Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cloy - Too Much of a Good Thing

A thick, sauce-covered slice of chocolate mousse cake
Chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce
(photo by Kim)


Verb. Late Middle English.
[Aphetic from ACCLOY.]

1 verb trans. obsolete. Pierce (as) with a nail; especially = ACCLOY. LME-E18

2(a) verb trans. Stop up, block (a passage etc.);
 choke, fill up; clog, encumber. LME-M17

2(b) verb trans. Spike (a gun). Now rare. E17

3 verb trans. & intrans. Satiate, weary, or nauseate by richness, sweetness, sameness,
or excess, of food, pleasure, attention, etc. (Followed by with.) M16

cloyingly adv. in a cloying manner or degree. E20
cloyless adj. that does not cloy. E17
cloyment noun (rare, Shakespearean) satiety. Only in E17
cloysome adj. (rare) tending to cloy. E17

I had been vacillating somewhat over whether to include cloy in Lexicolatry. Its etymology isn't particularly remarkable, evolving from the obsolete word accloy, meaning to overfill, to burden or to disgust, which itself is derived from the medieval Latin clavus, 'nail'. However ...

... I do like the word - it's cloyingly phonosemantic, with its satisfyingly cloopy, clotting, clumpy phonemes. My mind was made up, however, when I explained the meaning of cloy to my niece who was unfamiliar with it. "Wow!" she said, "What a brilliantly useful word!"

And she's right - cloy is a brilliant word, and one that should be in everyone's active vocabulary. It can describe everything from a thick wedge of chocolate cake, smothered in chocolate sauce under a mound of whipped cream, to the cloyingly close attentions of an over-enthusiastic friend whom you like, but perhaps not quite as much as they seem to like you. And finally, any word with the power to make a teenager's face beam with lexical enthusiasm has, by my reckoning, earned its place in the hallowed pages of Lexicolatry.

Is cloy in your active vocabulary?

How do you use cloy?

Do please weary us with the sweetness of your comments below.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Clown - Jest Frightening

A sad look girl in a clown's wig and makeup
The Clown
(photo by KT Lindsay)


Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Perhaps of Low German origin: compare with Northern Frisian klonne, klunne, clumsy fellow, klünj clod, lump, etc.]

A1 noun. A countryman, a rustic, a peasant, especially when regarded as ignorant, crass, or rude. M16

A2 noun. A person without refinement or culture; an ignoramus, a boor, an uncouth or ill-bred person. L16

A3 A fool or jester, especially in a pantomime or circus. E17

B1 verb trans (obsolete) and intrans. Play the clown; perform as a clown. L16

B2 verb trans. Play the clown in; portray like a clown. L19

Ronald McDonald performing at a party
He's certainly put me off my food
(photo by Harris County Public Library)

Why Are Clowns So Scary?

D'you know the funny thing about clowns? Nope. Me neither. They're just not funny. They are, however, creepy, sinister, and per head of population more likely than the average man to dismember you with a sharpened balloon. I don't like clowns, I don't think anyone likes clowns, and if they are so popular, why are they always moonlighting as psychopaths in horror films?

Clowns are scary, and if you think so too know that you're not alone. The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia and is derived from the Greek kolobatheron meaning 'stilt' and the usual -phobia suffix. It's a 1980s neologism, and if you're wondering why such a word would have spawned in the 80s, it might have something to do with Stephen King's novel It, published in 1986, in which seminal psycho-clown Pennywise terrorised children and an entire generation of readers. Oh, and Ronald McDonald, easily an equal to Pennywise on the creepout scale, was particularly active in the 80s. He's been quietly scaled back by McDonalds in many countries, as seemingly no one likes eating with a leering clown looking over your shoulder. Perhaps he could be resurrected as a powerful tool in the fight against junk food ... ?

