Friday, July 31, 2009

Foxed (2)

Foxed: Old documents are foxed when they develop (often brown) discolorations. The causes of this foxing is not well understood. It might be caused by fungus or oxidation, and humidity is thought to be a risk factor.

Foxed: (British usage) To fox is to repair (shoes) or trim (clothing) with leather, presumably fox leather was employed for this purpose in the beginning.
She stitched Abe Lincoln's shirts and foxed his pants; she's the one who told him on the day he was elected, "They'll kill ye, Abe."

Their diplomas were foxed at the corners.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Suborn: Suborn is a transitive verb, meaning it takes an object. Generally one person suborns another, meaning they cause them to do something illegal. Suborn's pronunciation (su-born) belies its etymology as suborn shares its etymology with submarine and subterranean, and even suburban which also has the misleading pronunciation (su-bur-ban). More interestingly, suborn shares its etymology with ornate and ornament, revealing its meaning to be close to sub rosa or under the table.
You can't pressure an elected official of the government into agreeing to suborn a judge.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Frisson: An emotional shudder. Frisson is the French word for shiver which shares its etymology with friction which in turn shares its etymology with frigid coming full circle back to shiver.
I sunned myself in the frisson he caused in other people, in the charge I could feel in the air the moment they caught sight of him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Furbelow, Flounce

Furbelow, Flounce: These two words share their obscure etymology with flaunt and both have the same dual meanings. As a verb, they mean to be showy, to draw attention. As a noun they mean a ruffle, such as the ruffles men wore at their necks or women wore at the hems of their skirts, or any extra decoration to draw attention.
The first bandwagon was in place, a real Gargantua, forty feet long, fifteen feet high, big as a semitrailer but with brilliant red and green curlicues and furbelows on the sides, a sixteen-horse hitch, two hairy-legged teamsters in the wagon box, and a six-piece band on top, warming up.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Lefse: Lefse is Norwegian flat bread, closely related to Tortillas (Mexico), Nan (India), and Pita (Greece).
So [Saint Patrick] pissed on their potatoes but they just made lefse from it and thought that was quite a treat.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Doxy: A doxy is one of an uncountable number of terms for girlfriend, lover, prostitute, courtesan, slut, hussy, street walker, paramour, etc. As with many of these terms that probably evolved from street slang, the etymology is as obscure as the lives of those that invented those words in the depths of their wild imaginations - the same imaginations that let them survive and thrive outside the normal strictures of society.
I saw you slip your arm around that little doxy there - what is going on with you as if I didn't know.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fetterlock, Fetlock

Fetterlock, Fetlock: Fetter, sharing its etymology with foot, means to hold back or restrain. The link between fetter (foot) and restrain is fetterlock - a D-shaped devise used to hobble horses. The fetterlock should not be confused with fetlock, a part of a horse foot (fet) and possibly the location where the fetterlock was attached. Today the fetterlock is mostly (exclusively) used in heraldry.
"Beautiful horses," Clint said to one man who was brushing a horse's fetlock and he grunted and didn't even look up.
On one side was the Deravenel family emblem, of the rose and fetterlock, the rose enameled white.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Acerbic: Acerbic means bitter or angry, as in I hated my acerbic teacher or the drunk launched into an acerbic tirade. It shares it etymology with exacerbate.
And like his father, Urian had a most acerbic personality that he was more than proud of.
You'd have to be a glutton for punishment to keep coming near me given my acerbic personality where you're concerned.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Vambrace: A vambrace is armor for the forearm. It shares its etymology with embrace and bracelet and is a synonym for bracer (the term used in World or Warcraft).
Savitar flashed from the rock, to stand before Takeshi with a sword the likes of which Acheron had never seen before. He brought it down across Takeshi's vambrace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Kithara: A kithara was the professional, concert version of the ancient Greek lyre. It was the Grand piano used by professional musicians as opposed the the upright that might be found in small homes. The word guitar is derived by the kithara.
Bored out of his mind, he cast his gaze around the room until he spied a golden kithara lying on a cushion on the floor in the corner.
She returned to strumming her kithara.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Peplos: A peplos is another garment made from an entire piece of cloth. Other such garments are Himation (yesterday's post), Chiton (the day before), Dhoti (India), Sarong (Malaysia), and Shuka (Maasai). In order to better understand the cost and importance of cloth in pre-industrial societies and why people might be inclined to search for ways to use entire pieces of cloth, read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times - a wonderful history of weaving.

