Friday, 31 January 2014

Carnifex - A Capital Job

The execution of Sir Walter Raleigh
(c. 1860)


Noun. Obsolete except Historical. Mid-16th century.
[Latin = executioner, (in medieval Latin also) butcher.]

An executioner.

It's hard to imagine that executioners have historically been drawn from the best and brightest, but if I were to ever face one, I'd at the very least want him to be good at his job. Stories of condemned men tipping their executioners are not without reason - it took the ham-fisted carnifex of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, approximately ten attempts with his axe before he finally managed to dispatch the poor lady. The word carnifex is derived from the Latin caro (flesh) and facere (to make), and was also used to refer to a butcher. While a butcher might seem an appropriate comparison to Pole's carnifex, the fact is that butchers tend to be fairly handy with blades, and specifically a blade's application to flesh. Evidently Pole's carnifex, described as "a wretched and blundering youth," was not.

Do please swiftly dispatch your comments below.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Carminative - Total Eclipse of the Fart


Adjective & noun. Late Middle English.
[Old & modern French carminatif, -ive or medieval Latin carminat past participial stem of carminare heal by incantation,
from Latin carmen, -min-: see CHARM noun, -ATIVE.]

MEDICINE. (A medicine) having the property of relieving flatulence.

Carminative - is there a more phonetically euphemistic word in the English language? Just as one's mind is enveloped in the smooth and inviting notions of carmen, calming and charm, the crude definition slaps us rudely across the face, just as might the carminative relief of the eponymous flatus. Carminative is a tragic, bathetic word. It was made to be beautiful, formed to be winsome, delicately moulded to bring a smile to the hardest lips and a sigh from coldest heart. But alas, it was not to be, and forever this delicately shaped word will be associated with fart medicine.

(Solo) yoga is, apparently, an excellent carminative
(photo by Peter Gerdes)
If it so happens that you've arrived on this page looking for relief from, let's say, some kind of congenital fart defect, do not fret or shift uncomfortably in your seat - there is no judgement here. Regardless of how many naff American comedies feel the necessity to squeeze a fart gag into the script just because their writers were too talentless to think of anything better to include, or how many congregated male youths think it's the funniest, cleverest thing in the world to shout "Hey guys! Get this!" before loudly releasing their flatus to an enraptured audience as if they were the first person to publicly break wind in the history of mankind, the fact remains that farting is just not funny. It's a natural and tragic biological process that afflicts all humans (yes, even the Queen), serving no other purpose than to degrade human dignity, give groups of mindless male buffoons something to entertain themselves with, and to pluck delicate, sensitive, precious words like carminative from our tongues.

Let it R.I.P

Did you arrive here looking for advice on carminatives?

Do you too rue the loss of such a beautiful word?

Do please break cover, not wind, and comment in the box below.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Cariogenic - What Rots the Teeth

Surely it's worth avoiding cariogenic foods so there's less of this
(photo courtesy of NTM-A)


Adjective. Mid-20th century.
[from CARIES + -O- + -GENIC.]

Causing or promoting tooth decay.

Sugary and starchy foods, sweets, crisps, popcorn, fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, etc, etc - most people are pretty used to having the risks of such vices drilled into them from an early age. And the risks are apparently quite extreme - while cariogenic doesn't sound even a fraction as scary as, say, carcinogenic, the consequences of not looking after our gnashers can be pretty severe, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and rheumatoid arthritis. And, your breath's gonnna stink and nobody's gonna wanna snog you. Or talk to you. Or be anywhere near you. Fortunately, this is obviously a matter of considerable concern as the internet is awash with articles on what foods you shouldn't eat for the sake of your teeth. While most of these are quite obvious, there is a lot of good advice about avoiding cariogenic habits and not just foods. For example, constant snacking should be avoided obviously, but not just because snacks are often sugary, but also because snacking throughout the day, even if small amounts of sugar are involved, gives your pearly whites no respite and the nasty bacteria a constant supply of sugar for them to convert into acids. Now, if you're anything like me, you've been uncomfortably licking your teeth throughout this post, so I'm off to give them a brush; I think you probably should to.

Any dental tips?

What cariogenic foods do you struggle to avoid?

Brace yourself for an amalgam of incisive wisdom in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Carfax - At a Crossroads

Carfax Tower as seen from St Aldates
(photo by Ozeye)


Noun. Also (now rare) carfox. Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman carfuks = Old French carrefurcs (modern carrefour), from popular Latin, from Latin QUADRI- + furca FORK noun.]

A place where (usually four) roads or streets meet. Now chiefly in proper names.

