and depth.


Noun. [From the Arabic tabbūla; akin to the Arabic taubala, to spice or season.] (1955) A Lebanese salad consisting chiefly of cracked wheat, tomatoes, parsley, mint, onions, lemon juice, and olive oil.

(Most people serve tabbouleh alongside pita bread.)


Adjective. [From the French or Latin. From the French taciturne. From the Latin taciturnus; from tacitus.] (1771) Temperamentally disinclined to talk. Synonym: see SILENT.

(Octavian was taught to observe the world from an early age, causing him to develop a taciturn disposition.)


Noun. [From the French talisman or Spanish talismán or Italian talismano; all from the Arabic tilsam. From the Middle Greek telesma; from the Greek, consecration; from telein, to initiate into the mysteries, complete; from telos, end—more at WHEEL.] (1638) An object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. Something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects.

(The boy never went anywhere without his favorite blanket, using it as a talisman against scary movies and nightmares.)


Noun. [Origin unknown.] (c. 1796) Also spelled tarradiddle. A minor falsehood: FIB. Pretentious nonsense.

(The government would operate better if its primary agents weren’t given to speaking taradiddles.)

Tart Up

Verb transitive. (1947) Chiefly British. DRESS UP, FANCY UP <tarted up pubs and restaurants for the spenders—Arnold Erhlich>.

(The girls spent several hours tarting up for their high school prom.)

Taxi Squad

Noun. (1964) A group of professional football players under contract who practice with a team but are ineligible to participate in official games.

(“It’s unfortunate the taxi squad can’t take the field,” Barry commented, “since they’re better players than the official roster.”)


Adjective. (1400s) Capable of being taught. Apt and willing to learn. Favorable to teaching.

(Because he was teachable, Roger’s grades improved quickly.)


Noun. (1936) An extravagantly pathetic story, song, play, film, or broadcast.

(Most people cry when they hear a tearjerker; Sally laughs because she finds the stories ridiculous and out of touch with reality.)


Adjective. (1646) Of, relating to, or arising from temperament: CONSTITUTIONAL <~ peculiarities>. Marked by excessive sensitivity and impulsive changes <a ~ opera singer>; unpredictable in behavior or performance.

(Everyone groaned when they heard Mrs. Boxrecord would teach the class; she held a longstanding reputation for being temperamental.)


Noun. [From the French; land, country, or stretch of land in reference to its agricultural features. From the Old French tieroir. From the Vulgar Latin terratorium, an alteration of the Latin territorium.] (1863) The combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.

(While terroir usually applies to wine grapes, it can be used to talk about people—their unique stories, personalities, et cetera. (Hat tip to The H Podcast.))


Noun. [From the Latin. Probably a derivative of the Greek tessares, four; from it (tesserae) having four corners—more at FOUR.] (c. 1656) A small tablet (as of wood, bone, or ivory) used by the ancient Romans as a ticket, tally, voucher, or means of identification. A small piece (as of marble, glass, or tile) used in mosaic work.

(In Roman times, tesserae sometimes served as a sort of driver’s license.)


Adjective. [Perhaps from the obsolete tetch (habit).] (1592) Irritably or peevishly sensitive: TOUCHY <the ~ manner of two women living in the same house—Elizabeth Taylor>.

(She was such a tetchy landlord that she typically ran off new residents in less than three months.)


Noun. [From the French, literally, head to head.] (1697) A private conversation between two persons. A short piece of furniture (as a sofa) intended to seat two persons, especially facing one another.

Adverb. (1700) In private.

Adjective. (1728) FACE-TO-FACE; PRIVATE.

(Whenever an employee wished to address an important concern, she requested they meet tête-à-tête to discuss it.)


Noun. [From the French. From the New Latin thaumaturgus. From the Greek thaumatourgos, working miracles; from thaumat-, thauma, miracle + ergon, work—more at THEATER, WORK.] (1715) THAUMATURGIST.

(When the thaumaturge visited the village, the locals treated his arrival as though it were a national holiday, packing picnic baskets and dressing in their finest attire.)


Noun. [Alteration of earlier thingum; from thing.] (1873) Something that is hard to classify or whose name is unknown or forgotten.

(They’d been married so long that he almost always knew what she meant when she asked about some thingamajig.)


Adjective. (1844) Reluctant to part with money.

(When I was a teenager, I was rather tightfisted.)


Adjective. [From the Latin timidus; from timēre, to fear.] (1549) Lacking in courage or self-confidence <a ~ person>. Lacking in boldness or determination <a ~ policy>.

(Even the most timid person reaches a threshold, often responding with a great deal of courage despite opposition or ridicule.)


