Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Chiro- - A Handy Little Word

A human hand
Photo by Nebojsa


Combining form. Also cheiro-; (before a vowel) chir-, cheir-.
[Greek kheiro-, from kheir hand.]

Of the hand.

While it might be tempting to think that chiro- only finds standard use as a prefix in chiropractor (a person that practises manipulative treatment of mechanical disorders of the joints and spine), there is in fact an abundance of handy and often nutty chiro- words in English for us to choose from:

Chirognomy, for example, is the supposed estimation of one's character by the an inspection of the hand, and a chirognomist is one that practises such waffle. 

Rather more respectable is the chirograph, which is a formal handwritten document, and a chirographer, which is a copying clerk or a person that employs handwriting, probably in their own chirography which is the style or character of handwriting. 

If you really want to study hands in-depth, then your branch of knowledge will be chirology, which is also an obsolete word for the use of manual sign language.

And let's not forget (aargh!) chiromancy, which is divination by reading the hand (palmistry).

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the word chiropodist also makes use of the chiro- prefix, being a combination of the Greek for 'hand' and (pod-) 'foot', because (supposedly) it's with his hands that a chiropodist examines your plates of meat.

Do you know of any other chiro- words?

Do please leave your most digital comments in the handy little box below.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Chimera - My Big Fat Greek Monster

A grotesque statue overlooking the Paris skyline
This statue from the Galerie des Chimères, Notre-Dame, Paris, looks rather like my nightly chimera
(photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly)


Noun. Also chimaera. Late Middle English.
[Latin chimaera from Greek khimaira she-goat, monster, from khimaros he-goat.]

1 GREEK MYTHOLOGY. A fire-breathing monster, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. LME

2 A grotesque monster represented in painting etc. LME

3(a) A bogey, a horrible phantasm. E16

3(b) A wild or fanciful conception. L16

3(c) A thing of hybrid character. M19

4 (usually chimaera) Any cartilaginous fish of the family Chimaeridae (order Holocephali),
typically having erect pointed fins and a long tail. Also called rabbit-fish, rat-fish. E19

5 BIOLOGY. An organism whose cells are not all derived from the same zygote. E20

A chimera

A drawing of a chimera closer to the original Greek ...
(drawing by Pearson Scott Foresman)
When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare of a thrashing, caprine, shadow-like demon. It would stalk through the house and attack my family in a frenzied, brutal, flailing manner. Terrified, I would always hide in a cupboard, too scared to come out, despite the piercing, tortured screams of my parents and siblings.

In terms of childhood fears, this was definitely a step up from the bogey man that had inhabited my imagination when I was even younger. I don't know where this goat-like monster came from, but I called it the chimera in my head, and it's possible I had read about the Greek mythology (although my monster wasn't the chimera - it didn't breathe fire and was roughly humanoid, completely black as if made of darkness, with the inverted legs of a goat and hideous, flailing claws).

Thankfully, as I got older, these recurring dreams that left me dripping with sweat and clenching the sheets in terror subsided somewhat, although I am still rather prone to them on occasion, much to the amusement of my in-laws who think it hilarious that a 6ft 6in grown man still has nightmares about monsters. Oh yes, how funny. How very funny indeed.

A chimera on Greek pottery
... although the Greek chimera also had a goat's head on its back
(photo by Jastrow)
Did you have a chimera in childhood?

Do please leave your most imaginative, fanciful and wild comments in the box below.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Child - "Fruit of the Womb"

A picture of an ultrasound scan
"The fruit of the womb"
(photo by Shannon Smith)


Noun. Also (archaic, esp. in sense 3) childe, chylde. Plural children.]
[Old English cild related to Gothic kilþei womb, inkilþo pregnant, as it were 'fruit of the womb'.
The Middle English plural childre, childer became childeren, children.]

