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October 2003 Archives

The Seven Deadly Sins: superbia/orgulous; ira/oxythymous/irascible; gulosity; invidia (epicaricacy); luxuria/lenocinant; acedia

Words from Baseball: goose egg; charley horse; cat-bird seat; ballpark (ballpark figure); rain check; hot stove league; switch-hitter

It's about time: hesternal; yestreen; quotidian-diurnal-circadian; hebdomadal; lustrum; sempiternal; bimester

Words from Dorothy Parker: lodestar; gyve; sapience; fardel; extemporanea; leal; quondam


The Seven Deadly Sins (Week of Oct. 6, 2003)

Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) described the Seven Deadly Sins in his Moralia in Job. This week we'll give the obscure words that are the "official" names of the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, greed, gluttony, lust, and sloth), plus some slightly less obscure words.


We begin with pride or vanity, of which St. Thomas Aquinas said "inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin."


superbia – unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem

orgulous – prideful; haughty


The latter may be preserved in our dictionaries because of the opening words of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida:


In Troy, there lies the scene. From isles of Greece

The princes orgillous, their high blood chaf'd,

Have to the port of Athens sent their ships

Fraught with the ministers and instruments

Of cruel war.


The sin of anger:


ira – belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong (the formal name of the deadly sin)

ira furor brevis est – Anger is a brief madness.


oxythymous – quick-tempered; easily riled

irascible – prone to outbursts of temper; easily angered


Back when I started in the newspaper game – and was so full of myself I nearly burst – my irascible old chief reporter told me in no uncertain terms: "Just remember, Mr George, that you have just one job to do – and that's to help to fill in the spaces between the ads. And remember, too, that those pearls of prose you are so proud of writing today will be wrapping fish and chips tomorrow night."
– Garth George, The New Zealand Herald,Oct. 2, 2003


The deadly sin of "gluttony" (formal name "gula" from Latin gula gullet) refers to excess. It is not limited to food; it would include, for example, such things as conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche.


gulosity – greediness; excessive appetite

This definition makes one wonder if gulosity should be presented under the sin of gluttony or under the sin of greed. Roget's Thesaurus classifies it under the heading "gluttony," from which I glean that it refers to greed and appetite for food. Can readers confirm or refute this?



The sin of envy is known as invidia. Hieronymous Bosch's painting titled The Seven Deadly Sins depicts invidia as two dogs and a bone, per the Flemish proverb "Two dogs with one bone seldom reach agreement."


Chaucer's parson, in The Parson's Tale, explains that there are two sorts of envy:


There is, first, sorrow for other men's goodness and prosperity; and prosperity being naturally a thing for joy, then envy is a sin against nature. The second kind of envy is joy in other men's harm; and this is naturally like the Devil, who always rejoices in man's harm.


For the first sort of envy, I know of no word other than the obvious "jealousy". Can any of our readers supply one?


For the second sense of "envy" we have our previous word schadenfreude (week of Nov. 16, 2002). That word was taken from German, but English already had a little-known synonym:


epicaricacy – a joy at the misfortunes of others


This word does not appear in OED, but can be found in respected earier dictionaries. It was discussed on our board by Mr. Ammon Shea, who discovered it amid the dusty volumes.


Lust – formal name luxuria


Our "luxuria-word" will be sexual, but the deadly sin of luxuria may have a broader meaning than sex. It seems to mean a driving force to do things that are harmful to you, usually for some useless reason. For example, one who lusts after ease might take a cushy but low-paying job, living in a poverty to the detriment of his family.


lenocinant – lewd, lascivious

[Latin lenocinans, a form of the verb lenocinari to pander, cajole; akin to leno pimp.

One wonders where Jay Leno's name comes from.]


Sloth: formal name Acedia. The concept is akin more to apathy than to laziness.


acedia – spiritual torpor and apathy; ennui.


