Monday, 31 December 2012


The man himself on a Soviet stamp commemorating his 1200 birthday
I think his book could have had a punchier title, but then what do I know?  


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Italian, Spanish, medieval Latin, from Arab al-jabr, from AL- +jabr reunion of broken parts, from jabara set broken bones, reunite, restore. The term achieved currency in the title of a book, 'ilm al-jabr wa'l-mukabala' 'the science of restoring what is missing and equating like with like', by the mathematician al-Kwarizmi (cf. ALGORISM).] 

1 obsolete. The surgical treatment of fractures. LME-M16

2 The part of mathematics which investigates the relations and properties of numbers or other
mathematical structures by means of general symbols; a system of this based on given axioms. M16

Algebra, for anyone not interested in mathematics, has a horrible reputation. I speak from experience, having failed maths in school, and not having had a proper grasp of even the most basic mathematical principles until my late twenties. However, when I did attack mathematics as an adult, I must say that I found algebra damned interesting! And that was before I had even discovered the etymology of the word!

It's takes a bit of thought to make the connection between the mathematical meaning of the word and its etymology, but if you think of an algebraic equation (2x + 10 = 20, for example), it is, in a sense, fractured because the x represents a break in the normal run of numbers.

When I was in school, I considered maths to be about as fun as a fracture. Oh the irony!

Sunday, 30 December 2012


Yes I used to collect these, and this was my favourite player


Noun. E17. 
[Latin = blank tablet, use as noun of neut. of albus white; first in English from German use of Latin phr. album amicorum album of friends, and in Latin forms.]

I A blank book for the insertion of collected items.
1 A blank book in which people other than the owner insert autographs, memorial verses, etc. E17.
2 A blank book for the insertion of stamps, photographs, etc. 

II 3 A holder for a set of discs or tape recordings; an integral set of discs or tapes; a disc or tape comprising several pieces of music etc. E20. 

A familiar word with an interesting etymology; I had never made the connection between an album and the Latin word for white, albus. As for the album amicorum, that's very, very sweet.

Orbital's In Sides
The first album I ever bought on CD
Even after all these years, it still sends tingles down my spine

Saturday, 29 December 2012


Cheerful, Reader, Eager, Keen,


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Latin alactritas, from alacr-, alacer briskness] 

Briskness, cheerful readiness, liveliness. 

alacritous adjective (rare) brisk, lively, active L19
alacritously adverb (rare) L19

Friday, 28 December 2012




Prefix (not productive).

The Arabic definite article al, forming an essential element of many words of Romance (esp. Spanish, and Portuguese) origin adopted in English, as alcohol, alcove, algebra, alkali.

The many and varied influences of the English language always fascinate me, and are an inextricable part of the beauty and richness of the language. I also got to discover a supposed transliteration of Lexicolatry into Arabic's beautiful script. Score!

Thursday, 27 December 2012



Noun. M20.
[Abbreviation of Russian Avtomat Kalashnikov 1947, the designation of the original model designed by Mikhail T. Kalashnikov (b. 1919).]

A type of assault rifle originally manufactured in the Soviet Union. 

I've chosen to include the AK-47 in Lexicolatry due to its iconic status both as a weapon and a word. As a word, someone that knows the name of no other weapon will have heard of an AK-47. As a weapon, it has an unrivaled place in human history and culture. In the West, we know when watching a film that if someone is carrying an AK, they're almost definitely a bad guy; in other parts of the world, it's seen and revered as the weapon of freedom fighters and revolutionaries. It's famed for its rugged construction, low production cost and ease of operation. It has appeared on national flags and emblems. It commands an enormous illicit trade, both in smuggled weapons and counterfeit variants. Its ease of use, cleaning and disassembly is often said to have changed the face of modern warfare, allowing poorly trained militias to command the firepower of a professional military unit. It's so easy that a child can operate it, and children often do. The AK-47 is one of the outstanding icons of the 20th century, both as a scourge and an emblem of our bloody history.

The flag of Mozambique

Wednesday, 26 December 2012




Noun. Also ache (obsolete). Mid-16th cenutry.
[Old French ache, perhaps from Proto-Romance word exemplifying the sound.] 

