Friday, April 30, 2010


platypus \ˈpla-ti-pəs\ noun: an egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal of Australia whose males possess a venomous heel spur

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek platypous flat-footed, from platys broad, flat + pous foot

The platyus’s scientific name Ornithorhynchus anatinus literally means “duck-like bird snout.” (You may recognize that word chunk rhyn in other words like rhinoceros (“horny nose”) and rhinoplasty (“molded nose”).

Thursday, April 29, 2010


phosphene \ˈfäs-ˌfēn\ noun: a luminous impression due to mechanical, electrical or magnetic stimulation of the retina

Etymology: Greek phos- light + phainein to show

You get those blobby, morphing phosphenes when you press your hands against your closed eyeballs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


nematode \ˈne-mə-ˌtōd\ noun: any of a phylum (Nematoda or Nemata) of elongated cylindrical worms parasitic in animals or plants or free-living in soil or water (also called roundworm)

Etymology: Greek nēmat-, nēma thread + -ode in the nature of

Don’t mistake a toad for a nematode; it makes the toad angry.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


griseous \grĭz'ē-əs\ adjective: gray, pearl-gray or mottled with gray

Etymology: Medieval Latin grīseus, of Germanic origin

Skillet good an’ griseous…

Monday, April 26, 2010


popliteal \ˌpä-plə-ˈtē-əl or pä-ˈpli-tē-əl\ adjective: of or relating to the back part of the leg behind the knee joint

Etymology: New Latin popliteus, from Latin poplit-, poples knee joint, back of the knee

The medical term popliteal fossa refers to the knee pit, but English doesn’t have a common, non-medical term for that part of the body the way, say, German has with its Kniekehle.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


axillary \ˈak-sə-ˌler-ē\ adjective: of, relating to, or located near the armpit

Etymology: Latin, diminutive of ala wing, upper arm, armpit

The noun axilla is another word for the armpit itself. (The stress is on the second syllable.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010


gavial \ˈgā-vē-əl\ noun: gharial, i.e. a large long-snouted crocodilian (Gavialis gangeticus of the family Gavialidae) of India

Etymology: French, modification of Bengali ghãriyal or Hindi gharyal, ultimately from Sanskrit ghantika crocodilian

The gavial’s snout is super-skinny, like a croc with a nose job.

Friday, April 23, 2010


abstemious \ab-ˈstē-mē-əs\ adjective: marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol; also: reflecting such restraint {an abstemious diet}

Etymology: Latin abstemius, from abs- from, away, off + root of temetum intoxicating drink

Do you exercise abstemiousness in any of your endeavors?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


larker \ˈlär-kər\ noun: : one who engages in harmless fun or mischief

Etymology: see yesterday’s post

You have your larkers and you have your carkers. Which are you: a larker or a carker?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


larksome \ˈlärk-səm\ adjective: playful

Etymology: probably alteration of English dialect lake, laik to frolic, play

Wikipedia suggests a second possible word origin: “Shortening of skylark, sailors’ slang for playing rough in the rigging of a ship (because the common European larks were proverbial for high-flying).”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


darksome \ˈdärk-səm\ adjective: gloomily somber; dark

Etymology: English dark + some

Why, yes, there has been a theme to the entries of the past few days.

Monday, April 19, 2010


darkling \ˈdär-kliŋ\ adverb: in the dark
adjective: 1. dark, 2. done or taking place in the dark

Etymology: Middle English derkelyng, from derk dark + -lyng -ling

Darkling is just waiting to be turned into a noun for the name of a type of evil elf in a bad fantasy film.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


darkle \ˈdär-kəl\ intransitive verb: 1. to become clouded or gloomy, 2. to grow dark,
3. to become concealed in the dark

Etymology: back-formation from darkling

Here’s a word for all you budding goth poets.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


valise \və-ˈlēs\ noun: suitcase

Etymology: French, from Italian valigia

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but what does valise give us that suitcase does not?

Friday, April 16, 2010


gravid \ˈgra-vəd\ adjective: 1. pregnant, 2. distended with or full of eggs {a gravid fish}

Etymology: Latin gravidus, from gravis heavy

The next time you plan on uttering the phrase “pregnant with thought,” instead try “gravid with thought.” Your conversational partner will be impressed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Götterdämmurung /ˌgah-təˈdæm-ə-rung/ noun: 1. apocalypse, 2. any cataclysmic downfall or momentous, apocalyptic event, especially of a regime or an institution

Etymology: German Götterdämmurung twilight of the gods, from Götter gods + Dämmerung haziness, nebulousness

Götterdämmurung is a German translation of the Norse Ragnarök, the prophesied mythological war of the gods and end of the world

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Ouroboros \ôr-rŏb'-ôr-rŭs\ noun: 1. a snake or serpent that forms the shape of a circle by eating its own tail (representing cyclicality, self-reflexivity or the continuous cycle of life and death), 2. a picture or symbol representing this

