"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."

Friday, 24 December 2010


In former times to be gravelled meant to be perplexed. The word was still in common usage in Victorian times.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


A volute is the spiral curve on an Ionic capital; spiral; ornament consisting of a curve on a plane that winds around a centre with an increasing distance from the centre.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


To animadvert means to opine: express one's opinion openly and without fear or hesitation; express blame or censure or make a harshly critical remark

Thursday, 2 December 2010


A divan (pronounced with a short i like divine) is a long backless sofa (usually with pillows against a wall). In former times the name was also applied to a smoking room. Cigar and tobacco sellers would sometimes have an upstairs room where men (only!) could chill out with a cup of ciffee and a cigar - these were called divans.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010



The chimera is a fire-breathing creature with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and a snake’s tail.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Adam's Ale

Adam's Ale is a name formerly applied to water. The term was often used jokingly.

Monday, 29 November 2010


A cellaret is the former name for a sideboard with compartments to hold wine bottles.

Friday, 19 November 2010


The old English game of Squails, invented by John Jacques II around 1857, was played on a round table and the objective was to hit discs with the heel of the hand from the edge of the table at a small lead target in the centre called a "jack". If the jack was moved more than six inches it was replaced. Once all sixteen Squails had been played, they were scored 16 for the squail nearest to the target down to 1 for the squail furthest away. Often, a squail would be directed with the aim of knocking an opponents squail away, as much as to end up near the target, in the same manner as for bowls.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Cheese-paring is an adjective meaning giving or spending with reluctance; penny-pinching; parsimonius. It originates with the concept of someone who would shave (pare off) the rind of a cheese so as to waste as little as possible.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Amphibology - or amphiboly - is an ambiguous grammatical construction; an ambiguity arising from the uncertain construction of a sentence.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Carious is an adjective used to describe teeth and means affected with cavities or decay.

Saturday, 30 October 2010



Philoprogenitiveness, from the Greek, means, 'love of offspring'. It is one of the mental faculties of phrenology, developed by Franz Joseph Gall. Philoprogenitiveness, classified phrenologically as an affective propensity, is determined by the formation of the very back of the head.

(Phrenology was the science, now generally discredited, which studied the relationships between a person's character and the morphology (structure) of the skull.)

Friday, 29 October 2010


A winze is an opening in an underground mine that is sunk downward (as opposed to a raise, which is mined upward) from inside to connect lower levels. The top of a winze is located underground, in contrast to a shaft where the top of the excavation is located on the surface.

Thursday, 28 October 2010



A ziggurat is a type of step-pyramid temple first built by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago in southern Mesopotamia, made of sun-dried mud bricks. The peoples of Mesopotamia – the Assyrians and Babylonians continued building ziggurats for thousands of years.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Aphasia is the inability to use or understand language (spoken or written) because of a brain lesion.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


An arhat is one who has attained enlightenment; a worthy one; a Buddhist saint; one of the stages of the ascetic's spiritual evolution, when all passions (anger, ego, deception, greed, attachement, hatred and ignorance) are destroyed. It is also pronounced and written Arahat, Arhan, and Rahat.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Finikin is an adjactive meaning excessively dainty or fastidious, exacting, especially about details. It is a synonym of finicky - fastidious and fussy; difficult to please.

Sunday, 24 October 2010



A coif is a close fitting cap that covers the top, back, and sides of the head; a skullcap worn by nuns under a veil or by soldiers under a hood of mail or formerly by British sergeants-at-law; or even, quite simply, a hair-do.

Saturday, 23 October 2010


Subfusc comes from the Latin for "of a dark/dusky colour", and refers to clothing acceptable, by regulation at certain universities, for an examination or official event; the clothes worn with full academic dress in Oxford. Generally, this means, for men:

* Dark suit.
* Black socks and shoes.
* White shirt and collar.
* White bow tie.

For women:

* White blouse.
* Black tie.
* Black skirt or trousers.
* Black stockings or tights.
* Black shoes.
* Dark coat (if desired).

Friday, 22 October 2010


A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures inside the membranes. Any member of a group of organisms that contains all plants and animals apart form bacteria and blue-green algae. Their cells possess a membrane-bound nucleus containing the genetic material. Both animals and plants are eukaryotes (meaning their cells have nuclei to hold their DNA instead of letting it just float around anywhere).

Thursday, 21 October 2010


The Wyvern was a mythical fire-breathing dragon used in medieval heraldry; had the head of a dragon and the tail of a snake and a body with wings and two legs

Wednesday, 20 October 2010



A verger is a church officer who takes care of the interior of the building and acts as an attendant (carrying the verge or mace) during ceremonies.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010



A sexton is a church, congregation or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard. Sextons may also be responsible for bell-ringing and grave digging.

Monday, 18 October 2010

You what?

I seldom say a harsh word to any one, but I was not master of myself then, and I spoke right out and called him an anisodactylous plesiosaurian conchyliaceous Ornithorhyneus, and rotten to the heart with holophotal subterranean extemporaneousness.
Mark Twain

Sunday, 17 October 2010



The hippogriff is a mythical creature with an eagle’s head, claws and wings, and a horse’s body.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


Buxom means having a full, voluptuous figure, especially possessing large breasts; plump and comely. According to the Oxford English dictionary it used to mean meek, obliging, kindly, and understanding. Other meanings were blithe, lively and gay, full of health, vigour and good temper.

Friday, 15 October 2010


A shibboleth is a manner of speaking that is distinctive of a particular group of people; any distinguishing practice which is indicative of one's social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


A conundrum is a difficult question or riddle, especially one using a play on words in the answer; a difficult choice or decision that must be made.

‘The word “conundrum”,’ Preston repeated helpfully, ‘When you say the word, doesn’t it look in your head like a copper-coloured snake, curled up asleep?’ (Terry Pratchett – “I Shall Wear Midnight”)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The manticore is a mythical man-eating creature with a spiny lion’s body, a scorpion’s tail and human head.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


A prelate is a high ranking church dignitary; a clergyman of high rank and authority, having jurisdiction over an area or a group of people; normally a bishop or an archbishop.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Phynnodderee is sometimes used as a proper name and sometimes as the name of a class of beings. The phynnodderee is like a brownie, hob, or sprite in folklore, particular around the Isle of Man.

Other spellings include fenodyree, phynodderee, fynnoderee or fenoderee or even yn foldyr gastey, which means 'the nimble mower'. He is small and hairy, particularly around the legs, almost like a small satyr. Fenodyree is in fact the term used for 'satyr' in the 1819 Manx version of the Bible (Isaiah 34:14)

The phynnodderee worked very hard from dusk to dawn at agricultural tasks, such as herding, mowing, reaping and threshing.

Fenodyree is also a character in "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen", a wonderful young-adult fantasy set in Alderley Edge in Cheshire by Alan Garner.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Necrosis is the premature death of cells and living tissue. Necrosis is caused by external factors, such as infection, toxins or trauma. This is in contrast to apoptosis, which is a naturally occurring cause of cellular death.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


A word to rival yesterday's for a place at the end of the dictionary is zyxt. The Oxford English Dictionary ends on this nonword, being a long-obsolete Kentish spelling of the second person singular present tense of see!

