"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, 31 January 2010

Mushroom or Toadstool

Porcelain Fungus
Being an amateur naturalist I have often come across this issue of what is the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool. And the answer is simple - there is no difference because neither is a 'correct' scientific term.

Polyporus squamosus

The fungi comprise a large group of organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and moulds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms/toadstools. Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants, animals and bacteria. One major difference is that fungal cells have cell walls that contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, which contain cellulose. These and other differences show that the fungi form a single group of related organisms, named the Eumycota (true fungi or Eumycetes), that share a common ancestor (a monophyletic group).

 Mucilago crustacea - a slime mould

This fungal group is distinct from the structurally similar slime moulds (myxomycetes) and water moulds (oomycetes). The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.

Amethyst Deceivers

The terms mushroom and toadstool are both used to apply to the fleshy body of any of numerous fungi - both edible and inedible.

an Agrocybe species

To complicate matters the term mushroom is sometimes used to include toadstools and sometimes they are used the other way round. How can something include something else that has the same meaning? The answer lies in whether the fungal fruiting body has a stem and a cap with gills. If it does it may be described as a mushroom (or toadstool) to differentiate it from some fungi that don't have these three features.

A Boletus species - with a stem and cap but no gills!

A further way in which the terms are confusingly used is that 'mushrooms' is sometimes used for edible species and 'toadstools' for poisonous ones. Since some edible species look identical to poisonous ones and can only be told apart by microscopic examination of the spores this is the most unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) of the ways in which the names are used.

This Yellow Stainer is poisonous and yet it looks
like the sort of 'mushrooms' you buy in the shops.

In summary, therefore, they are all fungi and the terms mushroom and toadstool are usually used loosely to refer to fruiting bopdies with caps, gills and a stem.

(If you enjoyed this post  thank Dawn Treader for the idea.  If you got bored or confused half way through, blame me!!).

Saturday, 30 January 2010


Although orotund sounds like the description of a man with a beer belly it actually means bombastic; ostentatiously lofty in style; pompous (of writing); characterized by fullness, clarity, strength, and smoothness of sound.

It is a strange word as it appears to be complimentary when it relates to sound but critical when used about writing style.

Friday, 29 January 2010


I came across this word the other day and have to admit I didn’t even understand the definition. An enantiomoprh is either one of a pair of compounds (crystals or molecules) that are mirror images of each other but are not identical. How can something be a mirror image and yet not be identical. Surely by definition if it is a mirror image it must be identical (except a mirror image!!!). Ah well, it would be a bit much if I could understand all the definitions!

Thursday, 28 January 2010


A hanaper, was originally a case or basket to contain a "hanap " which was a drinking vessel, a goblet with a foot or stem; the term hanap is still used by antiquaries for medieval stemmed cups. The word hanaper was also used to mean a kind of basket, usually of wickerwork, for the packing and carrying of articles; a hamper.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


In heraldry, murrey is a "stain", a rarely used tincture, supposedly the colour of mulberries, somewhere between gules (red) and purpure (violet). Elsewhere it was used to mean blood coloured but is now no longer in common usage.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


The word cadge is usually used to mean to beg; to obtain something by wit or guile; or even to convince someone to do something they might not normally do.

The word is also used for a circular frame on which 'cadgers' carry hawks for sale or to go hawking. The Canadian Chickadee discovered that the origin of cadge as a word meaning to beg may originally have come from this use in hawking:-
"Regarding "cadge": Here's what Thomas Costain said about it in his book, "The Three Edwards" (Doubleday & Co., c. 1958) on pp. 39-40 in the section on falconry:

'An important if indolent member of the retinue was always the cadge-boy. From his shoulders was suspended a wooden frame which held, before the start of the hunt, the birds to be used.' The section then goes on to describe the various kinds of birds used, etc. before continuing: 'Once the hunters had reached a cleared space and released their birds, the cadge-boy, with nothing but an empty frame on his back, loafed about for tips. Thus came into general usage the word "cadge."'