Etymology: Greek ouroboros tail-eater

Compare this etymology with yesterday’s; they both stem from the ancient Greek word for tail.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


cynosure \ˈsī-nə-ˌshur or ˈsi-nə-ˌshur\ noun: 1 a. (capitalized) the northern constellation Ursa Minor, b. North Star, 2. one that serves to direct or guide,
3. a center of attraction or attention {turned an eyesore into a cynosure — Catherine Reynolds}

Etymology: Middle French cynosure Ursa Minor, guide, from Latin cynosura Ursa Minor, from Greek kynosoura, from kynos oura, (literally) dog’s tail

“Dog’s tail.” Hmmm…

Monday, April 12, 2010


concatenate \kän-ˈka-tə-nət\ adjective: linked together

concatenate \ kän-ˈka-tə -ˌnāt\ transitive verb: to link together in a series or chain

Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin concatenatus, past participle of concatenare to link together, from Latin com- + catena chain

Note the different pronunciations between the adjective and the verb.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


clew \ˈklü\ noun: 1. a ball of thread, yarn or cord, 2. clue

Etymology: Middle English clewe, from Old English cliewen; akin to Old High German kliuwa ball

A clue is named for a clew because a clue leads one through a maze of difficulties to the solution of a problem just as a clew led Theseus out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth as he unwound the thread.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


paroxysm \ˈpa-rək-ˌsi-zəm\ noun: 1. a fit, attack or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease); convulsion {a paroxysm of coughing},
2. a sudden violent emotion or action; outburst {a paroxysm of rage}

Etymology: Middle English paroxism, from Medieval Latin paroxysmus, from Greek paroxysmos, from paroxynein to stimulate, from para- + oxynein to provoke, from oxys sharp

“Dead! Dead!” moaned Villefort in a paroxysm of grief which the novelty of such a feeling in this heart of stone made all the more terrible. — Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Friday, April 9, 2010


darkling \ˈdär-kliŋ\ adverb: in the dark
adjective: 1. dark, 2. done or taking place in the dark

Etymology: Middle English derkelyng, from derk dark + -lyng -ling

This word is waiting to be turned into a noun for the name of an evil elf clan in a bad fantasy film.


bursar \ˈbər-sər\ noun: an officer (as of a monastery or college) in charge of funds; treasurer

Etymology: Anglo-French burser, from Medieval Latin bursarius, from bursa purse

The perspicacious observer will have noted the shared etymology between today’s treasurer and yesterday’s fluid-filled sac. Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


bursa \ˈbər-sə\ noun: a small, fluid-filled sac that provides a cushion between bones and tendons

Etymology: Latin bursa bag, purse (due to the sac’s resemblance to a purse)

Wikipedia states, “Current medical studies have no specific knowledge of the entire bursae system [in the human body].” Is that really true? I would have thought something like that would have been thoroughly catagorized by now.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


calumny \ˈka-ləm-nē\ noun: a misrepresentation intended to harm another’s reputation

Etymology: Middle English calumnye, from Middle French calomnie, from Latin calumnia, from calvi to deceive

Calumny would make a pretty name for a girl.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


schlieren \ˈshlir-ən\ plural noun: regions of varying refraction in a transparent medium often caused by pressure or temperature differences

Etymology: German Schlieren

The heat waves you see rising from a hot car hood on a summer day are an example of schlieren.

Monday, April 5, 2010


luciferin \lü-ˈsi-f(ə-)rən\ noun: any of various organic substances in luminescent organisms (as fireflies) that upon oxidation produce a virtually heatless light

Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary, from Latin lucifer light-bearing

Lucifer was a name for the morning star or for the devil. It comes from luc- or lux (light) and -fer (producing, bearing). The woman’s name Lucy also stems from the Latin lux, by way of Lucia. Behind the Name states, “Saint Lucia was a 4th-century martyr from Syracuse. She was said to have had her eyes gouged out, and thus is the patron saint of the blind.” It’s worth noting that the patron saint of the blind was named for light.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


frumenty \ˈfrü-mən-tē\ noun: a dish of wheat boiled in milk and usually sweetened and spiced

Etymology: Middle English frumente, furmente, from Anglo-French furmenté, from furment, frument grain, from Latin frumentum, from frui to enjoy

Based on the description above, I can’t tell if frumenty would be delicious or disgusting. Probably either, depending on the specific recipe one samples.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


potage \pah-ˈtäzh\ noun: a thick soup, stew or porridge in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together until they form a thick mush

Etymology: Old French pottage potted dish

Wikipdia states, “During the Tudor period a good many English peasants’ diets consisted almost solely of potage.”

Friday, April 2, 2010


pugilist \ˈpyü-jə-list\ noun: fighter (especially a professional boxer)

Etymology: Late Latin pugil boxer, from Latin pugnus fist

Two dog breeds spring to mind: the pug and the boxer (not that they’re related…).

Thursday, April 1, 2010


donotal \dō-ˈnät-əl\ adjective: doghnut-shaped

Etymology: English, from doughnut

A word from a dream. Or is it?