If you've ever wondered why clowns are so unnerving, it was a topic examined by Sheffield University in a study submitted to Nursing Standard Magazine. It found that the majority of children aged between four and sixteen disliked clowns, finding them "frightening and unknowable". It therefore recommended that clowns not be used as standard decor on children's wards. As to why clowns are scary, various theories were put forward. For one, clowns are from a different and unfamiliar era: "They don't look funny, they just look odd," said child psychologist Patricia Doorbar. And Professor Paul Salkovskis noted: "People are typically frightened by things that are wrong in some way, wrong in a disturbingly unfamiliar way." And there are few things more disturbingly unfamiliar than a perpetually leering, blanch-skinned buffoon with big hair and even bigger feet.

The etymology of clown is somewhat obscure, but may be of Low Germanic origin, related to the Northern Frisian words for 'clod' and 'clumsy fellow,' words befitting both the clown's bungling antics and its oafish attempts to entertain children that result in weeks of nightmares. It's also used in English as a mild insult - often in relation to something or someone that is so ridiculous that it should be funny, but still isn't: "Those clowns in government," or "My boss is an absolute clown." And, I must say, I particularly like your clownship, which was completely new to me but gets its very own entry in the OED.

Note: If you feel that the subject of clownery hasn't been treated with sufficient gravitas here, do visit the website of The World Clown Association, where they take their work very seriously. 

A yellow clown car
It's actually a 16-seater
(photo by Oliver Gouldthorpe)
Are you a clown?

Do you suffer from coulrophobia?

Do please slapstick your most circuitous comments into the box below.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Climax - A Greek Ladder

A ladder stretching up to the sky
Ladder to Heaven
(image by fdecomite)


Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Late Latin climax from Greek klimax ladder, climax.]

A1 noun. Rhetoric. (A figure chracterized by) the arrangement of propositions or ideas
in order of increasing importance, force, or effectiveness of expression. M16

A2 noun. obsolete. An ascending series or scale. M-L18

A3(a) noun. The highest point reached; a peak of intensity or interest; a culmination. L18

A3(b) noun. The last or highest term of a rhetorical climax. M19

A3(c) noun. Ecology. The final stage in a succession, at which a plant community reaches a state of equilibrium;
a community that has attained this state. Frequently attributive. E20

A3(d) noun. A sexual orgasm. E20

B verb intrans. & trans. Come or bring to a climax. M19

Etymology can paint such marvellous pictures, imbuing words with even deeper shades of meaning and fascination. As it is with climax, which comes from the Greek klimax meaning 'ladder', perfectly portraying the ascending process of climbing toward some culmination, some goal, which is at the very pinnacle of all that came before it. And, as an added point of trivia, climax as a synonym for orgasm has only been used since around 1900, a term encouraged by the scientist and birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes as a more publicly acceptable word than orgasm.
Marie Stopes (1880-1958) working in her lab
Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Climacteric - Sevens Above!

The number 63
The Grand Climacteric
(63 to the layperson)
(photo by Chris)


Adjective & noun. Mid-16th century.
[French climactérique or Latin climactericus, from Greek klimakterikos, from klimakter critical period, from klimax.]

A1(a) adj. Pertaining to or constituting a critical period in human life; critical, fatal. M16

A1(b) adj. MEDICINE. Occuring at or characteristic of a period of life when (male) fertility and sexual activity are in decline;
(in women) menopausal. E19


B noun. A supposedly critical stage in human life, especially occurring at ages that are multiples of seven years;
a critical period, point or epoch. M17

grand climacteric (designating) the 63rd year of life, supposed to be specially critical.

climacter obsolete noun = climacteric. E-M17
climacterical adj. + obsolete noun = climacteric. L16

If you're one for poring over lists of easily confused words, you'll be familiar with the oft muddled adjectives climatic and climactic, the first referring to matters of climate, of course, and the latter relating to climax. If you like these lists, you'll be delighted to know that there's another word, one that such lists often irresponsibility omit - climacteric, which refers to a critical stage in one's life, and specifically to the menopause in women and the andropause in men. Oh, and it's also a synonym for climactic (that's the climax one), just in case it was getting a bit too simple for you. As for climacteric years, these are the ages that are divisible by seven which, because of some astrological mumbo jumbo, have been held as significant since antiquity.

Do you confuse climatic, climactic and climacteric?

Are you in your grand climacteric?