The letter H, h. 

Aitch, bless it, is one of the more controversial letters in the English language, and people can become very passionate about whether it's pronounced with an initial h sound or not (as in haitch rather than aitch), and it's often very much looked down upon in accents and speech patterns that drop the aitches, as in meeting someone that says they're from 'erefordshire rather than Herefordshire. Personally, I don't give a fricative. What really bugs me is when people don't believe that letters have spellings too, usually manifested during a game of Scrabble when they challenge a word like aitch or ess or any other such letter. Grrr. Drives me mental it does. Such people should be banned from playing Scrabble. For life. And be forced to to wear a placard that says 'I Challenged Aitch in a Game of Scrabble.'

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


Poe's The Black Cat  ... a favourite of mine for reading to young nieces and nephews


Noun. Early 20th century.
[from Greek ailouros cat + -PHOBIA.]

Irrational fear of cats. 

While we're on the subject of cats, here's ailurophobia for you. The poor creatures just can't win! Whether you're a deranged ailurophile or a cowering ailurophobe, cats are shown in a negative light. I've scoured the ailuro- words for one that means "A balanced view of cats that casts neither feline nor human in a pejorative light," but alas! I cannot find one! I do seem to have stumbled upon a need in the English language however, as one occasionally does. Let's hope that this void can be filled soon. One can but dream ...

Please post any suggestions as to what this word might be below.

Monday, 24 December 2012



Noun. Also -phil. Mid-20th century.
[from Greek ailouros cat + -PHILE

A lover of cats. 

There has long been the stereotype of the mentally unstable ailurophile, unable to form proper human connections and almost definitely a spinster, as epitomised by Crazy Cat Lady, a recurring character in The Simpsons.

Is this a stereotype without foundation?

Is an ailurophile just someone that really, really loves cats?

Feel free to leave any comments or elucidating links on the subject below. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Agent provocateur


Noun phr. Pl. -s. L19.
[French = provocative agent]

An agent employed to tempt suspected persons into committing an incriminating act. 

Saturday, 22 December 2012



Noun. Rare. Late 19th century.
[Greek agelastos, from gelan to laugh.]

A person who never laughs. 

We all know one.

Friday, 21 December 2012



Noun. Late 20th century.

A psychological malaise supposedly affecting (esp. young) wealthy people,
symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.

Thursday, 20 December 2012



Noun. US. Early 19th century. 
[Old French afier, (later aff-) from medieval Latin affidare to trust]

LAW. A person who makes an affidavit. 

I always like finding out I'm something that I didn't know I was. Specifically, I didn't know I was an affiant. As someone that worked closely with the legal profession for ten years, I regularly had to make affidavits; therefore, I was an affiant. It also has a rather charming etymology. Nice.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012



Noun. Orig. US. M20. 

An advertisement offering information about a commercial or industrial product or activity in the style of an editorial comment.

I hate advertorials. I mean, I really hate them! Fortunately most respectable magazines and papers write "ADVERTISEMENT" or, even more honestly, "ADVERTORIAL" at the top of the page when printing them, but even so I do think they're horrible pieces of advertising. Probably what annoys me more is that I still find myself being caught out by them. "Ooh!" I think, "Millions of people adopting a new dietary program that's clinically proven by experts from all over the world!" And then my eyes, starting to dart suspiciously because of the fantastic claims, catch that horrible word at the top of the page: ADVERTORIAL

When thinking about a picture to accompany this entry, I decided not to print an example of an advertorial because I didn't want to advertise any product that uses them. Instead, I'm chosen a baby covered in logos. Personally, I think it's rather cute. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012



Noun. Colloq. L20. 

A middle-aged person whose clothes, interests, and activities are typically associated with youth culture. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Adroit - Doing It Right

Adroit, Left-handed prejudice, Traffic sign, Road sign


Adjective. Mid-17th century. 
[Old & modern French, from adverb phrase à droit according to the right, properly.] 

