Friday, 31 May 2013


Trinket, Ornament, Knick-knack, Bauble, Pot, Mexico, Curio


Foreign biblo (plural same). Noun. Late 19th century.
[French, from reduplication of bel beautiful; compare BAUBLE.]

A small curio or artistic trinket.

I love curios, I hate trinkets and as a general rule I don't like ornaments. Oh, and holiday souvenirs from gift shops - don't get me started on those. But I'm undecided on bibelot. On the one hand, it has a gentle, lilting French pronunciation; on the other hand, it's connected by the OED to the tawdry and classless bauble.

While I make up my mind, I can show you my own bibelot, which is small ceramic pot (the lid is about the size of my thumb nail), hand-painted with a blue flower and the word Tlaquepaque on its side. A visiting friend from Mexico gave it to me and, while I usually hate this kind of thing, for some inexplicable reason I rather love this little bibelot. It's completely impractical, useless for both storage and serving food, but I do find it rather charming and thought I would show it to the world.

If you have any strong (or weak) opinions on knick-knacks, trinkets, ornaments and bibelots, do please  share them in the comment section below (but please don't send me any - I hate that kind of tacky tat).

Thursday, 30 May 2013


Bibble-babble, Chit-chat, Tittle-tattle, Bavardage, Elderly
"And I heard the man who writes this 'blog' ... whatever that is ... just relies on lazy stereotypes for his pictures ..."
(photo by Kamshots)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Reduplication of BABBLE noun: compare tittle-tattle etc.]

Idle talk; prating.

I don't engage in bibble-babble - a spot of bavardage perhaps, maybe even idle chit-chat if I'm feeling particularly vulgar, but never bibble-babble. Oh no no no. That would never do. One must have standards, after all, and bibble-babble is definitely below the expected standards of an English gent.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Bibble, Bill, Mallard, Drake, Plastic, Toy, Duck
(photo by Joshua Smith)


Verb. Early 16th century.
[from BIB verb + -LE.]

1. verb instrans. & trans. Keep drinking; drink, tipple. E16

2. verb intrans. Dabble with the bill as a duck. M16

Ducks are cute, bibbling ducks are cuter, and a badling of bibbling ducks is perhaps the cutest sight of all.

Bibble is too wonderful a word to slip into obscurity. I intend to use it daily, and so should you.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


A pint of delicious bitter shot by Brian Clift


Adjective. Late 17th century.
[from Latin bibax, -acis + -OUS.]

Given to drinking, bibulous.

If you check the word bibacious in other references, it often gives the definition of "addicted to drinking" or, basically, alcoholic. That's not what the OED says, of course, and Collins 20th Century Dictionary seems to agree with the milder definition, giving it as "one who drinks or tipples".

It's not an area of clearly divided definitions, of course, but there are many people that look forward to a pint of beer or glass of wine after work and it would be a stretch indeed to suggest that they're alcoholic. Therefore, in its OED definition, bibacious seems a useful word to describe someone that likes a few drinks but would not be described as having a drinking problem.

Right. That's done. Now I fancy a pint - mainly down to looking at Brian's rather excellent picture.

Monday, 27 May 2013


Indian, Pakistani, Dance, Music, Tradition
A painting showing more traditional bhangra (and a dhol - I really, really want a dhol)


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Panjabi bhãngrã.]

1. A type of Punjabi folk-dance for men. M20

2. A style of popular (esp. dance) music combining Punjabi folk music with rock and roll or disco music. L20

In writing this, I desperately want to tell the world how much I love bhangra music, to list and give examples of some of the best Asian artists that I know and to roundly extol the wonders and beauty of this exciting and inspiring art form.

However, I would be doing so with the gnawing unease of not really understanding, of having never really understood, exactly what modern bhangra is. Asian musicians were becoming increasingly popular throughout the 1990s when I was growing up, and I was captivated by such musicians as Talvin Singh, The Asian Dub Foundation and Panjabi MC. Asian influence on mainstream Western pop was also increasing, and it had become de rigueur for a single to have a 'bhangra version' as a b-side.

There was, however, a lot of confusion about exactly what bhangra was. For many, it just meant something with a vaguely Indian feel or sound. This was particularly evident in the so-called bhangra versions of songs, which often had only the merest of Asian influence, perhaps a sitar riff or a dhol rhythm (one of the worst examples of this is All That She Wants Bhangra Version by Ace of Base).

There was also a certain amount of snobbery and conservatism among bhangra-purists who would object to the traditional form mixed with modern elements such as DJs, drum sets, keyboards and synthesizers. All I know is this - bhangra is a broad and expansive term covering the musical styles and influences that originate from that Indian, Pakistani and Punjabi regions of Asia. Some try and exercise tighter definitions and some tend to drop the word bhangra altogether (some of the above musicians don't even list bhangra as one of their genres, preferring terms such as Asian Underground). Regardless of the semantics, bhangra-influenced music is exciting, passionate and deeply energising. I have included videos of some of my favourite musicians - I hope you enjoy them and I look forward to receiving indignant messages of correction.


