The Word Detective writes a column about word origins and such. He has a sense of humor twisted like my own. For some time, I have been trying to come up with a word to ask about and one day at lunch a coworker said the magic word. I then concocted a letter around the question and mailed it off. Low and behold, my letter was answered. Just go to The Word Detective web page and read how my letter was edited (big surprise there!) and his answer.

Subject: In Cahoots

Dear Mr. Word Detective Sir,

My mother likes to use the expression "in cahoots". Whenever two people or groups are hidden partners in underhanded crime, they were in cahoots. Back in the '70s, she claimed the car companies and big oil were in cahoots selling gas guzzlers. I'm not sure what the car companies got out of the deal, but then, I can't follow the ins and outs of most of her theories. She still thinks a lot of people are in cahoots -- I don't know if she likes the marvelous ring to the word or is just paranoid. Anyway, I've always wondered where we got such a fun sounding word (like "I came home and found Tommy and Johnny in cahoots! What little rascals they are!") for what really is serious business.

Here's an idea -- we can start our own modification (why not? Plenty of words seem to transmogrify (hey, where in the heck does THAT word come from?) with use according to your column): Cahootser, meaning someone who is easily led astray but who wouldn't do wrong on his or her own. For example, when you meet your son's teacher, she could say "I'm sorry Mrs. Axlegrease, but your son is a real cahootser. You should worry less about his book smarts and more about his backbone". Well, I think it sounds better than "weak" anyway. Just think, when future generations look up the origin, there will be our names -- Murphy and Morris (I did think of it, after all, so my name should come first). What a stirring legacy to future generations.

Kevin Murphy

PS I enjoy your site on the internet and am a faithful, but cheap reader (too cheap to pony up $15 for the subscription). The best part of your work is the mixing of knowledge and humor, since most humor relies on ignorance: "Did you ever wonder..." or "Why is it that ..." being the lead ins (or is it leads-in?) to so many jokes. So, please, keep up the good work even if it isn't the road to riches. Oh, if you're ever bored or need some way to procrastinate when a deadline looms, you can check out my personal web page at

PPS Feel free to punch this up a bit if you decide to publish it. It seems a trifle flat to me.

The reply can be read at The Word Detective web page. Look for In Cahoots.

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This page last updated 2 January 1998

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