Saturday, October 31, 2009


Cannula: A cannula is (literally) a small tube - used in various medical applications to introduce liquids or gasses into the body. It shares its etymology with cane (botany), cannoli, cannon, and canal.

"Breathe it for five minutes. Long enough for me to shower." She relented and positioned the cannula.

A Book for Today: Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown

Friday, October 30, 2009


Anodyne: Anodyne is a synonym for analgesia, both Latinate words meaning without pain, using the popular prefixes (a-, an-) as in atonal, asocial, antagonist, and androgynous.
The amnesia of comfort, soothing, anodyne, too seductive. They were
all too soon back to themselves.
A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Salver: A salver is a (usually silver) tray. How did this word, which shares its etymology with savior, save, salvation, and salvage, come to mean a simple silver tray? The history is that following tasting of the food for poison, a protective process caller salver in Spanish, the food was served on a silver tray. Eventually the tray took the name of the process and the word migrated to England in the 17th century.

The servants came in with a silver salver of drinks.

A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Tiffin: A obsolete British term from colonial India for a light lunch.
But after that, they did nothing else unusual: they ate good meals, napped after tiffin, had champagne at the hotel bar, walked around and looked at Macau, so she assumed that was what he had come for.
A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tael, Catty

Catty: Catty is a unit of weight in China and southeast Asia of approximately 500 grams or one pound. It is derived from a 16th century Malay word and shares its etymology with caddy, as in a box to hold tea - a tea caddy.

Tael: Tael is another 16th century Chinese unit of weight, also derived from the Malay. It is equal to 1/16 of a catty, thus the Chinese cliche: 1/2 a caddy, 8 taels (equivalent to six of one, a half dozen of the other).
Where if you catch two taels of houseflies, you are entitled to a catty of rice if you bring it to the district bureau.
A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Monday, October 26, 2009


Plimsoll: A 19th century British term for canvas shoes (aka sneakers, trainers, Keds, Vans, athletic shoes, etc.), often worn at the beach. This eponymous word is twice removed from its eponym: Samuel Plimsoll. Samuel Plimsoll, a British MP, took up the cause of regulating ship loading in the 19th century and thus came the eponymous Plimsoll line on the outside of a ship's hull indicating safe loading conditions. Somehow this term was transferred to beach shoes.
I think the only time I'd go there before I met you was when I needed plimsolls for the beach.
A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Voile: Voile is a shear fabric used for lightweight (women's) clothing and curtains. Voile shares its etymology with veil and reveal.

Her blue linen shirt, just delivered from the tailor, was wrinkled, and she had on a white voile blouse that was splotched with moisture.

A Book for Today: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Pinfold: Pinfold shares its etymology and semantics with pound - both being enclosures to contain stray animals.
The wooden pinfold nearest to the hut was large enough to contain a flock of sheep. ... Several older pinfolds lay some distance away, made of rough stone walling which had been collapsed in places.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trotters (edible)

Trotters: A search of esoteric recipes will turn up sheep trotters or pig trotters or even cow trotters. Unfortunately, they are just what you feared: feet. Trotters are usually boiled before being included a such delicacies as curry or stew.
We sent up some roasted meat, a trotter, and a little of the wine to the healer by way of payment for the herbs.
The we sat under the stars warming our stomachs with sweet roasted meat and picking the flesh off the trotters steeped in the rich blood gravy.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Croft: Croft is an interesting example of a word that got away from its etymology. The root for croft is a Dutch word for hill. However, croft now means a small enclosed field or even more afield from hill: a tenant farm. When croft becomes undercroft, the result is a crypt, arguably closer the the original hill than croft alone.
It was true that hunger in recent years had brought packs close to crofts and isolated villages in the dead of winter.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Snicket: A British word for alleyway or a narrow path.
The alleys and snickets were darker than before, but the odd squeal or yell which emanated from their depths suggested they were not deserted.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Chantry: A chantry is an endowment to support a priest to say/sing mass to save the soul of the person funding the endowment. Of course, the terms of the endowment might include other stipulations. In some cases, the endowment called for the construction of an independent chapel and the chapel was called a chantry. Chantry shares its etymology with chant.
"Are they dead or fled?"
It was a good question for the chantry chapel certainly appeared to be abandoned. ... The chantry was newly constructed.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Monday, October 19, 2009