Sunday, 26 May 2013


Bevy, Group of women, Girls, Ladies, Party, Drinking, Club, Bar
Bride Beverly's bibacious bevy bibulously bibbling bevvies


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Origin unknown.]

1. A company of ladies, roes, quails or larks. LME

2. A group or company of any kind. E17

Ooh I do love terms of venery! And as collective nouns go, bevy is a particularly wonderful one. Who would have thought that just one word could describe a group of roes, quails, larks or ladies? Such lexicological versatility is surely cause for celebration.

It's also of interest as it's still in common use across Britain. Well, OK, not so much for quails, but a bevy of beauties is a commonly used expression. While the dictionary definition carries the idea that there can be a bevy of anything so long as it has a common characteristic (and it is used in this way), the first definition that jumps into my mind with bevy is that of a group of women. It also carries the connotation of frivolity, perhaps because of its similarity to the word bevvy or bevy, from beverage and specifically meaning an alcoholic drink. Therefore, a bevy of girls out on a Hen Night sounds more natural to me than, say, a bevy of politicians.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


Bévue, Glass, Beautiful, Architecture
A bay view
(photo by Allen McGregor)


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Late 17th century.
[French, from bé-, bes- pejorative + vue view.]

An error of inadvertence; a blunder.

Having come up with what I feel was a rather brilliant mnemonic for my last French word (which was bêtise, as you're no doubt pretending to have forgotten just to spite me), I must admit to feeling under some pressure to have one for my subsequent French word, bévue, and to not have one would be, well, a bit of a booboo bévue in itself.

Unfortunately, I did find bévue a little less accommodating with its distinctly French pronunciation and absolute refusal to comfortably rhyme with anything remotely English that I could think of. However, after much thought I do think I have one. Are you ready? Right.

Above, you will see a picture of a rather smashing bay window which no doubt affords a similarly smashing vista; this vista could rightly be called a bay view (do you see where this is going?). Doubtless, such a bay view would include lots of lovely trees. Unfortunately, trees remind me of my own little bévue when writing on one of my favourite words thus far in Lexicolatry, that being the word arboricide, which means the wanton killing of trees. Somehow I managed to consistently spell the word incorrectly throughout almost the entire post, dropping the 'r' and thus rendering arboricide as aboricide. Thankfully a keen-eyed reader spotted the mistake and pointed it out, but only after I had published the post and after I had spelt it incorrectly in the post title also, thus forever rendering its web address as

It probably doesn't matter too much, but making such a careless mistake while writing on such an important subject does eat away at my OCD nature. Without the requisite understanding of the arcane workings of search engines, I can't help but wonder how many hits arboricide has lost, how many chances to get that message out there have been squandered, and therefore how many trees have paid the ultimate price because of my asinine negligence.

Anyway, the point is that a bévue is a blunder, so think of that bay window, with it's bay view looking out onto lovely trees that serve as a stark reminder of my own arboricidal blunder. Oh, and remember it's not pronounced bay-view, of course, but something closer to bay-voo. It's just a reminder. It helps, doesn't it? Kind of. OK, it's not as good as bêtise, but it'll do.

Have you recently committed a bafflingly bad bévue? Can you suggest a better mnemonic? Please do leave your comments below.

Friday, 24 May 2013


Whisky, Shot glass, Cheers, Bottoms up, Bever, Beverage, Alcohol


Noun. Middle English.
[Old French be(u)vrage (modern breuvage) from Proto-Romance, from Latin bibere to drink.]

1 A liquid for drinking; drink. In early use also specifically a drink to seal a bargain,
transferred to a bargain sealed by a drink. Now formal or jocular. ME

1b A specific drink, as lemonade, cider, etc., according to locality. dialectical. E17

2 Obsolete. Drinking; a draught of liquid; figurative suffering, a bitter experience. ME-L17

Granted, beverage isn't a particularly interesting word at first glance. Its Latin root is bibere, of course, which will have a ring of familiarity to speakers of Romance languages (beber in Spanish and Portuguese, for example, and a bea in Romanian). It's also related to the English word bever (or beaver), which is a drink generally or some other light refreshment.

What is interesting about the word beverage, however, is that in times past it was specifically a drink taken to seal a bargain or deal. While the word itself may not be used in that sense much anymore, the practice itself is alive and well, with many a beverage taken daily to mark that moment of accord between two discrete minds. Bottoms up, chaps!

Thursday, 23 May 2013


Some Mother Do 'Ave 'Em, Michele Dotrice, Michael Crawford, Bétise
'Betty's Frank Spencer'
(even now Betty has the ability to arrest my complete attention)


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Early 19th century.
[French = stupidity, from bête foolish from Old French beste beast.]

A foolish, ill-timed remark or action; a piece of folly.