The modern portable equivalent is a small plastic frame - which I found illustrated on a number of sites including Merlin Falconry.

A larger frame for displaying the birds rather than carrying them was also called a cadge on some sites such as Raphael Falconry.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Uxorious means foolishly fond of or submissive to your wife. Another definition suggests it means overly devoted or submissive to one's wife. I can appreciate that one can be overly submissive but can one really be overly devoted to one's wife?

Answers on a post card please to...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Answers on a postcard, please

At one time (long ago, in my youth) newspapers and magazines in Britain used to publish conundrums or quiz questions for their readers, with a small prize for the first correct reply, or the first 10 correct replies, or whatever.

Until a few years ago a postcard cost less to mail than a letter, and postcards were also easier for the magazine staff to sort through (no opening of envelopes), so the standard instruction was "Answers on a postcard, please, to [the magazine address]". So this became an idiom for "If anybody knows, please tell me".

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Two nations separated by a common language

In respect of the word hutch - see yesterday's post - I was reminded of the quotation about England and America - ‘Two nations separated by a common language.’

Often quoted by GB, I was not sure whether the originator of this phrase was Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. The answer appears to be both. In The Canterville Ghost (1887), Wilde wrote: ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. However, the 1951 Treasury of Humorous Quotations (Esar & Bentley) quoted Shaw as saying: ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’, but without giving a source. The quote had earlier been attributed to Shaw in the Reader’s Digest (November 1942).

Much the same idea occurred to Bertrand Russell (Saturday Evening Post, 3 June 1944): ‘It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language’, and in a radio talk prepared by Dylan Thomas shortly before his death (and published after it in The Listener, April 1954) - European writers and scholars in America were, he said, ‘up against the barrier of a common language’.

Inevitably this sort of dubious and almost certainly erroneous attribution has also been seen: ‘Winston Churchill said our two countries were divided by a common language’ (The Times, 26 January 1987; The European, 22 November 1991.)


Friday, 22 January 2010


Heather recently stated that she kept things underneath her hutch. This prompted me to comment:-
"I don't have a hutch... Over here a hutch is a cage that one keeps pets in - especially rabbits. So reading this in UK English rather suggests you have a big ears and sleep in a wood and wire cage but at least the fact that you store things underneath it suggests you are allowed out occasionally! :-) "

Upon checking I also discovered that in UK English was not only a “cage (usually made of wood and wire mesh) for small animals” but was also a hovel: small crude shelter used as a dwelling .

Heather responded by telling me that a ” hutch for "me" - can't say that for all US peoples but for me - is a formal wooden place to keep china, dishes, special glass and such. Mine has glass doors on the top section, a counter space for keeping books and what not's and a lower section with cupboards (where all of my photos be).”

In the UK this would probably be called a dresser but the use of the word hutch for this was confirmed by Wikipedia – “A hutch is a type of furniture that usually consists of a set of shelves or cabinets placed on top of a lower unit with a counter and either drawers or cabinets. Hutches are often seen in the form of desks, dining room or kitchen furniture. Frequently referred to by furniture aficionados as a hutch dresser.”


Thursday, 21 January 2010


One of my daughters got a Garklein for Christmas. When I put define: garklein in Google I found only this –
Die Garkleinblockflöte in c ist die regulär kleinste Baugröße der Blockflöte.  As I only know French, English and Latin that didn't help me much.

Fortunately she had already told me what a Garklein was – a mini-recorder.

The Garklein-Flötlein is the smallest recorder in the family and is rarely used by the recorder orchestra. Being only 6 inches long in total with only 3 inches covering all 7 holes, small fingers are essential! As a result of the instrument's small size, standard note fingerings do not always work and the player will need to learn several alternate fingerings. Unlike all the other recorders, the garklein barely covers a two octave range and therefore the sopranino can potentially reach higher notes than the garklein - as a result, the instrument only tends to be used when fingering on the sopranino is more awkward than fingering the same notes on the garklein.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Pinnock and Mangnall

In 'Tom Tiddler's Ground' by Charles Dickens there is a reference to Miss Pupford's establishment for six young ladies of tender years... It is implied that Miss Pupford came into the world already "completely up in Pinnock, Mangnall, Tables, and the use of the Globes."

