Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Davy: Evidently a davy is some kind of sofa, love seat or chair. However, after much searching I could not find any reference to this meaning. Anne Argula uses davy in several of her novels.
The reception area was small, just about big enough for his secretary, her desk, plus a small davy with telephones on the tiny tables at each end.
I sat on an overstuffed davy. A Navajo throw covered most of the back of it.
Guy stayed on the davy, maybe too stoned to get up, or seeing no reason to bother.
My best guess is that davy is short for davenport. Outside of Britian, this is usually a large sofa or couch and usually convertible into a bed. That doesn't exactly match the use in these novels, but the British usage for a desk doesn't work either. The mystery is still open. Any ideas?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

One size fits all clothing: Lungi, Dhoti, Sari.

Dhoti: A dhoti is a long (7 meters, over 20 feet) piece of material that is wrapped around the body to form pants, shirt and cape. This is the Hindi word, but similar garments are worn (for all occasions) through Africa and southern Asia.

Lungi: A lungi is a shorter (2 meters, about 6 feet) of material, that may or may not be sewn into a tube, that is worn wrapped around the waist to form a skirt. Again this is the Hindi word. The more popular term is Malaysian: sarong.

Sari: A sari is a woman's dhoti, usual made of fancier and embellished material. It might be as long as 9 meters (almost 30 feet) and is usually worn with a shirt and sometime a petticoat, both for modesty's sake.
I couldn't even see the pavement - a shouting, laughing, chanting mass of young women in brilliant saris, their faces painted yellow with tumeric powder; men in jeans, suits, lungis, or dhotis...

Sacrum, Coccyx

Sacrum, Coccyx: The sacrum is a large triangular bone at the base of the spine. The hip bones connect to the sacrum for form the pelvis. The small, vestigial tail bone (coccyx) is below the sacrum.
My back throbbed. My pubic bone hurt. Trying not to wake up Devi Das, I rolled up a blanket and stuck it between my knees to ease the pressure on my sacrum.


Caparison: To dress an animal or a person in fancy dress. The caparison shares its etymology with cape from a time when a cape was an upscale fashion accessory.
Then we passed through the arched stone gateway into the courtyard of the ancient temple, where a morose, dull-eyed elephant stood caparisoned in crimson and gold silk.


Koan: From Zen Buddhism, a koan is a paradoxical or impossible statement or parable. The student in intended to meditate on the koan. The most famous/popular is the admonition to listen to the sound of one hand clapping.
I stood in the courtyard of the Mahabodhi Temple, just footsteps away from the spot where the Buddha attained supreme enlightenment while meditating under a tree, and pondered the ancient Zen koan: What is the best way to tell your cheating ex-boyfriend, who doesn't wants kids, that you're pregnant with his baby?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Phenology: Phenology is the study of natural cycles. When do the flowers bloom? When do the leaves change color? When do the Salmon run? When do the bees appear? The combination of the Internet (citizen scientists) and global warming has lead to in increase in interest in phenology.

If you'd like to be a citizen scientist, check out the National Phenology Network. If you live in Minnesota, check out Phenology Radio. For more information check out Wikipedia.


Solecism: Literally, someone from the city of Soloi, where everyone spoke an inferior dialect of Greek, according to the ancient Athenians. This word for poor grammar evolved to cover mistakes in etiquette and ultimately anything beyond acceptability.
She met my eye and was momentarily abashed as if it was a social solecism to mention the OJ verdict to any black person.


Splayfooted: Having feet that are flat and turned out.
A bent munchkin of a woman stood guard at the door, splayfooted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Gormless: Derived from an old Norse root for knowledge or understanding + less: Stupid. Another fine word for middle school nerds.
This is what war's like now, folks: gormless, brutalized farm boys having a human barbecue, and note the absence of courtly gentleman bowing to one another on the field of honor.


Suppurating: A wound that oozes pus. How do you spell the adjective? Pusy? Pussie? How ever I search for it on Google, the result is porn sites. Regardless, the etymology derives from the Latin root for pus. This is a great word for middle school nerds.
Meanwhile, underneath all the thoughts, like a suppurating ulcer you can't stand to look at, was what happened in New York, those paintings.


Condottiere: Italian mercenaries during the 14th and 15th centuries.
So we observe vast masses of new wealth being seized by people who are largely amoral brutes---on a larger scale, just what happened in the original dark ages or Germany in the thirties. Essentially, therefore, much of the world is controlled by a kind of condottiere.


Quattrocento: This refers to the fifteenth century (the 1400s) from the Italian word for 1400: millequattrocento.
I found her ready to go, wearing a dress of just the rose pink Fra Angelico used to clothe his angels in a worn velvet jacket colored a sort of verdigis, very quattrocento.


Pounce: While the verb pounce, to jump, is widely used. The are two obscure pounce nouns. One pounce is a talon or sharp tool, sharing a Latin root with puncture. The other pounce is a fine powder dusted onto the back side of a stencil to transfer a design - a precursor of carbon paper. This pounce shares its etymology with pumice.
This was the actual working set, complete with the tiny holes and the marks of the red clay pounce we'd used, miraculously preserved.


