Sunday, 31 March 2013


The Daily Mail
Proudly battologizing since 1896


Noun. L16.
[mod. Latin battologia from Greek, from battos stammerer]

A needless and tiresome repetition in speaking or writing.

Battology is a needless and tiresome repetition in speaking or writing. It should be avoided in speaking and writing as it is tiresome and needless. Doing so is called battologizing, which means to repeat a word or phrase needlessly. This is exceptionally tiresome and best avoided as it's needless.

Saturday, 30 March 2013



Adjective. Archaism. LME.
[Old French bataillos, -eus, formed as BATTLE noun]

Fond of fighting; ready for battle.

Call of Duty II: Black Ops II was, at the time of its release in 2012, the fastest selling game in history (according to Activision), grossing more than $800 million globally in its first five days after being released. Within 15 days of its release, it had grossed over $1 billion. No other game, film, comic or book matched these sales figures. Humans are a battailous species, and this is keenly reflected in the entertainment we choose. 

Friday, 29 March 2013


Frog, Batrachian, Cute, Green, Amphibian
A narcissistic (and exceptionally cute) frog
Photo by Esteban Alzate


Adjective & noun. M19.
[from mod. Latin Batrachia former name of the order Anura, from Greek batrakheia neut. pl. of adjective from batrakhos frog.]

(Pertaining to, of the nature or characteristic of) a frog or toad.

Humans have a strange relationship with frogs. We variously love them, revile them, eat them, fear them, farm them, worship them and think they're unclean. Personally, I think they're rather fascinating. As a child I was a batrachophile, as every year we would get an inundation of frogs and toads into our garden around our pond. My friend and I whiled away many an hour counting them, naming them and otherwise studying their batrachian antics. 

Sadly, however, frogs and toads are in trouble as there has been a marked decline in their numbers worldwide since the 1980s (as there has with amphibians generally), and many species are listed as endangered. Even if one isn't particularly fond of all things batrachian, this has a much wider impact as frogs and toads are considered good indicators of an ecosystem's health and often play a critical role in food chains. Various study and conservation groups are working to address this and discover why amphibian populations are crashing. Considering that frogs are on every continent except Antarctica, this is truly a global issue.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


El Lector, The Reader, Ferdinand Hodler, Bathos, Bathetic
'El Lector' by Ferdinand Hodler


Noun. M17.
[Greek = depth. In purely English sense 2 introduced by Pope.]
  1. Depth, lowest phase, bottom. rare. M17.
  2. Rhetoric. Ludicrous descent from the elevated to the commonplace; anticlimax. E18.
  3. A comedown; an anticlimax; a performance absurdly unequal to the occasion. E19.
Adjective. L18.
[from BATHOS after pathos, pathetic]
Marked by bathos.

My pulse quickens. I sit at my desk. The venerable tome sits upon it - The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 1 (Letters A - M). It is unopened. Tentatively, I place my hands upon its textured hardcover. I feel it calling me, whispering through millennia, tempting me to leap into its hallowed pages. The symbiotic yearning to impart and the yearning to imbibe sizzles between cover and fingertips. My mouth is dry. I know that, once opened, knowledge will be placed before my eyes; knowledge beyond my most fantastical and perverse dreams; knowledge that will shape me and change me; knowledge that will charge upon me a terrible responsibility. The die has been cast; it is my fate. With the gasp of a man stepping over the edge, I cast it open and throw myself upon it.

My eyes are closed. My head is upon the pages. The tender caress of paper cools my cheek. I am spent; it is as much as I can do to slowly open my eyes and see where my right hand has fallen. The black lettering of today's word slowly crystallises. A soft, plaintive moan escapes my lips. The word upon which providence has cast my hand is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I whisper it gently: 'Bathos.' I am unsated, unfulfilled, so I whisper it again, allowing my lips and tongue to linger over and caress its Grecian beauty: 'Baaah - thosssssss ...'

My mind flutters. What mortal meaning can such sublimity have? What transcendent knowledge can its syllables impress upon this vulgar human vessel? A single tear falls my eye upon the definition; I descry its words, words that charge my heart and elevate my mind.

'Bathos,' I croak, as a single sob courses through my body, as if the knowledge of the ages itself has taken hold of my soul. 'Bathos.' I am weeping, for now understanding is mine; it has been imparted to me. 'Bathos! Bathetic! A descent from the elevated to the mundane ... a performance absurdly unequal to its occasion ... bathos ... I understand it all! Oh let me be the medium of this hallowed knowledge; let me be the vessel that takes this to the world ...' 

I know what I must do; I know my burden. I slam my fist to the desk, throwing my head back and releasing a guttural roar to the heavens.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Scarlet King Snake, Batesian, Aposematism
The Scarlet King Snake as photographed by Glenn Bartolotti.
Despite its tough-sounding name and bold colours, it's actually a complete wimp.


Adjective. L19.

