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July 2007 Archives

Monk words: monkish, cappuccino, lubber (abbey-lubber), banoffi pie, chartreuse, mulligan, mulligan stew or mulligan, whirling dervish

Animating Adjectives: piquant (pique, pikeΉ, pike², turnpike), frenetic, obstreperous, mordant, salubrious, timorous, strident

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows : billycan, vol-au-vent, berk, orifice, diadem, besom, plinth, fraught

What's Our Theme?: jalousie, milquetoast, vinaceous (cerulean), loudhailer, sternutation (aeolipyle), autocide, praseodymium


Monk words


Last week we had religion-words. This week, just for grins, we'll look at a subset of religion-words: those that somehow involve monks. Starting with the obvious one.

monkish – inclined to disciplinary self-denial


      "Forget it, lad, and get out into the big world. The rich tapestry of life is waiting for you out there. I've been watching you – working all hours and when you're not working you're reading up on cases in you text books – and I tell you the dedicated vet thing is all right up to a point. But you've got to live a little. Think of all the lovely lasses in Darrowby – you can hardly move for them. And every one just waiting for a big handsome chap like you to gallop up on his white horse. Don't disappoint them." He leaned over and slapped my knee. "Tell you what. Why don't you let me fix something up? A nice little foursome -- just what you need."
     "Ach, I don't know. I'm not keen really."
     "Nonsense!" Tristan said. "I don't know why I haven't thought of it before. This monkish existence is bad for you. Leave all the details to me."
– James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small


Today's familiar word illustrates how a word can develop a sense far from its original meaning.

A certain order of friars, who wore a cloak with a pointed capuche, or hood, was named after the Italian word of 'hood' (cappuccio,). English using the French version of that name, calls them the Capuchin friars.

Whoever named this order could not have foreseen the friars' name would become a monkey! The capuchin monkey was so named because it looks somewhat as if it were wearing the hood of a friar's habit.

Nor could he have imagined that the friars would become a drink, so named because it has the light-brown color of the Capuchin friars' habit. (Again, the habit. The order's name seems to be 'habit-forming'. [groan]) The drink's name is the Italian name for that order of friars, tracing back to the original 'hood'.

cappuccino – coffee with milk; white coffee, esp. as served in espresso coffee-bars, topped with white foam


lubber – a big, clumsy, stupid fellow; esp. a lazy one; a lout
(abbey-lubber was once a common term of reproach for a lazy monk.)


He looked forward to the boys growing up soon; he was going to put them through the mill just as his own father had done with him when he was a boy; they were going to learn how to take hold and run the place right. He wasn't going to overdo it; but those two boys were going to earn their salt, or he'd know why! Great big lubbers sitting around whittling! Mr. Thompson sometimes grew quite enraged with them, when imagining their possible future, big lubbers sitting around whittling or thinking about fishing trips. Well, he'd put a stop to that, mighty damn quick.
– Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine


banoffi pie – a flan filled with bananas, toffee, and cream
[from banana + coffee/toffee]

Why is this a monk word? Because it was invented, in 1972, at the Hungry Monk restaurant in Jevington, Sussex. Its creator, Ian Dowding, tells the story here. "The owner of this restaurant … joined up some of the syllables and came up with 'banoffi'. We thought it was incredibly silly."


It became very apparent that they were about as welcome as a banoffi pie at a Weight Watcher meeting.
– Russ Kane and Sally Kane, Shout at the Moon


Recipe here. Does it look good to you? I solicit your feedback.


chartreuse – a pale yellowish apple-green color
[from a liqueur (also named chartreuse), of this color, made by the monks of La Grande-Chartreuse]


She had always regarded the color turquoise, like shocking pink and chartreuse , as the color equivalent of the word ain't: quaint when seldom used but vulgar in great doses.
– E. L. Konigsburg, The View from Saturday

As Milo frantically conducted [the orchestra], all the flowers suddenly appeared black, the gray rocks became a lovely soft chartreuse , and even peacefully sleeping [dog] Tock changed from brown to a magnificent ultramarine. Nothing was the color it should have been, and yet, the more he tried to straighten things out, the worse they became.
– Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth


Many quotes today, for we have two words, each probably from the surname Mulligan. The surname is a double diminutive of Gaelic/Old-Irish mael 'bald', and so means "the little bald (or shaven) one," probably referring to a monk. Hence our two ‘mulligan’ words are indirectly monk-words.