Massicot: A lead-oxide used as a yellow paint pigment as early as 1449.
I'm standing at a table grinding massicot into a fine powder using a stone mortar and pestle.

Odalisque [EXPLICIT]

Odalisque: At the bottom of the status hierarchy in a harem sits the odalisque, a female virgin, who might some day aspire to become a concubine, and if the luck provides her with a son, even a wife. But why has the term for the odalisque survived. It is still in use today because artists for the last 200 years have been titling they nudes: "Odalisque."
... one of his dolls, a lush beauty in shocking pink, but with the white face, and she's lying on a cot in the box and there's a mechanism that makes her writhe and move her hand against her crotch. He paid a couple of dozen girls to make videos of their faces as they masturbated to orgasm and we had a beer and watched as he ran them in a loop against the face of his boxed odalisque.


Pastiche: A pastiche is an imitation and/or a hodge-podge. It is used in the art to describe a derivative work that might also combine several styles. Whether the intent is to emphasize the derivative/imitative quality or the mish-mash/composite quality, or a little of both, the connotation is always negative.
That's not the point, as you know very well. These are pastiches. But the paintings I saw that night at your show, I remember them all those years later. ... Because those paintings were not pastiches. They were you.


Gesso: This is the Italian word for chalk. Gesso is a primer comprised of equal parts of chalk and glue. Since the Renaissance, this has been used to prime surfaces for oil paints, particularly wood panels.
Back at the loft, I set up a small gessoed wood panel and dug through the chests until I found an old theatrical costume that would do...

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Anodyne: Analgesic, pain killer.
I still hear it now and then, if there's a radio tuned to an oldies station, all her songs anodyne and slightly sappy, tinkly, no real juice, easily distinguished from Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, etc. - like my painting, unfortunately.
Basically I have no problem at all with work like this, in most cases a kind of wallpaper, anodyne, meaningless, or rather announcing the fact that meaning no longer inheres in painting.


Phugoid: When an airplane rises and falls. The apparent derivation is from the Greek word for flight: phuge. However, this is the Greek word is the word for fleeing, not flying.
It's just what an aeroplane does when its controls are neutral. The plane will start going down. But when it goes down beyond a certain angle, its internal axis will correct itself and the plane will start going up again. Then it will go down again.


Capriole: A vertical jump by an animal, as contrasted by a leap which implies forward motion.
The [lamb] with his face on the floor gets up and raises his front legs in an attempted capriole but stumbles and falls into his own piss.

Subedar Major

Subedar Major: During the time of the British rule in Pakistan and India, the subedar rank (positioned above enlisted soldiers and below officers) was the highest rank available to native soldiers and their command was restricted to other native soldiers. They could not command British elnisted soldiers.

Today, in India and Pakistan, the subedar major is the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer (NCO). As with the original (racially-determined) rank, they are above the enlisted soldiers and below the commissioned officers.
I called my subedar major and told him we would stop the train for the night prayers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Threadbare: The threads that are woven together for make cloth are called the woof (the short widthwise threads) and the warp (the long lengthwise threads). When the resulting cloth is new, the woof and the warp are not obvious because the threads are fuzzy and this fuzz hides the underlying woven threads. However, as the material wears, the fuzz wears off and the woof and warp threads become apparent. At this point, the threads without the fuzz are bare and the material is called threadbare. While this effect is more apparent with natural fibers (wool and cotton) and less so with synthetics (nylon, polyester), the term threadbare has come to mean any wornout cloth (especially clothes) regardless of the actual mechanism.
To hide a few wrinkles, he had knotted a jaunty silk ascot at his throat, and the insigna of a long-defunct yacht club glowed on the breast pocket of his threadbare blue blazer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Philately, Philandering and Philtrum

Philately: Stamp collecting.

Philandering: Sexual fooling around.

Philtrum: The vertical groove between the upper lip and the nose.
"Especially if there was philately going on."
"That'd be philandering," Lucas said. "Philately is stamp-collecting."
"That's what I meant - stamp-collecting."
Lucas scrubbed an index finger across his philtrum.
Within five lines, the author uses philately, philandering and philtrum. I can see him staring at one dictionary page and challenging himself to use three words from that page.

Sword of Freya

Sword of Freya: Freya is the Norse goddess of love (related to Aphrodite and Venus), but in the many mythology web sites, there are no mentions of her sword. Most cite her chariot pulled by two blue cats across the sky. However, the heavy metal group Sword has a track called Freya that mentions a sword.
The knife was like the Sword of Freya in her belt.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Complimental: (adjective, obsolete) Complimentary, as in praising.
Here, they go every morning to pray and sing, but it is not complimental [sic, compulsory(?)].

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Stopes: Steps excavated in a mine to access a vertical seam of ore.
The bituminous seam ... had been abandoned before being fully mined out, leaving many dead-end tunnels, stopes, and a web of dark seams.


Morral: This is a Spanish word for knapsack or backpack.
Winter, was already saddled and ready to ride, tied in the shade of the only live pinon in sight, eating from a morral.


Scabland: A bare, rough, rocky landscape. Evidently, the word is less than 100 years old, so I assume the derivation is from scab land.
He jumped off the last dune and ran into the scabland, momentarily obscured from Wardlaw's view.