Sunday, May 31, 2009

Parochial, Parish

Parish: In several churches (Catholic, Anglican), the smallest geographical area, usually served by a single church, is called a parish. In some civil jurisdictions parishes might correspond to counties (Louisiana) or townships (South Carolina).

Parochial: Parochial indicates something restricted to a parish. Parochial schools are religious schools. Over time parochial, like provincial, has come to mean small minded and unsophisticated.
When I reached the age of taking Deacon's Orders, I found myself established as the Mathematical Lecturer, and with no sort of inclination to give it up and take parochial work. - Lewis Carroll

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Hecatomb: A hecatomb was a massive ancient Greek sacrifice to the gods - 100 oxen! These days it might be used metamorphically for any massacre or large scale slaughter, much like decimate that also began with a specific mathematical value in Roman times. Today heca is mostly seen as a metric prefix for 100. The metric analog to acre is hectare (100 ares) which is 10,000 square meters or 2.5 acres.
.. the day when Pythagoras first discovered [the Pythagorean Theorem], and celebrated its advent, it is said, by sacrificing a hecatomb of oxen - a method of doing honor to Science that has always seemed to me slightly exaggerated and uncalled-for.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Roman Nose

Roman Nose: The Roman nose is also called an aquiline nose (eagle-like), or a hook nose, or a beak nose. The Roman nose, viewed in profile, is convex; the bridge is prominent. Incidentally, if the profile is flat, the nose is called a Greek nose. Regardless of all this nomenclature, Roman noses appear on faces from all around the world. A famous Cheyenne warrior of the nineteenth century was named the Cheyenne equivalent of Roman nose.
His face, once seen, could not be forgotten, said his friend Ellery Channing. The features were quite marked. ... quite marked meant a Roman nose.
In manner, in appearance, and in dress, Emerson was elegant and refined where Thoreau was homely and coarse. Six feet tall with a Roman nose which, in Emerson's case was a note of elegance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Pellicle: Pellicle is Latin for a thin skin and has been adopted to describe parts of mushrooms, photographic film, single-celled organisms, and tooth enamel. Much like ligand (Latin for tie together, bind), this is a scientific-sounding (i.e. Latinate) word that has been adopted by many scientists for their own particular use.
We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe we line on. Many have not delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped many above it. - Thoreau
[As Thoreau approached his death,] he was not about to let up on his big projects. ... His Concord calendar, the cultural landscape and interactions of all four seasons of his hometown, his forever explored pellicle of land?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Voluble: Talkative.
He had never known her to be so voluble. Or insistent.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Skulduggery: Skulduggery is trickery and deceit, but originally meant fornication, adultery and obscenity.
If I'm nervous, it's because of all this skulduggery.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Guayaba, Membrillo, Empanada

Guayaba: Spanish for guava.

Membrillo: Spanish for quince.

Empanada: Spanish for stuffed pastry (British: pasty, American: turnover, Mexican: chimichanga, Japanese: gyoza, Chinese: pot stickers, etc).
The counter is laden with CDs and cassettes of Mexican music, jars of salsa, cans of spiced fruit, thick guayaba and membrillo jam, plastic bags of whole-wheat tortillas, and there's always a small metal tray lined with wax paper on which are laid out rows of fresh empanadas.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Prolix, Inane

Prolix: Verbose. Prolix shares its etymology with liquid, as in: his words flowed endlessly.

Inane: Empty, mindless, vacuous,fatuous, foolish, silly, insipid. How many word are needed for stupid?
When he opened his mouth, especially to large groups, what emerged was often prolix to the point inanity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Aperient: Laxative, sharing its etymology with aperture.
The first [breast] milk is watery, it must be almost an aperient, to purge the remains of the meconium curdled in the bowels of the new-born child.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Episcopal Church Secret Code

Lectors' Guild: A group that reads scripture (Bible verses) during church services. Lector shares its etymology with lecture.

Undercroft: A basement room in a church. Croft comes from a Dutch root meaning hill. A crypt is thus a room under the hill. In World of Warcraft, Undercroft is a crypt in Eastern Plaguelands inhabited by undead trolls.

Narthex: The entry to a church, the church lobby.

Post-Eucharistic Prayer: A prayer following the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the taking of bread and wine).

Nave: The large central part of a church, occupied by the congregation during services. Nave shares its etymology with navel (belly-button).
Eddie hated all churches, but found the Episcopal high-church tradition incomprehensible. The tinkling of the bells annoyed him, the clouds of incense choked him, and the secret code confused him: someone always seemed to be announcing the lectors' guild would meet in the undercroft, which should be entered via the narthex following the post-Eucharistic prayer in the nave.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Clade: Clade is a technical word that is simultaneously precise and approximate, a word with so many diverse applications that its meaning is impossible to discover from context. A clade includes all descendants (living, dead, contemporary, extinct, known, and unknown) of a common ancestor. Thus the clade of my grandfather includes all my cousins, and the clade of T-rex might include all birds. In theory any two living organisms belong to some common clade, while pardoxically they also belong to independent clades which exclude the other. Here is an example of a meaningless use of the term.
Cyanobacteria are in influential clade within the wider world of bacteria.
I expect any clade containing cyanobacteria includes all green plants, a circumstance that dwarfs the phrase the wider world of bacteria.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Lede: The story of lede starts with lead with its multiple meanings and pronunciations. Consider:
The cheer leaders, with their big smiles and shorts skirts, lead the band when it marches onto the field.
Also consider:
Colonel Mustard did it with a lead pipe in the study.
In Journalism, the beginning of a news story is the lead (as in lead the band), and some thin metal strips, once used to separate lines of type by typesetters are called leads (as in lead pipe). Evidently, Journalism Professors felt that this single confusion, out of the multitude of English homografts, needed to be addressed. Lede, an obsolete and obscure alternate spelling of lead (as in lead the band) was conscripted for lead news stories, now lede news stories.
Another [newspaper], its readership mostly supernaturalists, engaged in what journalists call burying the lede: NEW PSYCHIC IN HARLEM!

