Thursday, April 30, 2009


chine \ˈchīn\ noun: 1. backbone, spine, 2. a cut of meat including all or part of the backbone, 3. the intersection of the bottom and the sides of a flat or V-bottomed boat

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French eschine, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German scina shinbone, needle

The sound of the word chine makes me think of chyme. Try using both words in one sentence (and have that sentence make sense!).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


allée \ä-ˈlā\ noun: a walkway lined with trees or tall shrubs

Etymology: French, from Middle French alee, from aler to go

The New Jersey Botanical Garden in Ringwood has a beautiful crab apple allée stretching half a mile.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


dehisce \di-ˈhis\ intransitive verb: 1. to split along a natural line, 2. to discharge contents by so splitting {seedpods dehiscing at maturity}

Etymology: Latin dehiscere to split open, from de- + hiscere to gape

Yesterday drupe was described as indehiscent, meaning it remains closed at maturity. There was also a lot of ‘carping going on in yesterday’s post. The endocarp, mesocarp and exocarp are, respectively, the inner, middle and outer layers of a fruit. In sum they make up the pericarp.

Monday, April 27, 2009


drupe \ˈdrüp\ noun: a one-seeded indehiscent fruit having a hard bony endocarp, a fleshy mesocarp and a thin exocarp that is flexible (as in the cherry) or dry and almost leathery (as in the almond)

Etymology: New Latin drupa, from Latin, overripe olive, from Greek dryppa olive

Joyce Kilmer’s lost opportunity: “I think that there is no such fruit / As leath’ry as the almond drupe.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009


pome \ˈpōm\ noun: a fleshy fruit (as an apple or pear) consisting of an outer thickened fleshy layer and a central core with usually five seeds enclosed in a capsule

Etymology: Middle English, fruit, from Anglo-French pume, pomme apple, fruit, ultimately from Late Latin pomum

Joyce Kilmer wrote, “I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.” He could have written, “I think that I shall never eat / A pome as lovely as a loquat,” but it doesn’t rhyme. Plus, had he ever even tasted a loquat?

Saturday, April 25, 2009


dither \ˈdi-thər\ intransitive verb: 1. shiver, tremble, 2. to act nervously or indecisively; vacillate
noun: a highly nervous, excited or agitated state; excitement, confusion

Etymology: Middle English didderen

Dither is also a scientific term. Explore it here on Wikipedia, and make sure you read the fascinating quote from Ken Pohlmann’s Principles of Digital Audio in the subsection “Origin of the word ‘dither.’”

Friday, April 24, 2009


pudendum \pyu-ˈden-dəm\ noun: the external genital organs of a human being and especially of a woman (usually used in the plural, pudenda)

Etymology: New Latin, singular of Latin pudenda, from neuter plural of pudendus, gerundive of pudēre to be ashamed

What does it say of a culture when its people basically refer to their agents of propagation as their “shame?”

Thursday, April 23, 2009


disputatious \ ˌdi-spyü-ˈtā- shəs\ adjective: 1 a. inclined to dispute, b. marked by disputation, 2. provoking debate; controversial

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French desputer, from Latin disputare to discuss, from dis- + putare to think

Working from dispute, it’s easy enough to assume the correct definition of disputatious. Why then do we rarely hear the word in conversation?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


shambolic \sham-ˈbä-lik\ adjective: obviously disorganized or confused (chiefly British)

Etymology: probably from shambles

This word looks like it should mean either “symbolic of a sham” or “falsely symbolic.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jam karet

jam karet \ˌjäm-kä-ˈrät\ noun: a sense of casually extended time in which deadlines are soft and fluid

Etymology: Indonesian jam karet rubber time

If you’re wondering what’s inspired all the barong pictures these past few days, check out my friends Gamelan Dharma Swara. This group of musicians and dancers is playing a concert in New York City on May 2nd. Think about attending if you’re in the area and enjoy being dazzled by dynamic cascades of shimmering brilliance. Info about the show can be found on their website.

Monday, April 20, 2009


descry \di-ˈskrī\ transitive verb: 1. to catch sight of {I descried a sail — Jonathan Swift}, 2. find out, discover

Etymology: Middle English descrien to proclaim, reveal, from Anglo-French descrier, alteration of Old French decrier, from de- + crier to cry

I think you’re only allowed to use this word at a renaissance fair.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


meniscus \mə-ˈnis-kəs\ noun: 1. a crescent or crescent-shaped body, 2. a concavo-convex lens, 3. the curved upper surface of a column of liquid, 4. a fibrous cartilage within a joint especially of the knee

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek mēniskos, from diminutive of mēnē moon, crescent

What’s more terrifying: a vicious meniscus or a viscous meniscus?

Saturday, April 18, 2009


nepheligenous /ˌnef-ə-lə-ˈje-nəs/ adjective: producing clouds of smoke

Etymology: Greek nephos cloud + -logy

Nephology is the study of clouds and nepheloid means “cloudy.”

