Monday, August 31, 2009


talaria \tə-ˈler-ē-ə\ plural noun: winged sandals

Etymology: Latin, from talaris of the ankle, from talus ankle

Hermes wore talaria.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


taxon \ˈtak-ˌsän\ noun: 1. a taxonomic group or entity,
2. the name applied to a taxonomic group in a formal system of nomenclature
plural taxa or taxons

Etymology: New Latin, from International Scientific Vocabulary taxonomy

An income taxon is a group concerned with making money.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


clade \ˈklād\ noun: a group of biological taxa (as species) that includes all descendants of one common ancestor

Etymology: Greek klados a twig or bough (as if broken off)

Interesting etymology.

Friday, August 28, 2009


ruminant \ˈrü-mə-nənt\ adjective: 1. of or relating to even-toed hoofed mammals (as sheep, oxen, deer and camels) that chew the cud, 2. characterized by chewing again what has been swallowed, 3. given to or engaged in contemplation; meditative
noun: a ruminant mammal

Etymology: Latin ruminare to chew the cud

It’s amazing that ruminate can mean “to reflect” or “to chew the cud.” What an evocative image for contemplative individuals to be likened to masticating ungulates.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


ungulate \ˈəŋ-gyə-lət\ adjective: 1 . having hooves,
2. of or relating to hoofed mammals
noun: a hoofed mammal

Etymology: Late Latin ungulatus, from Latin ungula hoof, from unguis nail, hoof

There are even-toed ungulates (such as sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, deer and camels) and odd-toed ungulates (horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


plantigrade \ˈplan-tə-ˌgrād\ adjective: walking on the sole with the heel touching the ground
noun: a plantigrade animal

Etymology: French, from Latin planta sole + gradus step

Bears and humans are plantigrades.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


digitigrade \ˈdi-jə-tə-ˌgrād\ adjective: walking on the digits or toes with the heel of the foot more or less raised
noun: a digitigrade animal

Etymology: French, from Latin digitus finger + gradus step

Cats and dogs are digitigrades. What look like their feet are actually just their toes, and what look like their (albeit backward) knees are really their ankles.

Monday, August 24, 2009


dolorous \ˈdō-lə-rəs\ adjective: causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief

Etymology: Old French doloros, from Latin dolorosus sorrowful, from dolor pain, anguish, grief, from dolore to hurt, suffer pain

The feminine personal name Dolores means “sorrows;” it derives from the Spanish title María de los Dolores, meaning “Mary of Sorrows.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009


monotreme \ˈmä-nə-ˌtrēm\ noun: any of an order (Monotremata) of egg-laying mammals comprising the platypuses and echidnas

Etymology: New Latin Monotremata, from Greek mon- one, single + trēmat-, trēma hole, opening

The “one hole” or “single opening” referred to by the name monotreme is the cloaca, which handles urination, defecation and reproduction for the critter.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


lubricious \lü-ˈbri-shəs\ adjective: 1. lecherous; salacious; marked by wantonness, 
2. having a smooth or slippery quality {a lubricious skin}

Etymology: Latin lubricus slippery, easily led astray

Two definitions so dissimilar and yet so right for one another.

Friday, August 21, 2009


perseveration \pər-ˌse-və-ˈrā-shən\ noun: continuation of something (as repetition of a word) usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point

Etymology: Latin perseveration-, perseveratio, from perseverare, from per- through + severus severe

Perseveration shares an etymology with persevere.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


jag \ˈjag\ transitive verb: 1. to cut indentations into, 2. to form teeth on (a saw) by cutting indentations
intransitive verb: 1. prick, thrust,
2. to move in jerks
noun: a sharp projecting part; barb

Etymology: Middle English jaggen

I only ever hear this word used as a past participle modifying a noun, where it means “having a sharply uneven edge or surface” (jagged peaks)
or “having a harsh, rough or irregular quality” (jagged rhythms).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


osseous \ˈä-sē-əs\ adjective: consisting of or resembling bone; bony

Etymology: Latin osseus, from oss-, os bone; akin to Greek osteon bone, Sanskrit asthi

Osseous is much more poetic than bony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


perfidy \ˈpər-fə-dē\ noun: 1. the quality or state of being faithless or disloyal; treachery, 
2. an act or an instance of disloyalty

Etymology: Latin perfidia, from perfidus faithless, from per- detrimental to + fides faith

“The Queen Mother Hamida Bano and old Princess Gulbadan were summoned to the Place of Dreams. They arrived jostling and shoving each other, each old lady complaining loudly of the secret perfidy of the other, and it became evident that the crisis had run out of control.”

— Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence

Monday, August 17, 2009


suppurate \ˈsə-pyə-ˌrāt\ intransitive verb: to form or discharge pus

Etymology: Latin suppuratus, past participle of suppurare, from sub- + pur-, pus pus

Sounds delicious.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


scabrous \ˈska-brəs also ˈskā-\ adjective: 1. difficult, knotty {a scabrous problem},
2 a. rough to the touch; having small raised dots, scales or points {a scabrous leaf}, b. rough to the touch; covered with raised, roughened or unwholesome patches {scabrous paint} {scabrous skin}, 
3. dealing with suggestive, indecent or scandalous themes; salacious, 4. squalid

Etymology: Latin scabr-, scaber rough, scurfy; akin to Latin scabere to scratch

With so many definitions to choose from, scabrous is a very useful word.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


clyster \ˈklis-tər\ noun: enema

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French clistere, from Latin clyster, from Greek klystēr, from klyzein to wash out

Today’s clyster and yesterday’s cloaca come from the same ancient Greek word.

