Tuesday, March 31, 2009


crenate \ˈkrē-ˌnāt\ or crenated \ˈkrē-ˌnā-təd\ adjective: having the margin or surface cut into rounded scallops {a crenate leaf}

Etymology: New Latin crenatus, from Medieval Latin crena notch

Here’s another case where a word can have two adjectival forms — one a past participle of the verb form, and one that looks exactly like the verb form. Yesterday’s entry had two such words (the entry word itself, crenulate, and a descriptor in the definition, serrate).

Monday, March 30, 2009


crenulate \ˈkren-yə-lət, -ˌlāt\ or crenulated \ˈkren-yə-ˌlā-təd\ adjective: having an irregularly wavy or serrate outline {a crenulated shoreline}

Etymology: New Latin crenulatus, from crenula, diminutive of Medieval Latin crena notch

Everyone uses the past participle of the verb serrate as an adjective (as in “a serrated knife”), but did you know that serrate by itself can be an adjective? In that case the stress may be placed on the first syllable.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


chitin \ˈkī-tən\ noun: a horny polysaccharide (C8H13NO5)n that forms part of the hard outer integument especially of insects, arachnids and crustaceans (chitinous \ˈkī-tən-əs, ˈkīt-nəs\ adjective)

Etymology: French chitine, from Greek chitōn

I am not going to make a joke about horny polysaccharides.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


umbrage \ˈəm-brij\ noun: 1. shade, shadow, 2. shady branches, foliage, 3 a. an indistinct indication, vague suggestion or hint, b. a reason for doubt, suspicion, 4. a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult {took umbrage at the speaker's remarks}

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin umbraticum, neuter of umbraticus of shade, from umbratus, past participle of umbrare to shade, from umbra shade, shadow

Most people are only familiar with definition #4. Try using umbrage in its first sense (shade or shadow) to really flip someone’s wig.

Friday, March 27, 2009


ogive \ˈō-ˌjīv\ noun: 1. a diagonal arch or rib across a Gothic vault, 2. a pointed arch

Etymology: Middle English oggif stone comprising an arch, from Middle French augive, ogive diagonal arch

The word ogive looks a lot like the word olive, but don’t be fooled—they’re very different in both pronunciation and meaning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


ogee \ˈō-ˌjē\ noun: 1. a molding with an S-shaped profile, 2: a pointed arch having on each side a reversed curve near the apex

Etymology: obsolete English ogee ogive (from the use of such moldings in ogives)

This word sounds like an interjection.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


pantile \ˈpan-ˌtī(-ə)l\ noun: 1: a roofing tile whose cross section is an ogee curve, 2: a roofing tile of which the cross section is an arc of a circle and which is laid with alternate convex and concave surfaces uppermost

Etymology: pan + tile

I want to see a roof adorned with Pantone pantiles to mimic a color chart.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


imbricate \ˈim-brə-ˌkāt\ transitive verb: to overlap, especially like roof tiles

imbricate \ˈim-bri-kət\ adjective: lying lapped over each other in regular order {imbricate scales}

Etymology: Late Latin imbricatus, past participle of imbricare to cover with pantiles, from Latin imbric-, imbrex pantile, from imbr-, imber rain; akin to Greek ombros rain

Love this word. To pieces. Don’t know why.

Monday, March 23, 2009


sybarite \ˈsi-bə-ˌrīt\ noun: voluptuary, sensualist

Etymology: from the notorious luxury of the ancient Sybarites

A voluptuary is a person whose chief interests are luxury and the gratification of sensual appetites. More or less a straight synonym, a sensualist is one who persistently or excessively pursues sensual pleasures and interests.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


scintilla \sin-ˈti-lə\ noun: spark , trace {not a scintilla of doubt}

Etymology: Latin

We all know and use scintilla’s participle form scintillating (meaning “brilliantly lively, stimulating or witty”). Now let’s incorporate scintilla itself into our vocabularies.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


quale \ˈkwä-lē, -ˌlā\ noun (plural qualia): 1. a property (as redness) considered apart from things having the property; universal, 2. a property as it is experienced as distinct from any source it might have in a physical object

Etymology: Latin, neuter of qualis of what kind

What is the quale of the quail? The universal of the grouse? The is-ness of the bobwhite? The je ne sais quoi of the ptarmigan?

Friday, March 20, 2009


opsimath \ˈop-si-math\ noun: one who studies or learns late in life

Etymology: opse late + manthano learn

Learning sucks. Kids only do it because they don’t know any better.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


pica \ˈpī-kə\ noun: an abnormal desire to eat substances (as chalk or ashes) not normally eaten

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, magpie

Pica would be a delightfully quirky theme for a restaurant. Inedible substances need not be served; conventional fare could be simply manipulated or disguised so as to appear repulsive.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


cabotinage \ˌca-bə-ti-ˈnäzh\ noun: overacting; hamming

I couldn't find an etymology for this one, but from what could cabotinage derive other than French? I’d bet my left gastrocnemius on it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


badinage \ˌba-də-ˈnäzh\ noun: playful repartee; banter

Etymology: French

At one time my cell phone was programmed to dial voice mail with the vocal prompt “louche badinage.”

Monday, March 16, 2009


louche \ˈlüsh\ adjective: not reputable or decent

Etymology: French, literally, cross-eyed, squint-eyed, from Latin luscus blind in one eye

The word louche sounds glamorous enough to the ear and is sufficiently absent from the mental lexicon of the general populace that those generally considered not reputable or decent could adopt it as a positive descriptor.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


gauche \ˈgōsh\ adjective: 1. lacking social experience or grace; tactless; crude {it would be gauche to mention the subject}, 2. crudely made or done {a gauche turn of phrase}

Etymology: French, literally, left

A ham-fisted artist makes a gauche gouache.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


gouache \ˈgwäsh\ noun: 1. a method of painting with opaque watercolors, 2. a picture painted by gouache, 3. the pigment used in gouache

Etymology: French, from Italian guazzo, literally, puddle, probably from Latin aquatio watering place, from aquari to fetch water, from aqua water

Of the few who know about gouache, fewer spell it correctly (including artists).