Anyone that ever visits Oxford will, on a stroll through the city, pass by Carfax Tower, which overlooks the centre's four principal streets of St Aldates, Cornmarket, Queen St and the High St. There has been a building on the site of Carfax since at least 1032 when the Church of St Martin was first recorded as being there. Carfax Tower was itself built at some time in the 13th century, and is now all that remains of the church which was demolished in 1896. If you're ever in Oxford and are feeling fit enough, it's well worth climbing to the top of the tower as it provides an excellent panoramic view of the Oxford skyline.

Of all the Oxford landmarks, Carfax has a particular poignancy for me personally as it was there that I first asked out my dear wife, my cara sposa, back in October 2000. At the time I wasn't thinking of the symbolism of standing atop Carfax, but that moment did represent a crossroads from where my life could have gone in any number of directions. She didn't say yes immediately - her first words were "Oh that's an unusual ambulance," as she was looking down on the intersecting streets and, apparently, a particularly unusual ambulance was also competing for her attention. After the ambulance had pulled away, however, she did say yes, and the road it took us on has been a very happy one indeed.

The view looking down from Carfax - the 'unusual ambulance' was driving past the yellow taxi rank
(photo by David Glover)

Have you ever been to Carfax Tower in Oxford?

Have you been to another, or is there a carfax where you're from?

Do please feel free to comment below.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Cara Sposa - "One's Dear Wife"

Cara sposa
Photo by Chi Hang Lau


Noun phrase. Plural care spose. Late 18th century.
[Italian. Compare with CARO SPOSO.]

(One's) dear wife; a devoted wife.

I will never possess the eloquence to adequately articulate everything that a cara sposa is, means, or will be to her husband, let alone what my cara sposa means to me. It's been a great pleasure looking through photographs for this post, from young lovers on their wedding day, embarking on a life together, to elderly couples who, decades on, are still as in love and committed as they were when they first set out on that majestic journey together. Regardless of whatever social or cultural restraints one might feel, however, a lack of eloquence need not be a barrier, nor should ever be an excuse, for anyone to hesitate in expressing just how much their dear wife, their beloved cara sposa, means to them.

Please feel free to comment below.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Car - Boring Thing, Interesting Word

A Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (apparently), but I don't think it's real
(this photo and bottom one by Leap Kye)


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman, Old Northern French carre from Proto-Romance variant of Latin carrum neuter, carrus masculine,
from Celtic base represented by Old & modern Irish carr, Welsh car.]

1 generally. A wheeled conveyance, a carriage. Without specification of type now rare. LME

2 A sledge, a sleigh. Long obsolete except Scottish & Canadian dialect. LME

3 A chariot, especially of war, triumph, or pageantry. literary. L16

4(a) The passenger compartment of a balloon, airship, cableway, etc. L18

4(b) The cage of a lift. Chiefly US. L19

5(a) A railway carriage or van; a tramway vehicle. Chiefly N.American except as 2nd element of combination. E19

5(b) As many or as much as a railway car will hold; a carload. N.American. M19

6 A usually four-wheeled motorized vehicle for use on roads, able to carry a small number of people;
an automobile. L19

I don't like cars and I don't like driving. If I could move somewhere where I never had to drive a car again in my entire life, I would be quite happy. Yes, being able to drive is useful. Yes, some cars are more comfortable, more stylish, better designed, etc, than others. But really, guys, what's the thrill? Day to day driving is positively one of the most soul-suckingly, mind-meltingly dull activities that anyone can engage is. And I'm talking about driving cars here (or automobiles, if you're American) - I'm sure chariot driving is an absolute blast. But cars? Please, if you're a motorhead, educate, enlighten and elucidate me on why anyone with an IQ above 50 would want to sit in a car for more than an hour at a time, eyes glazed, mouth ajar, with a bland grey motorway shuttling away beneath them, regardless of what type of car you're in. Tell me. I want to know.
Now the Mini I rather like - it's just a shame you have to be about 5ft 5in to drive one
(image by Dave 7)
Oh, except, y'know, the etymology of car - strap yourselves in, as this is where it gets really exciting. If you want to follow it all the way back, its roots are ancient, perhaps back to the Gaulish karros, adopted into Latin as carrum meaning a two-wheeled Celtic war chariot. Considering what we think of as a car is such a modern innovation (invented circa 1886), the word's ancient roots seem rather surprising, especially when compared with the thoroughly modern automobile, a word coined in the late 19th century and, as much as speakers of British English tend to dislike it, quite a sensible word, as its construction of auto and mobile (literally meaning 'self-propelling') differentiates it from vehicles of, say, the horse-drawn variety. Wow! Did I tell you it was going to be exciting or what? That's the beauty of the English language - it can turn a thoroughly boring subject (cars) into a dashingly scintillating one (cars). 

Are you a motorhead, "automotive enthusiast" or (shudders) watcher of Top Gear?

Have a brake and jam your most enginious comments into the gear-box below.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Capybara - The World's Largest Rodent


Noun. Early 17th century.
[Spanish capibara or Portuguese capivara, from Tupi capiuára, from capi grass + uára eater.]