mulligan – a second chance to play a golf shot; a "do-over"


literal: As a golf teacher, Pop was demanding. … And he always began our literally thousands of rounds together with the same terse but merry challenge - "No gimmes. No mulligan. No bullshit. Let's play golf."
– James Patterson and Peter de Jonge, Miracle on the 17th Green [etc.]

figurative: “Sandy was an all right person. … But he wasn't the right man for you. Never was. And as for Richard!"
     "Don't start," I warned. "I've admitted he was a huge mistake. I think I should get a       what's that word they use in golf? When you take a bad stroke and it doesn't count?"
     "A mulligan."
     "Yeah. Richard was my mulligan."
– Mary Kay Andrews, Savannah Breeze


mulligan stew or mulligan – a stew made with whatever's available (also fig: a mixture, jumble, hotchpotch) [hobo slang]


literal: I followed Johnny back into the kitchen. "Ever make a mulligan stew?" he asked.
     I had to admit I hadn't. "What do you put in them?"
     "Everything … ." … Everything in one pot. … I watched enthralled as caribou, grouse, pork, rice, potatoes, corn, canned tomatoes, macaroni and celery followed each other into the pot. Johnny laughed.
     "The more the better. Everything flavors everything else in a real mulligan." Johnny stopped talking to stir. Soon the smell of it was in the air, and the look on Johnny's face was one of reverence.
– Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman, Mrs. Mike

figurative: Every two weeks the children had to report on a book they had read outside class. Marva [the teacher] was accumulating a stockpile of books, some donated and some purchased at charity book fairs or used bookstores. The inventory was a literary mulligan stew, classical authors mixed in with writers of popular children's fiction. E. M. Forster, Somerset Maughm, and William Faulkner shared the shelves with Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, and Shel Silverstein.
– Marva Collins, Marva Collins' Way: Updated

I was accustomed to a broth of history from my father and Koussaint Rennie, some single topic at a time, but Stanley's version was a brimming mulligan stew.
– Ivan Doig, English Creek


A dervish is a Muslim friar who has taken vows of poverty. One order is called the whirling dervishes, after their ritual of wild, frenzied dancing. The dictionaries give no further meaning for ‘whirling dervish’, but in actual usage the term is also used figuratively, as below.

whirling dervish – one in constant frenzied activity


... sharing, taking turns, being gentle and being truthful ... few if any of these traits can be fully understood, let alone embraced by the whirling dervish that is a toddler.
– Vicki Iovine, The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers

Training an energetic dog is fun. … If you don’t put the time into training your dog to have better overall manners, you will live with a whirling dervish that never learns to simply hang out with people.
– Gerilyn J. Bielakiewicz, et al., The Everything Dog Training and Tricks Book

Grandma … turns on Grandpa. Get out of it. Out. If you stay a minute longer I’ll take a hatchet to you, you drunken lunatic. By Jesus, I’ll swing at the end of a rope for you. Get out. She runs at him and he melts before this whirling dervish … He stumbles from the house, up the lane, and doesn’t stop till he reaches Melbourne in Australia
– Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes: A Memoir



Animating Adjectives


This week we look at some adjectives to spice up conversation (not so rare as to be obscure to the hearer, but not so common as to be ordinary).

We start with one that has a spicy meaning. But the figurative sense is much more attractive.

piquant – (accent on first syllable)
1. of pleasantly sharp (esp. spicy) taste (“crisp, piquant flavor and fragrance” – Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook)
2. pleasantly stimulating or exciting; engagingly provocative; also : having a lively arch charm
[French, 'stinging, pricking'.]


[She has just received a new hairstyle] It was the style, he told her, affected by all the great ladies and it quite transformed her features, giving her a piquant air at once provocative and alluring.
– Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber

A shiver chased along his spine. The danger had a certain piquant quality, something like the thrill experienced by a soldier, he felt sure.
– John Jakes, Love and War


For words interestingly akin to this (pique and turnpike), see below.


