Monday, 15 June 2015

Time for another rest!

Photo by Spirit-Fire

Taking Some Zzzzzzzzzz's ...

Lexicolatry (or, more accurately, me) is taking a little break for two weeks.

Lexical geekery will resume on the 29th June 2015 20th July 2015 (sorry!).

Yes, yes, I know. And I'm very sorry. Didn't someone once say that having a child is incredibly hard work, time-consuming, takes over your life and basically just ruins everything? Well if they didn't they should have, and I just said it because it's true (although they ruin everything is an incredibly wonderful way). So I'm really sorry that I haven't got back to writing Lexicolatry, and as this month I'll be returning to university, it might be a little while yet. If you really need your word fix, do please browse through the old posts, and if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Blogger's email alert system, you'll be notified when I start writing again. Thank you all again for your readership.


Twitter: @Lexicolatry

Friday, 12 June 2015

Emulate - The Imitation Game

Children are master emulators.
(photo by Jen Hampton Photography)


Verb. Late 16th century.
[From Latin aemulat- 'rivalled, equalled', from the verb aemulari, from aemulus 'rival'.]

1 verb trans. Compete with; rival or equal in some respect. L16

2 verb intrans. obs. Strive in a spirit of rivalry to be or to do. L16-M17

3 verb trans. Imitate zealously; try to equal or excel. L16

4 verb trans. obs. Wish to rival (a person); to be envious or jealous of. E-M17

5 verb trans. (Of a computer etc. or its user) reproduce the action of (a different computer or software system)
with the aid of hardware or software designed to effect this;
 run (a program etc.) on a computer other than that for which it was written. M20

Emulate is often used as a raw synonym for imitate, particularly with regards a role model or admired person. However, an examination of the word suggests something a little more sinister - while imitation might indeed be the highest form of flattery, beware of emulation, as that might just be someone who covets your crown. If you have a crown. I don't have a crown. Sigh ... 

Do please copy down your most emulatory comments in the box below.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

What's the Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy?

A blonde woman crying
Crying Girl by Roy Liechtenstein

What's the Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy?

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably in everyday English, which is a shame because there is a definite and very useful distinction between the two. If you're writing and come to a point where you want to use one of these words, it's worth taking the time to really consider which is most appropriate for what you're describing.

So What Is Empathy?

To be empathetic is perhaps the harder (or the rarer) of the qualities. According to the OED, empathy is defined as 'the power of mentally identifying oneself with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object of contemplation.' In layman's terms, being empathetic means being able to put yourself in another's shoes, either because of some inherent quality or because you've experienced something before.

So What Is Sympathy?

Sympathy is slightly different, and has a broader set of definitions to empathy. At its most basic, sympathy is a feeling of sorrow or pity for someone else's misfortunes. Thus, one can sincerely write a card marked With Deepest Sympathy, even if you've never experienced whatever it is the other person is suffering.

Some Examples of Empathy & Sympathy

When choosing between empathy and sympathy, it's a good idea to think about exactly what it is that's being felt: if it's sorrow or pity, than sympathy is likely the best option; however, if one is actually able to feel the other person's pain, either because of a natural empathetic quality or because of having experienced it personally, then the best choice is probably empathy.

To illustrate, I've never broken a bone in my entire life, and yet I can have the utmost sympathy for someone that has; real empathy, however, is a little harder, because it's just not something I've ever experienced. I have, however, smashed all of my teeth out (eek!), and thus when a friend has a dentally-related mishap, I am in a position to both sympathise and empathise.

On a far less serious (but perhaps more memorable) note, one might think of the poor zombies in a series like The Walking Dead. Those poor walkers! I have the utmost sympathy for them. But do I have empathy for the undead? Can I put myself in their shuffling shoes and imagine what it must be like to crave living flesh above all else? Umm ... no, not really. But I do feel sorry for them. Poor chaps! They have my deepest sympathies.

A young girl shuffling like a zombie
A shuffling zombie girl. Just because it's really cute.
(photo by Pietro Bellini)
Do you have any less bloody examples of sympathy and empathy?

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

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why Is Ireland Called 'The Emerald Isle'?

