Thursday, 30 April 2015

What's a Doner Kebab Made From?


Noun phrase. Mid-20th century.
[Turkish doner kebap, from doner rotating + kebap kebab.]

A Turkish dish consisting of spiced lamb roasted on a vertical rotating spit and sliced thinly.

Many years ago, at the tender age of 15, I was out on the town with a girl I rather liked and, always one that knew how to show a lady a good time, we stopped on the way home from the pub to buy a doner kebab. While queuing, she asked what type of meat a doner kebab is made from, and I freely admitted that I did not know. Unabashed by my own ignorance, I gallantly stepped forward and asked the girl who was serving at the till. "Tell me, my good lady," I said, "what type of meat is this doner kebab made from?" The girl stared back at me blankly, as if I had asked the most stupid question in the world. "It's doner," she said, in an Essex accent that made me think her name was probably Donna. "Umm, yes I know," I said, "but what type of meat is it?" She stuck to her story, now speaking as if I was deaf as well as stupid: "It's doner." Not drunk enough to push the point, I sheepishly went back to my inamorata and gave her the results of my inquires: "Umm ... apparently it's doner." I don't think we ever went out again. As the etymology shows, doner is neither a meat not an animal, but is actually Turkish for rotatingAnd, as I subsequently learned for all future dates, a doner kebab is generally made of lamb.

Do please spit out your most spicy comments into the box below.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Dollar - The Origin of the Word and the Sign

A golden dollar sign


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[From early Flemish or Low German daler, from German T(h)aler, short for Joachimsthaler, a coin from the silver mine of Joachimsthal ( 'Joachim's valley'), now Jáchymov in the Czech Republic. The term was later applied to a coin used in the Spanish-American colonies, which was also widely used in the British North American colonies at the time of the American War of Independence, hence adopted as the name of the US monetary unit in the late 18th century.]

1 Historical. A German thaler;
any of various northern European coins bearing an equivalent name. M16

2 Historical. A Spanish or Spanish-American peso or piece of eight
(also largely used in the British N. American colonies at the time of the War of Independence). L16

3 The basic monetary unit of the United States, equal to 100 cents;
a basic monetary unit in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other countries;
a note of coin of the value of one dollar. L18

4 A five-shilling piece, a crown. slang. obsolete. except Historical. E19

The dollar, the epitome of American capitalism and commercialism, has a surprisingly un-American origin. The word comes from the Low German daler, from the German thaler, itself an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler, which was a coin from the 1500s minted from the silver mine in Joachimsthal in Bohemia (now the Czech republic). 

English colonists in America used the word when referring to Spanish coins, and it was in such widespread use among British colonies at the time of the War of Independence that it was adopted as the official name of the US currency in the 18th century. Thus, from that obscure silver mine in Bohemia, the mighty dollar travelled westward to become the global icon of wealth and capitalism that it is today.

Talking of icons, where does the dollar sign ($) come from? There are a number of different theories, but the most plausible is that it evolved from the symbol for the Spanish American peso, or piece of eight, which was Ps. Gradually, the P and the S started to be written together, until it looked as it does today.

Do please donate your most valued comments into the contribution box below.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Dolls - Why Are They Creepy?

Uncanny valley or object of beauty? You decide.
Photo by Robbin Atwell


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Pet-form of female forename Dorothy, with l for r as Hal, Sal, Moll for Harry, Sarah, Mary.]

1 obsolete. A female favourite, a mistress. M16-E17

2(a) A small model of a human figure, usually a child or woman, for use as a toy. L17

2(b) A ventriloquist's or puppeteer's dummy. L19

2(c) A hit or score in a game of Aunt Sally. L20

3(b) A woman who is pretty but unintelligent or frivolous. L18

3(b) Any woman or girl, especially an attractive one;
occasionally, a pleasant or attractive man. slang. M19

If, like me, you're one of the many people that find dolls (and adults that collect them) just ever so slightly creepy, you may be comforted to know that this is very common. The fear of dolls is known as pediophobia, and is one of the most common phobias. There is a long history of theory behind why we so often find dolls frightening, and it's a fear that's placed under the umbrella term automatonophobia, which is the fear of something that represents a sentient being, and also includes coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, and pupophobia, the fear of puppets.*

*At least, this is according to cursory internet research and that beautiful font of all unverified knowledge Wikipedia - while major dictionaries have embraced coulrophobia, there is more resistance to the terms pediophobia, automatonophobia and pupophobia.

