Friday, 29 August 2014

Decisive - My Mind's Blade Up

Photo by Brett Weinstein


Adjective. Early 17th century.
[French décisif, -ive from medieval Latin decisivus, from decis determined, from the verb decidere.]

1 That finally decides or determines a question, the outcome of a contest, etc.;
conclusive. E17

2 Unhesitating, resolute, determined. M18

3 Pronounced, unmistakable, undisputed. L18

Today, I decided the word would be decisive. Boom. That was that. There was no dilly-dallying over deceptious, deciduous or declivitous - it's decisive, a chose jugée. Because, for me, indecisiveness just don't cut it. And that's what decisiveness is all about. It's Latin, you see; decidere, which is de 'off' and cidere 'to cut'. Boom. Sharp as a knife. Incisively decisive. And I'm not thinking about deceptious or declivitous any more.

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

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Decadence - The Way of Decay

The decadence of The Galactic Empire
(photo by Kenny Louie)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[French décadence, from medieval Latin decadentia, from decadent- present participial stem of Proto-Romance verb whence DECAY verb.]

The process of falling away or declining (from a state of excellence, vitality, prosperity, etc.);
decadent condition, decay, deterioration, specifically of a particular period in art, literature, etc., after a culmination.

I like the word decadence. I like how it's often used to simply mean 'shameless luxury', whether or not that luxury is truly decadent, and I like how I decadently like that use of decadent. I like how one can be decadent in a just about anything; perhaps there could even be a decadence of evil, where villains tire of all the effort it takes to be truly bad and gradually drift toward a more neutral morality. I like the concept of decadence and decay; I like how, in decline and breakdown, something new will inevitably rise, which may not be better, but it will at least be different.

Feel free to comment on my decadent ramble in the comment box below.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Deca- - 10 Words To Do With Ten


Combining form. Before a vowel dec-.
[Greek deka ten.]

Used with the sense 'having ten, tenfold';
specially in names of units of measurement, used to denote a factor of ten.

In actual fact, there are far more than ten deca- words in English (though wouldn't it have been tidy if there were?), many of which are both tortuously tongue-twisting and dribblingly dull, like decahydronaphthalene, which is ... well ... some sort of solvent.

There are a number of deca- words that mean 'pertaining to ten', such as decadal and decadic, and some very familiar words too, such as decade (although, if you consider decade to be oh so very last decade, you can also use decennium, which means exactly the same thing but sounds so much more refined); a decathlon is a commonly mispronounced sporting event in which decathletes engage in ten different events, the Decalogue is the Ten Commandments, and December is so called because it was the tenth month in Roman times.

Finally, and just to confuse you, the related word deci- means 'one tenth', such as in decibel, decimal and decimate, and the words decadent, decalcomania and decaffeinated have absolutely nothing to do with the number ten at all.

Do please leave your tensest comment in the box below.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Debonair - Of Good Air

James Stewart: a man of famously good disposition


Adjective & noun. Also debonnair, debonaire. Middle English.
[Old French debonaire (modern débonnaire), from de bon aire of good disposition.]

A1 adj. obsolete. Of a gentle disposition, meek, gracious, courteous. ME-L17

A2 adj. Pleasant in manner, affable, urbane,; cheerful, carefree, unembarrassed. E18

B1 noun. obsolete. A courteous being or person. Only in LME

B2 noun. Debonair character or disposition. LME-M18

One might think of debonair as simply denoting style, perhaps with a dash of suave confidence and charisma thrown in. It runs deeper than that, however, for to be truly de bon aire, a gentleman must also be of gentle disposition, courteous, gracious, and a thoroughly corking chap to be around. Which is rather like the word itself; debonair could, with its cultured French roots, think rather too much of itself. Never a word to cause a scene, however, it lets you spell it debonnair, debonaire or debonair, all without making the slightest fuss and still looking spiffingly ab fab at the end of it. What an absolute peach of a word.

Do please leave your airiest comments in the box below.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Davy Jones & His Infernal Locker

A Shipwreck
Jean Louis Theodore Gericault (1791-1824)


Noun. Nautical slang. Early 18th century.
[Origin unknown.]

The evil spirit of the sea.
Chiefly in Davy Jones's locker, the deep, especially as a grave of those who perish at sea.

The Superstitions That Will Lead to Davy Jones' Locker

Sailors are a superstitious bunch, although not a bunch of bananas, which are considered extremely unlucky to have on-board a ship. Therefore, if you want to avoid a watery grave in the dank depths of Davy Jones' locker, take heed and man up. Oh, and you really should man up, because women are unlucky too.