A large tailless river-dwelling rodent, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris,
of Central and S. America, resembling a guinea-pig.

On a trip to Spain in 2012, my daughter and I visited the CosmoCaixa science museum in Barcelona. One of the highlights of the museum is an indoor flooded forest displaying a variety of plants and animals that can be seen both above and below the waterline. The creature that most caught our eye was one like no other I had ever seen - it looked rather like an enormous hamster, with coarse brown hair and an angular but rather appealing face. It was about the size of a medium-sized dog, and it lazed quite happily at the water's edge in the company of a badling of ducks. There was no sign to tell me what it was, so I was unable to answer my daughter's incessant questions about what it was called, what it ate, was it dangerous, could it swim, etc, etc. I took the photo above, returned to Ireland, and it was only on showing it to a friend from South America that I learnt what this strange creature is: a capybara, the largest rodent in the world. And guess what? It's a rather interesting creature indeed ...

Photo by Miguel Ortiz
The capybara is native to South America, is closely related to the guinea pig, and is highly social, living in groups of up to 100 individuals. As the etymology suggests, they're herbivorous, eating mainly plants, fruit and occasionally tree bark. They can live for about 10 years, but in the wild tend to live considerably less due to natural predation (aww). They are agile both on land and in water - they can run about as fast as a horse, and can remain submerged for up to five minutes. Although they are hunted by humans for their meat and fur, they're not an endangered species (fast breeders), and are known to be of an amenable and friendly disposition - some people even keep them as pets. Melanie Typaldos (pictured above) writes the fascinating blog Capybara Madness, dedicated to "pet capybaras everywhere," but especially her two, Caplin and Garibaldi.

Have you ever seen a capybara?

Do you own a capybara?

Would you like to own a capybara?

Do please cap your bara in the comment box below.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Captious - A Critical Definition


[Old & modern French captieux or Latin captiosus, from captio(n-): see CAPTION, -OUS.]

1 Fond of taking exception or raising objections; carping. LME

2 Apt or intended to deceive; fallacious, misleading. archaic. LME

3 obsolete. Capacious. rare (Shakespearean). Only in E17

captiously adverb M16
captiousness noun M16

A good vocabulary is a wonderful thing. John needn't just be nice, for example - he might be generous, or agreeable, or respectable, or gentlemanly, or anything that more clearly and accurately expresses what you think of John, other than the hopelessly vague nice. But paying compliments is easy - you're calm and can take your time to thoughtfully select the most appropriate words. Even if you struggle a little, that person is going to be nice enough, nay, patient enough to graciously wait until you've found those right words. Easy.

Where a solid, readily-accessible vocabulary really earns its keep, however, is in dealing with people that are not nice. For those that make our blood boil, we rarely have the time or composure to carefully and thoughtfully select our words - our skin is prickling and our teeth are clenched; we have been pushed to the brink and beyond. We desperately want to tell this person exactly what we think of them, what everyone thinks of them, to encapsulate in a few choice words the very irredeemable character flaws that will forever consign them to a bitter life of loneliness and scorn. But it is in these moments that our vocabularies so often fail us. For some, all they can do is unleash a volley of effs and blinders, as ubiquitous and devoid of meaning as nice. Or we just fall silent, unable to find even a single word to express the torrent of rage that is boiling within. It is for these moments of quickfire necessity that we need access to a vocabulary of choice, I'll-tell-you-exactly-what-I-think-of-you words: captious is one such word.

We all know captious people, and no other word quite fits. They're not just unpleasant, which is too vague to be meaningful; they're not just grumpy or contrary, which can be temporary states relieved by intervals of cooperation and even charm. Even fault-finding falls short, as that might just be a lack of sensitivity in rooting out genuine problems and mistakes. This person, however, is something else - this person is captious, a word that perfectly expresses the gleeful, smug, and thoroughly incorrigible refusal to be satisfied with anything. For every suggestion, there's an objection. For every decision that's taken, there is a reason why it should have been done differently. For every positive action by someone, there is a bad motive to be assumed. For every moment, every word, every look, every possible human interaction, there is a reason to take umbrage, exception and offence. The captious person has all the answers in hindsight, and is an expert in post-action analysis; the captious person takes no responsibility in making decisions, but every delight in questioning them. Do not stumble over your words. Do not retreat. Tell them what they are. Tell them loud. Tell them clear. Let the captious person carp no more.  

Do please leave your most even-tempered, politely phrased comments below.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Captation - Capturing the Hearts of the People

Microphones. It was either that or another Daily Mail headline.
(photo by Stefano Tambalo)


Noun & verb. Late Middle English.
[Latin captio(n-), from captat- past participial stem of captare frequentative of capere seize: see -TION.]

