Thursday, 31 January 2013


Apricate, Sunbathing, Holiday, Parasol, Vintage


Verb. Rare. L17.
[Latin apricat- pa. ppl. stem of apricari bask in the sun, from apricus exposed (to the sun).]

1 verb intrans. Bask in the sun. L17
2 verb trans. Expose to sunlight. M19

I like this word, and it caused me to find this rather charming postcard of a 1920s pin-up, apricating in the swimwear of the time. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


You have been warned


Adjective. L19.
[Greek apo- off, from, away + semat, sema sign]

ZOOLOGY. Of coloration, markings, etc: serving to warn or repel.

It's well known that if a creature is particularly brightly coloured, it's probably best left well alone. This system of defense is called aposematism and is unusual in being mutually beneficial to both predator and prey. It's most common in invertebrates, such as insects, but is also a mechanism seen in reptiles, amphibians and fish. There are a few examples of mammals employing aposematic markings, the skunk perhaps being the most famous.

Interestingly, it's believed that predators don't necessarily have any inherent understanding of aposematic markings; I had always assumed they did, and instinctively knew such markings meant trouble. However, it's thought that aposematic markings merely serve as a mnemonic device for the predators. Having once had a little nibble on a black and yellow Poison Dart frog and found it to be thoroughly disagreeable, the predator will think twice the next time he sees one, thus sparing the frog the indignity of being chewed and spat out, and the predator the agonising stomach cramps for hours after. Aposematism doesn't just show that a creature is poisonous, incidentally. It can also warn (or a remind) a predator that an animal tastes disgusting, has a fearsome weapon (such as a wasp), or just plain stinks (thinking of the skunk again).

There is also a field of research that suggests humans, in their past, may have displayed aposematic markings or behaviours in a similar fashion. I'm no anthropologist, but in the video below I present MC Hammer and his undeniably aposematic trousers. As a species we toyed with them the 1990s, like a snake taking its first tentative taste of a Poison Dart frog. Now, however, we can barely look upon their garish bagginess without feeling a hot wave of nausea, and in this regard they serve us dutifully.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013



[from A preposition + POOP Old French pupe, pope (mod. poupe) from Proto-Romance var. of Latin puppis poop, stern.]

NAUTICAL. On the poop; astern.

It doesn't matter how mature you are, nor many times you hear it, not one of you can say you don't at least crack a smile every time you hear of a poop deck. As if jokes about scrubbing the poop deck aren't bad enough, we now know of a related adverb that allows us to be ordered a-poop, to be a-poop, to resolutely hold a-poop in the heat of battle and (infinitely more humiliating) to lose a-poop while fighting a rear-guard action. 

Personally, if I were Captain, I think I'd just rename that part of the ship. I'd never get any work done otherwise.

"Come, Doctor. What you say we go a-poop together?"
"Seriously? You still think that's funny?"

Monday, 28 January 2013


Apicius. He looks like the type to go on Come Dine With Me


Adjective. Now rare. E17.
[from Apicius Roman epicure of the early 1st century.]

Of or pertaining to luxurious eating; epicurean.

There's a bit more to this word, it would seem, than the OED's rather sparse definition. Part of the Chambers definition is "luxurious and expensive in diet." Other reference works I've consulted also carry that tone of not just being a luxurious eater, but a particularly refined and fastidious one. It reminds me of a memorable quote in the film Ratatouille, in which Anton Ego, the rather cadaverous food critic, says: 

"I don't like food; I love it. And if I don't love it, I don't swallow."

The popularity of television programmes like Come Dine With Me, in which members of the public seemingly vie to be the most objectionable and odious critic of each other's cooking possible, suggest there's a little piece of apician perniciousness in all of us.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Lexicolatry: Update Report


Relax! Fear not!

There is still a word for today. This is just the first of my State of the Conjugation posts (does that pun even work?). You might remember (if you were one of the five or so people that read my opening post) that I said I would post the occasional language-related article or progress report on Sundays. Well, this is one of those reports. And if it’s really too much bother to scroll down, I’ll even provide you with a handy link to today’s word, it being (as I lower my voice to a whisper) the rather saucy aphrodisiac!

