Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cryonics - Death & The Deep Freeze

A cryogenically frozen man
(note: not an accurate representation of someone cryonically frozen)
(photo by


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Contraction of CRYOGENICS.]

The practice or technique of deep-freezing the bodies of those who have died of an incurable disease,
in the hope that some cure for it will be discovered in the future.

cryonic adj. M20
cryonically adv. M20
cryonicist noun M20

For those with more ego than sense (as well as ice-bucketloads of cash), cryonics offers the chance to cheat death. For a mere $100,000 or so, you can be pumped full of cryoprotective chemicals and frozen immediately after death. Then, when those clever science boffins have figured out a cure for whatever it was that killed you, you can be gently thawed out, cured of whatever it was that ailed you, and returned to the realm of the warm and living. Brilliant, right? Oh, except for one small flaw - it's all a complete load of twaddle.

The obvious flaw in this otherwise brilliant plan is that people die from curable diseases now, but cryonics doesn't offer them a second chance. To cite one of my favourite examples, consider an advocate of breatharianism, who believes that humans can survive on just the nutrients supplied through breathing (with a bit of sunshine and meditation thrown in). Unsurprisingly, people have starved themselves to death practising this waffle, even though the cure for starvation has been known since ... well ... forever. But would cryonics save a breatharian that had starved himself to death? Not on your nelly.

"Oh," cries the cryonicist, "but this is an as yet undeveloped technology. While it may seem to be the realm of science fiction now, who knows what advances will have been made in 100, 500 or even 1000 years? Perhaps then we really will have the technology to bring the cryonically interred back to life."

If you really believe that, if it really gives you some comfort in the cold face of death, then fair enough. But do you really believe that? Is it really likely that, 500 years from now, anyone is going to give two hoots about thawing you out and bringing you back to life? I mean, if you're Shakespeare or da Vinci or Scarlett Johansson, sure, perhaps someone will. But maybe it's more likely that in 500 years time no one is going to give a flying banana about some contract you signed at the turn of the millennium with a company that probably no longer exists and has neglected to pay their electricity bills for the past three centuries. And, personally, I can't help but think there's some enormous ego issues here - thinking that the universe of the future is definitely going to need me there. And saying to your family: "Look, I know this $100,000 would be really useful to you when I'm gone, but these clever-looking guys in white coats reckon they can freeze my head and bring me back to life in the future. And, y'know, if you can scrape together some cash when I'm gone, maybe you can get it done too. And I'll see you on the other side. Or not. Either way is fine."

For more information, visit I'll let you decide if you're happy to leave your eternal future in the hands of these professionals.

Put off by the high costs, some have resorted to DIY cryonics with mixed results.

Have you arranged to be crionically frozen?

Would you like to be crionically frozen?

Do please leave your coldest comments in the ice-box below.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Cryo - Cold Words

Photo by Robert Fornal


Combining form. Also (occasionally) kryo-.
[from Greek kruos frost, icy cold.]

Used in science with the sense 'of, involving, or producing very low temperatures'.

There's a multitude of cryo- words in English. Some are unique and interesting, like a snowflake, and some are mind-freezingly dull, like Dancing on Ice (that's a wickedly prejudicial presumption, as I've never seen Dancing on Ice, and I never will). As it would take too long to list all of the cryo- words in the OED, here are some of the most interesting ones:

Noun M20
The biology of organisms, tissues, etc., cooled to temperatures below those at which they normally function.

Noun L19
A substance used to induce very low temperatures; a freezing mixture.

Noun. M20
The practice or technique of deep-freezing the bodies of those who have died of an incurable disease, in the hope that some cure for it will be discovered in the future. 

Noun L20
The cooling of living matter to below the freezing point of water in order to preserve its life.

Noun M20
An ultra-cooled probe employed in cryosurgery. 

Noun M20
Protection against damage caused by freezing temperatures.

Noun M20
The permanently frozen part of the earth's surface.

Noun M20
Surgery using local application of intense cold usually in order to freeze and destroy unwanted tissue.

Noun M20
The use of extreme cold in the treatment of disease. 

