"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."

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Thrasonical means like Thraso (a character in the play 'Eunuchus' by Terence) - boastful; bragging; vainglorious.

"His eye ambitious, his gait majestical, and his general behaviour vain, ridiculous and thrasonical." -Shakespeare – 'Love’s Labours Lost'

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Boondock, nurdle, scrunge and the like

Whatever you think about the game of tiddlywinks, you’d probably agree that it has some of the most interesting vocabulary of any childhood game. It includes such terms as boondock, squidger, gromp, squop, scrunge, crud, penhaligon, and nurdle. I apologize that I'm not able to elaborate on the meanings of these individual terms but I still thought them worth a mention.

By the way - did you know that there is a village of Tiddleywink in Wiltshire?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Chuff, chuffed and chuffing...

I have included the word chuff before - June 2009. To be chuffed means to be very pleased - "I'm chuffed to have won". According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary it was first recorded around 1860.

Chuffed is often qualified as in the phrase chuffed to bits, which means the same thing – extremely pleased. An alternative is ‘chuffed to little mint balls’, a favourite phrase of GB's, but I haven’t been able to find anything about the age of that phrase or its origins. Any contributions welcome!

(An alternative meaning of chuff - churlish or gruff - is much older but is now archaic).

Prusten is a sound made by the tiger and the snow leopard, also known as chuffing. It is a low-frequency equivalent to the purring found in domesticated cats. The animal's mouth is closed and it blows through the nostrils, producing a breathy snort.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


A currcile was a light, two-wheeled vehicle, usually drawn by a pair of horses abreast, a favourite of men-about-town in the early 1800s before the cabriolet became popular. It was named after its inventor, Lady Betty Curricle, and was a parent of the Victorian dog-cart, the earliest of which were drawn by dogs (later so-named because there was room to carry sporting dogs under the driver's seat).

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Epicene means bisexual; having an ambiguous sexual identity; hermaphrodite; one having both male and female sexual characteristics and organs; at birth an unambiguous assignment of male or female cannot be made.

Epicene is also an adjective for loss of gender distinction, often specific loss of masculinity; effeminate; having unsuitable feminine qualities.

Epicene is also used to describe a noun – such as author or poet - whose single form can designate either a male or a female.

For example – M C Beaton is an excellent author but one cannot tell from that phrase whether M C Beaton is a man or a woman because author is an epicene word.

Friday, 26 March 2010


A purfle is an ornamental border on clothing, furniture or a violin; beading; or stringing.

As a verb it means to decorate (wood, cloth etc.) with a border.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Ersatz is a German word literally meaning inferior substitute or replacement. Ironically the word was popularised in the English language during the war with Germany when coffee was scarce and ersatz coffee (made with all sorts of things!) replaced the real thing becaue of rationing.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


A tondo (plural "tondi" or "tondos") is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, either a painting or a sculpture.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Desultory means marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose; jumping from one thing to another; without order or rational connection; without logical sequence; disconnected; immethodical; and aimless.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Night collar

To have the night collar is an expression meaning to have the night shift in a taxi. It originates from the days when taxi-cabs were horse-drawn and the night collar was a special collar burnished to reflect light, used to make the horse more visible at night.

"Night Collar" is also a play about late night taxi drivers by Tony Furlong and Jimmy Power (c2003).

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Inchoate (pronounced in-kow-ate) means incipient; only partly in existence; imperfectly formed; not yet completed or finished.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Primrose path of dalliance

To be "led down the primrose path" is an idiom suggesting that one is being deceived or led astray, often by a hypocrite. The primrose path also refers to someone living a life of luxury apparently linking primroses to libertine indulgence; a life of ease and pleasure; sometimes a deceptively easy course of action that can end in tragedy.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare refers to the 'primrose path of dalliance'. Dalliance is the deliberate act of delaying and playing instead of working; flirting; or playful behavior intended to arouse sexual interest.

Friday, 19 March 2010


A carnet is a customs document permitting the holder to carry or send merchandise temporarily into certain foreign countries (for display, demonstration or similar purposes) without paying duties or posting bonds. I9 assume it comes from the French and therefore I imagine it is pronounced car-nay.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Ubiquity is the state of being everywhere at once (or seeming to be everywhere at once. It is synonymous with omnipresence.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Purdah or Pardaa is sometimes used to mean solitude or a state of social isolation. More correctly it refers to the traditional Hindu or Muslim system of keeping women secluded; a screen used in India to separate women from men or strangers; the seclusion of women away from outside, public life; or the practice that secludes women from public observation by means of concealing clothing. The word comes from the Hindi word Parda — a screen or veil.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Quixotic (pronounced quick-sotic) means not sensible about practical matters; idealistic and unrealistic; or absurdly chivalric, like Don Quixote in the book by Miguel Cervantes. Unlike the adjective, the Don himself is pronounced key-ho-tay.

