Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Lam: For unknown reasons, lam means to escape from prison, usually used in the idiomatic phrase: on the lam.
But I don't want to just take it on the lam, run out.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Punctilious: The etymological roots of punctilious start with a Latin word meaning sharp, directly giving us puncture and (metamorphically) pungent. From there puncture evolves into punctuation and punctual, which combined lead to punctilious - one who carefully (obsessively) follows the rules.
John Norfell had arranged everything with his usual good taste and punctiliousness.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Peavey: A peavey, named after its inventor, is a long pole with a point and a hinged hook at the end used to move logs.
"Bunch of lumberjacks," Virgil said.
"They're tough men," she said.
"With a peavey," Virgil said. "Guns are a little different."

Friday, June 26, 2009


Bunkerage: Bunker is an old Scottish word meaning a box that could also serve as a seat, as in a hope chest or a toy box or a window seat. This is another example of a word that expanded its meanings as time passed. Today a bunker might be dug-in fortifications. The United States produces bunker-buster bombs for attack these bunkers. More peacefully a bunker might be a sand trap on a gold course or a storage compartment on a ship. From this last meaning, bunkerage is the fuel stored in the fuel bunker on a ship.
The chief believes there was water in the bunkerage.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Solecism: Yesterday we had Sybaritic, derived from a ancient Greek luxury resort known for luxury and decadence. Today be have another Greek city (Soloi) at the other end of the spectrum. Soloi is the home of the bumpkins, hillbillies, hicks, of ancient Greece. Solecism originally meant poor grammar and substandard accents. However, as many other words that evolve from specific meanings to wider metaphorical use, solecism today might include any inappropriate behavior - breach of etiquette to inappropriate dress.
Sailendra was so shocked that he forgot to accord the prickly councilor his full title. No doubt he would pay for this solecism later.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Butler vs Valet

Butler: A butler is the head servant, usually in charge of the kitchen and the dining room. Butler shares its etymology with bottle (as in wine bottle one suspects).

Valet: A valet is a personal servant, traditional responsible for a gentlemen and his dress. Today a valet might be any personal servant, as in valet parking. Valet is etymologically relate to vassal.

Butler: food, servants.
Valet: clothes, gentlemen.
'Jeeves was Bertie Wooster's gentleman's personal gentleman,' said Richard at his most pompous, straying dangerously where angels might fear to tread. 'A valet, not a butler.'
'But Bertie said Jeeves could buttle with the best of them.'

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Juddering: Judder is a British synonym for shudder of recent, but unknown etymology. Suggested etymologies include: jar+shudder, jerk+shudder, jolt+shudder, jump+shudder, jiggle+shudder, and so on ad nauseum.
When the silence fell so suddenly the peanut shells began to scuttle soundlessly acruss the juddering tabletop and something almost spectrally put a little storm of ripples into the teacup in their midst.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Preternatural: Preternatural describes something that is beyond what is natural. Etymologically preternatural is synonymous with supernatural. As with supernatural, it might indicate any extraordinary act or action, but often it refers to paranormal or psychic abilities. Note to amateur etymologists: you must ignore the apparent prefix pre as the actual prefix is preter from the Latin meaning beyond. Unfortunately learning this prefix is of little value as the few other words employing it are very obscure and rarely encountered.
The deep exhaustion and lingering disorientation of jet-lag were making Robin almost preternaturally sensitive to her unsettlingly strange surroundings.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jersey Barrier, K-Rail

Jersey Barrier, K-Rail: These are various names for different types of those temporary concrete highway barriers. Tommy Lee Jones called them K-rails in the scientifically-silly disaster movie Volanco. The Jersey barrier was invented by the New Jersey highway department, and some engineer might imagine that the cross-section of a k-rail resembles a k. The different names for long, portable concrete barriers are only interesting to highway engineers, and I doubt many of them even care to differentiate a k-rail from a Jersey barrier.
Sacki jumped from his perch on a jersey barrier and ran to a Mitsubishi Pajero, gunning the engine.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Coda: The coda is ending, as in the final part of a music composition or a story. A funeral is the coda to someone's life, and Nixon's resignation was the coda of his political career. It is a Latin word meaning tail and shares it etymology with caudal, an adjective referring the the tail or tail area.
From the time I turned five years old, I had a coda for the end of my prayers at night: Please don't let Mommee and Daddy get divorced.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lapa Cloth

Lapa Cloth: Lapa Cloth (from West Africa) is the brightly patterned, cotton cloth that may be wrapped around body like a Masai shuka, or around the waist. It is similar to the kanga (Swahili) in East Africa and the sarong (Malaysian) in Asia.
She was wearing a lapa skirt and a white t-shirt, with a matching lapa cloth wrapping her baby around her back.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Palaver Hut

Palaver: Palaver, which shares its etymology with parable, originally applied to long discussion/negotiations between Europeans and Africans during the 18th and 19th centuries where the cultural/language differences prevented concise communications or quick resolutions. Today, the word usually refers to idle, frivolous or misleading discussions, as in: Let's end this palaver and get down to business.