One of the predominant theories behind the unease dolls often cause is that of the uncanny valley, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as the phenomenon whereby things that 'bear a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouse a sense of unease or revulsion.' Basically, the further a doll or robot is from being lifelike, the more comfortable we are with it; the closer they are to reality, the creepier they get.

Personally, I was hoping that if anything could vanquish my uncanny unease with dolls, it would be an interesting etymology - the word doll comes from the pet-name for Dorothy, following the same pattern as Hal, Sal and Moll for Harry, Sarah and Mary. Dolls also have an interesting history - while the English word dates from the relatively recent 1500s, dolls themselves are perhaps the oldest of all human toys, examples of which have been discovered among ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts. All of which means that ... umm ... well ... no it doesn't change anything. I still find dolls creepy, and if a solid etymology and detailed history can't shift that, then nothing can.

Do you like, collect or revere dolls?

Are you a full-blown pediophobe?

Do please leave a comment in the toy box below.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Dolce Vita - The Sickly Sweet Life

Photo from PT Money


Noun phrase. Mid-20th century.
[Italian = sweet life.]

A life of luxury, pleasure, and self-indulgence.
Frequently preceded by the or la.

Whenever I think of la dolce vita, I think of Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei, whose full name of (deep breath) His Royal Highness Pengiran Digadong Sahibul Mal Pengiran Muda Jefri Bolkiah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien is truly indicative of a man primed for a life of excess.

Prince Jefri (or Jeff, as I like to call him) is infamous for his life of nauseatingly spectacular opulence. Of course, there are the bog-standard follies of aristocratic billionaires - the fleets of cars, grotesque mansions, gaudy jewels, harems of prostitutes on call day and night and so on and so forth; but when it comes to pointless indulgence, the J-Dog really knows how to push the diamond-encrusted yacht out. He once, for example, paid $17,000,000 for a private concert by Michael Jackson, hosted in a purpose-built, single-use stadium!  He also bought a rug for $7,000,000 (although apparently it was an exceptionally nice rug), and paid $1,500,000 for a badminton coach (and was still rubbish). And he had a yacht called Tits. You read that right.

Yes, I'm indignant too. But wait! There is a happy ending, for Jefri's dolce vita would eventually dissolve into an aspro vita. Proving there is at least some justice in this world, an audit eventually led to charges against the J-Dog for embezzling some $15 billion from the Brunei government. Sure, he wasn't ever found guilty; sure, despite turning over all of his assets he probably still lives in a level of luxury each of us could only ever dream of. But it is kind of satisfying isn't it?

Of course, none of us should be too judgemental. After all, who is immune to the allure of luxury living? Why, only today I myself bought not one but two pairs of shorts. That's right - red or black - I couldn't decide. So I just thought 'blow it,' slapped down the credit card, and lived la dolce vita, baby. Yeah!

Do you live la dolce vita?

Would you ever ruin a perfectly formed Italian phrase by saying the dolce vita?

Do please leave your most extravagant comment in the gold-plated box below.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Dolce Far Niente - Sweet Doing Nothing

A painting of a young woman lounging idly by a fountain
Dolce far niente (1904) by John William Goodward


Noun. Late 18th century.
[Italian = sweet doing nothing.]

Delightful idleness.

This is a delightful noun, borrowed from Italian, and to be pronounced (if you can be bothered) with the full melody of the accent.

In keeping with the spirit of delightful idleness, that's all I'm going to say about it.

Do please leave your most unoccupied comments in the chaise-box below. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dog - Man's Best Etymological Mystery

Photo by Jason Mrachina


[Late Old English docga (once), of unknown origin.]