The first thing I want to say is a huge thank you to all those that are taking the time to read my posts and participate in Lexicolatry. Thus far, it’s been great fun!

It’s all very early days, of course, having only reached AP- in the dictionary. However, the daily readership is growing steadily, as are the numbers subscribing via email, RSS and through the Facebook group.

Talking of Facebook, the group now has 53 members, and I would urge any readers to sign up to the group by ‘liking’it. I would like to have as much reader participation as possible, and the Facebook group is a great place for that. We've already had three reader-suggested words (anthropometry, anthropomorphism and antipodes), as well as me being able to ask for the group’s help with regards words that are coming up (finding a picture for anatopism, for example, and finding more examples of anacronyms).

Whether or not you’re a member of the FB group, please get involved by giving me your feedback, pointing out any mistakes you find (I know this is the type of blog that will appeal to irrepressible pedants), and suggesting words you would like to see featured.

Oh ... and don't be afraid to comment on the blog pages themselves! I get lots of emails and messages regarding particular posts with some amazingly interesting insights or comments, but there seems to be a little reluctance to actually put the comment on the blog. All I can say is be bold - get it out there! You can even do it anonymously if you're feeling particularly shy. 

I would also like to invite guest posts from any fellow bloggers and writers out there. If there’s a word you’d like to write about, please feel free to email me with your suggestion. It would be great to have some others on board too.

So that’s it! Thank you all so much again. Keep spreading the word to anyone you think might be interested, keep reading and keep in touch.

Verbosely yours,




Noun & adjective. E18.
[Greek aphrodisiakos, from aphrodisios, from Aphrodite: 
Greek Aphrodite the goddess of love, the Grecian Venus, lit. 'foam-born', from aphros foam] 

A noun. A food, drug, etc., which stimulates sexual desire. E18.
B adjective Of the nature of an aphrodisiac; arousing sexual desire. M19.

This was certainly an interesting word to research, sneaking in to Lexicolatry at first because I like the connection between the word aphrodisiac and the supreme seductress of the Grecian heavens Aphrodite (also see the entry anaphrodisiac). However, it held my attention because I had no idea just how many foods are considered aphrodisiac! Oysters, or course; we all know that, but other tempting morsels to put fire in your ire are:

Ambergris, Aniseed, Asparagus, Almonds, Avocado, Bananas, Basil, Carrots, Celery, Chocolate, Chili, Coffee, Coriander, Figs, Garlic, Ginseng, Honey, Horny Goat Weed (!), Licorice, Nutmeg, Pine nuts, Pineapple, Raspberries, Rocket, Strawberries, Truffles, Vanilla, Watermelon, Wine

That's quite a shopping list, and one that gives you so many options that it's hard to understand why there's such a trade in the genitalia of wild and often endangered species for this exact purpose. The vegetarian option is perfectly adequate.

If you do plan on creating a special night for your loved one, might I suggest the following menu:

Honey drizzled watermelon
(served with wine)

Vegetarian curry served with a rocket and horny goat weed salad
(served with wine)

Fruit medley of banana, figs, pineapple, raspberries and strawberries, sumptuously drizzled with chocolate
(served with ... ahem ... more wine)

If that menu doesn't work, you're on your own (literally).

Sadly, my reading on this also suggests that the evidence for the efficacy of said aphrodisiacs is rather flimsy. Any such aphrodisiacal effect is more likely to be because of visual associations prompted by said foods (watermelons), their cultural connotations (oysters) or the fact that your partner is rather chuffed that, for the first time (ever), you've actually taken the time to prepare them a really good romantic meal.

It's a good job Earl Grey Tea isn't an aphrodisiac, or I wouldn't get any blogging done. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013



Noun. Early 19th century.

A summary, a conspectus; an insight, a revealing glimpse.

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary also defines aperçu as 'an immediate intuitive insight'. I like it. I'd like to have one one day. 

Oh ... and if you want to sound really classy, try to sound French as you say it; it's pronounced ah-peh-soo. Nothing would quite discredit an aperçu as it sounding like a sneeze when it's pronounced.