An ice cube
An ice cube. And a superfluous caption. Yup.
(photo by Pierre Rennes)
Hmm. Actually, now that I look back over the list, these words are incorrigibly dull (with maybe the exception of cryonics, which will get its own post, and cryoprobe, which raises a childish smirk). Still, to committed lexophiles, cryo- remains a most useful prefix, and therefore may I suggest a couple of additions to the cryo- words:

Noun. E21
A genre of practical humour that involves the application of cold substances to a warm body.
Examples include dropping ice cubes down someone's shirt, pushing them into the Irish sea,
and throwing a cup of cold water over someone while they're having a hot shower.
Extreme forms of cryohumour may include a cryoprobe.
Care should be taken not to confuse cryohumerus with cryohumour.

Noun. E21
A 'cold shoulder', a snub, a rebuff, especially when one's only recourse is retaliatory pretension: "How dare you give me the cryohumerous, young man!"
Care should be taken not to confuse cryohumour with cryohumerus.

Noun. E21
Cowardice; an instance of or tendency to have 'cold feet'.
This word is especially useful when trying to justify your craven cowardice as some kind of medical condition:
"I'm sorry I ran off during your mugging, darling, but you know how cryopedalic I am."

Do you have any favourite cryo- words?

Do you have any suggestions for cryo- words that aren't but should be?

Do please chill and leave your iciest comments in the cool box below.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Crusade - In the Name of the Cross


Noun. Also (earlier) croisade, crusado, (earliest, in sense 1 & 2) cruciat, & other variations.
Also (especially in sense 1) capitalised as Crusade. Late Middle English.
[in early use from mediveal Latin cruciata, from Latin cruc-, crux cross;
late (16) party from French croisade alteration of croisée (from crois CROSS noun)
by assimilation to Spanish, partly from Spanish cruzada (from cruz CROSS noun).]

1 A war or expedition instigated by the Church for alleged religious ends;
(Historicalspecifically any of several Christian military expeditions made in the 11th, 12th,
and 13th centuries to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims (frequently in plural). LME

2 obsolete. A papal bull authorising a crusade. LME-L18

3 Historical. In the Spanish kingdoms, a levy of money, originally intended to finance expeditions against the Moors,
afterwards diverted to other purposes. L16

4 obsolete. The symbol of the cross, the badge word by crusaders. E17-E18

5 A vigorous movement or enterprise against poverty or a similar social evil;
a personal campaign undertaken for a particular cause. L18

Two crusaders, dressed for battle, their garb emblazoned with crosses
(image from Wikipedia)
In 2001, George W. Bush famously called the War on Terror a 'crusade', language that caused European leaders to collectively cringe considering the Muslim theatres in which this war was set to be conducted. Fair enough; perhaps nothing more than an unfortunate choice of words in an unscripted moment (though the man does have a B.A in History from Yale, so it's hard to be too forgiving on this).

The reason Bush's choice of words caused such alarm is that it recalls The Crusades, the Church-sponsored campaigns to wrest control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims. More pragmatically, these were bloody, brutal campaigns that dragged on for hundreds of years and ultimately failed in their stated mission. Doubtless, the very notion of the Crusades is exactly the type of war that most nations prosecuting this War on Terror would want to avoid - a clash of two civilisations, with religion at its root.

The etymology of crusade belies the religious calling, ultimately originating with the Latin cruciare, 'to mark with a cross', though this is a relatively modern term, first used in the 18th century. Participants in the Crusades never referred to themselves as such, although their appellations were still overtly religious, calling themselves things like The Knights of Christ, The Faithful of St Peter, etc.

Today, crusade has generally lost its Christian, religious and crucifix-centred overtones. It does, however, still carry an overzealous and fanatical tone: "Many considered the government's crusade against welfare fraud to be misplaced." Due to this shade of unreasonable fanaticism, and the word's bloody, historical associations, crusade is probably a term one should use with care. But then, if Bush really did believe he was on a mission from God, maybe his choice of words was wholly appropriate.

A defeated Guy de Lusignan presents his sword to Saladin
Saladin accepting the surrender of Guy de Lusignan after the Battle of Hattin in 1187
Said Tahsine (1904-1985)
Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Monday, 28 July 2014

A Lovely Bit of Crumpet

Two crumpets, dripping with butter, with a cup of tea in the background
(photo by Gin Soak)


Noun. Late 17th century.
[origin uncertain: perhaps connected with crumb CRUM verb.]

