Monday, June 8, 2015

Some Obscure Aussie Words

All quotes from: Chasing Kangaroos by Tim Flannery

Gunyah, humpy, and wurley are all borrowed words from Australian Aborigines for a temporary shelter, usually built of tree branches and bark. This is comparable to an American wigwam.
It was the remains of an ancient gunyah, though how long the bough shelter had lain decaying there we could not tell.
The yowie is the Australian version of Sasquatch or yeti; a hominid that lives in the wild and is much discussed, but little seen.
They were great, black, shaggy, muscular beasts resembling the mythical yowie.
A bowser is a gas pump at a service station. Interestingly, this term derives from an American inventor's name -- long forgotten in his home country.
As we pulled up to the bowsers, a distracted-looking man standing by his car approached us and began pleading for help.
Mulga is the common name of an acacia, but has been extended to a number of other desert plants, and ultimately to the entire bush or outback.
That evening Bill and I rode on into the waning light for an hour or so before turning off into the mulga.
As with many Aussie terms, the meaning is flexible. Swag might be a sleeping bag, or a tent and sleeping pad, or a rolled up pack of personal belongings. One commonality seems to be a cylindrical shape. The associated swagman is any itinerant traveler or worker.
While [other dwellings] are but a drive in the side of a hill [with] a dusty swag and a caravan stove.
Coolibah is a eucalytus tree derived from one of the many aboriginal languages.
I wanted a closer look, so I placed three [frogs] in a billy that hung from a coolibah.
The dag is the wool sheared from a sheep's tail. Thinking about this for longer than might be wise, we see that this wool is often coated with excrement. Thus this term has been incorporated in many situation where an insult is needed.
The huge specimen had been packed in wool scraps--mostly dags.
Texta is a brand-name in Australia of markers, like Magic Marker or Crayola in the United States. It is often used genericly for any marker.
Written with texta on a piece of cardboard propped beside a humpy, it read "Kev's Camel Capers."
Gibber is an aboriginal word for stone, often a large stone. It is often used as a adjective as in
We headed to Marree, the only town in the salt and gibber country.
Spruiking (probably from the Dutch) means to sell an idea or product, pitch.
Honest John's spruiking of his goods from the back of his gaudily painted van

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Pellucid is a Latinate word meaning clear, transparent that is used in both the literal sense and the figurative one.

In the literal sense it is used in phrases like pellucid sky and pellucid water. Since these adjectives are about the absence of color or interference, they are difficult to infer from context.
...the cacti were highlighted against the pellucid sky.
In the figurative sense, pellucid and lucid are synonyms, both sharing the same Latin roots.

Literally lucid implies light, shining, while pellucid implies that light can pass through.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Laparoscopic, Ligand

After a friend of mine had their third laparoscopic surgery, I got to wondering what this meant. Experience with technical terms has taught me that the more a word is used, the less it means.

Years ago, as a non-biologist, non-chemist, I attend an academic conference of biochemists. The presentation were on a wide variety of topics (as best as I could tell). What I found interesting was that most of the speakers talked about ligands. I used my best words skill to infer the meaning, but I was baffled.

Sometimes ligands seem to be like antibodies to cure diseases. But other times they seemed to be associated with viruses or bacteria that caused diseased. And they even took on non-disease roles like enzymes. I was completely baffled.

Eventually I asked someone and learned that a ligand binds things together. My etymological research found that it shared the Latin root with ligament and ligature. More interesting, this Latin root is also used in religion and oblige.

But, back to laparoscopic surgery. How can so many different operations be laparoscopic.

Heres a hint. Similar to these operations is cardiac catheterization. Similar in that it makes a small incision, in the thigh in this case, an uses that entry to access to heart, usually though femoral artery. Though this looks very much like laparoscopic surgery, it is never called by that name.This hint lets us know that the surgical name has nothing to do with the instruments or techniques.

Additionally, the name has nothing to do with the target, because many organs are attacked by laparoscopic surgery -- including gall bladder, uterus, and appendix.

The more a word is used, the less it means.  
Laparo merely means abdomen or flank. So laparoscopic surgery is any surgery where they poke little hole in your belly, and the friend I mentioned above proves this point. His belly looks like a pin cushion with all those 1-2 cm cuts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Six letters ending with UES

19 across: Provides with a quality[Six letters ending with UES]
The NYT Easy Crossword Puzzle Omnibus Vol 10

I confidently went for IMBUES. A Latinate word from the Latin imbuere meaning to stain. Imbue began as a humble word to describe dyeing fabric, and later took the metaphorical meaning suggested in this crossword clue. Imbue is a popular word with over 7,000,000 Google hits in its most popular form.

I was wrong.

The grey lady wanted ENDUES, which is so obscure that Google often suggests "Did you mean: endures" and Wordnik cites examples that are clearly misspellings of endure "Unfortunately Apple costumers have to endue the inconveniences and pain."

Even though it has been defeated in the public lexicon, this Latinate word from inducere, meaning to lead, has the more legitimate claim to its meaning. It shares its etymology with induce.

I don't know how often this happens, but in this case we see a public preference for metaphor over direct meaning. The great language podcast Lexicon Valley has a nice episode on the pervasiveness of metaphors.

In closing, the NYT easy puzzles are a wonderful diversion and I'd recommend them to anyone looking for a well-written and edited crossword collection.