Thursday, 28 May 2015

Éclaircissement - As Clear as French

A cube. With a question mark on it. To represent confusion.
(photo by Jared Cherup)


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Mid-17th century.
[French, from éclairciss- lengthened stem of éclaircir clear up.]

A clarification of what is obscure or misunderstood;
an explanation.

Anyone who uses the word éclaircissement to clear up a misunderstanding clearly has no interest in clearing up a misunderstanding.

And wants to look clever.

And will look like a div.

Do please leave your most clarion comments in the box below.
(you can hear the pronunciation of éclaircissement by clicking here)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Éclair - Why Is It Named After Lightning?

Chocolate-filled éclairs - because clearly they weren't already sweet enough
(photo by LMDCWIKI)


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, literally 'lightning'.]

A small finger-shaped cake of choux pastry,
filled with cream and iced, especially with a chocolate icing.

OK. I'm just throwing this one out there, because lo and behold sometimes Lexicolatry doesn't have all the answers: éclair literally means 'lightning' in French, and I want to know why. There are a couple of rather unconvincing theories out there - one is that they're so delicious, they get eaten lightning quick (pff!), and the other that the gleam off the top of the icing sometimes resembles lightning (double pff pastry!). The OED is frustratingly silent on this matter, so it's possible we will never know. Therefore, let us speculate, theorise and conjecturise as to why this humble, ridiculously delicious cake (which is a member of the 'pie family', would you believe?) is named after this meteorological phenomenon.

Do please copy and pastry your sweetest comments in the choux box below.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ecdysiast - A Stripper By Any Other Name

A neon stripper sign
Business at The Legless Stripper has never been better
(photo by Duncan C)


A striptease artist.

You know that awkward situation when you're talking to someone that takes their clothes off for a living, but you're not sure of the politically correct term for their line of work? Stripper? Exotic dancer? Burlesque performer? Well, let Lexicolatry peel away that social discomfort, because the proper term for such a person is an ecdysiast, and the art or occupation in general is ecdysiasm.

The word is derived from the Greek ekduein (to put off, shed), and follows the pattern of the English words enthusiast and the similarly derived ecdysis, defined as the 'action or process of shedding an outer skin or integument, as in insects, reptiles, etc.' However, it might be better not to think about this etymological entomological herpetological connection because ... well ... call me old fashioned, but the thought of snakes, insects and dead skin suddenly makes ecdysiasm sound just a little bit ick.

A snake shedding its skin
A snake doing its ecdysis.
(photo by Jen Goelinitz)
 Do please strip down your most neon comments in the box below. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Reflections on the Letter D

Only 22 Letters to Go!

Delumptious deloping Delilahs! If I haven't only gone and finished D! And it's been quite an eventful run too - somewhere in between my compulsive dictionary reading, I've managed to have a son and complete my first year in university. Of course, regular Lexi readers will know that I did take a break halfway through D - and I'd like to thank everyone for their patience as I did this. I did wonder if coming back after what ended up being a five month hiatus would mean I had no readers left, but no! Gladly, and thankfully, lots of you think that good words are worth the wait, and my daily hits quickly bounced back to their pre-break numbers! 

As for D itself, it did throw up some new and interesting words for me. Some of my favourites were delope (to deliberately miss a shot in a duel), deipnosophist (a person skilled in the art of dinner conversation) and the various and fascinating forms of deja vuThere was also a plethora of familiar but equally interesting words with curious histories and etymologies: daisy (from the Old English for 'day's eye'), drongo (it was a spectacularly naff racehorse) and doolally (an Indian town) were perhaps my favourite examples of these.

So, onward we march into the edifying edifices of E! And as we go, I would like to make a few changes to Lexicolatry, and would very much welcome feedback as I do. Firstly, I am planning to dispense with the long dictionary definitions at the start of every post - for words with short definitions (like, say, dasypygal - 'having a hairy buttocks'), I'll keep them, but for words with extensively long definitions or a myriad of meanings (like dog), I will simply explain the various meanings in text, and link to a dictionary if someone would like to read the full definition.

There are a couple of reasons for this - firstly, it takes me an awful long time to write out the long definitions. Very often, I'm really excited about a particular word, and just want to dive straight in and write! But I can't because I have to sit and tediously write out (and format) the definition. It's a bit like having an urge to just plunge into a swimming pool, but having to construct the diving board first (how's that for a contrived simile?). And, to be honest, I'm not sure how many people pore over the definitions I write anyway. So let's give this a try - posts will be more article based, and therefore quicker for me to write. But please, please give me some feedback on this - either in the comments or privately. I really do appreciate your input.

So thank you all again for your continued readership ... I look forward greatly to see you all through E!

Twitter: @lexicolatry

Friday, 22 May 2015

Dysphemism - The Euphemism's Evil Cousin

Two cigarettes
Cigarettes: also known as cancer sticks, lung darts and coffin nails
(photo by Geierunited)


Noun. Late 19th century.
[from DYS- bad, unfavourable, after euphemism.]

The substitution of a derogatory or unpleasant term for a pleasant or neutral one;
a term so used. Opposed to euphemism.

The dysphemism: the bolder, brasher, nastier cousin of the euphemism. Where the euphemism seeks to mollify, the dysphemism seeks to provoke; where the euphemism seeks to spare our sensibilities, the dysphemism seeks to crash right through them - offending, stoking, inciting and scandalising with every overblown, exaggerated, scandalous syllable it can muster. In short, if there were ever a phemism you would want to introduce to your parents, dysphemism wouldn't be it.

There are many reasons we choose to use dysphemisms, not least because they're highly effective at grabbing attention. Rather than calling her exercise book Run Overweight Woman Run, for example, author Ruth Field astutely utilised the power of dysphemism with Run Fat B!tch Run (for pure provocative punch, few words rival bitch); instead of calling welfare recipients welfare recipients, newspapers like The Daily Mail prefer terms like scroungers and spongers; and what paper would run with Mentally-ill Man With Knife when it can blast Knife-Wielding Maniac across its front page.

This is not to suggest, however, that the dysphemism is pure evil. After all, it carries the upfront and forthright honesty that its holier-than-thou cousin the euphemism could only ever dream of - who isn't sickened by the duplicity of terms like ethnic cleansing, voluntary repatriation or friendly fire? At least the dysphemism is clear in what it expresses. And we all use them, perhaps even more so than euphemisms - who hasn't called their neighbour's dog a mutt? Or their child a snotty-nosed brat? Or a lawyer a vulture? Or a doctor a quack? Or a certain newspaper a hate-filled mass of right-wing bum-fodder? Let he who is without dysphemism cast the first stone.

Do please leave your most phlegmatic comments in the waffle box below.