"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 30 November 2008


My spellchecker rejected the word prat when I used it to refer to myself as a fool, ass or idiot. So I checked the dictionary and yes, it does mean that though I suppose it still qualifies as slang. Hence its omission from the spellchecker’s dictionary.

It derives from an Old English word for a prank or a trick.

What I had not realised was that it also means ‘a detail’ or ‘a member of a collective unit’. So it is defined in the glossary of chabad.org – a website devoted to utilizing internet technology to unite Jews worldwide, empower them with knowledge of their 3,300 year old tradition and foster within them a deeper connection to Judaism’s rituals and faith.

It seems that it is also an obsolete slang word for the buttocks - politely known as the 'fleshy part of the human body that you sit on'. I have never heard it used as that. Or as a slang word for the female genitals which is given as another alternative meaning.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Not a new word ( I think we all know it means An increase in the frequency, liquidity and weight of bowel motions) and not one of my favourites. Indeed, it is not a word I particularly like – so why have I chosen it today? The answer is because I sometimes have difficulty spelling it and I’ve now heard useful way of remembering it –
Dash In A Real Rush, Hurry Or Else Accident

Friday, 28 November 2008


D’Oh is an expression of frustration or anger, especially at one’s own stupidity. It arose as a catchphrase by the character Homer Simpson, from the long-running animated series The Simpsons (1989–present).

Note - not to be confused with Duh. Duh (pronounced duhhrrr) is an American English slang exclamation that is used to express disdain for someone missing the obviousness of something.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Palindromes and Semordnilaps

Palindrome (noun) - a word or phrase that reads the same backward as forward.

I learned what a palindrome was in October 1969. That was when I met Jane Drakard – now Bradly – whose palidromic surname was the first palindrome I had come across.

The longest palindromic word in the Oxford English Dictionary is the onomatopoeic tattarrattat, coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) for a knock on the door. The Finnish word saippuakivikauppias (soap-stone vendor) is claimed to be the world's longest palindromic word in everyday use.

One of the most famous palindromes is Leigh Mercer's “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!” from which it can be seen that in phrases the punctuation does not have to be palindromic.

Palindromes need not be confined to language and can be used for numbers and other forms of sequence. Joseph Haydn's Symphony No.47 in G is nicknamed the Palindrome. The third movement, minuet and trio is a musical palindrome. This piece goes forward twice and backwards twice and arrives back at the same place.

Taking this clever concept a stage further, in 2003 the city of San Diego, California commissioned sculptor Roman DeSalvo and composer Joseph Waters to create a public artwork in the form of a safety railing on the 25th Street overpass at F and 25th Streets. The result, Crab Carillon, is a set of 488 tuned chimes that can be played by pedestrians as they cross the overpass. Each chime is tuned to the note of a melody, composed by Waters. The melody is in the form of a palindrome, to accommodate walking in either direction.

Semordnilap is a name coined comparatively recently for a word or phrase that spells a different word or phrase backwards. "Semordnilap" is itself "palindromes" spelled backwards. Examples include -
stressed / desserts
gateman / nametag
deliver / reviled
lamina / animal

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


I came across a book review in which the main protagonist was described as “the SAHM of two young children.... struggling with the tedium and inexorability of motherhood”.

Not knowing what it meant I made a stab at SAHM meaning something to do with single mother – I just couldn’t work out what th AH might be. It turns out I was on the wrong tracks. SAHM stands for Stay At Home Mum.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


In the latest Sharpe book that I've been reading I came across the word gnomic.
"...his Sergeant rolled his eyes at the Brigadier's display of ignorance. 'She's a Nantes barrel, sir,' Pelletieu added in gnomic explanation as he patted the howitzer." (Pelletieu was responding to a suggestion that a bigger charge be used and indicating it could not be because of the age of the gun and it’s fragility.)

Assuming it wasn't the use of gnomic in it's sense of 'relating to or containing gnomes' I looked it up. The first definition I found left me as baffled as before:- “In Ancient Greek, a general truth may be expressed in the present, future, or aorist tenses. This usage of these three tenses is called the gnomic (gnomic present, etc.). “ Was this just a long-winded way of saying that gnomic meant expressing a general truth?

A further definition helped – “Mysterious and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise”. This was obviously how Cornwell was using it.

For the curious, the aorist tense is one to be found in certain languages, including classical Greek and Sanskrit, which espresses action (especially past action) without indicating its completion or continuation.

Monday, 24 November 2008


In a box of Swiss chocolates a number of the chocolates were described as having nibbed nuts in them. The adjective seemed to fit the context alright and its intended meaning was reasonably obvious (nuts made into tiny pieces) but did it really exist I wondered. The answer, it seems, is no. Nibbed (used of pens) means having a writing point or nib, especially of a certain kind, i,.e,. broad-nibbed. Alternatively it can be used more broadly to mean having a nib or point.