An attempt to acquire something, especially dexterously;
the making of an ad captandum appeal.

Any effective orator, broadcaster, debater or leader will use strategy to win over an audience, tailoring his arguments to whatever demographic he's specifically aiming for at that point in time. The line at which convincing, skilful rhetoric crosses over into captation ad captandum vulgus - "designed to appeal to the emotions of the rabble" - is a fine one, perhaps completely indistinguishable in the hands of skilled speakers, spin doctors and propagandists. It is a line that politicians, religious leaders and journalists are especially fond of crossing, and not just lightly stepping over but gleefully charging past, waving appealing promises and enticing, reassuring slogans. As the public, their audience, the baying rabble, we too must share responsibility and must be wary of lazily swallowing such captations as are designed to capture our votes, loyalty, sympathy and beliefs.
Commenting below will make the world a better place for all of us.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Capriped - Goats' Feet Are In (No Kidding)

Vegas Girl shoes, made from goat's feet and pistols by Iris Schieferstein
(photo courtesy of The Virtual Shoe Museum)


Adjective & noun. Rare. Also capripede. Mid-18th century.
[Latin capripes, -ped-, from caper, capr- goat + pes, ped- foot.]

(A person) having feet like those of a goat.

Pan and his bevy of satyrs, yes. Fauns, nymphs and whatever other gods, demigods and semigods those crazy Greeks and loopy Romans dreamt up, sure. But a person? A capriped person? Well turn me over and tickle me sidewards - as open-minded and non-discriminatory as I try to be, I do think I'd find it just a teensy bit difficult not to stare if I saw a bona fide capriped.

Of course, staring eyes might just be the whole purpose if you're wearing shoes such as those designed by Iris Schieferstein, whose pieces crafted from dead (already dead, I'm assured) animals have won the patronage of none other than Lady Gaga. The capriped shoes pictured, crafted from goat hooves and (unloaded) pistols, are featured on The Virtual Shoe Museum and are guaranteed to cause quite the stir at the office Christmas party. Just be sure you don't have to cross any cattle-grids on the way home.

Capriped, Capripede
There's all manner of capripedal weirdness going on in this painting - the capriped babies are especially ... umm ... yeah.
The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus
Piero Di Cosimo (1462-1521)

So, those capriped shoes - do they float your goat?

Or do ewe just not give a ram?

Feel free to butt in and comment in the box below.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Caprine - Acting the Goat

Photo by


Adjective. Late Middle English.
[Latin caprinus, from caper, capr- goat: see -INE. Compare with Old & modern French caprin.]

Of or pertaining to a goat or goats; goatlike.

Goats really have it quite rough - when any kind of comparison involves a goat, it's rarely good. If you're 'acting the goat', you're being a fool, and if you 'get someone's goat', you really irritate them. Even worse, they're often associated with evil - Jesus told the parable of the 'sheep and the goats' in Matthew 25:31-46, the Devil is often depicted as having goatlike features, and caprine imagery is often associated with the occult and Satanism (an inverted pentagram, for example, is sometimes said to represent a goat's head). Oh, and let's not forget those animal-loving Spaniards and their let's-chuck-a-goat-off-a-church-roof festival.

I say they have it rough (I would have so loved a caprine-based pun for that sentence, but I couldn't think of one) because goats, obviously, aren't inherently evil. In fact, they're rather remarkable creatures that humans have used for their own ends quite happily for thousands of years. By nature, goats are intelligent, curious and famously agile (unlike idiotic sheep which regularly get stuck on their backs). It's perhaps partly this combination of intelligence, inquisitiveness and agility that has given goats a bad rep, as they can be notoriously difficult to keep housed as they constantly test fences and enclosures for weaknesses and exit points. To be truthful, if I'm ever outsmarted by a goat, I'll probably spread rumours about its obvious occult connections too.

Are you, your significant other, or any of your loved ones caprine?

Can you think of a good caprine-based pun for 'Goats have it ...'?

Do please act the goat in the comment box below.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Caprice - Gone With the Whim

Caprice, Capricious
It's a superdog. I just like it, OK?
(photo by Jenn and Tony Bot)


Noun. Mid-17th century.
[French from Italian capriccio (literally) head with the hair standing on end, (hence) horror,
(later, by association with capra goat) sudden start, from capo head (see CAPO noun) + riccio hedgehog (ultimately from Latin (h)ericius URCHIN.]

1(a) An unaccountable change of mind or conduct; a whim; a freakish fancy. M17

1(b) Inclination or disposition to such changes etc.; capriciousness. M17

2 = CAPRICCIO 3. E18


Adjective. Early 17th century.
[French capricieux from Italian capriccioso, from capriccio (see preceding) + -oso -OUS.]

