"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."

Thursday, 30 April 2009


A cachet (Ka-SH-ay) is a special characteristic or quality; an indication of approved or superior status.

It also means a seal, as of a letter; a warrant formerly issued by a French king who could warrant imprisonment or death in a signed letter under his seal; a design or artwork on the left hand side of an envelope, found primarily on first day covers.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


A jurist is not someone who sits on a jury - that is a juror.

A jurist is a legal scholar versed in civil law or the law of nations; a judge: a public official authorized to decide questions brought before a court of justice; a professional who studies, develops, applies or otherwise deals with the law.

If I use this illustration does it make me a Jester?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Jejune means insubstantial; insipid; lacking in nutritive value; displaying or suggesting a lack of maturity; lacking interest or significance or impact; meagre; scanty; dull or uninteresting and is used primarily of ideas and arguments.

It was a fairly jejune novel.

Monday, 27 April 2009


Parthenogenesis is an asexual form of reproduction found in females where growth and development of embryos or seeds occurs without fertilization by a male; the development of an individual from an egg without fertilization.

On 21st May 2006, Flora, a female Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) at Chester Zoo laid eleven eggs. It was a big surprise when these eggs turned out to be fertile since Flora had never been with a male Komodo Dragon. This is one of the 'babies' at the age of three.

DNA-testing at Liverpool University showed that Flora was the mother AND the father.

The effort of being a Mum and Dad!

Other lizard species are known to be able to reproduce by parthenogenesis but this was the first time it had been seen in Komodo Dragons.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


To scintillate (SIN-till-ate) means to sparkle with brilliant light. I think it's a lovely word.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


Syzygy is the alignment of any three celestial bodies. For example, the Sun, Earth, and Moon - such that one body is directly between the other two, such as occurs at an eclipse.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Sometimes the crossword compliers get really desperate. The other day we had a six letter answer to find for the clue ‘Three times’. Perhaps not surprisingly we tried ‘Thrice’. when that didn’t fit in with other prospective answers we eventually realised the word was supposed to be trebly.

Have you ever heard anyone use the word trebly? I certainly haven’t.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


In Britain a chip is a piece of potato cut lengthwise and square to make a straight sided stick shape, deep fried and served when slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

They may be made at home from raw potatoes and cooked in a chip pan or, nowadays, they may be bought as pre-cut potatoes, glazed lightly with oil which can be cooked in the oven.

Fish and chips is a traditional 'take-away' dish from 'chip-shops' in the UK.

Elsewhere they may be termed French fries and they are fairly common in restaurants in France, where they are called pommes frites. In Britain the term French Fries tends to be used in ‘posh’ restaurants to mean a chip or elsewhere to mean a thinner cut form of stick.

In the US a chip is a finely sliced piece of potato – cut in a cross section so as to be round. This is then deep fried until crisp.

They are usually made commercially and supplied in a sealed bag.

In Britain these are known as crisps. The first British potato crisps were manufactured by a man named Carter in 1913. He allegedly discovered them in France. In 1920 Smiths, a family business, began the first commercial production in Britain. Mrs Smith washed, cut and fried the potatoes in a garage in North London. Frank Smith packaged them in greaseproof paper bags and sold them from his pony and trap. A twist of blue paper with salt in it was provided to flavour the crisps. By then end of 1921 the Smiths had moved to larger premises and employed 12 staff .

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


I came across one of those phone texting glossaries the other day and was amused to see TTFN. The glossary explained it as “Ta ta for now”. Unlike WYSIWYG – “what you see is what you get” – TTFN needs no explaining to my generation or even the previous one.

The phrase and its abbreviation appeared in the World War II BBC radio show called "It's That Man Again", otherwise known as ITMA, that ran ten years from 1939 to 1949. Tommy Handley was the host of this weekly comedy show, featuring a stable of regular quirky characters and their catchphrases.

"TTFN," was part of a running joke that, following the practice of the military, abbreviations were vigorously substituted for full words -- the name of the show, ITMA, being a prime example of that.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Done to a turn

When meat is described as being ‘done to a turn’ it simply means it is adequately cooked.

The phrase comes from the days when meat was cooked on a revolving spit over an open fire. Once one side was cooked the spit was turned to cook another side – so the first side was ‘done to a turn’.

Monday, 20 April 2009


A plethora is an excessive amount or number; an abundance or over-abundance.

"There is a plethora of apple blossom at the moment; so the few bees that are around don't know which to visit."

Sunday, 19 April 2009


GB asked recently if delectation was a real word. It is. Delectation is delight: a feeling of extreme pleasure or satisfaction; enjoyment: the act of receiving pleasure from something.

