Tuesday, June 30, 2009


moiety \ˈmoi-ə-tē\ noun: 1 a. one of two equal parts; half, b. one of two approximately equal parts, 2. one of the portions into which something is divided; component, part {an ether molecule with a benzene moiety}, 3. one of two basic complementary tribal subdivisions

Etymology: Middle English moite, from Anglo-French meité, moité, from Late Latin medietat-, medietas, from Latin medius middle

What a strange sounding word.

Monday, June 29, 2009


tumbrel or tumbril \ˈtəm-brəl\ noun: 1. a farm tipcart, 2. a vehicle carrying condemned persons (as political prisoners during the French Revolution) to a place of execution

Etymology: Middle English tomrel, from Old French tomberel, from tomber to tumble, perhaps of Germanic origin

“Any man has the God-given right to ascribe any meaning whatsoever as they tumbril by: S.E. Asia, Poverty, Napalm, G. Society….Moon, yet. Labels for ego, all.” — Walt Kelly, Easter Morning 1967, excerpted from the forward to Prehysterical Pogo (in Pandemonia)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


caliginous \kə-ˈli-jə-nəs\ adjective: misty, dark {a caliginous atmosphere}

Etymology: Middle French caligineux, from Latin caliginosus, from caligin-, caligo darkness

To my ears this word does not sound like what it means.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


bathykolpian \ˌba-thə-ˈkōl-p(ē-)ən\ adjective: 1. deep bosomed, 2. big breasted

Etymology: Greek bathus deep + kolpos cleft, gulf

Bathykolpian is the companion word to callipygian.

Friday, June 26, 2009


rictus \ˈrik-təs\ noun: 1. the gape of a bird's mouth, 2 a. the mouth orifice, b. a gaping grin or grimace

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, open mouth, from ringi to open the mouth

“His smile was the rictus of a beast.” — Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence

Thursday, June 25, 2009


celerity \sə-ˈler-ə-tē, -ˈle-rə-\ noun: rapidity of motion or action

Etymology: Middle English celerite, from Anglo-French, from Latin celeritat-, celeritas, from celer swift

You thought of the word celery, didn't you?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


prandial \ˈpran-dē-əl\ adjective: of or relating to a meal

Etymology: Latin prandium late breakfast, luncheon

We’ve all heard of a “postprandial nip” (a drink after a meal); perhaps less known is the “postprandial dip,” or mild decrease in blood sugar level after the ingestion of a heavy meal. It can lead to irresistible drowsiness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


sesquipedalian \ˌses-kwə-pə-ˈdāl-yən\ adjective: 1. having many syllables; long {sesquipedalian terms}, 2. given to or characterized by the use of long words {a sesquipedalian television commentator}

Etymology: Latin sesquipedalis, literally, a foot and a half long, from sesqui- + ped-, pes foot

Sesquipedalian is sesquipedalian.

Monday, June 22, 2009


costive \ˈkäs-tiv\ adjective: 1 a. affected with constipation, b. causing constipation, 2. slow in action or expression, 3. not generous; stingy

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French costivé, past participle of costiver to constipate, from Latin constipare

Today is the 19th anniversary of the Post-Summer Solstice Fest.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


onanism \ˈō-nə-ˌni-zəm\ noun: 1. masturbation, 2. coitus interruptus, 3. self-gratification

Etymology: probably from New Latin onanismus, from Onan, son of Judah (Genesis 38:9)

Ancient Hebrew law required a man to marry his deceased brother's widow. In the case of Onan, he didn’t want to bear children with his brother Er’s widow Tamar, so he spilled his seed at the decisive moment. God didn’t like that, so He killed Onan. Yikes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


glister \ˈglis-tər\ intransitive verb: glitter

Etymology: Middle English glistren

Gristle glistens, but blisters glister.

Friday, June 19, 2009


crimson \ˈkrim-zən\ noun: any of several deep purplish reds

Etymology: Middle English crimisin, from Old Spanish cremesín, from Arabic qirmizī, from qirmiz kermes

Today’s entry may not be a fancy ten-dollar word, but notice its etymology; crimson comes from kermes, the Mediterranean insects from yesterday’s post that give us a red dye.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


kermes \ˈkər-(ˌ)mēz\ noun: 1. the dried bodies of the females of various scale insects (genus Kermes) that are found on a Mediterranean oak (Quercus coccifera) and constitute a red dyestuff, 2. the red dye made therefrom

Etymology: French kermès, from Arabic qirmiz kermes

You guessed it—these guys are related to cochineal insects.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


desiccate \ˈde-si-ˌkāt\ transitive verb: 1. to dry up, 2. to preserve (a food) by drying; dehydrate, 3. to drain of emotional or intellectual vitality
intransitive verb: to become dried up

Etymology: Latin desiccatus, past participle of desiccare to dry up, from de- + siccare to dry, from siccus dry

Those poor cochineal insects from yesterday’s post are desiccated before they’re pulverized.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


cochineal \ˈkä-chə-ˌnēl, ˈkō-\ noun: 1. a scale insect (Dactylopius coccus) that lives on cacti from the genus Opuntia and feeds on plant moisture and nutrients, 2. a bright orange dye made from the desiccated, pulverized bodies of female cochineal insects (not to be confused with carmine, a vivid red dye made by further processing cochineal)

Etymology: Middle French cochenille, from Old Spanish cochinilla cochineal insect

Campari’s distinctive red color was originally due to carmine, but today a synthetic dye does the job.