Friday, 8 October 2010



I would not normally include scientific genera because there are too many and they are not something that most people would be intersted in as words in themselves. But zyzzyva was one I had to put it. Zyzzyva is a genus of tropical South American weevils particularly fond of palm trees.

Thursday, 7 October 2010



A rubric is a title or heading written or printed in red or otherwise distinguished from the rest of the text.
It can also be the direction for the conduct of divine service.
And a third meanng is any established mode of conduct or procedure.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Eonism is the pretence by a man, of being a woman; transvestism.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


A cynosure is a center of attemntion; something that strongly attracts attention and admiration.

Monday, 4 October 2010


A fizgig is an obsolete term for a flighty or frivolous girl. It also meant a spinning top or a firework.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


The word malkin has had a number of different meanings in the past.

It meant a slattern, an untidy woman.
It was also a scarecrow.
It was used for a hare or a cat.
And it also meant a mop of rags tied to a stick.

The related word grimalkin meant an old female cat or an ill-tempered old woman.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Green fingers

To have green fingers means to have a special ability to make plants grow; a seemingly natural gardening ability.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A Fesnying of Ferrets

Whole books have been written about collective nouns for animals. Many of them are words commonly used but some are more unusual.

Among these are:-

A fesnying of ferrets (which also be a busyness of ferrets)
A bob of seals (also plum, pod, rookery, team)
A badling of Ducks (also paddling, team (in the air), flock, plump, sord (on land), sute (on water).
A cete of badgers
A dole of doves (also flight, flock)
An exaltation of larks (also bevy)
A gam of whales (also pod, school)
A husk of hares (also down)
An ostentation of peafowl (also muster, pride)
A nye of pheasants (also nide, bevy)
A rout of wolves (also pack)
A shrewdness of apes
A sedge of herons (also siege)
A singular of boars (also sounder)

Do you have a favourite collective noun?

Thursday, 30 September 2010


The marimba is a large scale musical instrument in the percussion family. Keys or thin, wide bars (usually made of wood) are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. A foot pedal to controls resonators below. It produces a sound much mellower and more sustained than that of the xylophone.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


A paradigm (pronounced PAIR-uh-dime)is an example serving as a model or pattern; a set of all forms which contain a common element; or a general agreement of belief of how the world works - what could be called `common sense'.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Photovoltaic systems are those which generate electricity directly using natural sunlight. A solar cell is therefore a device that converts the energy of sunlight directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect.

Monday, 27 September 2010


Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work; laziness. It is one of the Seven Capital Sins (from the Catechism) also known as the seven deadly sins and one of the Five Hindrances in Buddhism.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Agar or agar agar is a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed. Historically and in a modern context, it is chiefly used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Japan, but in the past century found extensive use as a solid substrate to contain culture medium for microbiological work.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Baggits and Sprags

Salmon have a variety if names according to the stage they are at in their life cycle. Among these are;-

Alevin - fry or very young salmon
Parr - up to 2 years old
Samlet - young salmon
Sprag - young salmon
Smolt - young salmon migrating to sea
Sprod - salmon in its second year
Grilse - salmon on its first return from sea
Baggit - salmon just after spawning

Friday, 24 September 2010


A sociable (short for sociable coach) or barouche-sociable is an open, four-wheeled carriage described as 'a cross between a barouche and a victoria'. It had two double seats facing each other. It might be controlled from the interior by an owner-driver or have a box for a coachman.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


A beadle was a parish constable; or a uniformed minor lay official who served a ceremonial function and kept order; or an attendant to a Scottish minister.

Charles Dickens' character from Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble is the parish beadle and leader of the orphanage. He's officious, corrupt, a chronic mangler of the King's English, and a great source of comic relief.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


The glaistig is a creature from Scottish mythology - the word is Gaelic in origin. It can either be a kind of satyr in the shape of a goat, or a beautiful female fairy, identical with the bean-nighe, usually attired in a green robe, seldom seen except by the bank of a river.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Bloomers is a word which has been applied to several types of divided women's garments for the lower body at various times. Originally they were loose oriental trousers gathered at the knee or ankles, first made popular by Ameian feminist Amelia Bloomer in 1851.

A bloomer can also be a blunder; an embarrassing mistake.

And a third meaning for bloomer is an iron worker.

Monday, 20 September 2010


The Spencer, dating from the 1790's, was originally a woolen outer tail-coat with the tails cut-off. It was worn as a short waist-length, double-breasted, man's jacket over a long-tailed coat as extra covering. In the eighteenth century, Lord Spencer stood with his back to a fire and the tails of his tail-coat caught fire. The burned parts were cut away and Spencer liked the resulting style.

Later it becamse the name for a kind of short jacket for women and children.

Sunday, 19 September 2010



Adipose means composed of animal fat. Adipose tissue, for example, is mainly fatty tissue.

An adipose fin is a single fleshy fin along the back of a fish.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


I came across the word pastern the other day and found it defined as that part of the foot of a hoofed mammal from the fetlock to the hoof. That's OK if you know what the fetlock is!

The fetlock, it seems, is the joint between the cannon bone and the pastern. So where is the cannon bone?

Alternatively the fetlock is the common name for the metacarpophalangeal and metatarsophalangeal joints (MCPJ and MTPJ) of horses, large animals, and sometimes dogs.

I'm sorry I started this one....

Friday, 17 September 2010


The multure was the proportion of a man's flour paid to the miller or the Lord who owned the mill for the privilege of having one's grain milled in medieval times. The multure was usually a tithe - ten per cent - but millers were notorious for being dishonest and trying to take more than their fair share.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Zephyrs and Willy-gwillies


The four ancient Greek winds were Boreas (N wind); Eurus (E wind); Notus (S wind); and Zephyrus (W wind). From the letter we get the English word zephyr which means a gentle breeze or a westerly wind.

Around the world there are many local winds with their own special names. Amongst these are:-

Auster - also known as Sirocco - a hot dusty wind that blows from North Africa to S Europe.

Levanter - An easterly wind in the west Mediterranean in late summer.

Föhn - a warm dry wind down the N Alps.

Mistral - a cold dry wind down the Rhone and other S French valleys.

A willy-gwilly is the name given to an Australian dust-storm or cyclone.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


To asseverate is to declare earnestly, seriously, or positively; to affirm.

An asseveration is an assertion: a declaration that is made emphatically (as if no supporting evidence were necessary).

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


A merrythought is the furcula or wishbone of a fowl's breast.

The term 'Merrythought' is thought to have come from the happy thoughts one has while breaking a wishbone.

Monday, 13 September 2010


A euonym is a pleasing or beautiful name.

The opposite is a caconym - a bad name for anything; a name which is in any way undesirable or objectionable.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


A poecilonym is a word that means the same thing as another word. So poecilonym is a poecilonym for synonym!

Saturday, 11 September 2010


Abditive means remote, secret or hidden.

Friday, 10 September 2010


Accubation is the act or posture of reclining on a couch, as practiced by the ancients at meals.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Metronymy is the system of naming after the mother's or female line in a family.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


An agelast is one who never laughs; a mirthless person.

