Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chancel, Clerestory

Chancel: This is the area around the altar in a church, possibly containing a space for the choir and separated by a screen.

Clerestory: (Pronounced "clear story") While this was original the upper level of a church, Frank Lloyd Wright used the term to describe a row of windows at the peak of the roof.
The skinniest turret was a spiral stair that led up to the triforium, which was a sort of a raised gallery that ran all the way around the inside of the chancel above the screens and below the soaring clerestory windows.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Saraband: A slow, courtly dance from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Sarabands ran on endlessly in her head; and her thoughts, like dancing girls on some flowery carpet, leapt with notes from dream to dream, from sorrow to sorrow.
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Postilion: The postilion rides on a lead horse to direct the team pulling a coach.
Afternoons she sometimes crossed the road for a chat with the postilions while Madame was up in her room.
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Saddle Breeching

Saddle Breeching: A strap attached to a saddle and around the animal's rump to prevent the saddle from riding forward in rough terrain.
Half a mile further along they had to stop; the breeching broke, and Charles mended it with rope.
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Chignon: This is derived from the French phrase chignon de cou meaning nape of the neck. It refers to any up hairstyle, commonly called a bun.
In her chignon a rose quivered on its flexible stem, with artificial dewdrops at the leaf-tips.
With his hands on the back of her chair, he would look down and see the teeth of her comb piercing her chignon.
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Jabot: A frilly, lacy neck piece. This was a style for men in the 18th and 19th centuries, and currently for women.
[Fancy serving dishes] were brought around by the maitre d'hotel himself, grave as a judge in silk stockings, knee breeches, white neck cloth and jabot.
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Foulard: A lightweight cloth, usually cotton or silk, printed with a small geometric pattern or some garment made from such fabric.
He had so long been used to wearing cotton nightcaps that he couldn't get his foulard to stay on his head.
He bought a whole new supply of foulard handkerchiefs.
To perfume his foulards he used up his daughter-in-law's entire supple of eau de Cologne.
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Breviary: In the Catholic Church, a book containing common religious writings, such as psalms, hymns, and prayers. It might also be used to referred to any abridged document.
At the far end, under some spruces, a plaster priest stood reading his breviary.
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Espalier, Coping

Espalier: A form of topiary where a plant or plants are pruned and trained to grow in a single plane, often against a wall.

Coping: The top of a brick or stone wall designed to protect the wall from rain.
The long narrow garden ran back between two clay walls covered with espaliered apricot trees.
The was no sound of birds; everything seemed to be sleeping - the espaliered trees under their straw, the vine like a great sick snake under the wall coping.
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Tippet, Fichu

Tippet: A long scarf worn around the neck and hanging down to the knees.
Fichu: A triangular scarf worn over the shoulders and tied in front.
The ladies wore country-style headdresses and city-style gowns, with gold watch chains, tippets (the ends crossed and tucked into their belts), or small colored fichus attached at the back with pins and leaving the neck bare.
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Thursday, December 4, 2008


Dilatory: Late, tardy.
The dilatory limousine came rolling up the drive.
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Punctilious: Fastidious, especially with respect to manners and social propriety.
He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American ... This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape od restlessness.
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Vinous: Relating to wine.
She threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.
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Pasquinade: A public satirical poem or story, usually targeting a specific person.
I thought the whole tale would shortly be served up in a racy pasquinade.
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Fractious: Someone with a short temper, easily angered or upset.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed.
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Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Brassard: A brassard is an armband used to display a military insignia. The brassard might be used for a temporary insignia, such as Officer of the Day, or part of the uniform.
Three of them were armed and wearing brassards on their sleeves, making Castillo think they were probably the AOD, the FOD, and OD, which translated to mean ... and the Officer of the Day.
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Pitot (Tube)

Pitot Tube: A pitot tube opens towards the direction of flight on an airplane and senses the aircraft velocity. The physics were discovered by Henri Pitot in the 18th century. It fails it becomes blocked by debris or ice. For this reason the pitot tube is usually heated.
There was an unpleasant story that the crash had been due to General Cairn's failure to turn on his aircraft's pitot heater.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Spade, Shovel

Spade, Shovel: A spade is a straight handled garden tool to dig/break up the dirt. A shovel has a curved neck to facilitate lifting and moving the dirt. Because of their different functions, the spade is often smaller than the shovel.
Having covered and wrapped the body, the wife went in search of a spade or shovel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Fictive: Fictive means fictional with one of two contradictory connotations: deceptive or creative. In the following example, it means authors of fiction. I love English.
The lonely, like the fictive, love one-way watching.
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Threnody: An expression (poem, song, ululation) of mourning.

