"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Words for 2008

Here are my suggested top words and phrases for 2008:-

Credit-crunch – A credit crunch (also known as a credit squeeze) is a sudden reduction in the general availability of loans (or credit), or a sudden increase in the cost of obtaining loans from banks.

Bring on the Wall – Game shows, like reality shows, were ever increasing their popularity. The BBC “Hole in the Wall” – a game show brought over from Japan like many others – was extremely popular despite being aimed at audiences aged about five years old.

Keep dancing – the catchphrase of Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly, “Strictly Come Dancing” was a winner at this year's National Television Awards, scooping the award for Most Popular Talent Show, as voted for by the general public.

We want change – One of the catchphrases of Democratic candidate Barack Obama - the first African American to be voted President-elect of the USA.

Wackaloon – Wonderful description of Sarah Palin, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate.

Counter-terrorism - The day-to-day title of a Bill and later Act. A setback for Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministership, it avoided running aground by a mere 9 votes when the maximum period a suspect may be held without charge was extended from 28 to 42 days

Blogrolls – Blogs became increasingly popular and more people now added blogrolls - lists of links to other blogs or websites with related content.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


"... looking for a (lost) watch and purse on Battersby pipewipes was very like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay." Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

A couple of times Butler mentions pipewipes in this book. The context seems to suggest they are unmown land or something of that ilk but I have not been able to find a single definition that fits the bill. (Though I can give you lots of tips on where to buy cloths for cleaning your cannabis pipe!)

Does anyone know what pipewipes were????

And while we are on the subject of words I cannot trace the origin/meaning of - does anyone know what exactly the hob-nails were in hob-nail boots?

Monday, 29 December 2008


Reading Samuel Butler's “The Way of All Flesh” provided me with a number of new wrods included amongst which was sizar. "...Mr Clayton who was at that time senior tutor, and among the sizars of St John’s."

A sizar was a student of limited means, especially at the universities of Cambridge and Trinity College, Dublin, where they were charged lower fees. It was also applied to poor students who supported themselves by working in College, eg waiting on the Fellows, for which they received an allowance.

Sunday, 28 December 2008


When I was young the word gay was usually used to mean amusing, cheery, high spirited, bright and pleasant. Or it might have been used to mean showy such as a bird with gay plumage. Gradually the meaning of homosexual took hold and we would rarely describe someone as gay nowadays if we simply meant they were cheery and bright.

But I had not realised the word had yet another connotation in Victorian times until I read Samuel Butler’s “Way of All Flesh”:-
"...and it’s a horrid lie to say she is gay; not but what I like a gay woman, I do: I’d rather give a gay woman half-a-crown than stand a modest woman a pot o’ beer, but I don’t want to go associating with bad girls for all that.”

Gay girls were bad girls – that is, they were given to social pleasures often including dissipation.

Saturday, 27 December 2008


A Haiku is a three line poem consisting of seventeen syllables with five in line one, seven in line two and five in line three. Traditionally the Japanese Haiku should be about what you see immediately and should have a seasonal theme. They are a fascinating form to write and should be written down and then left as they were written to capture that immediacy..
5        Japanese Haiku
7     Has seven syllables in
5     It’s middle section

Friday, 26 December 2008


To cavil is to raise a trivial objection or quibble.
“...ready to accept without cavil whatever he was told by those who were in authority over him...”
Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

Thursday, 25 December 2008


A palliasse was a mattress consisting of a thin pad filled with straw or sawdust.


No, this is not being ruled by people named Timothy!

Constitutional theory defines a timocracy as either:
1 a state where only property owners may participate in government;
2 a government where rulers are selected and perpetuated based on the degree of honor they hold relative to others in their society, peer group or class.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


To exculpate is to acquit; to pronounce not guilty of criminal charges. Exculpation is therefore the act of freeing from guilt or blame; exoneration.

Monday, 22 December 2008


"Staff on The Daily Telegraph had a wonderful expression to describe those prurient stories the paper used to report on page three about naughty vicars and the like; they were called “marmalade-droppers”, the idea being that the ghastly details would make Colonel Bufton-Tufton’s hand shake uncontrollably with outrage and excitement as he navigated the journey between plate and mouth, causing a dollop of Oxford Thick Cut to be deposited on the breakfast table." It’s a PC World by Edward Stourton

I have always loved the name Bufton-Tufton - I think it originated with Private Eye who used it to lampoon any Conservative MP, especially one from the shires, viewed to be particularly old- fashioned and bigoted.