A lustrous emerald
Although they're found all over the world, no emeralds (so far) have been discovered in Ireland
Photo by Michael Summers


Noun & adjective. Also emeraude obsolete. Middle English.
[Old French e(s)meraud, ultimately via Latin from Greek (s)maragdos, via Prakrit from Semitic
(compare with Hebrew bāreqeṯ, from bāraq 'flash, sparkle'). ]

The connection between Ireland and emeralds is quite obvious to anyone who has ever visited - Ireland is exceptionally beautiful and green, as are the gemstones. That Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle, however, as opposed to some other viridescent adjective, is thanks to a rather remarkable Irishman named William Drennan, who referred to it as such in his 1794 poem When Erin First Rose:

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen,
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to green;
Yet, oh! when you're up, and they're down, let them live,
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave;
And uplifted to strike, be still ready to save;
Let no feeling of vengeance presume to defile
The cause of, or men of, the Emerald Isle.

Born in Belfast in 1754, Drennan was a physician, poet and political activist, being one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, an organisation that sought parliamentary reform and greater independence from Britain. What's particularly interesting about Drennan, however, is that although he was vociferously pro-independence, he was an advocate of separation through peaceful means, a conviction that can be seen clearly in his poem (you can read the full text of it by clicking here). As time went on, however, the Society of United Irishmen began to embrace more violent methods of revolution, causing Drennan to distance himself from it. On Drennan's death in 1820, his coffin was carried as per his wishes by three Catholics and three Protestants, a final symbolic gesture to demonstrate his desire for peace and reconciliation.

Green fields and blue sea in Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
(photo by Ollierb)

Do please leave your greenest comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Embracive - Living the Hug Life

Two women hugging, one with a 'Free Hugs' sign
And now people are offering free hugs in public! It's just so brazen.
(photo by Matthew G)


Adjective. Mid-19th century.
[from embrace.]

1 Given to or fond of embracing. rare. M19

2 Embracing or tending to embrace all; inclusive. L19

We are living in increasingly embracive times. As an old-fashioned Englishman, I am not happy about this. Where once a cordial 'Good day, sir,' sufficed, a hug is now de rigeur; where a professional handshake was as physically close as one ever needed to be, a full embrace is now expected, nay, demanded. Mark my words: it's overbearing, unhygienic and a veritable minefield of social awkwardness. I therefore implore you to lay down your arms and reject this embracive erosion of the social norms that have loyally repressed us for centuries. Bring back the stiff upper lip, the aloof nod of acknowledgment, and (for when things get really raucous) the friendly shoulder punch. I thank you.

This why, people. This is why.
(Also: I don't watch American's Top Model)

Are you embracive?



Monday, 8 June 2015

Elumbated - "Weakened in the Loins"

A gladiator getting kicked in the nuts
Elumbation can be caused by a number of activities, including getting kicked in the testicles during a gladiatorial contest.
(photo by Sentex64)


Adjective. Now jocular. Rare. Late 18th century.
[from Latin elumbis having a dislocated hip (from e out + lumbus loin).]

Weakened in the loins.

It's not very often that a word's definition confuses me more than the word itself, but I am a little puzzled by elumbated - what exactly does 'weakened in the loins' mean? Nor is it helped by the fact that there seem to be very few uses of this 'rare' and 'jocular' word - the OED only lists two: an entry in a lexicon from the 18th century, and from the Confess. of Medwin (1882) the rather perplexing quote "Our elumbated tailor came forward." Hmm.

Such scant use, therefore, leaves me to surmise at the exact meaning of 'weakened in the loins', and I must assume it has something to do with one's declining efficacity in the realm of procreation, perhaps as one ages. That's a good definition, right?

 Having declined in efficacity in the realm (art?) of procreation.

Good. I'm glad we've cleared that up.

Do please leave your most [insert inappropriate pun here] comments in the box below.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Élite - The Best of the Best (Unless on Film)

Imperial Stormtroopers: Quite possibly the most useless Elite force in the universe


Noun & adjective. Also elite. Late 18th century.
[From French élite 'selection, choice', from élire 'to elect', from a variant of Latin eligere.]

A1 noun. The choice part, the best, (of society, a group of people, etc.);
a select group or class. L18

A2 noun. (usually elite.) A size of type used on typewriters, having twelve characters to the inch. E20

B attrib. adjective. Of or belonging to an élite; exclusive. M19

Élite is a sorely abused word in the world of fiction. Take the Imperial Stormtroopers of the Star Wars universe, described in Wookieepedia as 'the elite soldiers of the Galactic Empire', and therefore the very best fighting force the Empire can muster - the best trained, the best equipped and the most highly motivated troops out there. Except there's a problem. If the films are anything to go by, Imperial Stormtroopers are completely and utterly useless: they can't shoot, they can't fight, they can't act on their own initiative, and they're encumbered by the most impractical, battle-rubbish armour ever designed in the history of warfare.