Palaver Hut: From OyePalaverHut.org:
A Palaver Hut is a circular structure constructed of clay and bamboo or wood, with a thatched roof. In West African villages, the Palaver Hut is the place where guests are welcomed.
From today's book:
The meeting came on December 15, 1821, in a palaver hut in King Peter's village.
I looked behind me at Bro Henry, who as just arriving behind us at the spot we picked [on the beach] next to a thatched palaver hut near the lagoon.
West African protocol dictates that the meek go to the strong to judge their palavers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Irascible: To have a short temper; to easily become angry; irritable. Though the meanings and spellings of irascible and irritable are similar, they do not share a common etymology.
Old Man Charlie was grumpy and irascible, and was always throwing people out of the kitchen.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Desultory: Desultory means disorganized, non sequitur, and/or low quality. How did desultory get so many different meanings? The etymology of the word is to leap or jump, as in to jump from place to place, point to point, at random, without a plan or reason. It shares its etymology with sally forth.
On the strength of that performance, 90 percent of KIPP students get scholarships to private or parochial high schools instead of having to attend their own desultory high schools in the Bronx.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dace Paste

Dace Paste: A dace is a small fish - different species in different parts of the world. Dace paste is fish paste (puree of fish) used extensively in Asian cooking as an ingredient to more complex dishes or to make imitation crab or lobster. It is a high-protein food that uses fish and fish parts that might otherwise be used as animal feed or fertilizer.
Breakfast in South China, at least for those who could afford it, was congee - white rice porridge with lettuce and dace paste and bamboo shoots.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gog and Magog

Gog and Magog: Gog and Magog, appearing in the Old and New Testament, the Quran, and other religious/mythological texts, represent evil forces of invasion, especially forces against Israel. Interestingly, George W Bush referenced Gog and Magog in support of the planned Iraqi invasion when meeting with French President Chirac. Also, the Yale secret society Skull & Bones awards the nickname Magog to the member in each class with the most sexual experience, and Gog to the one with the least. George H W Bush received the Magog nickname.
The Forces of Gog and Magog were set to do battle on the plains of Armageddon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Chicane: A chicane is a barrier or extra turn, usually incorporated into a race course for increased safety, to slow the vehicles and/or force then to pass through in single file. A chicane might also be a barrier build on a residential street to slow traffic (traffic calming).
He'd felt the first hairpin leading out of the city, but was still waiting for the downhill chicane [?] that prefaced rejoining the main highway.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Maraging Steel

Maraging Steel: This is a steel that can be used in applications requiring strength and malleability. Some applications include: machine dies, rocket and missile fuselages, and fencing blades (epee and saber). It is named for Adolf Martens.
He ... began reviewing the shipping lists. Centrifuges, navigation units, vacuum tubes. ... Carbon extruders. Maraging steel. Collant systems. ... Ring magnets. Heat Exchangers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Arolla Pine

Arolla Pine: The arolla pine is a altitude-adapted conifer named after a small alpine village in southern Switzerland. Though it grows at high altitudes (2000 m) and low temperatures (-50 C), it is not a dwarf species; aldult trees grow to a height of 30 m and a diamater of 1.5 m.
It was an old-style beiz, or family-owned establishment, with arolla pine walls, a parquet wood floor, and an army of bleached Steinbock antlers mounted on the wall.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Reticulated: Webbed or networked, derived from the Latin for small net. The verb form metaphorically refers to a net or web as in PG&E reticulated electricity across California with their vast distribution network. The most common use of reticulated is in zoology: reticulated giraffe and reticulated python. In both case, reticulated refers to the web-like pattern on the animal's skin.
There were flatbeds with a spindly steel awning providing protection against the elements. ... It reminded him of a snake poking its head out of a cave. A great, rusty reticulated [?] snake.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Nacelle: A nacelle (derived from an Old French work for a small boat) is a housing for fuel or engines on an aircraft, when the fuel or engines are outside the aircraft body or wings. The big jet engines on commercial airliners are housed in nacelles. This terms is used to in the description of several Star Trek vehicles.
At five hundred meters he armed the nacelle.
As the housing is probably sheet metal or carbon-fiber composite and not capable of inflicting much damage, I assume the implication is the weapon system contained in the nacelle. Alternately, using the original meaning metaphorically, the nacelle could refer to the entire drone.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Lividity: With a Latin root meaning bluish, lividity can indicate anger (as in face red in anger) or a sickly pale (as in the blood drained from his face in fright), but when used technically in a medical or forensic context, lividity is the settling of the blood supply under the influence of gravity (after the heart has stopped pumping).
"So how is it possible that he could have fallen from the chair later?" says Tuchio.
"Lividity," says the witness. ...
"Then lividity as the blood settled ... might very easily cause the body to topple forward out of the chair.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Lictors: Lictors were ancient Roman attendants for important civil or religious officials. The word shares its etymology with ligament and ligature and the Latin word to bind.
Scarborough seemed to have his own backers in every city, self-appointed lictors who pushed their way through crowd and yelled insults at their opposite number, those who thought Scarborough was an agitator seeking to stir up racial trouble.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Atrophic, Etiology

Atrophic: This is the adjective form of atrophy - the waste away or shrink. Muscles atrophy from lack of use.

Etiology: Cause, as in the cause of a disease.
This meant the the thyroids, adrenals, and ovaries were all atrophic. The diagnosis was clear, though the etiology was not.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pathlogical Intoxication

Pathlogical Intoxication: This is something I had when I was younger; think college. This is when someone gets/appears more intoxicated then would be expected from their blood-alcohol level.
For while I thought he was a case of pathological intoxication, but later I decided it was a case of personal induligence, a willingness to let himself go when others kept themselves in rigid control.