Which in turn leads me to comment what a lovely word 'lampoon' is. Meaning a light, good-humored satire its origins are uncertain but may be from the French lampons, let us drink (from a common refrain in drinking songs),

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Be afraid, be very afraid

Ostensibly, a warning that something dangerous is imminent. In reality, this is usually said with comic intent. The thing being warned of is more likely to be mildly unwelcome than actually dangerous. For example, "That fierce librarian was asking about your overdue books - be afraid, be very afraid."

This phrase originated in the 1986 horror film The Fly.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

His name was mud

If you are told your name is mud you would assume that the origin of the phrase was something to do with soft, wet earth. In practice a second potential origin is claimed by some folk. When John Wilkes Booth shot the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln he broke his leg escaping.

He was treated by Dr Samuel Mudd. Mudd was a Maryland physician and he was later implicated and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with Booth in the assassination. Hence, it was said of someone who was unpopular or the victim of defamatory charges “His name is Mudd.”

However, 'mud' in the sense of scandalous or defamatory charges goes back much earlier. There was an expression, 'the mud press,' to describe newspapers that besmirched people's reputations by throwing mud, as long ago as 1846. And the phrase itself first appeared in print in 1820, 45 years before Lincoln's assassination.

But the American explanation was fun while it lasted!

Friday, 19 December 2008


I always thought the word unkempt didn’t have a positive antonym but it seems I was wrong. “His features were good deal like those of Leonardo da Vinci; moreover he was kempt, looked in vigorous health, and was of a ruddy countenance.” Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”.

Kempt, as one would assume from its opposite, means neat and tidy; especially used of hair.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


In Italian, a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the similarity of the two languages.

Belladonna, the Deadly Nightshade or Atropa belladonna, was the Devil's favorite plant. It has purple bell-shaped flowers and poisonous black glossy berries. An alkaloid extracted from this plant, sometimes used medicinally, contains atropine and was used as eyedrops to widen the pupil and hence make women look more attractive.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


In the broadest sense, a vicar (from the Latin vicarius) is a representative, anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior (compare "vicarious" in the sense of "at second hand"). In this sense, the title is comparable to lieutenant, literally the "place-holder". Usually the title appears in a number of Christian ecclesiastical contexts, but in the Holy Roman Empire a local representative of the emperor, perhaps an archduke, might be styled "vicar".

A priest employed as a substitute for a parish rector or for a member of a religious house, monastic, cathedral or collegiate, which had appropriated the revenue for the position.

It was interpreted somewhat differently by the satirist Samuel Butler -
“...this is why the clergyman is so often called a vicar – he being the person whose vicarious goodness is to stand for that of those entrusted to his charge.” – “The Way of All Flesh”

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Sporting the Oak

A knock, as of a visitor and not a postman, was heard at my door. “Goodness gracious,” I exclaimed, “why didn’t we sport the oak?” Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

"Sporting the oak" refers to the open or closed state of the outer door,
indicating the inhabitant's readiness to be disturbed.

“In my Oxford days, to "sport the/one's oak" meant to close the (outer) door of one's set of rooms in college as a sign that one was engaged and did not want to be disturbed. To bang on a fellow student's door when the "oak was sported" would have been regarded as a gross solecism. The expression "to sport the oak" is attested as far back as the eighteenth century (see OED).” F.W.Langley - Hull University

Monday, 15 December 2008


A crotchet is the name of a musical note, often worth one beat or pulse.

What I didn’t know until I read “The Way of All Flesh” was that it also meant a whimsical fancy, a peculiar notion held by an individual in opposition to popular opinion.
...he inflicted them on his old friends, week by week becoming more entête with himself and his own crotchets. - Samuel Butler

Another definition for a crotchet is a hook: a sharp curve or crook; a shape resembling a hook or a small tool or hooklike implement.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Hortus siccus

From the Latin meaning dry (or dried) garden - a collection of specimens of plants, dried and preserved, and arranged systematically; an herbarium.