A New York Times article in 1897 commented that "In the first half of the century girls of the richer classes were sent almost exclusively to boarding schools, or were taught by private governesses, whose educational merits could not be tested by any examinations. The school books were Mangnall's "Questions." Pinnock's "Catechisms." Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations," "Keith's "Use of the Globes," Mrs. Trimmer's "English History," and other elegant abridgements."

Richmal Mangnall (1769 - 1820) wrote "Historical and miscellaneous questions" – I’m not sure of the first publication but the third edition was in 1803. It went through over eighty editions by 1854.

William Pinnock (1782-1843) wrote a number of books for ‘young ladies’ such as A Catechism of British Biography; A Catechism of Ancient History; and A Catechism of Modern History.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


A casuist is someone whose reasoning is subtle and often specious; someone who argues over fine details; a quibbler or sophist.

A casuist may also be a theologian or other person who resolves cases of conscience or moral duty and casuistry is a moral philosophy based on the application of general ethical principles to resolve moral dilemmas.

Monday, 18 January 2010


Bullshine is considered a work-safe and broadcast-safe synonym of the swear word bullshit. Both are fairly modern in usage, especially bullshine.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


A lazaret was a hospital for persons with infectious diseases and leprosy; was also a quarantine station for maritime travellers. Lazarets could be ships permanently at anchor, isolated islands, or mainland isolated hospitals.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


Spats were short formal fabric shoe coverings worn over the instep and reaching just above the ankle, usually fastened by a strap under the foot and buttons. Spats were designed to stop mud getting into the side of your shoes. Around the First World War and into the twenties they were the height of fashion. They had gone out of fashion by the time of the Second World War, surviving in the law slightly longer than in other professions.

Nowadays, spats for girls are occasionally seen.

I have heard it said at one time that a man was all barefeet and spats and I never really understood it though the character in question was noted for abusing his position and for taking credit for the works of others. I don't know if that was a purely local expression or a more general one.

Friday, 15 January 2010


In Charles Dickens’ ‘Tom Tiddler’s Ground’ there is a hermit who wears a blanket and skewer. What, I wondered, was a skewer?

To me a skewer is a long pin for holding meat in position while it is being roasted or a similarly pointed pin of metal or wood used to hold small pieces of food together.

A skewer is also a metal bar with a cam action lever which clamps the hub of the wheel into the frame.

A skewer can also be a wooden peg or spindle on which bobbins of roving are held in a creel. [The creel is the rack for holding roving or yarn on any textile machine. Roving is the loosely twisted strand of cotton fibres from the time it leaves the slubber until it goes through the spinner frames and becomes yarn. (The slubber is a machine which draws out strands of sliver and twists them together loosely in order to give the strands sufficient strength to withstand subsequent operations.) Isn't it fascinating how every word one learns leads on to another one...]

But what was the hermit’s skewer? I assume it was a pin which was used to hold the blanket together – perhaps having its origin in the skewer which was a long upholsterers' pin with a ring at the end.


Thursday, 14 January 2010

Mary Sue and Gary Stu

A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu), is a character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfilment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as 'Mary Sues' is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favour the character too highly.

The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the 'Mary Sue' character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an 'author's pet'.

(My apologies that the above definition is quoted verbatim from someone's blog but I didn't make a note of whose it was! If it was you please let me know and I'll change this to an acknowledgement.)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Nyctophobia is a limiting and disabling disease characterized by a frenzied fear of the darkness. It is triggered by the mind’s disfigured perceptivity of what would or could happen when in a dark environment. Although nyctophobia is a morbid fear of night or darkness a lot of people suffer from a mild form of it in which morbid fear is replaced by a fear or dislike.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


This is a word that came up in one of our crosswords recently.