1 A foetus; an infant; specifically (dialectical) a female infant. OE

2(a) A boy or girl. OE

2(b) In biblical translations: a youth approaching or entering on manhood. LME

3 singular. A youth of gentle birth. Chiefly as a title. archaic. OE

4 transferred. A person who has (or is considered to have) the character, manners, or attainments of a child,
especially a person of immature experience or judgement; a childish person. ME

5(a) A pupil at school. ME

5(b) specifically. A chorister. E16

6 archaic. A lad in service; a page, an attendant, etc. LME-E17

7 A man, a lad, a fellow. Compare with CHIELD. Long archaic, rare. M16

II As correlative to parent
8(a) A son or daughter (at any age) of (or with my etc);
an offspring of human parents. (Used chiefly, & longer, of a daughter.) OE

8(b) A young animal. rare. L16

9 In plural. Descendants; member of the tribe or clan. ME

10 A disciple of a teacher; a follower or adherent of. Usually in plural. ME

11 figuaritve. A product, derivative, extract, dependant, attachment, etc., of. ME

There's a certain indulgence in covering child for Lexicolatry, and it isn't the first time (nor will it be the last) that I've snuck in a picture of my beloved daughter (see the entries on blond and brunet for other examples). The root meaning of child, however, is singularly stirring. As a man, it's true that I will never experience the majestic miracle of another life growing inside me; I can, however, fully attest to the sublime, awesome and humbling miracle that is the conception, development and birth of another human being, a person for whom you ache with love and affection and protective instinct.

A proud father holds a newborn baby on his lap
One of the proudest moments of my life
Do please leave any comments below.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Chick - A Bird, Young Bird, Or Child


Noun. Plural chicks, (dialectical) chicken. Middle English.
[Abbreviation of CHICKEN noun.]

1 A child. archaic. ME

2 A chicken; a young bird, especially before or just after hatching. LME

3 A young woman. slang. E20

In Combination:
chick flick, chick lit colloquial (chiefly derogatory) a film, literature, which is perceived or market as appealing to young women.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Chic - In a Fashion

Vintage chic blonde girl in a classic car
These girls are chic ...
(photos by Laura Dye Photography)


Noun & adjective. Mid-19th century.
[French, probably from German Schick skill.]

A noun. Stylishness; elegance in dress; skill, effectiveness. M19

B adj. Comparative chic-er; superlative chic-est. Stylish, elegant. M19

chicly adv. E20

So chic (probably) comes from the German Schick. For whatever reason, that's not an etymology that sits right with me; perhaps it's because it sounds like schlick, or ick, or something similarly un-chicly. Talking of which, chicly is another incredibly unchic word; perhaps it's because it sounds like the Spanish chicle, or sickly, or ... oh never mind. I like the word chic - I might not have it, but I can admire it in others, and, icky-Shicky-shlicky etymologies aside, the word suits it perfectly.
Two chic girls standing by a classic car
... definitely a whole lot of chic going on here.
Are you chic?

Does the etymology of chic spoil things for you?

Do please leave any comments below.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Chiaroscuro - Light and Shade

A man sitting late at night surfing the internet
Photo by JacobFG


Noun & adjective. Mid-17th century.
[Italian, from chiaro clear, bright + oscuro dark, OBSCURE adjective. Noun plural in A = chiaroscuros.]

A1 A style of painting in which only light and shade are represented; black and white. M17

A2 The treatment or disposition of the light and shade, or brighter and darker masses, in a picture;
an effect or contrast of light and shade in a picture on in nature. L17

A3 figurative. The use of contrast in literature etc. E19

B attrib. or as adj. In chiaroscuro, in black white;
figurative. marked by stylistic etc. contrasts; half-revealed. M19

chiaroscurist noun an artist distinguished for or painting in chiaroscuro. L18

As a PI, insomniac and blogger, I feel as if I've spent half my life in chiaroscuro; I do rather like it like that, though, so please don't open the curtains.

Do please leave your darkest comments below. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Chez - At the House Of

A cartoon cottage
(image from Clckr)


Preposition. Mid-18th century.
[French from Old French chiese from Latin casa cottage.]

At the house or home of.

Going to stay with Grandma for the summer? Or visiting Mum & Dad at the weekend? Then why not jazz it up a bit by saying your summering chez Grandma, or passing the weekend chez Mama & Papa? Sounds much better, doesn't it? And it saves you characters on Twitter too; that alone is reason to start using chez.

 Do you stay or do you chez?

Do please leave your homeliest comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Cheville - A Word Peg

Some poems are so bad they just have to be plugged
(image by Martijn)


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Late 19th century.
[French = peg, pin, plug.]

1 A meaningless or redundant word or phrase inserted to round off a sentence or complete a verse. L19

2 A peg in a stringed musical instrument. L19

When writing poems
If your metre's not tight
Just add a cheville
And it'll all add up right

That's my hastily written example of a cheville.