Physically or mentally resourceful; dexterous, skilful.

adroitly adverb M18
adroitness noun M18

A curious and rather politically incorrect word, reflecting our odd prejudicial attitudes toward direction; for whatever reason, right is better than left. Regardless, I like it, and I'm going to use it more often.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ad nauseam


Adverbial phrase. Mid-17th century
[Latin, lit. 'to sickness', Cf, earlier USQUE AD NAUSEAM

To a disgusting or tiresome extent.

This is probably my favourite Latin phrase because it's so easy to understand. If you're told that you're harping on about the rules of correct grammar ad nauseam, you know exactly what's being said, whether you're familiar with Latin phrases or not. It's also used in the phrase argumentum ad nauseam, when an argument is made so frequently or with such sickening repetition that everyone ceases to care in the end; completely and utterly sick of it. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012



Noun. Pl. -trixes, -trices. M16
[Cf. French administratrice]

A female administrator, spec. of an estate in default of an executor. 

There's a touch of BDSM to this rather curious word.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Ad hominem


Adverbial & Adjectival Phrase. L16.
[Latin = to the person] 

Of an argument, etc: directed to the individual, personal; appealing to feeling not reason.

When I was in my teens, I was involved in a debate regarding whether creationism should be taught in schools. The opposing team was called 'The Wild Boars' and, I must say, their lead debater was cleverer and better prepared than me. 

I was asked to write the team names on the blackboard, together with FOR or AGAINST underneath respectively. In doing so, I pretended I had misheard the team name and wrote 'The Mild Bores' on the blackboard instead. Later in the debate, when the captain was referring to displaced apes moving out of Africa, I retorted 'You're a displaced ape!' 

The thing is, I won that debate, and won it from a trailing position according to the pre-debate ballot. So was I right to use ad hominem so flagrantly? Both examples certainly got good reactions from the audience in terms of laughter, and I was able to apologise for both as just joking. Without a doubt, though, both damaged their lead debater, as it gave the impression that he was someone who lacked a sense of humour and took himself too seriously (of course, neither of these "failings" should sway an intellectual debate, but they do). While it's intellectually lazy, ad hominem can be a useful debating tactic if your only aim is to win a debate. If you value intellectual rigour and integrity, however, it's really a very, very lazy and stupid tactic to employ

Oh, it's also very stupid (you big fat stupid face, you!) to protest ad hominem when it isn't. So, if you come to my house asking to borrow my car and level the charge that you have neither license nor insurance and you're drunk, that's not ad hominem. 

Do you have any examples of ad hominem? Have you ever used it successfully? Do you prefer it as a debating strategy and thinking pattern because you're too lazy to put sound thought into constructing your arguments and opinions? Please feel free to leave a comment. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012



Noun, adjective & verb. 
[Old English adela = Middle Low German adele, Middle Dutch adel (Dutch aal), German Adel mire, puddle, Old Swedish -adel in koadel cow's urine. Addle egg translating medieval Latin ovum urinae egg of urine, alt. of ovum urinum repr. Greek ourion oon wind-egg] 

A Noun
Stinking urine or liquid filth; mire.
Obsolete exc. dial. (after Old English in literary use only in the north). OE.

Attrib. or as adjective
 1) Of an egg: rotten or putrid; producing no chicken. ME.
2) fig. Empty, idle, muddled, unsound. L15.

 1) Verb trans. Make addle; confuse; make abortive. L16.
2) Verb intrans. Grow addle (lit. & fig.). E19. 

This word and everything about it is weird. That's it. I've nothing more to say on the matter. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012



Noun. Mid-18th century. 
[French, from acharner give taste of flesh (to dogs etc.)]

Bloodthirsty fury; ferocity; gusto

I find this word, its etymology and its imagery quite disturbing. Its French pronunciation only serves to accentuate this sense of unease I feel toward it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Acerebral - It's a No-Brainer

A poster for The Matrix movie


Adjective. Mid-20th century.
[from cerebral adjective] 

Brainless; unintelligent; unthinking.

I think I was one of the few people that wasn't blown away by the Matrix when it came out. I found the acting wooden, the plot contrived and the style pretentious. On expressing this to a friend and devout Matrix fan, she retorted: "Was it too cerebral for you?" If only this word had been in my arsenal at the time. I could have replied, with utter disdain: "Actually, I found the whole thing to be positively acerebral." Ha! That would have shown her. I wonder if there's any way I can engineer a re-run of that conversation ...