Part of the problem with beautiful French words like bêtise is not only remembering them in the first place but also remembering how they're pronounced (especially tricky if, like me, you're not a French speaker). However, I do believe I've discovered a rather easy mnemonic for bêtise, French for stupidity, and adopted into English to mean a foolish or ill-timed remark or action.

Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is a classic character from British 1970s television, together with his long-suffering (and ridiculously beautiful) wife Betty. Although the programme was largly based around slapstick humour (the hugely talented Michael Crawford renowned for his own stuntwork), Frank's half-wittery was also expressed through his inept and foolish speech, especially when trying to find a job. When it inevitably ends in disaster, one of Frank's catchphrases is 'Ooooh Betty!', a catchphrase that is still commonly echoed across Britain today, especially by those who aren't particularly good at doing impersonations but like to give it a try anyway.

So, to remember bêtise and its pronunciation, just think of 'Betty's Frank Spencer'. If you say that phrase in a French accent, you'll never have any problem remembering either the word or its pronunciation again (granted, this only works if you're British or are familiar with 1970s British television - if you're not, then I'm afraid you'll just have to learn it, and you really should, because it's a smashingly lovely word indeed).

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bête noire

The Office, Fued
Toby Flenderson: Actually he is kind of annoying!


Foreign. Noun phrase. Plural bêtes noires (pronounced same). Mid-19th century.
[French 'black beast'.]

The bane of someone's life; an insufferable person or thing; an object of aversion.

If ever a co-worker sends you a rock as a gift with a note saying 'Suck on this!', then congratulations -  you can properly consider yourself someone's bête noire. This is also true if they take the time to egg your house, suggest that you're an animal rapist, say that you're the worst human ever or that they'd shoot you (twice) over Hitler and Bin Laden. With any one of these, you're firmly in bête noire territory.

Toby Flenderson of The Office suffered all of these indignities and more at the hands of Michael Scott, the Scranton branch manager of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Michael hates the fact that Toby, as the corporate HR representative, is not really under his authority, that Toby is often the first one other staff approach with their problems and that it's his job to object to and curtail Michael's frequently unethical, offensive, illegal and downright dangerous actions. Remarkably, Toby never reciprocates Michael's aggression or contempt, but rather remains ever calm and almost frustratingly mild.

Many memorably flawed characters have their bêtes noires - Homer Simpson has Ned Flanders, for example, and Frasier Crane has Cam Winston. What's interesting about all of them is that, in different ways, they all serve to expose in even greater contrast the failings of their haters. One can't help but think that this is probably a common theme in real life too. Those people out there that really irk us, that really get under our skin and make us want to egg their house or send them a rock as a present - there's probably something about them that shows up something in ourselves that we don't like or, perhaps far worse, something about us that others don't like.

Have you ever had (or do you have) a bête noire? Do you think you are a bête noire? If so, do please tell us all about it!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Gold and Citron Spangled Hamburg Bantams. Photo by Ryan Zierke



Verb trans. L16.
[from BE- + SPANGLE noun]

Decorate or adorn (as) with spangles.

Bespangle is rather an awkward word. It's heavy and ungainly, and it tastes of newly bent steel and piping.


Ah. So that's just me, then. 

Ah well ...

Bespangle is a word of magic and mystery, all the same. The night sky is bespangled, heaven only knows how or why, and all we poor sublunary creatures can do is gaze and shiver in awe at the colossal miracle above us.

Well, gaze, shiver in awe and send up the Hubble telescope, anyway.

But whether it's a trapeze artist's costume that's bespangled:

Or a fifteenth century bishop's cope:

The purpose is the same: to bewitch, bedazzle and bewilder the senses, and sprinkle over the wearer an illusion of the divine.

Sally Prue

I'm very proud to introduce the award-winning children's writer Sally Prue as today's guest poster. Sally's book Cold Tom won the Branford Boase Prize and the Smarties Silver Award, and The Truth Sayer was short-listed for the Guardian Children's Book Prize. She also writes The Word Den, a blog with the most wonderful tagline 'ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.'  I couldn't agree more, so a magniloquent welcome and grandiloquent thank you to Sally for writing in Lexicolatry - this is all rather exciting! Ed

Monday, 20 May 2013


Besmirch, Sully, Dirty, Stain, Discolour, Smirch, Blacken,



Verb trans. Late 16th century.
[from BE- + SMIRCH verb, prob. symbolic: compare smite, smudge, smut, etc.]

Dull or discolour, as with smoke or mud;
dim the brightness of; fig. sully (reputation etc.).

This is another of those phonosemantic words I love: if you smirch something, it gets all besmirched.

My favorite definition involves the physical besmirching, as in ‘he returned to find his grandmother’s antique sofa besmirched by muddy dog prints.' But when I think of where I see the word used most, it is in regards to the defiling of one’s reputation, as in ‘she worried that the incident with the chocolate syrup would besmirch her otherwise unimpeachable good name.'