1 obsolete. Humorous; fantastic; characterized by fat-fetched comparisons etc. E17-E18

2 Guided by caprice; readily swayed by whim or fancy; inconstant.
Of a thing: subject to sudden change, irregular, unpredictable. E17

capriciously adverb E17
capriciousness noun L16

I was going to write a really interesting post on caprice and capricious, but I've decided to go and buy some new underpants instead.

Feel free to comment while I'm gone.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Capoeira - Fighting on the Dance Floor

Capoeira do Brazil
(photo by Daniel Zanini H)


Noun. Also capoiera. Mid-20th century.

A martial art emphasizing leg and foot movements and performed inside a circle formed by onlookers,
developed by Angolan slaves in Brazil and now widely practised both as a dance form and a competitive martial art.

The origins of capoeira are somewhat mysterious, though it's generally accepted that Angolan slaves in Brazil, legally defined as property, were banned from practising martial arts for fear that they would use their combat skills against their masters; thus, they disguised their training and martial methods into their dance, and thus capoeira was born. The word's actual etymology is even more mysterious - theories include it being Tupi-Guarani for 'underbrush growing in recently cleared scrubland', perhaps as a hiding place for fleeing slaves, Portuguese for a basket used for transporting chickens, the theory being that chicken-sellers practised capoeira to pass the time when at the market, and from a Kikongo word that references the low, sweeping moves common in capoeira games.

For anyone that's never had the pleasure of seeing capoeira performed (the first time I saw a display was in Estonia of all places), they really are quite remarkable feats of athleticism, coordination and martial prowess. Capoeiristas, accompanied by music, perform a mixture of dance, acrobatic, offensive and defensive moves in a mock battle. Since it started to be exported from Brazil in the early 20th century, capoeira has become popular worldwide and is recognised as a proud and integral part of Brazilian culture.

Are you a capoeirista?

Have you ever seen capoeira performed?

Do please leave your most sweeping comments in the box below.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Capnomancy - "Where There's Smoke, There Are Idiots Trying to Divine It."

Capnomancy, Divination
"I see great changes about to befall the Earth. Animals will suffer, the globe will warm, and air quality will be markedly reduced."


Noun. Rare. Early 17th century.
[from Greek kapnos smoke + -MANCY, perhaps through French capnomancie.]

Divination by smoke.

If you haven't yet found guidance through birds, arrows, books or axes, then it's only logical that you move on to smoke - good old, ever-reliable, not in the least bit ambiguous, definitely not see-whatever-you-want-to-see-in-it smoke. Methodology does vary, as there is not yet any governing body or professional association for capnomancers. However, it's said that if you're looking at a thin, flowing plume of smoke, this portends well for you and yours. But if the smoke is thick, billowing out and spreading around you, things are going to be bad, although that's probably because you've just set the room on fire. If at any point you see Bob Marley, Jim Morrison or your ex-girlfriend's face in the smoke, you properly misunderstood what type of smoke you should be using for this divinatory practice.

Do please fire off any comments into the box below.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Capital - 12 Capital Cities You Always Get Wrong

Atlanta, Georgia, which is the capital of nowhere ... except itself
(photo by Tableatny)


Adjective & noun. Middle English.
[Old & modern French from Latin capitalis, from caput, capit- head: see -AL.]

I Relating to the head

A1 obsolete. Of or pertaining to the head or top. ME-L17

A2(a) Involving the loss of the head or life; vitally injurious, fatal. LME

A2(b) obsolete. Of an enemy, enmity: deadly, mortal. LME-M18

A2(c) Of a crime etc.: punishable by death. E16

II Standing at the head
(literally & figuratively)

A3 Chief, principal; important leading. LME

A4 Originally (of a letter or word), standing at the head of a page, passage, etc.
Now (of a letter), having the form and size used to begin a sentence, proper name, etc. LME

A5 Of funds, stock, etc.: original, serving as a basis for commercial or financial operations. E18

A6 Excellent, first rate. Frequently as an exclamation of approval. colloquial. M18

B1 noun. A capital letter. LME

B2(a) noun. The stock with which a company or person enters into business;
the total sum of shareholders' contributions in a join-stock company;
accumulated wealth, especially as used in further production. M16

B2(b) The holder of wealth as a class; capitalists, employer of labour. M19

B3 A capital town or city. M17

Capital, in all its forms, comes from the Latin caput, meaning 'head'; thus, it has come to signify the principal part of something, as well as what is absolutely vital or, conversely, lethal, as in the case of capital punishment which, historically, was often achieved with the literal removal of one's head. With regards to capital city, however, the definition, or at least the application of the definition, isn't always as clear as one might think. Also, considering how popular "What's the capital?" quizzes are, it's incredible how rubbish we are at knowing the capitals of some pretty major countries. Therefore, I present you with a list of countries you should know the capitals of but probably don't:

12 Capitals You Always Get Wrong

Australia's capital is eminently forgettable, and is often confused with the likes of Sydney, Melbourne, Erinsborough and Walkabout Creek.