Monday, 10 December 2012


A completely random picture of Justin Bieber


Adjective. M17.
[Old French abisme from Latin abyssus from Greek abyssos bottomless, from byssos depth, bottom] 

1. Of, pertaining to, or resembling an abyss. Now rare in a literal sense. M17.
2. fig. Bottomless; colloq. extremely bad. E19.

I had never thought of this word as related to the word abyss; it's kind of obvious when one thinks about it. I like it all the more now, in that it carries a sense of something being so utterly terrible and beyond bearing that it's worthy of being cast into the abyss itself. Cool. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012


A complicated mathematical equation
To someone out there, there's nothing remotely abstruse about this illustration.


Adjective. Late 16th century. 
[French abstrus(e) or Latin abstrusus pa. ppl. of abstrudere conceal, formed as ABS- + trudere thrust]

1. Obsolete. Hidden, secret. L16-M-18 
2. Difficult to conceive of or apprehend; recondite. L16

Abstruse is a useful word; I like it. However, its effective use can be scuppered somewhat if the person you're talking to doesn't understand it, therefore rendering your keenly considered rhetoric ... well ... abstruse. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012



Verb trans. Now rare. E16.
[Old & mod French absterger or Latin abstergere, from ABS- tergere wipe] 

Wipe away. Cleanse. 

This word stood out to me because the shadowy multinational in the Assassin's Creed franchise is called Abstergo. Mere coincidence? You may write me off as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but once they find out that I've made the connection, it's only a matter of time before they reach me and try to silenksdjfhsdkfjhs
Related words:
Adjective (cleansing) & Noun (cleansing substance)

Friday, 7 December 2012



Adjective. E17
[from Latin abstemious, from ABS- base of temetum intoxicating drink: see -OUS]

Sparing, moderate, not self-indulgent, esp. in food and drink.

Once, a long, long time ago, I was working a security job, and a very pretty girl came out from the office and offered me a cup of tea. I politely declined, she asked if I was sure, and I declined again. As she walked away, she said playfully "I do hope you're not just being abstemious." 

This is lodged in my memory for several several reasons: 

1) She was very, very, very pretty.
2) I really did want a cup of tea.
3) I didn't know what abstemious meant.
4) When I went home and looked it up, she was right! I was being abstemious! Dammit.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


"We're too late ... the enemy has already absquatulated!"


Verb intrans. Jocular. Originally US. Mid-19th century.
[After abscond, squattle (depart), perambulate, etc.]

Depart, decamp.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


An abnormous, and rather cute, carrot


Adjective  M18
[From Latin abnormis, from AB- + norma rule + -OUS] 

Irregular; misshapen.

My suspicion is that if you used this word correctly (eg. "You, sir, have an oddly abnormous head!"), you would be corrected and possibly laughed at. Try it, and report back in the comment section.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


An Afghan abecedarian


Noun & Adjective. E17

A noun. A person learning the alphabet or the rudiments of a subject.
2 A person teaching these arch.

B adj. 1 Pertaining to the alphabet; arranged alphabetically. 
 2 (Pertaining to a person) learning the alphabet.

As someone who is currently learning another language, I am a proud abecedarian. This word also caused me to find this rather beautiful picture of an Afghan girl learning her alphabet. You can see more of this photographer's work by clicking here.

Monday, 3 December 2012


Fat, Corpulent, Obese, Overweight, Obesity epidemic
"I'm very sorry, sir. The tests are back in ... you're abdominous ... very, very, very abdominous."


Adjective. Mid-17th century.
[formed as ABDOMEN + -ous]


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Abbey-lubber - A Man of the Sloth

Monk, Lazy, Resting, Work-shy, Friar,


Noun (used after the Reformation)
A lazy monk 

It's impossible to read a word like abbey-lubber without smiling. And besides, why was such a word needed? Was there really such a problem with work-shy monks after the Reformation? Were abbey-lubbers the equivalent of modern-day hoodies? I must confess that there's a personal angle to my affection for this word. Having been schooled in Abingdon, Oxfordshire (a town named after its abbey), and having been thoroughly lazy throughout the process, I think that perhaps I can apply this word to myself. Indeed, abbey-lubber need not be such a discriminatory word at all, and I suggest that it also apply to any particularly lazy person from Abingdon. Wow. That's a great idea. I'd start a petition ... but ... nah ... I really can't be bothered. Let's just enjoy the word: abbey-lubber.