For some reason the word also conjures a kind of childlike delight at the action: canvases besmirched by fingerpaint, faces besmirched by raspberry juice and vanilla ice cream, a new dress besmirched by the inept (and illicit) application of Mommy’s lipstick.  There is something playful in the sound of the word that makes the figurative reputation-soiling definition uncomfortable.

It seems to me that a good smirching would do all of us some good. 

(But then, this is coming from the guest blogger who also advocated phonosemantic ‘fuddling.’  Perhaps I’m just a romantic for funny-sounding be- prefixed words.  I hope we can all agree there are worse things.)

Katie Dwyer
Besmirch, Dirty, Sully, Mark, Stain, Smirch

A big thank you to the utterly unbesmirchable Katie for another excellent post. Ed.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


Beslobber, Beslaver, Licking, Disgusting, Wet
"Ewwwwwww!" is the only right and proper reaction to this photo by Mike Baird


Verb trans. Late Middle English.
[from BE- + SLOBBER (verb) probably from Middle Dutch slobberen walk through mud, feed noisily.]

Slaver or slobber over.

Please straighten your smirks and tame your titters: the wetness of kissing is actually an area of serious scientific study by some very clever people indeed. Did you know, for example, that men are inherently more partial to a sloppy wet kiss? Quoted in the National Geographic article 'Why Men Are Sloppy Kissers', anthropologist Helen Fisher from Rutgers University said in her best academic language that men 'prefer more tongue action'. 

Personally, I run counter to the evolutionary theory posited in that article as I don't particularly appreciate someone beslobbering all over me, even if it does give me the reproductive advantage of 'detecting traces of estrogen' in her dribble. Evidently some do, however, and I present a picture of a grown man being beslobbered by a dog and a scene from Hot Shots! Part Deux that always make me chuckle.

Do have a read of the National Geographic article, especially if you feel that there's too much romance in your kissing and you'd like to have it dissected and dissolved under the cold hard microscope of science. On the other hand, if you're in a relationship with a beslobbering ape and don't like it, there are a number of handy guides offering tips on discreetly discouraging him from leaving you looking like you've fallen face first into a bowl of wallpaper paste.  

If you're willing to share your personal preferences in the 'to beslobber or not to beslobber' debate, or any tips on discouraging it, please do so in the comment section below. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013


Beslaver, Dribbling, Spittle, The Simpsons, Beslobber, Beslubber


Verb trans. Late 16th century.
[from BE- + SLAVER Middle English, possibly Low German; come with slobber]

Slaver or dribble over.

Not only does the mere mention of food make Homer Simpson beslaver like a St Bernard, the mere mention of something that could possibly be construed as sounding a little bit like a food can set his salivary glands a-churning (such as D'oh! and Nuts! said in tandem). We shouldn't be quick to judge him, however, as the average adult generates between 2 and 4 pints of saliva per day and it has to go somewhere. This, I should point out, is a very useful fact to know for the next time a globule of spittle reaches escape velocity mid-conversation and lands in someone's eye. Honestly. Try telling them that. It diffuses the embarrassment every time.

Friday, 17 May 2013


Beshrew, Curse, Imprecate, Cute, Animal,
How did this loveable little rogue (picture by Joey M) get tangled up with this nasty business?
(he didn't apparently, because it's an Elephant Shrew which, I've no idea why, is not a true shrew)


Verb trans. Archaic. Middle English.
[from BE- + SHREW Old English screawa, scræwa, Old High German scrawazz dwarf, Middle High German schrawaz, schrat, schröuwel devil,
Old Norse skrogger fox, Icelandic skröggur old man, Norwegian skrogg wolf, skrugg dwarf, Swedish dial. skrugge devil, skragga.]

1. obsolete. Make wicked, deprave. ME-M16

2. Invoke evil upon; curse, blame for a misfortune. Now chiefly in imprecations: the Devil take -, curse -. LME

When I came to write about the word beshrew this evening, I was struck by despondency. It's not been a great day, and here I am facing a word that's all about invoking evil and blaming others and calling down wickedness, etc, etc. What's worse, it is actually connected to a little animal that I'm rather fond of: the humble shrew (yes, it does seem obvious that it would be to do with shrews and not, say, elephants, but I didn't realise there was a connection between the cute animal and the cursing, rather than just a different shrew word altogether).

Fortunately, while casting forth imprecations would once have struck terror into people, cursing has rather lost its edge in this part of the world and any attempt to literally beshrew someone is likely to get little more than a raised eyebrow. So rather than ponder on the horror and beastly nastiness that beshrewing actually is, I did a little scouring for imprecations that, for whatever reason, don't quite work (or do work but in a pleasing way). I don't know if they're authentic, they're probably all mistranslations, but here are my favourite five:

  1. May you live in interesting times
    But alas no! This famous curse is (rather spoil-sportingly) not authentic, or at the very least a mistranslation of a real one. While it's construed as 'may you live in turbulent times', it's still a rather pleasing thought and, as imprecations go, would be quite a nice one to have hurled at you after a particularly rancorous game of Boggle.