However, a niblet (n) is a small piece of something, especially of snack food. That is the word that should have been used but I still like the concept of 'nibbed hazelnuts' and it is less clumsy than 'niblets of hazelnut'.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Therapize - a verb meaning to subject to psychological therapy. This gets my vote for the most awful word added to the American (English?) language in recent times. To my horror it has been inserted in the latest Concise Oxford Dictionary. That is even worse than the fact that the Concise Oxford has added "upskill" meaning to teach an employee additonal skills.

Saturday, 22 November 2008


Blurfle - v. - a sniglet which could be used to mean "To be caught talking at the top of one's lungs when the music at the bar or disco suddenly stops."

Friday, 21 November 2008


I came across another new word on a blog the other day when someone referred to their flist. It sounded vaguely like a something unpleasant and medical – perhaps a mini fistula - but that didn’t seem to fit the context. A quick check of the definition gave me – “In Scotland, a sudden shower accompanied by a squall”. That didn’t fit the context either.

Then I discovered it was an LiveJournal term. LiveJournal (often abbreviated LJ) is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary. I briefly had a Live Journal but it died!

In LiveJournal a flist is - "a user's list of friends". In other words it is an abbreviated form of the term friends list.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I suppose that if I were to be technically correct I should have labelled this blog “Words and Phrases” because I also want to include the latter when appropriate.

One phrase I came across recently is ‘vanity-sizing’. This, it seems, is the attempt by stores to boost the egos of those who are size conscious (and in the process encourage sales) by assigning smaller sizes to clothes than is really the case. I think it’s also known as lying! Presumably it is contrary to the Trades Descriptions Acts but which size 12 is going to be the first to complain about being a size 8?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


A wonderfully descriptive word for incorrect spelling or poor handwriting. I reckon my spelling is not too bad but my handwriting has always been a terrible scribble. Does that mean I’m cacograhpical or not????
St Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225. His handwriting was so bad I can't tell what his spelling was like but they didn't spel that wel in thoze daies eniway...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Callipygian (alternatively callipygous) is an adjective meaning having beautifully-shaped buttocks. I decided I’d probably best not illustrate this word – I’ll leave it to your imaginations...

Monday, 17 November 2008


Calepin was formerly a word for a dictionary, especially a polyglot one.

I know the word Le Calepin (pronounced cal-pain – as in Calcutta and Paint) as meaning a notebook. So, how come the French word for a notebook has ended up as an English word for a dictionary? The answer is that there is no connection – it is purely coincidental.

Ambrosio Calepino (1436-1511), of Calepio, in Italy, was the author of an eleven-language dictionary in 1502. As a result "my Calepin," like my Euclid or my Johnson became a common noun from a proper name.

"Whom do you prefer
For the best linguist? And I seelily
Said that I thought Calepine's Dictionary."

John Donne: Fourth Satire 1597

(Seelily, by the way, means in a silly manner – but that’s perhaps a word for another day...).

Meanwhile, the French word is best summed up on Heather Tomlinson’s Live Journal –
“French notebooks come in many delicious shapes and styles. A "calepin" is the kind you tuck in your coat pocket to keep track of metro stops, cafe addresses, your friends' shoe sizes, movies you've been meaning to rent, the dimensions of the corner wall where you hope to cram another bookcase, rose names from the Jardin des Plantes, shopping lists, bits of overheard conversation, book titles people recommend, and whatever odd things you notice on the streets of Paris (or wherever you happen to be). “

I defy anyone to better that description!

Sunday, 16 November 2008


As everyone who knows me has by now appreciated I think Sarah Palin is an evil theocratic ignoramus who is as dim as the microwave light. So when I came across her being described as a wackaloon I thought I must look that word up – it sounded great.

A wackaloon, it seems, is:-

1) an individual person, or politician, who continually makes foolish statements, comments or surmises.

2) Someone whose behaviour bypasses moron idiot and dumbf**k. Characterized by saying or doing the same stupid thing over and over even though others have pointed out your ridiculous behaviour.

3) A person on the brink of a mental breakdown or exhibiting signs of insanity, irrational behaviour, foaming of the mouth, and embarrassing facial twitches.

I haven’t noticed any facial twitches or foaming at the mouth but all the rest seems to fit with my perception of the Republican Governor of Alaska.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Xenomania is “An obsession with strangers; A pleasure gained from meeting strangers or visiting new cultures.” Xeno- is a prefix based on the Greek word "Xenos", meaning stranger. It also gives us Xenophobia - an intense dislike and/or fear of people from other countries. The term is typically used to describe a fear or dislike of foreigners or of people significantly different from oneself. Nowadays we also have "Xeno-racism" - 'a racism that is not just directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonial territories, but at the newer categories of the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted, who are beating at western Europe's doors, the Europe that helped to displace them in the first place.' - A. Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations

Nowadays 'Xenomania' is better known not as a word from the dictionary but as a one of the UK's leading pop production houses, put together by writer and producer Brian Higgins.

Friday, 14 November 2008


A dongle is a small hardware key that plugs into the serial port, parallel port or USB of a computer. I love the word.

How quickly we assimilate new tongues once we know the basics. It doesn’t matter whether it is French, Latin, or the language of Computer Jargon, once we have a basic understanding of it we progress rapidly. How many new terms have I learned in Computerese over the last few years, I wonder. Certainly hundreds..