The origin of these bizarre rituals and superstitions is hard to fathom. Having no women on board is perhaps a easier, as it served to distract sailors from their work and would be a source of tension and strife. Interestingly, if a woman was on board, it was better if she were naked, as her bouncing bosoms were said to calm the sea. Again, there is an odd, cabin-feverish logic to this - "Lads, if we're gonna bring bad luck on board, then she might as well be naked." Hence, the figureheads on ships are often shamelessly topfree.

As for bananas, this might sound bananas, but there could be a modicum of reason behind it. For one thing, bananas spoil quickly, and their ripening accelerates the spoiling of other foods; therefore, boats with a cargo of bananas would have to travel more quickly to their destinations, thus (perhaps) making them more prone to accidents. Other explanations include bananas floating at the site of a sinking, thus giving the impression to anyone arriving after that the bananas had somehow survived the disaster and were now taunting the rescuers; banana skins are slippery, so might have been the cause of accidents; consignments of bananas housed exotic insects, which might have bitten a crewmember and made him mysteriously sick. Whatever the ultimate root, bananas are a no go at sea, so don't slip up on this simple piece of maritime etiquette.

Another piece of advice for the would-be aquanaut is about scheduling - if you're really serious about avoiding Davy Jones and his locker, then don't set sail on a Friday (especially not on a maiden voyage). Yeah, yeah, you're thinking that's just because sailors want a three-day weekend. Reasons for Friday's ill-boding are unclear, but oft-quoted is that sailors believed it to be the day of Christ's crucifixion. And if you think this is al just a load of hokum, then consider that the Royal Navy was so determined to quash this superstition that it commissioned a ship called HMS Friday, a ship that tellingly disappeared on its maiden voyage. Actually, this story is a maritime legend with no basis in truth, as are any stories about a HMS Bananas, HMS Bint and a HMS Certain Sinking. Still, Friday, the day of bad luck, is best avoided.

And just in case you now think you're safe, having lobbed all bananas, women and calendars showing Friday overboard, remember this: whistling, flowers, green plants, pea soup, left-handed people, red-haired people, black bags, saying 'goodbye', saying 'good luck', sharks following a ship, rats leaving a ship and albatrosses being killed on a ship are all definite fast-tracks to a tête-à-tête with Davy Jones. You have been warned!

So Who Is Davy Jones?

The identity of Davy Jones and his locker is a mystery. There are theories, however. One of the most common is that it's a corruption of Devil Jonah, from the Biblical story of the prophet that was thrown overboard by sailors when they realised his presence on-board was causing God to throw up a storm. Another story is that Davy Jones was a British pub owner in the habit of locking up drunk sailors in his locker before selling them to be press-ganged onto ships. Finally, it's sometimes said to be from a famously myopic sailor called Duffer Jones, who was so hopelessly short-sighted that he was constantly falling overboard.

None of these theories are backed up by any real historical evidence. However, Davy Jones had come to represent the evil spirit of the sea, and his locker the final resting place of all drowned sailors. And just in case you're now planning to set sail, challenging Davy Jones and all the idiotic sailors' fanciful superstitions, consider this: the infamously ill-fated RMS Titanic set sail on the 10th April 1912, a Wednesday, which is only two days before a Friday. And they allowed women and red-heads on board. And I just bet one of them smuggled on a banana. There. Think about it.
Alexey Bogolyubov (1824-1896)
Do you know of any other maritime superstitions?

What do you do to avoid Davy Jones' locker?

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

Friday, 22 August 2014

Dasypygal - Having Hairy Buttocks

What? You didn't think I was actually going to show a picture of hairy buttocks, did you?
(photo of the cheeky "I'm dasypygal and I know it" chimp by Tambako)


Adjective. Late 19th century.
[from Greek dasupugos, from dasus hairy + puge buttocks.]

ZOOLOGY. Having hairy buttocks.

Despite corpulent builders having had a crack at it for decades, no one rocks the hairy bum look. It's different for apes, of course; the dasypygal variety are definitely more pleasing to the eye than the brazenly bald-buttocked baboons that so love to strut their wares on nature documentaries. Still, be it callipygian or dasypygal (pronounced dah-see-pie-gull), the English language does love its bum words, and I rather love this one.

Oh go on then! Here's the dasypygal duff of a silverback gorilla. Satisfied?
(photo by Rob Bixby)
Do please leave your cheekiest comments in the box below.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Dastard - The Incredible Skulk

Image by Fred Seibert


Noun, adjective & verb. Late Middle English.
[Probably from dazed, past participle adjective of DAZE verb + -ARD, influenced by DOTARD noun & adjective.]