Zoology. Designating or characterized by a form of mimicry in which an edible
 species is protected by its resemblance to one avoided by predators. 

Many animals have drawn the short straw in the circle of life. Not only are they a preyed-upon species, but they're a preyed-upon species that is frustratingly accommodating to the predator; they don't sting or bite, they're not poisonous, and they're probably delicious.

This would be particularly irksome to them (if you'll excuse the flagrant anthropomorphism) when there are any number of similar species living in their area that have been blessed by Mother Nature with the ability to fight back and generally be as inconvenient as possible to any predator that makes a move on them. Not only that, but such well-armed species are generally keen to advertise the fact through aposematism, literally strutting their inedible stuff about the place. So what do you do as an obligingly delectable member of the animal world? Batesian mimicry.

To give an example, a coral snake is not a snake you should mess with as it's nerve-meltingly venomous. Being the shy and retiring type, it doesn't even want you to mess with it. It therefore advertises the fact with distinctive aposematic markings that predators learn to avoid. This is of benefit to all: the coral snake is left in peace, and any would-be predators can avoid the pleasure of sampling its neurotoxins. This is what biologists call honest signalling on the part of the coral snake. Its markings say: "Back off! I'm packing serious heat here!" and that is exactly the case.

The scarlet king snake, however, is not packing heat, being completely non-venomous. Instead, its markings mimic those of the coral snake, the advantage being that any predator that has learned to avoid the coral snake should be sufficiently duped to avoid the scarlet king snake as well. This is Batesian mimicry, an example of what biologists call dishonest signalling, and it benefits no one except the mimic as the predator mistakenly passes over an easy meal.

Interestingly, Batesian mimicry can actually be detrimental to the copied, or model, species. If a predator has encountered several scarlet king snakes and found them to be thoroughly delicious and hospitable in their inability to paralyse its respiratory system, it's likely to think the same again when it happens upon a coral snake. Thanks to the duplicity of the scarlet king snake, everyone in that scenario is in for an unpleasant surprise.

Coral Snake, venomous, dangerous, aposematism
The Coral Snake as photographed by Norman Benton
If you ever find one in your trousers, don't put your trousers on

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Bashi-bazouk, Captain Haddock, Tintin
Haddock in an unusually bright and undrunk mood


Noun. M19.
[Turkish başi bazuk lit. 'wrong-headed', from baş head + bozuk out of order.]

Hist. A mercenary of the Turkish irregulars, notorious for pillage and brutality.

Captain Haddock is one of the most popular and colourful characters in the Tintin series. A flawed but ultimately loyal companion of Tintin, Haddock is a veteran sailor in the merchant navy. Alcoholic and surly, he is prone to fits of temper and outbursts of language that presented Hergé, Tintin's author, with a problem. When Haddock was introduced in the 1940s, it would have been unthinkable to have printed actual swearwords. Therefore, Hergé gave Haddock an entire lexicon of appropriated but neutral swearwords (Hergé at times read a dictionary specifically for the purpose of acquiring new expletives for the cantankerous Captain). Bashi-bazouk is one of those faux expletives. Due to their reputation for indiscipline and brutality, bashi-bazouk has become a term in many languages that means an undisciplined and savage bandit, therefore carrying a genuinely negative meaning, as did many of his curses. It's never explained how Captain Haddock came to have such an expansive and esoteric vocabulary; one can only assume that Haddock, like his creator, was an avid dictionary reader (dictionary readers, of course, being an exceptionally cool bunch of people).
Bashi-bazouk, Haddock, Tintin, Ostrogoth
A famous scene in which Haddock remonstrates with a wandering trader that suggested Webster's dictionary is superior to the Oxford English Dictionary

Monday, 25 March 2013


Barratry, Vexatious Litigation, Harassment
The Griffon Vulture represents ... oh it doesn't need an explanation, does it?


Noun. LME.
[Old & mod. French baraterie deceit, from Old French barat(e) deceit, fraud, trouble, etc., from barater)

1 Hist. The purchase or sale of ecclesiastical or state preferments or of judicial influence. LME.

2 The malicious incitement of discord; spec. (now Hist.) the persistent practice of vexatious litigation. L16.

3 Maritime Law. Fraud or gross or criminal negligence prejudicial to a ship's owner(s) or underwriters on the part of the master or crew. E17.

We are fortunate in Western lands to have legals systems that, while flawed, purport to represent the best interests of citizens in a fair and just manner according to law. However, a particularly invidious aspect of their use is barratry, which (as per definition 2) is the practice of vexatious litigation.

This can take a number of forms. One is exemplified by so-called ambulance chasers; lawyers who descend on accidents or disasters in order to find clients. In fact, there are specific laws in many countries to prevent this; some jurisdictions have even gone as far as dispatching investigators to disaster zones to monitor and intercept any such attempted barratry.