Do please weather the storm and leave your most critical comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

12 Clichés You Should Avoid Like Swine-Flu

A beautiful sunset, which comes at ... ?
(photo by Paul Moody)


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, use as noun of past participle of clicher to stereotype, perhaps of imitative origin.]

1 Historical. A metal stereotype of electrotype block. M19

2 figurative. A stereotyped expression, a hackneyed phrase or opinion;
a stereotyped character, style, etc. L19

clichéd, cliché'd adj. hackneyed, full of clichés E20

A biohazard sign

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague ...

... is a cliché popular in articles about clichés which, although clearly a joke, is such a clichéd joke that it's no longer even remotely funny, which is ironic, because therefore it well illustrates why clichés should be avoided like the proverbial plague. I like Sol Stein's advice: "Say it new or say it straight." Why? Because as Oxford Dictionaries caustically observes, a cliché "betrays a lack of original thought," which really hits the nail on the ... um .. I mean ... it goes without ... no ... uh ... it keeps your powder close and your hatched eggs closer. Or something. I give up. Writing without using clichés is really difficult. Here's a list of twelve clichés that make you sound like a right proper numpty (I was going to write a list of ten, but that in itself seemed like a bit of a cliché):

At the end of the day
A favourite of politicians, footballers and idiots. Don't use it.

To think outside the box
A hackneyed phrase to describe creative thinking that ironically betrays a complete lack of creative thinking.
If you've ever written this on a CV as a personal quality, you've just emphatically demonstrated your complete inability to do so. Nice one.

It is what it is
What else could it be? You are what you are, mate. And do you know what that is?

Touch base
I get uncomfortable when anyone says they want to touch base with me, as it's never clear which number base they want to touch.
I may be mixing my metaphors on this, but it's still stupid, so avoid it like the ... um ... Algarve?

If anyone ever tells you they've been working 24/7, they're lying and you're legally allowed to punch them in the face. In some jurisdictions. I think. Better check your local bylaws before carrying that out.

With all due respect
A pointless preamble to someone saying something really disrespectful, although to be fair it does set you up for a hilarious riposte: "With all due respect, mate, you're a complete moron."

To be fair
Yeah I've stuck this one in because I just found I'd written it in the entry above. Writing without clichés really is difficult.

I'm not being funny but ...
You're right, you're really not being funny.
This is often used as a precursor to saying something racist, bigoted, or otherwise thoroughly objectionable.

Anyone that says this is an idiot. Plain and simple. Dust yourself down and carry on.

You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?
It's overused, it's trite, and it's nauseatingly grotesque. Anyone that says this is cordially invited not to talk to me but to walk to the other side of the room.

Going forward
Politicians are ridiculous.

D'you know what I mean?
This is one of the most pointless, inane and downright insulting clichés in the English language, because it's usually prefaced by an utterly unambiguous (and often fatuous) statement, like "I just thought the film was a bit violent. D'you know what I mean?" Well of course I do; how could I possibly not? At the other end of the measuring tape (cliché cunningly avoided), some say this after not saying anything: "I just thought the film was a bit ... urgh ... d'you know what I mean?" Nope, I don't, and I don't think you do either.
Portrait of William Shakespeare

Note: Why is Shakespeare So Full of Clichés?

Sometimes, when one goes back and reads something a little late in the day, they can be disappointed at how predictable, hackneyed and full of clichés it is. This can happen when someone reads Shakespeare, the Bible, Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austen, or any seminal works or authors. This is because it's often overlooked by cliché haters like myself that, originally, many clichés were actually brilliant. One of my favourites is "to skate on thin ice," a brilliantly clear cautionary metaphor that perfectly illustrates the precariousness of one's folly, though it doubtlessly has become a cliché. Unfortunately, this type of memorable metaphor is so beyond most of us that we just use the old ones, and use them and use them until their source is generally forgotten. When we do finally go back and read the original, we're left with a vague sense of disappointed familiarity.

What clichés really yank your chain?

Are there any you're willing to turn a blind eye to?

Do please turn around and give your comments 110% in the box below.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Cleromancy - Lots of Stupidity

A drawing of a pair of dice
Drawing by Fitzsean


Noun. Now rare. Early 17th century.
[From Greek kleros chance, lot + -MANCY .]