I recall the old Edwardian-style music hall program on the BBC used to have a Master of Ceremonies who delighted in the use of long words and he would announce someone as being ‘For our delectation’.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


A costermonger is (or was- since the term is rarely used now) a hawker of fruit and vegetables from a barrow. A costard was the 14th century name for a type of large, ribbed apple and later came to be the name given to apples in general. A costard-monger was initially an apple-seller. The name gradually changed to costermonger.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Break a Leg

L'Archiduchesse is appearing in a theatrical performance and I had intended to wish her luck. Then I recalled that one wasn't supposed to do that so I sent her a message
saying 'Break a Leg'.

While the idea behind the phrase is quite old, possibly dating from medieval belief in malevolent spirits, "break a leg" itself is fairly recent. It was whispered in theatre circles starting in the 1920s or 30s, and first appeared in print around in 1957 when a play with that name was performed.

The exact origin of "break a leg" isn't clear. Several etymology resources note the phrase's similarity to a German saying hals und beinbruch, meaning "neck and leg break." It is sometimes said that the German expression is actually a corruption of a Hebrew blessing hatzlakha u-brakha, “success and blessing”, which may have been borrowed via Yiddish. It's used to mean good luck. One theory is that German-speaking or Yiddish-speaking Jews brought the saying with them to America early in the 20th century. Many of these immigrants worked in the theatre, so the translated phrase spread.

There is the possibility, however, that it referred to the actors bending their knees at the end of the performance to take a bow when the play had gone well. Other potential origins that get a mention here or there include the fact that Sarah Bernhardt had a leg amputated and her success was such that even to mention her name was considered good fortune in acting circles. One person who literally broke his leg on stage was John Wilkes Booth when he jumped down onto the stage after assassinating Lincoln! Not much luck for any of them in that!

'Break a Leg' belongs with other superstitions, such as that it is bad luck to whistle in a theatre, that you should never utter the final line of a play at the dress rehearsal, or that you must never say the name MacBeth (referring to it instead as The Scottish Play). Actors have always been a superstitious bunch, as you might expect from a profession in which employment is sporadic, audiences fickle and reputations fragile.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Bow chicka bow wow

Originally, this was something males said to alert each other of an attractive female. Now it is more commonly used to simply make a phrase sexual. As a result, the phrase "bow chicka bow wow" has come into usage to refer to something sexual, whether explicit or implied. It is also used as a euphemism for sexual activities.

Man to friend as girl walks by "Bow chicka bow wow!"
Friend "Where?"

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


Sempiternal means dateless; having no known beginning and presumably no end; seemingly everlasting or eternal. I'm not quite sure of where the difference lies between that and eternal unless there is a slight element of uncertainty about it. It may be that the crossword compiler who used it was simply filling in spaces! Anyone who knows if there is a difference might like to comment.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Upper crust

The origin of the saying ‘upper crust’ to mean the aristocracy is said by some to have come from the fact that only the well-off were given the upper crust of a loaf. (Because of the style of early ovens the bottom of the loaf would tend to be burned by comparison with the top.) There is no written evidence for this usage. Another idea is that pies for the nobility had an upper crust whereas the poor could only afford one layer of pastry – the one underneath the contents. Again there is no written evidence for this origin.

However, the idea of the head being referred to as the upper crust does appear in print as early as 1823 when Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue said – “...but to hear it from the chaffer [mouth] of a rough and ready costard-monger, ogling his poll from her walker [feet] to her upper crust [head].”

It is therefore quite likely that this was simply extended to suggest those at the top / head of the social strata.

"The upper crust seem to think bad manners are of no account." 

Monday, 13 April 2009


If I had been asked to define redolent I would have said it meant "evocative". At the same time I would have said it was generally applied in respect of scent - for example 'redolent of pine forests on a sunny, damp morning." What I have actually done is add together its two separate meanings.

It does mean evocative; serving to bring to mind but it also has a separate meaning of fragrant or aromatic; having a sweet scent. Most people seem to add the two meanings together as I did.

"His verse is redolent of that of Shakespeare."
"The pinkish flowers are redolent of sweet violets."


Sunday, 12 April 2009


Beth mentioned the other day that her hair was now long enough to tie back - so long as she used a barrette. I had never heard the term barrette before so I rushed off to find the definition.

Barrette - a pin for holding women's hair in place; a clasp or clip for gathering and holding the hair; a piece of jewelry (or jewellery if you are British) used to tie hair back, available in many sizes and styles.