Another aspect of barratry is the filing of litigation solely to harass. This might be to silence a dissenter or critic, to financially cripple an opponent through spiralling legal costs or simply to harass through wasted time, money and effort in defending the vexatious proceedings. Both forms not only persecute the respondent to such claims, but also place an unnecessary burden on the often already overstretched court systems. Bah!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Barnum (effect)

Barnum Effect, Greatest Show on Earth, PT Barnum
Flying horses, dogs in wheels ... what's not to like?


Noun. M19.
Humbug; empty showmanship.



The tendency of individuals to accept types of information such as character assessments or horoscopes as being particularly true of themselves, even when the information is so vague as to be worthless.

After careful examination of your viewer algorithms when accessing Lexicolatry, I am pleased to present to you, free of charge, your very own personalised reader profile:

You feel that your level of English is good, both in terms of use and vocabulary, but there is room for improvement. You're sometimes unsure, for example, whether you're using a particular word or expression correctly, and the spellings of some words cause you to pause when writing. Occasionally you will read or hear a word that is unfamiliar, which makes you to want to know more. With regards verbal skill, generally you can express yourself very well, but there are times when you struggle to find the right words to express your deeper thoughts, and on occasion you can lose confidence, especially when nervous or in the presence of someone that is particularly articulated. You have a keen interest in English and language and think that Lexicolatry might be a useful tool in broadening your knowledge and vocabulary, although some words featured interest you more than others.

Do feel free to comment. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Cadbury Roses, Barmecide, Barmecidal
And it would even smell of chocolate! Oh the torture!


Noun & adjective. E18.
[Arab. barmaki, the patronymic of a prince in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments
 who feasted a beggar on a succession of empty dishes to test his humour.]

A noun. A person who offers imaginary food or illusory benefits. E18.

B attrib. or as adjective. Illusory, unreal; offering imaginary food food or illusory benefits.

adjective. M19.
Illusory, unreal.

As a child, I don't have many more poignant a memory than when I would find a tin of Cadbury Roses secreted somewhere in the house, only to open it and find it full of buttons. I think my Mum did it on purpose; one day I'll learn to trust again.

Friday, 22 March 2013


Junk food, fast food, bariatrics, obesity, fat, diet


Noun plural. M20.
[from BARO- Greek baros weight +IATRIC Greek iatrikos, from iatros physician]

The branch of medicine concerned with obesity and weight control.

adjective. L20.

noun. M20.
a doctor who specialises in obesity and weight control. M20.

Expect to hear the word bariatrics more and more in the future as the West sinks into an ever-deepening obesity epidemic. It's strange that, in Britain, jokes are often made about 'fat Americans' when we're really in no position to poke fun. It's estimated that 1 in 4 adults in Britain are classified as obese (having a body mass index higher than 30) and there are growing numbers classified as super-obese (having a body mass index higher than 50). What is particularly sad is the escalation of childhood obesity, with an estimated 1 in 3 children in the UK being overweight or obese by the time they leave Primary School at 11 years old. Clearly obesity is a very British problem, as much as we'd like to pretend it isn't.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


William Shakespeare, The Bard of Avon, Bardolatry
Don't make fun of his squiffy eye - it's blasphemous


Noun. E20.
[from BARD noun + -O- +LATRY]

Excessive admiration of a poet, spec. of Shakespeare, 'the Bard of Avon'.

I love Shakespeare, but I also love dictionaries and semantics. This leaves me deeply conflicted over bardolatry. Yes, by definition, excessive anything is too much, otherwise it wouldn't be excessive. But excessive admiration? For Shakespeare? Oh please. Could there ever be such a thing?

You see, there is a fashion for knocking Shakespeare. In school, his plays are reviled as being interminably boring and impenetrably difficult to understand. Otherwise completely literate students list their assigned texts as:

"... Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, A Separate Peace ... and ... urgh! ... Macbeth!" 

There has also been a fashion for many years of questioning Shakespeare's authorship and authenticity. Just mention Shakespeare at a party and some irrepressible know-it-all is bound to chime:

"Oh, but you do you know that Shakespeare didn't really write any of that, don't you?"

Quite. And don't even think about mentioning the moon landings.

Regarding Shakespeare's schoolyard rep, this is largely down to just how badly Shakespeare is often taught in school. I remember reading Macbeth as a class, each student sitting at their desk, reading their part with all the conviction and energy of a sedated sloth. It's forgotten, though, that these works are plays, written for the stage, where flesh and blood actors bring the words and characters to life in front of you. While studying the texts is undoubtedly rewarding, nothing can compare to seeing them as Shakespeare intended when he penned them some 400 years ago.

Yes that's right, moon-landing denier: When he penned them. I'm not anti-polemic, and certainly not of the opinion that Shakespeare is above question. However, it is supremely irritating when people echo this rather tired conspiracy just because it seems fashionable or erudite to do so. The so-called evidence for questioning Shakepeare's authorship is mind-numbingly flimsy, and revolves largely around mere speculation with more than a dash of elitism thrown in. After all, to cite an oft quoted objection: How could someone from Stratford, a humble agricultural town, have written such works of transcendent genius? Pff.