Divination by lots.

Cleromancy is divination by the casting of lots or, more often, the rolling of dice. I rolled a fifteen, which means that a journey to be undertaken will yield profit or pleasure, which is funny, because later I'm going to walk to the local shop and buy a can of ginger beer. How did they know? How did they know?

Seriously: how did they know?

Do please roll out your most clear-sighted comments in the box below.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Clerisy - The Write Class

A digital painting of a man in an office writing a book
The Writer
(art by Joan M. Mas)


Noun. Early 19th century.
[Apparently after German Klerisei, formed as CLERIC.]

A distinct class of learned or literary persons.

I like clerisy, not that I claim for a moment to be a member of it; it's less exclusive than intelligentsia, and less pretentious than literati. It also sounds a little bit like heresy, which gives it a slightly subversive, revolutionary edge. Yup, I like clerisy. Maybe one day I'll be able to be a part of it. It's better than the booboisie anyway.

Are you a member of the clerisy?

Would you like to be?

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

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Clerihew - How Bad Can a Poem Be?

A portrait photo of Edmund Clerihew Bentley
It's his fault. Blame him.


Noun. Early 20th century.
[Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), English writer who devised the form.]

A short witty, comic, or nonsensical verse,
usually in two rhyming couplets with lines of unequal length.

OK ... prepare yourself for a clerihew bomb:

Barack Obama
Likes to kiss like a llama
But with that all's well
So does Michelle.

How was that? Awful, I know. But with clerihews, that's sort of the point. "The humour of the form," notes the Encylopaedia Brittanica"lies in its purposefully flat-footed inadequacy." With the clerihew, clumsy metre, forced rhymes and nonsensical tomfoolery is the order of the day. I think I'll try another:

Queen Liz (that's Elizabeth II)
Gets quite uppity when improperly beckoned
By Charles and Camill when they send her a text
"Do come, mother, we're about to watch The Factor X."

Awful. Just horribly, horribly atrocious (and yet I still have the feeling I'm not quite writing them badly enough). Although setting rules to clerihews is a bit like setting rules to failure, there are a few conventions to stick to if trying to write a bona fide clerihew. These are:
  • A clerihew is four lines long
  • It has a rhyming structure of AABB
  • The first line is a person's name (the subject of the poem)
  • The clerihew says something about that person
  • You don't need to worry about counting syllables or anything boring like that
  • In fact, try and make it awkward and forced
  • It should be funny, or at least make you smile
And in case you think I'm just not very good at writing these gems of literature, here's one by Mr Bentley himself:

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy

Oh my giddy aunt - it's an absolute car crash of a literary form. I just don't think I'm a match for that level of ineptitude.

Can you write a clerihew?

Do please leave your worst, most nonsensical verse in the box below.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Cleavage - An Uplifting History

Bridgette Bardot in a black dress showing cleavage
Actress Bridgette Bardot in 1957


Noun. Early 19th century.
[from CLEAVE verb to split, separate or sever from by dividing or splitting, come apart + -AGE.]

1(a) The action of splitting a crystal or rock along a line of natural fissure;
generally the action of splitting or dividing.
Also, the state of being split, a division;
the manner or direction in which a mineral or rock or generally a party, opinion, etc., tends to split. E19

1(b) BIOLOGY. Cell division; especially of a fertilized egg cell. L19

2 The hollow between a woman's breasts, especially as exposed by a low-cut garment. colloquial. M20

Cleavage is a fascinating word, derived from the Old English cleofan, which itself is the counterpart of the Old Saxon klioban, a cognate of ... oh who am I kidding? It's not in the least bit interesting, coming quite predictably from the verb to cleave. However, as Lexicolatry has already covered boobs, bras, buttocks and bosoms with adolescent enthusiasm, it seems appropriate that I should also peer into the dark recesses of cleavage. And, as it happens, those recesses are jolly interesting, as I'm sure you'll agree.
Note: If you've arrived hoping to learn about the wonders of geological cleavage or, even more exciting, political cleavage and discrete voter blocs, you're going to be disappointed. This post is about boobs.
A vintage French ad for corsets showing various amounts of cleavage

