"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, 28 February 2010


A panegyric is a formal public speech, or (in later use) written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. It is derived from Greek meaning a speech "fit for a general assembly".

Saturday, 27 February 2010


As a verb, cavil means to raise trivial objections; to quibble; to evade the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections; to criticise for petty reasons. As a noun it means a petty or trivial objection or criticism.

Friday, 26 February 2010


Eleemosynary means relating to charity, alms, or almsgiving; supported by charity; intended for the distribution of charity.

I came across this word in the first sentence of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1761). "An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money." At this rate the book promises to give me a number of new words for my vocabulary!

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

Thursday, 25 February 2010


I think wherewithal is a lovely sounding word. It means the ability and the financial means required to accomplish some task; the necessary means.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I came across the word caraoke recently. At first I thought it was a mis-spelling of karaoke but then discovered it is in the Urban Dictionary as meaning singing along with music in a car, especially loudly and passionately.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Poor John

Poor John is not just me when I'm feeling sorry for myself! It is a name given to hake that was salted and dried for food. The name first appeared in print in 1585.

Hake was a name given to any of various marine food fishes of the genera Merluccius and Urophycis, related to and resembling the cod, but of inferior quality.

"Poor-john and apple pies are all our fare." Sir J. Harington 1612.

It is unclear whether the John Harrington who wrote that line was the writer of that name (1561-1612) or his namesake, the politician Baron Harington (1539-1613).

If it is the latter there is a wonderful irony in the use of the name since Sir John (he was knighted in 1584 by Queen Elizabeth) was created Baron Harington in July 1603 at the coronation of James I. James then made him guardian of James' daughter, Elizabeth. The high cost of entertaining the Princess ruined him. Poor John!!! As partial recompence Harington was granted a licence by the king to mint the first ever copper farthings.

Monday, 22 February 2010

In absentia

In absentia is Latin for "in the absence". In legal use it usually pertains to a defendant's right to be present in court proceedings in a criminal trial. For more than 100 years, courts in the United States have held that, according to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant's right to appear in person at their trial, as a matter of due process is protected under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Hopefully I shall be have my heart bypass today so I have scheduled my words and phrases blog to bring up one a day for the next few weeks 'in absentia'. As a result if you make any comments it may be some time before they are moderated and posted.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Achilles' Heel

Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis and Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons. He was the foremost Greek warrior in the Trojan war and hero of Homer's 'Iliad'. Achilles was said to be invulnerable as a result of having been dipped in the River Styx by Thetis when he was a baby. Unfortunately he was held by his heel as he was dipped and as a result his heel was not treated. It was oin this vulnerable part of his body that he was shot and killed by Paris's arrow.

The phrase Achilles Heel came to mean any vulnerable point of a person or thing. In 1946 George Orwell described Achilles Heel as a dying metaphor but it is as common today as ever it was.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

According to Hoyle

The phrase 'According to Hoyle' means exactly; correctly; or according to the recognised rules. At one time Edmond Hoyle's book 'A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist' (1742)was regarded as the definitive text on the game and he was also the standard authority on the rules of certain other card games. As a result the phrase 'According to Hoyle' meant according to the highest authority.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hundreds and Hides

Ignoring the use of the word to mean ten times ten this is about its use as a parcel of land - an English adminstrative area larger than a village and smaller than a county. It was at one time the most basic unit of administration in the realm but its initial purpose is obscure. It may have been intended as that amount of land which could provide a hundred warriors for the king's host (the word army is a comparatively recent invention) or to cover one hundred hides of land. (The hide was a unit used in assessing land for liability to "geld", or land tax, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 11th centuries. A very old English unit of area, a hide was of variable size depending on localation and the quality of the land. It was the amount of land to support a family, and ranged from 60 to 180 acres. After the Norman conquest in 1066 it became standardized at around 120 acres.)