Shakepeare's acclaimed reputation is fully deserved. His influence on the English language, on devices such as plot and structure, on our vocabulary and on subsequent works of literature is unparalleled. It seems more than a little unfair that, along with all the other knocks Shakespeare gets, he's also connected to the rather unflattering noun of bardolatry. It certainly may be possible to be a bardolater somehow (perhaps by praying to Shakespeare, or refusing to speak but in Shakespearean English, or even sleeping with an effigy of the Great Bard in your bed every night). However, recognising and crediting him for what he did definitely does not qualify. Now please all stand ...

*All Hail Our Blessed Bard*

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Bard, Bardic, Federico Andreotti, The Serenade
Federico Andreotti's The Serenade


Noun. Middle English.
[Gaelic bàrd, Irish bard, Welsh bardd, from Celtic (whence Greek bardos, Latin bardus).
 First used in Scotland and as a term of contempt, but idealised by Sir Walter Scott.]

1(a) Any of an ancient Celtic order of minstrel-poets, who composed and sang (usually to the harp)
verses celebrating the achievements of chiefs and warriors, recording historical events,
traditional lore, etc. In Wales specifically a poet honoured at an eisteddfod. ME

1(b) A strolling musician or minstrel. Scots archaic LME

1(c) A minstrel or poet of any other oral tradition, as an Anglo-Saxon scop, a Scandinavian scald, etc. M18

2(a) Any poet; especially a lyric or epic poet. literary. M17

2(b) the Bard (of Avon) Shakespeare.

bardic adjective of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a bard. L18
bardish adjective (somewhat derogatory) = bardic. E17
bardism noun the art or practice of bards. E18
bardling noun a young or inexperienced poet, a poetaster. M18
bardship noun the office, dignity or character of a bard. L18

The combination of beautiful music and lyrical poetry is a powerful one. In fact, in games like Dungeons & Dragons where bards are a common character class, bards are supposed to be granted their powers from the magic of their music. I can't remember where, as a child, I first came across the word bard, but it stuck with me, both as a noble and romantic profession and a fascinating word, overflowing with history and lore.

The importance of lyrics is often relegated in modern music, with anthemic riffs and repetitive (often meaningless) lyrics favoured. However, evocative lyric-writing can be the difference between a good piece of music and a great one, and there are many musicians that infuse profound meaning and emotion into their words, weaving stories, scenes and feelings with profound bardic skill. Dire Straights' song Romeo and Juliet is one such example, arguably one of the most romantic songs ever written. In fact, I would go so far as to say its sublime interlacing of beautiful melody and lyrical storytelling would have the approval of The Bard himself.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Simon Le Bon, Duran Duran, barbal, beard
Simon Le Bon. With a beard. Looking like me. Oh yes he is.
(Photo by Eva Rinaldi)


Adjective. Rare. M17.
[from Latin barba beard + -AL]

Of or pertaining to the beard.

A year or so ago when I grew a beard, a friend (on seeing it for the first time) remarked that I looked like Simon Le Bon. To be truthful, I don't think she had looked at me very closely, it was probably just an offhand comment, and she would probably have retracted it had she made a closer inspection. Regardless, I mentally pounced on the compliment, and whenever anyone has since said they don't like my barbal efforts, I reply dismissively: "Oh really? Because Jo says it makes me look like Simon Le Bon."

Monday, 18 March 2013


Train, train crash, banjax, banjaxed
A banjaxed train.


Verb trans. Anglo-Irish. M20.
[Origin unknown]

Ruin, destroy; incapacitate.

I first came across this word in the early noughties when I moved to Ireland. It was usually heard in relation to fairly mundane things, as in "My car's banjaxed," or "You're gonna banjax it with that type of carry on." These days you're more likely to hear about the banjaxed economy, for which the picture of the train is a fitting metaphor. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Nelson Muntz, bangster, bully, ruffian
Nelson Muntz: The archetypal bangster


Noun. Scot. L19.
[from BANG verb + -STER]

A bully, a ruffian; a victor in fights.

If you're going to accost a bully, you need to be verbally well-armed, and Lexicolatry brings you bangster, guaranteed to disarm (metaphorically speaking) the roughest of ruffians.

Despite hailing from Scotland, bangster works remarkably well in any accent, from the thickest Glaswegian of 'Ach! Yer wee bangster!' to the poshest of the Queen's own: 'Never had one descried such an assemblage of bangsters.' Try saying it in a French accent too - that's probably my favourite.

Are there any accents in which bangster doesn't work? Are you a bangster? Am I treating the global issue of bangstry with gratuitous levity? Do leave any comments below. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013



Adjective. Derogatory. M19.
[Greek banausikos of or for artisans]

Suitable for artisans; uncultivated; materialistic.