And there are hordes of Stormtroopers - an "endless supply" according to Darth Vader - which further calls their élite status into question; if the definition of élite means select, who in the galaxy was passed over during the selection process? Exactly how low could the bar for entry into the Imperial Stormtroopers be? Their famed ineptitude in battle has spawned a number of terms to describe their ingrained naffness, including the Stormtrooper Effect and the Principle of Evil Marksmanship, which state that the more outnumbered a hero is, the more likely his enemies are to miss their shots, even when the chance of all enemies missing is vanishingly small.

Star Wars isn't the only culprit in the abuse of élite, however - martial arts films misuse and abuse it in abundance. A shining example of this is the ninja, widely regarded as an élite fighter. Without a doubt, individual ninjas are often unfathomably powerful, and even a bevy of skilled heroes will struggle to defeat one. Collectively, however, these élite fighters descend to the depths of ineptitude that would make the Empire proud. In fact, the Inverse Ninja Law states that the more ninjas there are, the more useless they become, allowing a single protagonist to successfully tackle tens, if not hundreds, of élite ninjas simultaneously. Now, I'm no military strategist, but I'm pretty sure that's not how élite forces work ...

Successful applicants to the Imperial Stormtrooper and Evil Ninja Academies.

Do you know of any particularly egregious misapplications of the word élite?

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

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Eldritch - The Weird and Beyond

A monochrome drawing of black, hairy, grinning spider
Smiling Spider (1891) by Odilon Redon


Adjective. Originally Scottish. Early 16th century.
[Origin uncertain: perhaps connected with ELF noun.]

Weird, ghostly, unnatural; hideous.

The adjective eldritch calls to mind a number of otherworldy artists - H. P. Lovecraft, for one, whose genuinely unsettling tales of weirdness are often associated with the word. Another is the French artist Odilon Redon, who said that his drawings place us in "the ambiguous world of the undetermined." Even if you're not an arachnophobe, you will perhaps agree that Redon's Smiling Spider is an example of unsettling, eldritch art.

Do please leave your weirdest comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Einfühlung - I'm Just Not Feeling It

A German man in lederhosen
Some German bloke. And I bet he's lovely.
(photo by Miles Cave)


Noun. Early 20th century.
[German, from ein- into + Fühlung feeling.]


I'm going to word today's post very carefully. And let me start by stating that I love loanwords in English, and I love the German language (it's on my list of languages to learn before I die). That being said, however, I must admit that, were I searching for a synonym of empathy, German wouldn't be the first language I'd reach for. And neither would einfühlung. It just wouldn't. I'm sorry. I'm clearly racist.

A German woman at Oktoberfest
Ah, the Oktoberfest! Something else that's on my rather extensive bucket list.
(photo by Constant Progression)

Do please cause all sorts of Sturm und Drang in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Eejit - It's Anglo-Irish, Idiot

A tractor on its side in a trench
My guess is that eejit was uttered many a time on this day
(photo by Troy Bell)


Noun. Dialectical. (chiefly Scots & Anglo-Irish). Late 19th century.


I must admit, I'm a little bit disappointed with eejit. For a word I first heard when I came to Ireland, I was expecting some ancient Irish-Celtic-Gaelicky type root. But there's not - it's just a later variation of idiot. Like nidget and nidiot. Seriously. That's all there is to it. Yup. Off you go ...

Do please leave your most eejity comments in the idiot box below.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Edentulous - Gum and Gummer

How To Train Your Dragon poster
Toothless & Hiccup


Adjective. Early 18th century.
[from Latin edentulus.]

Having no teeth; toothless.

If the writers of the most excellent How to Train Your Dragon hadn't chosen Toothless as the name of the main dragon, they could have chosen Edentulous which, if you just think about it for a second, does rather sound like a classic Greek hero.

Do please leave your gummiest comments in the box below.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Éclat - A Dazzling Definition

Dazzling brilliance. It's a metaphor. It's ... umm ... holding the sun. Very hot.
(photo by Yuval Y)


Noun & verb. Late 17th century.

A1 noun. Radiance, dazzling effect (now only figurative); brilliant display. L17

A2 noun. Ostentation, publicity; public exposure, scandal; a sensation. L17-L19

A3 noun. Social distinction; celebrity, renown. M18

A4 noun. Conspicuous success: universal acclamation.
Chiefly in with éclat, with great éclat, etc. M18

B verb trans & instrans. Make or become known or notorious. rare. M18

Today I got my first set of exam results in university. I thought that if I did the word éclat, then one of my lecturers might use the word in my feedback notes. Because ... y'know ... the universe works like that, doesn't it? Think positively and all that. But no. It doesn't. I got my exam results. Not one of my papers had the word éclat on it. Nuts.