Saturday, 1 December 2012



Noun. L16.
[Old & mod. French]

HUNTING. A trace left by a stag in the underwood. Usually in plural.

All I know is this: if one day we're lost and starving in the woods, and I exclaim "By Jove! We've happened upon an abature! Follow me people! This way to food and water!", suddenly my dictionary reading won't seem such a geeky thing to do, will it?

Friday, 30 November 2012


Battle, Defense, Fortification, Barrier, Trench,
This obviously pictures a particularly bitter neighbourly dispute. There was less shooting in ours. 


Noun. Also abattis. Plural same, -es. Mid-18th century.

Military. A defence formed by placing felled trees lengthwise one over the other with their branches toward the enemy's line.
Also, a barricade of barbed wire. 

Now here's the thrill of reading a dictionary! I've made one of these ... I've actually made one!

Some years ago, my family was involved in a petty boundary dispute with a neighbour who was convinced he had the right of way through an enclosed section of our garden and insisted on making a point of walking through it each day. At the only access point where he could walk from his side into our garden, my father and I constructed an abatis (although I didn't know it was an abatis at the time). Using trees and branches from a recently cleared section of our garden, we constructed a rather effective barrier as described in the definition. In was jolly good fun, and the neighbour never again exercised his "right" to walk into our garden. Huzzah!  

Thursday, 29 November 2012


Pulp fiction, Book, Comic, Cowboy, Wild West, Abactor,


Noun. Obsolete. Mid-17th to early 19th century.
[Latin, from abact- past participial stem of abigere drive away.]

A person who steals cattle in large numbers

I'm curious what thresholds exist that determine whether you're a lowly cow thief, a grizzled rustler or the Kingpin of the cattle-snaffling world, the lofty abactor. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Abacus, Calculate, Mathematics, Maths, School, Education, Learning


Noun. Late Middle English.
[medieval Latin abacista]

A person who makes calculations with an abacus

As a child, I was a keen reader of Arthur C Clarke, and this word immediately reminds me of his short story Into the Comet. In it, a spaceship's computer malfunctions and is unable to make the calculations necessary for it to return home. Facing certain death, the crew of the ship form a ramshackle production line of abacists, and are able to replicate the calculations of the computer and complete their mission safely.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Aardvark, African, Animal, Afrikaans, Insectivore,


Noun. Late 18th century.
[Afrikaans aardvark(en) (now erdvark), from aarde earth + varken pig]

A nocturnal, insectivorous, badger-sized mammal, Orycteropus afer, having large ears, a long snout, and a long extensile tongue, native to sub-Saharan Africa. 

I like this word for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's a distinctly odd looking word in English, with both the double-a and the vark construction being obviously foreign. This oddness suits the animal itself which is most definitely a distinct and peculiar looking creature. 

Also, Aardvark is something of a cliché when it comes to naming businesses as a means to get in ahead of the competition in alphabetised lists. There are a plethora of Aardvark Plumbers, Aardvark Electricals, Aardvark Removals, etc etc, ad nauseam. If you've been trumped in the directory wars by an Aardvarkian competitor, may I suggest the words Aam (a Dutch and German liquid measure) and Aandblom (a sweet scented plant of the Iris family) as possible alternatives. 

Aardvark also has a special place in Lexicolatry (the first place actually) as it is the second word that Blackadder tries to define when attempting to rewrite the whole of Dr Johnson's dictionary that he accidentally destroyed in the classic episode Ink & Incapability. Blackadder defines it as a 'Medium sized insectivore with a protruding nasal implement.' 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Welcome to Lexicolatry

I'm reading through the entire Oxford English Dictionary, and this blog is a record of all the interesting words I find.

Wow. That's it! I can't believe my own brevity! Already, you've decided in your head between "What an interesting project!" or "What an interminable bore!"