Do you know of any others?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Chevaline - Horsing About

A chestnut horse galloping in the dust
Photo by R. Rahman


Adjective. Rare. Mid-16th century.
[French, feminine of chevalin, from CHEVAL.]

Or or pertaining to horses.

While I can't claim to have ever really got the magic of horses, I do grant that they must possess some indefinable allure, as people absolutely love their chevaline mystique. Oh, the word chevaline - that I do love. Or at the very least really, really like.

Do please leave any comments below.

Note: Due to being abroad, the original post originally consisted solely or the word, its definition, and the follow explanatory text:
Argh! The horror of dodgy Carpathian WiFi has struck again, so today you will have to be content with just the word - no picture, no rambling commentary, and no probing questions (my mobile data is too limited to allow for such luxury). Chevaline is a particularly lovely word though, is it not? Will it do? Just until I'm back into the land of unlimited, wondrous, luxuriant WiFi, at which point I will return to this word to complete it with all of the bells and whistles of my usual posts. I think it will.

PS: Transylvania is stunningly beautiful. Today I got lost in a graveyard, saw Vlad the Impaler's birthplace, and bought a drawing of tulips from a young Roma girl who had the most stunning eyes I've ever seen.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Cher maître - Dear Master Writer


Noun phrase. Plural cheres maîtres (pronounced same). Early 20th century.
[French, literally 'dear master'.]

(A flattering form of address to) a famous writer.

If I were to address any writer as cher maître, it would probably be Sir William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies (not that I would expect him to care too much whether I addressed him as master or not, seeing as he won the Nobel Prize for Literature). Whether or not one actually ever addresses a writer as cher maître, I do like the idea of considering one as such, in admiring and seeking to emulate (perhaps even surpass) their skill, artistry and dedication.

Who would you address as cher maître?

How would you feel if you were addressed as such?

Do please leave your most literary comments below.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Chère amie - A Dear Lady Friend


Noun phrase. Plural chères amies. Late 18th century.
[French, literally 'dear (woman) friend'.]

A female lover; a mistress.

As Lexicolatry has covered words for male lovers, it seems only fitting that it covers female lovers too, and chère amie is as beautifully euphemistic as it is French. "She's only a friend, darling, I promise. A dear friend. A dear, dear, dear friend indeed ..."

Are you, have you ever been, or would you ever be a chère amie?

Do you think using a deliciously romantic-sounding French euphemism would ever mollify an angry wife?

Do please leave your dearest, friendliest comments in the box below.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Chef - The Head of a Kitchen, Orchestra, Style, Etc.

A portrait of a proud chef
A proud chef indeed
(photo by Rage Krishna)


Noun. Early 19th century.
[French = head.]

A person (usually a man) who is (usually the chief) cook in a hotel, restaurant, etc.

I wasn't cut out for the culinary life. One of my first jobs was as a trainee chef, but the punishing combination of constant stress, unsociable hours and exhausting physical work meant that I quickly decided to find another career. The word can still interest me, though, even if the career doesn't - chef is French for ‘head’, is related to the word chief, and is used in a number of other French phrases that have found their way into English. A chef d’ecole, for example, is defined in the OED as ‘the initiator or leader of a school or style of music, painting, literature’, a chef-d’oeuvre is the greatest work of an artist or a masterpiece, and a chef-d’orchestre is the leader or conductor of an orchestra.

Two chefs working hard in a kitchen
Not the work for me
(photo by Matt Four)
Are you a chef of any description?

Do you know of any other cheffy expressions?

Do please serve up your most culinary comments into the box below.
(note: I'm still in the remote Romanian mountains with limited internet access - thus no pics for this post, but I'll put them in as soon as I can)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Checkmate - "The King Is Perplexed"

A closeup of chess pieces with multicoloured lights in the background
This isn't checkmate (I think), but it's a classy looking game of chess nonetheless
(photo by Tristan Martin)


Interjection, noun, adjective & verb. Middle English.
[Aphetic from Old French eschec mat = Provençal escac mat, from Arabic šāh māt(a) representative of Persian šāh māt the king is defeated, the king is perplexed.]

