Monday, August 31, 2009


Embrasure: An opening in a fortification wall for defender to shoot a gun or a bow. The opening is usually bigger on the inside to allow the defender the wide arc of attack while limiting the opportunities for incoming threats.
Walking to the embrasure was like walking through the voice. I looked quickly out: there was nothing to be seen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Planchette: Before I reveal the surprising meaning for planchette, let's consider its two etymological relatives: plank (as in: walk the ...) and planchet. A planchet is a blank for minting coins. A planchette is the piece of wood on rollers as used by an Ouija Board and other similar devices to foretell the future. On a related etymolgical note: Ouija is a composite of oui (French for yes) and ja (German for yes).
Caodaism ... was a synthesis of the three religions. The Holy See was at Tanyin. A pope and female cardinals. Prophecy by planchette.
In any vision somewhere you could find the planchette.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Trachoma: Trachoma is a eye disease that leads to blindness. Trachoma can be treated with antibiotics. However, as it can be prevented by modern sanitation, it is rare in first-world countries while still endemic in the poorest areas of the world. The etymology is interesting. It shares its etymology with other eye diseases such as glaucoma. However, it also shares its etymology with trachea, the throat or windpipe, most famous for the desperate operation: tracheotomy. The common thread between trachoma and trachea is the Greek root for rough!
They let me through as far as Nam Dinh to see our trachoma team, and then I hired a boat.
Luck was with him and he got back to Hanoi with his trachoma team.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Oleograph: Oleography (oil writing) is a printing process that simulates oil painting. Oleography shares its etymology with oleomargarine, photograph, lithograph, telegraph, et al.
... though hanging on the walls of what had been the living room were two hideous oleographs of the Sacred Heart and the Mother and Child which gave the whole ramshackle group of buildings a European air.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sten Gun, Bren Gun

These two guns share their etymology, as both names are acronyms, and the EN part of the acronym refers to the British arm manufacturing facility in Enfield. Both guns went into volume manufacturing during World War II, but their life extended well beyond.
Sten Gun: The Sten gun is a submachine gun named for Shepard and Turpin, the designers.

Bren Gun: The Bren gun is a machine gun named for Brno, the city in Czechoslovakia where it was designed.
... two solider with camouflaged helmets going slowly away up the edge of the street, their sten guns at the ready.
One had a sten gun and one a rifle, but they were as scared as I'd been.
We wouldn't have stood a chance if, at the moment we set off, a bren had not begun to fire in quick short bursts somewhere down the road towards the next tower.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Soutane: Soutane's etymology, shared with sous chef and submarine, implies an undergarment, but today soutane is a synonym for cassock.
I saw that his soutane was speckled with blood.
He wore a long white soutane and he chain-smoked.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Breviary: Breviary shares its etymology with brief. Breviary refers to any abridged Christian prayer book, but especially Roman Catholic.
Even the priest who sat in a corner of the tower never changed his position as he read in his breviary.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Cassis: Cassis or Syrup of Cassis is a liqueur made of black currants. It shares its etymology with cassia, a plant genus that includes cinnamon, and other spices and medicinal herbs. Its appearance in this book about a American in French Indochina written by a British author most likely has one of two origins. First, Cassis is a French drink. Second, Agatha Christie made this a favorite drink of Hercule Poirot certainly introducing it to many English readers.
He made a noisy show of pulling out chairs and calling for the waiter, though all that activity could possibly produce at the Continental was a choice of beer, brandy and soda or vermouth cassis.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Kepi: Kepi shares its etymology with cap. Specifically, a kepi is a French military hat.
I turned at the High Commissioner's house, where the Foreign Legion stood on guard in their white kepis and scarlet epaulettes.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Sardonic: Sarcastic, ironic, mocking, with more of an implication of arrogance and humor than evil. The cliche is a sardonic smile and its more often the sardonic smile of a professor than a bully.
Before sending him to the sky, I stared at him, trying to hold his features, including his sardonic grin, in my mind.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Punty: A punty is a metal or wooden pole used to shape blown glass. The glass blower puts a blob of molten glass at the end of a hollow blow pipe and creates a bubble. With the aid of various different punties the glass may be shaped into something as simple (geometrically) as a bowl or vase or as complex as animals and flowers.
It was another four seasons before we would let Tula handle a punty iron again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bellwether, wether