A carnivorous mammal, Canis familiaris, long domesticated for hunting or guarding,
as a pet, etc., and existing in many diverse breeds. LOE

Sharp-eyed readers of Lexicolatry might have noticed that the above definition of dog is a bit light; certainly it covers the animal, but doesn't dog have other applications too? What about, for example, dog as a contemptible person? What about the type of clamp? The lively, rakish man? And, yes, dog as a rather nasty term for an ugly woman. Of course, these are all valid, and for a full breakdown of its definitions you can click here to read it in Oxford Dictionaries.  

What's of interest with dog, however, besides its many and eclectic uses, is that it is one of the greatest etymological mysteries in the English language. For centuries, the Germanic word hund was in use; then, inexplicably, docga appeared and in the 16th century forced hund into the background. It succeeded in pushing its way into a few other European languages, such as French dogue and Danish dogge, but where it ultimately came from and how it fended off the likes of the Latin canis is anyone's guess. This is the sort of mystery that keeps lexicographers awake at night.

Being such a versatile word, it's unsurprising that dogs feature in so many expressions, many of which reflect our long and complicated history with them. For example, the expression a dog's life comes from the time when a dog's life really was the dog's life - when they were simply working and hunting animals, rather than the pampered pooches so many are today. Further, less-common expressions also attest to the misery of a dog's life: one can be dog tired, as sick as a dog, and even die a dog's death.

One especially curious canine expression is hair of the dog, which is an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover. This, again, originates from a time when dogs were not pets, but were regarded in Britain as diseased and potentially rabid vermin. Should one be bitten by a rabid dog, the dubious remedy was to take a potion made with the hair of the dog that bit you. Its use to refer to an alcoholic remedy for a hangover is first recorded in 1546, and you can see how it transferred across - just as part of the dog that gave you rabies could protect you from rabies, so too could a little more alcohol relieve you of your alcohol-induced suffering. Medically dubious, of course, but certainly interesting.

Of course, there are many more expressions from dogdom (yes, dogdom is a real word), which you can read about in this excellent article on the OED website. And, again, sadly, many of them reflect that, while dogs have historically been man's best friend, very often man hasn't been a particularly good friend to dogs.

Photo by Found Animals Foundation
Do you have any favourite doggy expressions?

Is there any canine trivia you'd like to share?

Do please leave your most dogged comment in the box below.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What Happened to the Dodo?

The Dodo & Given (1759) by G.Edwards


Noun. Plural dodos or dodoes. Early 17th century.
[Portuguese doudo simpleton, fool.]

1 A large flightless bird, Raphus cucullatus, with stumpy wings, 
which inhabited Mauritius until it became extinct in the 17th century. E17

2 An old-fashioned, stupid, or inactive person or institution. colloquial. L19

The poor, pathetic, utterly abused dodo! Until its discovery by European sailors in 1598, the dodo had lived a benign, carefree life on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. And then we showed up; within one-hundred years of its first contact with humans, it was extinct. Human beings - let us collectively take a bow.

As is typical for animals that exist with no natural predators, the dodo lacked any innate fear of humans, and was therefore caught completely by surprise when Portuguese sailors rolled up onto its paradisaic island and started feasting upon its bountiful (if rather distasteful) meat. Even worse, the sailors brought with them an entire bevy of even less discriminating predators - cats, dogs, pigs and rats. The dodo was so naive to the dire threat it now faced that, when one was trapped and in distress, its terrified cries of alarm did little more than bring all the other dodos in the area waddling over to see what all the fuss was about; hunting them was like shooting dodos in a barrel of a fish, and thus the plethora of predators now prowling the island made short, bloody and indiscriminate work of their species. 

As if our real-world brutalising of this poor bird wasn't enough, we have continued to add lexical insult to existential injury through our language, as we relish in our avicidal handiwork with expressions like as dead as a dodo. Also, in reference to something outdated, old-fashioned or obsolete, we sometimes say that something has gone the way of the dodo, as if it was the poor bird's fault for not keeping up with the times and immediately adapting to flesh-hungry sailors marauding all over its island with their predatory mammals in tow. Our disdain even extends to its name - dodo coming from 'fool' or 'simpleton' in Portuguese. Because, apparently, it was all the dodo's fault for being so stupid.

Do please leave your most aviphilic comments in the bird box below.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Doctrix - A Female Doctor

A female doctor
Fear not - she's not a real doctrix
(photo by Lauren Nelson)


Noun. Plural doctrices, doctrices. E17-M18
[Latin, feminine of DOCTOR noun.]

