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August 2006 Archives

Insulting Words: troglodyte, excerebrose, recreant, poltroon (omadhaun), subdolous, benighted, slubberdegullion

Sensory Words: hircine (hirsute), treacly, empyreumatic, alliaceous, toothsome, sialagogue, formication

Words from Wordcraft's "Bluffing Game": slub, rhytiscopia, ningimmer, impignorate

Words of Art: putto, abbozzo, maulstick; mahlstick, chiaroscuro, giclιe, lithograph, serigraphy, stipple, contrapposto


Insulting Words


This week we'll present some high-class insults with which to baffle your foes.

troglodyte – 1. a cave-dweller 2. one who is reclusive, reactionary, out of date, or brutish
[from the Greek name of an Ethiopian people, influenced by trogle ‘hole’]


… there were several cars behind him, including one of those pickups that sit about six feet off the ground and are invariably driven by some tailgating troglodyte …
– T.C. Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain


excerebrose – brainless; having no brain


… hackers penetrated a database …, gaining access to the personal files of as many as 32,000 people. … In a contrite but somewhat excerebrose statement, Sanford stated that: "We sincerely regret the circumstances that were recently announced."
– Chris Noon, Lexis Nexis Exec Admits Hackers Took Control Of Database, Forbes, March10, 2005


A rather archaic word:

recreant – 1. abjectly cowardly 2. disloyal (noun: a recreant person)


'Come hither!' he cried to his servants. 'Come, if you are not all recreant!'
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I also remember a short story … about the recreant son of an old family who recovered his courage and vindicated his tarnished honor …
– Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again


Another archaic word:


poltroon – an utter coward
[Italian, perhaps from poltro ‘lazy’]

Go back to your seat, you omadhaun, you poltroon, you thing from the far dark corner of a bog.
– Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes: A Memoir


Bonus word:
– a fool, an idiot, a mentally backward person [Irish]


subdolous – sly; crafty; cunning

Today's quote is enjoyable, but query whether it uses the word correctly.


At his press conference recently the President referred to columnists as "unnecessary excrescence." Mr. Roosevelt was just being subdolous.
San Mateo (California) Times, Jan. 6, 1945


benighted – ignorant or unenlightened


… a novel constitutional doctrine known as the "right to marital privacy." … "Privacy" functioned as a euphemism for immunity from those public-morals laws deemed by the justices to reflect benighted moral views.
– Robert P. George and David L. Tubbs, National Review,
July 18, 2005

There was a young man so benighted,
He didn't know when he was slighted.
He went to a party
And ate just as hearty
As if he'd been really invited.


And here's a rare insult which feels wonderful in the mouth.
slubberdegullion – a slobbering or dirty fellow; a worthless sloven



Sensory Words


This week we look at words of the senses, beginning with an insulting one.

hircine – smelling like a goat
Hircine can also mean just "like a goat", but it pertains primarily to smell. A word for "like a goat", without that smell connotation, is caprine.


It is now four weeks since a razor came in contact with my chin. All my companions are equally hircine; or, if you please, hirsute.
– John Audubon, naturalist, quoted in Duff Hart-Davis, Audubon's Elephant


Bonus word:
– covered with abundant hair


treacly – cloyingly sweet


[Jean] Kerr was an essayist and hugely successful Broadway playwright … however, she may be best known as the Doris Day character in the treacly 1960 film version of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, which … morphs her into a home remodeling-obsessed, suburban stay-at-home mom.
Elizabeth Austin, Washington Monthly, March, 2003


empyreumatic – smelling like burnt flesh
alliaceous – smelling (or tasting) like garlic or onions


… there's a $6 billion industry centering around about 1,000 different fragrances, according to statistics … We'd suggest avoiding alliaceous, empyreumatic and particularly hircine scents when shopping for that special someone.
– (
Colorado Springs) Gazette, Dec. 10, 2002


toothsome – 1. temptingly tasty to the mouth 2. attractive, alluring (esp., sexually appealing to the eye)


[T]he lesbian trio Fruit from Adelaide, Australia, have [sic] been inaccurately compared to the Indigo Girls for their meticulous harmonies. … The three trade off on songwriting and lead vocal duties for a toothsome permutation of styles.
– The Advocate,
August 30, 2005


sialagogue – something that promotes flow of saliva
In other words, it makes the mouth water. Obviously suitable for figurative use.
The word combines a Greek root (for 'saliva') with a Latin one.