One of these is dongle. I first came across the word when I was offered a free Bluetooth dongle with a new mobile some years back. I said ‘Yes, please’; even though I hadn’t a clue what it was.

Dongle is a user-friendly term for a small device that connects to a computer's port, often to authenticate a piece of software. When the dongle is not present, the software runs in a restricted mode or refuses to run. They have many different uses including data storage, Bluetooth and wireless adapters.

I was reminded of the word by GB’s blog posting on changing his ISP to get Broadband instead of dial-up for his laptop.

If you ever come across computer jargon you don’t understand all you have to do is Google it. In the search box put ‘define: ‘ before the word and you’ll get lots of definitions. Alternatively there are lots of sites like the digital village which list terms.

I wonder how many readers appreciated the number of words I have used in this posting which would have been meaningless to them, or held a different meaning, a few short years ago? Words like search, USB, software, mobile, Bluetooth, wireless, Google, broadband, sites, posting, blog, ISP, dial-up, laptop....


An ardent desire, especially sexual desire, lust, desire for earthly things. Enough said!

Thursday, 13 November 2008


When I set up this blog it was to record new words I came across and favourite words that I already knew. I forgot about sniglets. Sniglets are words that don't appear in the dictionary, but should. See Sniglets and More Sniglets.

I’ve come across a super sniglet created by mistake by Sara. She misspelled the word ‘gloating’ on her blog the other day. It came out as gloathing. When she discovered her error she pointed out ‘I do sort of like the word "gloathing." "Gloating" + "loathing" -- I know there's a place in the English language for such a word, especially around election time.’

So I would define gloathing as “Malicious satisfaction when something unpleasant happens to someone you detest.”

(Sara is one of the many people whose blogs I read because I find their positive approach to life inspiring. Nearly all of them suffer from health issues far worse than mine. )

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Flittermouse is one of my favourite words. It is a one-time poetic term for a bat. Other similar terms used for the bat included flindermouse, flintymouse and flickermouse. The above flittermouse was photographed by GB.

The German equivalent - Die Fledermaus - was used by Johann Strauss as the title for an operetta that premiered in 1874 and remains part of the regular operetta repertoire today.

The French equivalent is La Chauve-souris - the bald mouse.

A group of bats is called a colony, a cloud or a clowd.


A beautiful sounding word meaning "The writing, composing, or singing of hymns or psalms; The hymns of a particular church or of a particular time".

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


There are a number of words that I come across which I sort of half-know. I appreciate what they roughly mean when in context but I couldn’t write a definition of them.

Eclectic is one such word so I checked the definitions and they included:-

Mixing elements from different ideas, sources, styles, colours, materials or periods that together look tasteful.

Personalized decorating style that combines furniture and accessories of various styles, textures, origins, and periods.

Applied to systems of philosophy or religion which cull the best from a variety of systems and doctrines.

It comes from the Greek eklektikos meaning selective or picking out.

Monday, 10 November 2008


GB's blood pressure is up. That's not good news. That's the problem about having a healthy lifestyle as he does. If mine went up no one would be surprised. I know mine is OK because I had an appointment with a sphygmomanometer last week. At the time I didn't know what it was - it was just a blood pressure monitor.

So, to clarify matteres, a sphygmomanometer is an instrument for measuring blood pressure in the arteries. It consists of an inflatable cuff connected via a rubber tube to a column of mercury with a graduated scale. It measures systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

You can find out how one works at http://health.howstuffworks.com/question146.htm

The word is also useful as a sobriety test - try saying sphygmomanometer after three glasses of wine!

Sunday, 9 November 2008


I came across hussifry in Allan Mallinson's "The Nizam's Daughters". Google didn't want to define hussifry and offered me huswifery, another equally attractive word (meaning 'The business of a housewife; female domestic economy and skill'), instead. It was then that I realised they were one and the same thing. Huswifery was pronounced with a silent 'w' and a short 'i'.

The UK National Archives include an indenture of apprenticeship (by churchwardens and overseers) of Elizabeth Treacher of Sonning, a pauper child, to Humphry Ball of Sonning, to learn 'the art of Hussifry'. It seems that the term was commonplace in the 17th Century but gradually declined though it's male equivalent, 'husbandry', remained. Huswifery was the title of a poem by the puritan poet Edward Taylor (ca. 1642-1729) and Thomas Hardy used the term 'hussif'ry' in his poem The Bullfinches in 1902.

Interestingly the only remant of the term now seems to be the pejorative term 'hussy'.


My daughter Helen commented last week in her Blog that she was now keeping a notebook of new words that she comes across during her reading. "This week I bought a lovely little leather bound book to write new words in as I read them (most of my friends here being foreign I rarely learn a new word from an actual person). I've added a few from "1984", but my favourite has to be persiflage (from the French persifler) which means banter."

This inspired me to create a Word blog. This will include both new words and favourite words. A defibnition and some comment, perhaps even a relevant quotation, will acompany the word. Each word will have a separate posting.