I had to really set my mind to thinking about why a word like banausic would be considered derogatory; after all, it is used to describe something that is suitable for artisans. At first, I thought it was probably due to a quirk in Greek history, during a time when artisans were, as manual labourers, looked down upon. However, I quickly realised that modern day artisans are thought of similarly. A builder, for example, conjures the image of a rather dim, overweight, unreliable slob. Similar stereotypes exist for carpenters, plumbers, electricians and virtually all of the tradespeople. That's not even mentioning, of course, the lowest of the low in the building trade artisans - the humble painter and decorator, a position surely chosen only by those who clearly were not smart enough for any of the other jobs on the don't-need-to-be-particularly-smart-to-do-them job list. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been above such prejudice myself.

I have a good friend that is a carpet-fitter (carpet-fitting barely above painting and decorating on the banausic status list). He is often teased for how slowly he works - painfully slowly at time. When he fitted the carpets in my house, I must admit that there were times during his long, ponderous measurement-taking and diagram drawing sessions that I thought: "Oh come on! This is carpet-fitting, not rocket science!" or even, heaven forbid, "This is carpet fitting, not real building work!"

The end results, however, speak for him, for his trade and for his banausic skills. After he had left, I stood at the foot of the stairs and marveled at his work; how he had cajoled an exceptionally stiff carpet around all the corners and turns of the stairs, how he had run it up and carpeted the landing in one seamless piece, and how it was completed with an unerring accuracy, precision and neatness that completely baffles my supercilious, non-banausic mind. Ultimately, it's rather rich to look down on anyone, of any profession, that can do something you can't. That is, after all, why we usually hire tradespeople. 

Friday, 15 March 2013


The Bath, Alfred Stevens, Balneology, Balneal, Bathing
You know you have a problem if you can't even wait to take your underwear off before getting in


Combining form of Latin balneum bath.

It would seem that I still have a problem resisting the temptation of anything balneal; discovering a combining form that allows me to create my own bath-related words was irresistible. The OED offers us balneological (of or pertaining to balneology), balneologist (an expert in or student of balneology), balneology (the branch of knowledge that deals with the medicinal effects of bathing and mineral springs) and balneotherapy (the treatment of disease by bathing, esp. mineral springs).

However, if I may be so bold, I would like to put forth the following words for inclusion in the English language and future editions of the OED:

The science of measuring bathwater to ensure an optimal balneolgical experience
 (in using the elbow to test the temperature of the water, for example, 
and measuring the depth of the water to ensure all relevant bits will be covered).

The use of scented candles, dimmed lighting, soothing music, bubble bath, a Flake bar, etc, to really take your bath to the next level.

Divination of the day ahead by how well your morning bath is going.

A rare psychological condition in which one's love of baths starts to interfere with and dominate one's blog. 

Do you have any suggested balneological words? Do you even like baths? Am I just writing these posts for my own perverse gratification?

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Jean Crain, Bath, Bubbles, Balneal


Adjective. M17.
[from Latin balneum bath + -AL]

Of or pertaining to a (warm) bath or bathing.

I love baths. I'm English, so it's in my blood (metaphorically speaking). There was even a time when my parents had to curb my three-a-day habit, quite possibly the first parents in history that were demanding their teenage son wash less. While it's true that during all of my balneal luxuriating I never managed to look quite as glamorous as Jean Crain, baths still hold an indulgence and extravagance that modern life rarely affords us. Therefore, I say, do not hold back your balneal desires - unleash your rubber duck, unstop your bottle of bubbles and lose yourself in the gentle lapping of the balneal waters.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Colin Firth, Fight, Bagarre, Hugh Grant,


Noun. Plural pronounced same. L19.

A tumult; a scuffle, a brawl.

Some people are just too posh and well-to-do to have a common scuffle or vulgar brawl. Once slighted, and on the failure of mere words or a strongly worded letter to bring about satisfaction, there remains the noble bagarre - truly the ruck of the gentry.  

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Angela Kubath, duck, badling
"Alone Duck" by Angela Kubath


Noun. L15.
[Perh. var. of paddling verbal noun of PADDLE]

A small group of ducks.

I love collective nouns (or terms of venery to be precise). I have an ongoing debate with my brother-in-law who gets most irate at the mere mention of one. According to him, they're immensely frustrating because you have no way of looking them up in a dictionary. If you want to know what a group of rhinoceroses is called, for example, how do you look it up? I have tried explaining that this is the purpose of encyclopaedias or reverse dictionaries, but it's to no avail; he is determined to nurture his indignation. 

To illustrate badling, I have chosen two extremes. The first is a most beautiful painting of a duck (albeit a markedly solitary duck) by the artist Angela Kubath, a print of which hangs proudly in my office and has done for many years. Beautiful it is, but a badling it isn't. The second is a video which most definitely does show a group of ducks, albeit a group that somewhat stretches the definition of a small group of ducks. To reach the proper proportion of a badling, set your mental image at somewhere between the painting and the video, and you should be be near enough.