He has also taken to collecting a hortus siccus, and through the interest of his father was once mentioned in the Saturday Magazine as having been the first to find a plant, whose name I have forgotten, in the neighbourhood of Battersby. This number of the Saturday Magazine has been bound in red morocco and is kept upon the drawing-room table.” Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

Friday, 12 December 2008

Nerve fart

Brain fart is described as being when your train of thought goes off at tangent or you cannot remember something which should be obvious. It is also used for when someone does not perform an action that obviously should have been done, especially when you are under pressure and must think quickly.

So I have invented the concept of nerve fart for my neurological disorder. Apart from my nerves dying my sensory and motor nerves also do weird things and go off at a tangent.

For example, sometimes I fail to register pain when I pick up something hot and only the smell of burning flesh alerts me that there may be a problem somewhere. On the other hand, I get pains from things that are not there – indeed, just half an hour ago I felt as though I had a drawing pin sticking in my heel. Even more weird is getting toothache – I haven’t had any teeth for years now but I still occasionally get toothache. How unfair is that. Oh well, it’s just nerve fart.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Bacn (pronounced bacon) is the term given to electronic messages which have been subscribed to and are therefore not unsolicited but are often unread by the recipient for a long period of time, if at all. Bacn has been described as "email you want but not right now."

Bacn differs from spam in that the emails are not unsolicited: the recipient has somehow signed up to receive it. Bacn is also not necessarily sent in bulk. Bacn derives its name from the idea that it is "better than spam, but not as good as a personal email".

I have a way of dealing with my bacn. I send it straight to a separate frying pan, I mean folder. Because I use Outlook I can create rules which allow me to send e-mails from a particular sender or with a particular word in the title to its own folder. That way I don’t clog up my inbox but when I want an e-mail with some good quotations I can go to my ‘Daily Quotes’ folder. The same applies to mail from Photojojo and the like.

In other words, I like bacn, but I don’t want it for breakfast every day!

Did you know there are various other meat related e-mail terms. Spam (from the Monty Python sketch) is all too well known but were you aware there is Ham – legitimate e-mail messages which are real, as is the meat. Then there is Meatloaf which is unsolicited mail from one person which is then forwarded to a large number of individuals. And now we also have FakinBacn which is Spam disguised as bacn.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


d from Quincy, Massachusetts, runs a daily blog on which he posts a word game involving Word Verification words and what they might mean. It's a sort of 'create your own sniglets'. One of the latest ones was “biscaree”. I suggested -
bisceree (noun) The crumbs from a biscuit. Usually used to describe the debris of an attempt to eat a very crumbly biscuit while balancing a cup of tea on your knee in posh company.

He smiled self-consciously as he tried to hide the biscaree spilling from his lap onto the Persian rug.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Exegesis is the process or act of interpreting (Biblical) texts. Or, more generally, the art of close reading and thorough researching the original meaning of a text in order to interpret it. We often do this for poetry, but for fiction it works as well to tease out the effect of certain words or phrases, uses of repetition, references to earlier events in the text or hints about what is to come.


The grandfather of a young American blogger whose blog I visited the other day has been taken into hospital with heart problems. There were concerns that her Abuelita would not be able to look after him when he came out of hospital. The blogger is part Mexican and Abuelita is the Spanish word for "grandma" (literally translated as "little grandmother"). The male is Abuelito. I love those names – so much better than boring old Grandma and Grandpa.

Abuelita is also the name of a famous brand of chocolate tablets made by Nestlé and used to make Mexican-style hot chocolate.

In the meantime, learning about words apart, I hope Abuelito improves.

Monday, 8 December 2008


smeg - A fun, little, futuristic curse word created by Grant Naylor in ‘Red Dwarf’ that can be used in a variety of colourful ways (usually by Lister – played by Craig Charles in the television series). I love the word.

“Rimmer, you are a smeghead! “
“Because we haven't budged a smegging inch! “
“What the smeg is going on? “
“Oh smeg, not again! “
“Rimmer, smeg off! “

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Take down a peg

To 'take down a peg (or two)' is to lower someone's high opinion of themselves. Ever wondered where it comes from?

Various quantities and qualities have been measured by the use of pegs. It has been suggested that the pegs in question here were those used to regulate the amount of drink taken from a barrel, or those that controlled the hoisting of the colours of ships. However, the most logical sounding one to me is the pegs in a tankard.

This 18th century tankard had pegs and the idea was that you drank from one peg to another and then passed the tankard on. If you took more than your fair share you were taking your fellow drinker down a peg or two.

