Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

I had just woken up when my phone rang. One of my installer friends who I have known for years started telling me about this “effervescence” problem he was having on this limestone floor he recently installed. He kept going on and on about this effervescence problem. Just TMI, you know? Now, I’ve known this guy for over 30 years, and he has constantly used the word “effervescence” to describe this problem. So, I thought I would have a little fun with him.

I asked him, “Was the bubble small or large from the effervescence?” He paused for a minute and told me there were no bubbles, just this fine white powder on the floor. So I next asked him, “Then why is it effervescing?” He sounded confused, so I stopped and explained to him the difference between effervescence and ef-florescence.  I explained to him that when you pour a glass of ginger ale, the bubbles that you see are described as effervescence, and the white powder he is describing is efflorescence.  He remained silent for like 3 whole minutes, perhaps digesting this gem of wisdom, and then went on with the problem, this time using the proper terminology.

As I hung up the phone I thought about all the words I have heard contractors use over the years, and took out a pen and started to trying to recall them all. As I was jotting these down I thought about a 1940 show called The Bowery Boys and the main character “Slip” Mahoney  who was constantly using made-up words, or he misused certain words for comic effect. One of his famous malapropisms was, “I depreciate it!” instead of “I appreciate it!”  In case you’re wondering – a malapropism is defined as the use of a word in place of a similar sounding word.

So here are a few choice malapropisms I have commonly heard used in our industry:

Effervescence instead of efflorescence. This is my favorite, and I constantly hear contractors using this term. A good way to remember the proper term is to think of a florescent light tube.

instead of honing. When I hear this I want to ask the person using it “Where are the pigeons?”

instead of spalling. I have a Spalding basketball in my office and when I hear someone use that word I pick up the ball and say, “This is Spalding,” and then I point to the pits on my marble floor and say, “That is spalling.”

Black splash
instead of backsplash. Believe it or not, I have heard this several times throughout my career. Maybe they are referring to a black tile backsplash?

Verde Green
instead of just Verde or green. ‘Verde’ is the Italian word for green. So when you say Verde Green you’re basically saying “green-green” in two languages.

Butter joint
instead of butt joint – which is a pretty funny term all by itself. I often wonder if the person using the term butter joint thinks the stone or tile is grouted with butter – or something besides mortar?

instead of mortar. Cement is the glue that holds the mortar together. So setting mortars used in our industry contain cement, but they are not pure cement. A setting mortar’s main ingredients are a combination of cement and aggregate.

Control joint
substituted for expansion joint – or vice-versa. A control joint is the joint in a concrete slab, and expansion joint is in a stone or tile installation to allow for, well, expansion and contraction in the material.

instead of polyester – I often hear both restoration and fabrication guys use the word epoxy as a general term for glues–because that’s what they mostly use. But there’s a big difference between epoxy and polyester. If you want to know more about the differences, check out my article on the subject, on .

instead of metamorphism. I once heard someone in a lecture talking about the three types of stone and he described marble as being a metamorkic rock. I wanted to ask what Robin William’s character from Mork and Mindy had to do with geology! Perhaps I should have just yelled  “Nanu-Nanu” from the back of the audience.

Natural cliff
finish instead of natural cleft. This person must have thought that certain slates are quarried off of a cliff, and hence called it a natural cliff.

Don’t feel bad – many famous and intelligent people have misused words. Here are some examples:

“Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” instead of “electoral.” Thanks, Yogi Berra.

We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile, or hold our allies hostile. – President George W. Bush

O’Hare Airport is “the crosswords of the nation” – Mayor Richard Daly

Some of these are funny, but if you don’t use the proper terms you may sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re illiterate and incompetent. I’m sure there are others and if you have heard them, I would love to hear from you. 

Well, another case solved. My doctor told me I am drinking too much coffee, so I’m going to go grab a cup of decapitated coffee –  LOL!

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Fred has also been writing for the
Slippery Rock Gazette for over 20 years. 

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