Oh ... and a group of rhinoceroses is called a crash.

Monday, 11 March 2013


Frasier Crane, Nile Crane, badinage


Noun & verb. Mid-17th century.
[French, from badiner to joke, from badin fool from Provençal, from badar gape from Proto-Romance]

A noun. Humorous banter or ridicule. M17
B verb intrans. & trans. Banter playfully. E19

When I think of badinage, I think of the inimitable relationship between the brothers Frasier and Niles Crane from the sitcom Frasier. Both are psychiatrists, incorrigibly pompous and pathologically competitive with each other. In fact, their pretentiousness renders badinage (a rather pompous sounding word itself) all the more fitting to describe their often barbed wordplay, peppered as it is with references to wine, fine art, opera and French. Their steady supply of retorts, quips, asides and witticisms provides some of the very best badinage to grace our television screens.

Do please leave any comments below.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


Fiat, Badge, Backronym,
Found It All Ticketyboo


[Blend of BACK and ACRONYM]

A fanciful expansion of an existing acronym or word, such as "port out, starboard home" for posh.
(definition from

I love acronyms and all their ilk, and I especially love the backronym, in which someone takes a pre-existing word and retrospectively applies an acronym to it. The first time I knowingly experienced this was helping my Dad set up his computer sometime in the 1980s (when everything IT was a big deal) and we read that a mouse was a manually operated user selection entity. It wasn't, of course. The thing we call a mouse just looks like a mouse.

Backronyms are often used popularly to humorous effect. As a previous Fiat owner, for example, I would often hear the joke that it stands for 'Fix it again tomorrow!' (I actually found my Fiat Punto to be thoroughly reliable). There's a similar backronym with Ford: supporters might tell you (facetiously) that it stands for 'First on race day!' while detractors would say it means 'Found on road ... dead.' 

Having previously written about the anacronym (which is an acronym that is in such common use as a word that people generally don't know it's an acronym or what the letters stand for - laser being an example), I did fall to wondering what it would be called if you have an acronym that becomes an anacronym that becomes a backronym. Clearly, there is a gap in the English language here, and I would like to put forward the term banacronym. To use laser again as a theoretical example, its evolution from acronym to banacronym might be this:
  1. The laser is invented, and so called as an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. An acronym is born.
  2. Everyone (with a social life) forgets what laser originally stood for. An anacronym is born.
  3. Knowing it once stood for something, some numb nuts retrospectively makes the anacronym an acronym again, rendering it a luminous and straight energy ray. Booya! The banacronym is born!
I can't help but feel that banacronym has been a long time in coming, and there's a deep sense of relief that this yawning omission in our beloved language has finally been plugged. I shall petition the OED to include it in their next edition as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, any readers who wish to help end this lexicological madness can do so by using the word banacronym at all possible opportunities. 

In the meantime, going back to backronyms, please leave any other examples you know in the comment box, or any other thoughts you have on the oddly exciting world of acronyms in general.

Because luminous and straight energy rays are dangerous

Saturday, 9 March 2013


Backfriend, False Friend, Traitor


Noun. Late 15th century.
[from BACK + FRIEND noun.]

1 A pretended friend; an unavowed enemy. obsolete exc. dial. L15

2 A supporter, a backer. L16

I love the ambiguity of this word; a backfriend can either be a backstabbing traitor in waiting or a faithful companion that will never leave you behind. You've noted, of course, that the negative meaning of backfriend is now considered obsolete, but then that's exactly what a conniving backfriend would want you to think, right? Whichever it is, the seeds of doubt have been planted: you'll never again hear the words 'I got your back, bro,' without feeling a gnawing sense of unease. 

Friday, 8 March 2013


Backfisch, Anna Prucnal, German film


Noun. Plural -e. Late 19th century.
[German, lit. 'fish for frying'.]

A girl in late adolescence, a teenage girl.

In Germany, backfisch is an old-fashioned term for a young girl that is no longer a child but isn't yet a woman. From talking to native Germans, it would seem that backfisch, in German at least, doesn't have a pejorative connotation; rather, it stresses her innocence, even naivety, and thus might even be considered quite flattering.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


Knight, Bachelor, Baccalaurean


Adjective. M19.
[Old French bachelor young man aspiring to knighthood, from Proto-Romance, of uncertain origin: in academic use the medieval Latin form was baccalarius, later altered to -laureus, with ref. to bacca lauri laurel berry.]

Of or befitting a bachelor.

Some people that knew me during my baccalaurean years think they were rather atypical. In my late teens and early twenties, my friends and I were more inclined to stay in for the night, watching movies and drinking wine, or playing chess while discussing literature and history while listening to classical music (during the more raucous evenings, it wasn't unheard of for the occasional poetry slam to break out). It wasn't pretentious, nor was it down to awkwardness or shyness, or any other reason why we weren't out tearing up the clubs or racing Ford Escorts around the city centre. We were just doing what we enjoyed doing, and I look back on those baccalaurean years fondly.