The siren on top of the Philo Middle School was a different pitch and cycle from the one off in the south part of Urbana, and the two used to weave in and out of each other in a godawful threnody.

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Glabrous, Hirsute

Glabrous: Smooth, often bald. Hirsute (hairy) is the antonym of bald.
I felt, as I became a later and later bloomer, alienated not just by my own recalcitrant glabrous little body, but in a way from the whole elemental exterior I'd come to see as my coconspirator.
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Monday, November 17, 2008


Nosocomial: A disease acquired in a hospital.

Critical by Robin Cook is a medical mystery about a unexplained nosocomial disease that is killing people.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Nares: Nostrils.
It is truly a superbug, capable of killing someone in a frightfully short time while the same strain is able to merely colonize an individual, usually just within the nares.
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Mullion: A vertical divider in a window. In a mullioned window the individual panes are called lights. The horizontal divider is called a transom.

I still can't figure out this quote.
She looked away, and her gaze found one of the bedroom windows in this colonial town house, with bubbled mullions and thick wooden sills, two-hands deep.


Chignon: A hair style where a woman's hair is collected at the back of her head. It might be a simple bun or a more ornate braid or twist. The word comes from a French phrase meaning the nape of the neck.
She leaned back against the seat but her chignon got in the way, so she loosened it with her fingers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Errant, Arrant

Errant: Wandering.

Arrant: Completely.
He was likely to be reduced to the usual expedient of knights errant, who, on such occasions, turned their horses to graze, and laid themselves down ... with an oak tree for a canopy.
I have late experience that arrant thieves are not the worst men in the world to have to deal with.
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Gage: A glove delivered as a challenge to a duel (from Shakespearean England).
There I throw by gage,
To prove it on thee to the extremest point
Of martial daring.
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Gramercy: An expression of thanks from the middle ages.
"Gramercy for thy caution," said the Palmer.
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Essoine (Essoin)

Essoine: The right to trial by combat through the services of a champion to fight in the accused place. A brief search of the Internet seems to indicate that this word only survives in Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Essoin is a term in English Law that means an excuse not to appear.
Here standeth the good knight, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, ready to do battle with any knight of free blood who will sustain the quarrel allowed and alloted to the Jewess Rebecca, to try by champion, in respect of lawful essoine of her own body.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Doors: Postern, Wicket

Postern: A back door or gate, possibly the private entrance as opposed to the public entrance in the front.

Wicket: A small door, possibly built into a larger door. The doors built into large castle gates are wickets, and we might resurrect this meaning to refer to pet doors.
The travellers crossed the ditch upon a drawbridge of only two planks' breadth, the narrowness of which was matched with the straitness of the postern, and with a little wicket in the exterior palisade, which gave access to the forest.

Note that straitness is not an archaic spelling of straightness, but more closely related to strait and means narrow.

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Orison: prayer.
"To say our orisons, fool," answered the Pilgrim, "to repent our sins, and to mortify ourselves with fastings, vigils, and long prayers."
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Palmer: During the times of the crusades, a palmer was a pilgrim who had been to the holy lands and carried a palm branch as proof of their travels.
Coarse sandals, bound with thongs, on his bare feet; a broad and shadowy hat, with cockle-shells stitched on its brim, and a long staff shod with iron, to the upper end of which was attached a branch of palm, completed the Palmer's attire.
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Kirtle: A one-piece, sleeveless garment of varying lengths, depending on the fashion of the time. A kirtle is similar to a tunic, though a tunic might have sleeves.
"She is but changing her head-gear. You would not wish her to sit down to the banquet in her hood and kirtle?"
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Horses: Jennet, Palfrey, Sumpter

Jennet: A small Spanish horse breed, noted for its ambling gait - a smooth four beat gait.

Palfrey: A riding horse prized by knights in the middle ages (not a specific breed), also known for its ambling gait.