A interjection. In chess, notifying the putting of an opponent's king into inextricable check, by which the game is won;
transferred notifying an adversary of defeat. ME

B noun. (The notifying to an opponent of) the inextricable check of a king in chess;
transferred & figurative final defeat or deadlock. LME

C predicative adj. In inextricable check;
figurative defeated. LME

D verb trans. Give checkmate to;
figurative defeat, frustrate. LME

I had so much planned for today's post: a comprehensive examination of chess and the use of chess-related terms in the English language; a sample of scenarios in which we use the word checkmate, whether or not we play chess; and an insightful examination of the Old French, Provençal, Arabic and Persian that give us a word derived from a root meaning of "the king is perplexed" (and not killed, which is something that disappointed me greatly as a child when my father explained while teaching me chess that pieces are only captured, not slaughtered ... boo!). 

But, no, it wasn't to be. A dodgy internet connection while travelling through Romania means it was me that was left frustrated and perplexed, unable to write my morning post as I had planned. That being said, it's not quite checkmate, rubbish Romanian WiFi, because unlike the checkmated king I have actually found a way out of your little interwebbed trap, albeit late in the day, after much hair pulling, and with a considerably curtailed post.

A white king and queen putting a black king into checkmate
This is what a real checkmate looks like

Did you know the etymology of checkmate?

Have you ever successfully trumped an opponent and triumphantly announced "Check and mate!" just like in the movies?

Do please pawn off your chessiest comments in the box below.
(and I'm not knocking Romania by the way - it's absolutely wonderful!)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Chaw - Chewing Dumb

A vulgarly chawing giraffe
(photo by Christian Scheja)


Verb. Now colloquial & dialectical. Late Middle English.
[Variant of CHEW verb: compare with CHOW verb.]

1 verb trans & intrans. Chew, now especially without intending to swallow and in a vulgar manner. LME

1(b) verb trans. Bite (a bullet) to make it jagged. Chiefly as chawed participial adjective. M17-M19

2 verb trans. figurative. Brood over, ruminate on. M16

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's vulgar chewing; I've italicised the word vulgar from the OED's definition because it's so fitting. To this day, I've remembered the moment from years ago that I met two people that chawed on gum constantly throughout our introduction, with open mouths and vapid eyes, and I don't think I've ever forgiven them for their vulgar mastications.

Chaw - is it not the most perfect word for something so stomach-churningly vulgar?

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

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Chauvinist - A Gender-Unspecified Pig

A chauvinistic Kelleg's ad suggesting that women thrive the more they cook, clean, wash, etc.
Vintage ads - so delightfully chauvinistic


Noun & adjective. In sense A1 also capitalised as Chauvinist. Late 19th century.
[from Nicolas Chauvin, a Napoleonic veteran popularized as a character in La cocarde tricolore by the brothers Cogniard.]

A1 noun. A bellicose patriot; a fervent supporter of a cause. L19

A2 noun. A person who is prejudiced against or inconsiderate of those of a different sex, class, nationality, culture, etc.;
especially = male chauvinist adj. & noun. M20

B adj. Of or pertaining to chauvinism or chauvinists; chauvinistic. L19

chauvinistic adj. L19
chauvinistically adv. L20

So, the definition is clear - not all chauvinists are men, despite it being an epithet that's "especially" applied to male chauvinists, often in the term male chauvinist pig (or MCP for short), a standard retort when a man tells a sexist joke, makes a derogatory remark about women, or otherwise acts like a contemptible ass. However, chauvinism encompasses so much more unpleasantness, such as national, class, cultural and age-based chauvinism; even the idea that it's only (or generally) men that are chauvinists is very chauvinist.

An USA flag with a cross through it
Feeling superior to Americans is bizarrely acceptable
Oddly, there's a certain level of acceptable chauvinism, in that one can feel superior to stupid fat Americans, for example, and express it through jokes and attitude without serious challenge, but should one communicate such chauvinistic prejudice against, say, a Nigerian or Romanian, it will immediately elicit cries of racism and bigotry (both attitudes are racist, bigoted and chauvinistic, just for the record).

A French cockade in the tricolour
Chauvinism originated in France which is ... umm ... interesting
The word chauvinism comes from the apocryphal Nicolas Chauvin, a French soldier and fervent supporter of Napoleon in the 1800s. Due to his unwavering loyalty to Napoleon and his dogged belief in Bonapartism, Chauvin became an object of ridicule in France when Bonapartism fell out of favour, and he became an unfortunate eponym for that type of excessive nationalistic fervour, which is fitting because chauvinism, be it male, female, national or any type of chauvinism, is really rather stupid and most definitely worthy of ridicule.

A cartoon of women saying: "Yes, we can do without men ... but we can't do much!"
As it's the women saying it, is this cartoon chauvinistic?
Are you a chauvinist?