The etymology of the word bachelor, and therefore baccalaurean, is curious. The modern definition, that of a single, unwed man, also carries that same sense of aspiration, but aspiring to be married rather than aspiring to knighthood. Even identifying a man as a bachelor is highlighting his unwed or single state, as if it's the most remarkable thing about him, some kind of strange intermediate stage that will one day be rectified. I suppose in much the same way that my baccalaurean years were considered by some to be unusual, people choose their own paths and it's no indication of some personal deficiency if they choose one that others consider aside from the norm. Some men choose to settle down and get married, some don't, just as some couples choose to have children and some don't. We live in an era of self-determination, an era during which labels like bachelor, with its overtones of travelling on a culturally predetermined route, are sounding increasingly old-fashioned.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Catherine Breshkovsky, Babushka of the Russian Revolution
Catherine Breshkovsky, Russian socialist, better known as Babushka of the Russian Revolution


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Russian = grandmother]

1 In Russia: a grandmother, an old woman. M20

2 A head-scarf folded diagonally and tied under the chin. M20

Babushka is a word that has carried itself all the way from Russia to reside as a beloved resident both in the English language and as a regular in lists of favourite words. Its sound encapsulates everything that a dear grandmother is: the soft, double-b of babu is filled with her warmth and hospitality, the softness of her gossamer cheeks as she pulls you close for a kiss, and the wry exasperation of recounting better, more honest times. Just as you have rounded the double-b, however, and are sounding the gentle sh of babush, you strike the hard ka, for the babushka is nobody's fool. With a mind as sharp as a razor and a tongue to match, she can smoke like a chimney and sting the ears off a sailor. She is the matriarch; she is the babushka.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lexicolatry: Reflections on the Letter A

Only 25 Letters To Go

This is both daunting and very exciting. Some quick back-of-a-beermat calculations tell me that, at the current rate, this project is going to take me approximately seven years to complete!

A = 101 posts = 101 days: 101 x 26 / 365 = 7.19 = Eek!

However, thus far I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip through the OED and I really hope you have enjoyed coming along with me. I've learnt a lot, have discovered some new and exciting words and I've met (virtually, at least) some really rather smashing people.

'A' has been a wonderful letter to read through and has introduced me to some really exciting new words. Some of my favourites have been allay, anatopism and agelast. The undisputed favourite of all new words came early on in my reading, however, and hasn't been topped yet: absquatulate, meaning to depart, or decamp. I don't know why I like it so much; it's just such a absurdly funny word that yet fits its meaning so wonderfully. I shall keep using it in my conversation each day and fighting for its common acceptance into the English language.

The most individually read posts have come as something of a surprise. The words aitch, AK-47, album and autumnal are the most read pages. Other words, some of which I love, such as amourette and apricate languish at the bottom of the list. The lowest visited word of all, anteprandial, is one the most charming words I included in Lexicolatry, so if you do get a chance to visit it (before dinner would be an appropriate time), do have a gander.

As we move to B, please remember that I'm always looking to collaborate with fellow logophiles. If there's a word you'd like me to cover or one you'd like to cover yourself, please drop me a note to say so. Also remember the Facebook group; we have 60 members now and I often pick their brains when preparing a new post. 

Thank you to everyone that reads Lexicolatry, and here's to another twenty-five letters! : o ) 


PS: Today's word is axinomancy in case you're wondering. 

Axinomancy - Need Divine Guidance? Just Axe.


Noun. Early 17th century.
[Latin axinomantia from Greek axinomanteia, from axiné axe]

Divination by means of an axe-head.

The movement of an axe can be a very reliable means of divination. For example, seeing an axe arcing toward you from the hand of a Viking raider portends that a great, skull-splintering change is about to befall you. Suddenly this axinomancy lark doesn't seem so bird-brained after all, does it?

Monday, 4 March 2013


Richard Ansdell's crisply titled A Ewe With Lambs and a Heron Beside a Loch


Adverb & pred. adjective. Scot. Also -lt. Mid-18th century.
[Perhaps ultimately from Old Norse af from + velta to rise.]

Of an animal, esp. a sheep: on its back and unable to rise;
 of a person: incapacitated through intoxication, insensible.

The other day a friend recounted a time he had been on a walk through the country with his family. As they passed a field, they happened upon the distinctly odd sight of a sheep on its back, paddling its feet in the air like an upturned beetle. They quickly realised that they both had to do something but, being cityfolk, had no idea what to do. 

For a time, they stood in a circle around the hapless sheep both discussing what could be wrong and what they should be doing about it. My friend's mother-in-law said she believed it was caused by a buildup of gas in the sheep's stomach, and the proper course of action was to stab the sheep in the abdomen and therefore facilitate the release of this noxious accumulation (at which point you would probably have a group of rumen-spattered cityfolk standing in a circle around a haemorrhaging sheep, discussing how best to save it, until someone suggests that rolling the sheep onto its back might help, only for the whole process to begin again). 