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

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Éclaircissement - As Clear as French

A cube. With a question mark on it. To represent confusion.
(photo by Jared Cherup)


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Mid-17th century.
[French, from éclairciss- lengthened stem of éclaircir clear up.]

A clarification of what is obscure or misunderstood;
an explanation.

Anyone who uses the word éclaircissement to clear up a misunderstanding clearly has no interest in clearing up a misunderstanding.

And wants to look clever.

And will look like a div.

Do please leave your most clarion comments in the box below.
(you can hear the pronunciation of éclaircissement by clicking here)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Éclair - Why Is It Named After Lightning?

Chocolate-filled éclairs - because clearly they weren't already sweet enough
(photo by LMDCWIKI)


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, literally 'lightning'.]

A small finger-shaped cake of choux pastry,
filled with cream and iced, especially with a chocolate icing.

OK. I'm just throwing this one out there, because lo and behold sometimes Lexicolatry doesn't have all the answers: éclair literally means 'lightning' in French, and I want to know why. There are a couple of rather unconvincing theories out there - one is that they're so delicious, they get eaten lightning quick (pff!), and the other that the gleam off the top of the icing sometimes resembles lightning (double pff pastry!). The OED is frustratingly silent on this matter, so it's possible we will never know. Therefore, let us speculate, theorise and conjecturise as to why this humble, ridiculously delicious cake (which is a member of the 'pie family', would you believe?) is named after this meteorological phenomenon.

Do please copy and pastry your sweetest comments in the choux box below.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ecdysiast - A Stripper By Any Other Name

A neon stripper sign
Business at The Legless Stripper has never been better
(photo by Duncan C)


A striptease artist.

You know that awkward situation when you're talking to someone that takes their clothes off for a living, but you're not sure of the politically correct term for their line of work? Stripper? Exotic dancer? Burlesque performer? Well, let Lexicolatry peel away that social discomfort, because the proper term for such a person is an ecdysiast, and the art or occupation in general is ecdysiasm.

The word is derived from the Greek ekduein (to put off, shed), and follows the pattern of the English words enthusiast and the similarly derived ecdysis, defined as the 'action or process of shedding an outer skin or integument, as in insects, reptiles, etc.' However, it might be better not to think about this etymological entomological herpetological connection because ... well ... call me old fashioned, but the thought of snakes, insects and dead skin suddenly makes ecdysiasm sound just a little bit ick.

A snake shedding its skin
A snake doing its ecdysis.
(photo by Jen Goelinitz)
 Do please strip down your most neon comments in the box below. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Reflections on the Letter D

Only 22 Letters to Go!

Delumptious deloping Delilahs! If I haven't only gone and finished D! And it's been quite an eventful run too - somewhere in between my compulsive dictionary reading, I've managed to have a son and complete my first year in university. Of course, regular Lexi readers will know that I did take a break halfway through D - and I'd like to thank everyone for their patience as I did this. I did wonder if coming back after what ended up being a five month hiatus would mean I had no readers left, but no! Gladly, and thankfully, lots of you think that good words are worth the wait, and my daily hits quickly bounced back to their pre-break numbers! 

As for D itself, it did throw up some new and interesting words for me. Some of my favourites were delope (to deliberately miss a shot in a duel), deipnosophist (a person skilled in the art of dinner conversation) and the various and fascinating forms of deja vuThere was also a plethora of familiar but equally interesting words with curious histories and etymologies: daisy (from the Old English for 'day's eye'), drongo (it was a spectacularly naff racehorse) and doolally (an Indian town) were perhaps my favourite examples of these.

So, onward we march into the edifying edifices of E! And as we go, I would like to make a few changes to Lexicolatry, and would very much welcome feedback as I do. Firstly, I am planning to dispense with the long dictionary definitions at the start of every post - for words with short definitions (like, say, dasypygal - 'having a hairy buttocks'), I'll keep them, but for words with extensively long definitions or a myriad of meanings (like dog), I will simply explain the various meanings in text, and link to a dictionary if someone would like to read the full definition.