Palfrey: During the middle ages, there were three general horse classifications: war, riding, and working. The riding horses (palfreys) had smooth, ambling gaits and were used for hunting and by women. Both war horses and plafreys were expensive and prized by the upper classes. Modern horses that are similar to the medieval palfrey are the Tennessee Walking horse and the Peruvian Paso.
I didn't notice the man who sat on a palfrey in the shadows until he trotted forward and dismounted.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Rastons: Rastons is a bread preparation dating from the 15th century that may be as simple as bread and butter or embellished like this:
Pleasance had shown a couple of the lads how to make rastons in one of the cooling ovens, loaves sweetened with wild honey and scooped out to be stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, butter and onions, then heated again until the butter melts
.A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Besom: Besom is an old Anglo-Saxon word for a broom made of twigs. However, besom might be more familiar to sport's fans for the broom used in curling. A book on curling was published in 1936 called: Mr. Besom Starts Curling. The besom was a common broom and has also been used metaphorically as a derogatory term for an old woman, perhaps referring to a witch that might ride a besom.
She was a spirited besom, ready to defend her property with a pitchfork in one hand and a dog whip in the other.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Friday, October 16, 2009


Shrive: The confess one's sins to a priest and be forgiven, especially at the time of death. The sacrament of extreme unction.
And what of those who lay unshriven and unmourned in mass graves, would they ever be released from purgatory?
It was early December, the feast of Saint Barbara, to be exact, the saint who protects us from sudden death, lest we die unshriven with all our sins upon us.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Byre: Byre is the British word for a cow barn. It shares its etymology with bower.
It was not a well-trodden track and the only other travelers we saw were local people passing with wood for their fires or moving their livestock from field to byre and back again.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Poppet: Poppet is a expression of endearment. From the Latin root pupa meaning doll, it shares its etymology with puppet, pupil (student), pupil (part of the eye), pupa (stage in the life of an insect). The odd entry here is the pupil of an eye. The connection here is that when you look into someone's eye, you see a small reflection of yourself, a small doll, in their pupil.
Didn't I say she was a little poppet? Have you ever seen a child so angelic?
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Compline: In the middle ages, the days were divided into a fixed sequence of hourly prayers known as canonical hours, often marked by the ringing of church bells. The last of these prayers/bells as called compline. Compline shares its etymology with complete.
A priest gave us until the compline bell to leave the bounds.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Monday, October 12, 2009


Hurdle: The original meaning for hurdle (and one still used in England) is a portable section of fencing for constructing temporary pens for livestock, especially sheep.
The hut was constructed of three sheep hurdles bound together with rope, and with an assortment of broken planks nailed together to form a kind of roof which glistened green with slime.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Jacinth: Jacinth is a red zircon. It shares it etymology with hyacinth.
I displayed a few amulets and rings of amber, jacinth, and sardonyx, known cures for deadly fevers, and for those who could not afford gemstones, genuine or otherwise.
A Book for Today: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wifebeater Shirt

Wifebeater Shirt: A wifebeater shirt is a sleeveless, tank-top/singlet style, white shirt (undershirt). The name arose from news stories and movies (beginning in 1947) that associated this undershirt with actual wife beaters. Two good articles can be found in these word blogs: Word for Your Enjoyment and Words@Random.
He wore a wifebeater white T under an unbuttoned gray short-sleeve shirt.
A Book for Today: Long Lost by Harlan Coben

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mansard Roof

Mansard Roof: The mansard roof has eaves all the way around (hip roof) and two different slopes. The overall look is one of a pyramid with the top smashed down. It is named for a 17th century architect, oddly enough named Francois Mansart - yes, Mansart with a "t." This style saw a revival in the mid-19th century.
The mansard roofs were grey slate, as were the cone-capped towers scattered throughout the sprawl.
Up ahead, I saw a line of shrubs and over that, a little bit in the distance, I could make out a gray-blue mansard roof.
A Book for Today: Long Lost by Harlan Coben