Whatever it's origins, the most important aspect of a hundred by the fourteenth century was that it had its own court.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Fosser was a medieval term for a gravedigger or sexton.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Burned Wine

No - this is not something that happens if you spill your glass over the gas stove! Burned wine was formerly a term for brandy.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


A corrody is an allowance of food and clothing from an abbey, monastery, or other religious house. Previosuly it was a form of medieval pension in which a wealthy patron would pay for a post in a religious house on behalf of a retired servant. The retired person would be given his accomodation, food, clothing and a small spending allowance.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Hissy fit

Hissy fit is an extraordinarily annoying term used to describe a temper tantrum. (That was someone else's definition but I happen to agree! - Sorry GB but you did ask!!!)

A sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe female anger at something trivial. Originally regional from American South. Thought to originate from contraction of "hysterical fit."

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Craven as an adjective means lacking even the rudiments of courage; abjectly fearful.

Craven can also be a noun and like its alternative, cravenness, means an abject coward; ignoble coward; or poltroon.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Tussore or tussah is a rough silk that is woven from the cocoons of an oriental moth that produces brownish silk.

Friday, 12 February 2010


Csárdás (pronounced "char-dash") is a traditional Hungarian folk dance, the name derived from csárda (old Hungarian name for a pub). It makes a great word for crossword enthusiasts!

Thursday, 11 February 2010


When I moved from Liverpool to Leeds in the 1960s I had some trouble initially with working out what things were called in the bakers and cake shops. Things that I had known as barm cakes were baps, cottage loaves were barms, rolls were something else (I forget what now), and so on. Consequently when I came across the word bap the other day I thought I'd look up its formal definition.

A bap is a small loaf or larger roll of soft bread, originally from Scotland, roughly 5-6 inches in diameter. I wonder if the Trading Standards have definitions for these various things - I'm sure they must have.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Wicked Bible


The Wicked Bible was so-called because the word ‘not’ was omitted from the seventh commandment leaving it as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. It was printed by Barker and Lucas, King Charles I’s printers at Blackfriars in 1631. It has also been called the Adulterer’s Bible.

Another Bible has also held the title Wicked Bible or Unrighteous Bible. It was printed in Cambridge in 1653 and contained the words ‘The Unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God’ instead of ‘shall not inherit’ (I Corinthians vi 9).


Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Ethicurean is a recently coined word to refer to a person whose eating and drinking habits are formed by their ethical principles.


Monday, 8 February 2010



In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary something that is sepilible is defined as that which may be buried. I'm not sure in what context the word might have been used! The word was first recorded by Nathan bailey, a lexicographer who died in 1742.


Sunday, 7 February 2010



Anagogical is an archaic word meaning mystical, spiritual, or having a secondary spiritual sense. Anagogy was the spiritual or mystical interpretation of a word or passage (especially in the Bible) beyond the literal, allegorical or moral sense.


Saturday, 6 February 2010

Global dimming


Global dimming is the reduction in light reaching the surface of the planet. Each year less light reaches the surface of earth as a result of the increase in black carbon and other particulates in the atmosphere. The consequent ‘global dimming’ is considered a direct result of human activity.


Friday, 5 February 2010



Tocsin is the sound of an alarm (usually a bell); a warning bell.


Thursday, 4 February 2010



The word bacn was coined in August 2007 and refers to unsolicited e-mail that the recipient actually wants or needs (or a superior feels they ought to need) but not right now. On the e-mail scale it falls between ham (legitimate e-mail) and spam.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010



Although I cannot find it on the web I understand that ‘nitchy’ is a dialect term from Sussex meaning olde worlde, cosy etc. The sort of word that would be used to describe tea shoppes and coffee shops.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Occasionally I seek help with a word on this blog. Foulroyce is just such a word.

I came across it in the letters of John Clare (Feb 7th 1825:- "I always admire the kindling freshness that the bark of the different sorts of trees & underwood assume in the forest – the foulroyce twigs kindle into a vivid colour at their tops as red as woodpigeons claws..."

I assume foulroyce was a dialect name for a particular plant. The study of such names was at one time of great interest to me but I never came across the name foulroyce. Has anyone any idea which plant it might be? (Or, if my assumption is incorrect, an idea what the word might mean?)

Monday, 1 February 2010


A blackjack is a weapon - a piece of metal covered by leather with a flexible handle; used for hitting people.