Wednesday, September 30, 2009


poxy or poxie \ˈpäks-sē \ noun: 1. suffering from pox, 2. sickening, unsatisfactory, generally bad

Etymology: alteration of pocks, plural of pock, from Middle English pokke, from Old English pocc pustule

Poxy is begging to be used as a widepread term of casual disparagement.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


mendicant \ˈmen-di-kənt\ noun: 1. beggar, 2. (often capitalized) a member of a religious order (as the Franciscans) combining monastic life and outside religious activity and originally owning neither personal nor community property; friar

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin mendicant-, mendicans, present participle of mendicare to beg, from mendicus beggar

Concerning definition #1, I’d rather be a mendicant than a beggar. Concerning definition #2, I’d rather be a beggar than a mendicant.

Monday, September 28, 2009


nychthemeron \nik-ˈthēm-ər-än\ noun: a period of one day and one night (i.e., 24 consecutive hours)

Etymology: Greek nukhthemeron, from nuks night + hēmera day

This isn’t going to catch on in ordinary conversation, is it?

Sunday, September 27, 2009


pentimento \ˌpen-tə-ˈmen-(ˌ)tō\ noun: a reappearance in a painting of a design which has been painted over

Etymology: Italian, literally, repentance, correction, from pentire to repent, from Latin paenitēre to cause regret, feel regret, perhaps from paene almost

I had always thought that an example of pentimento in a painting was the emergence of, say, the pattern from a colored, tiled floor through a foreground figure because of the gradual, increased transparency of paint layers over the years, evidence that the artist purposefully painted the entire floor first before painting the figure on top of it.
But according to Wikipedia, pentimento is “an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his mind as to the composition during the process of painting.” So careful visual inspection might show traces that a hand originally had been drawn in a slightly different position, or X-rays might reveal that the underdrawing of a foot places it at a different angle than the final painted foot.
Wikipedia’s definition makes more sense in relation to pentimento’s etymology: “to repent.” An artist regrets his first decision, so he changes it for the final version.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


nostrum \ˈnäs-trəm\ noun: 1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness, 
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme; panacea {an audience eager to believe he had found the nostrum for all of society's ills — Warren Sloat}

Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours, from nos we

There is such a leap from ours to snake oil or scheme, there must be more to that etymology.

Friday, September 25, 2009


lucubration \ˌlü-kyə-ˈbrā-shən, ˌlü-kə-\ noun: 1. laborious or intensive study, 2. (usually used in plural) the product of laborious or intensive study

Etymology: Latin lucubration-, lucubratio study by night, work produced at night, from lucubrare to work by lamplight; akin to Latin luc-, lux light

Don’t confuse this word with lubrication.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


corvid \ˈkor-vəd\ noun: any of a family (Corvidae) of stout-billed passerine birds including the crows, jays, magpies and the raven

Etymology: New Latin Corvidae, from Corvus, genus name, from Latin, raven

I miss the sound of crows.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


holus-bolus \ˌhō-ləs-ˈbō-ləs\ adverb: all at once {she put it back, holu-bolus, in her pocket — Wilkie Collins}

Etymology: probably reduplication of bolus

Sometimes the English language is very bizarre.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


bolus \ˈbō-ləs\ noun: 1. a rounded mass, as a large pill or a soft mass of chewed food, 2. a dose of a substance (as a drug) given intravenously

Etymology: Late Latin, from Greek bōlos lump

Bolus is such a delightful word that I’m surprised it hadn’t already graced Sklonklish with its presence.

Monday, September 21, 2009


inspissate \in-ˈspi-ˌsāt, ˈin(t)-spə-ˌsāt\ transitive verb: to make thick or thicker

inspissated \in-ˈspi-ˌsā-təd, ˈin(t)-spə-ˌsā-təd\ adjective: thickened in consistency; made or having become thick, heavy or intense

Etymology: Late Latin inspissatus, past participle of inspissare, from Latin in- + spissus slow, dense

Do you inspissate or inspissate?

Sunday, September 20, 2009


inchoate \in-ˈkō-ət\ adjective: being only partly in existence or operation; incipient (especially: imperfectly formed or formulated; formless, incoherent)

Etymology: Latin inchoatus, past participle of inchoare to start work on, perhaps from in- + cohum part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted

For a word that signifies the formless and incoherent, inchoate sure is hard-edged and rock-solid on the tongue.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


lek \ˈlek\ noun: 1. an assembly area where males of certain animal species carry on competitive mating displays and courtship behavior, 2. an aggregation of animals assembled on a lek for courtship
verb: to participate in a lek

Etymology: Swedish, short for lekställe mating ground, from lek mating, sport, play + ställe place

Would humans be better off if we lekked?

Friday, September 18, 2009


inanition \ˌi-nə-ˈni-shən\ noun: the quality or state of being empty, as in 1. the exhausted condition that results from lack of food and water, 2. the absence or loss of social, moral or intellectual vitality or vigor

Old French inanicion, from Late Latin inanire empty, from inanis void, empty, hollow

You might think that inanition is the noun form of the adjective inane, but according to Merriam-Webster, inane simply means “empty, insubstantial, silly or insipid.” There is no sense necessarily impied of either “exhausted due to lack of sustenance” or “immoral or unintellectual.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009


illimitable \(ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-mə-tə-bəl\ adjective: incapable of being limited or bounded; measureless {the illimitable reaches of space and time}

Etymology: Middle English il- not + limit, from Anglo-French limite, from Latin limit-, limes boundary

Illimitable rolls off the tongue much more pleasurably than unlimited.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


entelechy \en-ˈte-lə-kē, in-\ noun: 1. (according to Aristotle) the condition of something whose essence is fully realized, 2. (in some modern philosophical systems) a vital force that motivates and guides an organism toward self-fulfillment

Etymology: Late Latin entelechia, from Greek entelecheia, from entelēs complete (from en- in, within + telos end) + echein to have

For more information, see Wikipedia’s article on entelechy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


emic \ˈē-mik\ adjective: of, relating to, or involving analysis of cultural phenomena from the perspective of one who participates in the culture being studied

Etymology: phonemic

I imagine there are all sorts of pros and cons to an emic versus an etic point of view, depending on the situation and the goals of study.

