Wednesday, May 26, 2010


hiatus \hī-ˈā-təs\ noun: 1 a. a break in or as if in a material object; gap {the hiatus between the theory and the practice of the party — J. G. Colton}, b. a gap or passage in an anatomical part or organ,
2 a. an interruption in time or continuity; break (especially a period when something, as a program or activity, is suspended or interrupted) {after a 5-year hiatus from writing}, 3. the occurrence of two vowel sounds without pause or intervening consonantal sound

Etymology: Latin, from hiare to yawn

You may have noticed a hiatus in the entries here. After nearly a year and a half of daily postings, I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself unable to continue. Perhaps one day I’ll have the strength to resume, but in the meantime Sklonklish will remain online as an archive of words and images. If your perusal of these pages gave you even a small fraction of the pleasure I received in presenting these surreal pictures and wonderful words, then Sklonklish was a success.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


flexure \ˈflek-shər\ noun: 1. the state or quality of being flexed, 2. the act of flexing or bending, 3. a turn, bend or fold, 4. a curve or bend in a tubular organ

Etymology: Latin flexus, past participle of flectere to bend

What’s your flexure?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


métier \ˈme-ˌtyā\ noun: 1. vocation, trade, 2. an area of activity in which one excels; forte

Etymology: French, from Old French mestier, from Vulgar Latin misterium, alteration of Latin ministerium work, ministry

What is your métier?

Monday, May 10, 2010


blet \ˈblet\ intransitive verb: to decay internally when overripe (said of fruit)

Etymology: neologism of 19th-century botanist John Lindley, from French blette bletted (said of the bruised appearance of overripe fruits)

Some fruits can only be eaten raw after they have undergone some bletting, such as quinces and persimmons.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


shibboleth \ˈshi-bə-ləth\ noun: 1 a. a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning {the old shibboleths come rolling off their lips — Joseph Epstein}, b. a widely held belief {today this book publishing shibboleth is a myth — L. A. Wood}, c. truism, platitude {some truth in the shibboleth that crime does not pay — Lee Rogow},
2 a. a use of language regarded as distinctive of a particular group {accent was a shibboleth of social class — Vivian Ducat}, b. a custom or usage regarded as distinguishing one group from others {for most of the well-to-do in the town, dinner was a shibboleth, its hour dividing mankind — Osbert Sitwell}

Etymology: Hebrew shibbōleth stream, part of a plant containing grains (from the use of this word in Judges 12:5-6 as a test to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites)

Wikipedia fleshes out the etymology:

In an account from the Hebrew Bible the pronunciation of the word shibboleth was used to distinguish Ephraimites, whose dialect lacked a sh sound (as the sh in shoe), from Gileadites, whose dialect did include such a sound.

After the inhabitants of Gilead inflicted a military defeat upon the tribe of Ephraim (circa 1370–1070 BC), the surviving Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan River back into their home territory, but the Gileadites secured the river’s fords to stop them. In order to identify and kill these refugees, the Gileadites put each refugee to a simple test:

“Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, ‘Let me cross,’ the men of Gilead would ask, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they then said, ‘Very well, say shibboleth.’ If anyone said, sibboleth, because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.” — Judges 12:5-6

Saturday, May 8, 2010


vernal \ˈvər-nəl\ adjective: 1. of, relating to, or occurring in the spring {vernal equinox} {vernal sunshine},
2. fresh or new like the spring, 3. youthful

Etymology: Latin vernalis, alteration of vernus, from ver spring

Vernal venality = corrupt youth.

Friday, May 7, 2010


venal \ˈvē-nəl\ adjective: 1. capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration; purchasable, 2. open to corrupt influence and especially bribery; mercenary, {a venal legislator},
3. originating in, characterized by, or associated with corrupt bribery {a venal arrangement with the police}

Etymology: Latin venalis, from venum sale (accusative)

Venal leads to penal.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


tattoo \ta-ˈtü\ noun: 1. a rapid rhythmic rapping,
2. a call sounded shortly before taps as notice to go to quarters, 3. outdoor military exercise given by troops as evening entertainment
transitive verb: to beat or rap rhythmically on; drum on
intransitive verb: to give a series of rhythmic taps

Etymology: alteration of earlier taptoo, from Dutch taptoe, from the phrase tap toe! taps shut!

tattoo \ta-ˈtü\ noun: 1. an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin, 2. the act of marking thusly or the fact of being thusly marked
transitive verb: to mark or color the skin with a tattoo

Etymology: Tahitian tatau tattoo (noun)

Homonyms are two or more words that are spelled and pronounced alike but that differ in meaning. Tattoo in its wildy divergent meanings and etymologies is a striking example of a homonym.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


oxter \ˈäk-stər\ noun: (chiefly Scottish & Irish) 1. armpit, 2. arm

Etymology: Middle English (Scots), alteration of Old English ōxta; akin to Old English eax axis, axle

Huh? What? Armpit? Really? Hey, Scotland, what’s up with that?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wing Nut

wing nut \ˈwiŋ-ˌnət\ noun: 1. a nut with wings that provide a grip for the thumb and finger,
2. (slang) a mentally deranged person,
3. (slang) one who advocates extreme measures or changes; radical

First written usage: circa 1900

What is the etymology behind the slang definitions of wing nut? Is it related to the use of the word nut to refer to a crazy or eccentric person?

Monday, May 3, 2010


profligate \ˈprä-fli-gət\ adjective: 1. completely given up to dissipation and licentiousness,
2. wildly extravagant; prodigal
noun: a person given to wildly extravagant and usually grossly self-indulgent expenditure

Etymology: Latin profligatus, from past participle of profligare to strike down, from pro- forward, down + -fligare, akin to Greek phlibein to squeeze

This is a word one would rarely wish applied to oneself.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


trenchant \ˈtrent-chənt\ adjective: 1. keen; sharp, 2. vigorously effective and articulate {a trenchant analysis}; caustic {trenchant remarks}, 3 a. sharply perceptive; penetrating {a trenchant view of current conditions}, b. clear-cut; distinct {the trenchant divisions between right and wrong — Edith Wharton}

Etymology: Middle English trenchaunt, from Anglo-French

A lot of usage examples for you with this one.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


sclera \ˈskler-ə\ noun: the dense fibrous opaque white outer coat enclosing the eyeball except the part covered by the cornea

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek sklēros hard

I ate a hard-boiled egg the other day; it wasn’t hard like a sclera, but it looked like an eyeball.

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…