A1 noun. obsolete. A dullard; a stupid person. LME-M16

A2 noun. A mean, base, or despicable coward,
especially one who does malicious acts in a skulking way. L15

B adj. Dastardly. L15

C verb trans. Dastardize. L16-M17


Adjective. Mid-16th century.
[from DASTARD.]

1 obsolete. Dull, stupid. Only in M16

2 Resembling or characteristic of a dastard;
showing mean or despicable cowardice. L16

Dastard and dastardly are two words that must not be allowed to slip into obscurity. The very definition of dastard - 'one who does malicious acts in a skulking way' - is too delicious, too gloriously apt, too pointedly penetrating, to fade from our vocabularies.  For all the two-faced malicious schemers of the world, for those whose actions go far beyond any excusable level of human weakness, for all the politicians that peddle fear and blame and target the most vulnerable sections of society, there is a special place in the English language for you and your special brand of mean, despicable cowardice. A bunch of dastards, the lot of 'em.

Do please comment in the box below.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dashboard - A Muddy Etymology

Photo by Jimmy B


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[from DASH verb + BOARD noun.]

1(a) A board of wood or leather in the front of a carriage to keep out mud. M19

1(b) A panel beneath the wind-screen of a motor vehicle, in an aircraft, etc., containing instruments and controls. E20

2 ARCHITECTURE. A sloping board to carry off rainwater from the face of a wall. L19

As a child, I always assumed that a dashboard was so called because it houses the speedometer. But no, a dashboard has nothing to do with dashing of the celeritous variety (and regardless of how dashing you think you look when you're driving, it has nothing to do with that either). Rather, the word dashboard is simply a relic from the days of the horse and carriage, when a dashboard was a wooden or leather board in front of the driver to prevent him from being dashed with mud. So there you go. Now who said cars are boring?
A hand-drawn horse-drawn carriage
Photo from Wikimedia

Do please dash off your most revolutionary comments into the box below.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Damocles - A Sworded Tale

Sword of Damocles
Richard Westall (1765-1836)


Noun. Mid-18th century.
[Latin from Greek Damokles, of a flatterer whom Dionysius of Syracuse (4th century BC) feasted while a sword hung by a hair above him.]

Sword of Damocles, Damocles sword, Damocles's sword:
an imminent danger, a constant threat, especially in the midst of prosperity.

Damoclesian adj. L19

Damocles was a sycophant, a fawning admirer of the tyrant Dionysius II of Syracuse. One day, after he happened to mention (again) how he admired the opulent lifestyle of Dionysius and how fortunate he was to have it, the ruler asked him if he'd like to give it a go, to experience the lavish and privileged life of a powerful man like him. Of course, Damocles was all too eager to take the chance, and was soon sitting in the throne of Dionysius, enjoying all the trappings of a man with such power. However, Dionysius had sneakily arranged for a sword to be hung above his throne by a single thread of horse hair. When Damocles noticed, he was perturbed to say the least, and was soon begging Dionysius to restore him to his humble (but safe and swordless) station. Thus, Dionysius had taught Damocles the precarious nature of the life of the man in power, and the Sword of Damocles has become a famous metaphor for living under such constant threat and imminent danger.

Do please leave your sharpest comments in the box below.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Damn - Frankly My Dear, I Was Almost Censored

Gone With the Wind movie poster


Noun. E17
[from the verb.]

1 An utterance of the word 'damn'; an oath, an imprecation. E17

2 A negligible amount (in not care a damn, not give a damn, not worth a damn, etc.) colloquial. M18


Adjective & adverb. Colloquial. Also dam, dam', damn'. L18



Verb. Middle English.
[Old French dampner, (also modern) damner from Latin dam(p)nare (originally) inflict loss upon, from damnum loss, damage, expenditure.]

1 obsolete. Pronounce to be guilty; condemn judicially, sentence, (to a penalty or fate). ME-L19

2 verb trans. Pronounce to be bad, a failure, etc.;
censure, denounce;
condemn especially by public expression of disapproval. ME

3 verb trans. (Of God) condemn to eternal punishment; doom to hell;
cause the damnation or condemnation of; be the ruin of.
Also colloquial in imprecation, frequently in imperative or optative form (for God damn - etc.),
expressing anger, hatred, contempt, irritation, etc. ME

3(b) verb intrans. as interjection. Expression anger, irritation, displeased surprise or realization, etc. Compare with DAMNATION noun. M20

4 verb intrans & trans. Say 'damn' (at), swear (at), curse. E17

Of all the swear words one can choose from to express displeasure, damn must be one of the mildest, the victim of decades of semantic dilution as it tries to survive in a world where people (generally) no longer fear the prospect of eternal fiery torment.  If we smirk at the thought of damn being a swear (or curse) word, however, it really wasn't that long ago that it was considered rather shocking.