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Pallor: A pallor is an abnormally pale complexion, most noticeable on the face, that usually indicates a health problem.
His eyes were bloodshot and his pallor could have been better, but his being up and about at all seemed a triumph considering how he'd felt earlier.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Fatback: A fatty, inexpensive cut of pork (slab bacon).
His nose wrinkled as he chewed the soggy bread and fatback.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Monday, October 5, 2009


Corbel: A corbel is an extension built out from a wall to support a shelf, sill, or balcony. A corbelled chimney employs corbels widen the top of the chimney. Corbel shares its etymology with corvus, the genus of crows and ravens.
A drift of smoke rose from the corbelled chimney.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Rusty: Rusty (from the author of an excellent blog on Appalachia) means: showing out, acting like a clown, making a fool of yourself, or even pitching a fit-like a little kid throwing a rusty. Although I have heard it used in my area of Appalachia-it's been several years-and it was from an older person.
Maybe nothing, just a rusty, the sheriff had told her, but he didn't want to take a chance.
It could have been just a rusty somebody was playing, couldn't it, like you said?
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Light words: Alpenglow, Burnished, Gloaming

Alpenglow: Originally, alpenglow described a pink, rose color seen on snow-covered Alpen peaks at sunset or sunrise. However, now it call be used to describe any pinkish lighting seen in the mountains. The phenomenon is related to the red sunsets and sunrises seen at the beach, but alpenglow is only applied to mountains.

Burnished: Strictly speaking burnished means polished, especially in reference to metallic surfaces. Metaphorically it can imply a bright, shiny surface. In the example metallic light and burnish refer to the same effect.

Gloaming: Gloaming is an old English word for twilight or dusk - the time between sunset and darkness. Gloaming pleasantly shares its etymology with glow.
Only the desk's lamp was on when he entered the office, and Pemberton's eyes took a moment to adjust to the gloaming.
At first there was only gloaming. As her eyes adjusted, Rachel saw a mattress made of corn shucks ...
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

After a few moments, when the alpenglow had faded, they would turn again and gaze at the lake and admire in silence the smooth surface of the water shimmering in the metallic light reflected of the burnished clouds. And then at last they would notice Vanessa Cole standing alone...
Red Ralston's suggestion that [Jordon Groves] ought to paint the early sunset, catch the alpenglow here at the Second Lake, went nowhere, and Ralston slipped off to the porch to smoke a cigar in the gloaming.
Quotations from:


Sodden: Sodden can mean drunk, soggy, or limp, as in the sodden tramp, the sodden swamp, or the sodden cake. Interestingly, sodden shares its etymology with seethe. How can seethe (boiling mad) shares its roots with sodden (soggy drunk)? Easy. After something has boiled for a long time it becomes limp and soggy!
Peeling her sodden hair back with both hands, she started up the step in the shallow end.
A Book for Today: Texas! Lucky by Sandra Brown

Friday, October 2, 2009


Hadicaw: Google search turned up a blank for this word - your help would be appreciated. Where did you see hadicaw?
But most of what adorned the graves attempted to brighten the bleak landscape, not just wildflowers and holly wreaths but something more enduring - yellow-feathered hadicaws, Christmas ornaments, military medals with trailing ribbons, on the grave itself bits of indigo glass and gum foil and rose quartz, which sometimes were cast over the soil like seeds for planting, other times set in elaborate patterns to spell what might be as discernible as a name or obscure as a petrograph.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Moiling: Moiling means either roiling or toiling.
He pulled off the road and opened the door, waiting to see if his stomach was strong enough to hold its moiling contents.
A Book for Today: Serena by Ron Rash


Demiurge: My word decoding skills just sent me astray with demi-urge. I expected demiurge to share its etymology with demitasse or demi-semi-quaver, but no! Demiurge shares its etymology with democracy and demography. The urge shares its etymology with energy, synergy and erg (CGS energy: gm*cm^2/s^2). Thus, demiurge was originally a Greek term for an artisan, but these days it is used as the creator of the universe.
Plato's Demiurge has merely been replaced by the Christian God.
A Book for Today: The Dancing Universe by Marcelo Gleiser