He or she is definitely not an abderian!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


An abderian is a person given to foolish or excessive laughter.

Monday, 6 September 2010


   An abbozzo is a preliminary sketch, rough drawing or early model.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Jentacular means of or pertaining to a breakfast taken early in the morning, or immediately on getting up.

Saturday, 4 September 2010



An agraffe is a clasp consisting of a hook which fastens on to a ring; the term is also used for a certain piano part and for the wire that holds the cork in a champagne bottle.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Brontide is long, low, rumbling thunder. The term is also used for low, rumbling thunderlike sounds of short duration not originating from thunderstorms but believed to be of seismic origin.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Blandiloquence is mild, flattering speech.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


A hagiographer is the author of a worshipful or idealizing biography; especially used for those writing about saints. The study of saints is called hagiography.

An autohagiographer is someone who writes sumgly about their own achievments.


Guggenheim is a word game.

The Rules of Guggenheim

Players choose a set of five different categories; for example - places, girl's names, vegetables, cars and sports.

Then they choose a word of five or six letters; e.g. PRAISE.

Each player then has to provide a word for each category starting with each letter of the target word.

Scoring is either one point for each word provided or one point for each word no-one else fills in that space for, each blank counting minus 1 point.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010



Leucippotomy is the art of carving white horses in chalk upland areas, particularly as practiced in southern England.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Adoxography is fine writing in praise of trivial, minor or base subjects; much practised by lawyers at our expense.


Orthography is the accepted way of spelling and writing words.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Muggy means hot or warm and humid. It strikes me that 'muggy weather' might be a particularly British expression. Is 'muggy weather' something that is ever said in US English?

Answers on a postcard, please....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


A luthier is a craftsman who makes or repairs stringed instruments (as lutes or guitars or violins).

Saturday, 7 August 2010



Maugre, as an adverb and preposition, meant notwithstanding or in spite of. It was usually found in poetry and is now obsolete.

As a verb it meant to wish ill-will.

Monday, 2 August 2010


Gangling means tall and thin and having long slender limbs - often used of teenagers who have yet to put on body weight.

Sunday, 1 August 2010


I came across the word spindly - describing someone - the other day and whilst it wasn't an unknown word it did strike me as one of the more amusing words in the English language. I don't know why but it just hit my funny bone.

Spindly means tall, slender and frail; lank; long and lean; charcateristic of a spindle - slender and of weak appearance.

A spindle is a stick or pin used to twist the yarn in spinning.

There is also a Spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus)which is quite spidnly - I wonder if the name came from the tree or vice versa?

The spindle-side of a family tree is the female line of descent and spindle-shank is a term used for someone with long thin legs.

Thursday, 29 July 2010


Pabulum is a word for food; especially a suspension or solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption. It is also used to refer to intellectual sustenance. A third meaning is something (as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or bland.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


A catafalque is an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body; a pall-covered coffin-shaped structure used at requiem masses celebrated after burial

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


To eschew means to shun; avoid; stay away from deliberately; stay clear of; to avoid habitually especially on moral or practical ground.

It is generally pronounced e-shu.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Label-stops and Head-stops


Many church windows have decorative hood moulds, or drip stones, projecting above the windows to protect them from rainwater running down the walls. They end in what are generally called label-stops. When these label-stops are in the form of a human head they are called head-stops.

For more examples of head-stops see On the Wirral.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Greenfield and Brownfield

A greenfield site is one to be used for housing or commerce, whose previous use (if any) was agricultural. The term can lso be used generally to refer to any undeveloped lands such as fields or forests. The term has been around for many decades.

It was only recently that I heard the term brownfield site. Brownfield sites iare abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use. Expansion or redevelopment of such a facility may be complicated by real or perceived environmental contaminations.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Dicky Seat


A rumble seat, dicky seat, dickie seat or dickey seat is an upholstered exterior seat which hinges or otherwise opens out from the rear deck of a pre-World War II automobile, and seats one or more passengers. In a carriage, a rumble (short for "rumble-tumble") was a seat behind the body used by servants.

Prior to World War I, a single, center-mounted rumble seat was sometimes referred to as a mother-in-law seat.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Lingua Franca

Lingua Franca was originally a term applied to a language - a mixture of Italian, French, Greek and Arabic - spoken on the coasts of the Mediterranean.

Nowadays it is used to mean any muixture of languages that serves as a means of communication between different peoples.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


   Originally to ride a hobby-horse was to play a childish game of which one soon tired.  Nowadays it implies dwelling to excess on a pet theory.  The transition between the two came around the time of John Wesley (1703-1791) who wrote in omne of his sermons "Everyone has (to use the cant term of the day) his hobby-horse!

Friday, 4 June 2010


When I saw this notice at the front of our local bus I assumed they had made up the word 'standee' but it seems it was simply one which had escaped my notice before.

A standee is somebody who is forced to stand, for example on a crowded bus;

(I still can't make sense of the notice though - I think it was meant to read 1 wheelchair or five standees.)

A standee is also a life-size shape, for instance of a celebrity, cut out of cardboard, often used for advertising and promotional purposes.

"He had his picture taken with a standee of the president"

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Agony Aunt

An agony aunt is someone who answers questions about personal problems in a newspaper or magazine. Agony columns go back to at least 1860 – at which time they included messages for missing relatives – but the phrase itself seems to date back to about the 1930s. Neither phrase was greatly used until the 1970s and both are mainly restricted to Britain.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


  Misogyny is hatred (or contempt) of women or girls  

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


  Mimesis is the imitative representation of nature and human behavior in art and literature. The word also means any disease that shows symptoms characteristic of another disease; the representation of another person's words in a speech; or mimicry of one species by another - often for means of self-protection.  

Monday, 31 May 2010


Zircon (including hyacinth or yellow zircon) is a mineral belonging to the group of nesosilicates. Its chemical name is zirconium silicate and its corresponding chemical formula is ZrSiO4. Zircon is a mineral, occurring in tetragonal crystals, yielding brilliant clear gemstones called "cubic zircons" or "cubic zirconia". A cheap alternative to diamond.

Sunday, 30 May 2010


 A catena is a chain of connected ideas or passages or objects so arranged that each member is closely related to the preceding and following members.  

Saturday, 29 May 2010


 The ocarina is an egg-shaped terra cotta wind instrument with a mouthpiece and finger holes; A woodwind musical instrument that is closed at both sides to produce an enclosed space, and punctured with finger holes.  

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Encephalalgia simply menas a headache but it would sound better when you phone in sick! Which reminds me of the Doctor who used to write Plumbum vibrans on sick notes - meaning 'Swinging the lead!

To swing the lead means to malinger. It is said to come from the days when the job of testing the depth of water under a ship was done by raising and lowering a lead on a line. A lazy leadsman would take his time about the process - swinging the lead.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Locavore is one of those new words coined to describe a modern trend. It means someone who, for environmental reasons, endeavours to restrict their shopping and consuming habits to items produced locally. It remains to be seen if the word survives for very long.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Anabiosis is a form of suspended animation; usually applied to organisms during periods of extreme drought from which they revive when moisture returns.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Afflatus sounds like some sort of digestive problem but it isn't! It means a strong creative impulse; divine inspiration.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


To abjure means to renounce or retract something under oath; formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief, often under pressure.