Note carefully that the fourth letter of today's word is an m, not an n.

formication – the feeling of ants or other insects crawling over one's skin
[Latin formicare 'crawl like an ant']

I cannot give you a suitable quotation, but the following Ogden Nash poem may reinforce the connection between formi- and ants.


The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?



Words from Wordcraft's "Bluffing Game"


This set of words comes from the "Bluffing Game" on Wordcraft's discussion board. Since the object was to guess the meaning, these words were obviously provided without illustrative quotes.

slub – to extend fibers and twist after carding (noun: a slight irregularity in yarn, from knotting or twisting, or including uneven lengths of fiber in spinning)


P.S. One of phony definitions in the game was "petrified bodily excretions other than dung". Pieces of petrified dung are coprolites, which (says one source) "form an important class of objects studied in the field of paleontology ".


rhytiscopia – a neurotic preoccupation with facial wrinkles

ningimmer – a physician or surgeon, particularly those who cure the venereal disease


impignorate – to mortgage



Words of Art


Painting, anyone? This week we present words from the world of art.

putto (plural putti) – a representation of a naked child, especially a cherub or a cupid


Live models were drawn from every quarter of Florence…: scholars in black velvet; soldiers with bullnecks …; the wool dyers with stained arms; … plump house servants; … chubby children to serve as models for putti.
– Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo


abbozzo – a rough, preliminary sketch (not necessarily pictorial; could be a sketch of an opera)

An interesting thought in today's quotation.


… there were those in the sixteenth century who saw a relationship between unfinished works and archaic works. The crude and rough images of the earliest times, it was believed, were slowly brought to refinement by history, just as the artist brings a sketch (abbozzo) to perfection in the finished work.
– Alexander Nagel, Michelangelo and the Reform of Art


Lest you think all art words are Italian, here's one from the Dutch for "paint stick".

maulstick; mahlstick – a light stick on which a painter supports and steadies his brush hand, for detail work, without resting the hand on wet paint

See here. One end of the stick is placed on a dried part of the painting. It is typically leather-covered so as not to scratch the paint.


What is your Little Billee, with his stinking oil-bladders, sitting mum in his corner, his mahlstick and his palette in one hand …
– George Du Maurier, Trilby (translation)


chiaroscuro – the interplay of light and shade in drawing and painting; a work stressing that interplay
[Italian chiaro ‘clear, bright’ + oscuro ‘dark, obscure’]

Our second quote is a stunning example of using the term figuratively, for another complex combinations of contrasting elements.


… when …the power failed, hurricane lamps were produced, and the classroom became a chiaroscuro study of long shadows and illuminated faces.
– George Packer, The Assassins' Gate:
America in Iraq

Matthews maintained that he had been incarcerated because of a government conspiracy to silence him. … there was truth in his accusation. Negotiating his way through Matthews' swirling chiaroscuro of sanity and madness, [biographer] Jay reveals that while the Air Loom was an extravagant delusion, Matthews actually had been working on a secret British government mission to secure peace with
– Spectator,
Jun 28, 2003



Here's a word that's too new to be in most dictionaries but has over 5 million Google hits.

giclιe – a high-quality copy of a painting, etc., made by digital scanning and ink-jet printing onto canvas or archival paper [French gicler to spray or squirt]


Images are reproduced using the Giclιe (pronounced jhee-clay) method, which is known for its high standard of colour accuracy.
NewswireToday, Sussex, United Kingdom, Sept. 1, 2006

a process called “giclιe,” in which high-resolution digital scans are printed with archival quality inks for better color accuracy.
Nashville Scene, Aug. 9, 2006


The giclιe process yields high color accuracy and is often less costly than lithography, serigraphy or serilith.

lithography – printing with a plate whose areas are chemically treated to retain or repel ink
serigraphy – silk-screening: ink forced through silk mesh, parts of which have been impermeably coated


stipple – to paint, etc. in dots or short strokes (or otherwise produce that flecked or speckled effect: a field stippled with purple weeds – Flannery O'Connor) [noun: the technique, or the effect produced]+


She … looked across the room, lit only by a stipple of moonlight through lace curtains.
– Alan Brennert, Moloka'I


contrapposto – the position with hips and legs turned somewhat in a different direction from the shoulders and head; typically most of the weight is on one foot


… the loose-hipped contrapposto favored by the models who appear in Obsession ads.
– Daniel Mendelsohn, The Elusive Embrace

He was standing casually at the door, contrapposto, looking directly at the spy-hole, as if he knew she was there looking out at him.
– Denise Mina, Garnethill: A Novel of Crime