A peplos is slightly more complex than the himation or chiton. It is a tube of cloth. The peplos is worn as follows:
  1. The tube is placed over the person, but under the arms. The top of the tube is folded down over the rest of the tube and the person,
  2. The fold is lifted to the shoulders and pinned over both shoulders. Each arm is through the top of the tube between the folded edge and a pin. The neck also is at the top of the tube, but between two pins.
  3. The folded-down part of the tube forms a second layer at the upper part of the person.
He sat alone with a peplos shielding him.
I found Acheron in the hallway outside my room wearing the bland colored peplos he used to visit the plays. As always, it was pulled up over his head to shield him from the others.
Evidently, the top of the peplos can be raised to cover the head.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Himation: A himation is another garment made from an uncut piece of cloth. Other such garments are Chiton (yesterday's post), Dhoti (India), Sarong (Malaysia), and Shuka (Maasai). In order to better understand the cost and importance of cloth in pre-industrial societies and why people might be inclined to search for ways to use entire pieces of cloth, read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times - a wonderful history of weaving.

A himation was usually made of heavier cloth than the chiton and was simply wrapped around the wearer like a clock. It might be worn alone or over a chiton.
I clutched his gift under my himation as I walked through the abandoned streets to the stew I had gone to before.
Note: Stew is a Shakespearean English term for a prostitute or a brothel. How this terms made it into a book set in ancient Greece is beyond me.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Chiton: A chiton is a garment made from an uncut piece of cloth. Other such garments are Dhoti (India), Sarong (Malaysia), and Shuka (Maasai). In order to better understand the cost and importance of cloth in pre-industrial societies and why people might be inclined to search for ways to use entire pieces of cloth, read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times - a wonderful history of weaving.

A chiton works as follows:
  1. Fold the material in half and hold the fold against the side of the body with half the material in front and the rest behind.
  2. With the fold raised under the arm, bring the front and back over the shoulder and pin. The arm is now through the hole formed by the edge of the material from the fold to the pin.
  3. A little further along the edge bring the front and back over the other shoulder and pin. The neck is now through the hole form by the front and back edge and the two pins.
  4. Finally wrap the extra material under the other arm and attach with a belt or more pins.
As with other garments constructed from a full piece of cloth, this chiton can be adjusted when body shapes and sizes change, and change be rotated to maximize the useful life of the garment.
His face ashen, Acheron picked his chiton up from the ground where the guards had thrown it but didn't have time to dress before they dragged him back into his room and threw him inside.
The man's eyes also widened at the quality of the cloth he wore - a royal chiton Ryssa had insisted he wear whenever he ventured out to the plays.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Formesta, Sfora

Formesta: Formesta one of several Old English/Anglo Saxon words for first. In the Dark Hunter world created by Sherrilyn Kenyon, a formesta robe is worn by the people of Atlantis. It is either black or white, long and flowing, usually worn open, and most often worn by Acheron.
Her course set, Apollymi clothed her son (Acheron) in the black formesta robes of his station.
Sfora: Sfora is possibly an obscure Greek word or possibly just made-up. In the Dark Hunter world created by Sherrilyn Kenyon, the sfora is a charm, worn around the neck, that shows the future like a crystal ball.
Yeah and the small sfora necklace Ash had given to his daughter also had the capabilities of ending the entire world. The problem with the most powerful amulets and talismans was that mortals couldn't identify their significance. [... but the astute readers don't worry about the end of the world, because in this universe every ending that might limit lengthening the story or the series is rapidly reversed with even more powerful (unbelievable) magic.]

Monday, July 13, 2009


Juke: What's going on with juke? It seems to be an etymological disaster. To juke might mean to cheat, or to fool, or to dance fast and close. A jukebox is a a coin operated machine to play records from the time of phonograph records, or, metamorphically, any device that serves up a requested item or service from a large selection. Going back in time, a juke joint is a cheap eatery, dance hall, bar. How can all of this variety come from a single origin? Is this another homograph?

