Saturday, October 31, 2009


lutefisk \ˈlüt-ˌfisk, ˈlü-tə-\ noun: dried codfish that has been soaked in a water and lye solution before cooking

Etymology: Norwegian, from lute to wash in lye solution + fisk fish

I’ve never tried lutefisk, but I’m curious.

Friday, October 30, 2009


pannus \ˈpan- əs\ noun: 1. a hanging flap of tissue, 2. a growth of blood vessels in the normally avascular cornea of the eye

Etymology: Latin pannus cloth, garment

When involving the abdomen, a pannus is called a panniculus and consists of skin and fat. It can be the result of obesity, weight loss or pregnancy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


earworm \ˈir-wərm\ noun: a piece of music that repeats compulsively within one’s mind (colloquially “music stuck in one’s head”)

Etymology: German Ohrwurm

Wikipedia remarks, “Earworms should not be confused with endomusia, which is a serious affliction in which someone actually hears music that is not playing externally.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


calque \ˈkalk\ noun: a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation
transitive verb: to create a calque through the aforementioned process

Etymology: French calque calque, loan translation, from calquer to trace, from Italian calcare to trample, trace, from Latin, to trample

• English earworm calques German Ohrwurm
• English Adam’s apple calques French pomme d’Adam
• English blue-blood calques Spanish sangre azul
• German Wolkenkratzer calques English skyscaper
• French gratte-ciel calques English skyscaper
• Spanish rascacielos calques English skyscaper
• Dutch aardappel calques French pomme de terre (literally “earth apple,” although the object in English is known by the word potato)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


equiponderant \ˌe-kwə-ˈpän-d(ə-)rənt\ adjective: evenly balanced

Etymology: Medieval Latin aequiponderare, from Latin aequi- equal + ponderare to weigh

It is efficient to possess a word that can otherwise only be expressed as a ponderous phrase, but equiponderant is just as syllabically concise as its definition.

Monday, October 26, 2009


cumbrous \ˈkəm-b(ə-)rəs\ adjective: cumbersome

Etymology: Middle English, from cumbren to annoy

Cumbrous is lithe where cumbersome stumbles; you could even say cumbrous is less cumbrous.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


cadge \ˈkaj\ verb: beg {cadge a free cup of coffee}

Etymology: back-formation from Scots cadger carrier, huckster, from Middle English cadgear

Would you rather beg or cadge?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


habitué \hə-ˈbi-chə-ˌwā\ noun: 1. a person who may be regularly found in or at a particular place or kind of place {café habitués},
2. devotee {a backgammon habitué}

Etymology: French, from past participle of habituer to frequent, from Late Latin habituare to habituate, from Latin habitus

Are you a habitué of some place or thing?

Friday, October 23, 2009


pareidolia /pær-ī-ˈdōl-yə/ noun: the psychological phenomenon of perceiving significant images or sounds in random stimuli or meaningless data

Etymology: Greek para- beside + eidolon, diminutive of eidos image, form

Examples of pareidolia include seeing animal shapes or faces in clouds and hearing messages embedded in pop song recordings played in reverse.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tapetum lucidum

tapetum lucidum /tə-pē'təm 'lü-si-dəm/ noun: a membrane behind the retina of many animals responsible for improving vision in low-light conditions by reflecting received light back through the retina, making it available to photorecptors

Etymology: Latin tapetum lucidum bright tapestry

Three notes on the tapetum lucidum:
• Humans do not have tapeta lucida, but cats and dogs do. That’s why your pet gives you that creepy eyeshine when you catch its stare at the proper angle.
• Whereas the night vision of animals possessing tapeta lucida is better than that of those who do not, that vision comes at the price of clarity; all that light bouncing back inside the eyeball blurs the edges of perceived images.
• I dissected a cow eye several years ago. Its tapetum lucidum possessed a beautiful, metallic, bluish iridescence. (Don’t ask me what a cow — a diurnal creature — was doing with a tapetum lucidum. But sure enough, there it was when I sliced away.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


quintessence \kwin-ˈte-sən(t)s\ noun: 1. the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies,
2. the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form,
3. the most typical example or representative {the quintessence of calm}