A female doctor.

Gender-specific job titles have been going out of fashion for some time now.

I do, however, rather like doctrix, and I would like to suggest that it should never fall out of use but, alas, I think it probably already has.

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

Monday, 20 April 2015

Doctrinaire - A Stickler for the Rules


Noun & adjective. Early 19th century.
[From French, from doctrine + aire.]

A1 noun. Historical. In early 19th century France, a member of a political movement which supported 
constitutional government and the conciliation of the principles of authority and liberty. E19

A2 noun. A person who tries to apply principle without allowance for circumstance;
 a pedantic theorist. M19

B adj. Pertaining to or of the character of a doctrinaire;
seeking to apply a doctrine in all circumstances;
theoretical and unpractical. M19

My distaste for bureaucracy, corpocracy and all things rigid, unyielding and unfeeling is well documented on Lexi, and to this list we can add the doctrinaire, a person who stubbornly sticks to the letter of the law regardless of the practical (and human) ramifications.

Its relationship to the word doctrine lends it a certain religious flavour, and is somewhat reminiscent of the word Pharisaical. As anyone who has read the Gospels will know, the Pharisees were a Jewish sect of the first century C.E, portrayed in the Bible as captious hypocrites who held the letter of the law to be more important than, in Jesus' words, "the weightier matter of the law - justice, mercy, good faith!" (The New Jerusalem Bible).

An interesting parallel to the doctrinairism presented in the Bible is that of the bizarre Three Strikes laws adopted in various states of the USA, but most famously in California. Rather than allowing judges their customary flexibility in sentencing, the Three Strikes applies the rules of baseball to impose severe and mandatory sentences upon any third offence if the convicted has two previous felonies against his name. This has lead to some outrageous results, including that of Curtis Wilkerson who, in 1995, was sentenced to twenty-five to life years for the theft of a pair of socks, on account of two previous convictions from 1981.

Make no mistake - I'm all for severe sentences for severe crimes. But when laws, rules and regulations are applied so rigidly by doctrinaires (or systems that compel the judiciary to become doctrinaires), I'm with Jesus - I really think it's missing the point.

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

Friday, 17 April 2015

Why Do Americans Find DIY So Confusing?

DIY in da house!
(photo by Kristin Brenemen)




DIY confuses Americans. I know, I know! You're thinking "Why on earth has this word made it into Lexicolatry?" Surely to earn a place on Lexi, a word has to be obscure, like celsitude or bromatology, or funny like a-poop or cementitious? And when an everyday word like, say, beach or anorak makes it, it's because it has an interesting etymology. But DIY? What could possibly be obscure, funny or interesting about that?

It's a fair point. Even The Shorter OED, from where I've taken the above definition, seems decidedly cursory about telling us what it is because, presumably, we all know already, so what's the point? But not to Americans. Bizarrely, inexplicably, DIY joins like the plethora of Britishisms that our chums across the pond find utterly befuddling (others, incidentally, include biscuit, chips and lorry).

A case study of this confusion is one of our highly-esteemed American contributors Katie Dwyer, author of the most excellent My College Advice and writer of many wonderful posts for Lexicolatry. During her stay in Ireland, Katie and I would spend many an evening discussing the differences between American, Irish and British English, and one word that repeatedly cropped up was DIY.

"So, just tell me again," she would say, "what exactly is it?"

"It's when you do stuff yourself, without hiring someone else to do it. Like repairs and stuff."

"Oh. So like if you repaired your car rather than take it to a mechanic?"

"Umm ... no .. not really. Well, that is technically doing-it-yourself, I suppose, But that's not really what DIY is. It's more to do with the house."

"Oh right. So, like, mowing your own lawn and doing yard work?"

"Umm ... no ... that's not ... well it is, I suppose, but it's not DIY."




"Umm ... no."

"Putting up shelves?"

"Yes! That's it! DIY is putting up shelves ... yourself!"



