What do you mean it’s been a year?!

When last we met, we looked at an impossibly long list of new words found in James Joyce’s Ulysses. I asked y’all to comment on which of those words you’d like elucidated. Though I received no responses in the comments (considering my recent track record, there will be no negative judgement from me!), I did have some private communications that resulted in a short list of words that beg further investigation. I did a bit of work on “ungyved” that can be found in the notes of that post (I’m looking at you, Jen!), and I have chosen for the subject of this post a single, dense sentence that we can spend some time unpacking (to no great benefit to anybody). Okay, is everybody ready?! I present for your general confusion this description of a handkerchief:

The scenes depicted on the emunctory field, showing our ancient duns and raths and cromlechs and grianauns and seats of learning and maledictive stones, are as wonderfully beautiful and the pigments as delicate as when the Sligo illuminators gave free rein to their artistic fantasy long long ago in the time of the Barmecides. – James Joyce, Ulysses

Did you get all that? Neither did I, at first. This quote contains the word “emunctory,” which made the short list mentioned above. I chose it for this post because this context sentence also contains the word “maledictive,” another word found in the 100 pages. I’m sure you noticed that there are a whole gaggle of other words that seem completely foreign. That’s because they are! Nevertheless, I aim to render this entire quote comprehensible. Can’t be done, you say? Strap yourselves in and read on; this is going to be a wild ride!

Let’s start with the word on the short list: “emunctory.” This is a fun word, and it’s ridiculously obscure. We have to dive into technical nomenclature to find its definition; Merriam-Webster’s online resource only has it in its medical dictionary (oh, and the entry is only for the noun, not the adjective):

emunctoryn : an organ (as a kidney) or part of the body (as the skin) that carries of body wastes.

Mmmm, charming. As disgusting, I mean interesting, as that is, it doesn’t seem to fit with our quote. In this case, we get a little more from the British. The OED has this adjective entry:

emunctoryadj physiol  1 : of or pertaining to the blowing of the nose  2 : that has the function of conveying waste matters from the body.

Bingo! Sense one is our man! The “emunctory field” is something on which to blow one’s nose: Joyce’s clever way of saying “handkerchief.” We have a lot to get through, so I hope you don’t mind if we just keep moving [If you are a Latin nerd, don’t miss the notes for this post. For those of you who aren’t, I’ll just say that “emunctory” is etymologically related to the word “mucous.”]. Let’s get to that other word on the 100 Pages list: “maledictive.” Now, this word is nearly as obscure as the previous one (and it’s as close as we’re going to get to a bit of practical knowledge in this post–which is not close at all).

maledictiveadj 1 : marked by cursing : invoking evil  2 : ACCURSED.

We saw the opposite of this word in a recent post (haha! “Recent.”). In that case, we leaned that something designed to avert evil is said to be “apotropaic.” In this context, “maledictive stones” are actually a specific thing, slightly more than simply stones that invoke evil. The OED tells us that maledictive stones are “stones said to have the power to bring good or bad fortune upon a person, arranged to form a cairne.”



And what is a “cairne,” you might ask? Merriam-Webster has it this way (with a slight spelling variation):

cairnn : a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark.

Okay, let’s get to those foreign words! What are duns and raths and cromlechs and grianauns? The short answer is that they are all monuments of ancient Irish architecture. Okay, “dun” can mean a lot of things that I won’t go into here, but in this case, it is simply the generic Irish term for “fort.” But don’t take my word for it; here’s what the OED says:

dunn : an ancient hill-fortress or fortified eminence (in the Highlands of Scotland or in Ireland).

And though Merriam-Webster doesn’t have it online or in their newest “Collegiate,” I did find this in my trusty Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

6dunn : a fortified residence in Scotland and Ireland surrounded by two or more concentric circular earthen mounds with a deep moat filled with water between them or a wall and a circular mound fortified with palisades.

So, a dun is a “fortified residence,” but with specific earthwork fortifications. Let’s hit up Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate to field our next word and start to fill out the picture:


rath photo by Christy Lawless

rathn : a usually circular earthwork serving as a stronghold and residence of an ancient Irish chief.

Okay, dearest readers, as far as I understand it, the dun is the fort itself, and the rath is the surrounding earthwork fortification. I think that is right, but I might have to do some proper book research to sort out the details. I did find this page, which you can check out, yourself, and this wiki page for “dun.” So, what are all these cromlechs I keep hearing about?

cromlech / dolmen

cromlech / dolmen

cromlechn  1 : DOLMEN  2 : a circular monoliths usually enclosing a dolmen or mound.

Okay, so what’s a dolmen?

dolmenn : a prehistoric monument of two or more upright stones supporting a horizontal stone slab found especially in Britain and France and thought to be a tomb.

Check out this great poem about a cromlech; It’s called “Cromlech.” I wanted to include it here, but it’s too long.