Fortunately before any knives were drawn, a 4x4 stopped as it was passing the field. A farmer jumped out, sauntered over to the sheep, effortlessly picked it up and put it back onto its feet, and with little more than a doff of the cap to the slack-jawed cityfolk, hopped back into his 4x4 and carried on his merry way. The sheep, meanwhile, had scampered off back to its flock, presumably to tell all her mates how close she had just come to being stabbed to death by a group of clueless city-dwellers. 

There are a couple of reasons that I recount my friend's story. Firstly, he told me this the day after I had scheduled the word awald onto my blog (talk about a shear coincidence). When I read awald and noted it down, I did think to myself: "When am I ever going to use this word?" and "Is this really a problem that particularly afflicts sheep?" Well, apparently it is, and I did get to use it, and I was able to strike a very erudite pose and remark casually: "Oh yes. That's when a sheep is awald."

Secondly, the mother-in-law's analysis of the situation is not quite as ridiculous as it first sounds. When a sheep is awald (or cast to use the more common term), it is unable to burp and the accumulating gases will kill it within hours. If you believe The Sun (and why wouldn't you?), the sheep will actually explode in a bloody shower of chops and cutlets (if you believe The Daily Mail, the sheep is perfectly able to get back up on its feet, but would rather just lie there and claim benefits, probably because it's some foreign breed). The idea of stabbing the sheep, however, is a little off. As the heroic farmer demonstrated, the best thing to do with a cast sheep is to just put it back on its feet and let it go on its merry way.

What the mother-in-law was actually referring to is something called bloat. While it may or may not be present in a cast sheep, her definition really wasn't too far awry.  This is a potentially fatal problem that often requires an emergency rumenotomy, which is a surgical incision into the rumen. The procedure is quite an involved one, however, and not really one that should be attempted without the proper tools and training (ie. if you're not a vet).

So there are two morals to this story:
  1. Useless words are not so useless. You never know when they may spring to your side, making you appear far more educated and knowledgeable than you really are. 
  2. Don't laugh at your mother-in-law. She's been around longer than you have, and there may just be a grain of truth in what she's saying (that being said, you probably shouldn't stab anything on her unqualified suggestion).

Do you you have any sheep awald stories?

Unlike me, do you know what you're talking about when it comes to such matters?

Please comment below in the comments section.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Uncle Herb from The Simpsons


Adjective. Mid-19th century.
[from Latin avunculus maternal uncle, dim. of avus grandfather]

Of, pertaining to, or resembling an uncle.

When I read this, I was a little bit perplexed as to what avuncular is supposed to entail. On the one hand, popular culture gives us the evil uncles, avaricious and scheming, usually intent on stealing the family inheritance. On the other hand, there are the loving, cool uncles, who steal nothing more than their nephew's nose and the reader's heart.

With these antipodean stereotypes, my conclusion is that avuncular will mean something different to everyone depending on one's own experience of uncles. I was never particularly close to any of my uncles, but I did become an uncle at 10 years old, and so my nephews and nieces (of which I have many) formed a substantial part of my childhood and teenage years. I don't think I'm being too presumptuous when I say I'm closer to the second stereotype than the first (I don't have a particular propensity for avarice and I didn't ever try to cheat any of my nephews out of a family inheritance by murdering my own sibling). 

My avuncular memories include writing and staging open air theatrical productions with my nieces and nephews (Bodlio & Nindiette got rave reviews from all attendees), forming the band Pink Blossom (we had a kind of grungy vibe), taking them into Oxford for milkshakes and ice cream, and otherwise fighting, wrestling, tickling and loving them as every good uncle should. These are the things I think of when I hear the word avuncular, and I like to think it's what they would think of too.

Do you have any particularly poignant avuncular memories? Please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Saturday, 2 March 2013



Noun. Now rare. M19.
[from Latin avis bird + cidium cutting, killing]

The slaughter of birds; bird-shooting.

When the shamelessly avicidal Duck Hunt was released on the Nintendo in 1987, it really was the duck's nuts. For those unfamiliar with 1980s pop culture, Duck Hunt was a game played with a light gun that you actually pointed at the screen of your TV. In the 1980s, this was a pretty big deal! Unfortunately, if wanton avicide wasn't enough to ensure immediate sanction from my mother, the use of a plastic gun that I held in my hand certainly wasDuck Hunt was forbidden, such was the deprivation of my childhood.

Strangely enough, I played Duck Hunt a few years ago on someone's "vintage" console. As I stood blasting pixelated avians out of the sky with a cheap plastic gun, I couldn't help but think my Mum was right to proscribe it. It wasn't a "horrible game" as my mother asserted, but it was a damned boring one.