Friday, 25 January 2013


Antipodes, Antipode, Opposite, Diametrically Opposed, Directly Below


Noun Pl. (sense 3 also treated as singular). Also capitalised. Late Middle English. 
[French, or late Latin from Greek pl. of antipous having the feet opposite, formed as ANTI- + pous, pod- foot.] 

1 Those who live on the opposite side of the earth to each other or to oneself. Obsolete, LME-M19

1b fig. Those in any way resembling the inhabitants of the opposite side of the earth. Only in 17 

2 Places on the surface of the earth directly or diametrically opposite to another,
esp. Australasia as the region on the opposite side of the earth to Europe. M16

3 Exact opposite. Also as singular, = ANTIPODE (followed by of, to.) E17

4 CHEMISTRY. An enantiomorphic compound. L19

OK ... get this! If you're from Britain, like I am, you've probably grown up with the idea that if you dig and dig and dig, you'll eventually pop your head out in Australia, right? That's because we all know that Australia, the antipodes, is directly beneath our feet, and all we need do is shovel away for a bit and we'll get there. Fair dinkum, mate. 

But no! It's all a big lie. If you were to try this, you'd eventually pop out somewhere in the South Pacific, which would no doubt be a rather sobering affair. 

In fact, extreme caution should be exercised wherever you're from, as it seems that only a small percentage of land is antipodal to other land. If you or your children are determined to set out on such an expedition, it's worth checking your final destination on, a rather useful website that will let you check the antipode of any location on the globe. 

Happy digging, ya big galah!

Sand, Beach, Dig, Children, Play, Sandcastle

Thursday, 24 January 2013



Noun. Pl. -ases. M18.
[Late Latin from Greek, from antiphrazein express by the opposite, formed as ANTI- + phrazein indicate, declare, tell.] 

RHETORIC. Use of words in a sense opposite to their customary meaning.

At my Dad's wedding, a friend and I (after a couple of glasses of wine) filled out an entry in the wedding guest book. Our entry went something like so: 

"The food was raw, the guests were sick, and the band was the illest! Great wedding, Dad!"

Hmm. Dad's not that familiar with hip-hop culture. Maybe he didn't realise we were just engaging in a bit of antiphrastic wordplay. I should probably give him a call before he complains to the caterers. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013



Noun. Late 16th century.
[Latin antinomia from Greek, formed as ANTI- + nomos law; Cf. French antinomie.]

1 A contradiction in law, or between two laws; a conflict of authority. L16

2 A contradictory law or principle. Only in M17

3 (After Kant) A paradox; intellectual contradictoriness. L18

At the root of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, often heralded as one of the outstanding literary works of the 20th century, is an antinomy. The book relates to American bomber crews in WWII. The protagonist, a B-25 bombardier, is convinced he will perish in the near-suicidal missions, and plans to fake insanity in order to be discharged from his duties. Insanity is a valid reason to stop flying missions. However, a pilot has to personally request that he be grounded on the basis of his insanity. The fact that he is able to make that request is taken as proof that he is, in fact, sane, and he will obliged to fly more missions. That is the eponymous Catch-22, the antinomy, in the book. 

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle." 
Quote from Catch-22, Chapter 5

Do you have any examples, or experience of, antinomy?

Please post any in the comment section below. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013



(a factitious long word)

Woah there! Hold your horses, OED!

Now I'm a big fan of the Oxford English Dictionary ... a big fan. But I must say that the entry for antidisestablishmentarianism is a little bit of a let down. It's as if the the writer of this particular entry thought to himself: "You know what? This is such a stoopid word that I'm not even going to bother defining it correctly!"

Now, it's true that this entry has been smuggled in with a collection of words bearing the prefix anti- (Greek for opposite, against, rivalling, etc). So, giving the OED the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that they must be saving space (I am reading the Shorter OED, after all), having adequately defined disestablishmentarianism in the 'D' section. But no! The entry for disestablishmentarianism is similarly dismissive, listing it as a L19 noun, defined as "usu. a factitious long word". So I then fall back to the verb disestablish, where I'm finally able to get some sense of what this is all about:

Verb trans. L16
Terminate the establishment of, depose from an official position; spec. deprive (a Church) of a special State connection and support, remove from a position as the national or State Church. 