Noun. (1826) One who flatters in the hope of gaining favors: SYCOPHANT. Synonym: see PARASITE.

Verb intransitive. (1861) To behave as a toady, engage in sycophancy. Synonym: see FAWN.

(Teachers’ pets can sometimes grow into toadies.)

Top Banana

Noun. [From a burlesque routine involving three comedians in which the ones that gets the punch line also gets a banana.] (1952) The leading comedian in a burlesque show. Broadly: KINGPIN.

(When it comes to Moe, Larry, and Curly, it’s hard to designate one the “top banana”—they often share, or pass, the lead.)


Noun. [From the Middle English traitre. From the Old French. From the Latin traditor; from traditus, past participle of tradere, to hand over, deliver, or betray; from trans-, tra-, trans + dare, to give—more at DATE.] One who betrays another’s trust or is false to an obligation or duty. One who commits treason.

(The duke’s men were able to enter the city because of a traitor at the gates.)


Noun. [From the Middle English tramayle, a kind of net. From the Middle French tremail. From the Late Latin tremaculum; from the Latin tres, three + macula, mesh or spot—more at THREE.] (1400s) A net for catching birds or fish; especially: one having three layers with the middle one finer-meshed and slack so that fish passing through carry some of the center net through the coarser net and are trapped. An adjustable pothook for a fireplace crane. A shackle used for making a horse amble. Something impeding activity, progress, or freedom: RESTRAINT—usually used in plural. An instrument for drawing ellipses; a compass for drawing large circles that consists of a beam with two sliding parts—usually used in plural; any of various gauges used for aligning or adjusting machine parts.

Verb transitive. (1605) To catch or hold in or as if in a net: ENMESH. To prevent or impede the free play of: CONFINE. Synonym: see HAMPER.

(By the time Ben realized what his new “friends” were planning, he was too trammeled to get out clean.)


Noun. [From the Middle English trebuchet. From the Middle French trebuchet.] (1300s) A medieval military engine for hurling missile with great force.

(The men wheeled the trebuchets in place as part of their plan to lay siege to the palace.)


Adjective. [From the Middle English triste, sad. From the Middle French triste.] (1400s) SAD, MELANCHOLY.

(Susan appeared tristful after breaking up with her boyfriend.)


Adjective. [From the Latin truculentus; from truc-, trux, fierce.] (1540) Feeling or displaying ferocity: CRUEL, SAVAGE. DEADLY, DESTRUCTIVE. Scathingly harsh: VITRIOLIC. Aggressively self-assertive: BELLIGERENT.

(The art instructor was so truculent that her students feared mid-term critiques.)


Verb, verb intransitive. [Origin unknown.] (1547) To walk or march steadily and usually laboriously <trudged through deep snow>. Verb transitive: to trudge along or over.

Noun. (1835) A long, tiring walk: TRAMP.

(The thunderstorm caught the boys by surprise, leaving them with no choice but to trudge five miles in mud to get home again.)


Noun. [From the Middle English tumulte. From the Middle French. From the Latin tumultus. Akin to the Sanskrit tumula, noisy. From the Latin tumēre, to swell—more at THUMB.] (1400s) Disorderly agitation or milling about of a crowd, usually with uproar and confusion of voices: COMMOTION; a turbulent uprising: RIOT. HUBBUB, DIN. Violent agitation of mind or feelings; a violent outburst.

(The tumult owed its cause to recent actions taken by Congress.)


Noun. (1629) A physical contest or struggle: SCUFFLE. An intense argument, controversy, or struggle.

Verb intransitive. [From the Middle English tussillen; frequentative of the Middle English –tusen, -tousen, to tousle—more at TOUSE.] (1638) To struggle roughly: SCUFFLE.

(The boy and girl tussled over who would play with the new LEGO set first.)


Verb, verb transitive. [From the Middle English twengen. From the Old English twengan.] (before 1100s) Dialect: PLUCK, TWEAK. To affect with a sharp pain or pang. Verb intransitive: to feel a sudden, sharp, local pain.

Noun. (1608) A sudden sharp stab of pain. A moral or emotional pang <a ~ of conscience>.

(The boy twinged when he touched the hot stove.)


Verb transitive. (c. 1935) To cast (an actor or actress) in a part calling for the same characteristics as those possessed by the actor himself. To cast (an actor or actress) repeatedly in the same type of role. STEREOTYPE <administrators…fearful of being ~ in the role of autocrats—F.M. Hechinger>.

(When she was younger, Erica hated to be typecast as an intellectual.)

What are your favorite “t” words? Share them in a comment.

Image: Larry Lamsa (Creative Commons)

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