Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Alacrity: With alacrity (exclusively used with the preposition with) means enthusiastically, cheerfully, eagerly. Alacrity shares its etymology with the musical term for a lively, cheerful tempo: allegro.
She did all this with a frenetic alacrity, as if her mind had to make up for her body's inactivity.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

They knew that tone and obeyed with alacrity, leaving me alone with him.


Teleology: Teleology at first appears to share its etymology with telephone, television, telekinesis, telepathy, and telegraph. All these words employ the Greek root tele for at a distance, but not so for teleology. Teleology actually shares its etymology with telomere, the extra DNA at the ends of chromosomes, that might be related to aging. These latter words employ the Greek root telos for end or purpose. Teleology is the study of ends or purposes, usually based on the assumption that everything has an end or a purpose. Most theology assumes teleology. The alternate philosophy is nihilism.
Borrowing from Plato's teleological ideas, [Aristotle] looked for final causes that explained not only the motions of the heavenly objects, but everything else that moved, from animals and plants to projectiles and people.
A Book for Today: The Dancing Universe by Marcelo Gleiser
In short, here as everywhere else, let us beware of superfluous teleological principles.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Choleric, Phlegmatic

Hippocrates believed human emotions were determined by the four bodily fluids or humours: blood (sanguine), yellow bile (choleric), black bile (melancholy), and phlegm (phlegmatic).

Choleric: Hot tempered, angry.

Phlegmatic: Slow and methodical.
The lack of humour is yours, Doctor, not mine. Yours is choleric while mine is phlegmatic.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Edema: Edema is one of those Latin medical terms that merely parrots back the patient's symptoms. Edema is Latin for swelling. Thus when a doctor says the patient has idiopathic edema (a real diagnosis, check Google), this is just Latin for swelling from unknown causes (LOL)!
Falling ill of some edematous swelling, Heraclitus went to the village doctors to ask for help.
A Book for Today: The Dancing Universe by Marcelo Gleiser

Monday, September 28, 2009


Augury: Augury is a prophesy or omen, or the art of divination. Augury derives from a Latin root for increase and shares its etymology with auction, augment, eke, auxiliary, and author!
I must say I find her augury deficient.
I would have assumed a woman as enlightened as you would deny belief in augury.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Mise en Scene

Mise en Scene: Mise en scene is a French phrase for what is put on the stage. Depending on the context, this includes, set design, sets, set dressing, costume design, costumes, placement of actors, their movements, light, et al. It can be expanded to includes everything but the dialogue. In France, this phrase describes the Director, but many other variations and connotations are possible.
Uh, it is asked," says the [French] translator, "what is your philosophe - philosphy - of mise-en-scene?"
The trades over here are all trying to figure out whether anyone ever has gotten an award at Cannes for editing, or montage, or mise-en-scene or whatever fancy word they're using.
A Book for Today: Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Creel: A basket used to hold fish caught fish.
He slid the negative [sic, exposed photographic film] into its protective metal sleeve, then went to his truck and took out a wicker fishing creel he slung over his shoulder before procuring another plate.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Moviola: Throughout the history of film editing, starting with the 1924 Moviola, this company has been the standard - Moviola being both the equipment and the company. Unlike many other companies that worked with film (Kodak and Polaroid come immediately to mind), Moviola is not resting on its Oscars, but has made the transition to digital. This twentieth century word shares its etymology with Victrola.
Dot lights a cigarette and lowers herself slowly in a chair by the moviola. Next to the moviola is a Jack Daniels bottle.
A Book for Today: Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Stob: Stob shares its etymology and meaning with stump and stub. In the American South, a stob is a wooden stake.
Besides, Campbell and I are putting down the stobs for the new spur line.
The only markers were four wooden stobs.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Apotheosis: An apotheosis is something elevated to the heavenly/divine heights - the embodiment of a godly ideal. It first shares its etymology with theology, theocracy, and theism. Secondarily, apotheosis shares its etymology with apogee, apoplexy, and apostrophe.
The apotheosis for the forties studio system's so-called 'women's picture'? Like I don't know it's Now, Voyager."
A Book for Today: Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Friday, September 25, 2009