Is that any clearer? So, basically, antidisestablishmentarianism is the policy or position of being against separation of Church and State (ie. being against the disestablishment of the Church). 

Definition aside, it is an unusually long word (28 letters and 12 syllables) and is thus one of the longest words in the English language. In discussions of the longest word in English, antidisestablishmentarianism is often cited, and thus it's a relatively well-known word (even if its definition is not, a status quo that the OED seems happy to maintain). So although you're unlikely to be able to slip this one into casual conversation (and if you can, please do tell us how in the comments section!), at least the next time someone mentions antidisestablishmentarianism, you'll be able to tell them exactly what it means. 

Now that's a hard-core antidisestablishmentarianist

Monday, 21 January 2013



Noun. M18. 
[from Greek anthropomorphos, formed as anthropos human being + morphe form + ISM]

Ascription of human form, attributes, or personality to God, a god, an animal, or something impersonal;
 an instance of this.

When I was about six years old, I had an Action Man. He was a rather emasculated Action Man (even more so than usual), as my Mum wouldn't let him have any guns, despite my protestations that he needed an AK-47 and a bazooka to hunt, and without said guns he would surely starve. 

I remember sulking in a corner at this, and thinking hard about what kind of Action Man doesn't have a gun. And then I began to wonder: 'What must it be like to be Action Man?' I forgot about the whole gun issue and asked my Mum, very earnestly: 'Mum, what's it like to be Action Man?' My Mum was probably under the mistaken notion that I was still angling to get his guns; if I could somehow engage her on what it's like to be him, perhaps I could elicit sympathy for him and expedite the return of his weaponry. Whatever she thought, I found her answers wholly unsatisfactory. 

"It's like nothing," she said dismissively. "He's not alive. It's not like anything at all."

I remember holding him, looking into his eagle eyes, and being thoroughly perplexed by this notion. What could it possibly be like to be like nothing? It would seem that I, as a six-year-old, had not only walked into some kind of existentialist crisis (albeit one that had resolved itself by dinner) but had also been anthropomorphising my cherished Action Man, imbuing him with some fundamentally human quality like being able to experience his own existence. There was nothing special or unique in my thoughts; what child hasn't entertained the notion that, when the lights go out, their toys embark on their own adventures or perhaps, in a more sinister twist, just sit in the shadows, silently watching you as you sleep. 

As it happens, I was in good company, because the tendency to anthropomorphise just about anything is an exceptionally human trait (as it would be). We ascribe humans thoughts, feelings, personality and motivations to pretty much anything: from pets ('Fido knew what he'd done was wrong - I could see the guilt in his face!'), to vehicles ('She doesn't like regular fuel - only premium for this baby!), to the elemental forces ('Mother Nature has wrought a terrible vengeance!'). In art and literature, anthropomorphism abounds, and there is archaeological evidence to suggest that the tendency is truly ancient. Many of our most cherished characters are anthropomorphised animals or things: Winne the Pooh, Thomas the Tank Engine, and the entire ensemble of Walt Disney characters. In religion, too, there has long been a tendency to perceive God or the gods in human form and with human attributes. 

The question of why we're so keen to anthropomorphise is altogether more complicated and there are numerous theories. One of these is that, as we can only exist and perceive from within the framework of being human, it's impossible to envision an existence outside of that. I can understand that theory from my own experience with Action Man: knowing what it was like to exist as a child, non-existence was completely incomprehensible, and any existence at all can only be thought of in human terms. To my childish mind, Action Man, because he existed, must somehow share an experience that was common to me. Another suggestion is that it helps us make sense of a seemingly arbitrary and random world. If we can assign human thoughts and motivations to inanimate and complex entities, it makes understanding them easier and less daunting. 

Whatever the reasons behind it, Action Man never got his guns, and I still can't imagine what it's like to be an Action Man. 

Action Man: Unaware of his own campness since 1966

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Anthropometric tools have advanced somewhat since this craniometer


Noun. M19.
[from Greek anthropos human being + -metres measurer]

The branch of science that deals with the measurement and proportions of the human body and their variation. 