Sumpter: A pack animal.
A lay brother, one of those who followed the train, had, for his use on other occasions, one of the most handsome Spanish jennets ever bred in Andalusia.
The saddle and housings of this superb palfrey were covered by a long foot-cloth.
Another lay brother led a sumpter mule, loaded probably with his superior's baggage.
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Murrain: Formerly, any deadly disease. Today, it primarily refers to a disease of cattle.
"A murrain take thee!" rejoined the swineherd; "wilt thou talk of such things, while a terrible storm of thunder rumbles!"
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Monday, November 3, 2008


Pavane: The pavane was a slow Renaissance dance. The hesitation step used by brides to walk down the aisle is thought to be derived from the pavane.
A strange tune began, a slow pavane that seemed to come from inside his own head. The beat grew more insistent, the dance that would end only when he, along with Melody and Sofia, were at the center of the maze.
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Surplice, Cotta

Surplice: This is a white cotton garment worn over a cassock. It is a loose blouse with full sleeves. Originally it was long, reaching the feet, but has been shortening since the 13th century. Today, it might be the length of a very short dress. It might be adorned with lace or embroidery.

Cotta: This is the medieval Latin word for a surplice.
He had plenty of room to sew, but the [bomb] loaded pouches might bulk up a bit at the sides. Fortunately, the white cotton cotta that each of the children would wear over the [altar server] cassock would cover any bulges.
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Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal

Bishop: A Bishop is the middle tier of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Bishops are managed by the Pope. In turn, they manage the parish priests in their diocese.

Archbishops: Archbishops are bishops of archdioceses. The arch prefix indicates a bigger diocese, not an additional layer of hierarchy with the church organization. Organizationally, Archbishops are just bishops. They report to the Pope and the parish priests report to them.

Cardinal: A Cardinal is just a bishop who has been selected to advise the Pope and select a new Pope when the need arises. Once again, the Cardinal is not an additional layer of hierarchy with the church organization.
Of course, the Cardinal was gone now and while Archbishop Jonathan Rand was certainly a competent administrator, it simply wasn't the same. A Cardinal was a Cardinal, and an Archbishop and Archbishop, and that was that.
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Penes: Plural of penis.
And pulled behind the disks, the harrows combing with iron teeth so that little clods broke up and the earth lay smooth. Behind the harrows, the long seeders - twelve curved iron penes erected in the foundry, orgasm set by gears, raping methodically, raping without passion.
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Roached: To be shaved. Today roached is primarily used in reference to manes. A horse's mane might be roached for show or to keep the mane out of the way on a working horse.
The boys in overalls and nothing else, ragged patched overalls. Their hairs was light and it stood up evenly all over their heads, for it had been roached. Their faces were streaked with dust. The went directly to the mud puddles under the hose and dug their toes into the mud.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008


Chancery: A building design to hold records, an archive.
On his first day, he reported to the British Embassy, an impressive red-brick pile that was reportedly modeled after the work of Sir Christopher Wren... It was every inch the traditional English country house - complete with an old chancery.
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Plummy: Deep, rich, upper-class British accent, as might be heard on some BBC comedy show.
Stephenson would have a far easier time persuading the Americans, who sometimes resented the plummy tones of British government ministers.
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Badinage: Playful banter.
Dahl was treated as a welcome distraction, and Alice enjoyed engaging him in her teasing badinage.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fifth Column

Fifth Column: During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, a general proclaimed that his four columns of troops attacking Madrid would be supported by a fifth column within the city. The fifth column consisted of supporters that might be propagandist, spies, or saboteurs - what today we'd call terrorists. During World War II, the fear of a fifth column justified the British interment of Germans and the U.S. interment of Japanese.
Throughout that autumn, the two men were in regular contact as they evaluated the British prospects, the imminence of the Nazi assault, and a German fifth column that they believed threatened not only Europe, but the entire Western Hemisphere.
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Parure: Here is a pretty useless word, unless you happen to be the Queen of England. A parure is a matched set of jewelry. Perhaps a modern parure might be four earrings and a tongue barbell with a matching belly button stud?
[Lord Beaverbrook] presented Hopkins' bride with a "parure of emeralds" as a wedding present. ... (Appraently no one knew precisely what a "parure" was, so the gift was alternately described as a necklace, bracelet, earrings, and a tiara.)
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Cabotage: The transportation or shipment of cargo or people internally to a country. Since World War II, cabotage has predominantly referred to airline regulations where there is one set of rules for international travel (non-cabotage) and another for domestic travel (cabotage). The word derives from a French word for coastal shipping with the root cabo, as in Cabo San Lucas.
[Eleanor Roosevelt] went on to explain that there should be free use of aerodromes in all countries, by all countries ... by which she meant the right of cabotage.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008


Scintillant: Sparkling or glittering. A flickering surface of bright spots.
On clear days [the Niagara River] reflected a cobalt-blue sky; at other times it was the hue of lead, but a restless, scintillant lead, like a living thing twitching its hide.
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Suttee (Sati)