We only need to search a little farther back to find the common thread. A juke house is a whore house, and juke means to have sex, possibly derived from a word meaning poke. Thus, juke is like that popular four-letter word f--k that can be used in so many contexts with so many meanings.
The one in Alexandria near Camp Claiborne was typical - nothing to it but a falling-down movie theater and two shabby juke joints.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Cleave: Cleave is in a special subset of homographs (words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings, such as can in tin can and I can.) Cleave is an auto-antonym or contranym. Cleave, as used in the Bible, means to adhere, to stick together. It shares its etymology with clove, as used in clove hitch. The other meaning for cleave, as in meat cleaver, means to separate, and shares its etymology with cleft, as use in cleft lip.
There's a lot of talk in the Bible about cleaving. Men and women cleaving unto God. Husbands cleaving to wives. Bones cleaving to skin. Cleaving, we are to understand, is a good thing. The righteous cleave; the wicked do not.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Ensorcell: English has a variety of way to create verbs from nouns beyond the current popular practice of simply the verbing the noun as shelving a proposal and clouding an issue. A suffix made popular during the last fifty years is -ize as in popularize and liberalize. Ensorcell uses the prefix en- for the same purpose, like its synonym enchant. Ensorcell shares its etymology with sorcerer.
"The Commander..."
"Is encorcelled. Nothing you can do; his mind is probably gone."
His advisers had rebounded from their brief ensorcellment.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Monteith: A monteith is a clever punch bowl with a scalloped rim to allow the cups to be hung around the bowl. The designs were varied with some the cups hung by their handles and others by their feet. I remember a punch bowl from my youth with the ordinary shape and plastic hooks to accomplish the same purpose.
That large silve bowl is a Queen Anne monteith, dated 1720, and that was made by William Denny.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Putto (plural: Putti): Putti are the chubby little children in renaissance and baroque art: painting and statues. These cute little cherubs share their etymology with the Spanish word puta (slut, whore) showing that other languages also have odd divergences in the evolution of meanings.
Each was an intricate design composed of two putti on a raised base, one on either side of a leopard.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Tenterhooks: Tenterhooks were used (centuries ago) to attached woolen cloth to a tenter (stretching frame) to prevent it from shrinking. The tenter shares its etymology with tension. For the last couple of centuries, wool manufacturing has been automated and on tenterhooks is only used metaphorically to refer to someone who is tense or anxious.
I'm on tenterhooks! Come on, Thomas, what's the great news then?

Monday, July 6, 2009


Dissimulate: Dissimulate should more appropriately be spelled dyssimulate, since it means to present a bad (dys-) simulation or a deception. Dissimulate is a synonym for another similar word that also means to deceive: dissemble.
Diplomacy and dissimulation, those are your best tools. Use them with skill, Elizabeth, and everything will be fine.
She had been something of an actress all her life, brilliant at dissimulation.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Poltroon: Coward.
But then she mocked him as a sorry poltroon.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Scintilla: Scintilla is not surprisingly etymologically related to scintillate. How could this be since scintilla mean a small amount or iota, while scintillate means bright or brilliant? The answer lies in the Latin; both derive from the Latin for spark and scintilla can mean spark and scintillate can mean give off sparks. As with many words, today's meanings have evolved from a metaphoric use of the original words. Scintilla from the small size of a spark, and scintillate from its light.
He would get a fresh credit card without as scintilla of debt on it.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Prie-dieu: In French, prie dieu means pray(er) to God. Evidently, the phrase has been used for various prayer accoutrement, such as special desks used exclusively for praying or small rooms designed for the same purpose. Today, it most likely refers to the padded kneelers provided in many churches where the faithful kneel during prayer, but prefer not to kneel so low or on something so hard as the floor.
Leaping off the prie-dieu, he ran down the aisle, path the uniformed guards and out onto Braodway.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Synesthesia: Synesthesia is a recent word composed of Greek roots: syn (as in synonym) meaning same, and esthesia (as in anesthesia) meaning senses. In synesthesia the senses are combined together. People with synesthesia might see letters or numbers as colored or see sounds as colors. This is not metaphorical, but an involuntary sensory phenomenon.
The taste of food, the smell, was as erotic as sex, synesthesia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Suttee: A Hindu widow following the now outlawed practice of burning to death on her husband's funeral pyre.
In academia, he had been the suitor, she the suitee. A funny word. Was it really a word? ... What did it remind her of? Oh, yes, suttee.