During a recent visit to a friend's house, I was surprised when he asked me to stand against a particular wall so that he could mark my height on the door frame. Although this was overtly for the amusement of his children, it would seem that my friend is a budding auxocological anthropometrist, as it was he that suggested I include the word anthropometry when I explained my Lexicolatry project to him. 

To summarise, anthropometry is a vast subject dealing with many and varied applications to measure the individual human being. It's been a tool in anthropology, investigation, the study of human traits and variation and paleoanthropology to name but a few. 

A modern application, however, comes in the industrial era with its use as a tool in designing furniture, machinery, clothing, etc, to be human-friendly and ergonomic. This is an ongoing science because human trends in shape change, as is evidenced by recent warnings of a world-wide obesity epidemic.

If you're interested in learning more about anthropometry, click here to visit the Wikipedia page. And if you're really interested (and I mean really, really, really interested), click here for a link to buy The Handbook of Anthropometry, priced at an eye-widening €799.99. Now there's a price that separates mere door frame scratchers from the real anthropometrists. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013


The anteprandial giving of thanks
(and not one of them is already eating, kicking under the table or about to self-incriminate by accusing another of having their eyes open)


Adjective. E19. 
[from ANTE- + Latin prandium dinner + -AL


This seems an awfully posh word, but now that you know it, do take the opportunity to offer any dinner guests you might have an anteprandial libation, presumably before you allay the pheasant. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Antapology - A Reply to an Apology

A card saying sorry but listing excuses


Noun. Mid-17th - early 18th century.
[from ANT- + APOLOGY noun]

A reply to an apology.

If you apologised to someone for not antapologising to their apology, what would their reply to that apology be? 

Yet another glaring omission in the English language has been discovered by Lexicolatry. These are the things that keep an anorak like me awake at night.

Do leave any suggestions in the comment box below. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013



Noun. Early 20th century. 
[Inupiaq (Greenlandic) annoraaq.

1 A skin or cloth hooded jacket worn by Eskimos and so by others in polar regions;
a similar weatherproof garment worn elsewhere. E20

2 A socially inept and studious or obsessive person (caricatured as typically wearing an anorak)
with unfashionable and largely solitary interests. colloquial. derogatory. L20

I admit that I vacillated somewhat over this word when I first came across it in the OED. Is its origin as an Eskimo garment really interesting enough to book it a hallowed place in Lexicolatry? Does the fact that it's the first Greenlandic word I've found qualify it to stand shoulder to shoulder with words like absquatulate and acerebral? The picture of a toddler in an anorak sucking a dummy told me yes.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Overpaid, oversexed and over here ...


Noun. rare. E19. 
[from Greek ANA- + topos place + -ISM

A putting of a thing out of its proper place.

Most people would be familiar with an anachronism, which is the putting of a thing in the incorrect time. A less well-known companion of the anachronism is the anatopism, which is a putting of something out of its proper place. To illustrate: a painting of Jesus drinking a can of coke would be an anachronism, because they're from different times, but a painting of Jesus talking to an Aboriginal Australian would be an anatopism, because one of them is in the wrong place (even though they co-existed in time).

I must say that finding a good picture of an anatopism was rather hard, especially as I specifically wanted to find a picture that was solely anatopistic, and not one which was anachronistic as well (anachronisms seem somewhat easier to find in art and so forth).

Therefore, I present first a still from the classic anti-war movie Full Metal Jacket. The film depicts the training of a group of US Marines as they prepare for their part in the Vietnam War. Their training takes place in the US. However, a close inspection of the scene reveals very British road markings due to the film being shot in England; a clear case of anatopism if ever there was one.

In researching anatopisms, it was suggested to me by the antiques expert John Foster that historical maps would be a rich source, and right he proved to be! And while we may scoff at the times past when America was thought to be India and dragons prowled the plains, it would seem that we're not immune from making rather horrendous cartographical blunders in modern times as well, as this anatopism from Fox News demonstrates:

Give yourself a second to spot this one

Good, clean anatopisms are hard to find.

