Monday, 24 June 2013


Bilious, Bile, Island of Blood, Tabletop gaming, Geeks, Nerds,
A unit of Skaven poison mortar bombers with balls of rather fetching bilious bile
Photo by Tobias Bomm


Adjective. Mid-16th century.
[Latin biliosus, from bilis BILE noun.]

1 obsolete. Biliary. M16-L17

2 figurative. Choleric, peevish, ill-tempered. M16

3 Affected by, liable to, or arising from excess or derangement of the bile;
loosely nauseated, nauseous. M17

Also: biliously adverb M19   biliousness noun E19

Having recently covered the words bile and bilge, it's interesting that two readers used the word bilious in their comments. In both cases, it was used in the sense of "peevish and ill-tempered" which, for me, is a completely unfamiliar definition; bilious has always meant nauseated or nauseating in my mind.

This is particularly delightful to a lexicolator like me as bilious is already one of those precious words for which I specifically remember when and where I first heard it: I was about 12 years old, standing with my Dad in the Oxford branch of the Games Workshop, sucking in the spicy aroma of unwashed teenage boys. It was during my fleeting interest in tabletop gaming, a phase that fortunately petered out before it forever ruined my chances of attracting a member of the opposite sex. Dad was suspiciously examining a small pot of modelling paint with a raised eyebrow (he had come in with me - this was not his scene at all). He handed the pot to me and I saw that it was called "Bilious Green". I had never heard of the word, so I asked him what it meant. "Bilious," he said, "means nauseated, feeling sick, which is how I'm starting to feel in here. Shall we go?"

And that's it: bilious has ever since conjured the memory of my father turning up his nose (literally) at the tabletop gaming world, together with the lingering, all-pervasive fragrance of adolescent body odour, a memory quite befitting the nauseous definition. Now, of course, I've just learnt its other meaning - that of "choleric, peevish and ill-tempered" - and, while it has no corresponding olfactory memory to accompany it, I do think bilious has just entered a very special category of words for which I have two defining memory moments, all thanks to the readers of Lexicolatry. Cheers!


  1. Aw, you shouldn't say that tabletop gaming ruins a guy's chances of attracting a girl! My friend's long-time boyfriend is an avid Warhammer-player. She's perfectly geeky herself, so they're a wonderful couple indeed :)

    This bilious green kind of reminds me of Kawasaki-green. I don't know if it's the same shade, but I think they're both kind of awesome.

    1. You're quite right of course, although somehow I still can't shake the very faint suspicion that tabletop gaming will do nothing to improve your chances of acquiring a mate. You never see it in personal ads, for example: "White man, professional, 20s, good sense of humour, enjoys sports, reading and tabletop war gaming." Hmm.

      Also, I was speaking personally as someone that was already rather overloaded in the geeky interests department. Seriously - I think it would have tipped me over the edge into eternal bachelordom : o )

    2. I believe the only one who could give you closure on this matter is your wife :P

      Personally, in my experience, once you've fallen for a geek/nerd, you kind of expect the geek/nerd in your life to be into any and every geeky/nerdy thing. After a while, nothing really surprises you anymore. "Oh you enjoy war games? Good for you, I'll just have a Gilmore Girls-marathon while you and your friends fight your tabletop battles."

    3. "Babe, would you have gone out with me if I had been into tabletop war gaming when we met?"

      "Yes. Why?"

      "Oh for ... it doesn't matter. You just cost me a debate. Thanks a lot."

      There, Bibi. Are you happy now? (though, to be truthful, I do think she hadn't really thought the answer through).

      Grrr. Now I am bilious. And not in the familiar sense : o )

    4. Aha, I was right! Geekiness is no match for the power of a woman's love!

  2. RYC: Truth is, I have had 3 lessons by instructors already, back in December. It's just that, what with uni and all, I never found the time to practise driving after that. Meaning, I forgot just about everything.

    The first instructor I had was such a patient man, he explained everything slowly and clearly, never panicked even when I did weird things... A gem, really. Too bad the driving school only assigned him to me for one lesson, after that, I had a different instructor. That one was far from perfect: he kept nagging about his dayjob, constantly turned up the volume of the radio, didn't give clear instructions and made me drive through busy after-school city traffic when I clearly wasn't ready for it. I was shaking every time I excited the car after driving with him, nearly in tears. So even instructors get it wrong sometimes :/

    Driving is so stressful *sigh*

  3. I well remember my last visit to a Games Workshop store. It was the day of the opening of Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999. My brother and I spent some time getting instructed in just how badly out-of-date our knowledge of Warhammer 40k was. Apparently they can't sell quite as many brutally-expensive miniatures unless they change the rules every few years.

    We stepped outside to watch the Queen parade by. She even did her little wave.

    I didn't describe her as bilious though. The Queen's Guard are much less humorous when you're up close and they've got bayonets fixed.

    1. There was a big news story in the UK a few years back when someone jumped over a barrier and ran towards the Queen's convoy. One of the Queen's Guard charged at the man with his bayonet which took a lot of people by surprise. Quite what people think they're there for, I don't know; evidently they're not purely ornamental.

      And yes, the GW is outrageously expensive, isn't it? I remember going in there and being greeted by a member of staff with the introduction: "So, what are you going to buy today?" : o )

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