To be honest, I've been thinking about this for so long that it's starting to get messed up in my own head. All I know is this: if someone asks me what I'm doing today and I say "I'm doing a spot of DIY," that has a very specific meaning in my mind, and does not include things like car repair, gardening or wiring. But putting up shelves is definitely a possibility. Definitely.
Yes! This is DIY!
(photo by Chris & Jenni)
If you have a better way of explaining DIY, do please do it yourself in the comment box below.
(I did my best, OK?)

If you're American, and are aghast at the very premise of this post, do please comment also.

Together, we can get to the bottom of this.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Divulge - A Common Mistake

Photo by C.E.B Imagery


Verb. Late Middle English.
[Latin divulgare, formed from di- 'widely' + vulgare 'publish' (from vulgus 'common people').] 

1(a) obsolete. verb trans. Make publicly known; publish (a statement, book, etc.). LME-L18

1(b) obsolete. verb trans. Make a public pronouncement about (a person). L16-L17

2 verb trans. Declare or tell openly (something private of secret); disclose, reveal. E17

3 verb intrans. Become publicly known. rare. E17

4 obsolete. Make common, impart generally. rare (Milton). Only in M17

To divulge a secret, my mother used to say, is awfully vulgar. And she was right, of course - both socially and etymologically - for divulge has its roots in the Latin vulgus, meaning 'common people' (and from which we get the word vulgar, and from which the Latin Vulgate takes its name). It's not that the etymology suggests the divulging of secrets is peculiar to commoners; rather, to divulge is to publish widely [to the common man]. And, to be truthful, when I told you about the embarrassing incident with that pretty young lady and the pot of marmalade, I really did expect a little more discretion on your part.

Do please widely publish your most vulgar comments in the box below. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Diva - For Goddess Sake!

All I'm saying is ... some people ... somewhere ... have said Mariah Carey can be a bit of a diva
(photo by Steve Gawley)


Noun. Late 19th century.
[Italian from Latin = goddess.]

A distinguished female (especially operatic) singer;
a prima donna.

Diva is derived from the Italian root meaning of 'goddess'. This is interesting and apt, although I can't help but feel a little unfair to likes of Ceres, Diana and Venus - genuine Roman goddesses with the genuine godly powers of smiting and the like. After all, were they to act like the modern-day pantheon of air-headed divas with more ego than talent, we'd probably be saying of them 'Oh this is a bit much!'

And if you're in any doubt regarding the stratospheric level of self-importance a diva can attain, consider their riders - that is, the particular demands they level before appearing or performing at a venue. As reported by The Telegraph, these include:

Having someone walk backwards in front of you in case you fall over
(Mariah Carey)

Having a separate wig room

Custom-made germ-resistant toilet seats
(Jennifer Lopez)

Insisting that staff call you 'Number 1'
(Jennifer Lopez again!)

Having your dressing-room carpet ironed so it's not too bumpy
(Kanye West, who amply proves that men can be divas too)

Not that any of this is to take cheap digs as empty-headed celebrities. No, no, no. Rather, it just illustrates the aptness of the etymology of diva. Its synonym prima donna literally means 'first lady' in Italian, and like diva primarily refers to a distinguished female singer. However, just like Kanye West's ego, it has distended to become so much more than that. Or less than that. Because I kind of feel grubby just reading (and then writing) about such brazen pomposity. 

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

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dittography - Unintentional Repetition Repetition


Noun. Late 19th century.
[from Greek dittos double + -graphia writing.]

PALAEOGRAPHY. Unintentional repetition of a letter, word, etc., by a copyist;
an instance of this.

Anyone that has ever spent hours poring over an essay, scouring it for typos, will well know the exasperation of sitting in class with a freshly printed, error-free copy on the desk in front of you, only for you to spot, moments before you turn it in, that ... aaaaargh! ... there is a mistake, and it's because you wrote some stupid word twice!

When writing, editing and copying, dittography (as it is properly called) it exceptionally easy. As the picture above demonstrates, our brains seem to have some internal mechanism for editing out superfluous words, thus rendering them invisible to all but the most discerning of eyes (although I'm convinced, as my essay-writing experience shows, that this mechanism inexplicably shuts down at the the moment of maximum anguish to the author - specifically, when it's too late to correct the mistake).