Perhaps its most famous utterance is Rhett Butler's rebuff of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Released in 1939, this was the end a decade in which damn was considered a profanity and would often fall foul of the censor's inky strike. However, an amendment to the censor's guidelines just prior to the film's release allowed words like damn and hell if they were essential to the dialogue, and so it is that this line survived and has been voted the the greatest movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute. This is quite remarkable. Can you imagine it taking this accolade if Rhett had said: "Frankly, my dear, I just don't care." Or perhaps: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a flying monkey's butt." No. It wouldn't. (although my second suggestion wouldn't have escaped the censors either - people can be very puritanical when it comes to a monkey's buttocks, flying or otherwise).

Despite this breakthrough by Gone With the Wind, it's still a word that has the power to cause offence and trigger censorship, particularly in religiously conservative cultures. Its ultimate origin, however, is not religious at all, but arrived in English from Latin via Old French, carrying the sense of judging or inflicting loss upon someone; thus, damn is a relative of the common and completely inoffensive damage, all of which is starting to sound a bit like a Claims Direct ad: "Are you the innocent victim of an eternal damnation that wasn't your fault?" Lawyers, eh? Tsk.

Do you consider damn to be a swear word?

If it had been censored, what could Rhett have said to Scarlett instead?
(note: any swearing in the suggestions will be censored)

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

Friday, 15 August 2014

Daisy - The Day's Eye

Close up of a daisy
Photo by Nick Fullerton


Noun, adjective & verb.
[Old English dæges ēage day's eye, the disc of the flower being revealed in the morning.]

A1 noun. A small European wild and garden plant of the composite family, Bellis perennis,
with a flower of yellow disc and white rays (also common daisy).
Also, a flower-head or flowering stem of this plant; a flower-head resembling that of the daisy. OE

A2 noun. (A flowering stem of) any of various similar plants. Usually with specifying word. LME

A3 noun. A first-rate person or thing. (Earlier in sense B2). US. slang. M19

B1 attrib. or adj. Resembling a daisy. E17

B2 attrib. or adj. First-rate, excellent. slang (chiefly US). M18

C verb trans. Cover or adorn with daisies. Chiefly as daisied. E17

The humble daisy deserves its place in Lexicolatry for many reasons other than its fascinating etymology. Did you know, for example, that daisies can be found on every continent of the world except Antarctica? And they're edible (or at least the leaves are, and can be eaten raw in salads). Also, in case you hadn't noticed, and despite the fact that we mow them from our lawns with indifferent abandon, they're sublimely, delicately, perfectly pretty. And as for the etymology of daisy, it comes from the Old English for day's eye, due to the opening of its flower at dawn; if you ignore that day's eye sounds like a Brummie saying daisy, that etymology is almost as pretty as the flower itself.
Photo by Pete

Do you like daisies?

Do please make a chain of your finest comments in the flower box below.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dad - A Baby's Most Common First Word

Cute 1980s photo of a boy sitting on his dad's lap
Me and my Dad. They don't make moustaches likes that anymore.


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Perhaps imitative of infants' first speech.]

1 Father. colloquial. M16

2 Used as a form of address to a man other than one's own father. slang (esp. JAZZ). M20

Dad is a fitting first word as Lexicolatry embarks on the letter D. Why? Because dad is a baby's most common first word. Yes! It's true. And it gets even better: my daughter's first word was dad. That's quite a moment in a man's life - when he experiences that transition from being a son to being a dad; when another little person looks him in the eyes and sees their Dad.

Dad is the most common first word for the same reasons that mum (or one of its variants like mama) is the second most common - it's a relatively simple sound for a baby to make. That, of course, and the fact that mum and dad are virtually a child's entire universe for the first 18 months or so.

Interestingly, the dad sound is ubiquitous: Welsh tad, Irish daid, Latin tata, Greek tata, Sanskrit tatah. But these words aren't necessarily cognates; the OED notes that they arose independently. Language, it seems, is universally accommodating to babies' linguistic abilities. Of course, perhaps none of the above is the real reason dad is the most common first word. Maybe it's just that dads are great. Yeah. That's it I reckon. Dads are great.

Was dad your or your child's first word?

Do you (like me) capitalise dad when talking about Dad?