  2. May the cat eat you and the Devil eat the cat
    This rather convoluted curse kills two birds with one stone, so to speak, although again I must object to an innocent animal being caught up in all this nasty imprecatory business. The only one that could be forgiven for beshrewing the cat would by the eponymous shrew himself. As for me, once I've been eaten by the cat, all further predation seems somewhat redundant, so go ahead; see if I care who or what eats the cat.

  3. May you find the bees but not the honey
    It's rather poetic, it creates a pleasing image and colour scheme in the mind, and therefore this classic Irish curse gets two anaphylactic thumbs up.

  4. Throw salt in his eyes and pepper in his nose
    'Never beshrew upon anyone what you can more easily do yourself,' said no one, ever, but I stand by those words. It does seem a tad lazy to be calling upon the universal forces of good and evil to do this when, if you really feel that strongly about making someone sneeze and giving them itchy eyes, you can far more easily do this yourself.

  5. May God give you thousands of trouble
    This would be the point that I should just shut up and walk away, but I wouldn't be able to; I would feel compelled to point out that trouble is an uncountable noun and therefore 'thousands of trouble' makes no sense at all. To be honest it was probably such pretentious pedantry that lead to me getting cursed in the first place. Will I ever learn?

Are there any humorous, nonsensical or rather sweet imprecations where you're from? If so, let your fingers type freely and your comment box be filled with insightful and pithy witticisms.

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Mug shot, Crime scene photography, Bertillonage, Anthropometry
The man himself - posing for one of his own mug shots


Noun. Late 19th century.
[French bertillonnage, from Bertillon]

The system of identification of criminals by anthropometric measurements, fingerprints, etc.,
 invented by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914).

In most Western countries, we live in a privileged age in which authorities wield a wide range of scientific techniques in order to identify and apprehend criminals. It wasn't always like that of course, and one of the great pioneers of applying science to law enforcement was the eccentric French police officer Alphonse Bertillon.

Coming from a family of statisticians (although himself of humble education), Bertillon was dismayed at the rather slip-shod record keeping of the police. Information kept on criminals was laughably scanty - often little more than a name and a photograph could be used to identify repeat offenders. In his spare time, Bertillon therefore set about developing an anthropometric system of measurements that he believed would greatly assist in the identification of recidivist criminals. The system worked on the theory that the aggregate of approximately ten core measurements would be unique to the individual. Once recorded, a person could be easily identified should he come into police custody again, simply by matching his unique combination of measurements to those already on file. As a means of identifying repeat offenders, it was a potent weapon.

The accuracy of bertillonage, as it came to be known, was impressive and from 1882 it was quickly adopted by police forces in France, Britain and the United States as an effective tool in identifying recidivist offenders. However, flaws in the system soon surfaced, although these were more to do with its implementation than the system itself. To work effectively, bertillonage required exacting measurements, a level of accuracy that was simply beyond the ability of most police officers who were not formally trained in anthropometry. Different officers would produce different results by employing slightly different methods, a problem which served to undermine the entire system - once a mistake had entered into the complex filing system, it was almost impossible to remove it. Lastly, the core measurements that bertillonage relied upon were discovered to not be as immutable as previously thought, as various measurements did change as a person aged.

Alphonse Bertillonage, Anthropometry, Detective, Detection, Law enforcement, Forensic science
Some of the measurements taken to construct a profile

A large part of bertillonage's demise, however, was simply the advancement of other sciences, particularly that of fingerprinting which was being adopted by the late 1890s. While it was only marginally more accurate than correctly applied bertillonage, it was considerably easier to implement, requiring both less equipment and less training. Crucially, fingerprinting is also an effective weapon in apprehending first time offenders, as prints left at a crime scene can be matched to any suspects, regardless of whether it's a first-time offence or not.

Despite the short lifespan of bertillonage (less than 20 years), it and its application left a considerable legacy in the realm of law enforcement and anthropometric studies generally. For example, the importance of accurate and proper record keeping across police forces was highlighted (an area that still causes considerable problems today), and its methodical and objective approach did much to enhance both the credibility of the police and the public's trust in them. The ubiquitous mug shot is also a relic of bertillonage, as is the routine recording of other identifying features such as scars, tattoos and birthmarks, etc. Bertillon also instigated considerable advancements in crime scene photography, including using grids in-shot to scale both the area being photographed and the objects in it.

Lastly, it's noteworthy that Alphonse Bertillon had the respect and admiration of the world's greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, and therefore by extension his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes' client refers to Bertillon as the "highest expert in Europe" with regard to the application of science to detection (although Holmes is preferred for the case as a "practical man of affairs", despite only being the "second highest expert"). Despite Holmes' displeasure at being ranked second in this instance, in The Naval Treaty, Watson recounts a conversation with Holmes about Bertillon's system of measurements and Holmes' "enthusiastic admiration of the French savant." From both Holmes and Conan Doyle, this is high praise indeed.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Go berserk, Norse, Warrior, Viking, Battle
White snow and red blood, eh? Who'd have thought?