And finally, before anyone points it out, I do know that the above picture is not a true example of dittography, as it was intentional. And also, the anguish caused by a genuine essay-based dittograph is equal to the feeling of triumph when one receives back the essay from the tutor, and they missed the mistake as well. Ha! Even university lecturers succumb to the power of the dittogram! Clearly, it is very easy easy to do.

Do please leave your most repetitive comments in the bbox below.

Monday, 13 April 2015

What is a Dissimile?

A brick


Noun. Late 17th century.
[Latin dissimilitudo, from dissimilis unlike, after SIMILE.]

RHETORIC. A comparison or illustration by contrast.

Most readers of Lexicolatry are probably fully aware of the humble simile and its more high-brow cousin the metaphor. If ever I need to explain the difference, I defer to Danny DeVito's excellent explanation from Renaissance Man:
Men are like dogs

Men are dogs

There is also, however, the lesser known dissimile, which is, as Collins Online Dictionary puts it, 'a comparison of two dissimilar objects for the purpose of illustration.' In thinking of an example, I could do no better than Douglas Adams' classic line from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

'The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.'

DeVito's character doesn't include dissimiles in his lesson, which is a shame as I would like to see how he would fit them into his man/dog analogy: 

Unlike dogs, men are ...

You can fill in the blanks on that one.

Do please leave any comments in the box below.
(and double-points if they contain a dissimile) 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dissensus - The Reverse of Consensus

Photo by Philippe Leroyer


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[from DIS- + CONSENSUS, or Latin dissensus disagreement.]

Widespread dissent; the reverse of consensus.

A simple, interesting and rather useful word, dissensus offers the opposite of consensus, with Merriam-Webster offering a rather lovely example of its use:

"A democracy relies on dissensus as much as consensus."

Being rather obliging sorts, I do feel we haven't used dissensus enough, and it would make a most agreeable additional to all of our vocabularies.

Do please agree with everything I've just written in the comment box below.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Dismal - 'Evil Days'

View, Dismal Swamp, North Carolina (1850)
Painting by Régis François Gignoux


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman dis mal from medival Latin dies mali evil days.]

1 The 24 evil or unlucky days (2 in each month) in the medieval calendar;
generally evil days; the time of old age. Only in ME

2 obsolete. The Devil. L15-L16

3a obsolete. A funeral mute. Only in E18

3b In plural. Mourning garments. M-L18

4 One of the dreary tracts of swampy land on the eastern seaboard of the US. E18

5 the dismals, low spirits, the 'dumps'. M18

5(b) In plural. Depressing circumstances, miseries. E19

Photo by Michael Lehenbauer


Adjective. Late Middle English. 
[from DISMAL noun.]

1 Designating each of the 24 evil or unlucky days of the medieval calendar. obsolete except Historical. LME

2 obsolete. generally. Boding or bringing misfortune and disaster; malign. L16-M17

3 Of the nature of misfortune or disaster; calamitous. Now rare. L16

4 Originally causing dismay, dreadful.
Now, causing gloom, depressing;
sombre, dreary, cheerless. L16

5 Exhibiting or expressing gloom. E18

6 Feeble; inept. colloquial. M20

Zounds! What is this misapprehension I've been labouring under? All of my life, I was aware of only one unlucky day - Friday 13th - but now, if medieval mystics are to be trusted (and of course they are), I learn that there are actually twenty-four! What madness have I been engaging in on these inauspicious dates? So you too do not play fast and loose with these dismal days, they are:

January 1st
January 25th
February 4th
February 26th
March 1st
March 28th
April 10th
April 20th
May 3rd
May 25th
June 10th
June 16th
July 13th
July 22nd
August 1st
August 30th
September 3rd
September 21st
October 3rd
October 22nd
November 5th
November 28th
December 7th
December 22nd

That's quite a catalogue of bad luck right there, so be sure to check this list against any planned bungee jumps, tightrope walks or marriage proposals. The word dismal arrives in English ultimately from the Latin dies mali, meaning 'evil days', although its meaning has changed somewhat over the centuries as can be seen from the different definitions. It's of note, too, that the mystics of the Middle Ages only seemed concerned with dates, not days of the week, and there is only one 13th in that list of dismal days - quite what happens when the cosmic forces of misfortune combine to make July 13th a Friday is anyone's guess. Quite frankly, I wouldn't dare get out of bed ...