If you know of any more, please leave details of them in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Anaphrodisiac, Stalker girl, Weird, Creepy, Intense,
They're not a drug, but crazy stalker eyes are definitely anaphrodisiac


Adjective & noun. Early 19th century.

(A drug) that reduces sexual desire.

This word suffers exactly the same problem as the previously posted anacronym, but with potentially far more serious consequences. Imagine the scene: 

"Please, Doctor!" pleads Anna, choking back the tears. "My husband ... he ... he needs something! ... anaphrodisiac ... I'm at my wits end ... he's not human, doctor!"

"Right you are," responds the doctor, stifling a yawn and scribbling in his prescription pad. "An aphrodisiac. There! One prescription, extra strength. You won't know yourself by the end of the week, Mrs Frodisiac."

Oh the hilarity. There's a sitcom waiting to be written there, I'm sure of it. Representatives from the BBC are free to contact me at any time. 

Monday, 14 January 2013


HP Sauce, H.P Sauce, Brown sauce, anacronym, backronym, banacronym
Well, do you know what it stands for?


Noun. L20. 
[from AN- + ACRONYM]

An acronym of which the majority of people do not know the words from which its constituent letters are taken (e.g Nicam, scuba).

So we all know what an acronym is: basically a word formed from the initial letters or parts of other words. Examples of this would be BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), USA (United States of America) and CD (compact disc). 

However, a particular type of acronym is the anacronym, in which the word has become so commonly used that we've all forgotten what it stood for in the first place, or even that they're acronyms at all. A couple of examples are: 
  • LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) 
  • SCUBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) 
  • RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging) 
  • SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) 
  • TASER (Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle)
  • URL (Uniform Resource Locator) 
Anacronym is also quite a taxing word to use, as I've discovered while talking about this post, because 'anacronym' sounds like 'an acronym'. Therefore, when I've said 'I'm writing about anacronym,' I've been asked 'Which one?' because it sounds like I've said 'I'm writing about an acronym.' And, heaven forbid, were I to write about a specific anacronym (ie. 'I'm writing about an anacronym'), it sounds like I've suddenly developed an-awful stutter. 

When preparing this post, I summoned the help of those that follow Lexicolatry's Facebook page in suggesting further anacronyms. It's more of a challenge than you might think! You can see the discussion on the page by clicking here. It's also worth having a squizz at backronym.

Can you think of any other good anacronyms? Please share them in the comments below. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013



Noun. M19. 
[Alt. of '& per se (i.e by itself) and', the old way of naming and explaining the character] 

The sign & (= and, Latin et)

It's a little symbol with a big name, and I can't write one dammit!

Saturday, 12 January 2013



Noun. Early 19th century.

1 A brief or unimportant love affair. E19

2 A cupid. E17

Friday, 11 January 2013


Running amok


Adjective, noun & adverb. Also amuck, am(o)uco (obs.). Early 16th century.
[(Portuguese am(o)uco from) Malay amuk fighting furiously, in a homicidal frenzy.] 

adjective. obsolete. In a homicidal frenzy. rare. Only in M17

B1 noun. A Malay in a homicidal frenzy. M17

B2 noun. A homicidal frenzy; an act of running amok. M19

C adverb. run amok, run about in a frenzied thirst for blood; go on a destructive rampage; rush wildly and heedlessly. L17 

(something to think about the next time you say your kids are running amok)

Thursday, 10 January 2013



Noun & verb. L16.
[French amnestie (now -istie) or Latin amnestia from Greek amnestia forgetfulness] 

A noun. An act of forgetfulness; an intentional overlooking; a general pardon, esp. for a political offence. L16

B verb trans. Give an amnesty to. E19. 

There's a nice connection between the modern understanding of the word amnesty and its Greek and Latin roots denoting forgetfulness (obviously related to the word amnesia). It is also a word that famously lends itself to Amnesty International, the NGO that campaigns worldwide for the protection of human rights and collectively won the Nobel Peace Price in 1977 for its campaign against the use of torture. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013



Noun. E19. 
[French, replacing hopital ambulant mobile (horse-drawn) field ambulance, formed as Latin ambulare walk] 

1. A mobile hospital following an army. E19
2. A conveyance for sick or injured persons. M19

I love this word and I love the concept. There's a deep nobility in putting the welfare and safety of others before your own, and being marked out as one that has trained to save lives. The connection to its Latin root of ambulare is often forgotten, but serves more than simply being a note of historical and lexicological interest. If, as I do, you live in a country in which an ambulance can be summoned, together with its trained crew and suite of life-saving equipment, you can count yourself as among the very fortunate and privileged to have this noble service at hand. 