Friday, 21 May 2010


Hodge was a familair and condescending name for a farm labourer, peasant or rustic. it dates back at least to the 16th Century and was still in use in the early 20th century. It is possibly an abbreviated form of the name Roger.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hobble Skirt

 Hobble Skirts were one of the more ridiculous of fashions, being dresses or  skirts that were tight around the lower legs and ankles thereby impeding walking. They were at their height in 1912 and gone by 1914.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


  Gibbous means bulging: something that bulges out or is protuberant or projects from its surroundings. The word is usually used in connection with the moon and refers to a phase of the moon between first quarter and full or between full and last quarter.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


   The pittancer was an officer of a religious house / monastery who had the duty of distributing charitable gifts or allowances of food.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Getting the hang of it

The phrase 'getting the hang of it', meaning to find the knack of doing something, seems to date from around the 1820s. It is said to originate with public executions where a poor executioner would leave a [person hanging for ages while they strangled to death. A good executioner (who had got the hang of it) would drop the victim in such a way that their neck broke, making a quick and clean job of it. (Well, perhaps not clean but we won't go into that...)

Sunday, 16 May 2010


A carrack (also knowmn as a nau) was a large galleon sailed in the Mediterranean as a merchantman; a three- or four-masted sailing ship developed in the Atlantic Ocean in the 15th century by the Portuguese

Friday, 14 May 2010


   Harem means forbidden to outsiders. A harem is living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a Muslim household; the private part of an Arab household. In traditional Arab culture, this part of the household was forbidden to male strangers;

"In every family home lay a region that was harem, forbidden to outsiders."


Plangent means having a loud, mournful sound; loud and resounding (of bells); or sounding like waves breaking on the shore.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


   Borek is a confection made of layers of honeyed pastry; a type of baked or fried filled pastry, from Turkey , made of a thin flaky dough known as yufka (or phyllo), and can be filled with cheese, often feta, sirene or kaşar, minced meat, or vegetables.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


  Arrhythmic means lacking a steady rhythm; An irregular heartbeat; beating too fast, too slow or irregularly.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


An emporium is a shop that offers a wide variety of goods, often used facetiously; a department store; a market place or trading centre, particularly of an ancient city.

Monday, 10 May 2010


A seraglio is a harem; living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a Muslim household.  

Sunday, 9 May 2010


Iznikware is a type of pottery made in Turkey in the 16th and 17th centuries. For further details see Britannica.com.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


Execrable means deplorable; of very poor quality or condition; abominable; unequivocally detestable.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Nuts in May

The children’s rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May...’ often evinces the comment that nuts are found in the Autumn, not in May. However, the origins appear quite simple – the phrase was initially ‘Here we go gathering knots of May.’ A knot – as in a small garland or posy of flowers; and May as in the alternative name for the Hawthorn Blossom which was gathered as part of the May Day celebrations.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Tintinnabulation is a tinkling sound, as of a bell or of breaking glass; ringing; the sound of a bell ringing.

I remember coming across this word when i was about 13 or so and writing in one of my English books "The tiny tinny tintinnabulation of a tinted thicket tinamou".

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Kufic is the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts and consists of a modified form of the old Nabataean script. The word is also used to describe border designs that are thought to be derived from an Arabic script.

Monday, 26 April 2010


A cuddy is a cabin, for the use of the captain, in the after part of a sailing ship under the poop deck; a small cupboard or closet; or a cabin for use by a nightwatchman.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Vade mecum

A vade mecum is a handbook; a concise reference book providing specific information about a subject or location. The expression is also used in a wider context to mean a useful object, constantly carried on one’s person.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Froward means habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition; unmanageable.

Friday, 23 April 2010


Hagiography is the study of saints. It is also a biography that idealizes or idolizes the person (especially a person who is a saint).

Thursday, 22 April 2010


A picayune was a Spanish coin, worth half a real. As a result it came to mean something petty, trivial; of little consequence; small and of little importance; picayunish; something not worth arguing about.

According to Jim Wegryn "In 1837, George Wilkins Kendall began a newspaper in the capital of Louisiana which he called the New Orleans Picayune. By 1914, the Daily Picayune as it was then called merged with a competing paper (formed from two others), the New Orleans Times-Democrat. It was known for a time as the Times-Democrat, the Daily Picayune. Eventually the new publication became simply the Times-Picayune."

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Caryatid and Atlantis

A Caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. The term is often incorrectly applied to the male equivalent, which, however, is correctly called an Atlantis.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Bumble-puppy - also known as tetherball - was a game for two players who use their hands to hit in opposite directions a ball that is on a length of rope attached to the top of a pole. The object of the game is to wind the rope completely around the pole. If Deryn Lake's novel 'Death at St James's Palace' is to be believed, it seems to have been in existence in the 1760s at the Queens Head in Marybone (Marylebone) Park, London.
We had an identical game - using a tennis ball on a metal pole - which we used to play at the caravan but we called it swingball.

Monday, 19 April 2010


Delations are legal charges or indictments.

'I am trying to sort the delations for all these new prisoners.’ C J Sansom (Dissolution)


Sunday, 18 April 2010



Makebate is an archaic term for someone who excites debate and quarrelling.

Preaching in English is one thing, but allowing the Bible to blockish servants and peasants will fill England with makebates.” C J Sansom (Dissolution)


Saturday, 17 April 2010


A runcible spoon is a utensil that appears in nonsense poetry, which also uses the adjective "runcible" to describe objects other than spoons. It is considered by some to be a nonsense word.

Edward Lear's best-known poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, published in 1871, includes the passage:
They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.

Lear does not appear to have had any firm idea of what the word "runcible" means. His whimsical nonsense verse celebrates words primarily for their sound, and a specific definition is not needed to appreciate his work. However, since the 1920s (several decades after Lear's death), modern dictionaries have generally defined a runcible spoon to be a fork with three broad curved prongs and a sharpened edge, used with pickles or hors d'oeuvres, such as a pickle fork.

Notwithstaninding its apparent nonesense associations it is used in C J Sansom's nopvel 'Dissolution':-

“This evening he stayed to dine at the obedentiaries’ table, where a great haunch of beef was served with runcible peas.

Friday, 16 April 2010


Obedentiary is a monastic rank or office below that of superior. For example, in the Sansom novel I have just read there are six obedentiaries below the prior.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


A zareba is an improvised stockade constructed especially of thornbushes and used for defence in parts of Africa; a village protected by such a structure, especially in Sudan.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


A xebec is a small three-masted Mediterranean vessel.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Another lovely word for the crossword compiler - a xyster is a surgeon's bone scraping instrument. Ouch.

Monday, 12 April 2010


Falcula is zoological term for a curved and sharp-pointed claw.

It originates from the Latin falcula meaning a small sickle, a billhook.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


A favourite of crossword compilers is the word ‘cran’. The clue is usually ‘a measure used for herring’. The cran of herring is now fixed by law at 37½gallons – approximately 750 fish.