"Acedia" in Latin means sorrow, deliberately self-directed, turned away from God, a loss of spiritual determination that then feeds back on in to the process, soon enough producing what are currently known as guilt and depression ...
– Thomas Pynchon, Nearer, my Couch, to Thee, New York Times Book Review, June 6,1993

It was in the 1970s, when America ... contended at home, with a widespread demoralization that sprang from the psychological acedia of Woodstock, the military defeat in Vietnam and political corruption of Watergate.
– William F. Buckley Jr., baccalaureate address at Cornell University, May 28, 2000



Words from Baseball (Week of Oct. 13, 2003)


Noting that our board has enjoyed talking about the current baseball playoffs in the USA (thanks, Kalleh), we'll devote this week to words from baseball. Perhaps readers can tell us which of these terms are part of the vernacular outside the USA.


goose egg – zero, nothing; especially : a score of zero in a game or contest

Wordcrafter note: I would add that the term, in non-baseball use, implies zero results despite effort.

[first attested 1866 in baseball slang; from the numeral on a scoreboard, shaped like a large goose egg.]


After months of increasingly noisy protests, ... the Justice Department has given its first public accounting of how many times it has used its newfound counterterrorism powers to demand records from libraries and elsewhere. The answer, it said Thursday, is zero. Justice Department officials and their supporters pointed to the goose egg as evidence that the raging public debate over the government's expanded powers has been much ado about nothing.

–Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times, Sept. 18, 2003


Heading into the election, predictions were that not one of the Tories’ eight seats would be safe and that the Progressive Conservatives would be in tough to capture a single seat within any of Toronto’s 22 ridings. And capture a big fat goose egg they did.
– Ken Shular, Toronto Town Crier, Oct. 6, 2003


charley horse – a muscle cramp, esp. in the upper leg, from a muscular strain or a blow

[Originally baseball slang, c.1888; origin unknown, perhaps from somebody's long-forgotten lame racehorse. Or perhaps from pitcher Charley Radbourne, nicknamed Old Hoss.

At least one theorist speculates that it may trace to the constables, or Charleys, of 17th century England, but I've not seen discussion.]


The term has moved beyond slang: information is that as far back as 1946 and article published in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association was titled Treatment of the Charley Horse, and not Treatment of Injury to Quadriceps Femoris.


Following the goose and the horse, one more animal term from baseball:


cat-bird seat – a position of power or prominence. Used in the phrase "in the catbird seat".


This is a regionalism from the US south, where the catbird is native. Sportscaster Red Barber often used the phrase in announcing the games of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and it was irritatingly interjected by the Dodger fan who was a character in James Thurber's story titled "The Catbird Seat". Barber and Thurber thus brought the term into more common vernacular.


[I understand that in Las Vegas gambling, the "catbird seat" in a card game is the seat immediately to the right of the dealer.]


With a sour economy and growing rejection of President George W. Bush's domestic policy, the Democrats would seem to be in the catbird seat this year.
– Louis Weisberg, Chicago Free Press, October 8, 2002


On the game show front, there's The Weakest Link (NBC), a UK import that hopes to nudge Regis Philbin and his still-popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, out of its catbird seat ...
– Belinda Acosta, Austin (Texas) Chronicle, April 20, 2001


The definitions I find are inadequate; these come from my own pen.


ballpark – adj: approximate (used of quantity; you would never say, for example, "That is a ballpark copy of Da Vinci's painting.")

ballpark – noun: the approximate range of

ballpark figure – an approximation; typically an initial or early approximation


Gwinnett County commissioners are contemplating increasing the pension of the county's 4,100 employees ... [says one:] "It will put our pension plan into the same ballpark as everyone else's."
– Doug Nurse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 15, 2003

While the Bush administration and Congress turn a blind eye to the threat posed by uninspected cargo in passenger plane holds, the Massachusetts Port Authority is starting to test screening technologies and procedures at Logan Airport. ... The Logan tests and the experience of Israel and the military should provide a ballpark figure for the cost.
– The Boston Globe, Oct. 14, 2003



rain check – an assurance that an offer, not accepted now, will be repeated later (esp., a seller's commitment to sell an out-of-stock item at the advertised price as soon as it becomes available)


So says the dictionary. But I would suggest that the term more generally means (without regard to any "offer") "a deferral," as in the British examples below.