(my guess is, if you used the word interminable in your head, you'll probably find this project quite interesting)

So this is the deal: Every day I'm going to read a portion of the OED, and every day I'm going to post one word that I found interesting. I will post the word, its etymology and its definition. I may or may not also post a paragraph or two on why I find that word interesting (probably more likely than not - I've been told I like the sound of my own keyboard).

I promise no rhyme or reason as to why a word might make it to Lexicolatry; there's no specific criteria. I might like the sound, its etymology, its meaning, its obscurity; who knows? All I know is that I will have found it interesting, and I hope that you find it interesting too.

I've read the dictionary before. In my late teens I read through the entire Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary. It's not quite the OED, but it's still a sizeable tome, and I still cherish my battered and annotated copy that I pored through and carried with me wherever I went all those years ago.

I get mixed reactions when I tell people that I've read the entire dictionary. They range from "Wow! You must be the smartest guy in the world!" to "Wow! You must be a complete moron!" Others have asked me if that means I know every single word in the English language and if I'm a genius at games like Scrabble (I don't and I'm not). Probably the most common question people ask is just "Why?"

I love words and I love dictionaries.

To a fellow logophile, this love is obvious, natural and inevitable. To someone that doesn't share this, I can see how it would be difficult to understand, just as I struggle to see how someone could spend hours poring over, say, stamps or iPhone apps 

For me, however, words are so much more than tools to simply transmit what is going on inside our heads and hearts to the outside world. Words also have shapes, patterns, forms, colours, tones, emotions and beauty. They carry shades and subtlety of meaning that are truly breathtaking. Words can be used to inspire or crush, elevate or debase, heal or destroy. Words are beautiful. 

Dictionaries, too, are supremely useful. Your wordy boss or teacher has marked your most recent work as asinine; a dictionary will tell you whether you should be celebrating your forthcoming promotion / scholarship or considering a different career path, at the very least one with a more constructive boss or teacher.

More than being purely utilitarian, however, they are staggering feats of work and human thinking. For whatever reason, words (and familiar words at that) are often exceptionally hard to define. Take the following newspaper headline:

Financial crisis deepens in the Eurozone

It's a sentiment we're likely used to reading on a daily basis. There's no ambiguity about any of it; any native speaker of English understands exactly what is being expressed, both by the words individually and the sentence as a whole. But try, off the top of your head, to define the word crisis. Once you've come up with what you believe to be a satisfactory definition, compare it to the definition in a good dictionary. Now imagine the work and thought that went into that dictionary definition stretched upon the tens of thousands of words in the English language. 

The gap between our seemingly inherent understanding of a word and the monumental task in actually setting its definition to paper is brilliantly expressed in the classic episode of Blackadder Ink and Incapability. In it, Blackadder accidentally destroys the only copy of Dr Samuel Johnson's recently completed dictionary, a work that has taken him ten years to complete. Fearing for his life, Blackadder sets about rewriting the entire dictionary in one night with the help of Baldrick and the Prince Regent. Immediately, they come unstuck on defining the pronoun 'a'. After some head scratching, the best definition they can come up with is:

Impersonal pronoun
Doesn't really mean anything

Granted, the Prince Regent was particularly inept at, well, just about everything, but how many of us can do much better at defining a word as simple as 'a'? And yet none of us have the least problem in using it and understanding it every day of our lives.

So, whether you follow my journey through the dictionary every single day or just dip in and out of it every now and then, I do hope you enjoy something from Lexicolatry (stick with it if only to witness the point at which I realise what a monumental project I've misunderestimated). I will be posting a word daily, and perhaps the occasional language-related article or progress report (on Sundays, I think).

Please feel free to leave any comments on any page, be they why you like a word, how you've used it today, where you've seen it or heard it, or why you positively dislike a word and wish it could be stricken from the language and banished into obscurity forever!

Here's to words and dictionaries, and I do hope you enjoy Lexicolatry with me. 

Many thanks for reading, 


The Tools of Lexicolatry
Principally, I will be using the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary with possible cross-referencing to the Chambers dictionary
Also, a yellow marker, a pen, and lots of Earl Grey tea