Suttee (Sati): The Hindu practice where wives are burned alive on their husband's funeral pyre. This practice was outlawed in India in 1987.
"But I am not a widow. I refuse the status. I think self-defined 'widows' should commit suttee on their husband's funeral pyres, and give the rest of us a break."
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Conflate: To (mentally) combine, meld, blend, fuse into one with the implication that the combination is somehow a mistake.
Worse, Ariah Erskine seemed scarcely to know who Dirk Burnaby was. No doubt she'd conflated him with Clyde Colburne, his friend.
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Extirpated: To complete remove completely. In gardening, it implies pulling out by the roots, and in medicine, it refers to the removal of organs.
Steeling himself to endure the woman's odor. Vomit, sweat. Odor of unclean female flesh. He'd bared his soul to his maker, that it be extirpated by the roots. For he had no need of a soul now.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Clothing: Peter Pan collar, Shirtwaist

Peter Pan collar: A small, rounded collar, buttoned at the neck. This is a style most seen often on clothes for young girls. On older girls and women, it has an air of modesty and innocence.

Shirtwaist: A woman's blouse tailored like a man's dress shirt with buttons down the front and a collar. A shirtwaist dress is a dress with a shirtwaist top. This style was ubiquitous in the 1950s and can be seen in many old TV shows and commercials.
She half-fell, pushed herself into his arms. How different from the stiff-backed minister's daughter he'd known. Ariah Littrell in her white ruffled blouses, her Peter Pan collars and crisply ironed shirtwaist dresses and flannel skirts.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Banquette: A banquette is a bench, often an upholstered bench built into the wall. My first thought is those waiting area benches with plastic upholstery in the entryways of family restaurants. In historic military contexts, it would be a bench for soldiers to stand on in the trenches or when shooting over the top of fortifications.
Seated at a banquette in the corner of the dining room, a German woman with two blond boys waited to be served.
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Monday, October 20, 2008


Neat: At the risk of being redundant, neat is a neat word - orderly, everything in place, nothing extra. It is a word with little baggage that has been adopted by different generations. I remember the 1950s when the cool cats expressed approval: Neat-O. However, before that was whiskey neat - a drink with nothing added, no ice, no mixer, nothing elaborate - neat.
It was where he wrote letters, paid bills, kept his files and archives, and where late at night he read and listened to his beloved jazz records and smoked cigars and sometimes drank old whiskey neat.
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Saturday, October 18, 2008


Esker: Imagine a glacier, preferably a very large glacier such as during one of the great ice ages. A glacier isn't a uniform sheet of ice. It might have cracks and bubbles, even tunnels. As the glacier moves, it scrapes and stirs up the land beneath it. One of the more interesting possibilities is when one of these tunnels, it could be quite long, fills with gravel. Eventually the glacier melts and leaves a memento of this gravel-filled tunnel, a long ridge of gravel. This is called an esker.
The [grave] site was a flattened patch of ancient glacial esker where tall red pines grew straight as masts and there wasn't much ground cover, other than a warm, fragrant bed of pine needles.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008


Snaggle-toothed: This is an adjective describing crooked and/or broken teeth. Snaggle doesn't seem to appear by itself, and most often is used in the phrase snaggle-toothed grin, often implying lower-class, poor origins.
The bag man's lips parted into a snaggle-toothed grin, and he stepped out into traffic, heading straight for Byron's car.
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Sunday, October 12, 2008


Twinset: a set of matched sweaters, one with buttons and one without, worn together. I remember these from high school in the 1960s, though they were already on their way out. As a teenage boy twinsets were another of the those mixed messages from adolescent girls. The under sweater tended to be tight and sexy, while the outer sweater provided a protective shield of modesty. These days they are considered old fashioned and conservative.
Next came Madame Luzeron. Far to dignified for fancy dress, but festive in her sky blue twinset.
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Wimple: a garment worn by women during the middle ages to cover their heads, wrapping around their ears and neck. During this time it was considered immodest for mature/married women to show their hair. Today this garment is mostly associated with nuns.
In her younger days, she was a cabaret dancer at the Moulin Rouge and would sometimes perform in a nun's wimple, high heels, and a black satin corset so tight it would make your eyes water.
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Cantrip: a short spell, perhaps cast with a hand sign.
The result was my System, minutely gleaned over years of trial and error and consisting of: some solid herbal medicine; some fingerings and magical names; some breathing and limbering exercises; ... a handful of cantrips; and a greater understanding of colors.

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