(The reason the tankard had a lid was to stop the press gang drugging your drink and carrying you off to sea.)

Saturday, 6 December 2008


There cannot be many people who use a computer who don’t know what Google is – the largest search engine in the world (and provider of this blog space). But what is a googol?

A googol is the large number ten to the power one hundred or the digit 1 followed by one hundred zeros (in decimal representation). The term was coined in 1938 by Milton Sirotta (1929–1980), nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner. Kasner popularized the concept in his book “Mathematics and the Imagination” (1940).

You need a lot more lemmings than this to make a googol!

Friday, 5 December 2008


papilionaceous (adj.) Having a bilaterally symmetrical corolla somewhat resembling a butterfly, characteristic of most plants of the pea family. (Papilio is a genus in the swallowtail butterfly family, Papilionidae.)

Thursday, 4 December 2008


Have you ever seen someone that you're sure you recognise but whose face you just can't seem to place? It's a common enough occurrence, but for some people, problems with recognising faces are a part of their daily lives. They have a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, which makes them incredibly bad at recognising faces, despite their normal eyesight, memory, intelligence, and ability to recognise other objects. For more about prosopagnosia see Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


A meme consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity.

It is becoming quite a commonly used word on blogs to indicate an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Visiting the glossary of chabad.org to look up the word ‘prat’ I noticed a superb word a little further down the page – “Pshat: the plain meaning of a scriptural passage”.

I can think of all sorts of alternative definitions for Pshat the primary meaning of which should surely be as an interjection meaning “Rubbish! Rot! Drivel!”

Monday, 1 December 2008


For once I have chosen a foreign word – the lovely French word Bisous. It means kisses.
Le bisou - masculine noun - meaning a kiss.
Faire un bisou à quelqu'un - to give someone a kiss (on the cheek);
faire un petit bisou à quelqu'un - to give someone a (little) peck on the cheek ;
"Bisous" (kisses) is quite a normal way to end a letter between two friends (most commonly when it's a girl writing)
Also "gros bisous, Simon" - "love and kisses, Simon";
"gros bisous de ta mère" - "love and kisses from your mother"

Sunday, 30 November 2008


My spellchecker rejected the word prat when I used it to refer to myself as a fool, ass or idiot. So I checked the dictionary and yes, it does mean that though I suppose it still qualifies as slang. Hence its omission from the spellchecker’s dictionary.

It derives from an Old English word for a prank or a trick.

What I had not realised was that it also means ‘a detail’ or ‘a member of a collective unit’. So it is defined in the glossary of chabad.org – a website devoted to utilizing internet technology to unite Jews worldwide, empower them with knowledge of their 3,300 year old tradition and foster within them a deeper connection to Judaism’s rituals and faith.

It seems that it is also an obsolete slang word for the buttocks - politely known as the 'fleshy part of the human body that you sit on'. I have never heard it used as that. Or as a slang word for the female genitals which is given as another alternative meaning.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Not a new word ( I think we all know it means An increase in the frequency, liquidity and weight of bowel motions) and not one of my favourites. Indeed, it is not a word I particularly like – so why have I chosen it today? The answer is because I sometimes have difficulty spelling it and I’ve now heard useful way of remembering it –
Dash In A Real Rush, Hurry Or Else Accident

Friday, 28 November 2008


D’Oh is an expression of frustration or anger, especially at one’s own stupidity. It arose as a catchphrase by the character Homer Simpson, from the long-running animated series The Simpsons (1989–present).

Note - not to be confused with Duh. Duh (pronounced duhhrrr) is an American English slang exclamation that is used to express disdain for someone missing the obviousness of something.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Palindromes and Semordnilaps

Palindrome (noun) - a word or phrase that reads the same backward as forward.

I learned what a palindrome was in October 1969. That was when I met Jane Drakard – now Bradly – whose palidromic surname was the first palindrome I had come across.

The longest palindromic word in the Oxford English Dictionary is the onomatopoeic tattarrattat, coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) for a knock on the door. The Finnish word saippuakivikauppias (soap-stone vendor) is claimed to be the world's longest palindromic word in everyday use.

One of the most famous palindromes is Leigh Mercer's “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!” from which it can be seen that in phrases the punctuation does not have to be palindromic.