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

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Dislove - The End of Love

A broken heart
Image by


Noun. Rare. Mid-16th century.
[from DIS- + LOVE noun.]

Disappearance of love; unfriendliness; hatred.

The definition of dislove touched me as much as the word itself, as it charts the saddest of journeys - from love, to the disappearance of love, to antipathy, to hatred. And when it is complete, it's hard to understand how one could have ever got from one extreme to the other, or if one could ever get back.

Do please leave any comments below.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Dishabille - Undress for all Occasions

A déshabillé model with her back turned
A typically déshabillé pin-up of Alberto Vargas


Noun. Also des-, dés-, déshabillé. Late 17th-century.
[French déshabillé use as noun of past participle of déshabiller undress, from des- + habiller to dress.]

1 The state of being casually or only partially dressed. Chiefly in in dishabille, en déshabillé. L17

2 A garment or costume of a casual or informal style. L17

A portrait of Lt. Col. John Churchill in uniform
Lt. Col. John Churchill (1906-1996) - also known as 'Mad Jack'
If you need to describe a state of undress, then dishabille provides a wonderfully versatile platform for doing so, giving both a range of spellings and pronunciations to suit whatever scanty definition you're reaching for.

For example, if you wish to fully equip your déshabillé with its French pronunciation and companion diacritics, this is probably more suited to the risqué states of undress found in the likes of an Alberto Vargas pin-up girl.

Dishabille, however, in dropping the French diacritics but retaining the pronunciation, is perhaps more suitable to the type of careless underdressing that so irked Lieutenant Colonel John Churchill, a WWII officer famed for entering battle kitted out with a longbow, bagpipes and broadsword, and quoted as remarking that "any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."

And finally, we land at the Homeresque brand of dishabille - sitting around in your Y-fronts -  for which we would dispense with all French pronunciation, fancy diacritics, and notions of eroticism. D'oh!

Homer Simpson in his underpants

Are there any other forms of partial undress to which we can apply dishabille?

Do any of the above forms particularly appeal to you?

Do please dress down your most bare-faced comments in the changing box below.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Discombobulate - A Disturbingly American History

A discombobulated couple
Disturbed, nay, discombobulated by American vocab
(photo by Brian Talbot)


Verb trans. North American slang. Also -boberate and other variants. Mid-19th century.
[Probably alteration of discompose or discomfit.]

Disturb, upset, disconcert.

Dissatisfied with the already bounteous vocabulary bequeathed to them by their British antecedents, Americans in the 1800s took a fancy to absquatulating from the lexical norm and inventing their own frankly outlandish words.

Discombobulate is one of those words.

The discom- bit is probably drawn from the conservative likes of discompose and discomfit, while the -bobulate part is just pure unadulterated bunkum.

And I love it.

Does the American's renegade use of our language discompose, discomfit or discombobulate you?

Do please leave your most bobulated comments in the combobubox below.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Discalceate - The Naked Foot

Bare feet on bare ground
Photo by Mathanba


Adjective, verb & noun. Mid-17th century.
[Latin discalceatus, formed as DIS- + calceatus past participle of calceare to shoe, from calceus shoe.]

A adj. Barefoot; wearing sandals as the only footwear. M17

B noun. A discalceate friar or nun. Now rare or obsolete. M17

C verb. Take off the shoes (of). E17

I do rather like going barefoot, just as I rather like my new word discalceate to describe it. It can also be used as a verb, as in this sentence from the 1609 book Race Celestiall by Henry Greenwood:

'Moses was not permitted to come nigh the Lord, before he did discalceate himself.'

If you're also one of those officiously house-proud types that has a sign by your door asking guests to remove their shoes before entering, this might also make a nice variation:

'Visitors are kindly requested to discalceate themselves before entering.'

It's worth having one of those signs just to see the perplexed looks on their faces.

Bare feet walking on a busy street
Photo by Chris Goldberg
Do please bare your sole in the comment box below.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Disaster - Blaming the Stars

Proxima Centauri made me sneeze with a mouthful of muesli this morning
(image from Wikimedia Commons)


Noun & verb. Late 16th century.
[French désastre or its source Italian disastro, from dis- + astro star (from Latin astrum). Compare with ill-starred.]