I also found this in the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia:

Cromlech [Welsh or Breton,=crooked stone], term that has changed in meaning from its original equivalent to dolmen. It later came to be used for a single standing stone and now usually refers to a circle of such stones; however, the term is used in this sense for such remains on the Continent, e.g., Britanny and Portugal, rather than for those on the British Isle.¹

So, though a cromlech used to be synonymous with dolmen (as pictured, above), it is now usually associated with a group of large upright stones arranged in a circle. Nifty. Now for the trickiest word of the bunch: “grianauns.” I call it the trickiest because of the difficulty I had tracking this little bugger down. As it turns out, the source of my difficulties is that, as far as I can tell, there is no word with that spelling. Curse you, Joyce! But do you think we’re just going to stop there, throwing our hands up in defeat?! Hell, no! We will press on, and we will dig deep. What I have discovered is the word “grianán.” Now that we have that pesky “u” out of our way, we can get on with it. Let’s start with this little tidbit: I learned that “grian” is Irish for “sun.” Following from that, it is easy to see how we get this:


Grianán of Aileach

grianánnm  1 : SUMMERHOUSE, BOWER  2 : SOLARIUM.²

Of course, it can’t be that simple. It appears that some take it to mean a palace, or any royal seat. But there are yet others who contest this and point to its long-standing meaning of “enclosure” or “paddock.” The waters get yet further muddied when we look at some real-life monuments with that attribution. Pictured here is the Grianán of Aileach. But that is, according to some, a bit of a misnomer, and what you see there is what’s generally referred to as a ringfort. Here’s somebody smart pointing that out: “Although the word grianán [sun porch] has an early association with the site, the structure is clearly not a sun porch; the names Grianán of Ailech and Greenan Elly are romantic attributions from the 19th century.”³ It is also interesting to note that the Grianán of Aileach was reconstructed from a big pile of rocks by a group of volunteers over the course of four years, completing the project in June, 1878.

sligo monastery

Sligo Monastery

So, Ireland is dotted with these piles of stone and forts and earthworks and monoliths, and all these things were reproduced brilliantly on Joyce’s ornate snot rag. In fact, the work is done as beautifully as that of the Sligo illuminators. Right. Besides being the name of my new band, who were these guys? Well, monks! Sligo Abbey was a Dominican Friary built in 1253. Irish monasteries are known for their important role in preserving literacy during the Middle Ages, and manuscript production was a big part of their legacy.

Irish manuscript illuminations

Irish manuscript illumination

Those manuscripts are particularly famous for the quality of their illuminations (little paintings or drawings that complimented the written word). It’s probably fortunate for this post that I don’t know more about Sligo Abbey because we’re running a bit long, here. But what we do know is that the Sligo illuminators were the monks who skillfully painted beautiful and elaborate pictures in manuscripts at Sligo Abbey.

How is everybody holding up? I know it’s a lot of information, but hang in there, we’re almost done! In fact, let’s all relax and read a bit of poetry.

My eyes are filmed, my beard is grey,
I am bowed with the weight of years;
I would I were stretched in my bed of clay,
With my long-lost youth’s compeers!
For back to the Past, tho’ the thought brings woe,
My memory ever glides,
To the old, old time, long, long ago,
The time of the Barmecides!
To the old, old time, long, long ago,
The time of the Barmecides.4

Holy smokes, there’s that bit from the end of our sentence and the final piece to our puzzle! What you just read is the first verse of a poem entitled “The Time of the Barmecides” by Joseph Clarence Mangan (1803-1849). When appearing in print, it was often accompanied by a note stating that it was translated from the Arabic, but in truth, though Mangan did translate some poems from a number of different languages and with varying levels of interpretation, this poem was an original creation only posing as a translation. I’ll tell you a bit about Joseph in a moment, but I’d first like to share the editor’s note to a 1897 publication of the poem: “The Barmecides, or the house of Barmek, enjoyed a great power under the Abbasid caliphs of Bagdad. In the Arabian Nights, it was one of the Barmecides who made a sham feast for a beggar, which the beggar was too good-humored a wit to decline. The poet, therefore, evidently means that time of youth when its illusions, even though consciously such, are better than the realities of later life.”5

Joseph Clarence Mangan was an interesting character. He was an alcoholic and opiate addict, to start with. For the purpose of understanding why Joyce would quote one of this guy’s poems, it is worth while to note that he is often associated with the Young Ireland movement and therefore the burgeoning Irish nationalism of the 1840s6. Mangan probably wouldn’t have agreed with that; though he was a frequent contributor to nationalist journals, there is a fair chance he was more interested in his drink than their ideology. The other thing he is known for is being something of a failed, first attempt at a distinctly Irish writing tradition.Again, this is a little unfair. He only failed in contrast to the next generation of writers. He wasn’t Yeats or Joyce, but he did help lay down the foundation for their work and can be considered something of a harbinger or predecessor.

Okay, here it is, the wrap up: What Joyce has done with this one sentence about an extravagant hanky is to trace the major accomplishments of Irish culture from ancient times to the previous generation. That’s pretty phenomenal! I urge you to go back to the top and reread our sentence, marveling at your full understanding as it unfolds. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did! What’s particularly amusing to me is that, after all that work, we are all the proud possessors of a bunch of knowledge that we will probably never have recourse to use. As fun as that was, in future posts, I think I will steer away from James Joyce. I may also try to keep things more brief (and perhaps more frequent!).