A gimcrack is something that is showy but of little use; a decorative object of little value; a trifle; an ornamental object of no great value.

In other words, a gimcrack is a gewgaw or folderol - two more lovely words with the same meaning!

Monday, 11 January 2010


Hobelars were a type of light cavalry, or mounted infantry during the Middle Ages, used for skirmishing. They originated in 13th century Ireland, and generally rode hobbies, a type of light and agile horse.


Sunday, 10 January 2010


A babewyn was a grotesque figure used in architecture or decoration" (early 14c.); a gargoyle. The name comes from the French babouin meaning a "baboon”.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Gibson Girl

Prior to the age of the flapper, before the start of World War I, the Gibson Girl was the rage. Inspired by Charles Dana Gibson's drawings, the Gibson Girl wore her long hair loosely on top of her head and wore a long straight skirt and a shirt with a high collar. She was feminine but also broke through several gender barriers for her attire allowed her to participate in sports, including golf, roller skating, and bicycling.

Susan E. Meyer, in her book "America's Great Illustrators" described the Gibson Girl :
"She was taller than the other women currently seen in the pages of magazines.. infinitely more spirited and independent, yet altogether feminine.
She appeared in a stiff shirtwaist, her soft hair piled into a chignon, topped by a big plumed hat. Her flowing skirt was hiked up in back with just a hint of a bustle.
She was poised and patrician. Though always well bred, there often lurked a flash of mischief in her eyes."

Friday, 8 January 2010


The term flapper in the 1920s referred to a "new breed" of young women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to the new jazz music and danced the Charleston. The name is said to come from the fact that they wore opened galoshes (boots) that flapped when they walked and danced. The cartoonist John Held is said to have depicted flappers in their galoshes but actually all the cartoons of his that I have found show the flappers in high heels with bows on the ankles.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


Megrim was an archaic term for a migraine; a fancy, a whim; a freak; or a caprice.
Megrims in the plural was a word used to refer to the blues; a state of depression.

A megrim is also a species of flatfish, a member of the sole family, caught off the Cornish coast but largely sent to Spain because we haven’t yet acquired the taste for it in this country..

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Anomie is a personal state of isolation and anxiety resulting from a lack of social control and regulation; a lack of moral standards in a society; apathy, alienation, and personal distress resulting from the loss of goals previously valued.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Moon People

I have just read the book "The Darkening Glass" by Paul Doherty. It is set in 1312 and includes a number of words which are no longer in general use and which I didn't recognise such as babewyn, hanaper and hobelar (you'll have to wait for those to appear on future postings!) but one phrase I came across left me bemused as I am unable to trace its meaning - Moon people.

The sentence in which it occurs is - "We met other travellers: moon people, gipsies in their gaily coloured wagons, merchants on horseback, trotting south to do business in the wool towns."

If anyone knows what moon people were can they please leave me a note in the comments!

Monday, 4 January 2010


According to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary bookful referred to a person who was full of notions gleaned from books and ‘crouded with undigested knowledge’. I wonder what the computer equivalent is – webful or netful perhaps?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Thuribles and Thurifers


A thurible is a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. The bearer of the Thurible is called the Thurifer.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


Longueur is a period of dullness or boredom (especially in a work of literature or performing art); a lengthy passage in a dramatic or literary work, especially a dull or tedious one.

(Can I take this opportunity at the New Year to thank my readers, in particular Shabby Girl, for their visits and their comments. Knowing you are out there makes doing this blog feel worthwhile. Hopefully there are not too many periods of dullness or boredom in the posts.)

Friday, 1 January 2010


Geomancy is divination by the earth. A widespread system of divination by means of designs drawn randomly on the ground with earth, sand, pollen, or other similar powders

Geomancy also refers to detecting, through calculations and signs, the hidden forces present in the landscape. In general, the influences of water veins, anomalies in the land and lines of the earth's magnetic fields are recognised. but there are alleged to be 280 further confirmed sorts of earth energies that influence us.