Monday, September 14, 2009


etic \ˈe-tik\ adjective: of, relating to, or involving analysis of cultural phenomena from the perspective of one who does not participate in the culture being studied

Etymology: phonetic

According to Merriam-Webster, this term dates to 1954.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


fustian \ˈfəs-chən\ noun: 1 a. a strong cotton and linen fabric, b. a class of cotton fabrics usually having a pile face and twill weave, 
2 a. high-flown or affected writing or speech, b. anything high-flown or affected in style

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French fustian, fustayn, from Medieval Latin fustaneum, probably from fustis tree trunk, from Latin, stick, cudgel

How did we get from “fabric” to “affectation?”

Saturday, September 12, 2009


espial \is-ˈpī(-ə)l\ noun: 1. observation,
 2. an act of noticing; discovery

Etymology: Old French espiaille, from espier

A solid, upstanding word that deserves more use.

Friday, September 11, 2009


flummery \ˈfləm-rē, ˈflə-mə-rē \ noun: 1 a. a soft jelly or porridge made with flour or meal, b. any of several sweet desserts,
 2. a ridiculous, hypocritical or pretentious ceremony or performance; mummery, mumbo jumbo

Etymology: Welsh llymru

Flummery might be Sklonklish’s first entry of Welsh derivation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


intussusception \ˌin-tə-sə-ˈsep-shən\ noun: a drawing in of something from without, as 1. invagination (especially the slipping of a length of intestine into an adjacent portion usually producing obstruction), 2. the assimilation of new material and its dispersal among preexistent matter

Etymology: Latin intus within + susception-, susceptio action of undertaking, from suscipere to take up

These two definitions are so different from one another that you and your conversational partners had better be on the same page when using intussusception.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


volvulus \ˈväl-vyə-ləs\ noun: a twisting of the intestine upon itself that causes obstruction

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin volvere

Sounds like the name of a car: the Volvo Volvulus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


manumit \ˌman-yə-ˈmit\ transitive verb: to release from slavery

Etymology: Middle English manumitten, from Anglo-French manumettre, from Latin manumittere, from manus hand + mittere to let go, send

“To let go of the hand.”

Monday, September 7, 2009


deracinate \(ˌ)dē-ˈra-sə-ˌnāt\ transitive verb: 1. uproot, 
2. to remove or separate from a native environment or culture, especially to remove the racial or ethnic characteristics or influences from

Etymology: Middle French desraciner, from des- de- + racine root, from Late Latin radicina, from Latin radic-, radix

One might think that deracinate and race have similar etymologies, especially considering definition 2 and the face that rac- is embedded in the word deracinate, but according to Merriam-Webster and MyEtymology, the two words appear to be historically distinct.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


copse \ˈkäps\ noun: coppice

Etymology: by alteration

If “by alteration” doesn’t quench your thirst for etymological knowledge, glut yourself on MyEtymology’s entry on copse.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


coppice \ˈkä-pəs\ noun: 1. a thicket, grove or growth of small trees,
 2. forest originating mainly from shoots or root suckers rather than seed

Etymology: Middle English copies cutover area overgrown with brush, from Middle French copeis, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin colpaticium, from colpare to cut, from Late Latin colpus blow

If you’re in a traipsing mood, why not traipse through a coppice?

Friday, September 4, 2009


cark \ˈkärk\ intransitive verb: 1. to be filled with worry
transitive verb: to bring worry, vexation or anxiety
noun: 1. a noxious or corroding worry, 2. the state of being filled with worry

Etymology: Norman French carquier, Latin carricare charge, from carrus wagon

I was introduced to this word through Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


puissance \ˈpwi-sən(t)s, ˈpyü-ə-sən(t)s\ noun: strength, power

puissant \ˈpwi-sənt, ˈpyü-ə-sənt\ adjective: strong, powerful

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French pussance, puissance, from pussant able, powerful, from poer to be able, be powerful, from Vulgar Latin potēre, alteration of Latin posse to be able, from potis, pote able; akin to Gothic brūthfaths bridegroom, Greek posis husband, Sanskrit pati master

Puissance does not sound like what it is.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


hypnopompic \ˌhip-nə-ˈpäm-pik\ adjective: of, relating to, or occurring in the period of drowsy semiconsciousness immediately preceding waking

Etymology: Greek hypn- sleep + pompē act of sending

Wikipedia’s article on hypnagogia states that some people in the scientific community question the need for separate terms to distinguish between “the state from waking to sleeping” and “the state from sleeping to waking” since the same experiences occur in both states and because drifting in and out of sleep produces transitional states that are simultaneously post-sleep and pre-sleep. With that in mind, hypnagogia is used by some to cover both situations. Others employ a different term altogether: wakefulness-sleep transition state.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


hypnagogic \ˌhip-nə-ˈgä-jik, -ˈgō-\ adjective: of, relating to, or occurring in the period of drowsy semiconsciousness immediately preceding sleep

Etymology: French hypnagogique, from Greek hypn- sleep + -agōgos leading, inducing

Check in tomorrow for hypnagogic’s dream twin.