[The phrase originated (1884) with the meaning of "tickets to rained-out baseball games."]


Mr. Hammond: Would maternity pay apply for the full period in that circumstance?
Alan Johnson: I am fairly confident that that is the case, but I shall take a raincheck.
– Parliament, 10 Jan 2002

Remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, February 9, 2000:
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I regard Madeleine as a strong friend. It is, therefore, a pleasure for me to be here to make sure that we renew that friendship and we take a raincheck on all the many issues around the world in which we are involved together, making common cause and standing up for the same interests and the same values.


hot stove league – informal speculation among devotees of a sport or other narrow activity, during the activity's off-season, of what the future holds

[Imagine the old-timers of 1890 gathered in the country store of a winter afternoon, warmed by the pot-bellied stove, whiling away the hours in talk.]


The above definition is my own, for I disagree a bit with the sole on-line dictionary that defines this term. There it is defined as "devotees of a sport, esp. baseball, who meet for off-season talks." To me the term means the discussion, not the devotees, and it needn't concern a sport. Here are three non-sport examples:


Those days are over.
– Marybeth Brennan, What's At Stake When The F.C.C. Enables Big Brother?, The American Reporter, August, 29, 2003
... at least talk radio was able to act as the local cracker barrel or hot-stove league. The community could mix it up verbally ... Issues impacting local schools, government, and neighborhoods would get an airing.

I haven't seen it noted and it's probably arcane information of interest only to members of the hot-stove league of political observers who are always talking politics. But ... should the president be reelected, the Bushes will have the opportunity to become the longest-serving family in the White House.
– Godfrey Sperling, Comparative American dynasties, Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 2002

You'd think Gov. Roy Barnes has enough on his plate to keep him ... busy at least until the state election of 2002. But the hot-stove league of presidential campaigns keeps buzzing about Barnes and a Democratic Southern strategy as if the national elections were just a calendar page away.
– Bill Shipp, Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald, May 23, 2001


switch-hitter –

baseball – one able to bat either right-handed or left-handed; "going both ways"

slang, by extension – a bisexual person

usage found, but not in dictionaries – person or software able to perform well at any of two or more functions


Exemplifying the last usage:


Buffalo Philharmonic has witnessed the keen achievements of one of Buffalo's native sons in the person of Salvatore Andolina, who is now the Orchestra's switch-hitter in his permanent position as clarinetist, bass clarinetist and saxophonist.
website of Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

[M]any of those testifying in the Arthur Andersen trial have not always danced with the one that brung 'em. From star government witness David Duncan equivocating on when he knew he had criminal intent, to defense witnesses saying they saw unprecedented shredding by Enron auditors, just about every witness has been up for grabs. Certainly, the testimony of witnesses can backfire on the lawyers who called them. But ... just about every witness has been a switch-hitter.
– Mary Flood, Houston Chronicle, June 15, 2002

On TV, actor Christopher Meloni is already a switch hitter, playing sensitive sex-crime detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and sexually carnivorous inmate Chris Keller on Oz.
– Derek de Koff, New York magazine, July 30, 2001




It's about time (Week of Oct. 20, 2003)


This week let's unearth some obscure words for times and time-periods.


hesternal – pertaining to yesterday


There as he smoked and puffed, and looked out upon the bright crocuses, and meditated over the dim recollections of the hesternal journal, did Mr. Briggs revolve in his mind the vast importance of the borough of Buyemall to the British empire, and the vast importance of John Briggs to the borough of Buyemall.
– Edward Bulwer-Lytton (he of "It was a dark and stormy night" fame), Pelham, Chapter XXXVI


yestreen – yesterday evening

[A reader notes: This is a Scottish dialect word. It is/was not part of the "mainstream" English language.]


Here is the first verse of a lovely 1789 song by Robert Burns.


I gaed a waefu' gate yestreen,
A gate, I fear, I'll dearly rue;
I gat my death frae twa sweet een,
Twa lovely een o'bonie blue.
'Twas not her golden ringlets bright,
Her lips like roses wat wi' dew,
Her heaving bosom, lily-white –
It was her een sae bonie blue.