A1 noun. (A) sudden or great misfortune;
an event of ruinous or distressing nature, a calamity;
complete failure. L16

A2 noun. obsolete. An unfavourable aspect of a star or planet. E-M17

B verb trans. Bring disaster on; ruin; cause serious injury to. Usually in passive. Now rare. L16

The astrological etymology of disaster is curious. The original sense is, as Chambers puts it, a 'bad influence of the stars,' which infers two things:

1) When things go wrong, it's not our fault

2) When things go wrong, something somewhere is at fault

This is a typically human cop out. Very often, when disaster strikes, it is completely and utterly our own fault. And secondly, things occasionally go wrong and it's no one's fault. Blaming the heavens, therefore, is something we Oort not to do ...

(for example, I would really like to blame something, anything, for what's quite possibly the worst pun I've ever written, but I won't)

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

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Dinothropy - When a Man Is a Dinosaur

Rex: Anthropomorphic if not dinothropomorphic
(photo by Bram)


Noun. Also dinopomorphism. Late 19th century.
[from dino- abbreviation of dinosaur + Greek anthropos man.]

1(a) The pathological delusion that one is a dinosaur. L19

2 The pathological display of dinosaur-like characteristics. E20

If you have a constant craving for raw meat, are exceptionally heavy-footed, and have an irrational fear of tar pits and asteroid strikes, it's possible that you're one of the surprisingly many dinothropes in the world.

Descriptions of dinothropy first started to appear in medical literature in the late 19th century, a period that corresponds to the time that dinosaurs began to explode into the public consciousness. Prominent London anatomist and surgeon Henry Gray was one of the first to describe the condition, writing that dinothropy is "a singular conviction that one is a great reptilian beast, somehow transplanted into the human frame but otherwise wholly reptoid." 

Today, dinothropy is still relatively unknown outside professional circles. Increased activism and awareness campaigns, however, are beginning to throw light on this bizarre and often all-consuming delusion:

"I don't like the word delusion," said Terry d'Arctile, chairman of the International Society of Dinothropes. "Delusion implies that I'm mad. I'm not mad. I just think I'm a stegosaurus."

Interviews such as these are doing much to increase awareness and dispel misconceptions, which in turn has lead to many more speaking out against the harsh, at times heartbreaking, difficulties they face as a subculture.

"It's crazy," continued d'Arctile. "You have ailurophiles, canophilists, even lycanthropes, and they get all the help and support they need. As soon as you tell a girl you're a stegosaurus, however, she won't talk to you anymore. What's that about? I'm not even a carnivore."

"The bullying is perhaps the worst part," said another dinothrope. "You constantly have to deal with jibes, like people pointing at the sky and shouting 'Comet!' Or asking 'Cup of tea, Rex?' I've learnt to deal with it though. Now, I just turn around and say 'Hey, we ruled the planet for 250 million years, and we're going to rule again, so I think you should show a bit more respect.' That usually makes people stay away from me."

There have been even been some high-profile brushes with the law, as a spate of dinosaur egg thefts in North Carolina, USA, and Mandu, India, have been attributed to dinothropic hardliners seeking to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs.

As for the future of dinothropes, it's looking a little brighter. Says d'Arctile: "It's getting better. We're seeing local chapters popping up all over the US now, which is a chance for fellow dinothropes to meet and chat and watch a film together, usually Jurassic Park. And in April 2014 we had our first national convention in Las Vegas. It didn't go completely without hitch - next time we'll probably have to separate the carnivores and herbivores, but it's a learning experience and relatively few people were hurt. All in all, though, things are improving. While we might never attain the previous level of planetary domination that our forefathers enjoyed, we can still dream, and until the time we're ready to rise again and take what is rightfully ours, we will continue to promote awareness, understanding and tolerance of dinopothromorphia."

Community outreach programmes seek to increase awareness and understanding of dinothropomorphia
(photo by WFIU Public Radio)

Are you a dinothrope?

Do you have dinothropic tendencies?

Do please leave your comets in the box below.