There are a couple of reasons for this - firstly, it takes me an awful long time to write out the long definitions. Very often, I'm really excited about a particular word, and just want to dive straight in and write! But I can't because I have to sit and tediously write out (and format) the definition. It's a bit like having an urge to just plunge into a swimming pool, but having to construct the diving board first (how's that for a contrived simile?). And, to be honest, I'm not sure how many people pore over the definitions I write anyway. So let's give this a try - posts will be more article based, and therefore quicker for me to write. But please, please give me some feedback on this - either in the comments or privately. I really do appreciate your input.

So thank you all again for your continued readership ... I look forward greatly to see you all through E!

Twitter: @lexicolatry

Friday, 22 May 2015

Dysphemism - The Euphemism's Evil Cousin

Two cigarettes
Cigarettes: also known as cancer sticks, lung darts and coffin nails
(photo by Geierunited)


Noun. Late 19th century.
[from DYS- bad, unfavourable, after euphemism.]

The substitution of a derogatory or unpleasant term for a pleasant or neutral one;
a term so used. Opposed to euphemism.

The dysphemism: the bolder, brasher, nastier cousin of the euphemism. Where the euphemism seeks to mollify, the dysphemism seeks to provoke; where the euphemism seeks to spare our sensibilities, the dysphemism seeks to crash right through them - offending, stoking, inciting and scandalising with every overblown, exaggerated, scandalous syllable it can muster. In short, if there were ever a phemism you would want to introduce to your parents, dysphemism wouldn't be it.

There are many reasons we choose to use dysphemisms, not least because they're highly effective at grabbing attention. Rather than calling her exercise book Run Overweight Woman Run, for example, author Ruth Field astutely utilised the power of dysphemism with Run Fat B!tch Run (for pure provocative punch, few words rival bitch); instead of calling welfare recipients welfare recipients, newspapers like The Daily Mail prefer terms like scroungers and spongers; and what paper would run with Mentally-ill Man With Knife when it can blast Knife-Wielding Maniac across its front page.

This is not to suggest, however, that the dysphemism is pure evil. After all, it carries the upfront and forthright honesty that its holier-than-thou cousin the euphemism could only ever dream of - who isn't sickened by the duplicity of terms like ethnic cleansing, voluntary repatriation or friendly fire? At least the dysphemism is clear in what it expresses. And we all use them, perhaps even more so than euphemisms - who hasn't called their neighbour's dog a mutt? Or their child a snotty-nosed brat? Or a lawyer a vulture? Or a doctor a quack? Or a certain newspaper a hate-filled mass of right-wing bum-fodder? Let he who is without dysphemism cast the first stone.

Do please leave your most phlegmatic comments in the waffle box below. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

What's a Dvandva?

Whiskey being poured into a glass
Well it will be when he adds the soda ...
(photo by Can Mustafa Ozdemir)


Noun. More fully dvandva compound. Mid-19th century. 
[Sanskrit dvandva from dva two.]

LINGUISTICS. A compound word containing two elements as if joined by and, as whiskey-soda.

A dvandva is a type of compound word, common in other languages, in which two nouns which could be connected by and are joined together. Examples include: player-manager, secretary-treasurer, father-daughter, mother-son and ... well ... I just can't think of any more. We just don't seem to have that many in English. I like the word, however, because it's pretty much unadulterated Sanskrit, has a nifty pronunciation (dvan-dvuh), and would be an absolute killer of a word to play in Scrabble. Who's gonna see that DV combination coming? No one! That's who! Other than that, it's pretty useless.

Do you know any other dvandvas?

Do please compound the situation by leaving your most conjoined comments in the conjugal box below.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Origin of Dutch Courage (And Other Dutchy Expressions)


Adjective & noun.
[From Middle Dutch dutsch 'Dutch, Netherlandish, German': the English word originally denoted speakers of both High and Low German,
but became more specific after the United Provinces adopted the Low German of Holland as the national language on independence in 1579.]

1 adj. Relating to the Netherlands or its people or language. ME

2(a) noun. The language of the Netherlands, spoken by some 20 million people. E17

2(b) noun. (as plural noun the Dutch) The people of the Netherlands collectively. E17

The English and the Dutch have a fraught history - variously enemies, allies and competitors - a history that descended into outright war on numerous occasions during the 17th and 18th centuries. It's hardly surprising, then, that we have acquired quite a few Dutchcentric expressions in English, many of which are far from flattering.