Noun & adjective. Also (archaic) baresark, bersark; (chiefly as noun) berserker, -kar. Early 19th century.
[Old Norse berserkr, accusative berserk (Icelandic berserkur), probably from birn-, bjorn BEAR noun + serkr coat, SARK noun, but also explained as from BARE adjective.]

A noun. A wild Norse warriour who fought with frenzied fury. E19
B adjective. Wild, frenzied. Especially in go berserk. M19

I was really hoping to find a historically accurate depiction of a Norse berserker to lead this post but, alas, after way too much time spent searching, I couldn't. Being something of a cliché, I found plenty of pictures, of course: vampire berserkers, demon berserkers, berserkers with bionic arms, berserkers carrying swords the size of trucks, even hamster berserkers. You'll have to settle with this, however: the cover of William Meikle's book Berserker. No, I've never heard of him (or it) either, but it has good reviews on Amazon so if it floats your longboat you should have a squizz.

As for the word berserk, well it's just rather interesting, isn't it? Rather like the word amok, we use it a lot without giving much thought to the historical depth that lies behind it. Personally, I find it rather pleasing to think that an adjective derived from frenzied, bloodthirsty, possibly drug-addled Norse warriors can now be applied to Cindy, the receptionist that got drunk at the office Christmas party, overturned a table of drinks and accused Malinda from accounting of sleeping with her husband. That's rather cool.

Have you gone beserk recently? Is the berserker your favoured character class when playing Dungeons & Dragons? Have you, like me, struggled in vain to find accurate artwork depicting berserkers (apparently they're not ideal portrait models)? Do please comment below.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Berhyme, Rhyme, Poem, The Bloody Orkneys, Captain Hamish Blair
The flag of the bloody Orkneys


Verb trans. Also berime. Late 16th century.
[from BE- + RHYME verb or noun]

Compose rhymes about; lampoon in rhyme.

In fairness to the Orkneys and Orcadians, the author of the poem below, Captain Hamish Blair, sounds like a (bloody) miserable git. Apparently posted to the Scottish islands during World War II, it's fair to say that he never really settled in and spent most of his time trying to watch old movies and getting rebuffed by the local women. He did, however, find time to lampoon the islands, their people and their local government through the medium of rhyme and therefore gives us a stellar example for the verb berhyme.

The Bloody Orkneys
by Captain Hamish Blair

This bloody town's a bloody cuss -
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us -
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad,
They'd make the brightest bloody sad,
In bloody Orkney.

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains, 
The council's got no bloody brains
In bloody Orkney.

Everything's so bloody dear,
A bloody bob for bloody beer,
And is it good? - no bloody fear,
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody 'flicks' are bloody old,
The bloody seats are bloody cold,
You can't get in for bloody gold,
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody dances make you smile,
The bloody band is bloody vile,
It only cramps your bloody style,
In bloody Orkney.

No bloody sport, no bloody games,
No bloody fun, the bloody dames
Won't even give their bloody names
In bloody Orkney

Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
In bloody Orkney.

Unimpressed with the Captain's somewhat biased depiction of their beloved islands, there is an apocryphal Orcadian stanza floating around too:

Captain Hamish 'Bloody' Blair
Isna posted here nae mare
But no one seems to bloody care
In bloody Orkney.

Ouch! Touché! Consider yourself berhymed, Captain! Clearly the pencils were sharpened for that little zinger. If you have any favourite examples of berhyming, or if you'd like to compose a little rhyme yourself, do feel free to do so below (there will be one bajillion points to anyone that can successfully rhyme something with Lexicolatry - I tried and I failed horribly).

Monday, 13 May 2013


Bepuff, Praise, Reward,


Verb trans. Mid-19th century.
[from BE- + PUFF verb, imitative, perhaps representative of Old English pyffan,
corresponding to Middle & modern Dutch puffen, Dutch poffen.]

Puff out; figuratively puff up, praise greatly.

I often bepuff people and their achievements in Lexicolatry, examples being that of aquanauts Don Walsh and Jaques Piccard and, of course, the man himself, Mr William Shakespeare. No matter how fulsome my praise of anyone ever is, however, I don't think I will ever be able to use the word bepuff to describe it. Bepuff. To bepuff. To bepuff someone. For whatever reason, and regardless of my knowing I'll never use it, I just like this word and it makes me smile.

Has anyone bepuffed you recently? Have you bepuffed anyone? Do you think that bepuff is just too silly a word to even think about using? Do please your comments below.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Ben trovato

Ben trovato, Tall story, Exaggeration, Lie, Truth,
Ben trovato: Never let the truth spoil a good story


Adjectival phrase. Late 19th century.
[Italian, literally 'well found'.]