Pettifogger: Pettifogger is an extension of petty. A pettifogger argues over petty details with the connotation of nefarious or unscrupulous intent. Often, a pettifogger is a lawyer. Thus, in this case, the language enshrines a cultural bias against lawyers.
Bringing John D Rockefeller's own personal pettifogger with him too.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Insular: Sharing its etymology with isle, island, insulate and insulin (a hormone secreted by islets of Langerhans), insular refers to island life, but is often using as a metaphor for an insulated and isolated society.
The (floating) city had an insular look.
A Book for Today: Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Dihedral: Dihedral refers to the intersection of two surfaces. Dihedral most immediately shares its etymology with the platonic solids: tetrahedron, hexahedron (aka cube), octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron. More distantly dihedral shares it etymology with sit and chair. In algebra, a dihedral group is a finite group with both rotational and reflective symmetries.
The bird ascended and began a dihedral [?] circle over the twenty acres of stumps behind Galloway's crew.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Brachiate: The M-W word of the day for 7/13/09. Brachiate shares its etymology with brace and bracelet and refers to arms. A brachiated plant has lots of branches, while a brachiating monkey travels through the brachiated trees swinging by its arms.
Halrloprillalar's people must be closer to their brachiating past than Earth's people.
A Book for Today: Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Clabber: Clabber was a homemade yogurt-style drink made from sour, unpasteurized milk in the American South derived from the Irish. Now that unpasteurized milk is not readily available, it is rarely made or served.
She laid cold poultices on the child's forehead and fed him clabber.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

He sat down clumsily in a wicker chair by the table and waited until she returned, bringing him a plate of sandwiches and a tall glass full of clabber, which he had never tasted before.


Evert: To evert is to overthrow or upset. Starting with turn in Latin, evert shares its etymology with convert, revert, invert, divert, pervert, versatile, version, avert, obverse, extrovert, introvert, anniversary, subvert and versus.
Halrloprillalar was nearly bald, and had lips no everted than a monkey's.
A Book for Today: Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Jesses: Leather leg collars used in falconry. Jess shares its etymology with the verb jet, as in he jetted the falcon into the air.
With the eagle came two small leather bags. In one was a gauntlet of goat skin to cover the forearm from wrist to elbow, in the other the leather hood and jesses and swivels and the leash.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Ad Hominem

Ad hominem: Short for: argumentum ad hominem; The most popular of a long list of Latin terms for logical fallacies or non-rational arguments, Ad hominem refers to the debate technique where one speaker attacks the other, instead of refuting their argument. The basic structure is: She is an objectionable person, therefore everything she says is wrong. It is Latin for: argue with the person. Other examples are:

argumentum ad baculinum
- argue with a stick - use of threats to win an argument.

argumentum ad captandum
- argue with the herd - appeals to the crowd to win an argument.

argumentum ad crumenam
- argue with a purse - asserting that the speaker's wealth makes them right.

argumentum ad ignorantiam -
argue with ignorance - since we don't know something is false, it must be true (e.g. UFOs).

argumentum ad lazarum
- argue with poverty - asserting that the speaker's poverty makes them right.
Eighteenth-century critics, unconstrained by libel laws, could be savage in their ad hominem attacks.
A Book for Today: Samuel Johnson by Jeffrey Meyers

Monday, September 21, 2009


Limn: To limn (silent n) is to make line drawings, to outline something, to highlight it, or metaphorically to emphasize a concept or idea. With all this outlining, you might expect some etymological relation to line. However, with limn, as with many words, you must understand the origins to understand the meaning. Limn originally meant to illustrate a manuscript - before printing presses when most manuscripts were religious, most of the limners were in monasteries, and the illustrations they created were call illuminations. Here we discover that limn shares it etymology with illuminate, even though it sounds so similar to line and many writers seem to be drawn by the proximity.
Surratt leaned over the tombstone and blew a limn of white dust from over of the chiseled letters.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair.