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

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Reflections on the Letter C

Only 23 Letters to Go

Cloistering cherubic Corinthians! If we haven't gone and cantered through C in a mere 247 posts! And what a journey it's been. As I look over all the words I've written about, I realise both how much I've learnt and how broad a range of topics Lexi is covering. For example:

Animals, animals, animals, including: capybarascats (and their caterwauling), caterpillars, crows and cuckoos (as well as some fascinating animal topics including the words carnivore, cetophilia, canophilist and cynanthropy).

Also, it seems that C has allowed me to captiously carp on about a number of my personal bugbears, including: cacoepy (bad pronunciation), cacography (bad handwriting) and catachresis (misuse of words), as well as cleft-cloying clichés like carpe diem. Raawgh!

And how much I've learnt! For example, I finally know what a calorie is (not that it's helping me lose any weight); I now know the difference between a capillary, a vein and an artery; I know why the Claddagh in Galway is so called; and I got all clever and educated about René Descartes with Cartesian, despite never having sat a philosophy class in my entire life. Oh, and I also learnt a tonne of stuff about cellulite and how undangerous it is. Hmm.

And, of course, Lexicolatry was not above delving into baser vocab, with posts on the words callipygian, carminativecleavage, cock, constipationcrap and crotch. And jolly fun they all were too.

As for my favourite words, the words I really fell in love with, the words that I will carry away with me from Lexi, these include: cabotin (a third rate actor), cacoethes scribendi (an irresistible urge to write), cavatina (a short, emotive instrumental, for which I wrote a piano piece), and cementitious (for which I wrote a poem about cement). And, with a wistful sigh, I fell in love with the beautiful but fatally misunderstood Cassandra ... 

Finally, I just loved the words for which everyone got involved, including the writing of clerihews and couplets. Thank you, everyone, for that! It was such good fun. And, yes, many of you nominated Lexicolatry in the Blog Awards Ireland - thank you so much for taking the time to do so!

Changes are Coming!

Yes, Lexi is changing (slightly). You may have already noticed that there is no word for today. Nope. Not one. For the first time since 27th November 2012, a day is passing without a new word from the hallowed pages of the OED. I'm a bit sad about this, but I've decided that when I post update reports, I won't put up a word for that day. But the really big change is ...

As we start D, I will now only be publishing posts on weekdays. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, I've noticed that Lexicolatry is most read during the week; in fact, my analysis of the data suggests that a lot of you are reading it during office hours (tut tut). Therefore, publishing on weekdays only would seem to be the most efficient schedule.

Secondly, virtually all of my online time is spent writing and researching for Lexi, which I love with a passion and would happily do all day, except that this leaves me no time for anything else, including promoting Lexicolatry and reading other blogs (believe it or not, but I often spend more time searching for suitable photographs for a post than I do writing it). Cutting back on the Saturday and Sunday posts will help me both promote the blog more, and spend more time on the posts that require a lot of research.

Finally, there's a couple of other projects I would like to give a bit more time to, including my other blog Multiple Stupidness, for which I would like to post at least monthly.

So that's it. I do hope you stay around to see what gems we unearth in the dark depths of dangerous D. As always, thank you all so much for your readership, contributions, comments and causerie. Cheers!

Twitter: @lexicolatry

PS: My post cetophilia was nominated in the Best Blog Post category in the Blog Awards Ireland. It's a public vote, and if you're feeling generous do pop along by clicking here and cast your vote for good ol' Lexicolatry. I'll be well chuffed. Cheers!

As always, do please leave any comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Cynanthropy - A Dog's Life

Some kind of anthropomorphic super-dog thing. It seemed appropriate.
(photo from Pixabay)


Noun. Rare. Late 16th century.
[French cynanthropie (after lycanthropie lycanthropy) from Greek kun-, kuon dog.]

A form of madness in which a person believes himself or herself to be a dog and behaves accordingly.
Here's a word you're probably (hopefully) never going to need - cynanthropy, pronounced sy-nan-throp-ee, the belief that you are a dog. And, yes, it's real, being one manifestation of various psychological conditions such as belief in therianthropy (the ability to shapeshift between human and animal form), clinical lycanthropy (the belief that you have such an ability or are currently undergoing such a transformation), and species dysmorphia (the belief that you are a different species trapped in a human body).

Take Boomer, for example, whose human name is Gary Matthews. At 47, he likes nothing more than roaming the neighbourhood, barking at cars, and napping in his kennel. And yes, he eats dog food. He says he experienced the transformation on a hot day in 1979 when he went down into his basement and stretched out on the floor to cool down. Ever since then, he has been living the dog's life. As to whether he actually believes he's a dog, he stated on the Dr Phil show that "he has to believe" that somehow he is at least part-dog. You can decide yourself at what point an extreme fascination turns into full-blown cynanthropy.