1 obsolete. A thin griddle-cake. L17-M19

2 A soft cake made with flour and yeast and cooked on a griddle or other hot surface,
now usually of a type intended for toasting and eating with butter etc. M18

3 The head. Especially in barmy in the crumpet, barmy on the crumpet, wrong in the head, mad. slang. L19

4 old crumpet: used as a familiar form of address. slang. E20

5 A sexually attractive woman; women collectively; sexual intercourse with a woman. slang. Frequently considered offensive. M20

bit of crumpet, piece of crumpet a (desirable) woman.

Many years ago, while visiting friends abroad, they proudly announced on my arrival that they had stocked up on tea and crumpets. "Marvellous!" I beamed. "How jolly thoughtful of you!" But, alas, their bemused expressions belied the joke, akin to telling a Frenchman you had stocked up on baguettes and wine, or a Mexican on tortillas and guacamole. I was, it seemed, a stereotype, and it was a source of much amusement to them that I, as an Englishman, did actually drink lots of tea and enjoy a good crumpet.
(photo by Ben Ward)
The origin of the word crumpet is a bit of a mystery, although there are theories, including that it developed from the Old English crompid, meaning 'a curled up cake'. As a food, they've been around for at least a couple of hundred years, and have come to represent the very essence of English life. And if crumpets themselves are a mystery to you, you must ... you just must ... get your hands on a lovely bit o' crumpet. With each thick bite, delectably chewy and dripping with butter, you will be transported to a different time on a different plane, where childhood comforts and heavenly deliciousness reign. Oh my. I feel all funny inside. I'm happy to be a stereotype. I'm off to find myself a lovely bit of crumpet right now ...

Are you a fellow crumpeteer?

How do you like yours?

Butter, jam, Marmite, or something more exotic?

Do please trumpet for crumpets in the comment box below.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Cruciverbalist - An Enthusiast of Crosswords & Pretension


Noun. Late 20th century.
[from Latin crucis, crux cross + verbum word.]

An enthusiast for crossword puzzles;
a compiler or solver of crossword puzzles.

Cruciverbalist - a cool (if pretentious) word. If you want some crossword trivia, you might like to know that they're of relatively recent design, the British journalist Arthur Wynn usually credited with their invention in 1913 (although they've existed in elementary form since the 19th century). Anyway, whether you're a crucificionado of The New York Times' monster or The Sun's tea break quickie, here's a Lexicolatry-themed crossword for you to complete if you so desire (and do note how thoughtfully simple I've kept this post in order to facilitate easy printing of the page).

1 A medium-sized insectivore with a protruding nasal implement
6 Romanian currency (plural)
7 The 17th letter of the English alphabet
8 Black gold
10 Neanderthal speak, perhaps
12 This article just ain't definite
14 A balneomaniac binges on these
15 A snake fixation

1 Malay madness
2 Poe's corvid
3 A contrary greeting
4 I write [pertaining to] such-and-such ...
5 Thou shalt not do this
9 That's just what I was thinking!
11 Bitrex is added to the shower variety
12 Better take a brake from working on those, pretty boy
13 Talking about a snake again?

Do please verbalise your comments in the box below.
(and the answers too if you choose)

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Crucial - At a Crossroads

A knight on horseback ponders a crucial choice
"If you ride to the left, you will lose your horse; if you ride to the right, you will lose your head."
A Knight at the Crossroads by Victor M. Vasnetsov (1848-1926)


Adjective. Early 18th century.
[French, from Latin cruc-, crux cross: see -IAL. In sense 2 from instantia crucis (Bacon) crucial instance.]

1 Chiefly ANATOMY. Of the form of a cross, cruciate. Now rare. E18

2(a) That finally decides between hypotheses;
relating of leading to decision between hypotheses;
decisive; critical;
colloquial. very important. M19

2(b) Excellent. slang. L20

Don't be cross: crucial is a word we're all probably guilty of misusing, steadily diluting its meaning from 'decisive, critical', to merely 'very important'. Its earliest use was in the sense of cross-shaped, primarily in anatomical descriptions such as cruciate ligaments. Its development into that which is decisive came from the logical term instantia crucis, meaning crucial instance, being an experiment so designed as to disprove all other hypotheses (though not necessarily proving the experimenter's hypothesis). Seemingly, this draws on the metaphor of standing at a crossroads, where one can go this way or that, and the outcome to that decision will, critically, be decisive.