Friday, March 13, 2009


coruscate \ˈkor-ə-ˌskāt, ˈkär-\ intransitive verb: 1. to give off or reflect light in bright beams or flashes; sparkle, 2. to be brilliant or showy in technique or style

Etymology: Latin coruscatus, past participle of coruscare to flash

Coruscated cardboard—now what would that be?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


prolix \prō-ˈliks, ˈprō-ˌliks \ adjective: 1. unduly prolonged or drawn out; too long, 2. marked by or using an excess of words

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French prolix, from Latin prolixus extended, from pro- forward + liquēre to be fluid

Prolix may be pronounced with the stress either on the pro or the lix, but I don’t know which is prevalent. I can’t even recall having heard prolix uttered in casual conversation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


chyme \ˈkīm\ noun: the semifluid mass of partly digested food expelled by the stomach into the duodenum

Etymology: New Latin chymus, from Late Latin, chyle, from Greek chymos juice

The word chyme—it looks handsome, it sounds sharp and its meaning is vaguely off-putting. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


pleonasm \ˈplē-ə-ˌna-zəm\ noun: Use of more words than is semantically necessary (“With these very eyes I saw him do it,” “I ate a tuna fish sandwich”)

Etymology: Late Latin pleonasmus, from Greek pleonasmos, from pleonazein to be excessive, from pleiōn, pleōn more

Pleonasm sounds like ectoplasm. If pleonasm is a literary figure of speech and ectoplasm is a substance vomited by a medium in response to the presence of a spiritual entity, pleonasm should take on an additional sense: “the ectoplasm of dead poets, phantom playwrights and ghost writers.”

Monday, March 9, 2009


epanalepsis \ˌe-pə-nə-ˈlep-sis\ noun: repetition of the initial word or phrase of a clause or sentence at the end (“the king is dead, long live the king”)

Etymology: Greek epanálēpsis repetition, resumption, taking up again

Epanalepsis sounds less like a figure of speech and more like a type of seizure.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


anadiplosis \ˌa-nə-də-ˈplō-səs\ noun: repetition of the last word or phrase in one clause or sentence at the beginning of the next

Etymology: Late Latin, from Greek anadiplōsis repetition, from anadiploun to double, from ana- + diploun to double

Some prog geek quoted Genesis in Wikipedia’s article on anadiplosis: “The frog was a prince / The prince was a brick / The brick was an egg / The egg was a bird” (from the song Supper's Ready).

Saturday, March 7, 2009


paralipsis \ˌpa-rə-ˈlip-sis\ noun: A figure of speech in which a speaker or writer emphasizes a subject by pretending to pass it over

Example: I don't even want to talk about the allegations that my political opponent is a drunk.

Example: We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare. —Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Etymology: Ancient Greek paraleipsis omission, from paraleipō I pass over, from para by, near + leipō I leave

Some common phrases used to introduce paralipses are “not to mention, ” “to say nothing of, ” “needless to say, ” “leaving aside, ” and “without considering.” But many of these have lost their rhetorical power through overuse; today not to mention is merely another way of saying and, as in “she is talented, not to mention rich.”

Friday, March 6, 2009


soraismus \sor-'ais-mus\ noun: the mingling of different languages affectedly or without skill

Example: His raison d'etre allows little quid pro quo with the hoi polloi.

I couldn’t find an etymology for this one. Sounds Greek, right?

Thursday, March 5, 2009


syllepsis \sə-ˈlep-səs\ noun: a figure of speech in which one word is applied to two others in different senses {he lost his coat and his temper}

Etymology: Latin, from Greek syllēpsis, from syllambanein

A surprising number of references were checked before one supplied a sufficiently succinct and straighforward definition.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


synecdoche \sə-ˈnek-də-(ˌ)kē\ noun: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as wheels for a car), the whole for a part (as body for the trunk of the body), the specific for the general (as hoover for a vacuum cleaner), the general for the specific (as creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as threads for clothes or ivories for piano keys)

Etymology: Latin, from Greek synekdochē, from syn- with, together with + ekdochē sense, interpretation, from ekdechesthai to receive, understand, from ex from + dechesthai to receive

Today we begin looking at figures of speech. There are so many it would take weeks to cover them all, so I'll whittle them down to about a week's worth of good ones. If there’s a particular figure of speech you want to see covered, let me know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


cataplexy \ˈka-tə-ˌplek-sē\ noun: sudden loss of muscle power following a strong emotional stimulus

Etymology: German Kataplexie, from Greek kataplēxis, from kataplēssein to strike down, terrify, from kata- down + plēssein to strike

Would cat epoxy be epoxy made from cats, epoxy used by cats, or epoxy made for use on cats?

Monday, March 2, 2009


abaxial \(ˌ)a-ˈbak-sē-əl\ adjective: situated out of or directed away from the axis {the abaxial or lower surface of a leaf}

Etymology: Latin axis axis, axle + ab from, away

Abaxial sounds like it should be the title of an old Santana record.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Book lung

book lung \ˈbuk-ˌləŋ\ noun: a saccular breathing organ in many arachnids containing thin folds of membrane arranged like the leaves of a book

Etymology: from the organ’s similarity in shape to a book and similarity in function to a lung

Book lung conjures so many poetic images and associations that each mind can spin off on its own tangents.