fb-pixel Skip to main content

May I have a word: When you’re not exactly lucky, but it could have been a lot worse

Between good fortune and rotten luck, there’s this week’s winning coinage.

A car accident in Uherský Brod, Czech Republic, 1980.Ervín Pospíšil/Wikimedia Commons

Readers really got into the eggcorn and mondegreen challenge I wrote up last time — so much so that they kept sending me good coinages well past the deadline. I’m guessing ye are still into such things, so allow me to share a few late arrivals:

Tim McCone, of Winthrop, wrote: “When my oldest son was young, he called skunks stunks and the cupboard the covered. They kind of make more sense.”

Andy Baron, of Leominster, reminded me that 1982 was the year when Massachusetts passed the bottle bill, putting a five-cent bounty on used carbonated-beverage containers. That was also the year John Cougar, now John Mellencamp, had a No. 1 hit with his song “Jack & Diane.” In his e-mail Andy showed me what his youthful self made of a snippet of the song by crossing out “Bible Belt” and replacing it as follows: “Oh, let it rock, let it roll / Let the bottle bill come and save my soul.” He commented, “To my 15-year-old brain, Cougar was talking to all of us here in Massachusetts. Talk about a timely song.”

Mark Mattera, of Revere, wrote: “Before it was renamed [in 1967], I thought we traveled from Revere to Boston over the Mr. Grivver Bridge. I didn’t realize my Mystic River mistake until it became the Tobin Bridge.”


On to current business. Last time, I challenged you to come up with a word that would be more accurate than lucky in a context like this: Someone tells a friend they were in a car accident and their car was totaled but they walked away without a scratch. The friend says, “You’re so lucky!”

Dan Pfau, of Chestnut Hill, suggested misfortunate; Jeff Kaufman, of Needham, suggested that one and also nearmisfortunate; and Marc McGarry, of Newton Highlands, proposed nearmishap together with the less mellifluous but almost right-on-target nearmissmishap. Amy Kold Noyes proposed karma-neutral.


Paul Reedy made a case for fortuitous, explaining that although it’s “commonly used as a synonym for lucky, it actually means by chance.” As a language traditionalist, I’m with you in spirit, Paul, but people have been conflating luck and mere chance in that word long enough that dictionaries now give fortunate as a second meaning.

Sue D’Arcangelo, of Scituate, wrote: “How about dark luck? Similar to dark humor and dark comedy.” “You’re so dark lucky!” doesn’t work, but uses like “That’s some dark luck!” and “What dark luck!” make their point nicely. Sue, I hereby award you bragging rights.

Here’s a bonus luck-related anecdote, from Karen Arnold, of Needham: “My favorite word misuse, overheard in a McDonald’s in Greenfield, was part of an earnest skateboarding discussion between two dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed young adults:

‘Which foot do you push off with?’

’Either one. I’m amphibious.’

’You’re so lucky.’

And now for our new challenge. Kim James, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., requests “a name for a jokey remark that a spouse or other family member has made once too often.” Feel free to also share the jokey remark you’re thinking of.

Send your contributions to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, Sept. 16, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and London.