Palindromes need not be confined to language and can be used for numbers and other forms of sequence. Joseph Haydn's Symphony No.47 in G is nicknamed the Palindrome. The third movement, minuet and trio is a musical palindrome. This piece goes forward twice and backwards twice and arrives back at the same place.

Taking this clever concept a stage further, in 2003 the city of San Diego, California commissioned sculptor Roman DeSalvo and composer Joseph Waters to create a public artwork in the form of a safety railing on the 25th Street overpass at F and 25th Streets. The result, Crab Carillon, is a set of 488 tuned chimes that can be played by pedestrians as they cross the overpass. Each chime is tuned to the note of a melody, composed by Waters. The melody is in the form of a palindrome, to accommodate walking in either direction.

Semordnilap is a name coined comparatively recently for a word or phrase that spells a different word or phrase backwards. "Semordnilap" is itself "palindromes" spelled backwards. Examples include -
stressed / desserts
gateman / nametag
deliver / reviled
lamina / animal

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


I came across a book review in which the main protagonist was described as “the SAHM of two young children.... struggling with the tedium and inexorability of motherhood”.

Not knowing what it meant I made a stab at SAHM meaning something to do with single mother – I just couldn’t work out what th AH might be. It turns out I was on the wrong tracks. SAHM stands for Stay At Home Mum.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


In the latest Sharpe book that I've been reading I came across the word gnomic.
"...his Sergeant rolled his eyes at the Brigadier's display of ignorance. 'She's a Nantes barrel, sir,' Pelletieu added in gnomic explanation as he patted the howitzer." (Pelletieu was responding to a suggestion that a bigger charge be used and indicating it could not be because of the age of the gun and it’s fragility.)

Assuming it wasn't the use of gnomic in it's sense of 'relating to or containing gnomes' I looked it up. The first definition I found left me as baffled as before:- “In Ancient Greek, a general truth may be expressed in the present, future, or aorist tenses. This usage of these three tenses is called the gnomic (gnomic present, etc.). “ Was this just a long-winded way of saying that gnomic meant expressing a general truth?

A further definition helped – “Mysterious and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise”. This was obviously how Cornwell was using it.

For the curious, the aorist tense is one to be found in certain languages, including classical Greek and Sanskrit, which espresses action (especially past action) without indicating its completion or continuation.

Monday, 24 November 2008


In a box of Swiss chocolates a number of the chocolates were described as having nibbed nuts in them. The adjective seemed to fit the context alright and its intended meaning was reasonably obvious (nuts made into tiny pieces) but did it really exist I wondered. The answer, it seems, is no. Nibbed (used of pens) means having a writing point or nib, especially of a certain kind, i,.e,. broad-nibbed. Alternatively it can be used more broadly to mean having a nib or point.

However, a niblet (n) is a small piece of something, especially of snack food. That is the word that should have been used but I still like the concept of 'nibbed hazelnuts' and it is less clumsy than 'niblets of hazelnut'.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Therapize - a verb meaning to subject to psychological therapy. This gets my vote for the most awful word added to the American (English?) language in recent times. To my horror it has been inserted in the latest Concise Oxford Dictionary. That is even worse than the fact that the Concise Oxford has added "upskill" meaning to teach an employee additonal skills.

Saturday, 22 November 2008


Blurfle - v. - a sniglet which could be used to mean "To be caught talking at the top of one's lungs when the music at the bar or disco suddenly stops."

Friday, 21 November 2008


I came across another new word on a blog the other day when someone referred to their flist. It sounded vaguely like a something unpleasant and medical – perhaps a mini fistula - but that didn’t seem to fit the context. A quick check of the definition gave me – “In Scotland, a sudden shower accompanied by a squall”. That didn’t fit the context either.

Then I discovered it was an LiveJournal term. LiveJournal (often abbreviated LJ) is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary. I briefly had a Live Journal but it died!

In LiveJournal a flist is - "a user's list of friends". In other words it is an abbreviated form of the term friends list.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I suppose that if I were to be technically correct I should have labelled this blog “Words and Phrases” because I also want to include the latter when appropriate.