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French quinte essence, from Medieval Latin quinta essentia, literally, fifth essence

I can comprehend that a word denoting an element permeating everything can acquire the sense of “pure nature” or “representative example,” but viewed solely in relation to its literal etymology — “fifth essence” — it sounds funny. Wouldn’t you want your “first essence” to be your archetype?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


quantum \ˈkwän-təm\ (plural quanta \ˈkwän-tə\) noun: 1 a. quantity, amount, b. portion, part, c. gross quantity; bulk, 2. any of the very small increments or parcels into which many forms of energy are subdivided
adjective: 1. large, significant {a quantum improvement}, 2. of, relating to, or employing the principles of quantum mechanics

Etymology: Latin, neuter of quantus how much

Quantum pulls such heavy weight in the language of physics that it bears stressing its quotidian denotations.

Monday, October 19, 2009


autumnal \aw-ˈtəm-nəl\ adjective: 1. of or relating to autumn; occuring in autumn, 2. having to do with a period of maturity or incipient decline

Etymology: Middle English autumpne, from Latin autumnus

I had always pronounced this word correctly: auTUMnal. Then I read somewhere that the stress should be placed on the first syllable: AUtumnal. It felt wrong, but I complied. Now Merriam-Webster corroborates my initial instinct. Either I misread that other authority (whose identity is now forgotten) or I dreamed up the whole thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


yean \ˈyēn, ˈēn\ intransitive verb: to bring forth young (used of a sheep or goat)

Etymology: Middle English yenen, from Old English *geēanian, from Old English ge- perfective prefix + ēanian to yean

Yean’s definition and etymology are taken from Merriam-Webster (as are most of the entries on Sklonklish). M-W placed an asterisk before geēanian—I don’t know why. If you do, please explain in the comments section.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


ocularist \ˈä-kyə-lə-rist\ noun: a person who makes and fits artificial eyes

Etymology: Latin oculus eye

Are you personally acquainted with someone who happens to be an ocularist?

Friday, October 16, 2009


zaftig \ˈzäf-tig\ adjective: (of a woman) having a full rounded figure; pleasingly plump

Etymology: Yiddish zaftik juicy, succulent, from zaft juice, sap, from Middle High German saf, saft, from Old High German saf sap

Can zaftig be used for inanimate objects like blimps or pies?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


roan \ˈrōn, ˈrō-ən\ adjective: having the base color (as red, black or brown) muted and lightened by admixture of white hairs {a roan horse}
noun: 1. an animal (as a horse) with a roan coat (usually used of a red roan when unqualified), 2. the color of a roan horse (used especially when the base color is red)

Etymology: Middle French, from Old Spanish roano

Why do I get the feeling people use the word roan at renaissance fairs?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


ruction \ˈrək-shən\ noun: 1. a noisy fight, 2. disturbance, uproar

Etymology: perhaps by shortening & alteration from insurrection

Where has this word been all my life?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


unctuous \ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs, -chəs, -shwəs\ adjective: 1 a. fatty, oily, b. smooth and greasy in texture or appearance, 2. plastic {fine unctuous clay}, 3 a. full of unction, b. revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating and false earnestness or spirituality

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

Sklonklish has been around for over ten months, and unctuous is only now making an appearance. Unbelievable.

Monday, October 12, 2009


superincumbent \ˌsü-pər-in-ˈkəm-bənt\ adjective: lying or resting and usually exerting pressure on something else

Etymology: Latin superincumbere to lie on top of, from super- over, above + incumbere to lie down on

If you were in middle school and just learned this word, you’d use it in a risqué double entendre, wouldn't you?

Sunday, October 11, 2009


recondite \ˈre-kən-ˌdīt, ri-ˈkän-dīt\ adjective: 1. hidden from sight; concealed, 2. difficult or impossible for one of ordinary understanding or knowledge to comprehend; deep {a recondite subject}, 3. of, relating to, or dealing with something little known or obscure {recondite fact about the origin of the holiday — Floyd Dell}

Etymology: Latin reconditus, past participle of recondere to conceal, from re- back, again, against + condere to store up (from com- with, together + -dere to put)

Do you say recondite or recondite?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


punctilio \ˌpəŋk-ˈti-lē-ˌō\ noun: 1. a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code, 
2. careful observance of forms (as in social conduct)

Etymology: Italian puntiglio point of honor, scruple, from Spanish puntillo, from diminutive of punto point, from Latin punctum

Merriam-Webster dates punctilio’s earliest written usage at 1596. Despite more than four hundred years of life on the lips of English speakers, the word doesn’t sound very English, at least to my ears.