"An insight into the beauty and excellence of this incomparable adjective is unhappily denied to him who has the misfortune to know that the gentleman's name is pronounced Ke-ho-tay." (Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary)

Monday, 15 March 2010


A distaff was the staff on which wool or flax was wound before spinning. As spinning was women's work, the word came to mean the sphere of work by women; female: characteristic of or peculiar to a woman. It is nowadays sometimes used to refer to the distaff side of the family - meaning the line that comes down through (or goes back through) the women of the family.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


A pastiche is a literary or other artistic genre that is a "hodge-podge" or an imitation. The word is also a linguistic term used to describe an early stage in the development of a pidgin language.

I guess this blog is a pastiche of sorts! It's certainly a hodge-podge which, by definition, is a jumble; a medley; a motley assortment of things.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


Samite was a heavy silk fabric (often woven with silver or gold threads); used to make clothing in the Middle Ages.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Pooty was (and may still be) a dialect term for a snail shell.

"... my botanizing & naturalizing excursions & you will laugh at my comencement for I have been seriously & busily employd this last 3 weeks hunting Pooty shells.." John Clare 1825

Thursday, 11 March 2010



Lackadaisical means dreamy: lacking spirit or liveliness; idle or indolent especially in a dreamy way; showing no interest or enthusiasm.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010


In 1995 a fossil, later to be named Gerobatrachus , was discovered in Texas. When it was gradually removed from its rock and taken to be studied it was shown to be a missing link between frogs and salamanders. It had always been assumed that they shared a common ancestor but this was the first fossil to have been discovered that showed the link. Jason Anderson from the University of Calgary declared the fossil to be a ‘perfect little frogamander’. The word is so delightful that I have little doubt it will quickly be adopted into our language.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


A lambrequin was at one time a scarf that covered a knight's helmet. More recently the word has been used for a short and decorative hanging for a shelf edge or a decorative wood frame built around the top and sides of a window to create a larger, more impressive window treatment.

Monday, 8 March 2010


In Greek mythology Lamia was a Queen of Libya who became a monster with the head and breasts of a woman and the lower half of a serpent, which ate children and sucked the blood from men. Subsequently the word was used for a number of such vampires, not specifically the former Queen of Libya.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Pullulate is a great sounding word and has so many meanings that it deserves to be far better known and much more regualrly used.

It means to be teeming, be abuzz; pour; move in large numbers; shoot; produce buds, branches, or germinate; become abundant; increase rapidly; and breed freely and abundantly.

I'm looking forward to the Spring when the garden will pullulate with humming bees.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


Satori in Zen Buddhism is a state of sudden spiritual enlightenment.

Satori translates as "consciousness" and is also a type of mountain-dwelling creature in Japanese folklore that holds the power to read human thoughts.

Friday, 5 March 2010


Kvass or kvas (literally "leaven"; borrowed in the 16th century from the Russian word kvas), is sometimes translated into English as 'bread drink'. It is a fermented mildly alcoholic beverage made from black rye or rye bread (which contributes to its dark colour).

Thursday, 4 March 2010


The diabolo (commonly misspelled as diablo; formerly also known as "the devil on two sticks") is a juggling prop consisting of a spool which is whirled and tossed on a string tied to two sticks held one in each hand. A huge variety of tricks are possible using the sticks, string, and various body parts.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I came across this word in a crossword recently. Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise, originating in the Provencal region of France. It is very rich and usually made from garlic, egg, lemon juice and olive oil.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


There are at least three different meanings to the word wattle.

Wattle is a construction of poles intertwined with twigs, reeds, or branches, used for walls, fences, and roofs; the material used for such construction It occurs frequently in the phrase 'wattle and daub' where daub was the clay used to bind the wattle and create a waterproof wall.

Secondly it is a fleshy, wrinkled, often brightly coloured fold of skin hanging from the neck or throat, characteristic of certain birds, such as chickens or turkeys, and some lizards.

In botany it is any of various Australian trees or shrubs of the genus Acacia.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Importunity is insistent solicitation and entreaty; a constant and insistent demanding; unseasonableness; or an unsuitable or inapproproate time.