Bellwether: When you hear this word, you might think of weather or whether, but in both cases you'd be wrong. The word is wether. What is a wether? A wether is a castrated sheep. Farmers tie a bell around the bellwether's neck and he leads the flock. Now each time your hear this word, you should visualize the castrated ram leading the ewes and lambs though the hills and dales.
Stocks rose 1 percent on Tuesday after industrial bellwether United Technologies Corp posted results that beat expectation. (Reuters)
A shepherd always needs a bellwether - or he himself must occasionally be a wether.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Palimpsest: Palimpsest, but for metaphors, should be a most obscure word only used by scholars of ancient literature. A palimpsest is a parchment (or other similar writing material) that has been erased and reused, perhaps several times. It implies that the older texts can be discerned to spite the erasures and over writings. Today, it is almost always used metaphorically to indicate something with (hidden) layers of meaning.

The Archimedes Palimpsest is the object of current research where rare mathematical and engineering texts by Archimedes had been fortuitously saved when a 13th century monk erased Archimedes' text and overwrote it with prayers. Had the parchment not been reused in this way, the original manuscripts would surely have been lost.
Alison had written the ceremony, making her own palimpsest out of the Book of Common Prayer and her poetic inclinations ... the whole thing as relentlessly conventional as the wedding dresses.

Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd. Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Moue: A moue is a pout or a grimace. Moue comes directly from French and shares its etymology with nothing, nada, rien.
Chelsea made a dismissive moue and flicked her fingers.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Selkie, Selky

Selkie, Selky: A selkie is a mythical creature which is a mixture of human and seal. Selkies seem to be predominantly female and closely related to mermaids. In the incestuous logic of fantasy, selkies are the explanation for the myth of mermaids, as if selkies are more real than mermaids.
He'd thought there were none of her people left, the selkies whose attempt at saving themselves had driven them out of the sight and minds of the other remaining Old Races.
None of the other races seemed to have that connotation, though she had no idea what a selkie was.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Kohl: Kohl is an cosmetic for a history of over 5,000 years, known in ancient Egypt and throughout the middle east today. It is a black paste/powder made of soot and other ingredients. As kohl has been around for so long, the ingredients vary by time and place. The result is a black cosmetic for the eyes, especially the eyelids. It has also been used medicinally. Kohl shares it etymology with alcohol (both Arabic). Kohl seems to be the cosmetic of choice in fantasy novels, regardless of any considerations of time, locale, or culture.
She was tall and plump, with kohl-rimmed eyes, her hair dyed an unnatural black.
She had the same delicate features as the Commander, yet the long hair and the thin lines of kohl around her eyes transformed his face into her ageless beauty.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Ruching: Ruching is gathered material used as decoration. It comes from the French word for beehive and the Latin word for bark. It is the haute couture analogue to rucking (today's other word).
Emma's dress today was a favorite of hers - a floral jersey dress with a flared A-line skirt and ruching at the waist. The only reason Emma knew it was called ruching was because her fashionista sister Leena had told her before approving of her wardrobe choice.


Ruck: Ruck, in relation to clothing, describes where the material is scrunched together, either temporarily or permanently. It might even be used to describe pleats. The etymology, as with many fashion metaphorical terms is extended and interesting. Ruck shares its Norse etymology with rick, as used in hayrick, and possibly rick-rack. A ruck or a rick is a pile of stuff, and by analogy, can refer to the masses, the ordinary, much like the hoi polloi (literally: the many). Ruck is used in Rugby to describe a pile-up of players. Thus, ruck is one of those words with a very general root meaning (pile) that has been applied to many different situations. However, this etymology is not shared with rucksack, though it seems applicable. Rucksack has a different etymology (German) and literally means backpack.
His hands slid to her hips, rucking up the hem of her top, to settle against her suede skirt.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Inveigh: Inveigh means to attack and sharing its etymology with invasion, invective, and invasive, but not inveigle.
As any parent of a teenager child will tell you, the essential contrariness of adolescents suggests that the more adults inveigh against smoking and lecture teenagers about its dangers, the more teens, paradoxically, will want to try it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Andouille: Andouille is a Cajun sausage. Andouille is a French word for sausage and shares its etymology with induct and induce (into a sausage casing).
So it will be gumbo again this evening, duck and andouille.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Extricable: Able to escape from a difficult predicament or complex situation. Extricable shares its etymology with exit, intricate and trick.
Are they extricable entrities? Can an Adam's apple moving under his skin be removed and held in the hand like a marble?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Hebetate: To make something dull or obtuse.
It must be taken into the bargain if all sorts of clouds and disturbances - in brief, little attacks of hebetation - pass over the spirit of a people that is suffering, and wants to suffer, of nationalistic nerve fever and political ambition.