Perhaps the two most well known are double Dutch, referring to incomprehensible gibberish, and Dutch courage, which is alcohol-induced bravery. There are a couple of theories regarding the origin of Dutch courage, the most basic being that it's a disparaging comment on the quality of Dutch soldiers who, unlike their plucky British counterparts, had to be inebriated to show any kind of valour on the battlefield. A second theory posits just the opposite, however, and suggests that it was the British troops that were in need of a snifter. The evidence for this is the Dutch origin of gin, specifically from the Dutch chemist Franciscus Sylvius, and thus downing a few shots of gin before battle became known as Dutch courage (and if you've ever read any accounts of naval battles in the 17th and 18th centuries, you'll know you'd need it). This association with gin might also explain the expression Dutch feast, which is an event at which the host gets drunk before his guests.

Quality Dutch hoes can be ordered over the internet

As well as the Dutch people's drinking habits and bravery, there has also been a long tradition of maligning their sexual proclivities: a Dutch cap, for example, is a contraceptive diaphragm, and a Dutch wife is a sex toy (or, as the OED discreetly terms it, 'an artificial sex partner'). Rather cruelly, a Dutch widow is a prostitute, although we can at least be thankful that a Dutch hoe is exactly that - a particular type of hoe. 

Finally, there is the expression to go Dutch. This refers to something in which every party pays their own way. It is accompanied by a number of related expressions: a Dutch lunch, a Dutch party, a Dutch dinner, etc. Basically, if you're invited to any of these, you'll be paying for yourself. While it would be easy to assume that the origin of these is similarly British (historically, after all, the Dutch did have a reputation for being miserly and shifty - a Dutch reckoning is an unexplained bill that arrives out of nowhere and only increases if challenged), to go Dutch is in fact of American origin, the OED listing the first reference to a Dutch treat in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1887. Rather sportingly, too, it seems there wasn't any particular malice by the Americans - the Dutch simply had a reputation of paying their own way.

A painting of a naval battle
Attack on the Medway by Pieter van Soest shows a naval battle between British and Dutch forces in the 17th century
Are you Dutch?

Do you wish to respond to our history of linguistic sniping?

Do you know any other Dutchy expressions?

Do please clog up the comment section by leaving your cheesiest comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Duologue - Two's Company (Three's a Dialogue)

Two overlapping speech bubbles


Noun. Mid-18th century.
[from DUO- two, after monologue.]

A conversation between two people;
a dramatic piece with two actors.

Only geeky, nerdy, pedantic types will be interested in the distinction between a duologue and a dialogue (a monologue needs no explanation, surely), but seeing as I'm the geeky, nerdy, pedantic type, I've decided to cover itBasically, a dialogue is a conversation between "two or more people or groups," whereas a duologue is a conversation between exactly two people. Of course, if you ever forget this and call a duologue a dialogue, only for some nerdy, geeky, pedantic type like me to correct you, you can save yourself by rightly pointing out that it is still a dialogue, as every duologue is by definition also a dialogue (though a dialogue isn't always necessarily a duologue).

Is that clear?

Do please monologue your most logomaniacal comments below.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dunce - The Origin of that Stupid Cap

A dejected student sitting alone, book in hand
The Dunce
Harold Copping


Noun & verb. Early 16th century.
[from John Duns Scotus (c 1266-1308), scholastic theologian,
whose followers were a predominating scholastic sect until discredited by humanists and reformers in the 16th century.]

A1 noun. obsolete. An adherent of Duns Scotus, a Scotist;
a hair-splitter, a sophist. E16-E17

A2 noun. obsolete. A copy of the works of Duns Scotus;
a book embodying his teaching on theology or logic. M16-M17

A3 noun. obsolete. A dull book-learned pedant. L16-M18

A4 noun. A person who shows no capacity for learning;
a dullard, a blockhead. L16

B verb trans. Puzzle; make a dunce of. Now rare. L16

There's something markedly dispiriting about the word dunce. For starters, there's the idea that this man, John Duns Scotus, has had his entire life's work distilled down to a monosyllabic epithet meaning a dullard. Granted, he wasn't alive to see the shift in religious thinking during the Reformation that cast his teachings out of fashion, and during his lifetime he was a respected and widely-read thinker; still, it is remarkable that some 700 years after his death, his name is still primarily (if indirectly) known throughout the English speaking world as a byword for stupidity.

My sympathy for Duns' legacy, however, melts into insignificance when I consider the word's application to a generation of struggling school children, branded with this slur and made to sit in the corner in front of their peers just because they struggled with spelling or tables or the like. The horror of this humiliation is poignantly captured in Harold Copping's painting The Dunce which, while it does not portray the eponymous cap, does capture the abject dejection of the struggling student. I'm not one that would be particularly quick to tears, but if I look at this painting for too long, it does threaten to pull of a choke of sympathetic grief from my chest. What Duns himself would have thought of his name being so used I have no idea, but the fact that one of his central Christian teachings was that love is superior to knowledge makes me think he wouldn't have liked it one bit.