This Beth modelling a barrette! Beth commented "Actually the silver piece is, I think, not technically a barrette--it is similar to one but works a little differently. It's actually a unique type of hair thing that I got at an artisan's booth at an outdoor fair! The little yellow-ish beige-ish clip is a type of barrette though." Judging by the fairly loose dictionary definitions it seems as though the silver one may also qualify.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Peregrination is a rarely used term for travelling or wandering, especially on foot and at random. It was used originally to refer to a pilgrimage.

"His peregrinations took him all over Europe, particularly the Eastern side."

Friday, 10 April 2009


Strictly speaking, a peccadillo is an indiscretion, a petty misdeed, or a minor sin. More recently, the use of the word has been extended to mean a flaw or a peculiarity.

The plural can be spelled with or without an e before the s.

"All butterflies have their little peccadilloes and one of the Peacock's is to land on pieces of white paper to sunbathe." 

Thursday, 9 April 2009


The term casement is used to describe a conventional window, with the sash hinged on its vertical side. In England casement windows open outwards but in France they open inwards.

A casement is also a chamber or bomb proofed vault, built within the walls of a fort.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Barre, as used in ballet terminology, refers to a handrail used during warm up exercises. The term can also be more widely used to refer to the series of exercises using that handrail.

Why include this unlikely word in my list, you might wonder? The answer is that it came up in a crossword and I had never previously realised that the bar around a dance studio was actually spelled barre.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Patent Leather

Patent leather – the shiny leather of which some shoes and other items are made - allegedly does not get its name from the special leather that Seth Boyden once patented. It was said to be named after the form of footwear called pattens. Pattens were wooden soled overshoes or sandals, held on the foot by leather or cloth bands, often with a wooden sole or metal device to elevate the foot above the dirt or mud.

It is alleged that dairy maids usually wore pattens so as to avoid getting the farmyard muck into the dairy which had to be kept spotless to successfully make butter. The leather of these pattens would get greasy from the buttermilk and cream that slopped onto them and therefore became shiny. A good story but how true is anyone’s guess.

Sporting a high-gloss finish, patent leather has long been established as leather that is considered uptown and formal. The history of patent leather begins in the early 19th century and owes its invention to Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey. In 1818, Boyden began to investigate the possibility of creating a version of leather that was treated in such a way that the material retained its desirable qualities of protection and durability. At the same time, this new type of leather would also have an appearance that would be decidedly more dressy than work boots and similar leather goods.

Using a formula that was based on a series of treatments using layers of linseed oil-based coats, the new shiny leather began commercial production on 20 September 1819. Boyden’s efforts resulted in the production of glossy leather that quickly caught on as a complement for formal dress. Despite the dairymaids lovely pattens I suspect Seth Boyden's invention was actually what gave the leather its name.


Moiety (pronounced MOY-i-tee) means one of two (approximately) equal parts though it is also loosely used to mean any share or portion. The term seems to crop up most when referring to a portion of someone's treasure or the objects in their will.

In anthropology it means one of two units into which a tribe or community is divided on the basis of unilineal descent.

Monday, 6 April 2009


A palimpsest was an early form of recycling. It was a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing often incompletely erased. The first use was scraped off and the papyrus or parchment written on again as an economy measure.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


Onomatopoeia (on-o-mat- o-PEA-a) is using words that imitate the sound they denote.

Examples include words such as "hiss". "tick-tock", "click", "clang", "buzz", "burble", "bang", "oink", "moo", and "meow".

Saturday, 4 April 2009


The answer to one of our crossword clues the other day was limpid. Limpid means clear and bright and is used especially of a liquid. It also means transmitting light , particularly transparent or bright, or able to be seen through with clarity and is used in that context with regard to crystals.

Limpid can also be used metaphoricaly to mean transparently clear or easily understandable; as in "he writes in a limpid style".

An alternative word of similar meaning is the delightful sounding 'pellucid'.

Friday, 3 April 2009


Obsequious is one of those words that sounds like what it is - a fawning subservience.

It conjours up visions of Dickensian charcaters rubbing ther hands together and virtually tugging their forelocks in an ingratiating or servile manner.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Did you enjoy April Fool’s Day?

My favourite item, brought to me by courtesy of my daughter Helen, was on Nature’s Calendar.

It suggested a butterfly, a new species to science – Aprilis baceolus - had been found in Kent.

Why have I blogged about it here? Because, as Helen pointed out, the word baceolus means stupid, slow-witted, unintelligent, inept, foolish, or silly.

Nice one!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Erstwhile is one of those lovely sounding words that you think should have long since fallen out of use. Fortunetaly it hasn't. It is still alive and well and living in bookland if not often in our conversations.

It means 'former, once, at a previous time or belonging to some prior time". Such as in the phrase 'her erstwhile friend'.

A word with the same meaning is quondam whose usage does seem to have pretty well died out.