Do please leave your crossest comments in the comment box below.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Crowds - Collectively Rubbish

Well at least there are no crowd surfers
(photo by David Martyn Hunt)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[from CROWD verb Old English crudan corresponding to Middle Low German, Middle Dutch kruden (Dutch kruien push in a wheelbarrow).]

1(a) A number of people gathered together so as to press upon or impede each other;
any large group of people in one place, especially an audience, a mass of spectators. M16

1(b) A group of actors representing a crowd. L19

2 singular & in plural. A large number of people or things considered collectively. E17

3 The multitude; the masses. L17

4 A set of associates; a set, a lot. colloquial. M19

I don't like crowds very much. They're hot, smelly and uncomfortable. And the definition spells it out - by its dictionary definition, a crowd is something that impedes you. Who in their right mind enjoys being impeded? And another thing: being very tall, I have a tendency to get kicked in the back of the head by crowd surfers at concerts. Really, crowds suck. And now that I've written out the reasons why crowds suck, why does anyone ever have to say they don't like crowds? Crowds are rubbish. No one should like them. And if you do you're a weirdo that probably likes kicking tall people in the back of the head.

The etymology of crowd is (kind of) interesting - it comes from Old English crudan, meaning 'to press, to push'. This, however, is also related to the Dutch verb kruien, which means 'to push in a wheelbarrow'. And when you think about it, that's exactly it. If you really need to get somewhere while pushing a wheelbarrow ... and we're talking really need to get somewhere ... like it's a wheelbarrowful of the Queen's knickers or something ... the last thing you'd want to do would be to try and push through a crowd. With a wheelbarrow. That'd just be nuts. Really, crowds suck. And it's high time they were abolished.

A red wheelbarrow
Do please leave a multitude of comments in the box below.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Crows - The Master Bird-Brains

A New Caledonian Crow
John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912)


Noun & adjective. Also (Scots. & north.) craw.
[Old English crawe corresponding to Old Saxon kraia (Dutch kraai),
Old High German krawa, kraja, kra (German Krähe),
from West Germanic base of CROW verb.]

Branch I Noun
A1(a) Any of various large, mostly glossy black passerine birds of the genus Corvus (family Corvidae),
e.g. a rook, raven, or jackdaw; especially:

(a) (more fully carrion crow) a uniformly black bird, Corvus corone, of western Europe and parts of Asia;

(b) (more fully hooded crow) a subspecies of Corvus corone having a grey mantle and underparts,
found in northern and eastern Europe and parts of Asia;

(c) (more fully American crow) the common crow of N.America, Corvus brachyrhynchos.

Also, any bird of the family Corvidae (e.g. a magpie, chough, or jay), especially a large black one. OE

A1(b) (Usually capitalised Crow.) The constellation Corvus. M17

A2 An iron bar with a curved, usually beaklike, end for use as a lever. Now usually crowbar. LME

A3 A grappling hook. obsolete except Historical. M16

A4 A kind of door-knocker. obsolete except Historical. L16

A5 A person who pitches sheaves to a stacker. New Zealand colloquial. L19

A6 A girl or woman, especially one who is old or ugly. Also old crow. slang. E20

Branch II
7 (Capitalised Crow.) Plural crows, same. A member of a N.American Indian people formerly occupying
a region south of the Yellowstone river, Montana, and subsequently a reservation in that State;
the Siouan language of this people. E19

B1 adj. mining. Of ore, rock, etc.; or poor or impure quality. Scot. & north. L18

B2 adj. (Capitalised Crow.) Of or pertaining to the Crows or their language. E19

The Mariana Crow
(from Wikipedia)


Verb intransitive. Also (Scots. & north) craw. Past tense crowed, (especially sense 1) crew.
[Old English crawan, corresponding to Old High German kraen (German krahen), from West Germanic verb of imitative origin.]