Note: For more doggy weirdness, see the canophilist post by clicking here

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Cyborg - "Not a Robot"

Movie poster of The Terminator
Flesh on the outside, machine in the middle, bad acting all the way through.


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Blend of CYBERNETIC adjective and ORGANISM.]

A person whose physical tolerances or capabilities extended normal human limitations by a machine etc.;
an integrated man-machine system.

One of my favourite moments in the 1984 classic movie The Terminator is when Kyle Reese gets all pedantic with Sarah Connor as she tries to get to grips with the fact that there's suddenly a hulking, virtually unstoppable death machine stalking her:

Kyle Reese:
He's not a man - a machine. A Terminator. A Cyberdyne Systems Model 101.

Sarah Connor:
A machine? Like a robot?

Kyle Reese:
Not a robot. A cyborg. A cybernetic organism.  

The wonderful thing about Kyle's pedantry is that they are actually being chased by the Terminator at that very moment, which just goes to show that one is never too busy for a little catachrestical correction. As Kyle goes on to explain (while still being chased):

The Terminator's an infiltration unit - part man, part machine.
Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis, microprocessor controlled. Fully armoured. Very tough.
But outside, it's living human tissue: flesh, skin, hair, blood - grown for the cyborgs.

So, apparently, what makes the Terminator a cyborg (and not a robot, Sarah) is that it has an outer covering of flesh, even though they're fully capable of functioning without this mortal shell. However, if this is the criteria, it means that very few of the Terminators are actual cyborgs - according to Reese, the early models had rubber skin (and were rubbish), and the shape-shifting T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgement Day was made entirely of liquid metal. Thus, with no biological components, these Terminators were robots, not cyborgs.

So in this form, without its skin, the Terminator is a robot
(photo from Wikipedia
All of which makes one think - at one point do you become a cyborg? I wear glasses, for example, and at an even deeper level of integration I often wear contact lenses to enhance (or correct) my vision. And what about people that have artificial hips? What about pacemakers or hearing aids, both of which introduce electronics to the melding of man and machine? Do these make you a cyborg?

And if you're not convinced that any of this qualifies one for cyborghood, consider the rapidly advancing field of bionics. Although at present this is used largely for replacing lost limbs, it's already the case that some prostheses have abilities beyond that of the corresponding unmodified human limb, which leads to the ethical debate about whether people should be able to undergo elective limb or organ replacement because the bionic version will have superior functions (the Cyborg Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the creation and research of cyborg-related projects). If this is already happening, and as humans we're clearly not averse to modifying ourselves mechanically, maybe we all have a bit more in common with the cyborg Terminator (not a robot) than we thought.

Are you a cyborg?

Would you be a cyborg?

Do please leave your most integrated comments in the central processing box below.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Cyber - Getting Techy With It

(image by Tony Werman)


Combining form.
[Shortened from CYBERNETIC, CYBERSPACE, etc. Cyber from Greek kubernetes steersman, from kubernan to steer.]

Forming words relating to (the culture of) computers, information technology, 
the Internet, and virtual reality, or denoting futuristic concepts.

There was a time when sticking cyber onto something made it sound really edgy and cool. It was that heady period between the mid-90s and the early 00s; we were all getting our first email accounts, and how we marvelled at its convenience, only requiring a quick bus ride into town to the cybercafe run by that beardy-student-type guy that projected his BO like a badge of honour. Lurid tales of cybernautscybersex and cybersquatting emerged, and for a brief time it seemed as if anyone who could navigate cyberspace and think of a cool business name like Cyberweartronics Internationicom was destined to become a dot com billionaire. Now, though, cyber as a prefix sounds dated and passé. We've even stopped wondering if we're in The Matrix because, frankly, we just don't care either way. We've succumbed to cyberfatigue, a neologism I've just coined, one I would normally be excited about, but it's still all a bit ... m'eh.

Do please leave your most techcentric (or cyberphobic) comments in the box below.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cutpurse - Strapped For Cash

A pair of rusty old scissors
(image from Wikipedia)


Noun. Archaic. Late Middle English.
[from CUT verb + PURSE noun.]

A person who stole by cutting purses from the girdles from which they were suspended;
a pickpocket, a thief.

On a recent trip abroad, my wife and I were advised to be aware of pickpockets and thieves (sound advice); apparently they're so audacious that they'll simply cut through the straps of your bag and make off with it. This modus operandi is quite ancient; thieves have been knows as cutpurses since at least the 1300s. Back then, when men wore their purse hanging from their girdle, a burglarious bounder would simply snip through the purse. Modern thieves are no less brazen, and do love to employ the old snip 'n snatch.