1 “Cromlech,” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, March 2017, 1, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2017),
2 “Grianán,” in Pocket Oxford Irish Dictionary: Irish-English, ed. Breandán Ó Cróinin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 
3 James MacKillop, “Aileach,” in A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 8. 
4 Joseph Clarence Mangan, Current Literature 22, ed. Edward Jewett Wheeler (New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1897), 134.
5 Ibid.
6 David Lloyd, “Joseph Clarence Mangan’s Oriental Translations and the Question of Origins,” Comparative Literature 38, no. 1 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986), 20.
7 Ibid.


100 pages of Ulysses

I can’t (or won’t) tell you how many messages I’ve received since my last post — emails, texts, phone calls, letters, telegrams, carrier pigeons, smoke signals — from people crying out for more words. “Where are the new words?!” you cried, and it was a deafening roar. But I was in darkness. Slowly, I began to hear your voice, your collective voice, and at first it sounded like a whisper. But it grew stronger. Just as your need, your physical need, for new words swelled to its breaking point, I heard the cry, and your need saved me.

Okay, the possibility of that last paragraph being too much, notwithstanding, I’d like to get down to brass tacks. Up to this point, I have used each post to focus on one word, a small cluster of words, or a string of words. Today’s post deviates from that, dramatically. As a man of leisure, I have been taking my leisurely time reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. I am very much enjoying it, but I do have to take it slow∗. To illustrate how slow-going that can be, this post will share with you an abridged list of the words I looked up while reading pages 247 through 342 of Ulysses, by James Joyce (of course, I realize that is 95 pages, but I rounded up in the title, for effect).

First, I would like to say a few things concerning the idiosyncrasies of this post: the words in the list appear in the order in which they were encountered in the novel. These definitions are very cursory! They are only meant for you to grasp as quickly as possible the basic meaning of the word. Nor is there much consistency in the fidelity of the definitions listed. Some go into detail while many consist of only one word. I thought that perhaps if someone was particularly interested in one or a few of these words, we could go into some detail on that/those words, like we used to do. So, pay attention, take some notes if you need to, and then drop me a line with your request(s). Here we go!




abstemiousadj – marked by restraint
ungyvedadj – unfettered
lugubriousadj – mournful
titivatevt – to spruce up
rubicundadj – ruddy, red
kismetn – fate
eugenicsn – controlled human mating
peluriousadj – (rare) furred, hairy [the only quote in the OED is from Ulysses]
premiatedadj – (archit) award worthy
declivityn – descending slope
confab(ulation) – n – chat
stertorousadj – marked by loud snoring
acuminatedadj – tapered to a point
bedightvt – equip
felladj – sinister
abnegationn – (self)denial
aliquotadj – contained an exact number of times in something else
cynanthropyn – (path) condition whereby one imagines oneself to be a dog
stentorianadj – really loud!



obeisancen – bow : homage
puissantadj – powerful
shielingn – (Brit) mountain shelter
piastren – piece of eight
perfidiousadj – treacherous, faithless
nobbling – from to nobblevt – (Brit1 : to drug a racehorse  2 a : to win over to one’s side  b : steal  c : cheat  d : catch
jorumn – large drinking vessel
emunctoryadj – of or pertaining to nose blowing
maledictiveadj – having to do with curses
sanctimonious – adj – hypocritically pious [I basically knew that one, but I wanted to be sure]
palfreyn – (archaic) saddle horse, as distinguished from a warhorse



tabardn – a kind of sleeveless coat [see illustration]
quothainterj – (archaic) used to express surprise or contempt; [from “quoth he,” he said]
thurifern – one who carries a censer in a liturgical service [see below for “cense”]
nimbus pl nimbin – a godly cloud : halo [see illustration]
aureolen – halo [see illustration]
censevt – to burn incense during a religious ceremony
mullionn – vertical member (ha!) that creates a division in a window, door, or screen [see illustration] alsovtmullion [check the notes for more on window divisions]
n – a rigid structure built out from a shore to protect the shore from erosion, to trap sand, or to protect a current for scouring a channel
arrisen – the sharp edge created by the meeting of two surfaces — e.g. the edges of a prism or the raised part on the side of a Doric column [see illustration]



pedimentn -the triangular area created between the two edges of a peaked roof [see illustration]
engrailedadj1 :  indented with small concave curves  2 : made of or bordered by a circle of raised dots
cupola \’cue puh luh \ – n – a structure built on top of a roof [see illustration]
linteln – a beam that spans an architectural opening
viandsn – provisions
strandn – shore
promontoryn – a high point of land projecting into a body of water
piquantadj – spicy
decoctionn – concentrate (boiled down)
gambolvi – to skip about playfully; frolic alson – an instance of this



halcyonadj1 : of or related to the halcyon (kingfisher)  2 a : calm, peaceful  b : happy, golden  c : prosperous, affluent
wan \pronounced like Juan \ – adj1 a : sickly  b : feeble  2 : faint  3 : languid
obstreperousadj 1 : clamorous  2 : unruly
streeln – (chiefly Irish) an untidy, slovenly person



treaclen1 : medical compound used as remedy against poison  2 (chiefly Brit) a : molasses  b : golden syrup  3 : something (as a voice) heavily sweet and cloying
cockalorumn – a boastful and self-important person [like a small rooster]

You see? The sheer bulk of it is overwhelming. I hope you enjoyed that as a tidal wave of information. Being sketched so roughly, each entry leaves more questions than answers. If you are curious about anything in particular, let me know, and we can look into it!


