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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