Are all chauvinists men?

Do please leave your most superior, prejudiced and bigoted comments in the box below.
(note: superior, prejudicial and bigoted comments will be deleted)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Chatoyant - Irisdescent Undulating Lustre


Foreign. Noun & adjective. Now rare. Late 18th century.
[French, present participle of chatoyer.]

(Of) iridescent undulating lustre.

I rather like the look of this word, but its heavily Anglicised pronunciation of shat-oi-yunt utterly obliterates it. Personally, when I casually drop chatoyant in conversation (as one regularly has call to do), I use the ever so much classier French pronunciation of shat-wa-yanh.

Listen to the two pronunciations by clicking here and tell me what you think.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Chartaceous - Of the Nature of Paper

An old sheet of yellowing paper
A captivatingly chartaceous texture by Evelyn Flint


Adjective. Mid-17th century.
[from late Latin chartaceus, from Latin charta.]

Of the nature of paper; papery.

I rather like the word chartaceous, which makes me think of heavy, old, yellowing paper, the kind that you discover in dusty tomes hidden in your grandparents' attic.

Do please put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) and leave a comment in the box below.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Charlatan - Shark as a Quack

A poster for Hamlin's Wizard Oil, with a list of the many things it's supposed to cure
Poster of a real product from 1890 and, like they all do, it cures virtually everything


Noun & adjective. Early 17th century.
[French from Italian ciarlatano, from ciarlare to babble, patter, of imitative origin.]

A(1) noun. A mountebank; especially an itinerant vendor of medicines. obsolete except as passing into sense 2. E17

A(2) noun. A false pretender to knowledge or skill, originally and especially in medicine;
a quack; a pretentious impostor. L17

B adj. Or, pertaining to, or characteristic of a charlatan. L17

charlatanic adj. M19
charlatanical adj. M17
charlatanism noun the practice or method of a charlatan; the condition of being a charlatan. E19
charlatanry noun quackery, imposture. M17

One of the darkest nights of my life was after a neurologist had told me I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that primarily affects the brain and spinal cord, causing an array of bizarre and often debilitating symptoms. The doctor told me that, although it's presently incurable, there are a number of different treatments that can mitigate the symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Of everything he said, however, the word that struck me the most was incurable -  a terrifying, pitiful, hopeless and crushing word.

So that night, I sat awake in my hospital bed and scoured the internet for information on multiple sclerosis; what it is, what it does, and how I could fight it. And immediately I found page after page directly contradicting my doctor, telling me that MS isn't incurable, and all I needed was to follow a particular course of treatment, take a particular medication, adhere to a specific diet, etc, etc. And, of course, all these required that I buy a book, subscription, surgery, plan, tonic, medicine or supplement.

Cancer, or specifically the cancer patient, is another popular target for quacks and charlatans
The thing is, I had always been rather skeptical and somewhat scoffing toward all this "alternative medicine," but ultimately had thought that, well, if it does no harm, it does no harm. But never before that night had I understood the vulnerability and overwhelming fear that accompanies a serious diagnosis, and how it can push your mind down a desperate track it would never otherwise travel. "I know this is probably all rubbish," I thought, "but what if there's a chance, even a minuscule chance, that this person has found a miracle cure?"

And so for a night I continued to torture myself with emotive testimonials and anecdotes of people that had defied their doctors' expectations, people who had been written off by mainstream medicine to a life of inevitable pain, decline and disability, and how they had done this and taken that and they were now living symptom free or, quite miraculously, had been cured of a disease that "doctors" said was incurable.

I didn't ever buy any of those treatments, books or pills. I researched some further, trying to be open-minded and to find out if there was any basis to these fantastic claims, but invariably there wasn't. There is treatment for MS, far better treatment than there has ever been. But it's the bog-standard, allopathic method - it's not miraculous, at times it's horrible and, until they find a cure, MS remains just as that doctor told me in the very beginning - incurable.

Cures so much, as always, and without even a whiff of side-effects
(image courtesy of T&S Middleton)
The feeling that has remained in me, however, is a disgust toward the charlatans that were, that night, trying to prey on me and my hopelessness, a body of people that target the most vulnerable, the most frightened and the most desperate demographic in society, a core of fraudsters that are intent on peddling false hope and their useless wares on those that find themselves in the direst need.