From the same 'pricking' root:

pique – a feeling of wounded pride (verb: 1. to cause resentment 2. to provoke; arouse: to pique one's curiosity

pike – a kind of spear
pike – a certain large freshwater fish [probably referring to its long, pointed jaw]

turnpike – originally, a spike barrier obstructing a road, as a defense [Note: a pricking spike might seem related to pike, but I can find no connection.] Later, turnpike came to mean 'a tollbooth obstructing a road', the road coming to be called a 'turnpike road', and then simply a 'turnpike'.


frenetic – frenzied; fast and energetic in a wild and uncontrolled way
[traces back to Greek phrenitis 'delirium']


I had thought the constant crowing of our roosters would drive [our dog] Marley insane. In his younger years, the sweet chirp of a single tiny songbird in the yard would set him off on a frenetic barking jag as he raced from one window to the next, hopping up and down on his hind legs.
– John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog

… the holiday season is chaotic: chock-full of frenetic shopping trips, party planning and a packed calendar of events …
– Peter Walsh, How to Organize (Just About) Everything [etc.]


I like today’s quotes for obstreperous. (In them we'll also see turgid, but we’ll save that word for another theme where we’ll try to distinguish turgid, torbid and tumid. Not to mention torpid.)

obstreperous – 1. noisily and stubbornly defiant 2. aggressively boisterous


… the more generally uncooperative, obstreperous behavior which is the hallmark of adolescence.
– Anthony E. Wolf. Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager

     "Honey, you can't go around calling people--"
      "You ain't fair." I said, "you ain't fair."
      Uncle Jack's eyebrows went up. "Not fair? How not?"
      "You're real nice, Uncle Jack, an' I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don't understand children much."
      Uncle Jack put his hands on his hips and looked down at me. And why do I not understand children, Miss Jean Louise? Such conduct as yours required little understanding. It was obstreperous, disorderly, and abusive--"
      "You gonna give me a chance to tell you? I don't mean to sass, I'm just tryin' to tell you. ... you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell my side of it--you just lit right into me. ... you told me never to use words like that except in extreme provocation, and Francis provocated me enough to knock his block off--"
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

     "He's very clumsy, that boy," the girl said.
     "He can be. He gets into everything."
     "Boys can be very obstreperous."
     Tessie smiled. "You have quite a vocabulary."
     At this compliment the girl broke into a big smile. "'Obstreperous' is my favorite word. My brother is very obstreperous. Last month my favorite word was 'turgid.' But you can't use 'turgid' that much. Not many things are turgid, when you think about it."
     "You're right about that," said Tessie, laughing. "But obstreperous is all over the place."
– Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex: A Novel


mordant (or mordacious) – (especially of humor) caustic; biting; sharply sarcastic (also has noun senses)
[from Latin mordere 'to bite']


To crack and especially tough opponent, [Robert] Moses might invite him to a lunch at which he would be the only person present besides [Moses] and his aides: then, if the guest tried to argue, he would be in the position of trying to argue alone against a whole platoon of "informed opinion." … disagreement would touch off an argument with the host … there would not be the uncontrolled, wall-pounding, inkwell-throwing rage that could fill a room, but a mordant scorn that could slash across a dinner table like a carving knife.
– Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Pulitzer Prize winner)

(Jack, in Guy Wetmore Carryl's poem How Jack Made the Giants Uncommonly Sore, is young man who had been raised by a domineering father.)
In the editor's seat / Of a critical sheet
He found the revenge that he sought;
And, with sterling appliance of / Mind, wrote defiance of
All of the giants of / Thought.

He'd thunder and grumble / At high and at humble
Until he became, in a while,
Mordacious, pugnacious, / Rapacious. Good gracious!
They called him the Yankee Carlyle!


salubrious – health-giving; healthy


[Martin] Luther was the product of a terrifying Teutonic childhood .. Since children were born wicked, as [his father] Hans believed, it was virtuous to beat them senseless with righteous cudgels. … his mother … shared Hans's convictions, including his belief in the salubrious effect of a vigorously applied lash. On one occasion, according to Luther, she caught him stealing a nut and whipped him to a bloody pulp.
– William Manchester A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind [etc.]


timorous – timid; or (as in final quote) expressing timidity


Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie …
– Robert Burns, To a Mouse

Several witnesses … spoke well of her; but fear and hatred of the crime of which they supposed her guilty rendered them timorous, and unwilling to come forward.
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Still, in Pete's presence, Schlichtmann's demeanor underwent a drastic change. He always spoke softly, in a meek and timorous voice, and he would quickly defer to Pete's judgment in all matters.
– Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action


strident – 1. loud, harsh and grating 2. presenting a point of view in an excessively forceful way
[form Latin for 'to creak']

The former is the original meaning, and to my surprise seems to be more common than the latter, figurative sense. We illustrate each, and end with a third quote which interestingly combines both senses.


