January 2007 Archives
Types of Writing: amphigory, tushery, prolix, aphoristic, apothegm, sententious, gnomic
Colo(u)rful Words: purple prose, silver-tongued, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, white paper, blue book, green card, white noise
Words from the Crimean War: thin red line, balaclava, cardigan, mamelon, Nightingale, raglan, anabasis, katabasis
Obscure Water-Words: anadromous (grilse), catadromous, phreatic, vadose, bilge, sparge, clepsydra, natant, aspergill; aspergillum, aspersorium
Types of Writing
week we'll examine some words for types of writing. The first of them is
beloved by the on-line word-hounds, but is very rare in actual print usage.
Heinlein is the only person who uses it often,Ή so the
term fits last week's theme of Heinlein words.
Our word means 'nonsense', but in what way? The poem Jabberwocky is masterpiece of deliberate nonsense, very different from some sloppy writing that is intended to be serious but is in fact a bunch of nonsense. In my reading, the dictionary definition of today's word refers to the first type of nonsense, but the actual usage refers to the second.
amphigory 1. (OED) a burlesque writing filled with nonsense; a composition without sense, as a Latin nonsense-verse 2. (actual usage) rubbish, twaddle, poppycock, in writing or speech
On the Spanish Civil War, who, after having
read Orwell, could still take seriously Malraux's histrionic amphigory?
But to assert that something physical was created out of nothing is not to make a philosophic or any sort of statement, it is mere noise, amphigory, sound and fury signifying nothing.
Heinlein, To Sail beyond the Sunset
ΉIn Time Enough for Love, Stranger in a Strange Land, To Sail beyond the Sunset, I Will Fear No Evil, Star Beast, and Assignment In Eternity
tushery poor writing, characterized by affected choice of archaic
words (the sort of writing in which the characters say "Tush, tush.")
[used (coined?) by Robert Louis Stevenson]
"Damned" is a tushery,
nowadays about the softest expletive in the American lexicon
William Buckley, Gettysburg Times, May 22, 1987
Any natural wording, anything which keeps the mind off theatricals and not pestering the reader with frills and festoons of language, is worth all the convoluted tushery that the Victorians can heap together.
Ezra Pound, Translators of Greek: Early Translators of Homer
Here's an example of tushery in action.
a style which hurtles us towards an absolute empyrean of tushery. The
detail about 'seats veneered with tortoiseshell and ornamented with
costly embroideries' and 'hyssop for the finishing lavation', is hardly more
tolerable than hearing Arbaces exclaim, 'Queen of climes undarkened by the
eagle's wing, unravaged by his beak, I bow before thee in homage and in awe' or
Ione's retort, 'Thou ravest!'
prolix (of speech or writing) tediously lengthy
[Latin prolixus poured forth, extended]
prolix posturing, as defense
lawyers stalled trials in order to be able to bill more hours.
Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell:
Wintergreen determined the outcome by throwing all communications from General Peckem into the wastebasket. He found them too prolix. General Dreedle's views, expressed in less pretentious literary style, pleased ex-P.F.C Wintergreen and were sped along by him in zealous observance of regulations. General Dreedle was victorious by default.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
While his scholarly, often prolix, text sadly lacks compelling visuals, it makes up for this somewhat with thorough research and a wealth of facts.
prolix means 'tediously lengthy', what's an opposite? There are several
so many that we'll double-up for a bit and interestingly, most of them have
an uncomplimentary color. Here's the one that's probably the most neutral or positive.
aphoristic marked by aphorism (a tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage)
"It is a truth universally
acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in
want of a wife." So begins one of the finest novels in the English
laguage, Pride and Prejudice.
She [Jan Austen] set both theme and tone
in that tartly aphoristic first sentence: this is a world in
which personal relationships are based more often on gain than on love and
Warren has an aphoristic style of preaching. Remarking on opposing political inclinations, he said: People ask, Pastor Rick, are you right wing or left wing? Im for the whole bird. One-winged birds fly in circles.
the noun form, an alternative to aphorism is apothegm.
apothegm a short pithy instructive saying; a maxim
If you would forgive your enemy, says the Malay
proverb, first inflict a hurt on him; and Lily was experiencing the
truth of the apothegm.
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
about further opposites of 'prolix'? You may recall our previous
word-of-the-day, laconic ["saying much in few words", with
a negative aura of "brusque, almost to the point of rudeness"]. Or
you might use today's word, a variant of aphoristic with negative
sententious characterized by maxims or pointed sayings but often in the bad sense of 'addicted to pompous moralizing'
[Latin sententia 'opinion'. English sententia an adage or aphorism. Akin to 'sentence'.]