The word charlatan comes from Italian, from to babble, to patter. This is a fitting root, considering the babbling nonsense that charlatans try and sell us, with talk of energy lines, biorhythms, chakras, government conspiracies, ancient wisdom, holistic healing, natural remedies, etc, etc, ad infinitum. We might think of quacks and snake oil merchants and charlatans as relics from times past, but they're still very much with us today, preying upon, exploiting, endangering and making money from those that need help the most, and that, undeniably, is something disgusting.

De Piskijka
Painting by Jan Steen (1625-16-79)
Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Charivari - A Potty Pandemonium

A frying pan
Add one wooden spoon for the perfect charivari
(photo by Evan Amos)


Noun & verb. See also SHIVAREE. Mid-17th century.
[French, of unknown origin.]

A noun. A cacophonous mock serenade in derision of an unpopular person, marriage, etc.;
a discordant medley of sounds, a hubbub. M17

B verb trans. Greet or serenade with a charivari. E19

Do the know the problem with people today? They just don't know how to mob anymore. All this interwebbery and YouTubery has quashed the good ol' mob mentality of the days of yore, the torch-carrying, pitchfork-wielding mindset that kept society good and straight.

Take marriage, for example - the holy union of a man and his bint. In times past, marriage was policed by the people for the people, so that if there were an "incongruous marriage" - that of an older woman with a younger man, for example, or of a widow remarrying inappropriately quickly after the death of her husband - the canaille would be straight out onto the streets, forming a pot-pounding, saucepan-sounding, rough-music rousing charivari to shame that couple onto the straight and narrow. And it wasn't just age-inappropriate couples and widows that had the nerve to get over the deaths of their husbands - adulterers, unwed mothers, cuckolds and women that didn't know their place ran the risk of rousing a charivari too.

A middle-aged lady with a cup of tea
I don't know who she is, but she looks like she needs to be put in her place
(drawing from from 1851)
These days of course, the charivari is virtually dead. Some say it's the origin of wedding processions beeping their car horns as they pass through the streets, but I was too depressed by this whole state of affairs to research whether or not that's true. As I look up and down my street, I just know that there are single parents out there; I know that there are adulterers, fornicators and women that wear trousers (literally and metaphorically). But can I bang my pots and clang my saucepans to chase them out of the street? No, I can't, because apparently it's illegal. It's political correctness gone mad.

If you're interested in reviving the noble tradition of the charivari, it's pronounced sharry-varry, and is also known as shivaree in the US (it's also worth researching the skimmington and rough music). While its origins are in the European Middle Ages, it's a practice that seems to have arisen independently in a number of different locations, and was exported to the US and Canada in the 1700s (the Canadians seem to have been particularly fond of it). Sadly, the genuine charivari seems to have died out throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, largely due to silly laws against harrasment, humiliation, and sticking your nose into other people's private lives. Pah!

A crowd harassing a man
Hudibras Encounters the Skimmington
Engraving by William Hogarth (1697-1764) 
Were (or are) charivaris practised in your culture?

When was the last time you banged your saucepan at someone you didn't like?

Do please leave your pottiest comments in the box below.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Charisma - You Got It Or You Don't

Che Guevera


Noun. Plural charismata. Mid-17th century.
[ecclesiastical Latin from Greek kharisma, -mat-, from kharis favour, grace.]

1 CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY. A divinely conferred power or talent. M17

2 A capacity to inspire devotion or enthusiasm; aura. M20

Charisma is like sex appeal, wit, or the ability to lick the tip of your nose - you either have it or you don't, and if you want it, forget it. Certainly, there are plenty of books and articles available that tell you that you can develop charisma; the Wikihow post How To Be Charismatic does just that, distilling it down into five easy steps so that you can be the next Che Guevara, Martin Luther King or Jim Jones. But while I don't wish to cast aspersions on the depth of research or penetrating sociological insights behind that article, I can't help but think that the authors don't really get charisma. Rather than being a skill that one can develop, true charisma is something nebulous, indefinable and transcendent. In that sense, it's rather close to the original meaning, in that it's a divinely conferred talent, one that you're either have or you don't. But if you don't agree with me, do feel free to prove me wrong - complete the Wikihow checklist, hone your charisma, and have a go at founding a religion. Lexicolatry eagerly await your results.

Do please discuss all manner of charismata in the box below.
(it's such a cool plural, I just had to squeeze it in somehow)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Chariots - Did They Really Come Before Horseback Riding?