This is a quarter cran herring basket with its maker - Terry Bensley - photo from this Dunbar Gardens site.

The word is first recorded in Scotland in 1797 and like its Gaelic counterpart ‘crann’ seems originally to have meant a lot or share – that is, the portion of the catch belonging to each person involved.

According to the Oxford Dictionary the cran is also a Scottish name applied to the crane or heron; a name also applied to the swift in S Scotland; and an iron instrument laid across the fire to support a pot.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

To keep a stiff upper lip

To keep a stiff upper lip means to be self-reliant; to bear difficulties and dangers with fortitude. In particular the British are noted for having a stiff upper lip; indeed, at one time, it was part of the definition of being British which is ironic since the word was first recorded in America in 1815.

Friday, 9 April 2010

fly off the handle

To fly off the handle means to lose your temper suddenly, especially without justification; to burst into violent speech. It was first reecorded in 1825. It's origin presumably lies in a hammer head flying off the handle.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

In cahoots

A cahoot was an American word for a company or partnership - first recorded in 1829 and of unknown origin. The phrase 'in cahoots' is still in common usage and means in partnership.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Hispid means covered in short, stiff hairs; bristly; harsh to touch.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


For some reason I made a note of the word ‘Durian’ for my blog but I couldn’t recall where from. It is unusual for me to simply blog a word meaning something like a fruit – does Durian have another meaning that I cannot trace?

The durian is a tree of southeastern Asia with an edible oval fruit of the smae name. It has a hard spiny rind whose seeds are roasted and eaten like nuts'.   The durian is described as `smelling like Hell and tasting like Heaven'; the durian is often called 'The 'King of fruits' by fruit aficionados.

Nowadays in Singapore, when people talk of the durian they are as likely to mean the Esplanade Theatre/Concerthall complex.

Monday, 5 April 2010

In an interesting condition

To be in an interesting condition was a euphemism for pregnant. Since the 18th century women were said to be in an interesting state or interesting situation and subsequently there would, hopefully, be an interesting event - childbirth.

In 'Roderick Random' (1748) Tobias Smollett wrote - "So that I cannot leave her in such an interesting situation, which I hope will produce something to crown my felicity." Charles Dickens in ' Nicholas Nickleby' (1838) wrote of "Mrs. Lenville (who, as has been before hinted, was in an interesting state)."

The Westmorland Gazette in June 1899 reported the birht of Maria Romanov as an "'Interesting event' at Peterhof. Another daughter!"

The actual words 'interesting condition' are first found in America in an 1846 edition of the Hagers-town Torch Light of Hagerstown in Washington County, Maryland :
... "the elopement of a blacksmith named Samuel Fellows and a Mrs. Betsey Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds is about 31 years of age, and is good looking. She took her family of five children with her. She was also in an interesting condition. Fellows took his two children - making quite an interesting company."

Interestingly a number of sexual euphemisms are remarkably similar in English and Russian which is not the case with other expressions and "An interesting condition” has been a favorite expression of the Russian lower-middle class.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


The geodesic is the shortest line between two points on a mathematically defined surface (such as a straight line on a plane or an arc of a great circle on a sphere); the "straightest path" in a curved space or curved spacetime.

Saturday, 3 April 2010


Lucifugous means light-avoiding; having a dislike of light, particularly from the sun; nocturnal.

Friday, 2 April 2010


Caprine means of or relating to goats; goatlike.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Erethism is an abnormally high degree of irritability or sensitivity to stimulation of an organ or body part; abnormal excitement of a bodily organ or tissue

Erethism or erethism mercurialis is a symptom complex of mercury poisoning, presenting with excessive shyness, timidity and social phobia. This was common among hat makers of old England who used mercury to stabilize the wool in a process called felting. Hence the creation of the Mad Hatter by Lewis Carrol in the Alice stories.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Thrasonical means like Thraso (a character in the play 'Eunuchus' by Terence) - boastful; bragging; vainglorious.

"His eye ambitious, his gait majestical, and his general behaviour vain, ridiculous and thrasonical." -Shakespeare – 'Love’s Labours Lost'

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Boondock, nurdle, scrunge and the like

Whatever you think about the game of tiddlywinks, you’d probably agree that it has some of the most interesting vocabulary of any childhood game. It includes such terms as boondock, squidger, gromp, squop, scrunge, crud, penhaligon, and nurdle. I apologize that I'm not able to elaborate on the meanings of these individual terms but I still thought them worth a mention.

By the way - did you know that there is a village of Tiddleywink in Wiltshire?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Chuff, chuffed and chuffing...

I have included the word chuff before - June 2009. To be chuffed means to be very pleased - "I'm chuffed to have won". According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary it was first recorded around 1860.

Chuffed is often qualified as in the phrase chuffed to bits, which means the same thing – extremely pleased. An alternative is ‘chuffed to little mint balls’, a favourite phrase of GB's, but I haven’t been able to find anything about the age of that phrase or its origins. Any contributions welcome!

(An alternative meaning of chuff - churlish or gruff - is much older but is now archaic).

Prusten is a sound made by the tiger and the snow leopard, also known as chuffing. It is a low-frequency equivalent to the purring found in domesticated cats. The animal's mouth is closed and it blows through the nostrils, producing a breathy snort.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


A currcile was a light, two-wheeled vehicle, usually drawn by a pair of horses abreast, a favourite of men-about-town in the early 1800s before the cabriolet became popular. It was named after its inventor, Lady Betty Curricle, and was a parent of the Victorian dog-cart, the earliest of which were drawn by dogs (later so-named because there was room to carry sporting dogs under the driver's seat).

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Epicene means bisexual; having an ambiguous sexual identity; hermaphrodite; one having both male and female sexual characteristics and organs; at birth an unambiguous assignment of male or female cannot be made.

Epicene is also an adjective for loss of gender distinction, often specific loss of masculinity; effeminate; having unsuitable feminine qualities.

Epicene is also used to describe a noun – such as author or poet - whose single form can designate either a male or a female.

For example – M C Beaton is an excellent author but one cannot tell from that phrase whether M C Beaton is a man or a woman because author is an epicene word.

Friday, 26 March 2010


A purfle is an ornamental border on clothing, furniture or a violin; beading; or stringing.

As a verb it means to decorate (wood, cloth etc.) with a border.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Ersatz is a German word literally meaning inferior substitute or replacement. Ironically the word was popularised in the English language during the war with Germany when coffee was scarce and ersatz coffee (made with all sorts of things!) replaced the real thing becaue of rationing.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


A tondo (plural "tondi" or "tondos") is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, either a painting or a sculpture.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Desultory means marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose; jumping from one thing to another; without order or rational connection; without logical sequence; disconnected; immethodical; and aimless.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Night collar

To have the night collar is an expression meaning to have the night shift in a taxi. It originates from the days when taxi-cabs were horse-drawn and the night collar was a special collar burnished to reflect light, used to make the horse more visible at night.

"Night Collar" is also a play about late night taxi drivers by Tony Furlong and Jimmy Power (c2003).

