In a word: farrago

October 08, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be acquainted, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


Ever look at a journalist's desk? Old newspapers, yellowing printouts, notes scribbled on odd scraps of paper or half-used journalist's notebooks, opened and unopened mail, miscellaneous writing implements and office supplies, old food and beverage containers, unconsumed food, and more. Many journalists are understudies to the Collyer brothers.

One word to describe such a miscellany of objects is farrago (pronounced fuh-RAH-go), a "confused mass of objects or people," a "disordered mixture." It is from the Latin farrago, mixed fodder for cattle.

If farrago does not appeal to you, you might want to use gallimaufry, "a confused jumble," from the French galimafrie, "stew." Or a hodgepodge, from the earlier hotchpotch, "a thick soup or stew, from the Anglo French hocher, "shake," and pot. Or a jumble, a word of uncertain origins, for a mass of objects assembled without order. Or a salamagundi or a potpourri or a dog's breakfast.

Order is less common in human affairs than disorder, and the newsroom is far from the only location in which entropy can be demonstrated.

Example: From Lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill (Winston's father), in a pamphlet attacking Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill: "This monstrous mixture of imbecility, extravagance and political hysteria, better known as the Bill for the future government of Ireland, this farrago of superlative nonsense, is to be put in motion for this reason and no other: to gratify the ambition of an old man in a hurry."

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