∗Down, mavens, down!


Keep hammering!

There were some grumblings about my last post from readers who thought I hadn’t been thorough enough. Let me tell you, the last thing I want is a disappointed readership. Let me make it up to you.

This post will provide a little etymological background on “diachronic” and “synchronic.” (You’ll have to read the last post for their definitions. In fact, not much of this will make sense unless you do.) After that, I’m going to fill up some space with a bunch of essentially random shit.

Okay, we’ll start with the part in common, that is, the “chronic.”

khronos“Khronos” or “Chronos” was the Greek personification of time. In English, we have the morpheme “chron” which means “time.” We see this all over the place. Off the top of my head I can think of “chronology,” “chronic” (of course), “dendrochronology” (counting tree rings to establish a date), and “anachronism” (a good one for history buffs–more on that, later).

So, now we add the prefixes. The prefix “dia-” (or “di-” before a vowel) means through, thoroughly, or entirely. It comes from the Greek (are you ready for this stretch?) “dia” meaning through or throughout.

“Syn-” is a morpheme that means together with, jointly, alike, or at the same time. It comes from a Greek preposition meaning with, together with, along with, or in the company of. English has words like “synthesis,” “synchronize,” and “syntax.”

Let’s get back to “anachronism.” Is everyone familiar with that word? Just to be sure, I think we should all look at it together.

anachronism 1 : an error in chronology; esp : a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other  2 : a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place; esp : one from a former age that is incongruous in the present  3 : the state or condition of being chronologically out of place.

Fair enough, but what are the chances that I can muster a quote that is both amusing and can lead us to a few new words? I’d say, pretty damn good.

The ubiquitous medieval image of the anus, with its Rabelaisian associations of fecundity and its traditional apotropaic function . . . , is here quite anachronistically labelled in terms of this newly named ‘perversion’.” Michael Camille, “Dr Witkowski’s Anus: French Doctors, German Homosexuals and the Obscene in Medieval Church Art,” in Medieval Obscenities

What do you say to that?! Grab your knife and fork, and let’s dig in! I suppose we ought to start with Rabelaisian.

Rabelais, RabelaisianRabelaisianadj  1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of Rabelais or his works  2 : marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism.

Here are two sentences about Rabelais culled from his Wikipedia page: “Rabelais is arguably one of the authors who has enriched the French language in the most significant way. . . . His works are also known for being filled with sexual double-entendres, dirty jokes and bawdy songs that may shock even modern readers.” Sounds pretty good!

Our next word is one that I know I have looked up before (probably more than once). It might fall into my “embarrassing” category. If you’ve known this word since you were nine, go ahead and write a comment making fun of me. I’ll send you a cookie.

fecund[pronounced like “second,” but with an “f”] adj  1 : fruitful in offspring or vegetation : PROLIFIC  2 : intellectually productive or inventive to a marked degree—fecundity n [pronounced just how you’d think, though the “e” can also sound like the “i” in “hit”].

I’ll do my best to remember that one this time. If you are interested, you can read all about its etymology here. We must move on to this word that I had never seen before reading the above quoted article (which uses it at least three times). Get a load of . . .

apotropaicadj : designed to avert evil.

Such a simple definition, and so easy to see how an asshole might function in that way (well, maybe only because I’ve read the article). Perhaps you’re getting tired of these, but I’m going to give one more quote from this article to further illustrate the use of “apotropaic,” because I like it so dang much.

The male sex is crucial both to the Marcolf story and to the apotropaic function of the image since the genitals were the original Roman fascinum hung outside every house to ward off evil.” Michael Camille, “Dr Witkowski’s Anus,” in Medieval Obscenities

I feel like today’s post was like shopping while hungry: one might go to the store for a particular item, but then everything looks good, and one finds oneself wandering about without any particular focus. Well, I had fun, and I hope you enjoyed skipping about from morpheme to word to word.


Hammer it in.

I read this yesterday morning and learned two ways of mapping change or variation:

In addition to its change through the years, at any given period of time, a language exists in many varieties. Historical or diachronic variation is matched by contemporary or synchronic variation.” Thomas Pyles and John Algeo, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 4th ed.

I visualize these as lateral or horizontal developments. Anyway, I soon got the chance to try out my new words; I read this last night:

What the querelle de la Rose does offer is a powerful attack on Raison’s dirty talk, the brilliant contribution of Christine de Pizan. This is a crucial document for the ‘history of obscenity’, the diachronic and synchronic study of how certain words come to be regarded as ‘impure and vile’. . . .” Alastair Minnis, “From Coilles to Bel Chose: Discourses of Obscenity in Jean de Meun and Chaucer,” in Medieval Obscenities

The querelle de la Rose was essentially an early renaissance literary debate that began as a critique of Jean de Meun’s late 13th-century addition to the Roman de la Rose in which Raison (Reason) is played by a straight-talking (or dirty-talking, depending on your point of view) old lady.