(I went a woeful way last night,
A way, I fear, I'll dearly rue;

I got my death from two sweet eyes,

Two lovely eyes o'bonie blue.

'Twas not her golden ringlets bright,

Her lips like roses wet with dew,

Her heaving bosom, lily-white –

It was her eyes so bonie blue.)

"Daily" can be a difficult concept to pin down. For example, "daily changes in temperature" could mean either changes within the day, or changes from day to day. The Spectator recently noted that it found no word to specifically refer to variations within a day.


Further, though several words mean "on a daily cycle", all are either ambiguous (having other meanings) or are limited in application.


quotidian – occurring or returning daily: a quotidian fever

diurnal – recurring every day (diurnal tasks); or on a daily cycle (diurnal tides)

circadian – occurring regularly at 24-hour intervals



quotidian also means: of an everyday character; ordinary, commonplace, trivial.

diurnal also means: active chiefly in the daytime (diurnal animals), as opposed to "nocturnal"

circadian applies only to biological processes; one would not speak of "the circadian motion of the sun"


As one site cleverly notes: "Well, of course the word of the day is quotidian. If it wasn't quotidian, it wouldn't be the word of the day."


Citation for the 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Journalism Award:
[Nick] Joaquin also mastered the Philippines' most popular and widely-read literary form, the newspaper column. ... he dished out regular rounds of history, opinion, and gossip with such flair, candor, and intelligence that he managed to raise this quotidian newspaper exercise to an art.


hebdomadal– weekly; occurring every seven days

[Some medical sources refer to the first week of a newborn's life as the "hebdomadal period". I do not find this usage in the dictionaries.]


... since the dawn of human civilisation, some days, usually on some hebdomadal rhythm of the kind that we have in our Christian culture, have been reserved for holiday and have been kept special. Since the dawn of time, those protections have not simply been cultural, but have been enforced by law and by politicians. In a way, Sunday, and the hebdomadal system, sanctify a human necessity.
– Remarks in Parliament by Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley), May 16, 2003, whose eloquence is well worth reading


lustrum – a period of five years

[from the name of a ceremony the Romans held at that interval]



But for Bob Downie, Britannia’s director, there is quiet satisfaction at a lustrum which has seen 1.6 million visitors - 60 per cent higher than expected - and a clutch of awards.
– Sharon Ward, Scotland's favourite day trip, The Scotsman, 20 Oct 2003


American Heritage Dictionary, doubtless influenced by our theme, has chosen this "time" word as its word of the day for today.


sempiternal – enduring forever; eternal

How does this differ from "eternal"? Some authorities say that "eternal" means "having no end or beginning", or that it means "existing outside of time".


On September 1 [1983], the Soviet Union had shot down a Korean Air Lines passenger jet that had strayed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people aboard ... Chuck was serving as chief alternate U.N. delegate at the time, under Ronald Reagan's first ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick. Together, they roiled the career diplomats at the State Department and the sempiternal peace camp.
– Claudia Winkler, Chuck Lichenstein, 1926-2002. An honest diplomat heads off into the sunset, The Weekly Spectator, Sept. 5, 2002

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
– T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding (opening lines)

bimester – a period of two months

Note: this words seems to be used quite a bit in academia, but very little elsewhere.


Mexican sales to Canada increased 1.1 percent in first bimester
In January and February of 2002 Mexican exports to Canada increased by a rate of 1.1 percent, compared to the increase of almost 12 percent during the same period in 2001, reported the Canadian Statistics Agency. Mexico exported merchandise to Canada worth almost 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, only 12 million more dollars than in the first bimester of 2001.
– Maquila Information Center (Mexico), April 19, 2002



Words from Dorothy Parker (Week of Oct. 27, 2003)


Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

Dorothy Parker, News Item


This past week I've been enjoying Dorothy Parker's poetry, so let's take a look at some of the words she used. She's sure to provide amusing quotations for our usage-examples. And perhaps I'll add some further poems of hers, just for fun.


