'Hard words' from "River Horse": incarnadine; anadromous; palliate; cheval-de-frise; surreptitious; chandler (chandlery); vinegaroon
Less-known meanings of familiar words: fluke; clock; secular; sublime (or sublimate); anorexic; sophisticate; riddle
Weather words: heat island; pluvial (chott/shott, playa, sabkha, kavir); incus (bontide); graupel (couloir); isobar (isopiestic); undercast
Eating and Drinking: comestible; Barmecide feast (barmecide); borborygmi (abomasum, rumen, reticulum, omasum (manyplies, psalterium); amuse-bouche (amuse-gueule); degustation (degust); smellfeast; shot-clog; curate's egg
Kilpatrick (mentioned in last week's theme) runs through
some of the terrible words a reader sent to him. "One
of my readers sat down recently to read a book. She kept getting up. After a while
she wrote me a cranky letter. She wrote: 'I am disgusted and appalled by having
to look up a word every fourth or fifth sentence.' She enclosed a partial list
of words she had stumbled over before she was halfway through the book."
As you can imagine, I just had to see that book. It is River Horse, A Voyage Across
The book is not bad as all that. Its hard words are nowhere near so thickly seeded in the text, and often they are clear from context or do not distract. This week we'll enjoy some of them, starting with two today
incarnadine – 1. of a fleshy pink color. 2. blood-red
anadromous – migrating up rivers from the sea, to spawn in fresh water
Compare catadromous – living in fresh water but migrating to marine waters to breed.
[from Gk., running up and running down respectively]
At its base is a
kidney-shaped lake once known as Sinnipink, and later
after the bodies of British mercenaries turned the water incarnadine,
it became Bloody Pond.
… the long efforts to reduce or eliminate filth [in the river[ are evident almost everywhere. Not long ago, most heeded state warnings and refused to eat anything from the river. Now many fish, particularly anadromous species spending most of their life in the
A reader notes Macbeth: "The multitudinous seas incardadine, making the green ones red."
palliate – 1. to
mitigate 2. to extenuate
[i.e., 1. to make (pain or disease) less severe 2. to make fault or crime seem less severe, with excuses and apologies. from L. meaning 'to cloak; to conceal']
The [Hudson] river
has futhered fatuous flight like this one from Henry
Collins Brown in his inanely titled 1937 work, The Lordly Hudson,
perhaps the biggest American river tome ever: "This book
is written primarily for those whom a beneficent Providence has permitted to
dwell on [the Hudson] banks or in its lovely villages. Yet a monograph of what is
unquestionably the most beautiful river in the world is something mankind
should not be without. It is not his fault that everyone cannot live along the
river. This volume is, therefore, designed also, as far as may be, to mitigate,
to palliate existence away from the
cheval-de-frise (pl. chevaux de ~) – 1. an
obstacle of jagged glass, spikes, etc. set into the top of a wall 2. orig.
military: a defensive line of spikes, etc., to block advance of the enemy
[lit. horse of
Our first two quotations illustrate these usages. Our third gives two more definitions, which are very interesting ("literary device"? "chastity belt"?), but I can't confirm them.
Horse: During the Revolutionary War Pollepel
[Island] anchored a cheval-de-frise to
halt movement upriver of British ships, but, while those sharpened, iron-capped
timbers must have looked formidable, the enemy somehow passed through without
a tall hedge of cactus reinforced the crumbling wall with a cheval-de-frise of bristling thorns
– Bret Harte, The Crusade of the Excelsior, ch. viii
[review of a musical work titled Chevaux-de-frise:]
Gerald Barry's cheval-de-frise … A fence of sharpened stakes defending a stockade, a knotty verbal device to impede too rapid reading, a teasing buckle to protect the chastity of its wearer and defy him who would violate it - the title means all these, and Barry's response is a tour-de-force of sustained ferocity: menacing, yet exhilarating, even cheery.
– Robin Holloway, The Spectator, June 29, 2002
surreptitious – taken 'on the sly', secretly or furtively, with efforts to
Brit; usu. contemptuous: a small shopkeeper selling provisions, groceries,
2. a retailer of specified goods or lines [typ. nautical], as, a ship chandler
3. a candle-maker or candle-seller [Note: This sense is the earlier.]
chandlery – his shop
This definition combines several dictionaries plus my own thoughts. Readers, do you agree with me when I say 'chiefly Brit', 'usu. contemptuous', 'small' and 'typ. nautical'?
[short on fuel:] Feigning nonchalance, Pilotis tried not to let me see surreptitious glances at the fuel gauges. … "We either find gas on the river now or we take a sixty-gallon hike for it" … On the edge of the village Pilotis pointed to a boatyard and chandlery with a pump. As I hosed the gasoline in, the fellow asked where we were coming from.
A British reader notes: I have never thought of chandler as in any way contemptuous.
Our author's odyssey cannot begin before spring thaws the rivers, and must be complete before the late fall freeze. As the author muses over the tight limit looming over him, he indulges in a truly obscure word.
One of the sweet and expectable aspects of life afloat is the perpetual present moment one lives in and a perception that time is nothing more than the current, an eternal flowing back to the sea. But trying to cross the American continent in a single navigational season disrupted that pretty illusion and put a live vinegarroon in my contemplative cap.
What is a 'vinegaroon', or 'vinegarroon'? There is a memorable definition in a children's book from the Hardy Boys series: The Sting of the Scorpion by Franklin W. Dixon:
A scream rang through the house!
"That's mother!" Frank cried. Both boys dashed into the kitchen. They
found their mother backing away from a huge scorpion!" The horrid-looking
creature, now poised on the kitchen counter, was brown and hairy and about six
inches long. Mrs. Hardy, pale, stared at it with a shocked expression.
"Out of the way! I'll swat the nasty thing!" exclaimed Aunt Gertrude as she burst in brandishing a fly swatter.
"No, don't kill it!" Frank protested. "It's an interesting specimen." "Interesting, my hat!" sniffed Aunt Gertrude. The boys smothered grins, and then Frank turned anxiously back to their mother. "It didn't sting you, did it?"
"No but it frightened me out of my wits. When I opened the container, it crawled out on my hand! I had to shake it of in the sink."
"From what I read in the encyclopedia," Frank said, "I've a hunch this is a whip scorpion called a vinegaroon, that's found in the southwestern
Picture here (ugh). Ladies, how'd you like to have sons like that?
Less-known meanings of familiar words