Are you a student of John Duns Scotus?

Did teachers use the dunce cap in your school?

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

Friday, 15 May 2015

Dummerer - It's a Real Word, Dummy!

Nope. I haven't seen it either.


Noun. Slang. Obsolete excluding Historical. Mid-16th century.
[from DUMB adjective.]

A beggar pretending to be dumb.

Adding an extra -er onto comparative words like bigger, greater, nicer, etc, is always good for a giggle. For example, on showing my daughter a shortcut to her school, she told me she knew a better shortcut, to which I drolly replied: "Well mine's even betterer!" I suppose you had to be there really. Anyway, this was also done for comic effect in the sequel to the classic comedy Dumb & Dumber, which they rather cleverly called Dumb & Dumberer. Still, if we allowed ourselves so much as an "Oh that's not a real word!" smirk, then the joke was on us, because dummerer is a real word. Yes indeed - it was the name given to beggars who pretended to be mute. The earliest use of this word was in Caueat for Commen Cursetors, a 1567 work which described dummerer as a "leud and most subtill people, the most part of these are Walch men." And while you might point out that the title of film is dumberer, and the real word is dummerer, it was spelt in the above work as Dommerer. Consistency of spelling, therefore, as so often in English, cannot be used as a valid argument in this case.

Do please leave your besterest comments in the box below.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Drongo - The Aussie Horse Who Always Came Last

Stone the crows if that ain't a face like a dropped pie!
(photo by Gunnar 'Probably Not Australian' Gunnarsson)


Noun. Plural drongos or drongoes. Mid-19th century.
[Madagascan name.]

1 Any of several black birds with long forked tails that belong to
 the passerine family Dicruridae and occur in Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. M19

2 A stupid, foolish, or incompetent person. Australia & New Zealand. slang. M20

For people of a certain age (my age), drongo will no doubt conjure up memories of the Australian soap Neighbours and its famously cerebral dialogue:

"Rack off, Ramsey, yer stupid flamin' drongo!"

If you've always admired the Australians for their bizarrely idiomatic epithets, you will be interested to know that drongo is actually a Madagascan name which acquired its negative connotation in the 1920s thanks to Drongo, the spectacularly inept Australian racehorse with a record of virtually always coming last. Thus, drongo entered into the Aussie vernacular, reaching our own shores just a few decades later by way of Australia's fine schedule of televisual programming. 

Are you a drongo?

Are you as stoked as I am about this Aussie insight?

Do please go off like a frog in a sock in the bonza box below, mate.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Drome - Running & Racing, Of Course

A Running Boy (1802) by Jens Juel
(because, apparently, this is how people ran in the 19th century)


[Representative of Greek dromos course, running, avenue, related to dramein run.]

Forming nouns denoting:
(a) a place for running, a course, etc
(b) a thing that runs

There's nothing too spectacular about the suffix -drome, which makes rather predictable appearances in words like aerodrome and hippodrome (which, to my crushing disappointment as a child, is not a course for racing hippos). It does, however, pop up in a few odd and interesting places, including syndrome, from sun- (together) and dramein (to run), literally 'a running of symptoms together'. It's also the suffix in palindrome, a word like 'nun' which reads the same backwards and forwards, constructed from palin (again) and dramein (to run), so literally 'a running again'. And it's the prefix in dromomania, which is an irresistible urge to run, travel or wander.

A rather one-sided, under-supported race at the Jerash Hippodrome in Jordan
(photo by Bernard Gagnon)
Do you know any other interesting -drome words?

Are you a dromomaniac?

Do please leave your raciest comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Dressage - A Prissy Word for a Prissy Sport

Photo by Bob Haarmans


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[French, literally 'training', from dresser to train, drill.]

The training of a horse in obedience and deportment;
the execution by a horse of precise movements in response to its rider.

Here's a dose of ignorance for you - I have always considered dressage, with its topped and tailed riders and buff, stately horses, to be a rather prissy sport (and I struggle to call it a sport at all), well-matched with a similarly prissy word, dressage, with its pretentious French pronunciation and aura. What's more, I always assumed that dressage had something to do with dressing, so conspicuous are the finely outfitted riders and horses in their displays.

I was, however, utterly abject in my ignorance, and I do bow my head in deference to the thousands of dressuers (not a real word) who would be utterly aghast at my aspersions. Dressage, you see, and as the OED has taught me, has nothing to do with dresses or dressing, but rather originates from the French word dresser, meaning 'to train'. And that's of course what dressage is all about - training, obedience and (ahem) chevaline deportment.