Repetition is how you get these things to sink in. Let’s keep hammering!

diachronicadj : of, relating to, or dealing with phenomena (as language or culture) as they occur or change over a period of time.

synchronicadj  1 : SYNCHRONOUS  2 a : DESCRIPTIVE 4  b : concerned with events existing in a limited time period and ignoring historical antecedents.

descriptiveadj  4 : of, relating to, or dealing with the structure of a language at a particular time usu. with exclusion of historical and comparative data.

Okay, that was quick! I hope you had a good time. I’ll see you soon!


Ticked and annoyed!

Here’s a little something that I was working on awhile ago and forgot about. It’s another “d” word to add to our recent list.


Is this guy full of dudgeon?

From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.:

²dudgeon – [pronounced like “dungeon” but without the “n”] n : aggrieved or angered feeling : ILL HUMOR, RESENTMENT — usu. used with in and a qualifier.


Though I’m usually not an advocate for using language to disguise meaning (preferably, it should be used for the opposite), there are times when I want to announce my anger, but I don’t necessarily want that announcement to be understood. You can tell me if I’m alone in this, but sometimes there is catharsis in simply saying something out loud, and it is nice to do so without suffering the repercussions associated with the reception of that information. “Boy howdy, am I in high dudgeon at this particular moment in time!” “What’s that?” “Oh nothing. I was just thinking about castles.”

Now that you’ve read my sample sentence, check out what P.G. Wodehouse does with our new word:

He strode off into the darkness, full to the brim of dudgeon, and I can’t say I was much surprised. The way things had panned out had been enough to induce dudgeon in the mildest of men, let alone a temperamental young author, accustomed to calling on his publishers and raising hell at the smallest provocation.” P.G. Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning

You might have noticed that little superscript “2” before the entry word above and realized that there is another entry for “dudgeon.” If you’re really curious about it, you can go to the notes where I’ll lay it on you. But I’ll tell you here that the reason I didn’t list it first is that it is archaic or otherwise obsolete.

Our word “dudgeon” (spelled “duggin”) first appeared in 1570, and nobody is really quite sure of its origin. There is a suggestion that it comes from the Italian word “aduggiare” which means to overshadow. We get our word “umbrage” from “aduggiare.” What’s that? You’d like to take a look at “umbrage”? Well, by all means!

umbrage – n  1 a : an area of comparative darkness : SHADE  b : an overshadowing influence or power : SHADOW  2 : the thick shady branches of a tree or bush : FOLIAGE  3 archaic : something providing protection : SHELTER, REFUGE  4 a : an indistinct indication : vague suggestion : SUSPICION, HINT  b : a reason for doubt : SUSPICION  5 : DISPLEASURE, RESENTMENT, ANNOYANCE—usu. used in the phrases give umbrage or take umbrage  6 obs : an alleged purpose or motive : PRETEXT, PRETENSE  7 obs : the state of being in disfavor : DISESTEEM.


I certainly do take umbrage! Now, kindly take your leave!

That was from Webster’s Third New International, and it seems to do a thorough job, but I like what Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition does with sense 5:

a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult.

The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that in the seventeenth century, there were a number of figurative uses. The one we just finished reading (or “suspicion that one has been slighted”) is the main one still in use, and it dates back to the 1610s. The phrase “to take umbrage” was first used a few decades later, in the 1670s.

I feel better now that I have a good, civilized vocabulary for the next time I get hot under the collar. Don’t you? To cool us off and send us on our way, let’s have a little more Wodehouse.

Love’s silken bonds are not broken just because the female half of the sketch takes umbrage at the loony behaviour of the male partner and slips it across him in a series of impassioned speeches.” P.G. Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning



It’s getting less hairy.

I have two reasons for choosing today’s word: first, it looks a lot like the subject of my last post, though they have nothing else in common. Second, I’ve now run into the word a second time, and I think the quote is funny. Okay, let’s see a show of hands from those of you who read my last tardy post. Due to physical and temporal distances, I am unable to see how many hands are up, but I will assume the number is large to the point of being difficult to count. Regardless, here’s a quick refresher for those of you who didn’t just now click on the link and (re)read that post: “dilatory” means delay causing, procrastinating, or tardy. For your edification (or perhaps just education), I submit to you . . .

depilatoryn : an agent for removing hair, wool, or bristles.¹

depilatory-razorSee how much it looks like “dilatory”? For many, depilation is part of the morning routine. Not for this lazy guy! For me, every morning it’s consistent and punctual dilatoriness.

Note that dilatory can also be an adjective. And here’s that other noun version:

depilationn : the removal of hair, wool, or bristles by chemical or mechanical methods.

The verb from this is, of course, depilate.

Speaking of reviewing older posts, this word basically means anti-hirsute (who remembers that one?).

Hey, do you want to read the sentence in which I first encountered today’s new word? Your enthusiasm is overwhelming.

This is from a discussion of the medieval lady:

Despite the disapproval of preachers and moralist writers, ladies wore cosmetics–sheep fat, and rouge and skin whiteners with which they tinted themselves pink and white–and used depilatory pastes.” Joseph & Frances Gies, Life in a Medieval Castle

I guess they’re talking about the precursor to Nair™. Let’s move on. Whereas both of these quotes are educational, I find the next one considerably more amusing. You can judge for yourself.