A person of gentlemanly bearing, small
abilities, and sententious wisdom.
1883; taken from from OED. I love this quote!
a dreadful piece of sententious moralising
more aphorism-related term.
gnomic in the form of short, pithy maxims or aphorisms but with a sense of enigmatic; ambiguous
[gnome a pithy saying that expresses a general truth or fundamental principle; an aphorism. Greek gignoskein to know]
The odd gnomic remark can be
forgiven, but after a while there's just no let up from sayings of the "a
rolling kumquat gathers no nuts in May" school of wisdom.
one more term describing a kind of writing. It also starts our new theme: color
purple prose prose that is too ornate
[Why 'purple'? Perhaps for the alliteration, as in our first quote.]
The writing eventually dissolves into
puddles of purple prose
. To wit: "... she threw herself
into my arms, and we cried there in the pool of golden light surrounding our
daughter." And, "I thought that I had cried myself out downstairs,
but hot tears coursed down my cheeks, spilling into her hair."
I've got a very high threshold for purple prose, and I thought at first I was going to like this book: it's full of the lush, chewy writing that normally enchants me. - but then I realised all he was doing was clubbing me to death with it
talked about styles of writing. Here's a colorful style of speech.
silver-tongued with the power of fluent and persuasive speech; eloquent
Diplomacy is the skill that matters, the silver-tongued
art of opening doors.
Times Online, Jan. 31, 2007 (today)
I took myself down to the Tally Ho Tavern
To buy me a bottle of beer,
And I sat me down by a tender young maiden
Whose eyes were as dark as her hair.
And as I was searching from bottle to bottle
For something un-foolish to say,
That silver-tongued devil just slipped from the shadows
And smilingly stole her away.
Kris Kristopherson, The Silver-Tongued Devil and I
Friday' (or "Black Monday', 'Black Tuesday', etc.) has long meant 'a day
of catastrophe in the financial markets'. But we'll give the new meaning that
arose about two decades ago.
Don't assume that the best deals are on Black
retailers typically offer even steeper discounts as
you get closer to Christmas
"Black Friday" is THE most
maddening shopping day of the holiday season. Shoppers should be prepared to
deal with heavy traffic and packed stores.
Friday' has a more recent spin-off.
While Black Friday is the
official kickoff of the traditional retail season, the story goes, online
retail really takes off the following Monday. Just one problem: It's not true, at
least for many online retailers. Contrary to what the recent blitz of media
coverage implies, Cyber Monday isn't nearly the biggest online
shopping or spending day of the year.
This white paper is designed
to help identify the regulatory compliance issues that impact business
PanARMENIAN.Net, Nov. 23, 2005
US: A 1946 essay examination on the bible, written on eight pages in a blue book while [Martin Luther] King was a student ,,,
Florida Times-Union, FL - Jan 12, 2007
US: A Lido Beach man filed more than $420,000 in fraudulent Medicaid claims officials began investigating after receiving an anonymous tip that he drove the Hummer, which has a blue book value of about $28,000
Newsday, Jan. 18, 2007
green card US, but migrating to the
[The form (Form I-551) was adopted in 1977 and interestingly, it has never been colored green. Its predecessor was green, however.]
Reuters South Africa, Jan. 14, 2007
Skilled migrant workers will have to earn a minimum of about 55,000 per year to qualify for the Government's new green card system The Government announced the introduction of legislation for a new green card system for skilled migrant workers last June.
The Irish Times,
white noise 1. constant background noise; esp. one
that drowns out other sounds 2. meaningless or distracting commotion,
hubbub, or chatter
[The technical sense is "noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities" -- and there is even a 'pink noise'. But the extended meanings are much more practical.]
She said she tried earplugs and machines
that generate "white noise" to mask street sounds, all
to no avail.
Sun-Sentinel (FL), Jan. 28, 2007
Free from the white noise of websites, the endless pinging of the email inbox, we can devote the entirety of one instant to one topic
Montreal Gazette, Feb. 3, 2007
Words from the Crimean War
Crimean War (18541856) was the first war which, due to the telegraph, was
reported 'live' to the public. Perhaps that is why surprisingly many terms come
to us from that war, almost enough to fill our topic for this week. We'll begin
with a term that that also fits last week's theme of "color words".