Monday, June 15, 2009


incarnadine \in-ˈkär-nə-ˌdīn, -ˌdēn, -dən\ adjective: 1. having the pinkish color of flesh, 2. red, especially bloodred
transitive verb: to make incarnadine; redden

Etymology: Middle French incarnadin, from Old Italian incarnadino, from incarnato flesh-colored, from Late Latin incarnatus

In addition to meaning “made manifest,” incarnate can also be a synonym for incarnadine.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


oleaginous \ˌō-lē-ˈa-jə-nəs\ adjective: 1 a. resembling or having the properties of oil; oily, b. containing or producing oil, 2. marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French oleagineux, from Latin oleagineus of an olive tree, from olea olive tree, from Greek elaia

The man who pronounces entry words for Merriam-Webster sounds humorously earnest when uttering oleaginous. Listen to him here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


lagniappe \ˈlan-ˌyap\ noun: 1. a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase, 2. broadly, something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure

Etymology: American French, from American Spanish la ñapa the lagniappe, from la + ñapa, yapa, from Quechua yapa something added

Merchant gifting happens all the time, yet I never hear anyone use the term lagniappe to name it.

Friday, June 12, 2009


excrescence \ik-ˈskre-sən(t)s, ek-\ noun: 1. a projection or outgrowth especially when abnormal {warty excrescences in the colon}, 2. a disfiguring, extraneous, or unwanted mark or part; blot, 3. a secondary and sometimes unexpected or unintended result; by-product

Etymology: Latin ex- out + crescens, from crescere to grow, arise, thrive

I imagine it would be a scathing insult to call someone an excrescence.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


alluvium \ ə-ˈlü-vē-əm\ noun: clay, silt, sand, gravel, or similar detrital material deposited by running water (plural alluviums or alluvia)

Etymology: Latin alluvius, from Late Latin alluere wash, flow past, from ad- to, in addition + luere atone, fulfill, pay, wash, cleanse

There should be a nursery rhyme incorporating fluvial and alluvium.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


effluvium \e-ˈflü-vē-əm\ (variant effluvia) noun: 1. an invisible emanation, especially an offensive exhalation or smell, 2. a by-product especially in the form of waste (plural effluvia or effluviums)

Etymology: Latin effluvium act of flowing out, from effluere

Compare this word to fluvial.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


zany \ˈzā-nē\ noun: 1. a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal, 2. a slavish follower; toady, 3 a. one who acts the buffoon to amuse others, b. nut, kook
adjective: 1. being or having the characteristics of a zany, 2. fantastically or absurdly ludicrous {a zany movie}

Etymology: Italian zanni, a traditional masked clown, from Italian dialect Zanni, nickname for Italian Giovanni John

In light of the information presented here, it is a cruel joke to name one’s son John.

Monday, June 8, 2009


scaramouche \ˈskar-ə-ˌmüsh\ noun: 1. (capitalized) a stock character in the Italian commedia dell'arte that burlesques the Spanish don and is characterized by boastfulness and cowardliness, 2 a. a cowardly buffoon, b. rascal, scamp

Etymology: French Scaramouche, from Italian Scaramuccia, from scaramuccia skirmish

I never hear anyone use this word to call someone a coward or buffoon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


reticle \ˈre-ti-kəl\ noun: a scale on transparent material (as in an optical instrument) used especially for measuring or aiming

Etymology: Latin reticulum small net

We’re talking crosshairs on a rifle scope, just in case anyone thought reticle was a portmanteau from reticent and testicle.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


senescence \si-ˈne-sən(t)s\ noun: 1. the state of being old; the process of becoming old, 2. the growth phase in a plant or plant part (as a leaf) from full maturity to death

Etymology: senescent, from Latin senescent-, senescens, present participle of senescere to grow old, from sen-, senex old

Compare this word to April 17’s juvenescence.

Friday, June 5, 2009


tergiversation \ˌtər-ˌji-vər-ˈsā-shən, -ˌgi-; ˌtər-ji-(ˌ)vər-\ noun: 1. evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement; equivocation, 2. desertion of a cause, position, party or faith

Etymology: Latin tergiversatus, past participle of tergiversari to show reluctance, from tergum back + versare to turn, frequentative of vertere to turn

“Boldwood had for the first time been awakened to woman’s privileges in tergiversation even when it involves another person’s possible blight.” (Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd)

Thursday, June 4, 2009


ampulla \am-ˈpu-lə, ˈam-ˌpyü-lə\ noun: 1. a glass or earthenware flask with a globular body and two handles used especially by the ancient Romans to hold ointment, perfume, or wine, 2. a saccular anatomical swelling or pouch

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, from Latin, diminutive of amphora

The font used for this blog is Georgia. It doesn’t possess all the diacritics needed for the pronunciation guides. The u in the first pronunciation variant above, for example, should have a single dot over it, indicating a sound like the u in put.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


doula \ˈdü-lə\ noun: a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth

Etymology: Greek doulē female slave

Wikipedia states, “In Greece the word has negative connotations, denoting ‘slave,’ as some doulas have inadvertently discovered through their international social networks. For this reason some women performing professional labor support choose to call themselves ‘labor companions’ or ‘birthworkers.’”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


ichor \ˈī-ˌkor, -kər\ noun: 1. a thin watery or blood-tinged discharge, 2. an ethereal fluid taking the place of blood in the veins of the ancient Greek gods

Etymology: Greek ichōr


Monday, June 1, 2009


plagal \ˈplā-gəl\ adjective: 1. of a church mode, having the keynote on the fourth scale step, 2. of a cadence, progressing from the subdominant chord to the tonic

Etymology: Medieval Latin plagalis, ultimately from Greek plagios oblique, sideways, from plagos side; akin to Latin plaga net, region, Greek pelagos sea

Plagal’s etymology is related to yesterday’s word pelagic.