In this passage, we are talking about the use of obscenity in Late Roman satires:

In Juvenal a prostitute heaps scorn on hypocritical closet homosexuals with moral pretensions: the doctor laughed when he came to lance their piles and found their back passages depilated.” Danuta Shanzer, “Latin Literature, Christianity and Obscenity,” in Medieval Obscenities.

Do you think they used a paste? It was probably one of the less savory servants’ duties. All you aestheticians know the score! I don’t know if Shanzer is having fun with words here, but, and I never thought I’d say this, there’s some etymological fun in the depilated pile.

In the sense used above, the words “piles” and “depilated” are etymologically unrelated. The Latin word pilus, –i means “a single hair.” Thus, we get the Latin verb pilo, –are, “to deprive of hair, make bald.” Latin also has the seemingly redundant verb depilo, –are, “to strip of hair or feathers” (the de– prefix which generally means “down” or “down from” can go on to mean “down to the bottom” and so, “completely”). On the other hand, the English word “pile” (when it means a singular hemorrhoid) comes for the Latin word for “ball,” pila, –ae.

However, lest you think I’m rambling incoherently, there is an English word “pile” that is etymologically related to the word “depilated.” Check it out:

8pile 1 a : HAIR; esp : a growth of short fine hairs like fur : DOWN  b : a thick undercoat (as of certain dogs)  c : a velvety surface of fine hairs on various insects; collectively : the hairs making up such a surface  2 : a mass of raised depilatory-pileloops or tufts covering all or part of a fabric or carpet that is formed by extra warp or weft yarns during the weaving and that produces a soft even compact furry or velvety surface  3 : a quality possessed by bread when the crumb is silky in appearance and texture  4 a : yellowish red coloration on wingbows, neck, saddle, back, and flight feathers of various white domestic fowls that is a disqualification in standard breeds but characteristic of some game types  b : a bird colored in this manner.²

Since I’ve found myself writing about the word “pile” and its etymology, I would be remiss to not mention that there are no less than two more Latin roots for homonyms of “pile”! I’ll just go ahead and give the complete entries since there are a few senses with which I was not familiar. From the Latin word pilum, –i meaning “pestle” or “javelin,” we get . . .

¹pile 1 : a long slender column usu. of timber, steel, or reinforced concrete driven into the ground to carry a vertical load  2 : a wedge-shaped heraldic charge usu. placed vertically with the broad end up  3 a : a target-shooting arrowhead without cutting edges  b : an ancient Roman foot soldier’s heavy javelin.

and . . .

²pilevt : to drive piles into.

From the Latin word pila, –ae, meaning “pillar” or “pier,” we get . . .

³pilevt  1 : to lay or place in a pile : STACK  2 a : to heap in abundance : LOAD  b : to collect little by little into a mass vi  1 : to form a pile or accumulation  2 : to move or press forward in or as if in a mass : CROWD.

and . . .

4pile 1 a (1) : a quantity of things heaped together  (2) : a heap of wood for burning a corpse or a sacrifice  b : any great number or quantity : LOT  2 : a large building or group of buildings  3 : a great amount of money : FORTUNE  4 : REACTOR 3b.

Just to be thorough, here’s this:

reactor 3 b : a device for the controlled release of nuclear energy (as for producing heat).

Okay, that was a funny place to end considering where we began, but that’s how these things go. If you asked me, I’d say that’s half the fun. Until next time, stay smooth!


¹Except where specified, all definitions in this post are taken from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.
²As you might be able to tell by the length and depth of the entry, this is the one definition taken from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.


Sorry this post is so late.

dilatoryadj  1 : tending or intended to cause delay  2 : characterized by procrastination : TARDY.¹

dilatoryQuite fittingly, this post took me much longer to write than it should have. I kept putting it off because there was nothing really unusual or exciting about the word to grab my attention. Now I’ve come to see the beauty in its simplicity and usefulness. In that spirit, I’m going to stop dragging my feet and keep this post simple and useful!

Let’s do some bullet point factoids:

  • says that “dilatory” is in the bottom 50% of lookups.
  • There is a rare and obsolete use of “dilatory” that meant “used for dilating,” but we have the word “dilative” for that (causing dilation : tending to dilate).
  • Though they sound similar and have similar meanings, “dilatory” and “delay” are not etymologically related.
  • Garner warns that “dilatory” is sometimes misused for “deleterious.”²
  • deleteriousadj : harmful often in a subtle or unexpected way.³

I suppose I ought to give you an example sentence. I first encountered the word “dilatory” while reading about medieval castle life. Try not to be overstimulated when you read this:

In other letters Simon [of Senlis, steward of the bishop of Chichester] arranged for the purchase of iron and its transport to Gloucester and then to Winchester; advising his lord to think of getting his sheep from the abbey of Vaudey in Yorkshire and sending them down to his Sussex manors; reported on the vicar of Mundeham’s two wives, on a dilatory agent, on the servant of one of the manors whom he wished to promote.” Joseph & Frances Gies, Life in a Medieval Castle

Okay, remember this word the next time you’re on Facebook while you have a project due.



¹Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.
²Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed.
³Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.


It’s a love/hate thing.