Or do they? I once had the pleasure of interviewing a reformed pickpocket, and we chatted at length about the various methods he and other thieves employ. Some, unsurprisingly, were exceptionally crude, such as bludgeoning someone from behind and then rifling through their pockets as they lay twitching on the ground; other methods involved a considerable degree of sophistication and sleight of hand. He didn't, however, mention any approach that first involved cutting through the straps of someone's bag and, when I was warned about the rampancy of this tactic, I must admit I was extremely skeptical.

That's not to say it never happens; a cursory search on the internet shows several specific reports of bags being stolen in this way, including one in Ashford, Kent, one in Reading, Berkshireone in London, and one in New York in which the thief first tried to snatch the bag and, when the woman put up a fight, pulled a knife to cut the strap and nearly cut off her hand. However, in contrast to this meager smattering of specific strap-cutting incidents, page after page of warnings for this type of robbery are easily found. And many of these pages, unsurprisingly, also seek to sell you the solution, namely cut- and slash-proof bags and bag straps.

Herein lies a possible clue to the overabundance of warnings - there's a marketable solution. Therefore, it's in the interests of vendors to stoke concern about this type of attack, regardless of the actual frequency of this type of robbery; in fact, if bag strap cutting is rare, there is even more incentive for companies to promote the fear of it. As for these uncuttable straps, I would have to question whether, if a thief had snuck up behind me intent on slashing my bag strap, I would want him fumbling about at my back, getting frustrated while wielding a knife, scissors, or some other bladed instrument. I have travel insurance and, besides, there are other, completely free precautions I can take that will not likely lead me into a direct confrontation with a panicked thief (for example, not wearing a bag at all). Certainly, getting mugged or having my bag stolen will ruin my holiday, but it won't ruin it nearly as much as getting stabbed (accidentally or otherwise) by some bungling cack-handed cutpurse.

Have you ever had someone cut through your purse, bag or camera straps to rob you?
(and I'm interested in first-hand experience - not the "I know someone who knows someone" variety)

Do please comment in the box below.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Cute - Not Just a Pretty Face

A smiling baby girl wearing a pink ribbon and pearls
Coral - Champion of Cuteness
(photo by Cam Fu)


Adjective. Colloquial. Early 18th century.
[Aphetized from ACUTE.]

1 Clever, keen-witted, shrewd; ingenious. E18

2 Attractive, pretty; quaint, fascinating. E19

Oh no! What's become of Lexicolatry? This is a serious blog about the intricacies of the English lexicon, and here I am showing pictures of cute babies! What next? Kittens? Puppies? Lolcats? Right. Focus. I need to rescue this post. Oh flip! I've just found a picture of a baby hippo ...

A baby hippo
(photo by Tambako)
C'mon! Get it together. Here we go: Cute, meaning 'pretty', is actually quite modern; it developed from acute, meaning 'insightful, shrewd'. This definition has been somewhat superseded by the 'pretty baby' form of cute, but it is still used, as I once learnt to my embarrassment when an Irish girl I liked told me I was "too cute", and then quickly clarified "No, not that type of cute!" when it was clear I had misunderstood. Another thing about cute is ... Whaaaaa! A trio of baby hedgehogs! ...

Three baby hedgehogs
Ahem. One thing that's clear about cute and cuteness is how subjective it is. I actually had a bit of difficulty finding a picture for this post as the internet is awash with pictures tagged 'cute', usually of people's babies, children, pets, etc. The thing is, parents of the world, I hate to break it to you, but not everyone's kids are cute (I'd provide some examples, but that would be in very poor taste indeed); I think there must be some kind of biological function that compels a parent to think their child is cute, which is probably the source of the expression "a face only a mother could love." And don't even get me started on what some pet owners think is cute ...

Two dogs dressed up as princesses
Umm ...
(photo by Pets Adviser) 
Anyway, I've clearly succumbed to the will of the internet, and this post has become a repository of all the photos I've found over the past couple of years that have made me go "Awwwww!" and hate myself at the same time. Except Coral, the baby in the lead picture. That picture is not my style at all - generally, I'm not one for adorning babies in ribbons and pearls and other embellishments. But c'mon! Is that not clearly, undoubtedly, unsubjectively one of the cutest babies in the history of the world ever? Oh no! I don't believe it! There's another one ... 