The drive was worth it because it gave me just the lede I needed. "TUNICA, Miss. - Driving south on Highway 61 from Memphis, visitors are greeted by ubiquitous cotton fields, ramshackle farmhouses, corrugated shacks, and an incongruous parade of billboards.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Lacuna: A lacuna is a gap or a missing part, most often used metamorphically for an intellectual blind spot, a gap in intelligence, or missing information. Lacuna is already a metaphor and shares its etymology with lake and lagoon.
Scientists hit a black box, a lacuna in knowledge they can't describe despite understanding more or less what fed into and what evolved out of it.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Gallimaufry: This is derived from an old French word for stew. It means a mixed-up mess.
Every family had a few skeletons in their cupboards, but the Vanger family had an entire gallimaufry of them.


Carnival: Originally, carnival was a celebration and feast prior to Lent. This has been extended through usage and metaphor to any festival or celebration. Traveling amusements with rides, side shows and arcade can be called carnivals. City and schools have Winter Carnivals. Carnival has come to be a good time and there is even a cruise line named Carnival.
[Mardi Gras] is related to celebrations elsewhere, called carnivals, from the Latin words carne and vale, meat and farewell, meaning a farewell to meat before the abstinence of Lent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Stanchion: Stanchion is the technical word for those ubiquitous uprights that organize and separate people in lines (queues), like those back and forth folded lines that I associate with amusement parks, especially Disneyland where long lines have been raised to an art form. In dairy farms, stanchions are the vertical bars that hold the cows in front of the feed trough.
Edgar handed up the old broken sink and the pruning shears and they leaned two of the stanchions in a corner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cow Magnets

Cow Magnets: A little background: Cows eat everything. Everything. Grass, dirt, rocks, nails, bailing wire, everything. The metal, called tramp iron, can make them sick, even lower milk production, as it moves through their system of stomachs. This is called hardware disease. The solution is a cow magnet. The cow magnet lodges in an early stomach and collects the tramp iron throughout the cow's life, preventing hardware disease.
You ever seen a cow magnet? Unbelievable. Looks like a giant metal bullet.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Scabrous: Scabrous shares its etymology with scab, but that only offers the barest, obscure hint of its meaning. Scabrous mean rough, as in: His knee was covered with a scabrous scab after he fell off his skateboard on the scabrous concrete. Next time he'll wear proper protection. Metaphorically it might be used to describe a scabrous problem, or even as a synonym for salacious.
A scabrous folding chair stood on what remained of a crude front porch, shedding paint flakes the color of dried mustard as rust worked its way underneath.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Saccade: Derived from the French word with twitch, it generally describes eye movements that jump from one focus to another, as in his eye saccaded from word to word as he read the Dear John letter.
Essay whined and tucked her hind feet under her hips and elevated her nose in a shaft of sunlight, poking it upward in tiny saccades to take the scent.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Heliograph: A heliograph (literally sun writing) is a communicating device to send a code with reflected sunlight. This was used by the British in southern Asia, and during the Civil War in the United Stated. It shares etymology with heliotrope, plants that turn towards the sun, and all the many graph words: telegraph, phonograph, computer graphics, xerographic, and pornographic.
Far down the road, a tiny cloud of orange dust was rising and a windshield heliographed as it passed in and out of shade.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Chiaroscuro: Chiaroscuro is a compound Italian word combining chairo (light) and scuro (dark), words sharing etymology with clear and obscure. It refers to monochrome drawings, painting, or etchings where the image is represented in the interplay of light and dark.
Inside the vestibule at the top of the stairs stood the chairoscuro figure of a man.

Mercator (mystery word)

Mercator: In the sixteenth century Gerardus Mercator popularized the Mercator projection for global maps. This is a cylindrical projection (the spherical earth is projected onto a cylinder). While this projection is locally accurate, especially maintaining compass headings, as the maps get farther from the equator, east-west distances are distorted - with infinite distortion at the poles. That said, I can not imagine the author's intent in the use of this word.
Claude watched the mercator of sunlight advance up the field.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Whelp: To deliver a infant animal, or the infant animal. While the term is general, the only whelps my vet recognizes are dogs. However fantasy readers also recognize dragon whelps.
The mother comes over and they peep like chicks when they see her. One by one she carries them back to the whelping box.
With a little luck she'll hold off welping until school is out.