Suddenly his voice was so strident that I looked up startled.
– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

… the roll of the strident, often vicious press was changing the whole political atmosphere.
– David McCullough, John Adams

The telescreen had changed over to strident military music.
– George Orwell, 1984



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


The final book in the Harry Potter series hit the bookstores last weekend and has been, as expected, a smashing success. So it seems appropriate to devote this week to words from that book.

billycan – (Australian) any container in which water may be carried and boiled over a campfire, ranging from a makeshift tin can to a special earthenware kettle


… they had had nothing to eat except some wild mushrooms that Hermione had collected from amongst the nearest trees and stewed in a billycan.


vol-au-vent – a small light puff pastry filled with a meat or fish ragout
[French, ‘flight in the wind’]


Mrs. Weasley kept Harry, Ron, and Hermione so busy with preparations for the wedding that they hardly had time to think. … “I think Mum thinks that if she can keep the three of you getting together, she’ll be able to delay you leaving,” Ginny told Harry in an undertone … . “Then what does she think’s going to happen?” Harry muttered. “Someone else might kill Voldemort while she's holding us here making vol-au-vents?”


In today's passage, as Aberforth vents his jealously of his brother, authoress Rowling comes quite close to "language not suitable for minors."


"That old berk," muttered Aberforth, taking another swig of mead. "Thought the sun shone out of my brother's every orifice, he did. Well, so did plenty of people …"


berk – a stupid person that is easily taken advantage of
[abbreviation of Berkeley or Berkshire Hunt, rhyming slang for c*nt].
orifice – a hole opening into a bodily cavity


diadem – a jeweled crown or headband


"Sorry, but what is a diadem? asked Ron. "It's a kind of crown," said Terry Boot. "Ravenclaw's was supposed to have magical properties, enhance the wisdom of the wearer."

"I stole the diadem," repeated Helena Ravenclaw in a whisper. "I sought to make myself cleverer, more important than my mother. I ran away with it."


besom – 1. a broom made of twigs tied round a stick 2. derog.; ch. Scot. & N.Engl.: a woman or girl


Amycus bellowed, shaking the door for all he was worth, but it wouldn't open … in a second a more familiar voice rang out … "May I ask what your are doing, Professor Carrow?" "Trying – to get – through this damned door!" "But isn't your sister in there?" asked Professor McGonagall. … "Perhaps she could open the door for you? Then you needn't wake half the castle." "She ain't answering, you old besom! You open it! Garn! Do it now!"


plinth – a heavy base supporting a statue or vase [cognate with flint]


And all along the corridor the statues and suits of armor jumped down from their plinths, and from the echoing crashes from the floors above and below, Harry knew that their fellows throughout the castle had done the same. "Hogwarts is threatened!" shouted Professor McGonagall. "Man the boundaries, protect us, do your duty to our school!"


fraught – causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension
[fraught with – filled with a specified element, as fraught with danger]
[from the sense of "laden" (as a ship); cognate with freight]


Dealings between wizards and goblins have been fraught of centuries … . There has been fault on both sides, I would never claim that wizards have been innocent.



What's Our Theme?


Your challenge this week is to figure out what our theme is!

jalousie – a blind or shutter made of a row of angled slats (Wordcrafter note: can be adjustable glass slats)
[French, ‘jealousy’, from Italian geloso ‘jealous’ (notion of looking through blinds without being seen), associated with the screening of women from view in the Middle East]


     "It's hot as heck in here," I complain.
     "So, open a window." Dad snaps. I yank up the avocado-green curtain with its insulated rubbery backing, then crank open the jalousie window. "Leave the curtains shut," Dad says.
– Wally Lamb, Couldn't Keep It to Myself: [etc.]


milquetoast – a timid, meek, or unassertive person
[from the cartoon character Caspar Milquetoast, "The Timid Soul," created by H. T. Webster in 1924]


They know I'm no Caspar Milquetoast but a person of strength and courage. Plenty of moxie.
– Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King (Penguin Classics edition)
(Interestingly, some editions vary. When I went to verify the quote I used the 1959 Macmillan of Canada edition, which has not "I'm no Caspar Milquetoast" but "
I'm no Milktoast".)

"Aaron Brown is a lily-livered milquetoast pantywaist!"
– Lauren Weisberger, Everyone Worth Knowing


vinaceous – wine-colored (the color of red wine)

With rare exceptions, this word is used only in descriptions of birds. Why not use it more?