Fun Canberra Fact:
Umm ...

 Another Canberra Fact:
 Canberra regularly tops the 'Most Boring Capital City in the World' polls.

Canada is the second-biggest country in the world - why does no one ever know its capital? It's ootrageous.

Fun Ottawa Fact:
Queen Victoria picked Ottawa as the capital in 1857, so blame her.

Another Ottawa Fact:
When natives first pointed out otters to Irish settlers, the standard response from the Irish was "An otter, wha?" That's how it got its name.

Most Western countries have taken out mortgages on themselves with China, so we really should know its capital (if only to respond to repossession notices).

Fun Beijing Fact:
At around 21,000,000, it's the world's most populous capital, another reason we should probably know it.

Another Beijing Fact:
There isn't a single Chinese Takeaway in the whole city.

If you're European, you probably had a stab at this one, but you got stuck between Bucharest and Budapest, didn't you? Go on, admit it.

Fun Budapest Fact:
It's often confused with Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

Another Budapest Fact:
Budapest is the capital of Romania.

India's population is 1.2 billion. Isn't that reason enough to know its capital?

Fun New Delhi Fact:
New Delhi has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times.

Another New Delhi Fact:
It's official name is New New New New New New New Delhi.

Iran's always in the news, so we should have no problem remembering Tehran.

Fun Tehran Fact:
It comes 32nd in a long line of Iranian (Persian) capitals. Still, having been the capital for over 200 years, that's no excuse ...

Another Tehran Fact:
There's no word for Tehran in Persian. It can only be expressed with a nonplussed shrug.

You thought it was Tel Aviv, right? It's actually a sticky subject - the Israelis say it's Jerusalem, and everyone else says its Tel Aviv.

Fun Jerusalem Fact:
Jerusalem is considered a holy city by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Which is awkward.

Another Jerusalem Fact:
It was the birthplace of Steve Jobs.

It's often confused with Brussels, the capital of Belgium.

Fun Amsterdam Fact:
Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges, 165 canals and 600,000 bicycles (give or take).

Another Amsterdam Fact:
It's notoriously intolerant.

Everyone thinks the capital is Lagos, but Lagos is just the former capital (and largest city in Nigeria).

Fun Abuja Fact:
It's a planned city, built mostly in the 1980s, and it took over from Lagos as capital in 1991.

Another Abuja Fact:
'Abuja' means 'Lagos' in Ibo, and vice versa.

South Africa
South Africa always trips people up, and it's understandable seeing as they can't make their own minds up.

Fun Pretoria / Bloemfontein / Cape Town Fact:
Peter Hain was schooled there, J.R.R Tolkien was born there and Dr Chritiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant there, respectively.

Another Pretoria / Bloemfontein / Cape Town Fact:
They're all within 10 minutes walk of each other.

Yeah, everyone thinks Zurich or Geneva, but it's not. On this matter, is quite emphatic.

Fun Bern Fact:
It's such a rock 'n roll place that you can get a free tour of the parliament building. But you must book in advance. No exceptions. Ever.

Another Bern Fact:
On arriving at Bern Airport, every international visitor is given a free Toblerone as a welcome gift. But you have to hand it back again when you fly out. Uneaten.

Really? New York? Come on. Surely this old chestnut is now well and truly buried.

Fun Washington D.C Fact:
The United States capital contains the United States Capitol. Yup. As fun as that.

Made-up Washington D.C Fact:
No one knows what the D.C stands for. Theories includes Dick Cheney, dull capital and dis be da capital (formerly Washington D.B.D.C).

Did you know every capital on this post?
(no one will believe you if you say you did)

Are there any other capitals that you struggle to remember?

Do you know any other interesting capital facts?

Do please invest your most lethal comments into the box below.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Capillary - Its Bloody Definition and Hairy Etymology

Blood vessels, Circulation
"The Capillary Tree"
Photo by Matthew Hadley


Adjective & noun. Mid-17th century.
[Latin capillaris, from capillus hair, after Old & modern French capillaire: see -ARY.]

A1 adj. Of or pertaining to hair; hairlike, especially in tenuity. M17

A2 adj. Of a tube etc.: having a hairlike bore. M17

A3 adj. Of, pertaining to, or occurring in capillaries. E19

3 capillary attraction, capillary repulsion the tendency of liquid in a
capillary tube to rise, recede, as a result of surface forces.