Of a story etc.: happily invented; appropriate though untrue.

I went to school with a chap named Ben Trovato who was either an exceptionally high achiever or, in a quite majestic display of nominative determinism, an inveterate liar. Perhaps tinged with a dash of jealousy, his name became something of a running joke (even with the teachers) and we would often pretend not to believe a word he said, particularly with regard to his somewhat incredible extra-curricular activities.

"Really? You won another tennis tournament at the weekend? The day after getting your pilot's licence! Did you indeed? Wow! What was your name again? Ben Trovato, wasn't it? Yes I think it is."

Bumping into him some years later, he told me rather wearily that he had changed his surname to de Fax (his mother's maiden name), so irksome had the jokes become. The final straw was apparently having one of his university applications returned, the words 'Please take the application seriously' scrawled in red ink next to his name. Although ben trovato remains one of my favourite foreign phrases in English, I decided then and there never to make a joke about that poor chap's name again, but rather to buy him a pint instead.

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Benjamin, Sibling rivalry, Resentment, Favouritism, Favourite, Brothers, Sisters
But at least there's no resentment ...


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[The youngest son of the patriarch Jacob (Genesis 43 etc.).]

The youngest (and favourite) child.

As the Benjamin of my family, I'll just put it on record that being the youngest and the favourite isn't all it's cracked up to be. Oh piffle! Who am I kidding? Being the Benjamin is the best! Thanks Mum and Dad! I love you! Mwuah mwuah mwuah!

Friday, 10 May 2013


Man Utd, Manchester United, Benchmark, Best, Greatest,
Sir Alex Ferguson
The Best of the Best - but a benchmark?


Noun, adjective & verb. Mid-19th century.
[from BENCH noun + MARK noun]

A noun
1. A surveyor's mark consisting of a broad arrow with a horizontal bar through its apex,
cut in rock, etc. to indicate a point whose position and height have been surveyed. M19

2. figurative. A point of reference, a criterion. L19

B attributively or as adjective
Serving or used as a benchmark. M20

My only contention with benchmark is that I often hear it to mean the very best example of something, whereas it doesn't mean that at all. An example of this would be Sir Alex Ferguson, soon-to-retire manager of Manchester United and widely regarded as one of the best football managers the sport has ever seen. The People reported that former footballer Andy Cole 'reckons that Ferguson sets the benchmark for domestic managers,' directly quoting Cole as saying: 'He is the best.'

As footballers are famously particular about their use of English, I should highlight that Cole didn't say Ferguson sets the benchmark at all. Rather, it would seem the journalist took the words 'He is the best' to mean that Cole considers him as setting the benchmark, which of course it doesn't. Fortunately, though, sanity was restored when Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew weighed in on the debate and was decisively quoted in Mancunian Matters as saying that Ferguson is 'too successful to be considered the benchmark.'

Well done you, Mr Pardew, for understanding that a benchmark is a point of reference for judging something, and making that point of reference the very best of anything is rather nonsensical. Shame on you, anonymous journalist of The People, for incorrectly suggesting that Andy Cole had carelessly used the word benchmark with reckless abandonment. Footballers get very upset about that kind of thing, you know.

Surveyor's mark, Standard, Measure,
This is the very best benchmark I could find ... so ... ? 

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Bename, Benempted, Name, Parents, New Zealand
A baby boy robbed of his right to be named Juztice Justus 4Real * H-Q


Verb trans. Past tense & past participle benamed, benempt(ed)
[Old English benemnan, formed as BE- + NAME verb.]

1. Declare solemnly or on oath. OE-E17

2. Name; describe as. L16-M19

Did you know that New Zealand is a police state? It's true, as exemplified by its outright attack on the fundamental rights of decent parents who want nothing more than to bename their progeny with a memorable moniker.

For example, if a religiously inclined parent wished to bename their child ChristMessiah or Lucifer, they would feel the full force of New Zealand's bureaucratic machine of repression, as these names are officially banned.

Also, on what can only be seen as an outright attack on New Zealand's royalist population that wish to honour their nation's membership of the Commonwealth, King, Princess, Prince, Royal, Duke, Majesty, Knight, Queen, Regal and Queen Victoria are also banned.

Perhaps most chilling of all, New Zealand has cracked down on any semblance of original thought when it comes to benaming your child. Such pearls of individuality as III, 3rd, Mafia No Fear, *, Qeen V, . (yes, that's a full stop), 5th and Juztice are all banned. Surely the repression of such shining non-conformism is the hallmark of a nascent police state that, if we stand back and do nothing, will rob the world, nay its children, of names like Juztice, which is justice spelt with a Z. The irony of this state's unjuzt actions would be funny were it not so tragic (although the one name on the list I do agree with is Anal - who in their right mind would call their child that? That's just crazy).