Friday, April 17, 2009


juvenescence \ˌjü-və-ˈne-sən(t)s\ noun: the state of being youthful or of growing young

Etymology: Latin juvenilis, from juvenis young person + crescere to grow

The sound of this word as it’s uttered tickles the ear.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


gustatory \ˈgəs-tə-ˌtor-ē\ adjective: relating to or associated with eating or the sense of taste

Etymology: Latin, from gustare

The noun gustation means “the act or sensation of tasting.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


tumescent \tü-ˈme-sənt\ adjective: somewhat swollen {tumescent tissue}

Etymology: Latin tumescent-, tumescens, present participle of tumescere to swell up, inchoative of tumēre to swell

You can have a lot of fun with this word.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


bodkin \ˈbäd-kən\ noun: 1 a. dagger, stiletto, b: a sharp slender instrument for making holes in cloth, c: an ornamental hairpin shaped like a stiletto, 2 a. blunt needle with a large eye for drawing tape or ribbon through a loop or hem

Etymology: Middle English bodekin

Cute word for a dangerous object.

Monday, April 13, 2009


aleatory \ˈā-lē-ə-ˌtor-ē\ adjective: 1: depending on an uncertain event or contingency as to both profit and loss {an aleatory contract}, 2: relating to luck and especially to bad luck, 3: aleatoric; characterized by chance or indeterminate elements {aleatory music}

Etymology: Latin aleatorius of a gambler, from aleator gambler, from alea a dice game

I first heard this term as a descriptor of certain 20th century music.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


logy \ˈlō-gē\ adjective: marked by sluggishness and lack of vitality; groggy

Etymology: perhaps from Dutch log heavy; akin to Middle Low German luggich lazy

I most often hear this word to describe a person who is sluggish and
tired from having eaten a large meal.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


viscid \ˈvi-səd\ adjective: 1 a. having an adhesive quality; sticky, b. having a glutinous consistency; viscous, 2. covered with a sticky layer

Etymology: Late Latin viscidus, from Latin viscum birdlime

Viscous sounds stickier than viscid, but viscid is still a pretty cool word.

Friday, April 10, 2009


plectrum \ˈplek-trəm\ noun: a small thin piece (as of plastic or metal) used to pluck the strings of a stringed instrument; pick

Etymology: Latin, from Greek plēktron, from plēssein to strike

Last night I heard a busker strumming Libba Cotten's "Freight Train." Strumming! As in, "not fingerpicking." What's the world coming to?

Thursday, April 9, 2009


steatopygia \ˌstē-a-tə-ˈpi-j(ē-)ə, -ˈpī-\ noun: an excessive development of fat on the buttocks

Etymology: New Latin, from steat-, stear + Greek pygē buttocks

Just brainstorming, I guess stereopygia would be “the property of having solid buttocks.” And who would possess stereopygia? Athletes, I reckon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


callipygian \ˌka-lə-ˈpi-j(ē-)ən\ also callipygous \-ˈpī-gəs\ adjective: having shapely buttocks

Etymology: Greek kallipygos, from kalli- beautiful + pygē buttocks

Calligraphy and kaleidoscope are also constructed from kallos, the ancient Greek word for beauty.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


ternary \ˈtər-nə-rē\ adjective: 1 a. of, relating to, or proceeding by threes, b. having three elements, parts, or divisions, c. arranged in threes {ternary petals}, 2. using three as the base {a ternary logarithm}, 3 a. being or consisting of an alloy of three elements, b. of, relating to, or containing three different elements, atoms, radicals, or groups {sulfuric acid is a ternary acid}, 4. third in order or rank

Etymology: Middle English, from Latin ternarius, from terni three each

Every word can’t be exciting; ternary is one that’s boring, but important.

Monday, April 6, 2009


plangent \ˈplan-jənt\ adjective: 1. having a loud reverberating sound {a plangent roar}, 2. having an expressive and especially plaintive quality {plangent lyrics}

Etymology: Latin plangent-, plangens, present participle of plangere to strike, lament

Could the House of Plantagenet be said to have been plangent in any way? A plangent Plantagenet?

Sunday, April 5, 2009


apiary \ˈā-pē-ˌer-ē\ noun: a place where bees are kept, especially a collection of hives or colonies of bees kept for their honey

Etymology: Latin apiarium, from apis bee

Well, then, where do you keep your apes?

Saturday, April 4, 2009


comity \ˈkä-mə-tē, ˈkō-\ noun: 1 a. friendly social atmosphere; social harmony {group activities promoting comity} b. a loose widespread community based on common social institutions {the comity of civilization}

Etymology: Latin comitat-, comitas, from comis courteous, probably from Old Latin cosmis, from com- + -smis (akin to Sanskrit smayate he smiles)

There should be a genre of humor called “the comedy of comity.”

Friday, April 3, 2009


edentulous \(ˌ)ē-ˈden-chə-ləs\ adjective: toothless

Etymology: Latin edentulus, from e- + dent-, dens

Must edentulous always be intended literally, or can it bear toothless’s figurative sense of “lacking in sharpness or bite; ineffectual?”

Thursday, April 2, 2009


dicker \ˈdi-kər\ intransitive verb: to bargain or haggle {dickered over the price}

Etymology: origin unknown

Why haggle when you can dicker?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


chronophagous \krə-ˈnä-fə-gəs\ adjective: 1. using or taking up a great deal of time; time-consuming {chronophagous chores}, 2. wasteful of time {chronophagous tactics}

Etymology: Greek chrono-, from chronos time + -phagos, from phagein to eat

Time-consuming is fine among friends, but use chronophagous if you’re feeling pretentious.