Friday, October 9, 2009


obfuscate \ˈäb-fə-ˌskāt\ transitive verb: 1 a. darken, b. to make obscure {obfuscate the issue}, 2. confuse {obfuscate the reader}
intransitive verb: to be evasive, unclear or confusing

Etymology: Late Latin obfuscatus, past participle of obfuscare, from Latin ob- in the way + fuscus dark brown

Obfuscate is a common word, but sometimes visiting a common word’s dictionary entry helps to refresh one’s understanding of the word and to fortify one’s confidence in using it. Often there is even a surprise waiting to be discovered, an “I didn’t know that!” moment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


nesh \ˈnesh\ adjective: (British regional dialect) 1. soft, delicate, 2 a. averse to cold weather, b. of or relating to persons sensitive to cold

Etymology: Old English hnesce soft

Bathsheba and her housekeeper/confidant Liddy discussed Fanny, whose lifeless body lay downstairs. Would Fanny’s ghost haunt the house as they tried to sleep through the night? Liddy concluded, “She was such a childlike, nesh young thing that her spirit couldn't appear to anybody if it tried, I'm quite sure.” (The scene is from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd [1874].)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


truculent \ˈtrək-lənt\ adjective: 1. feeling or displaying ferocity; cruel, savage, 2. deadly, destructive, 3. scathingly harsh; vitriolic {truculent criticism},
 4. aggressively self-assertive; belligerent

Etymology: Latin truculentus, from truc-, trux savage

Truculent may have many senses to it, but they all spell trouble.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


penumbra \pə-ˈnəm-brə\ noun: 1 a. a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light, b. a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot,
 2. a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree; fringe,
 3. a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution, 
4. something that covers, surrounds or obscures; shroud {a penumbra of secrecy} {a penumbra of somber dignity has descended over his reputation — James Atlas}

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin paene almost + umbra shadow

Lots of good definitions here, people. Let’s start using them!

Monday, October 5, 2009


supererogatory \ˌsü-pər-i-ˈrä-gə-ˌtor-ē\ adjective: observed or performed to an extent not enjoined or required, 2. superfluous

Etymology: Latin superērogō pay out over and above, from super above + ērogō pay out, expend (from ex out of, from + rogō ask, request)

When this word is pronounced it sounds like stuttering.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


pharisaical \ˌfa-rə-ˈsā-ə-kəl\ adjective: 1. of or pertaining to the Pharisees, 2. of a person or practice that emphasizes the observance of ritual or practice over meaning, 3. marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness

Etymology: From Pharisee, from Hebrew prushim, from parush detached one (i.e., one who is separated for a life of purity)

Merriam-Webster gives definition 3 only, while Wiktionary supplies definitions 1 and 2 without mentioning 3. In my sklonking travels, it has been rare that word authorities differ so greatly.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


euphonious \yü-ˈfō-nē-əs\ adjective: pleasing to the ear

Etymology: Greek eu well (from neuter of eys good) + -phōnos sounding (from phōnē sound, voice)

Have you ever taken pleaure from an otherwise unremarkable song merely because the instrumental or vocal sounds therein were euphonious?

Friday, October 2, 2009


dysphoria \dis-ˈfor-ē-ə\ noun: a state of feeling unwell or unhappy

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek, from dysphoros hard to bear, from dys- + pherein to bear

Does it need to be pointed out that dysphoria is antonymous to euphoria?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


moxie \ˈmäk-sē\ noun: 1. energy, pep, 2. courage, determination, 3. know-how

Etymology: from Moxie, a trademark for a soft drink

Can one’s moxie be poxie? Can one have poxie moxie?