Someone (I don't remember who) once said: "For evil to flourish, the good need only do nothing." Had they been benempted better (for example as Mafia No Fear III), I would no doubt remember and they would not have slid into such obscurity. Therefore, I say let us not stand idly by: write to their MPs, picket the New Zealand embassy in your country and boycott New Zealand goods. Together, we can stand for the rights of parents to bename their children whatever the hell they want, according to whatever whimsy takes them, and with complete disregard for that child's future integration or employment prospects.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013



Noun. Late 18th century.
[Gaelic, Irish, beann = Old Irish benn, Welsh ban prominence, peak, height.]

A Scottish or Irish mountain peak. Chiefly in names, as Ben Nevis, Ben Bulben.

Ben is an exceptionally useful word in the arsenal of any Scrabble player, not only in a practical sense, but also as a potent weapon in the inevitable psychological warfare that is fought across that lettered board. Invariably upon its placement, your opponent will smugly point out that Ben is a name and proper nouns are not allowed in Scrabble (usually expressed with an undertone of what-a-moron).

The trap set, you can now retaliate with supreme superciliousness: "Actually, ben isn't a proper noun but is defined in the OED as a Scottish or Irish mountain peak. Therefore, it need not be capitalised and is perfectly valid according to the rules of Scrabble."

Then, with your opponent cornered and seething incredulity, you can move in for the coup de grâce by sarcasm: "What? Didn't you know that? Did you think Ben Nevis was someone's name? Like the person that discovered it or something?"

At this point, you need only tut softly and roll your eyes at their naivety. Ben might not have won the game on points, but a great psychological blow has been struck, one from which your beleaguered foe is unlikely to recover.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Dope, Cheat, Liar, Fraud, Cycling,


Noun. Obsolete. Late 16th - Late 18th century.
[Perhaps a contraction of belly-swagger 'one who swags his belly' from swag verb.]

A swaggering bully; a pimp.

As well as being revealed as one of the greatest and most sophisticated drugs cheats in sporting history, Lance Armstrong has also been exposed as a veritable belswagger, using intimidation, legal harassment, threats and character assassination to persecute his critics. Targets of Armstrong have included fellow cyclists and their families, critical journalists and even his personal staff. Considering the glib and swaggering untouchability with which Armstrong bullied people, the noun belswagger seems a perfect fit for this man.

Monday, 6 May 2013


Belomancy, Belomancer, Arrow, Archer, Bow, Longbow,
This poor humble archer, lumped into an article on belomancy and all that tripe


Noun. Mid-17th century.
[from Greek belos dart + mateia divinition]

Divination by means of arrows.

Oh belomancy, belomancy, belomancy! What will we do with you? I really don't know why I like the -mancy words so much, but I find them so ridiculously funny. The methodology of belomancy does vary, but it includes observing the direction a fallen arrow points in to determine the best direction of travel if you're lost (somewhat self-determined, I would have thought, as presumably the arrow is going to point in the direction that you just shot it). Also, a belomancer might mark his arrows with such phrases as 'God wills it', 'God forbids it', and 'God's gonna let you figure this one out by yourself.' After shooting them, the arrow that travels the furthest indicates the correct answer to your question (again, rather self-determined).

Of course, in the absence of any controlled studies into belomancy's efficacy, I can't say for an absolute certainty that it's complete and utter hogwash, just as I can't with axinomancy or auspices. I also don't like to trample on the belief systems of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Arabs and Scythians, who all practised belomancy at some point and made profound contributions to human knowledge and advancement (it's also referenced in the Bible at Ezekiel 21:21). In the interests of fairness and open-mindedness, I did do a search for any controlled study into belomancy, but (surprise, surprise!) I couldn't find any. In the absence of such empirical evidence, I will retain my doubts and rather supercilious tone when discussing anything -mancy related.

Are you a practitioner of belomancy? Have you ever consulted a belomancer? Are you aware of, or are you currently conducting, controlled scientific studies into its validity? Please feel to comment below.

Sunday, 5 May 2013


British, First female Prime Minister, Bellona, Iron Lady


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Latin, the Roman goddess of war, from bellum war.]

A war-goddess; a spirited woman of commanding presence.

One of the most polarising figures in British political history is Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Her death on the 8th April 2013 triggered both public grief and, in some quarters, celebration across Britain. Thatcher's personal achievements are singularly impressive: she was the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister, the only scientist to have held that office (she was a research chemist before becoming a barrister) and the longest serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century.

Nicknamed 'The Iron Lady', Thatcher is renowned for her formidable and uncompromising style of leadership; whatever someone's ultimate regard for her politics and legacy, few question the force of her personality and convictions. Her tenure as Prime Minister is perhaps best remembered for her clashes with (and ultimate victory over) Britain's labour unions, her introduction of a widely reviled Community Charge (popularly known as the poll tax) and her leadership during the Falklands War against Argentina. In considering the word Bellona, Baroness Thatcher was an obvious choice as someone who didn't shrink from a fight and lead through the force of her convictions and commanding personality.