Cerulean skies and deep vinaceous bands of sandstone become places of power. Pit houses dug in the earth and cliff dwellings hanging on ledges still house the Anasazi spirit. Listen. You may hear music inside their ancient earth architecture.
– Terry Tempest Williams, Pieces of White Shell

[We culinary writers were] licking our vinaceous lips in anticipation of some truly goofy responses. Instead, we were confronted with a smart, sassy lass who coolly diffused each of our questions.
– Boston Globe, June 12, 2003


Bonus word:
– deep blue in color like a clear sky.
[from a Latin word that traces to Latin caelum 'sky']


loudhailer – a megaphone

How descriptive!


… the Major's jeep had breasted the hill they had just started down. He came past them on the shoulder … and raised a battery-powered loudhailer to his lips. "I'm pleased to announce that you have finished the first mile of your journey, boys."
- Stephen King and Richard Bachman, The Long Walk


Two quotes today, each so nice that I could not bear to give only one.

sternutation – formal: the action of sneezing
[Latin, from sternutare ‘to sneeze’]


If a child were severely beaten every time it sneezed, it is probable that a phantasy world would in time build itself up in his mind around the conception of sneezing; he would dream of heaven as a space where the spirits of the blest sneeze unceasingly, or on the contrary might think of Hell as a place of punishment for those who live in open sternutation.
– Bertrand Russell, The Scientific Outlook

During the season of gathering the pepper, the persons employed are subject to various incommodities, the chief of which is violent and long-continued sternutation or sneezing. Such is the vehemence of these attacks, that the subjects of them are often driven backwards for great distances at immense speed, on the well-known principle of the ζoliphile.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table


Bonus word:
aeolipyle; aeolipile
– a hollow ball that turns through steam escaping through valves


autocide – the use of a vehicle to commit suicide

Why such a distinct term? See last sentence of quote.


… the driver was the lone occupant, and he was killed. … daylight, clear, road dry, level and straight, no skid marks. "Cause: improper driving." Or was it suicide? No one can know for sure, but more and more police and traffic experts suspect that "autocide," as one expert calls it, is an important cause of traffic deaths. Estimates … range from less than 1% to about 10%. The evidence is almost always circumstantial, and the chance of identifying an automobile death as anything other than "accidental" is just about nil ... Because it cannot be clearly labeled, autocide not only avoids the social stigma attached to suicide, but also, as Arthur Miller's Willy Loman realized, almost automatically guarantees double indemnity on most life-insurance policies.
– Time Magazine, March 10, 1967


As some have figured out, our theme this week has been "words containing a, e, i, o and u, each once only". It's an elementary concept, so its fitting that we end our theme with an "elementary" word, indeed one that includes a y as well.

This is one of those words of "mongrel" origin: one part Greek, and one part Latin. Or should we call that a "hermaphrodite" word? The name also traces to a color and a food. Delicious!


praseodymium – a rare silvery-white metallic element, of the lanthanide (rare-earth) series
[named from Greek prasios "leek-green" (from prason "leek"), because it forms green salts, + Latin (di)dymium "double; twin".]

The "twin" aspect is interesting. Mossander discovered two element, so similar that he was unable to chemically separate them, and he named them lanthanum and didymium, the "twin". Decades later as the techniques of chemistry improved, it was found that Mossander had been only half right: lanthanum was indeed an element, but didymium was not: it was found to be a combination of two new elements, which were then named neodymium and praseodymium So didymium is a twin in two chemical senses: the twin paired with lanthanum, and the result of the twin pairing of neodymium and praseodymium.

And of course, praseodymium is itself a "pairing" in a linguistic sense, in that it is made up of both Greek and Latin components.


Wordcrafter's response to a critic:
I’m in a
precarious position, for you might view my motives questionably, so I admit to a bit of anxiousness in saying this. Please don’t think my behaviour to be vexatious, or an uncongenial effort to outdistance your work above. If I transgress any boundaries of etiquette, is it unforgivable?

But doubtless these words are but a formal
precaution; surely we can further our mutual preoccupation with our linguistic education and, by tenacious effort, do groundbreaking work on AEIOU. We’ll each subordinate pride of place to the hellaciously encouraging prospects of consultative work, as would any businessman or businesswoman. Are you of the same persuasion?