At the Battle of Balaclava a British regiment, having too much front for too few men, formed its line only two-deep rather than the usual four-deep. The Times correspondent wrote, "The Russians on their left drew breath for moment, and then in one grand line dashed at the Highlanders. The ground flies beneath their horses' feet; gathering speed at every stride, they dash on towards that thin red streak topped with a line of steel." No one really knows how thin red streak changed to thin red line.
thin red line a small but valiant line of defense standing between victory and defeat. ["thin blue line" is also used, when referring to police.]
We are engaged in a global war on terror,
and our thin red line has never been thinner.
And be thankful for the thin red line of firefighters who risk their own lives to help keep the heat from threatening ours.
LA Weekly, Aug. 12, 1998
President Bill Clinton announced Wednesday the funding of the 100,000th new police officer "In making America's thin blue line thicker and stronger, our nation will be safer," Clinton said.
we mentioned the famous Battle of Balaclava, named for the
balaclava a close-fitting woolen hat covering the head and encircling the neck
[During the Crimean War, knitted balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather.]
Apparently this word is rare in the
A dangerous prisoner
was busted out of
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade, famed in Tennyson, took place
at the Battle of Balaclava. The charge was led by Lord Cardigan, who became a
cardigan a knitted sweater or jacket that opens with buttons, etc. all the way down the front [a "Mr. Rogers" sweater]
[from James Thomas Brudenell (1797-1868), 7th Earl of Cardigan, who set the style, supposedly wearing one while leading the Charge of the Light Brigade]
Remember Jimmy Carter in his cardigan sweater,
preaching to us about keeping the thermostat down?
rare word became a bit more prominent with the siege of
mamelon a rounded hillock; a rounded elevation or protuberance
this they took in the same fashion, only
to find that they had still a third knoll left, far the steepest of the three.
This was none other than the mamelon mentioned
which had been
captured over their fire by the volunteer storming party in the night.
Xenophon, Anabasis (trans. Dakyns)
Standing 105 metres above the surrounding plains, Hanging Rock is an extinct volcano of a sort known as a "mamelon" (the French word for nipple).
The Age (
Gilbert & Sullivan fans may recognize this word, but I'll save that reference for a Gilbert & Sullivan theme.
times more Crimean War soldiers died from illnesses (typhus; typhoid; cholera;
dysentery) than from battle wounds. Florence Nightgale became prominent for the
work she and her nursing team performed in the battle theater. She returned to
Nightingale a nurse [but it seems to have a different sense; see quote below]
Nightingale ward a hospital ward with two long rows of beds and a central station for the nurse in charge
the life-size dolls on which decades of
young Nightingale nurses had learnt to blanket bath
Lucilla Andrews, No Time For Romance
In the 1960s the rigid discipline and hierarchy of the Nightingale ward elaborate uniforms, cloistered student residences, fussy matrons, many of whom had forgone marriage to follow their calling began to look outdated. One result of the new thinking was the Salmon report of 1966 to bring "efficiency" into the hospitals. Many modern nurses work as if in a factory, clocking off the minute their shift is complete. The Salmon ideals became grim reality only quite recently, when the older generation of Nightingale nurses retired or resigned
Sickened by the nurses who don't care, The Sunday Times,
clothing, apparently somewhat in fashion nowadays.
raglan an overcoat or other garment with the sleeve going right up to the neck, so that there is no shoulder seam
[pictured here and here]
[after Lord Raglan (FitzRoy James Henry Somerset), the top British commander in the Crimean War. Confusion over his order led to the disasterous Charge of the Light Brigade.]
The silhouettes that clothingmakers have designated
as the spring and summer trends will have you trying on raglan-sleeved jackets,
tulip skirts and trapeze dresses.
St. Petersburg Times,
Look for raglan-sleeved jackets, which don't have shoulder seams. Instead, the top of the jacket flows down onto the arm.
Sidelines Online (TN),
I began this Crimean War theme stating we have "almost enough to fill our topic for this week." To complete it we go to an earlier war, to a word we mentioned a few days ago by citing Xenophon's Anabasis.
Both statements bear witness to the
undeniable anabasis women have led, charging into the American
anabasis an advance, esp. a military one
[from Xenophon's Anabasis, reporting the advance of Cyrus the Younger into
One dictionary, Merriam Webster, oddly states that anabasis can mean not only an advance, but also the opposite, "a difficult and dangerous military retreat". But as best I can tell this is error: the proper term for such a retreat is katabasis. Why this confusion? Perhaps because Xenophon's work, though titled Anabasis, gives little space to the advance (the anabasis) and devotes the larger part to the retreat (the katabasis).