1 Of a cock: utter its characteristic loud shrill cry. OE

2 Express gleeful triumph; exult loudly or prominently (over);
swagger, boast. LME

3 Give an inarticulate joyful cry. L16

Crows. The poor things. No one likes them. The crow is the outcast of ornithologica, the anathema of avians, the veritable pariah of the perch. Virtually everything their name is attached to in our language is bad, ugly, impure and nasty. An old crow, for example, is an ugly old crone; in North American English, to eat crow is the equivalent of eating humble pie. And then there's the verb, to crow, to exultantly boast over something in the most egregious and contemptible manner. That crows should inhabit this dark space in our language is hardly surprising considering the general contempt we hold for them. To most humans, crows are variously considered ugly, pests, sinister, malevolent, dirty and (for some) downright frightening. Poor crows indeed; it really does seem that nobody likes them. Perhaps, however, we humans should change our tone a little and give the much maligned crow a little more respect; for, when one takes the time to examine them a little closer, they really are the most remarkable creatures indeed.

For one thing, crows are stupendously intelligent, certainly in the top tier of avian intellect, but easily on a par with many of the smartest primates. For example, crows are capable of using tools, such as the New Caledonian Crow which uses long twigs to reach grubs buried in tree trunks. Tool use was once considered the sole domain of humans, but it's now known that a number of species are capable of this level of superior cognition. Crows, however, take tool use a stage further, and have not only been observed using tools, but fashioning tools as well. This cognitive leap is remarkable, for it means that a crow is capable of looking at a functionally useless object, but seeing in it potential by means of some modification, thus making crows the MacGyveresque bricoleurs of the bird world.

Hooded Crows are a common sight in Ireland
(photo by S.Merikal)
Another aspect of a crow's intellect is its exceptional memory. A crow can, for example, recognise and remember faces. Human faces. "Oh sure," you're thinking, "big deal. I can remember faces! What's so great about that?" Well of course you can remember faces, birdbrain - you're a human. But can you look at a murder of crows and differentiate, let alone remember, the crows' faces? No? But you're not a crow, you say? And differentiating and remembering the faces of a different species is something you can't do? Fair enough. And yet the crow can perform this cross-special feat. Sorry humanity, but on this the crows have one over on us. Remember that the next time you step into your garden to shoo away the crow that's nibbling at your flower beds - it's clocked (and remembered) your face.

(Just a side note, for Lexicolatry isn't the place to be casting moral judgments on any creature's sexual behaviour, but crows are monogamous, often sticking with their mates unto death. Yup, they may be famously promiscuous eaters, but when it comes to gettin' it on corvy style, crows are at the prim end of proper.)

And finally, as if you needed any more convincing of the Hitchcockian guile of these bird-brained wonders, crows are capable of learning, adapting and improvising to an almost absurd degree, even showing a propensity for using human environments in their cunning. In Japan, crows have been observed carrying nuts that are too tough to crack to roads and dropping them so that they'll broken open by cars running over them. A brilliant idea, right? But the ever-present risk of being run over when they fly down to eat got those wily crows thinking. And observing. And planning. So, the crows started to do this by pedestrian crossings, waiting until the lights went red before flying down to enjoy their safe nutty niblets. Flippin' heck! Did you read what I just typed? The crows are using us! The crows are using us.

Without hyperbole, it is clear that our time on this Earth is running out. Soon they will rule; soon the crows will be in charge of the sky and the land (and, at a later stage, the sea). Perhaps they already are. Wind resistance is futile; the beak will inherit the Earth. All we can do is show the crows a tad more respect than we have been and prepare ourselves for submission to our winged overlords. And I, for one, will welcome them.

A silhouette of birds in flight

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

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Crotch - Why Oh Y For Fork's Sake?

A lifeguard's crotch in red shorts
A photo of me at the beach. I've edited out my face to protect my identity. And credited the photo to someone else. But it's definitely me.
(photo by Hotlanta Voyeur)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Perhaps ultimately related to Old French croche crosier, CROOK noun, but partly variant of CRUTCH noun.]

1 obsolete. A fork used in agriculture or in the garden. M-L16

2 obsolete. = CRUTCH noun. M-L16

3 A support in the form of a stake or rod with a forked end. L16

4 A fork of a tree or bough. L16

5 The place where the legs join the trunk (of the human body or a garment). L16

6 A fork of a river or road. Chiefly US. L17

7 Nautical. = CRUTCH noun. M18

Crotch is an inherently ugly word, a bit like groin and moist. However, crotch really just means something Y-shaped or forked.