The History of Cleavage

It's fair to say that someone's attitude toward the showing of cleavage is directly influenced by one's place in history, with fashions and conventions variously rising, falling and heaving with regards a woman's bosom. If you lived during the Middle Ages in Europe, you wouldn't have been in the least bit perturbed by the sight of cleavage, either in person or art. Paintings of this period often depict young women with breasts exposed, but usually to signify fertility rather than sexuality. Even during the Elizabethan period, when long dresses and frilly collars had become the norm, cleavage was still fashionable at formal events, even on official portraits of Queen Elizabeth. In our liberal age, modern portraits of Elizabeth II have been considerably more chaste - can you imagine the ruckus if they weren't?

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I showing cleavage
The Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
Isaac Oliver (1556-1617)
This acceptance of the intermammary cleft continued until the Victorian Era, when prudery prevailed and it became the norm for women to cover up all the way to the neck. Other female body parts were also added to the May Cause Scandal list, including ankles, and these attitudes proved persuasively persistent. When John Singer Sargant presented his Portrait of Madame X, with its open depiction of the upper part of the model's chest and one of the shoulder straps from her evening dress loose, it caused such scandal at its reception in Paris in 1884 that he had to leave the city permanently, though only after first trying to mollify the outraged critics by repainting in an upright strap. From a modern, Lady Gaga-era perspective, such fuss seems completely baffling.

A woman in a black evening dress with a small amount of cleavage but her upper chest and neck exposed
The scandalous Portrait of Madame X
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
While such Victorian attitudes persisted well into the 20th century, they slowly relaxed, particularly in the age of cinema, and various icons of culture started to display more cleavage, now associated with sexuality rather than fertility, with some such as Jayne Mansfield became famous for it. While we no longer look down on cleavage in the same way, it still has the enticement to draw considerable comment, such as when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was photographed in eveningwear that displayed ample cleavage, and when a singer like, say, Katy Perry appears anywhere or does anything.

But here's one last and curious fact about cleavage: love it or hate it, be scandalised or titillated by it, it's completely artificial, a construction of fashion and a multi-billion dollar industry that seeks to mould, shape, lift and pull women's breasts into whatever the convention of the day is. In an article for The New York Times, plastic surgeon Gerard H. Pitman dryly notes: "You can't create cleavage unless the breasts are pushed together."

Sophia Loren casts a jealous look in the direction of Jayne Mansfield's cleavage
Sophia Loren eyes Jayne Mansfield's ample décolletage in 1957
Are you a fan of cleavage?

Are you scandalised, horrified or electrified by it?

Do please décollate your comments in the box below.
(and if you enjoyed this article, please share, like and tweet)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Claymore - A Great Sword

The hilt of a replica claymore
Photo by Albion Europe


Noun. Early 18th century.
[from Gaelic claidheamh great + mór sword.]

1(a) Historical. A broadsword used by Scottish Highlanders, either two-edged,
or basket-hilted and single-edged (a form introduced in the 16th century). E18

1(b) A man armed with a claymore. M19

2 In full claymore mine. A type of anti-personnel mine. M20

So claymore means 'great sword' in Gaelic ... raawrgh! It was big, heavy, two-handed, and perfect for lopping off the heads of English gits that strayed into the Highlands. It's also the name of an anti-personnel mine that, despite what years of playing Call of Duty might have taught you, cannot be deployed in under a second by ramming it into the ground in front of you (if you're a woman, pacifist, or you have a job, you probably won't get that reference).

An American soldier carefully placing a claymore anti-personnel mine
Claymores come with handy instructions printed on the case, so even American soldiers can use them
(photo by the National Guard)
Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Claviger - The Keeper of the Keys

A set of old, metal keys on a large metal key ring
Photo by Brenda Clarke


Noun. Obsolete except Historical. Mid-16th century.
[Latin claviger adjective, carrying a key or a club, from clavis key or clava club + -ger.]

A carrier or keeper of a key or keys.