B1 noun. A capillary vessel; especially any of the extremely narrow
blood-vessels which form a network between the arterioles and venules. M17

B2 noun. archaic. A fern, especially of the maidenhair. M17-18

capillaceous adj. Hairlike, threadlike. E18
capillament noun. archaic. A hairlike fibre, a filament. L17-M19
capillarity noun. Capillary attraction or repulsion; the property of exerting this. M19

If you've ever wondered what the difference is between an artery, a vein and a capillary, it's really not that difficult. Basically, the arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart at high pressure - they're big, strong, and if you ever cut one in an accident you're in trouble. They connect to capillaries, which are exceptionally small, so small that red blood cells have to travel through them in single file. It is in the capillaries that the work of the blood really takes place, the red blood cells releasing oxygen through the thin, fragile capillary walls while simultaneously collecting waste products and carbon dioxide from the surrounding tissue. Then, the veins return this deoxygenated blood to the heart at low pressure. So:

Blood vessels, Circulation,
Thick-walled vessels that carry mainly oxygenated blood from the heart at high pressure.

Tiny blood vessels within tissues that facilitate the diffusion of oxygen and nutrients and the elimination of waste.

Thin vessels that carry mainly deoxygenated blood back to the heart at lower pressure.

OK, OK ... it's not quite as simple as that; the connecting vessels between the arteries and the capillaries are the arterioles, and connecting the capillaries to the veins are the venules. And, yes, there are different types of capillary, namely the continuous capillary, the fenestrated capillary, and the sinusoidal capillary. But as a very basic, broad, not-studying-biology overview of what arteries, veins and capillaries are, it'll do for now.

The etymological connection between capillary and the Latin capillus, meaning hair, is easy to understand, considering the hairlike construction and network of capillaries, and English has retained related words like capillaceous, meaning 'hair or threadlike' and capillament, meaning 'a hairlike fibre'. Obviously a capillary's similarity to hair is only superficial, but it does somewhat illustrate just how insubstantial a capillary is. Even so, a human hair is on average 100 microns (micrometres) in width, while a capillary is between 5-10 microns. As a micron is 0.001mm, it's accurate to say that capillaries are very, very, very small indeed.

Do you have any capillary facts to share?

What in your life is capillaceous?

Do please leave your most bloody-minded comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Capernoited - A Grumpy Drunk

Photo by Dave Sinclair


Adjective. Scots. Archaic. Early 18th century.
[origin unknown.]

Irritable; peevish; muddle-headed; affected by drink.

A quirk of British people is that they often categorise themselves by what type of drunk they are - "Oh I'm a happy drunk," "I'm a luvvy-duvvy drunk," or "I'm a complete look-at-me-wrong-and-I'll-smash-your-face-in drunk." Not many admit to being that last one (although those that do are invariably proud of it), and not many admit to being the capernoited drunk either - the peevish, irritable, can't-be-reasoned-with drunk: "Yeah? Who are you to drunk me? Alwaysh fink yer show shuperior, don'ya? Don'ya! Well let me be the firsht to tell you that you ain't. Geroff me! Don' you put your hands on me! I 'ave rights! Human rights!" Etc, etc. The good thing about an altercation with a capernoited drunk is that you only need to wait two minutes and he'll be fast asleep. Either that or sobbing on your shoulder, telling you how sorry he is and how much he loves you.

Are you a capernoited drunk?

Are you capernoited even without a drink?

Do please comment your leaves here ... you big ugly ... zzzzzz ...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Capeesh - A Criminally Misspelt Word

Mafia, Mafioso
Image by Vector Portal


Interjection. Slang (chiefly US). Mid-20th century.
[Italian capisce 3 singular present indicative of capire understand.]

Do you understand? Get it?

Considering it's a word related to understanding, there's an awful lot of confusion drifting around the internet regarding how you spell capeesh - even otherwise reliable sources give spellings that are not accepted by major dictionaries. As nothing undermines a mafia don's authority more than misspelling a word like capeesh during the annual Five Families Scrabble Championship, here is a list of spellings commonly found but not accepted by the OED, Merriam-Webster or (crucially) the Collins Scrabble Dictionary:

Capeche x
Capiche x
Capisce x
 Capische x
Capisci x
Coppish x
Kapeesh x

Have you ever participated in the Five Families Scrabble Championship?

Do you know of any other "spellings" for capeesh?

Are you a lexically-sensitive mafioso?

Just leave your comments in the box and walk away. Capeesh?

Monday, 13 January 2014

Cap-à-pie - Head to Toe, But Classier

Head to toe, Armed to the teeth
A soldier armed cap-à-pie. And with a helmet like that he's probably French.


Adverb. Archaic. Early 16th century.
[Old French cap a pie [modern de pied en cap]

From head to foot, fully (armed, ready, etc.).

Although it's written like someone's about to do a drive-by on a steak and kidney, I rather like cap-à-pie. Its actual pronunciation (cap-uh-pee) is a tad disappointing if you don't French it up a bit, but it still sounds a lot better than the English 'from head to toe' and even the modern French 'de pied en cap'.

Are you cap-à-pie?