That's a bit better now, isn't it? Now we can all use crotch without grimacing, right? Yeah. Maybe not.

Y-fronts - that's another ugly word ... 

A road name sign for 'Crotch Crescent'
Would you, could you, should you live on a road called this?
Leave a comment before you split and we'll disgusset.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What Is the Origin of 'To Come a Cropper'?

A small car half submerged in a pond
Car pooling ... it's not always good for the environment
(photo by Esther Simpson)


Noun. Colloquial. Mid-19th century.
[perhaps from neck and crop.]

A heavy fall;
figuratively a severe misfortune, personal failure, etc.

come a cropper fall heavily; be ruined, suffer sudden misfortune.

If you've ever been told by an English speaker that so-and-so came a cropper, then you may justly have wondered at the origins of this bizarre idiom. And if you asked the aforementioned English speaker, you were likely given a blank look, for very few of us know. So, this is it: what is the origin of coming a cropper?

The short, frustratingly unsatisfactory answer is that it's not known for sure. Indeed, investigation quickly leads to the similarly abstruse English idiom from which it perhaps originated: neck and crop. The difference between coming a cropper and neck and crop, however, it that very few English speakers use neck and crop anymore. However, as it's perhaps the origin of our target phrase, what does it mean and what is its origin?

For something to happen neck and crop means for it to happen completely, perhaps violently. So, for example, if a team was beaten neck and crop, they were (to use other expressions) soundly thrashed, given a hiding, a drubbing, etc, etc. It's total, complete, and rather ignominious. This is what neck and crop means, but where is it from?

Oh dear, for now we've come a cropper in our investigations because, again, no one knows for certain. However, there are theories, the most likely being that this is horse riding term, with crop being a variation of croup, the rump of a horse. Therefore, if a horse fell neck and crop, it (somehow) managed to land on both its neck and hindquarters at the same time. This, as any self-respecting horse will tell you, is not a dignified position for a mount, and to illustrate the ignominy of falling neck and crop, I have included a video of a hapless Irishman coming a cropper on the national news. Pre-shame on you for sniggering ...

No horses were harmed in the making of this video

Have you ever come a cropper?

Do please stick your neck out and leave a comment in the box below.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Croodle - Crouching as for Warmth

A Native American croodling by a campfire
Crouching Indian by a Fire
E. Irving Couse (1866-1936)


Verb intransitive. dialectical. Late 18th century.
[Origin unknown.]

Crouch down;
draw oneself together, as for warmth;
cling close to a person.

This is a delightful word, possibly of Ulster-Scots origin, listed in other references as also meaning 'to coo' and 'to hug'.

If you use croodle (or are henceforth going to use croodle), do please leave your warmest comments below.

I want to know more about this word and its use.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Crony - A Timely Etymology


Noun & verb. Also obsolete chrony. Mid-17th century.
[from Greek khronios long-lasting, long-continued, from khronos time.
Originally university salgn, the Greek word being perverted to the sense 'contemporary'.]

A noun. An intimate friend or associate. M17

B verb intrans. Associate (with) as a crony. M17

cronyism noun friendship, fondness for the company of cronies;
US the appointment of friends to political posts without due regard to their qualifications. M19

Oh those Cambridge nitwits! How Oxonians chortle at the catechrestical origins of crony, being Cambridge University slang for a 'friend, associate'. It's derived from a preposterously pretentious corruption of the Greek khronios, meaning 'long-lasting'. Had it not originated in the 1600s, one could almost hear the vapid undergrads' attempts at sounding simultaneously hip and sophisticated: "Sup, crony?" "Hey crony, sup?" Such oikery! I bet those chunder-headed Cambridge chumps chronically misuse chronic too. At least the Oxford equivalent chum, while lacking the faux-Greco-pretention, makes a modicum of etymological sense. And, let us collectively note, it hasn't descended into the pejorative, which crony undoubtedly has. Crony indeed! Too bad, Cambridge mortar-munchers! You're fooling no one.

The Ohio Gang. I don't know who these guys are, but they look like cronies.
(image from Wikipedia)
Are you a crony, a Cambridge crony, or a cravenly croodling champion of Cambridge cronyism?