I don’t know how you feel about them, but the posts on what I call “embarrassing words” tend to be among my favorite. I am particularly excited about today’s word because it is so familiar, yet I have been so wrong about it for so long. Also, this word is fairly common, and, though I sincerely doubt it, I have to admit the possibility, however slight, that someone else out there has also misdefined it in the same way I have. Let’s try something new. Think about how you would define the word “ambivalence.” It’s a fairly common word, so I’m sure you’ve come across it a number of times and probably even use it on occasion. Okay, first we’re going to read a passage that contains the word “ambivalence,” then we will read another with the word “ambivalent,” and then we will read the definition. Let’s see how your definitions hold up while we read the following quotes.

Much of what we identify as obscene seems to emerge from an ecclesiastical context, and most of the rest exists explicitly in dialogue with it. Whatever their conclusions, the authors all demonstrate the complex ambivalence of the medieval church and of the clerical ideologies that sustain it.” Nicola McDonald, “Introduction” in Medieval Obscenities

Here’s another example from the same article, this time using the adjective form:

The rich evidence provided by the York court records of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in particular from cases detailing disputed marriages (including, in the case of John Skathelok, an impotence trial), offers us an illuminating snapshot of changing late medieval attitudes to the naked body and the sexual act (both of which Goldberg demonstrates are increasingly not seen and thus rendered more obscene and titillating) and of the ambivalent relationship between medieval clerics’ sexual orthodoxies and their regulation of, and participation in, lay sexual practices.” ibid.

Both of these quotes deal with clerical relationships with obscenity in the Middle Ages. In the first quote, we learn that ambivalence can be complex, and in the second quote, we see an ambivalent relationship between two contradictory persuasions. So, how does that square with your definition? Okay, it’s time for me to shut up and get to the juice! From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.:

ambivalence1 : simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action  2 a : continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)  b : uncertainty as to which approach to follow.

Did you get it right?! Of course you did! Now you can write a comment and brag about how much smarter you are than I am (you and eighty percent of our species). Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get to the fun part and dig into this word a little bit. This one’s pretty good!

First, there’s this little fact: the word “ambivalence” is less than one hundred years old. Second, we got it from a German word, but it has a Latin root. Third, the word got its start as the name of a mental condition. Here’s the story: In 1910, Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler made up the word “ambivalenz” to describe a condition in which a person has two conflicting emotions, reactions, desires, etc. to someone or something. (Bleuler was a busy coiner; he also introduced the words “schizophrenia” and “autism.”) He modeled his new word after the German word “equivalenz.” Because there’s some fun stuff in here, let’s take a minute to look at the English cognate, “equivalence.”

Equivalence comes from two Latin words, aequus and valeo. Like many Latin words (or English words, for that matter) they have a number of meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Let’s look at just a few of the senses that seem the most fitting for our context:

aequusadj  1 : that is equal to another in any quality, equal, like : of things divided into two equal parts : a half  2 morally a of persons : fair, equitable, impartial in conduct toward others  b of things : fair, right, equitable, reasonable  3 of a state of mind : even, unruffled, calm, composed, tranquil, patient, enduring.¹

valeo, –ere 1 lit : to be strong  2 transf a politically, morally : to avail, have force, be strong, prevail  b : to be worth. Hence the participle valens, valentis – strong, powerful.²

I guess I could have just said, “equally strong,” but this was more fun. So, Bleuler took “equivalenz,” and swapped out the “aequus” for an “ambi-.” The prefix ambi– is not exactly straight-forward (so to speak). In Latin, it means around or round about, from on both sides or both. There’s also the Latin word ambo meaning the two or both (note that ambos is Spanish for both). So, we end up with “both strong” which makes enough sense, I guess. Now that we’ve gone about as far as we’re going to go with “ambivalence,” I can’t stop thinking about that ambi– prefix. If you have an extra minute, head over to the notes page for a fun romp through some other ambi– words. Otherwise, we’ll end with one more “ambivalent” quote. When I first read this one I thought it was an example of a misuse of the word (it is a weakness of mine to be overeager to find usage errors³), but upon closer inspection, it seemed to hold up. Now I just think a different word choice would be better. Write a comment telling me what you think!

When Edward Snowden’s breathtaking leap off the high board made its first splash, most public media reactions featured shock and outrage, even among those appalled by the scope of the government’s electronic eavesdropping that he revealed. A minority applauded. A smaller minority yawned. But public ambivalence all but vanished within a month. Consecutive polls showed growing numbers giving emphatic thumbs-down. ‘You weren’t acting on my behalf,’ they seemed to roar.” Hodding Carter III, “Glenn Greenwald, I’m sorry: Why I changed my mind on Edward Snowden,” posted May 23, 2015 at

Addendum (6.23.15):

Since publishing this post, I have quizzed a number of people about their conceptions of this word, and I have discovered that a misconception is rampant (I should point out that my sample size is much too small for these observations to be anything close to scientific). Interestingly, reports that “ambivalence” is currently in the top 1% of lookups! That gives me some hope that the misuse of this word is being checked. On the flip side, I was disappointed, to say the least, to find that (a site that I almost recommended. Notice it gets no link here.) is dishing out misinformation about the word “ambivalence.” At the risk of sounding too extreme in my views, I will say that I find this transgression a form of intellectual terrorism. At the very least, it is irresponsible to willfully propagate misinformation. It is perfectly fine to note that a particular (mis)use is prevalent. That might help avoid confusion when one encounters the word being used in that way, but to tout it as the correct usage is, in my opinion, reprehensible. [Jeffrey slowly steps off the soap box, head bowed, feeling tired, a little bit ashamed, and kind of yukky.]