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Inchoate (pronounced in-kow-ate) means incipient; only partly in existence; imperfectly formed; not yet completed or finished.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Primrose path of dalliance

To be "led down the primrose path" is an idiom suggesting that one is being deceived or led astray, often by a hypocrite. The primrose path also refers to someone living a life of luxury apparently linking primroses to libertine indulgence; a life of ease and pleasure; sometimes a deceptively easy course of action that can end in tragedy.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare refers to the 'primrose path of dalliance'. Dalliance is the deliberate act of delaying and playing instead of working; flirting; or playful behavior intended to arouse sexual interest.

Friday, 19 March 2010


A carnet is a customs document permitting the holder to carry or send merchandise temporarily into certain foreign countries (for display, demonstration or similar purposes) without paying duties or posting bonds. I9 assume it comes from the French and therefore I imagine it is pronounced car-nay.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Ubiquity is the state of being everywhere at once (or seeming to be everywhere at once. It is synonymous with omnipresence.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Purdah or Pardaa is sometimes used to mean solitude or a state of social isolation. More correctly it refers to the traditional Hindu or Muslim system of keeping women secluded; a screen used in India to separate women from men or strangers; the seclusion of women away from outside, public life; or the practice that secludes women from public observation by means of concealing clothing. The word comes from the Hindi word Parda — a screen or veil.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Quixotic (pronounced quick-sotic) means not sensible about practical matters; idealistic and unrealistic; or absurdly chivalric, like Don Quixote in the book by Miguel Cervantes. Unlike the adjective, the Don himself is pronounced key-ho-tay.

"An insight into the beauty and excellence of this incomparable adjective is unhappily denied to him who has the misfortune to know that the gentleman's name is pronounced Ke-ho-tay." (Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary)

Monday, 15 March 2010


A distaff was the staff on which wool or flax was wound before spinning. As spinning was women's work, the word came to mean the sphere of work by women; female: characteristic of or peculiar to a woman. It is nowadays sometimes used to refer to the distaff side of the family - meaning the line that comes down through (or goes back through) the women of the family.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


A pastiche is a literary or other artistic genre that is a "hodge-podge" or an imitation. The word is also a linguistic term used to describe an early stage in the development of a pidgin language.

I guess this blog is a pastiche of sorts! It's certainly a hodge-podge which, by definition, is a jumble; a medley; a motley assortment of things.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


Samite was a heavy silk fabric (often woven with silver or gold threads); used to make clothing in the Middle Ages.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Pooty was (and may still be) a dialect term for a snail shell.

"... my botanizing & naturalizing excursions & you will laugh at my comencement for I have been seriously & busily employd this last 3 weeks hunting Pooty shells.." John Clare 1825

Thursday, 11 March 2010



Lackadaisical means dreamy: lacking spirit or liveliness; idle or indolent especially in a dreamy way; showing no interest or enthusiasm.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010


In 1995 a fossil, later to be named Gerobatrachus , was discovered in Texas. When it was gradually removed from its rock and taken to be studied it was shown to be a missing link between frogs and salamanders. It had always been assumed that they shared a common ancestor but this was the first fossil to have been discovered that showed the link. Jason Anderson from the University of Calgary declared the fossil to be a ‘perfect little frogamander’. The word is so delightful that I have little doubt it will quickly be adopted into our language.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


A lambrequin was at one time a scarf that covered a knight's helmet. More recently the word has been used for a short and decorative hanging for a shelf edge or a decorative wood frame built around the top and sides of a window to create a larger, more impressive window treatment.

Monday, 8 March 2010


In Greek mythology Lamia was a Queen of Libya who became a monster with the head and breasts of a woman and the lower half of a serpent, which ate children and sucked the blood from men. Subsequently the word was used for a number of such vampires, not specifically the former Queen of Libya.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Pullulate is a great sounding word and has so many meanings that it deserves to be far better known and much more regualrly used.

It means to be teeming, be abuzz; pour; move in large numbers; shoot; produce buds, branches, or germinate; become abundant; increase rapidly; and breed freely and abundantly.

I'm looking forward to the Spring when the garden will pullulate with humming bees.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


Satori in Zen Buddhism is a state of sudden spiritual enlightenment.

Satori translates as "consciousness" and is also a type of mountain-dwelling creature in Japanese folklore that holds the power to read human thoughts.

Friday, 5 March 2010


Kvass or kvas (literally "leaven"; borrowed in the 16th century from the Russian word kvas), is sometimes translated into English as 'bread drink'. It is a fermented mildly alcoholic beverage made from black rye or rye bread (which contributes to its dark colour).

Thursday, 4 March 2010


The diabolo (commonly misspelled as diablo; formerly also known as "the devil on two sticks") is a juggling prop consisting of a spool which is whirled and tossed on a string tied to two sticks held one in each hand. A huge variety of tricks are possible using the sticks, string, and various body parts.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I came across this word in a crossword recently. Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise, originating in the Provencal region of France. It is very rich and usually made from garlic, egg, lemon juice and olive oil.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


There are at least three different meanings to the word wattle.

Wattle is a construction of poles intertwined with twigs, reeds, or branches, used for walls, fences, and roofs; the material used for such construction It occurs frequently in the phrase 'wattle and daub' where daub was the clay used to bind the wattle and create a waterproof wall.

Secondly it is a fleshy, wrinkled, often brightly coloured fold of skin hanging from the neck or throat, characteristic of certain birds, such as chickens or turkeys, and some lizards.

In botany it is any of various Australian trees or shrubs of the genus Acacia.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Importunity is insistent solicitation and entreaty; a constant and insistent demanding; unseasonableness; or an unsuitable or inapproproate time.

Sunday, 28 February 2010


A panegyric is a formal public speech, or (in later use) written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. It is derived from Greek meaning a speech "fit for a general assembly".

Saturday, 27 February 2010


As a verb, cavil means to raise trivial objections; to quibble; to evade the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections; to criticise for petty reasons. As a noun it means a petty or trivial objection or criticism.

Friday, 26 February 2010


Eleemosynary means relating to charity, alms, or almsgiving; supported by charity; intended for the distribution of charity.

I came across this word in the first sentence of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1761). "An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money." At this rate the book promises to give me a number of new words for my vocabulary!

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

Thursday, 25 February 2010


I think wherewithal is a lovely sounding word. It means the ability and the financial means required to accomplish some task; the necessary means.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I came across the word caraoke recently. At first I thought it was a mis-spelling of karaoke but then discovered it is in the Urban Dictionary as meaning singing along with music in a car, especially loudly and passionately.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Poor John

Poor John is not just me when I'm feeling sorry for myself! It is a name given to hake that was salted and dried for food. The name first appeared in print in 1585.

Hake was a name given to any of various marine food fishes of the genera Merluccius and Urophycis, related to and resembling the cod, but of inferior quality.

"Poor-john and apple pies are all our fare." Sir J. Harington 1612.

It is unclear whether the John Harrington who wrote that line was the writer of that name (1561-1612) or his namesake, the politician Baron Harington (1539-1613).

If it is the latter there is a wonderful irony in the use of the name since Sir John (he was knighted in 1584 by Queen Elizabeth) was created Baron Harington in July 1603 at the coronation of James I. James then made him guardian of James' daughter, Elizabeth. The high cost of entertaining the Princess ruined him. Poor John!!! As partial recompence Harington was granted a licence by the king to mint the first ever copper farthings.