Do please leave your most chattering comments in the crony box below.
(Pff. Cambridge, eh?)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Crone - What a Carrion!

A silhouette of an old crone
Image from Wikipedia


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Probably Middle Dutch croonje, caroonje carcass, old ewe from Old Northern French caroigne (modern French charogne) carrion, cantankerous or mischievous woman.
Sense 1 perhaps directly from Old Northern French.]

1(a) A withered old woman. LME

1(b) A worn-out old man. rare. M17

2 An old ewe. Also crone sheep. M16

Need to insult an elderly woman? Need a word that encapsulates both her withered physical state and proximity to death? Then you need crone, which is derived from the Old French for carrion, which the OED defines as 'dead putrefying flesh', making crone both a metaphorical smackdown and horribly insulting to the requisite degree. And ... also ... shame on you. No, really, shame on you indeed.

Do please leave your most gerontophobic comments in the box below.
(though, seriously, please: no gerontophobia here)

Friday, 18 July 2014

Critics - A Short Essay By Author Sally Prue

A girl holding a cup with 'Critic' written on it
Photo by Lis Ferla


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Latin criticus from Greek kritikos, use as noun of adjective from krites judge.]

1 A person who pronounces judgement; especially a censurer. L16

2 A judge or writer on the qualities of literary or artistic works;
a professional reviewer of books, musical or dramatic performances, etc;
a person skilled in textual criticism. E17


Eddie has offered me this chance to let off steam on the subject of critics. I suspect he sees it as a matter of public safety, fearing otherwise an explosion of Krakatoa-like proportions which might wipe out the entire population of the Northern Hemisphere.

That is plainly ludicrous (I doubt if I could manage anything much more violent than Vesuvius) but I'm afraid I do have to plead guity to having got a little impatient with critics from time to time. That instance where three reviews in a row referred to a character who didn’t actually appear in the book was a case in point; as, now I come to think about it, was the review that said one of my books was set off the coast of Australia when it wasn’t set off the coast of anywhere; and then there was that time when someone said that one book, Goldkeeper (‘I think Sally Prue should give up writing…’) was a new version of Peter Pan when a book MORE TOTALLY UNLIKE PETER PAN IS HARDLY TO BE FOUND ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH (NO TRAVELLING TO ANOTHER WORLD! NO IMMORTAL BOY!! NO FAIRIES!!! AND NOT A SINGLE FLIPPING EXAMPLE OF FLYING!!!!)…

…but anyway. Me, angry?

Not a bit. Not today, anyway. Not when a group of beautiful, intelligent child critics, together with a panel of adult critics from The Historical Association, has just given a Young Quills Award for best historical novel to my book Song Hunter (‘a great read despite its deeply complex subject matter…I found myself very wrapped up in the story…and I finished it with a lump in my throat’).


I love’em.

Hmmm…perhaps that’s going a bit far. I love the Young Quills critics. Apart from having exquisite taste and minds ready to embrace an unfamiliar setting, they, being children (for whom the book was written) and historians (who know about life 40,000 years ago) are in their own ways experts, aren’t they?

For, as the glorious PG Wodehouse points out in his golf story collection The Heart of a Goof, ‘a writer…is certainly entitled to be judged by his peers…and I think I am justified in asking of editors that they instruct critics of this book to append their handicaps in brackets at the end of their remarks. By this means…the sting of such critiques as ‘We laughed heartily while reading these stories – once – at a misprint’ will be sensibly diminished by the figure (36)  at the bottom of the paragraph. While my elation will be all the greater should the words ‘A genuine masterpiece’ be followed by a simple (scr.)’.

So there we are.

A good critic knows what he’s talking about, has an open mind, and has read the book.

Ideally, (and surely I may dream, even though the world is such a sad imperfect place) a critic also shouldn’t be having an affair with, or be employed by, the artist or his publishers.

Or, come to think about it, their rivals, either.

PG Wodehouse in 1904

Do please leave your most critically-acclaimed comments in the box below.