Two chess pieces of a horse and a chariot
A chariot from a Chinese chess set
(photo by Daniel Go)


Noun & verb. Late Middle English.
[Old & modern French, augmentative of char ultimately from Latin carrum, carrus: see CAR. Compare with CHAIR.]

A noun. A wheeled conveyance, usually horse-drawn, specifically:
(a) obsolete a cart, a wagon;
(b) poetical a stately or triumphal carriage;
(c) a two-wheeled vehicle used in ancient warfare and racing;
(d) (chiefly Historical) a light four-wheeled carriage with back seat seats only. LME

B1 verb intrans. Drive or ride in a chariot. M16

B2 verb trans. Carry or convey in or as a chariot. M16

Which came first, the chariot or horse riding? Bizarrely, it's the chariot, arriving into the historical record at around 2000 B.C.E, some 1500 years before horseback riding started to become widespread. Considering the added expense and hassle of building a chariot, you would assume we first learnt to ride on the backs of horses, and only later thought: "Hey! Let's try getting it to pull us along on these wheely yokes we just invented." But no - although there is evidence that humans had tried to ride horses, it seems it was chariots first, horse riding second.

What's more, the story behind the development of chariots and the reason it came before horse riding is steeped in mystery. One of the best theories suggested by historians is that ancient horses were smaller and weaker than those of today, and were thus unable to efficiently bear the weight of a rider until centuries of husbandry had developed breeds strong enough to do so. Other than that, historians are open to suggestions.

Of course, even long after the advent of horseback riding, chariots and specifically chariot-racing remained popular. The Circus Maximus hippodrome in Rome was one of the largest sporting venues ever built with a capacity of some 250,000 spectators. It's also thought that charioteering produced the wealthiest athlete ever in Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who retired at 42 with an estimated fortune of $15 billion in today's money (see the post on aurigation for more about him).

An Egyptian chariot
Egyptian chariots were notoriously rubbish at amphibious assaults
Any other suggestions as to why chariots came before cavalry?

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

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Chaps - Cowboys Need Protection Too

A mounted cowboy wearing stout leather chaps
A cowboy sporting a fine pair of chaps
Lithograph by Frederick Remington from 1901


Noun plural. North American. Late 19th century.
[Abbreviation of CHAPAREJOS Mexican Spanish chaparreras, from chaparra. Later form -ejos probably influenced by Spanish aparejo equipment.]

Stout protective trousers for cowboys etc.

If you've ever wondered where chaps came from (and what cheeky chap hasn't?), they're rooted in cowboy culture, the word being an abbreviation of chaparejos, a Mexican-Spanish word blended from chaparreras, meaning 'thicket', and aparejo, meaning 'equipment' or 'gear'. Bronco riding and cattle rustling is tough work, and even tougher on your clothes, so a sturdy pair of leather chaps is just the ticket for keeping that pair of Levis looking brand-spanking-new

Do please leave your cheekiest comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Chap - A Spiffing Fellow Indeed

A smiling young chap (man) with a beard and glasses
A fine looking chap indeed
(photo by Chris Zerbes)


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Abbreviation of CHAPMAN.]

1 A buyer, a customer. Now dialectical. L16
2 A man, a boy, a fellow; in plural also, people. colloquial. E18

A pedlar, a hawker, a chapman
The Itinerant Pedlar
Paul Sandby (1730-1809)


Noun. Now archaic or Historical. Plural chapmen.
[Old English ceapman, formed as CHEAP noun + MAN noun.]

1 A man who buys and sells; a merchant, a dealer. OE
2 specifically. A pedlar. ME
3 obsolete. A customer. ME-E19
4   A broker. LME-M17

chapmanship noun. the occupation or activities of a chapman. M16

What ho, chaps! If one wishes to speak like a proper English gent, then chap is an essential component of the old vocab. Be aware, however, that its origins are not altogether tickety-boo, as chap is an abbreviation of chapman, which is a blackguardly hawker of second-rate goods. And for those of the poetical inclination, it may be of interest that chapman is the origin of the word chapbook, which is one of those pamphlety whatnots full of ballads and poems that chapmen were so fond of peddling. Still, let's not get ourselves all in a pickle over the what-whys and well-I-nevers and d'you-mind-if-I-don'ts - chap is an absolute corker of a word and is just plum perfect for describing the type of spiffing chap that one plays a round of pitch and p with on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Toodle-pip!

Do please make your posish clear in the box below.