Later, when [Ian] Fleming limned his work in intelligence for Casino Royale ... he was very self-deprecating and would always say, "Of course, I'm just laying about. My stuff is nothing, despicable stuff, but [Roald Dahl's] is literature."
Quotation from:


Hortatory: Adding the prefix ex- to hortatory yields its synonym: exhortatory. Both words share a common etymology and mean to urge, encourage, incite, drive to action. Most form of exhort (exhortative, exhortation) have analogous forms without the ex- prefix, except exhort itself. These words do not share their etymology with horticulture.
Johnson, who read extensively in religion, called William Law's recently published book "the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language."
A Book for Today: Samuel Johnson by Jeffrey Meyers

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Fylfot: Swastika - primarily used in British heraldry.
They looked at the [grave stone], the name Abraham Harmon etched in the marble, above it a fylfot Rachel had chosen from the sketch pad.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Exiguous: Exiguous implies small, meager, limited, derived from a Latin root meaning measured. Exiguous does not share its etymology with exit, external, exoskeleton, or exhale.
In London, where poverty could quickly lead to starvation or prison, he committed himself to the uncertain and exiguous income of a hack writer on Grub Street.
A Book for Today: Samuel Johnson by Jeffrey Meyers

She had a rudimentary knowledge of the law and her faith in the police was generally exiguous.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Puncheon: Puncheon is associated with the etymology of punch, as in hole punch and leather punch, and puncture. However, its meanings are all over the map, from an 84-gallon barrel to a plank road. A puncheon is also a rough hewn log with at least one flat side (pictured).
Rachel stared at the puncheon floor and listened, the way she'd done for two months now.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Asperity: Asperity derives its various meanings metaphorically from a Latin root meaning rough. Asperity might be a rough manner (severe), or a rough surface, or a rough temper (irritable). Asperity shares its etymology with exasperate.
... Johnson's weaknesses, real and alleged - his indolence, his oddities and asperity of manner, his excesses in eating and drinking, his profanity and bawdy, his sexual lapses, his intellectual narrowness and prejudice, his use of drugs, his insanity ...
A Book for Today: Samuel Johnson by Jeffrey Meyers

Friday, September 18, 2009


Kaolin: Kaolin is a silicate mineral, mined all over the world, and used in many manufacturing processes from medicine, to incandescent light bulbs, to coated paper. However, it primary application is in the manufacture of porcelain.
Will he be looking for anything other than kaolin and copper?
...setting out first the tin forks and spoons and coffee cups, thick kaolin plates and bowls soon to be heaped with food.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Plonk: Plonk is British slang for cheap wine.
[Portia] took a moment to congratulate herself on at least not having drown their breakup in whatever Shiraz or Merlot or , she supposed, unredeemable plonk might be down there.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Harridan: A shrew, troublesome woman. Related to the French word haridelle for a nag, a broken down horse.
You may do battle with some snuff-breathed harridan and learn the same way I have.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

You foul-mouthed harridan. You have no idea the sacrifices I have made.


Celeriac: Obviously sharing its etymology with celery, celeriac is celery root (yuck!).
The celeriac wasn't something she ordered on purpose. She wasn't entirely sure what it was.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Bluchers: A blucher (also known as a derby) is a casual shoe with laces and the tongue cut of the same piece of leather as the part above the forefoot (also known as the vamp). It is named after a Prussian general who distinguished himself fighting Napoleon.
His polished bluchers gleamed, the white cotton dress shirt fresh pressed.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Main Line

Main Line: Main Line is a suburban section of Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, known for large estates and old money, similar to Atherton, California; Rancho Santa Fe, California; Chicago North Shore; North Shore Long Island; and Martha's Vineyard. Like the Chicago North Shore, this area is named after a railroad line.
Come on, come see how we really live on the Main Line.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Boater: A straw hat. During the time when gentlemen were expected to wear hats, a boater was proper for formal summer wear.
The backward-stepping undergraduate at the head of the group caught her eye as he passed, for the unusual rhythm of his gait and the bright white of his Princeton marching Band boater.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Monday, September 14, 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 (the word) is already a metaphor and shares its etymology with lake and lagoon.
Besides, how long was this odd lacuna of inactivity going to last?
It was like kernels of crop beginning to pop. first slowly, with lacunae, and then in a solid mass.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***
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.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Autodidact: Self-taught. Autodidact shares its etymology with automobile, automatic, auto-erotic, autocrat, and, of course, didactic.
I became an autodidact at eight years old, when I realized that my teachers were not going to be able to teach me.
A self-proclaimed autodidact, he is essentially been a home schooled student in a school setting.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Kilim: Kilim rugs are woven across southern Asia from the Balkans to Pakistan and are often used for prayer rugs, but can also be decorative wall hangings, or just plane rugs. The weaving style uses a tight weft (woof) with the warp all but unseen. The rug have no pile and the designs are generally geometric.
In the homey waiting room, there were framed prints of massive Native American women with their arms full of corn, fat kilim-covered pillows on the floor, and long. deep sofas.
A Book for Today: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz ***