There's something magical about keys - the possibility of adventure, of treasure, of forbidden rooms and locked knowledge, of scandal and secrets that adults and masters would rather be kept hidden away from intrepid young eyes. And if the keys have magic, how much more so the keepers of the keys, the clavigers, who hold in their hands the power and the means to unlock so many doors to so many adventures.

Do please leave any comments below.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Claque - Applause for Thought (and Money)

Hands clapping at a concert
Photo by Neekoh Fi


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, from claquer to clap.]

A hired body of applauders;
transferred a body of sycophantic followers.


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, from claquer (see preceding).]

A member of a claque.

Here's something to think about - the next time you're at the theatre, opera, ballet or comedy club, and the response from the audience is suspiciously enthusiastic, replete with whistles, whoops and we're-not-worthys, consider that there might be a claque at play, and someone is being paid to sit through this and laugh, clap and generally enthuse in all the right places.

Hired approval is nothing new, of course - it's existed at least since the time of the Greeks, and the Roman emperor Nero even established a school of applause which wasn't called The Academy of Claquery but I think it damn well should have been. Where claques really took off, though, was in France in the 19th century, where virtually every opera house was compelled to submit to their services. There were even specialised types of claqueur: the chef de claqueur lead the claque, of course, and commissaires would familiarise themselves with the performances and point out the especially good bits to those around them; rieurs laughed loudly during comedies, chatouilleurs worked to keep the audience in good humour, pleureuses wept during the sad bits, and the bisseurs ensured that there was a call for an encore.

And if you're wondering why a theatre would feel compelled to use claques rather than, say, just ensuring that their performances were good and worthy of applause, they were also capable of turning up at shows and booing performances, either at their own behest or that of a theatre's competitor. That, to me, rather sounds like a protection racket, albeit a dramatic, purple-curtained, thespian protection racket.

Anyway, the next time you're sitting down to your favourite show, or even watching a panel show on TV, be on the lookout for claques. And don't be pressured into applauding just because they are. You have the power.

A trio of North Korean army officers clapping with Kim Jong-un
I'm not sure if this qualifies as a claque - who wouldn't be clapping in this instance?
Are you a claqueur?

Would you like to be?

Do please put your hands together (in a typing motion) and leave your plauditory comments in the box below.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Clairaudience - Super-Hearing

The BFG holding Sophie, a little girl, in the palm of his hand
Roald Dahl's utterly enchanting Big Friendly Giant


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[from French clair clear + AUDIENCE, after CLAIRVOYANCE.]

The supposed faculty of perceiving, as if by hearing, what is inaudible.

clairaudient adj. & noun (a) adj. having the faculty of clairaudience; of the nature of or pertaining to clairaudience; (b) noun a clairaudient person. M19

One of the oft forgotten talents of the BFG is his superhearing, or clairaudience, although Roald Dahl doesn't call it as such in his enchanting book, and as this ability stems from his superlarge ears, it might not even be a supernatural ability at all. Still, the BFG's aural acuity is so keen that he can hear music from far away stars, the screams of flowers as they're picked, the clumpety-clump-clump of ladybirds walking across leaves, and even the chatter of tiny spiders, who the BFG describes as 'the most tremendous natterboxes'. And as for their singing, which a spider always does when spinning its web, the BFG says its singing is 'sweeter than a nightingull', which, considering that the BFG is privy to 'all the secret whisperings of the world', must be very, very sweet indeed.

Are you clairaudient?

Would you like to possess clairaudience?

Do let us hear your most softly typed comments below.  

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Claddagh - The Village & The Ring

A well-worn gold Claddagh ring
A well-worn Claddagh Ring
(photo by Lisa Clarke)


Noun. Early 20th century.
[from Claddagh, a fishing village on the edge of Galway city, Ireland.]

A symbol formed from two hands holding a crowned heart, which represents friendship, love, and loyalty.
Chiefly attributive, designating jewellery bearing the symbol;
Claddagh ring, a ring given traditionally in Ireland as a token of love.