One phrase I came across recently is ‘vanity-sizing’. This, it seems, is the attempt by stores to boost the egos of those who are size conscious (and in the process encourage sales) by assigning smaller sizes to clothes than is really the case. I think it’s also known as lying! Presumably it is contrary to the Trades Descriptions Acts but which size 12 is going to be the first to complain about being a size 8?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


A wonderfully descriptive word for incorrect spelling or poor handwriting. I reckon my spelling is not too bad but my handwriting has always been a terrible scribble. Does that mean I’m cacograhpical or not????
St Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225. His handwriting was so bad I can't tell what his spelling was like but they didn't spel that wel in thoze daies eniway...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Callipygian (alternatively callipygous) is an adjective meaning having beautifully-shaped buttocks. I decided I’d probably best not illustrate this word – I’ll leave it to your imaginations...

Monday, 17 November 2008


Calepin was formerly a word for a dictionary, especially a polyglot one.

I know the word Le Calepin (pronounced cal-pain – as in Calcutta and Paint) as meaning a notebook. So, how come the French word for a notebook has ended up as an English word for a dictionary? The answer is that there is no connection – it is purely coincidental.

Ambrosio Calepino (1436-1511), of Calepio, in Italy, was the author of an eleven-language dictionary in 1502. As a result "my Calepin," like my Euclid or my Johnson became a common noun from a proper name.

"Whom do you prefer
For the best linguist? And I seelily
Said that I thought Calepine's Dictionary."

John Donne: Fourth Satire 1597

(Seelily, by the way, means in a silly manner – but that’s perhaps a word for another day...).

Meanwhile, the French word is best summed up on Heather Tomlinson’s Live Journal –
“French notebooks come in many delicious shapes and styles. A "calepin" is the kind you tuck in your coat pocket to keep track of metro stops, cafe addresses, your friends' shoe sizes, movies you've been meaning to rent, the dimensions of the corner wall where you hope to cram another bookcase, rose names from the Jardin des Plantes, shopping lists, bits of overheard conversation, book titles people recommend, and whatever odd things you notice on the streets of Paris (or wherever you happen to be). “

I defy anyone to better that description!

Sunday, 16 November 2008


As everyone who knows me has by now appreciated I think Sarah Palin is an evil theocratic ignoramus who is as dim as the microwave light. So when I came across her being described as a wackaloon I thought I must look that word up – it sounded great.

A wackaloon, it seems, is:-

1) an individual person, or politician, who continually makes foolish statements, comments or surmises.

2) Someone whose behaviour bypasses moron idiot and dumbf**k. Characterized by saying or doing the same stupid thing over and over even though others have pointed out your ridiculous behaviour.

3) A person on the brink of a mental breakdown or exhibiting signs of insanity, irrational behaviour, foaming of the mouth, and embarrassing facial twitches.

I haven’t noticed any facial twitches or foaming at the mouth but all the rest seems to fit with my perception of the Republican Governor of Alaska.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Xenomania is “An obsession with strangers; A pleasure gained from meeting strangers or visiting new cultures.” Xeno- is a prefix based on the Greek word "Xenos", meaning stranger. It also gives us Xenophobia - an intense dislike and/or fear of people from other countries. The term is typically used to describe a fear or dislike of foreigners or of people significantly different from oneself. Nowadays we also have "Xeno-racism" - 'a racism that is not just directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonial territories, but at the newer categories of the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted, who are beating at western Europe's doors, the Europe that helped to displace them in the first place.' - A. Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations

Nowadays 'Xenomania' is better known not as a word from the dictionary but as a one of the UK's leading pop production houses, put together by writer and producer Brian Higgins.

Friday, 14 November 2008


A dongle is a small hardware key that plugs into the serial port, parallel port or USB of a computer. I love the word.

How quickly we assimilate new tongues once we know the basics. It doesn’t matter whether it is French, Latin, or the language of Computer Jargon, once we have a basic understanding of it we progress rapidly. How many new terms have I learned in Computerese over the last few years, I wonder. Certainly hundreds..

One of these is dongle. I first came across the word when I was offered a free Bluetooth dongle with a new mobile some years back. I said ‘Yes, please’; even though I hadn’t a clue what it was.

Dongle is a user-friendly term for a small device that connects to a computer's port, often to authenticate a piece of software. When the dongle is not present, the software runs in a restricted mode or refuses to run. They have many different uses including data storage, Bluetooth and wireless adapters.

I was reminded of the word by GB’s blog posting on changing his ISP to get Broadband instead of dial-up for his laptop.

If you ever come across computer jargon you don’t understand all you have to do is Google it. In the search box put ‘define: ‘ before the word and you’ll get lots of definitions. Alternatively there are lots of sites like the digital village which list terms.