Variegated: Variegated describes something of different colors, usually plants, where the borders between the colors are distinct, not blended. Military camouflage is a good example of variegated coloring. It shares its etymology with vary, various, fumigated, and agent.
Her porch is quite obscured, tastefully, be variegated ginger.
Tufts of shrubbery made a variegated border along the curving line of the graveled drive.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Ipsissimosity: Self obsession - coined by Walter Kaufman for his translation of Beyond Good and Evil (1966). Ipsissimosity shares is etymology with ipsismisa verba (the words themselves), ipso facto (the fact itself), and solipsism (the philosophy that only the self exists).
Is there anyone who has never been mortally sick of everything subjective and of his ipsissimosity?


Chandler: Chandler, which is etymologically related to candle, originally referred to someone who made or sold candles. However, with time, the most popular use was a ship chandler who sold supplies to provision ships with all the prerequisites for a ocean voyage. These days, a chandler might be any retailer who sells provisions as in a backpacking chandler or a mountaineering chandler. The chandler stocks equipment more than consumables: gear, not food.
I would run errands for ship chandlers, or sit by a wall somewhere and read The Pirate's Daughter.
We're completely self-sufficient with regard to power and everything else aboard except for chandlerage and supplies.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Esoteric, Exoteric

Esoteric: Insider information. Esoteric might be something only comprehensible by the initiated because of specialized jargon or concepts. Metaphorically, it might refer to private or confidential information.

Exoteric: Public (external) knowledge. Exoteric is the information released to the general public.
What is much more essential is that the exoteric approach sees things from below, the esoteric looks down from above.


Felucca: A felucca is a sail boat where the sail are supported by diagonal yard arms. On most modern sailboats, the sails are supported by masts and lines. The Mayflower-life square riggers used horizontal yard arms. The felucca is an ancient design that dates back to the Romans, and the name is latinate, sharing its etymology with triangle for the shape of the sails. Feluccas are small and maneuverable, but have been been pushed aside by motor boats. Today they mostly survive as tourist boats on the Nile. However, in the latter part of the 19th century they were the workhorse of the San Francisco fishing fleet.
San Francisco we lived in Mrs Liberty's flash-house ... looking down towards the packed wharves. There were coal carriers and fruit schooners, feluccas and Chinese crates, there was the New York liner and freight steamers from Sydney.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Hegemony: Hegemony means leadership or domination and might refer to political hegemony such as colonization, of more often in current use to cultural and commercial hegemony where over group dominates another through the marketing of consumer attitudes and goods.
It is the German form of skepticism which ... brought Europe for a long time under the hegemony of the German spirit and its critical and historical mistrust.

Guttering Candle

Guttering Candle: A guttering candle is flickering and about to go out. Perhaps because when a candle reaches the bottom, it has more of a tendency to develop a pool of melted wax and to drip.
Still, he could be found late into the night at his work table, huddled over the papyrus scroll and writing Greek and Hebrew characters by the flickering light of a half-dozen guttering candles.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Emetic: Something that induces vomiting, such as syrup of ipecac, a now discredited home remedy for poisoning.
The general welfare is no ideal, no goal, no remotely intelligible concept, but only an emetic - that what is fair for one cannot be any means for that reason alone also be fair for others.


Catafalque: A catafalque is a structure to display a coffin. This is a unique latinate word in the in that its etymology appears to be unshared with any other words. But, you might notice, the latinate prefix cata- is widely represented with cataracts, cathedral, cation, catalog, catheter, etc. I don't count this as the root cata (Latin meaning down) is so non-specific that it on provides a hints to the meaning in cataracts (waterfalls). The interesting root is fala meaning scaffold, wooden tower, or, even, seige engine. This root seems to be unique, though I'd be happy to be proven wrong here.
The casket bearing Anne's remains was moved to the catafalque beside the grave.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Exegesis: An obscure word for explanation, usually reserved for interpretations of scripture.
It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I [Friedrich Nietzche] may say so!) and not a world-explanation.

As I [Robert Sullivan] was trying to show in my exegesis on the sandbank passage in Walden, Thoreau was inspired as much by man's interaction with nature as he was by what we might call pure nature.