And chevaline deportment, I can tell you, is nothing to sniff at. It starts with basic training (campagne), but will advance to the cream of the riding crop, the haute école. And with moves like the pirouette, the piaffe, the passage, the levade, the courvet and the capriole, it quickly becomes clear that there is nothing in the least bit prissy about dressage. No sir. Not on your Nelly.

If you've never had the pleasure of watching dressage, here's a video. Feel free to skip to the interesting bits.

Are you a fan of dressage?

Do please saddle us with your most blinkered comments below.
(alternatively, if you'd like an article from someone that actually knows something about dressage, this one is excellent)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Downing Street - The Most Famous Address in the World

The famous front door can only be opened from the inside, lest the PM lock himself out after a night out with the lads


Noun phrase. Late 18th century.
[A street in London containing the official residence of the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from Sir George Downing (c. 1624-84), English diplomat and owner of the site.]

The British Government;
the Prime Minister;
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

10 Downing Street, sometimes referred to as the most famous address in the world, is an example of a metonym, in which a word or name is substituted for something it is closely related to. Therefore, just as one might say 'The White House has issued a statement' to mean that the US government has issued a statement, one can also say 'Downing Street responded swiftly to the crisis' (it is also sometimes expressed simply as Number 10).

As unassuming as it looks from the outside, 10 Downing Street is a fascinatingly enigmatic building, and is considerably bigger than it looks (you can take a virtual tour of its most famous rooms by clicking here). Sir George Downing, who by all accounts was a miserly and thoroughly unpleasant man, acquired leases for the property in 1682, and set about pulling down the existing buildings in order to erect a cul-de-sac of terraced houses. Interested in maximum profits, the houses were shoddily constructed; Winston Churchill would later write that Number 10 was "Shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear."

Over the decades, however, Number 10 has been improved upon and renovated numerous times, sporadically serving as the Prime Minister's home since 1735 and continuously since 1902. However, even as late as 2006, surveys questioned whether or not the building was fit for purpose in its current state, with a leaky exterior, dodgy heating and regular power outages cited as major problems. Tony Blair therefore authorised a wide-ranging programme of improvements for the building, work on which continues to this very day.

Have you ever been to Number 10?

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

Friday, 8 May 2015

Double Entendres - Do They Have to Be Rude?

Two polar bears on tundra (the double on tundra)
I don't know who came up with this, but I'm barely smirking ...


Noun phrase. Plural double entendres (pronounced same). Late 17th century.
[Obsolete French (now double entente) = double understanding.]

A double meaning;
an ambiguous expression;
a phrase with two meanings, one usually indecent.
Also, the use of such a meaning or phrase.

Double entendres are fun, but they're also pretty easy; my first notion when thinking about this post was just to write the entire thing in double entendres - "You want a double entendre? Well I'll give you one!" - y'know the sort of thing. The problem is, it wouldn't be original, and it really wouldn't be funny either. And while it's undeniable that a good, well-timed and well-chosen double entendre can be funny, very often they're rather witless, cheap and worthy of little more than a roll of the eyes.

But ... here's a novel concept ... double entendres don't have to be rude! In fact, it is my firm assertion that many of the very best double entendres aren't in the least bit bawdy, and these are of a higher calibre than their tit-and-bum counterparts because they're significantly more difficult to come up with. The US sitcom Frasier is particularly full of such witticisms - an example being when Niles meets the weird and creepy members of Frasier's fan club (all three of them), and remarks that meeting them makes him wish he had a club himself.

Political wit at its most laudatory

Other ones that tickled me include the Conservative campaign poster that declared "Labour Isn't Working." That was definitely a good one. And the Toronto Star headline: "Marijuana Issue Sent to a Joint Committee." Classic. And what about the controversial PETA ads? Y'know, where a nude model grins at the camera: "Want my body? Go vegetarian!" Well, maybe that one's a bit rude. And .. umm ... maybe my self-righteous quest to purify the double entendre is a bit of a lame duck. Maybe the rude ones are funnier. 

Well, OK, fair enough. But if the funniest double entendres are rude, then I make this final contention: the funniest ones are those that are unintentionally rude. Yes! That's it. And as evidence, I give you two of the finest examples of double entendres, made by the inimitable Jonathan Agnew, which are so funny that (for a moment) they even managed to to make cricket entertaining.


Do please leave any comments in the box below.