When I first moved to Ireland in 2001, I lived for a time in an area of Galway called the Claddagh, which was once a separate fishing village whose fleet of hookers supplied the city with fish. Although nothing remains of the old village and its thatched cottages since they were demolished in the 1930s, the Claddagh remains one of the most picturesque parts of the city, being within walking distance of the city centre in one direction and the promenade and beaches of Salthill in the other. One of my greatest pleasures while living there was the daily walk to work in the centre, taking in the salty smell of the sea and the views from Claddagh Quay across to Long Walk and Spanish Arch.

While the Claddagh is popular with both locals and tourists, perhaps nothing has made this historic village as famous as the Claddagh Ring, a symbol that can be seen not just throughout Ireland but throughout the world, particularly where there are strong Irish communities. The symbol consists of two hands holding a crowned heart, representing the three elements of friendship (the hands), love (the heart) and loyalty (the crown), sometimes associated with such Irish sayings as 'Let love and friendship reign forever.'

There are various stories about the origins of the Claddagh symbol and the Claddagh Ring, but one man that's often credited with its design is Galwayman Richard Joyce. While on a voyage to the West Indies in 1675, Joyce was captured by pirates and made a slave in Tangiers, where he was compelled to work as a goldsmith's apprentice. When he was finally freed fourteen years later, he returned to Galway and presented a Claddagh Ring to his sweetheart, a ring he had fashioned during his many years away, and which symbolically represented him holding his heart and then giving it to his true love.

While it has been difficult for historians to separate the truth from legend, what is certain is that the Claddagh Ring has existed in Galway since at least the 1700s and Richard Joyce was a successful goldsmith. It is still popular today, often given as a coming-of-age gift from mothers to daughters, or grandmothers to granddaughters. How it is worn is also significant, with the hands and heart facing outwards meaning that the young woman has not yet found love, but with them facing inwards meaning that she is already taken.

A view onto Long Walk, Galway City, on a sunny day
The view from Claddagh Quay across to Long Walk, Galway
(photo by Eoin Gardiner)
Are you from or have you visited the Claddagh?

Do you have a Claddagh Ring?

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Cipher - Code Zero


Noun. Also cypher. Late Middle English.
[Old French cif(f)re (modern chiffre) from medieval Latin cif(e)ra partly through Italian cifra,
obsolete cifera from Arabic sifr. Compare with ZERO noun & adjective. Branch II perhaps a different word.]

Branch I
1(a) An arithmetical symbol, o, of no value by itself,
but used to occupy a vacant place in decimal etc. numeration. LME

1(b) figurative. A person who or thing which fills a place but is of no importance; a nonentity. L16

2(a) A numeral; especially an arabic numeral. LME

2(b) obsolete. A symbolic character; a hieroglyph; an astrological sign. M16-M19

3 A secret or disguised system of writing, a code used in writing;
a message etc. so written; a key to such a system. E16

3(b) In plural. Shorthand. M16-M17

4 An interlacing of letters, especially the initials of a name; a monogram. M16

Branch II
5 A continuous sounding of an organ-pipe owning to a mechanical defect. L18

The name of my secret society
When I was about 8 years old, I was one of the founding members of a (now defunct) secret society consisting of me, my best friend and my dog. The above is an example of the cipher we used to communicate top secret messages and, while it might not have been as sophisticated as, say, the Enigma machine, to the best of my knowledge none of our communications were ever compromised (which is more that can be said of the ... pff ... Enigma machine).

There's a free Lexicolatry t-shirt to the first person that can tell me the name of my secret society.
(if, y'know, you have loads of time on your hands or are familiar with the code)

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

Friday, 16 May 2014

-Cide - A Killer Suffix



[Sense 1 from French -cide from Latin -cida, sense 2 from French -cide from Latin -cidium cutting, kitting, from both cardere, -cidere cut, kill.]

1 Forming (usually with intermediate -i-) noun with the sense 'a person or substance that kills', as fratricide, insecticide, etc.

2 Forming (usually with intermediate -i-) nouns of action with the sense 'the killing of (the first element)', as suicide, etc.