Oriel Window

Oriel Window: An oriel window is a bay window.
There was still some light filtering through the oriel windows, but it was dark enough that Tobias had the cook lower the large chandelier from the crossbeam in the vaulted ceiling so the candles could be lit.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Ossuary: An ossuary is a container for skeletal remains. Ossuaries have been used around the world and across time for different reasons. Some cultures disinterred corpses and reburied the remaining bones on ossuaries to conserve space within tombs. Some war memorials are ossuaries, as the only remains recovered from the battlefields were bones. Ossuary shares its etymology with ossify and reliquary.
One had authenticated the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus, only to see his reputation tarnished when it was unmasked as a fake.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Philology: Philology is the integrated study of language and literature, a mixture of literature and linguistics. Philologists study the interactions of culture with the syntax (form) and semantics (meaning) of language. It shares its etymology with words using the root phil (love): hydrophilic, lypophilic, pedophile, philander, and philanthropy. The opposite root of phil if phob (hate): phobia, homophobic, hydrophobic, and arachnophobia.

The -ology root usually be the study of, as in the cases of: biology, theology, musicology, sociology, psychology, ad nauseum. In this way we might imagine philology to be the study of love, but it is actually the love of study!
Whether his little machine is placed at this or that spot in science, and whether the "promising" young worker turns himself into a good philologist or an expert on fungi or a chemist: it does not characterize him that he becomes this or that. In the philosopher, conversely, there is nothing that is impersonal.

He contacted the Columbia philologist he had met at the party, who in turn put him in touch with a couple of medievalists.


Pallium: A pallium is a narrow, white scarf worn by high Roman Catholic officials, embroidered with crosses. Over the centuries the pallium has evolved as to who might wear it and when. Today the modern pallium is only worn by the Pope and select archbishops. The Pope's pallium is a circle worn around the neck with pieces hang down in front and back.
Phillip reached into a small pocket in the tail of his pallium and removed the letter, tied with ribbon and sealed with wax.
He was well dressed in wool trousers and a silk shirt, over which he wore a pallium, a narrow scarf of lamb's wool emblazoned with crosses that was draped over his shoulders and hung to his hips in the front and back.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Kobold: A kobold is the German version of a goblin, sprite, leprechaun, fairy - a benign spirit that plays tricks and disappears. In the German folklore, their are house kobolds, miner kobolds, and sailor kobolds. The house kobold is like the house elf in Harry Potter. The kobolds in World of Warcraft is usually of the miner caste and more sinister than the traditional kobold.
But anyone who considers the basic drives of man to see to what extent they may have been at play just here as inspiring spirits (or daemons or kobolds) will find that all of them have done philosophy at some time - and that every single one of them would like only too well to represent just itself as the ultimate purpose of existence and the legitimate master of all other drives.


Antimacassar: An antimacassar is a piece of fabric (often an embroidered doily) placed over the backs of chairs to protect them from macassar oil, a gentleman's hair oil popular in the nineteenth century and originally imported from Makassar in Indonesia.
...comfortable easy chairs grouped around the fireplace with antimacassars tatted by Mrs. Monaghan's grandmother...

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Dialectic: Dialectic shares its etymology and meaning and history with dialogue. While dialectic and dialogue and discussion are all closely related, Plato's Dialogues, showcasing the Socrates, highlight the meaning which Philosophy employs. The core of dialectics is the compare something with it opposite (antithesis) and through the discussion synthesize the truth.
The equally stiff and decorous Tartuffery [hypocrisy] of the old Kant as he lures us on the dialectical bypaths that lead to his "categorical imperative" - really lead astray and seduce - this spectacle makes us smile, as we are fastidious and find it quite amusing to watch closely the subtle tricks of old moralists and preachers of moral.


Epicene: Originally, epicene, which shares its etymology with common, described characteristics common to both sexes. Over the recent few centuries epicene has been expanded to also include characteristics of the opposite sex (as in effeminate for men) and characteristics of neither sex (as in asexual). This an epicene man might be bisexual, gay, or asexual - anything but straight. After all this linguistic evolution, epicene come directly to its etymology (above common or uncommon). Other epi- words are epicenter (above the center) and epidermis (above the skin).
The Calder public relations representative - that odd, epicene individual from his interview with Georgie Pickles - appeared discreetly at his side.