Thank you for a wonderfully ranty post, Sally, and a huge Lexicolatrical congratulations on winning the Young Quills Award for Historical Fiction with your latest book Song Hunter. And yes I have read it, yes it is a worthy winner, no it's not set off the coast of Australia, and yes I enjoyed it very much, as did (from the various reviews I've read) those curmudgeonly critics. Ed 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Criss-Cross - A Christly Etymology

Criss-crossed palm leaves
(photo by Neeraj Elkunchwar)


Noun, adjective, & adverb. Also crisscross. Early 17th century.
[Reduced from CHRIST-CROSS, latterly treated as reduplication of CROSS noun.]

A1 noun. CHRIST-CROSS. Now archaic & dialectical except Historical. E17

A2 noun. A crossing of lines, currents, etc; a network of crossing lines. L19

A3 noun. The state of being at cross purposes. E20

B adj. In crossing lines; marked by crossings or intersections. M19

C adv. Crosswise; at cross purposes. L19

Here's an everyday word whose origin might surprise you: criss-cross, which comes from Christ's cross. Its origin is in the convention of putting the mark of a cross before the first letter of the alphabet in children's hornbooks. This mark was called Christ's cross, and eventually the 'Christ' part was treated as a reduplication of 'cross' and the pronunciation of Christ changed to criss, just as happened with Christmas. However, unlike Christmas, the spelling of criss-cross evolved to reflect this change in pronunciation. 

A hornbook showing Christ's cross, the alphabet, and the Lord's prayer
An abecedarian's hornbook, showing the Christ's cross top left
(photo by Chris Devers)
Do please leave your crossest comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Criminogenic - In the Name of the Phwoar

Megan Simmons
Guilty of nothing more than stealing my heart ... (and DUI)


Adjective. Early 20th century.
[from CRIMIN(AL) + -O- + -GENIC.]

Causing crime or criminal behaviour.

Some people just rock the jumpsuit. And no, if you wanna get all technical, that's not really what criminogenic means but ... ugh ... c'mon! Its meaning is boring. How much better is it to describe those people that somehow transform into burglarious beauties when they don the orange threads? Take Megan Simmons, for breathtaking example, arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence, whose sultrily sinful mugshot has arrested an entire generation of internet loners ever since. There's also some blackguardly beau called Jeremy Meeks, whose criminally-chiselled charm ... oh forget it ... I can't write about him right now. I'm too busy gazing wistfully into Simmons' sizzlingly criminogenic eyes ... sigh ...

Jeremy Meeks
He's alright, I guess
Do please leave your most charged comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Crick - A Mysterious Pain in the Neck


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Origin unknown.]

A sudden painful stiffness of the muscles in the neck, back, etc.

The origin of the word crick is a mystery, which is fitting because, when one has a crick, the origin is usually a mystery as well. Common suspects including sleeping awkwardly, using a computer for a long time and (if you're over 35) draughts on the neck. Yeah, I'm at that age where I'm starting to notice draughts ...

For many in the UK and Ireland, there's no mystery to that crick in the neck

Do please stick your neck out and leave a comment in the box below.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Crevasse & Crevice - What's the difference?

A snowy mountain scene with a warning sign for crevasses
Photo by Yardley


Noun. Early 19th century.
[French (Old French) crevace. See crevice.]

1 A (usually deep) fissure or chasm in the ice of a glacier;
transferred a deep crack or chasm. E19

2 A breach in the bank or levee of a river, canal, etc. US. E19

A large split in a rock formation with numerous crevices on both sides
Photo by Blake Bentley


[Old French crevace (modern crevasse noun), from crever to burst, split, from Latin crepare rattle, crack, break with a crash.]

1 An opening produced by a crack, especially in rock, a building, etc.;
a cleft; a fissure; a chink. ME

2 specifically MINING. A fissure in which a deposit or ore or metal is found. M19

Crevasse and crevice, being of the same derivation and sounding somewhat similar, are commonly confused, but the difference is quite simple. A crevasse is a deep fissure, roughly synonymous with both chasm and abyss, and traditionally refers to plunging breaches one can find in glaciers. A crevice, on the other hand, is a much smaller aperture, usually in rock, and its synonyms crack, cleft and chink well illustrate the difference in scale. To remember the difference, just note that crevasse is the bigger of the two words, just as crevasse is the bigger of the two formations.

Do please crack a comment in the box below before you split.