Friday, September 11, 2009


Zester: A zester is a kitchen utensil to make zest (duh). Since zest is simply orange or lemon peel, the market is flooded with a wide variety of zesters. This is because complex problems yield very few solutions (e.g. computer operating systems, DNA, intelligent life), while simple problems yield a surplus of solutions (e.g. mouse traps, can openers, vegetable slicers). Interestingly, the first definition for zest is the lemon peel, dating from the 17th century. The more common contemporary uses for zest are metaphors.
In vain had she once attempted to understand how a zester featured in a meal of shepard's pie and green salad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Mesclun: Many words carry more grandeur and pretense than meaning. Medicine and gourmet culinary arts are two areas full of these fancy, but empty words. Consider, my personal favorite: idiopathic. This is a fancy word to describe a disease that the medical profession is clueless about. If your doctor tell you you have an idiopathic headache, this means that your head hurts and she doesn't know why. In the same vein, we have mesclun (sharing its etymology with meddle). Mesclun is a fancy word for mixed greens.
He came out of the kitchen wearing a green Whole Foods apron and holding out his hands, which were wet and stuck with tiny bits of mesclun.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Seitan: Seitan is a processed food made from wheat gluten. Like tofu, seitan is used are a vegetarian meat substitute. The etymology of seitan is Japanese of recent origin.
Technically, we don't have a policy about it one way or the other, but the students - or I guess the parents - skew heavily in favor of tofu and seitan.
I hate the stuff. ... I mean seitan. I don't mind tofu.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Parvane: The pavane is a courtly, formal dance from the Italian Renaissance, that survives today in the hesitation step used in weddings and various metaphorical and fantasy references.
From the wings I heard and watched the parvane of tragedy move steadily towards its climax.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Dido: A dido is a childhood prank. Dido is southern (black?) vernacular for the high jinx and antics of children. Dido is completely unrelated to the founding queen of Carthage or the pop singer. It is also, obviously, unrelated to electrical diodes, even though many Google searches for didoes refer to diodes.
It was all well and good to say we would be with out parents, but after all, who were they? Would they be more severe with our didoes that she? That would be bad. Or more lax? Which would be even worse.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pique, Shirring, Smocking

Pique: Pique, also called macrcella, and related to twill, is a weave that produces cloth with a three-dimensional texture. Pique is often used to make polo shirts, though tradition has it that it was invented for white tie formal wear because pique took starch better than the more planar weaves.

Shirring, Smocking: Shirring and smocking are two similar and related techniques to gather material together in a way that it can stretch. Smocking was used extensively before the invention of elastic.
My class was wearing butter-yellow pique dresses, and momma launched out on mine. She smocked the yoke into tiny puckers, and then shirred the rest of the bodice.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Pergola: A pergola is a horizontal trellis covering a patio or walkway intended to be covered by foliage, such as grapes, bougainvillea (pictured) or wisteria. (Also called an arbor.)
Pioneer Square was actually shaped like a triangle, and had at its center a small park, dominated by a wrought-iron pergola, with antique clocks mounted above.

It was too much. I went to the window and shouted down to the pergola.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beck and Call

Beck and Call: To be on someone's beck and call is merely a redundant form of being on call. Beck is simply an archaic form of beckon, which is course means to call.
Captain Duparc of the Press Liaison Service nodded and becked [?].
He should be in his royal apartments with servants at his beck and call.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Zareba: A zareba is an enclosure, usually for animals in Africa, constructed of brush. It derives from the Arabic word for pen.
The men disembarked and ran for the store, as though they were charging a mob, but there was not mob - only a zareba of bicycles.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Counterpane: This is a pidgin-like word, in that it has strayed far from its etymological origins. Counter by a long circuitous route shares its etymology with quilt, and pane by a different by similarly tortuous path is related to puncture, implying stitching in this case. A counterpane is a quilt or a bedspread!
She had gone through to the bedroom and was pulling the counterpane straight where I had lain.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Godown: A godown is a warehouse in southern Asia, probably a pidgin form of a Malay word.
I found the place with difficulty and almost by accident, the godown gates were open.
I found Mr Chou's godown and mounted to Mr Chou's house.