You can read a little of the fascinating history of the ambulance service across the world by clicking here

Tuesday, 8 January 2013



Noun. E20. 
[from AMBI- (Latin ambi-, ambo both, on both sides, both ways) after extroversion introversion.

PSYCHOLOGY. A condition of balance between extrovert and introvert features of the personality. 

Monday, 7 January 2013



Adjective. M17. 
[medieval Latin amativus, from Latin atas- pa. ppl. stem of amare to love] 

Disposed to loving. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Argument, Dispute, Verbal
This is an altercation ...


Noun. Late Middle English. 
[Old & modern French, from Latin altercari wrangle] 

1(a) The action of disputing vehemently or angrily. LME

1(b) The conduct of a legal case by question and answer. L18

2 A vehement or angry dispute; a noisy controversy. LME

I try not to get too worked up over the misuse of words in English, but the misuse of altercation really winds me up, mainly because you see it misused by so many journalists, writers, and others that should know better! No one ever gets hurt in an altercation; blows are not traded. Therefore, if you read something along the lines of "The court heard how Mr Travers was punched repeatedly during the violent altercation," you should feel entitled to share my ire with me. 

(of course, I've been venting my anger towards this for so long that it's quite possible that the dictionary writers, aghast at the determined and persistent misuse of altercation by the supposed wordsmiths out there, have given up and conceded it now has an adjusted mean) 

... and this is not

Saturday, 5 January 2013



Noun. Late Middle English. 
[Latin from Greek alopekia lit. 'fox-mange' from alopek-, alopex fox]  

MEDICINE. Hair loss, baldness. 

Now there's a word with a cruel etymology; as if going bald wasn't demeaning enough. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Aloha - Hawaiian Love


Interjection & noun. Early 19th century. 

Love affection: used in Hawaii especially at greeting or parting; an utterance of this. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013



Noun. Mid-19th century. 
[ALLO- Greek allos other, different + -PATHY from Greek pathos suffering] 

MEDICINE. The treatment of disease by inducing an opposite condition (i.e in the usual way). Opposite HOMOEOPATHY. 

Apparently, this is often used by homeopaths and their ilk to refer to Western medicine, biomedicine, evidence based medicine or modern medicine. I love the way the OED phrases it when defining allopathy in the treatment of disease: i.e it's the usual way. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Allay - To Carve a Pheasant

The Common Pheasant
By Edward Lear (1812-1888)


Verb transitive. Long archaic. Also alay. Late 15th century. 
[Origin unknown] 

Carve (a pheasant). 

'No, you philistine! A gentleman does not brutishly carve a pheasant. Rather, one allays it.'

Carving the family roast is a most manly duty, but it's also a minefield in terms of lexicological etiquette (at least in the 16th century or thereabouts), due to the charming and most curious verbs attached to taking the knife to any given creature that's just been served. Rather than carving a hen, for example, one dismembers it. Other favourites include to barb a lobster, to disfigure a peacock and to gobbet a trout.

None of these, however, can compare with the undisputed king of carvery verbs: to splat a pike. I do hope there was a time when a well meaning would-be-gentleman took a mallet to his wife's freshly baked pike and, responding to the horrified gasps of his more learned dinner guests, assured them: 'No, no; I've been doing my research. This is the proper way of serving pike.'

Tuesday, 1 January 2013



Noun. Now chiefly US. M19. 
[French alieniste, from Old French, or Latin alienatio(n-)

An expert in mental illness, esp. from a legal stand-point. 

I do wonder if it's counter-productive to tell someone who's suffering from paranoid delusions of extra-terrestrial abductions and government cover-ups that they're being referred to the care of an alienist. Eek!