A newborn baby sleeping in a red and white hat
Awwwwwwwwwww! Stick me in the freezer coz my heart just melted!
(photo by Christopher Allison Photography)
Do please leave your most insightfully cute comments in the .... Whaaa! He's wearing a little hat! ... (ahem) ... box below.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Cushy - A Comfortably Urdu Origin

Del Boy, Derek Trotter, from Only Fools and Horses
Derek Trotter, a.k.a Del Boy, from the classic British sitcom Only Fools & Horses


Adjective. Colloquial (originally Anglo-Indian). Also cushty. Early 20th century.
[Urdu kushi from Persian kuš.]

Of a post, task, etc.: easy, comfortable, especially more so than might be expected.

If your vocab is lacking that little bit of Anglo-Indian Peckham piquancy, it is my kushi (Urdu 'pleasure') to introduce you to cushy, or Del Boy's favoured variation of cushty if you prefer. Of course, if you're from Britain you're probably already well used to this pukka little number as it's been in constant use since World War I. Even so, I bet you didn't know its origin was Urdu, did you, you saucy little git. Ah ha! See? That's what Lexicolatry does; brings you the creme de la menthe of cosmopolitan vocab. Mais oui, my friend, mais oui.

Do please leave your cushiest little numbers in the comment box below.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cul-de-Sac - A Sack's Bottom

A sack


Noun. Plural culs-de-sac (pronounced same), cul-de-sacs. Mid-18th century.
[French = sack bottom.]

1 ANATOMY. A vessel, tube, sac, etc., open only at one end; the closed end of such a vessel. M18

2 A street, passage, etc., closed at one end; a blind alley;
MILITARY a position in which an army is hemmed in on all sides except behind. L18

A sign for cul-de-sac

What!? Cul-de-sac means 'a sack's bottom'?

And yes, I checked: according to Collins' online French dictionary, cul does mean that type of bottom

Why oh why do they not teach you this type of stuff in French at school? This is an example of French that I could have gone out and actually used! I could have pointed at the signs and sniggered; I could have shared this etymological delight with all my mates; I could have climbed the signs and shouted to all the cul-de-sac residents: "You live up a sack's [posterior]!" There is an opportunity here people - an opportunity to simultaneously enhance the linguistic education of our children, to stoke interest in language and language learning, and to laugh at the French. This is the bottom line. Let us seize this chance with both cheeks. No butts.


A really boring, empty cul-de-sac
Possibly the most boring cul-de-sac in the world. A fitting metaphor for my French teacher.
(photo by Kevin Higgins)
Do please leave your most thoughtful comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

What Is the Origin of Culchie?

A warning sign with a tractor on it
The "Warning! Culchies!" signs have proved controversial


Noun & adjective. Anglo-Irish slang (frequently derogatory). Also culshie. Mid-20th century.
[Perhaps alteration of Kiltimagh, a country town in Co. Mayo, Ireland.]

A noun. A country bumpkin; a provincial or rustic person. M20

B attributive or adjective. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a culchie, provincial, rustic. L20

Culchie describes someone in Ireland that is from the country and deemed to be unsophisticated, backward, uneducated and not very bright. Even if someone isn't actually from the country, it can be applied to someone's accent, dress, overall demeanor or interests. If, for example, you've ever attended the National Ploughing Championships, you've probably been called a culchie.

For some, the definition goes even further, traditionally being anyone in Ireland from outside Dublin. This is opposed to the term jackeen, a Dubliner, derived from the diminution of Jack, as in the Union Jack, due to Dubliners supposedly being more English and sympathetic to British rule than the rest of the country. If the 'anyone from outside Dublin' definition were to be true, that makes culchies a pretty extensive demographic, constituting some 4/5's of the country's population.

The origin of culchie isn't absolutely clear, but the OED says it's probably an alteration of Kiltimagh, a small country town in Co. Mayo. Some years ago, I had the pleasure of working on a legal case there, and to my continual embarrassment I could never quite get the pronunciation right. My English pronunciation always leads me to pronounce it kill-tee-mah, whereas my colleagues from Kiltimagh would say something closer to kil-chma. 

While culchie is most definitely a derogatory description, there is some debate at to whether the word is offensive. I am loathed, however, to malign poor Kiltimagh more; it is, after all, the birthplace of Louis Walsh, so they have enough baggage to deal with without us snooty city types piling on the scorn. And just in case you're not from Ireland, and you're still not quite clear what a culchie is, I leave you with a bizarre St Patrick's Day advert from Lidl. You can decide for yourselves whether it's offensive or not.

Are you a culchie?

Is culchie offensive?

Do please field your most campestral comments in the box below.