All quotes this week are Ms. Parker's, unless otherwise noted.


lodestar – one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide

(from the archaic meaning: a star that leads or guides; esp. north star)


Social Note
Lady, lady, should you meet
One whose ways are all discreet,
One who murmurs that his wife
Is the lodestar of his life,
One who keeps assuring you
That he never was untrue,
Never loved another one . . .
Lady, lady, better run!


gyve – noun: a shackle or fetter, especially for the leg.

verb: to shackle or fetter


Portrait of the Artist
Oh, lead me to a quiet cell
Where never footfall rankles,
And bar the window passing well,
And gyve my wrists and ankles.

Oh, wrap my eyes with linen fair,
With hempen cord go bind me,
And, of your mercy, leave me there,
Nor tell them where to find me.

Oh, lock the portal as you go,
And see its bolts be double....
Come back in half an hour or so,
And I will be in trouble.


sapience – wisdom; sagacity

[from Latin sapere to taste, be wise]


Ballade at Thirty-Five
This, no song of an ingιnue,
This, no ballad of innocence;
This, the rhyme of a lady who
Followed ever her natural bents.
This, a solo of sapience,
This, a chantey of sophistry,
This, the sum of experiments,
I loved them until they loved me.


And let's add another Parker poem, just for fun.


General Review of the Sex Situation
Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.

Love is woman's moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?


fardel – a bundle or little pack; hence, a burden


Personally, I think of the backpacks in which today's students carry their schoolbooks.


Prologue to a Saga
Maidens, gather not the yew,
Leave the glossy myrtle sleeping;
Any lad was born untrue,
Never a one is fit your weeping.

Pretty dears, your tumult cease;

Love's a fardel, burthening double.
Clear your hearts, and have you peace-
Gangway, girls: I'll show you trouble.

You won't find today's word in the dictionaries, not even in OED. Yet it is used in print occasionally, and the meaning below, which I've gleaned from those usages, seems to be a useful concept.


extemporanea – casual and spontaneous acts or remarks

[The dictionaries have no noun-form of "extemporaneous" for particular acts, but only for the general "quality or state" of being extemporaneous.]


Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.


Some further examples:


Those of us who just don't have time in our 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s to sit around with our friends regularly and engage in repartee are cheating ourselves, filling our time with "purpose" ... But learning how to just be, after being conditioned for decades to do and do more, takes training. It's like getting back to childhood, to the land of extemporanea. ... It's very hard, in fact, to go to leisure.
– Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 13, 1998, writing of a daily gathering of retired men


Benchley Despite Himself is a one-man, one-act stroll through the glory period of literate American humor. ... Due to the wide variety of subjects treated by Robert Benchley in his writings, films, musings, mutterings and extemporanea, we could not pin the author or actor down as to just what he will discuss.
Blurb for the play


leal – (chiefly Scottish) faithful; loyal; true

[akin to "loyal" and to Latin legalis legal]


The Leal
The friends I made have slipped and strayed,
And who's the one that cares?
A trifling lot and best forgot –
And that's my tale, and theirs.

Then if my friendships break and bend,
There's little need to cry
The while I know that every foe
Is faithful till I die.
– Dorothy Parker


quondam – that once was; former

the quondam drunkard, now perfectly sober – Bret Harte.

This is the quondam king. - Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III


Symptom Recital
I do not like my state of mind;
I'm bitter, querulous, unkind.
I hate my legs, I hate my hands,
I do not yearn for lovelier lands.
I dread the dawn's recurrent light;
I hate to go to bed at night.
I snoot at simple, earnest folk.
I cannot take the gentlest joke.
I find no peace in paint or type.
My world is but a lot of tripe.
I'm disillusioned, empty-breasted.
For what I think, I'd be arrested.
I am not sick, I am not well.
My quondam dreams are shot to hell.
My soul is crushed, my spirit sore;
I do not like me any more.
I cavil, quarrel, grumble, grouse.
I ponder on the narrow house.
I shudder at the thought of men....
I'm due to fall in love again.

I hope you've enjoyed Ms. Parker's wit as much as I have.