What do you say when you are cap-à-pie?

Do toe the line and put a capital comment in the box below. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Cant - The Language of Thieves, Hipsters & Politicians

Cant, Insincere, Out of touch
Photo by M.Howard


Noun. Early 16th century.
[In branch I sporadic uses from Latin CANTUS. In branch II from CANT verb.]

1 obsolete. Singing: musical sound. E16-E18
2 Accent; intonation. M17-M18

3 A whining manner of speaking; a whine. Now rare or obsolete. M17

4 The special phraseology of a class, sect, profession, etc.;
 jargon, slang. Usually derogatory. L17

5 A set form of words repeated mechanically;
especially a stock phrase or word temporarily in fashion. archaic. L17

6 Ephemeral catchwords; affected or insincere phraseology;
especially language (or occasionally action) implying piety which does not exist; hypocrisy. E18

7 obsolete. A person who uses such language. E18-L19


Adjective. Usually derogatory. Early 18th century.
[from CANT noun.]

Of words, phrases, speech, etc.: of the nature of cant;
ephemerally fashionable;
uttered mechanically.

cantly adverb in canting phraseology; in slang. E19


Verb. Mid-16th century.
[Probably from Latin cantare: see CHANT verb.]

1 verb intrans. obsolete. Whine; beg. M16-M19

2 verb intrans & trans. obsolete. Speak; talk; say. slang & dialectical. M16-M18

3 verb intrans. Use cant or jargon; affect fashionable or pietistic phraseology. M16

4 verb trans. Utter with cant phraseology. Now rare. M17

5 verb trans & intrans. obsolete. Chant; sing. M17-E19

canting adjective (a) that cants, using cant; (b) archaic. of the nature of cant. (c) HERALDRY containing an allusion to the name of the bearer. L16
cantingly adverb L17

Political cant
I dunno who dey are - but dey're an 'onest, 'ard-workin' family
(photo by Frederic de Villamil)
How do you identify political cant? Christopher Hayes of The Nation has an idea - in his article Notes on Political Cant, Hayes observes an inverse relationship between the specificity of a statement and the number of people that will agree with it. Therefore, a broad statement such as "We must do better!" will probably garner near unanimous agreement; a specific statement, however, such as "We must do better by focusing our attention on cutting costs to the welfare system by aggressively targeting those that habitually subsidise their chosen lifestyle with benefits," will garner considerably less support, and what support it does receive will likely be far more cautious. Therefore, Hayes writes, speechwriters perpetually attempt to balance their words to have sufficient semantic force while remaining virtually impossible to disagree with. The result? Cant in the form of content-free platitudes - "It's time to move forward!" "Hard decisions must be taken!" "Mistakes have been made." "The hardworking British / Irish / American [insert relevant nationality here] people want better." All pure, unadulterated, platitudinous cant.

The phrase "hardworking people" is a specific example of cant (on several different levels) used by the UK's Conservative Party - the Westminster Blog evoked rather feudal imagery by suggesting Tory ministers were trying to "flog the phrase to death". Such phrases as "for hardworking people" and "to help hardworking people" have been heard again and again during Tory speeches. This has drawn considerable criticism from numerous commentators, but in the context of this post qualifies as cant because it's virtually impossible to disagree with - there isn't actually anything to disagree with. If, however, a Tory minister specifically said what many consider to be the underlying message - that if things are tough for you, it's because you're not working hard enough and you need to work harder - then there would be plenty for opponents to challenge it on, and it wouldn't qualify as cant. 

One particularly odd example of this cant was observed in George Osborne, the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a speech to warehouse workers for the supermarket chain Morrisons, a speech predictably replete with canting talk of "hardworking families", Osborne was noted to drop his marked Received Pronunciation and adopt a more working man's Mockney accent, saying, for example, "whad I wanna talk t'you about ... we've 'ad a system ... the Briddish people badly wannit fixed." Considering that Osborne is a privately-educated Oxford graduate, son of Sir Peter Osborne, 17th Baronet of the Osborne Baronetcy, his sudden adoption of a cockney accent was variously greeted with scorn, ridicule and cries of insincerity and condescension. If that's true, the fact that his speech is both full of cant by Hayes' definition (content-free statements that are difficult to disagree with) and the adoption of insincere, fashionable language and phraseology to suit his audience, his speech to those warehouse workers becomes all the more canting.

Thank you, Angry Nerd, for requesting cant.
Let us continue moving forward, not backward, through the dictionary, making progress from A to Z, covering one word at a time. Onward! 

Note: there are numerous definitions to cant. For a full list, have a squizz at Oxford Dictionaries

Do any particular examples of cant drive you proper bonkers?

How do you identify cant?
(Or can't you?)

Do please leave your most amazeballs, jargonistic, criminally-cryptological, content-free comments below.