I wonder how many readers appreciated the number of words I have used in this posting which would have been meaningless to them, or held a different meaning, a few short years ago? Words like search, USB, software, mobile, Bluetooth, wireless, Google, broadband, sites, posting, blog, ISP, dial-up, laptop....


An ardent desire, especially sexual desire, lust, desire for earthly things. Enough said!

Thursday, 13 November 2008


When I set up this blog it was to record new words I came across and favourite words that I already knew. I forgot about sniglets. Sniglets are words that don't appear in the dictionary, but should. See Sniglets and More Sniglets.

I’ve come across a super sniglet created by mistake by Sara. She misspelled the word ‘gloating’ on her blog the other day. It came out as gloathing. When she discovered her error she pointed out ‘I do sort of like the word "gloathing." "Gloating" + "loathing" -- I know there's a place in the English language for such a word, especially around election time.’

So I would define gloathing as “Malicious satisfaction when something unpleasant happens to someone you detest.”

(Sara is one of the many people whose blogs I read because I find their positive approach to life inspiring. Nearly all of them suffer from health issues far worse than mine. )

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Flittermouse is one of my favourite words. It is a one-time poetic term for a bat. Other similar terms used for the bat included flindermouse, flintymouse and flickermouse. The above flittermouse was photographed by GB.

The German equivalent - Die Fledermaus - was used by Johann Strauss as the title for an operetta that premiered in 1874 and remains part of the regular operetta repertoire today.

The French equivalent is La Chauve-souris - the bald mouse.

A group of bats is called a colony, a cloud or a clowd.


A beautiful sounding word meaning "The writing, composing, or singing of hymns or psalms; The hymns of a particular church or of a particular time".

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


There are a number of words that I come across which I sort of half-know. I appreciate what they roughly mean when in context but I couldn’t write a definition of them.

Eclectic is one such word so I checked the definitions and they included:-

Mixing elements from different ideas, sources, styles, colours, materials or periods that together look tasteful.

Personalized decorating style that combines furniture and accessories of various styles, textures, origins, and periods.

Applied to systems of philosophy or religion which cull the best from a variety of systems and doctrines.

It comes from the Greek eklektikos meaning selective or picking out.

Monday, 10 November 2008


GB's blood pressure is up. That's not good news. That's the problem about having a healthy lifestyle as he does. If mine went up no one would be surprised. I know mine is OK because I had an appointment with a sphygmomanometer last week. At the time I didn't know what it was - it was just a blood pressure monitor.

So, to clarify matteres, a sphygmomanometer is an instrument for measuring blood pressure in the arteries. It consists of an inflatable cuff connected via a rubber tube to a column of mercury with a graduated scale. It measures systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

You can find out how one works at http://health.howstuffworks.com/question146.htm

The word is also useful as a sobriety test - try saying sphygmomanometer after three glasses of wine!

Sunday, 9 November 2008


I came across hussifry in Allan Mallinson's "The Nizam's Daughters". Google didn't want to define hussifry and offered me huswifery, another equally attractive word (meaning 'The business of a housewife; female domestic economy and skill'), instead. It was then that I realised they were one and the same thing. Huswifery was pronounced with a silent 'w' and a short 'i'.

The UK National Archives include an indenture of apprenticeship (by churchwardens and overseers) of Elizabeth Treacher of Sonning, a pauper child, to Humphry Ball of Sonning, to learn 'the art of Hussifry'. It seems that the term was commonplace in the 17th Century but gradually declined though it's male equivalent, 'husbandry', remained. Huswifery was the title of a poem by the puritan poet Edward Taylor (ca. 1642-1729) and Thomas Hardy used the term 'hussif'ry' in his poem The Bullfinches in 1902.

Interestingly the only remant of the term now seems to be the pejorative term 'hussy'.


My daughter Helen commented last week in her Blog that she was now keeping a notebook of new words that she comes across during her reading. "This week I bought a lovely little leather bound book to write new words in as I read them (most of my friends here being foreign I rarely learn a new word from an actual person). I've added a few from "1984", but my favourite has to be persiflage (from the French persifler) which means banter."

This inspired me to create a Word blog. This will include both new words and favourite words. A defibnition and some comment, perhaps even a relevant quotation, will acompany the word. Each word will have a separate posting.