Monday, 22 February 2010

In absentia

In absentia is Latin for "in the absence". In legal use it usually pertains to a defendant's right to be present in court proceedings in a criminal trial. For more than 100 years, courts in the United States have held that, according to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant's right to appear in person at their trial, as a matter of due process is protected under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Hopefully I shall be have my heart bypass today so I have scheduled my words and phrases blog to bring up one a day for the next few weeks 'in absentia'. As a result if you make any comments it may be some time before they are moderated and posted.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Achilles' Heel

Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis and Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons. He was the foremost Greek warrior in the Trojan war and hero of Homer's 'Iliad'. Achilles was said to be invulnerable as a result of having been dipped in the River Styx by Thetis when he was a baby. Unfortunately he was held by his heel as he was dipped and as a result his heel was not treated. It was oin this vulnerable part of his body that he was shot and killed by Paris's arrow.

The phrase Achilles Heel came to mean any vulnerable point of a person or thing. In 1946 George Orwell described Achilles Heel as a dying metaphor but it is as common today as ever it was.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

According to Hoyle

The phrase 'According to Hoyle' means exactly; correctly; or according to the recognised rules. At one time Edmond Hoyle's book 'A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist' (1742)was regarded as the definitive text on the game and he was also the standard authority on the rules of certain other card games. As a result the phrase 'According to Hoyle' meant according to the highest authority.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hundreds and Hides

Ignoring the use of the word to mean ten times ten this is about its use as a parcel of land - an English adminstrative area larger than a village and smaller than a county. It was at one time the most basic unit of administration in the realm but its initial purpose is obscure. It may have been intended as that amount of land which could provide a hundred warriors for the king's host (the word army is a comparatively recent invention) or to cover one hundred hides of land. (The hide was a unit used in assessing land for liability to "geld", or land tax, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 11th centuries. A very old English unit of area, a hide was of variable size depending on localation and the quality of the land. It was the amount of land to support a family, and ranged from 60 to 180 acres. After the Norman conquest in 1066 it became standardized at around 120 acres.)

Whatever it's origins, the most important aspect of a hundred by the fourteenth century was that it had its own court.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Fosser was a medieval term for a gravedigger or sexton.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Burned Wine

No - this is not something that happens if you spill your glass over the gas stove! Burned wine was formerly a term for brandy.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


A corrody is an allowance of food and clothing from an abbey, monastery, or other religious house. Previosuly it was a form of medieval pension in which a wealthy patron would pay for a post in a religious house on behalf of a retired servant. The retired person would be given his accomodation, food, clothing and a small spending allowance.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Hissy fit

Hissy fit is an extraordinarily annoying term used to describe a temper tantrum. (That was someone else's definition but I happen to agree! - Sorry GB but you did ask!!!)

A sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe female anger at something trivial. Originally regional from American South. Thought to originate from contraction of "hysterical fit."

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Craven as an adjective means lacking even the rudiments of courage; abjectly fearful.

Craven can also be a noun and like its alternative, cravenness, means an abject coward; ignoble coward; or poltroon.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Tussore or tussah is a rough silk that is woven from the cocoons of an oriental moth that produces brownish silk.

Friday, 12 February 2010


Csárdás (pronounced "char-dash") is a traditional Hungarian folk dance, the name derived from csárda (old Hungarian name for a pub). It makes a great word for crossword enthusiasts!

Thursday, 11 February 2010


When I moved from Liverpool to Leeds in the 1960s I had some trouble initially with working out what things were called in the bakers and cake shops. Things that I had known as barm cakes were baps, cottage loaves were barms, rolls were something else (I forget what now), and so on. Consequently when I came across the word bap the other day I thought I'd look up its formal definition.

A bap is a small loaf or larger roll of soft bread, originally from Scotland, roughly 5-6 inches in diameter. I wonder if the Trading Standards have definitions for these various things - I'm sure they must have.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Wicked Bible


The Wicked Bible was so-called because the word ‘not’ was omitted from the seventh commandment leaving it as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. It was printed by Barker and Lucas, King Charles I’s printers at Blackfriars in 1631. It has also been called the Adulterer’s Bible.

Another Bible has also held the title Wicked Bible or Unrighteous Bible. It was printed in Cambridge in 1653 and contained the words ‘The Unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God’ instead of ‘shall not inherit’ (I Corinthians vi 9).


Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Ethicurean is a recently coined word to refer to a person whose eating and drinking habits are formed by their ethical principles.


Monday, 8 February 2010



In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary something that is sepilible is defined as that which may be buried. I'm not sure in what context the word might have been used! The word was first recorded by Nathan bailey, a lexicographer who died in 1742.


Sunday, 7 February 2010



Anagogical is an archaic word meaning mystical, spiritual, or having a secondary spiritual sense. Anagogy was the spiritual or mystical interpretation of a word or passage (especially in the Bible) beyond the literal, allegorical or moral sense.


Saturday, 6 February 2010

Global dimming


Global dimming is the reduction in light reaching the surface of the planet. Each year less light reaches the surface of earth as a result of the increase in black carbon and other particulates in the atmosphere. The consequent ‘global dimming’ is considered a direct result of human activity.


Friday, 5 February 2010



Tocsin is the sound of an alarm (usually a bell); a warning bell.


Thursday, 4 February 2010



The word bacn was coined in August 2007 and refers to unsolicited e-mail that the recipient actually wants or needs (or a superior feels they ought to need) but not right now. On the e-mail scale it falls between ham (legitimate e-mail) and spam.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010



Although I cannot find it on the web I understand that ‘nitchy’ is a dialect term from Sussex meaning olde worlde, cosy etc. The sort of word that would be used to describe tea shoppes and coffee shops.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Occasionally I seek help with a word on this blog. Foulroyce is just such a word.

I came across it in the letters of John Clare (Feb 7th 1825:- "I always admire the kindling freshness that the bark of the different sorts of trees & underwood assume in the forest – the foulroyce twigs kindle into a vivid colour at their tops as red as woodpigeons claws..."

I assume foulroyce was a dialect name for a particular plant. The study of such names was at one time of great interest to me but I never came across the name foulroyce. Has anyone any idea which plant it might be? (Or, if my assumption is incorrect, an idea what the word might mean?)

Monday, 1 February 2010


A blackjack is a weapon - a piece of metal covered by leather with a flexible handle; used for hitting people.


Sunday, 31 January 2010

Mushroom or Toadstool

Porcelain Fungus
Being an amateur naturalist I have often come across this issue of what is the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool. And the answer is simple - there is no difference because neither is a 'correct' scientific term.

Polyporus squamosus

The fungi comprise a large group of organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and moulds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms/toadstools. Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants, animals and bacteria. One major difference is that fungal cells have cell walls that contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, which contain cellulose. These and other differences show that the fungi form a single group of related organisms, named the Eumycota (true fungi or Eumycetes), that share a common ancestor (a monophyletic group).

 Mucilago crustacea - a slime mould

This fungal group is distinct from the structurally similar slime moulds (myxomycetes) and water moulds (oomycetes). The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.