Friday, August 14, 2009


cloaca \klō-ˈā-kə\ noun: 1. sewer,
2. the common chamber into which the intestinal and urogenital tracts discharge, especially in monotreme mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and elasmobranch fishes; also: a comparable chamber of an invertebrate,
 3. cesspool
plural cloacae \ klō-ˈā-ˌkē\

Etymology: Latin; akin to Greek klyzein to wash

Cute word.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


sputum \ˈspyü-təm, ˈspü-\ noun: expectorated matter especially from the air passages in diseases of the lungs, bronchi or upper respiratory tract, plural sputa \ˈspyü-tə, ˈspü-\

Etymology: Latin, from neuter of sputus, past participle of spuere to spit

Sounds delicious.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


spalpeen \spal-ˈpēn\ noun: rascal

Etymology: Irish spailpín seasonal laborer, rascal

I know what you’re thinking: “A spalpeen with a ball-peen is a dangerous combination.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


peen \ˈpēn\ noun: a usually hemispherical or wedge-shaped end of the head of a hammer that is opposite the face and is used especially for bending, shaping or cutting the material struck
transitive verb: to draw, bend or flatten by or as if by hammering with a peen

Etymology: probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Norwegian penn peen

We all speak of ball-peen hammers, but have we ever considered the peen, really? Consider it now!

Monday, August 10, 2009


blaggard /ˈblægəd/ noun: 1. a scoundrel; an unprincipled, contemptible person; an untrustworthy person (usually male) 2. a man who uses foul language

Etymology: English blackguard

A blackguard was a kitchen servant in a large house (perhaps so called from working in dark quarters or getting besmirched with soot from the fireplace.) Through metonymy blackguard came to mean any person exhibiting those characteristics typically displayed by kitchen staff. Are cooks getting a bad rap? Perhaps.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


legerdemain \ˌle-jər-də-ˈmān\ noun: 1. sleight of hand, 2. a display of skill or adroitness

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French leger de main light of hand

Negligible legerdemain is slight sleight of hand.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


sleight \ˈslīt\ noun: 1. deceitful craftiness; stratagem,
2: dexterity, skill

Etymology: Middle English, from Old Norse slœgth, from slœgr sly

Do you use this word other than in the phrase sleight of hand?

Friday, August 7, 2009


almoner \ˈal-mə-nər, ˈä-mə- nər \ noun: one who distributes alms

Etymology: Middle English almoiner, from Anglo-French aumoner, almener, from aumone alms, from Late Latin eleemosyna

And an almonry is a building in which alms are distributed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


eleemosynary \ˌe-li-ˈmä-sə-ˌner-ē\ adjective: of, relating to, or supported by charity

Etymology: Medieval Latin eleemosynarius, from Late Latin eleemosyna alms, from Greek eleēmosynē pity, alms, from eleēmōn merciful, from eleos pity

Sometimes it’s just easier to listen to a pronunciation audio clip, even when the pronunciation guide spells it out for you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


adumbrate \ˈa-dəm-ˌbrāt, a-ˈdəm- brāt\ transitive verb: 1. to foreshadow vaguely; intimate,
2. to suggest, disclose or outline partially {adumbrate a plan},
3. overshadow, obscure

Etymology: Latin adumbratus, past participle of adumbrare, from ad- to, toward + umbra shadow

Having never heard this word spoken, would I choose to pronounce it ADumbrate or aDUMbrate? I just don’t know. The second way feels closer to the word's origin in umbra, though... “Toward a shadow.” Sounds sinister.

(You know what? I just rolled the two pronunciations around in my head again, and ADumbrate definitely sounds better.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


involute \ˈin-və-ˌlüt\ adjective: 1 a. curled spirally, b. curled or curved inward, c. having the edges rolled over the upper surface toward the midrib {an involute leaf}, d. having the form of an involute {a gear with involute teeth},
2: involved, intricate

involute \ˈin-və-ˌlüt\ noun: a curve traced by a point on a thread kept taut as it is unwound from another curve {involute of a circle}

involute \ˌin-və-ˈlüt\ intransitive verb: 1. to become involute, 
2 a. to return to a former condition, b. to become cleared up; disappear

Etymology: Latin involutus concealed, from past participle of involvere

Note that the stress is placed on the first syllable when involute is used as an adjective or noun, and on the last syllable when it’s a verb.

Monday, August 3, 2009


tortuous \ˈtorch-wəs, ˈtor-chə-wəs\ adjective: 1. marked by repeated twists, bends or turns; winding {a tortuous path},
2 a. marked by devious or indirect tactics; crooked, tricky {a tortuous conspiracy}, b. circuitous, involved {the tortuous jargon of legal forms}

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French tortueux, from Latin tortuosus, from tortus twist, from torquēre to twist

Torturous also comes from the Latin torquēre.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


vermiculate \vər-ˈmi-kyə-ˌlət \ adjective: 1. tortuous, involute, 2. full of worms; worm-eaten, 3 a. resembling a worm in shape; vermiform, b. marked with irregular fine lines or with wavy impressed lines {a vermiculate nut}

Etymology: Latin vermiculatus, from vermiculus

Can vermiculate take on worm-eaten’s metaphorical sense of “worn-out or antiquated?”

Saturday, August 1, 2009


olivary \ˈōl-ə-ˌver-ē\ adjective: 1. Shaped like an olive, 2. pertaining to an olivary body

Etymology: Latin olīvārius belonging to olives

Your olivary bodies are two anatomical prominences composed of nerve tissue, and they reside on either side of the anterior surface of your medulla oblongata.