¹These entries quote Lewis and Short (A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and Charles short, LL.D. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879.) Found in the Perseus Digital Library.
²These bits are from my Cassell’s.
³I’m being sincere. It’s really not cool!



Just a quick note

What follows is not a full post; it is merely a little something I wanted to share. I just read the word “malfeasance” twice–by two different authors–in about ten minutes. So, I thought I’d throw it up here:

malfeasancen : wrongdoing or misconduct esp. by a public official.

That’s pronounced /mal – fee– zuhn(t)s /.

It comes from the French word “malfaisance” which means “wrongdoing.” You can read the etymology for yourself, here, if you’d like.


Happy Anniversary!

Beloved readers, this week I celebrate one year of blogging new words. I am so happy that all of you have joined me in this adventure! We are starting to warm up to this, don’t you think? The format is fairly established, my research materials have increased, and the posts aren’t taking quite as long to write. Looking to the future, I am starting to ask myself some important questions, and I am curious what answers I will find as they will, in part, shape the direction of this blog.

I mentioned our anniversary to a work friend earlier this week. When he had learned the gist of the blog, he set about quizzing me on the definitions of a series of words that he issued out at regular intervals. Now, producing definitions on the spot from memory is not my forte (pronounced /fort/ or /for-tay/ but not /for-tay/). Though I bumbled around at the time, the experience led to the idea for this post, and that is fortunate since I had no post to help us celebrate. We will take one word from my friend’s quiz and work it out slowly, as is our way. Here we go!

Though the two of us came up with different definitions for the first word he presented, I think he and I simply had our own slight misunderstanding of a different one of the word’s senses. That is particularly fitting considering that the word was “semantics.”

To be perfectly honest, though my definition was close, it was certainly not on the money. I said that “semantics” was a branch of linguistics concerned with form and how it relates to meaning. He said that it referred to those occasions in which one word has multiple meanings. Of course, as we have repeatedly discovered, it’s not always as simple as all that. Here it is from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.:

semantics n pl but sing or pl in constr  1 : the study of meanings:  a : the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development  b (1) : SEMIOTIC  (2) : a branch of semiotic dealing with the relations between signs and what they refer to and including theories of denotation, extension, naming, and truth  2 : GENERAL SEMANTICS  3 a : the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; esp : connotative meaning  b : the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience esp. through the use of words with novel or dual meanings.

Okay, we’re going to have to unpack this, but it seems an arduous task. Perhaps we ought first follow the leads found in the definition, that is, expand before we contract.

semiotics or semioticn : a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals esp. with their functions in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics.

general semanticsn : a doctrine and educational discipline intended to improve habits of response of human beings to their environment and one another esp. by training in the more critical use of words and other symbols.

If I’m getting this right, semantics deals with words and meaning, either studying and classifying the changes in meaning or theorizing about how words (or signs) came to mean specific things and how those meanings have expanded or multiplied. It can also refer to the implied meanings of signs, their relationships, and the ways they can be used to specific effect. There’s also that thing Alfred Korzybski started in the twenties. I’m not going to say anything more about that; you can follow the links if you’d like.

Well, that was my best attempt at understanding and then paraphrasing the various senses of “semantics.” I don’t, however, feel that it is the end of the story. I think we’re going to have to consult our friends from across the pond but only for a couple of senses that don’t appear in the Collegiate. Lucky for us, this entry was updated in March 2014! Here’s the OED:

semantics 2 a : the branch of linguistics or philosophy concerned with meaning in language; the study or analysis of meaning in words, sentences, etc.

It also gives an essay that is worth quoting at length:

Within linguistics, semantics was in early use chiefly concerned with meaning change; it is now equally concerned with synchronic aspects of meaning, and is one of the main branches of linguistics. The term semantics varies in inclusiveness, sometimes covering only word meaning, sometimes including utterance and discourse meaning, and sometimes including the meaning of grammatical structures. Within philosophy, semantics is chiefly concerned with questions of sense and reference. In logic and associated studies, semantics is concerned with the meanings of sentences in a formal or artificial language and the conditions under which these sentences are to count as true.

Thanks, OED, that was very elucidating! And lastly, I’ll show you the OED‘s sense 2 b, though I have a feeling that they are just reporting a common misuse (we’ll see if it makes it into Garner’s 4th ed.):

semantics 2 b chiefly depreciative : the use of words with particular meanings, esp. for euphemistic or tendentious purposes : also : (the act of making) pedantic distinctions regarding the precise or technical meaning of words : verbal quibbling.

Let us revel in the fine details and distinctions rather than quibble about them! Getting back to those spontaneous, on-the-job definitions mentioned earlier, I’ll let you be the judge. To me, they illustrate the very purpose of this blog. I have an imperfect knowledge of my own language, but I can make small steps toward improving by the simple act of looking that shit up. Here’s to another year of doing just that!