Amethyst Deceivers

The terms mushroom and toadstool are both used to apply to the fleshy body of any of numerous fungi - both edible and inedible.

an Agrocybe species

To complicate matters the term mushroom is sometimes used to include toadstools and sometimes they are used the other way round. How can something include something else that has the same meaning? The answer lies in whether the fungal fruiting body has a stem and a cap with gills. If it does it may be described as a mushroom (or toadstool) to differentiate it from some fungi that don't have these three features.

A Boletus species - with a stem and cap but no gills!

A further way in which the terms are confusingly used is that 'mushrooms' is sometimes used for edible species and 'toadstools' for poisonous ones. Since some edible species look identical to poisonous ones and can only be told apart by microscopic examination of the spores this is the most unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) of the ways in which the names are used.

This Yellow Stainer is poisonous and yet it looks
like the sort of 'mushrooms' you buy in the shops.

In summary, therefore, they are all fungi and the terms mushroom and toadstool are usually used loosely to refer to fruiting bopdies with caps, gills and a stem.

(If you enjoyed this post  thank Dawn Treader for the idea.  If you got bored or confused half way through, blame me!!).

Saturday, 30 January 2010


Although orotund sounds like the description of a man with a beer belly it actually means bombastic; ostentatiously lofty in style; pompous (of writing); characterized by fullness, clarity, strength, and smoothness of sound.

It is a strange word as it appears to be complimentary when it relates to sound but critical when used about writing style.

Friday, 29 January 2010


I came across this word the other day and have to admit I didn’t even understand the definition. An enantiomoprh is either one of a pair of compounds (crystals or molecules) that are mirror images of each other but are not identical. How can something be a mirror image and yet not be identical. Surely by definition if it is a mirror image it must be identical (except a mirror image!!!). Ah well, it would be a bit much if I could understand all the definitions!

Thursday, 28 January 2010


A hanaper, was originally a case or basket to contain a "hanap " which was a drinking vessel, a goblet with a foot or stem; the term hanap is still used by antiquaries for medieval stemmed cups. The word hanaper was also used to mean a kind of basket, usually of wickerwork, for the packing and carrying of articles; a hamper.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


In heraldry, murrey is a "stain", a rarely used tincture, supposedly the colour of mulberries, somewhere between gules (red) and purpure (violet). Elsewhere it was used to mean blood coloured but is now no longer in common usage.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


The word cadge is usually used to mean to beg; to obtain something by wit or guile; or even to convince someone to do something they might not normally do.

The word is also used for a circular frame on which 'cadgers' carry hawks for sale or to go hawking. The Canadian Chickadee discovered that the origin of cadge as a word meaning to beg may originally have come from this use in hawking:-
"Regarding "cadge": Here's what Thomas Costain said about it in his book, "The Three Edwards" (Doubleday & Co., c. 1958) on pp. 39-40 in the section on falconry:

'An important if indolent member of the retinue was always the cadge-boy. From his shoulders was suspended a wooden frame which held, before the start of the hunt, the birds to be used.' The section then goes on to describe the various kinds of birds used, etc. before continuing: 'Once the hunters had reached a cleared space and released their birds, the cadge-boy, with nothing but an empty frame on his back, loafed about for tips. Thus came into general usage the word "cadge."'

The modern portable equivalent is a small plastic frame - which I found illustrated on a number of sites including Merlin Falconry.

A larger frame for displaying the birds rather than carrying them was also called a cadge on some sites such as Raphael Falconry.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Uxorious means foolishly fond of or submissive to your wife. Another definition suggests it means overly devoted or submissive to one's wife. I can appreciate that one can be overly submissive but can one really be overly devoted to one's wife?

Answers on a post card please to...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Answers on a postcard, please

At one time (long ago, in my youth) newspapers and magazines in Britain used to publish conundrums or quiz questions for their readers, with a small prize for the first correct reply, or the first 10 correct replies, or whatever.

Until a few years ago a postcard cost less to mail than a letter, and postcards were also easier for the magazine staff to sort through (no opening of envelopes), so the standard instruction was "Answers on a postcard, please, to [the magazine address]". So this became an idiom for "If anybody knows, please tell me".

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Two nations separated by a common language

In respect of the word hutch - see yesterday's post - I was reminded of the quotation about England and America - ‘Two nations separated by a common language.’

Often quoted by GB, I was not sure whether the originator of this phrase was Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. The answer appears to be both. In The Canterville Ghost (1887), Wilde wrote: ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. However, the 1951 Treasury of Humorous Quotations (Esar & Bentley) quoted Shaw as saying: ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’, but without giving a source. The quote had earlier been attributed to Shaw in the Reader’s Digest (November 1942).

Much the same idea occurred to Bertrand Russell (Saturday Evening Post, 3 June 1944): ‘It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language’, and in a radio talk prepared by Dylan Thomas shortly before his death (and published after it in The Listener, April 1954) - European writers and scholars in America were, he said, ‘up against the barrier of a common language’.

Inevitably this sort of dubious and almost certainly erroneous attribution has also been seen: ‘Winston Churchill said our two countries were divided by a common language’ (The Times, 26 January 1987; The European, 22 November 1991.)


Friday, 22 January 2010


Heather recently stated that she kept things underneath her hutch. This prompted me to comment:-
"I don't have a hutch... Over here a hutch is a cage that one keeps pets in - especially rabbits. So reading this in UK English rather suggests you have a big ears and sleep in a wood and wire cage but at least the fact that you store things underneath it suggests you are allowed out occasionally! :-) "

Upon checking I also discovered that in UK English was not only a “cage (usually made of wood and wire mesh) for small animals” but was also a hovel: small crude shelter used as a dwelling .

Heather responded by telling me that a ” hutch for "me" - can't say that for all US peoples but for me - is a formal wooden place to keep china, dishes, special glass and such. Mine has glass doors on the top section, a counter space for keeping books and what not's and a lower section with cupboards (where all of my photos be).”

In the UK this would probably be called a dresser but the use of the word hutch for this was confirmed by Wikipedia – “A hutch is a type of furniture that usually consists of a set of shelves or cabinets placed on top of a lower unit with a counter and either drawers or cabinets. Hutches are often seen in the form of desks, dining room or kitchen furniture. Frequently referred to by furniture aficionados as a hutch dresser.”


Thursday, 21 January 2010


One of my daughters got a Garklein for Christmas. When I put define: garklein in Google I found only this –
Die Garkleinblockflöte in c ist die regulär kleinste Baugröße der Blockflöte.  As I only know French, English and Latin that didn't help me much.

Fortunately she had already told me what a Garklein was – a mini-recorder.

The Garklein-Flötlein is the smallest recorder in the family and is rarely used by the recorder orchestra. Being only 6 inches long in total with only 3 inches covering all 7 holes, small fingers are essential! As a result of the instrument's small size, standard note fingerings do not always work and the player will need to learn several alternate fingerings. Unlike all the other recorders, the garklein barely covers a two octave range and therefore the sopranino can potentially reach higher notes than the garklein - as a result, the instrument only tends to be used when fingering on the sopranino is more awkward than fingering the same notes on the garklein.