If death is an unpleasant subject, how much more so is killing and destruction? And yet, as humans, we have both a proclivity for and fascination with it, as reflected in the vast array of killer -cide words. While I must admit to a perverse pleasure in a list, it does offer a rather depressing window into the human condition, as language so often does. There are, for example, numerous words for the killing of women and children, but very few for the killing of men specifically (fratricide, patricide and, rather obliquely, regicide). In terms of groups of people, however, the most represented by far is the family, an indicator of the axiom that we are, horrifically, most at risk from our blood and kin.

And then there are the fanciful, curious and downright bizarre. Not appearing in the Shorter OED, these include hospiticide, which is the killing of a host or guest who may or may not have been a friend, in which case it would also be ambicide (and if he was your best friend it would also be nepoticide, which is the killing of one's favourite). If you kill a prophet, that's vaticide, and if, in doing so, you also destroy his reputation that's famacide (although the killing of prophets usually does wonders for their rep); if said prophet were the last receptacle of a dying language, you would also have committed linguicide in definitely destroying said language. Oh, and if you need another word for killing your wife, there's utricide, and if you really are a megalomaniac nutter that wants to just destroy everything, that would be omnicide. Boom!

If, however, you're the selective sort that only wants bona fide, confirmed and contemporary expressions of killing, below is a list of -cide words that are in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, so you can use them freely without fear of correction or strange looks:

Killer -Cide Words from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

The killing of trees

The killing of birds

The killing of bacteria

The destruction of life

The killing of God or gods

The destruction of the environment

The killing of a bishop

The killing of cats

The killing of women

The killing of a foetus

The killing of a foetus

The killing of a son or daughter

The killing of a brother

The killing of fungus

The killing of a race

The killings of germs

The killing of giants

The killing of plants

The killing of another human

The killing of an infant

The killing of insects

The killing of larva

The killing or destruction of liberty

The killing of one's mother

The destruction of one's mind

The killing of molluscs

The destruction of eggs

The killing of parasites

Apparent attempted suicide without the intention of killing oneself

The killing of a close relative

The killing of a close relative

The killing of one's father

The killing of partridges

The killing of pests

The killing of rats

The killing of a king

The killing of rats

The killing of the elderly

The killing of snakes

The killing of a sibling
(specifically, when a young bird kills a fellow nestling)

That which kills trees

The killing of one's sister

That which kills sperm

The killing of oneself

The killing of tapeworms

The killing of bulls

The killing of trypanosome parasites

The killing of a tyrant

The destruction of a city
(specifically, the destruction of the character of a city)

The killing of one's wife

The killing of a word
(specifically, the destruction of the meaning of a word)

The destruction of a virus

The destruction of a virus

The killing of foxes

Phew! That was a lot of killing.

Do you know any other -cide words?
(because we really need some more)

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Ciao - Venetian Slaves & Friendly Waves


Interjection. Colloquial. Early 20th century.
[Italian dialectical alteration of schiavo (I am your) slave, from medieval Latin sclavus slave.]

Hello; goodbye.

Ciao! It’s one of the best-known greetings in the world, and I thought it would be a great way to introduce myself to the Lexicolatry community. But first, let’s explore ciao - besides being an interchangeable hello and goodbye, like the Hawaiian aloha, ciao has an interesting etymology.

With a little digging, I found the origin of ciao is from the Venetian dialect word ‘s-ciavo’ used in the phrase “sono vostro schiavo” which literally means “I am your slave.” The Venetian word comes from the Latin ‘sclavus’ (slave) which in turn is used to identify Slavic people. In the 1400s, Venice ruled most of the world’s commerce and as a result a majority of their slaves were Slavic.

Naturally the racial and social connotations have long been lost, and today ciao is an informal greeting or parting word in many languages. However, when speaking Italian, unless you know someone already, or they say ‘ciao’ first, it’s better to use a more formal greeting like ‘salve’.

What’s your favorite way to say hello?

What’s your favorite way to say goodbye?

What language is it in?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you, Jessica, for you first posting on Lexi. Jessica currently works for Noodle, whose mission it is to help people made better decisions in education. She is a graduate of Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, and outside of work enjoys reading, sci-fi nerdery and exploring the interwebs. Oh, and she's also an awesome rock climber. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jkfinger. Cheers! Ed