(To be scrupulously complete, I should add that in medicine anabasis and catabasis (with a c) can also mean, respectively, the onset and decline of a disease.)
transition to our new theme repeats the ana- and cata- prefixes
we saw yesterday. Anadromous is used far more often than catadromous,
perhaps for the reason given in our first quote. Our final quote is a pretty
metaphor, but did the author confuse the two words?
anadromous migrating 'up', from the sea to fresh water, to spawn (e.g., salmon)
[grilse a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea]
catadromous migrating 'down', from fresh water to the sea, to spawn (e.g., most eels)
spawning and resting grounds
for anadromous fish.
Longview (WA) Daily News,
As everyone saw last summer, this resulted in low water conditions and a run of pathetically small and thin grilse returning to most of our rivers.
Glasgow Daily Record,
Whether caused by global warming or galloping affluence,
Brooks Bulletin (
phreatic of or relating to groundwater
[Greek phrear well, spring. Related words are brew; ferment; fervor, from the sense of 'to bubble; to boil'.]
there was a phreatic
or steam-driven explosion, producing ash clouds 1.5 km from the summit.
Here, a phreatic passage, formed ages before by water under great pressure, cut laterally through thehlimestone cavern he was following.
vadose of or relating to water just above the phreatic water, in the
zone of aeration
[Akin to wade. Of particular concern as to water pollution.]
Water percolates from the
soil-moisture zone through the unsaturated (vadose) zone to the
Of course, percolate is a familiar word. But note that it doesn't apply only to fluids: it can mean "to spread (an idea or information) through a group of people". For example, today's New York Times asks, "Does 'Style,' by definition, percolate downward from the upper class?"
bilge 1. the rounded low part of a ships hull, curving to
meet the vertical sides; also, the area it encloses.
thus: 2. the dirty water that collects there.
thus: 3. nonsense; rubbish.
(## 2 and 3 also called 'bilge water')
media everywhere will be flooded with
'impartial' write-ups, ads, self-annointed pundits parroting PR bilge
like it's news, freebies, podcasts, you name it, and
all devoted to trying to convince us to buy
Albert Edwards, a contrarian strategist at Dresdner Kleinwort, dismisses the excess-liquidity argument as "lies, rhubarb, poppycock, bilge and utter nonsense".
.Which is to say, he disagrees with it.
sparge a sprinkle (verb: 1. to spray or sprinkle 2. to introduce air or gas into [a liquid])
If you've ever had your cheeks sparged,
you know it's no laughing matter.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jan. 20, 2002
Husbands, fighting to keep afloat, called their wives, but in the black bowl of sky, and blacker sea, no one could identify another, and soon their chins flipped up and disappeared in a sparge of foam.
Charles Johnson, Middle Passage
Sadly, this perfectly good word is almost never used outside of technical areas, such as brewing and environmental science.
clepsydra a clock that marks time by the flow of water through
a small opening (sometimes called a water glass)
[from Greek for 'water thief', the 'thief' part being the same root as in kleptomaniac.]
We'll give usage examples both figurative and literal.
Time is more complex near the sea than in
any other place, for
. the waves beat out the passage of time on the rocks and
the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra.
John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
Problem was, after years of use, the water wore the hole larger, so the clepsydra gradually became less and less accurate. Which is why you seldom hear the word these days unless you happen to own one, and if you do, that probably explains why your wife keeps telling you she's sick and tired of waiting on street corners for you when she could be inside, buying something.
What if we spelled all words phonetically?, Newton Kansan,
natant floating or swimming in water [Wordcrafter note: I think it
has the implication of 'lying flat'.]
[from Latin for 'to swim'. Think of the more-familiar word natatorium an indoor swimming pool.]
these -natant leaves, as
they lie on the water surface
John Ruskin, Proserpina. Ariadne Florentina. The Opening of the Crystal Palace
[reviewing a play] Frank, let's face it, is an emotionally stunted zombie these days. An excellent swimmer, he only seems happy -- and free -- when in water. "On a Clear Day" is a sincere if predictable tale of post-natant redemption, swimming with, as well against the tide.
aspergill; aspergillum an instrument, such as a brush or a
perforated container, for sprinkling holy water
aspersorium 1. an aspergill 2. the basin or other vessel for holy water
The open bottle
flew from its perch on the
seat beside him and smacked against the glove compartment, scattering brandy as
it swung through the air like an aspergillum.
Michael Chabon, The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
They dipped the aspergillum in the copper bowl and sprinkled objects and people the pylon, the cable, the pulleys, Zorba and me, and, finally, the peasants, workmen and the sea itself.
Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek