March 2008 Archives
Fossil Words: kith and kin; hem and haw; hue and cry; dribs and drabs; spick and span; kit and caboodle; nook and cranny
More surviving fossils: whelm; hoar (hoarfrost, hoary); fangled as in newfangled); fettle (as in fine fettle); cahoots; woebegone; short shrift
Archaic Words: lief; arrant; eftsoons; thorp (betide); whoreson (umbustious); hight (hostler, ostler, palfrey); clepe
Para-words: paraphernalia; parable; paraplegia; paranoia; paraphilia; paraschite; parody
The only riddance is “good riddance”, the only way to hunker is to “hunker down”, and the only way to be “amok” is to “run amok”. These are words which in essence are used only in a set phrase. You might call them “one-trick-pony words”.
This week we’ll look at one-trick-pony words that were once more general, but have now become forgotten; the phrases preserve them as fossils. There are surprisingly many of them, so for the sake of cutting the list we’ll examine those used in “and” phrases.
kith [as in kith and kin] – familiar persons, taken collectively; one's friends, neighbors, acquaintances
sometimes find “kith” standing alone, especially in the press of
The demography-crossing thing that
undergirds this election year, I think, is a strong, broad desire to punish
– Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2000, and elsewhere.
Per a reader’s comment: This “kith” is unrelated to the lisping verb, as in, “Give me a kith on the lips, thweetie.” Though admittedly, each has a sense of “familiarity”.
hem and haw (alternate forms are ~ and hawk; ~ and ha; and hum and ~) –
1. to make an inarticulate murmur in a pause of speaking, from hesitation, embarrassment, etc.
2. to repeatedly pause or digress in order to evade saying something directly; or, to repeatedly delay and discuss to avoid acting
Definition 2. is generally not found in the dictionaries, but I think it’s the more common meaning. See quote.
City officials were notified, but because of bureaucratic hemming and hawing, nothing was done.
hem – interjection: a slight half-cough to get attention, warn, or express doubt or hesitation (also [noun and verb]: the sound itself; to make this sound)
haw – interjection and noun: an utterance marking hesitation
In the familiar phrase hue and cry (a clamor of pursuit; a cry of alarm; outcry), what is a hue?
hue – outcry, shouting, clamor, esp. one raised by a multitude in war or the chase
1779 is the most recent example I can find of this hue without a cry:
As soon as M. Lally appeared, a hue was set up by the whole assembly, hisses, pointing, threats and every abusive name
“Hue and cry” started as a legal term. “A hue … is the old common-law process of pursuing, with horn and with voices, all felons, and such as have dangerously wounded another." (Blackstone, 1875). Anyone witnessing a felony was required make hue and cry, and all able bodied men, hearing the shouts, were obliged to assist in the pursuit of the felon. (wikipedia)
There's an ancient common law principle called "hue and cry." When you see someone commit a crime, you're supposed to raise a hue and cry -- "Stop, thief!" -- so bystanders will pursue the wrongdoer.
– CNN.com, Aug. 2, 2002
1502: "Ony persone … that wyll not helpe constable, sergeauntis and other officers … when hue and crye is made."
"In dribs and drabs" means “in small and intermittent sums or amounts”, but you rarely hear separately of a drib or a drab.
drib (verb): to fall in drops; to dribble; later, noun: a drop, a petty or inconsiderable quantity
drab (noun): 1. a slattern (a dirty and untidy woman); or, a harlot; 2. later: a small or petty sum (of money)
… the supply of reliable, objective information about the war's progress has been scant. Most of the dribs that have been released are coming from -- or have been carefully screened by -- Pentagon officials or their coalition equivalents.
– Time Magazine, Feb. 4, 1991
Even if it improved schools, it would do so in drabs, not in a big splash.
spick and span – neat, trim, and smart, as if quite new
This term comes from wood and nails.
A chip of wood is called a ‘spoon’, from Old English spôn and the ancient root *spænu-. (Yes, this spoon = woodchip is the same word as our spoon = eating-utensil; the eating sense of spôn evolved later, in Middle English.)
Many other languages used the same *spænu- root for ‘woodchip’. The relevant one is Old Norse, where a woodchip was a spánn (and that word, by the way, also evolved into mean the eating utensil). A spann-nyr was a new chip, recently cut, fresh from the ax, and this came to mean anything brand new. English adopted that term from Old Norse, and from the 14th through 19th centuries span-new was used as a term meaning ‘brand new’.
So much for the wood; what about nails? A spike-nail is a spick. The Dutch term was similar, and if a ship was brand new they called it spiksplinternieuw (“spikes and splinters new”; new nails and wood). English, inspired by that lovely Dutch combination, combined spick with span-new to create spick-and-span-new. Within less than a century this shortened to spick and span.
kit and caboodle – a miscellaneous assortment
The usual phrase is whole kit and caboodle, but the ‘whole’ is not necessary.
The poodle, the pit bull and a kit and caboodle of creatures eagerly awaiting their next casting call …
– New York Times, Sit, Stay, Fetch, and Don't Chew the Scenery, Jan. 9, 2006
kit and caboodle is an exuberant version of kit and boodle. The word kit (and to a lesser degree, caboodle) can also appear without its partner in the phrase: you can refer to a “kit”, a “caboodle”, a “whole kit” or “whole caboodle”.
kit – a number of things or persons taken as a whole
kit is especially used for clothing (as in our second quote, dealing with the dread dilemma of formal attire becoming wrinkled [horrors!] when packed for travel).
The single best idea Nissan had … was to perform a manic spring-clean on its dashboard. Buttons and clocks got trimmed to the minimum and the whole kit was shipped aside on to the centre console.
– The Guardian, Jan. 14, 2003
How to pack a dinner jacket … keep all your kit - including black socks, shirt studs, tie and cummerbund - in one place. … Fold the bottom half of the jacket over shirt and then the bottom half of the trousers over the folded jacket. This protects the shirt and stops the whole kit moving around and becoming creased.
– Telegraph, Feb. 19, 2002
caboodle – a crowd or collection
Imagine a movie where every character is more self-centered than Ted Baxter in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" of old, add a caboodle of idiotic jokes, and you have some idea of this ugly, unfunny farce.
– Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 2004
cranny – a small narrow opening or hole; a chink, crevice, crack, fissure
nook – a secluded, sheltered spot; or, in the same vein, a small, separate section of a larger room (also, the inner corner formed by two meeting walls)
As in the familiar phrase:
every nook and cranny – every part of something.
You’ll sometimes see a nook without a cranny ("a breakfast nook"), but has anyone ever seen a cranny without a nook?
I felt like a man who awakens in his own house and finds all the furniture rearranged, so that every familiar nook and cranny looks foreign now.
– Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
More surviving fossils
Last week we looked at words that survive only as part of a familiar 'and' phrase. Now, dropping the ‘and’, we’ll see some that survive only in a longer word or phrase.
Our first word largely disappeared by the start of the 20th century, and has survived only as a part of the word overwhelm.
whelm – 1. to ruin or destroy by covering completely (typically with water, but also with earth, snow, etc.) 2. to similarly engulf or bear down upon (as flood, storm, avalanche) [closer to ‘overwhelm’)
I do like a another, older sense of this word: ‘to cover with a dish, bowl etc. turned concave side down’.
… two powerful novels …, one alleging that the white man’s salvation depends on intermarriage with the negro, the other declaring that every possible precaution must be taken against the perdition in which such marriages would whelm the white race …
– New York Times, Apr. 12, 1902
Today’s fossil word can be an adjective or noun. It survives within two modern words, one for each of those two senses.
Fossil word: hoar – 1. adj.: grey or grey-haired, as with age 2. noun: hoarfrost (see below)
hoarfrost (or hoar frost) – a grayish-white feathery or fernlike deposit of frost
hoary –1. hoar (sense 1; adjective); grey 2. extremely old, and trite
Some good authorities say hoary, in the sense of ‘ancient’, is positive in sense (“so old as to inspire veneration”), but I agree with those who find in negative, as above. See quotes.
On Thursday, when it starts to freeze
And hoar-frost twinkles on the trees,
How very readily one sees
That these are whose--but whose are these?
– W. T. Pooh, Lines Written by a Bear of Very Little Brain, in A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Their solution wasn't perfect, it was just better than the hoary alternative, rendering decisions by gut feeling.
– Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
There is hoary joke among the clergy¹ that describes a guided tour of heaven.
– Peter J. Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus
¹ suppose I’d better tell the joke. “The visitor sees the Baptists in one room dancing, which was forbidden on earth; the Methodists in another room drinking; … and the Roman Catholics in another large space enjoying guilt without sex [sic]. As they turn a corner and approach yet another large room, the guide says, ‘We must be quiet now; these are the Episcopalians, and they think they’re the only ones here.’”
fangled – characterized by silly affectations or by peculiar notions
Even Shakespeare preferred new-fangled to plain old fangled (three usages vs. one), and nowadays you’ll rarely see fangled standing alone, without a prefix of new- or the like. Here are a few of those rare instances.
I remember with fondness my own tricycle, capable of tremendous speed or so it seemed then, and because it was not fangled up by paid imaginations, it could be Pegasus, if I liked, and it was.
– William H. Gass, Mrs. Mean
That’s what you get for eddicating him so much. It's just what Mr. Allen tells me when I spoke about sending our Jim to high school. No, he says, none of those high-fangled schools for a son of mine. I wants ‘em to be workers, not loafers, he says; and he was right.
– Eugene O'Neill, The Personal Equation (OK, so this one has a hyphenated prefix. So sue me!)
– New York Times, March 24, 2002
fettle – condition or state [from the verb fettle, "to make ready, arrange"]
Interesting etymology. The verb fettle "to arrange" is from fetel "a girdle, belt" (!), which is in turn from *fat- "to hold" (!!!). I presume this is all in the same family as Old English fætt, which meant "to cram, stuff”.]
Fettle is familiar from in fine fettle. It’s almost always used in such positive-adjective phrases: in splendid fettle, in prime fettle, etc. Here are a few examples without the positive adjective (I can find none without the “in”):
How to keep a large office force in fettle is a problem of unusual difficulty in these days of rush.
– Forbes, Nov. 24, 2003
If swarms of summer mosquitoes have put you in a hot, itchy fettle, let SOS Skin Accidents by Sanoflore come to the rescue.
– New York Times, July 14, 2006
cahoots – collusion; questionable collaboration
Some suggest French cahute, cabin; others say that in Middle-ages
Interestingly, OED does not have this word. It's nearly always used in the phrase “in cahoots,” or the like (some rare exceptions are below), and I’m not sure that the word was otherwise used in the past.
Nicklaus said … he and [
– The Age (
Where Mason sees indifference or incompetence, Farrell sees cover-ups and cahoots.
Did you ever notice the weirdness of the word “woebegone”? It seems like you’re saying a command, “Woe, be gone!”, but that’s not its meaning.
Its story begins with a word that has been obsolete since about 1500. bego first meant “to go about, occupy, inhabit”, and then came to mean “to form one’s environment” or “to influence as one’s environment does”.
1393: He was well begone … with faire doughters many.
c1386: I was … rich and young and well begon. (Chaucer)
As you can see, it could be applied to good environments. But more and more usages were with bad ones, particular woeful ones, until its only usage was with “woe”. “Woe” plus “bego” started as two separate words (Chaucer: “So wo begone a thing was she.”); then a hyphenated word woe-begone, and finally as a single word woebegone.
woebegone – 1. (obsolete:) beset with woe; oppressed with misfortune, sorrow, etc. 2. showing distress, misery, anguish, or grief
A procession was approaching – eleven Mice … No one has ever seen mice more woebegone than these. They were plastered with mud – some with blood too — and their ears were down and their whiskers drooped and their tails dragged in the grass, and their leader piped on his slender pipe a melancholy tune.
– C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
short shrift – rapid and unsympathetic dismissal; curt treatment
A very recent example:
Twice in the last six months David Cameron has written to Gordon Brown challenging him to such a debate during the next election campaign. On both occasions he's received short shrift.
– Sunday Mirror (
What is shrift? To shrive was an old religious term meaning to hear confession (or impose penance, or grant absolution). The noun shrift was the confession (the penance, the absolution), and one who had confessed and been absolved had been shriven.
It seems that when capital punishment was imposed, the authorities allowed the condemned man a last confession, but would not let him drag it out and delay execution. Short shrift meant a brief space of time allowed for a criminal to make his confession before execution. (Shakespeare, Richard III: “Make a short Shrift, he longs to see your Head.”)¹ From there short shrift evolved into its current meaning.
¹This is per OED. To be fair, I should add that Quinion has slightly different slant, at least as I read the two.
We follow our themes of “fossil words” with a theme of archaic words. Perhaps you’ll recall them from reading Shakespeare.
lief – willingly; readily [akin to love] m
Augustana [College] makes no apologies for its hard-edged approach. "Sure, it was hard to fire people, but we had fiduciary responsibilities," Dr. Tredway[, president,] said. And, quoting the church's founder, he added, "Even Luther said he'd as lief be ruled by a competent Turk as an incompetent Christian."
– New York Times, Nov. 5, 1995
arrant – utter; complete
[originated as a variant off errant, and sometimes is used where "errant" is intended. Complicating this, errant had two meanings, from two different roots: errant – 1. straying from the accepted course or standards (akin to err and error) 2. traveling in search of adventure (akin to iter "journey, way”)]
The word is still commonly seen in one phrase, “arrant nonsense” – so it fits last week’s theme too. Here’s another example:
However, Souness's half-time motivation and some arrant complacency turned the match on its head.
– The Independent, Aug. 23, 2001
eftsoons – soon afterward; presently
”Know’st thou who it was thou laid thy cudgel on?”
“Neither know I, nor care."
"Belike thou'lt change thy note eftsoons.”
– Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper
thorp; thorpe – a village or hamlet
see this as a suffix in place names or surnames: -thorp; -thrup. (The
German equivalent is dorf. As in the city of
“Thora of Rimol! Hide me! Hide me!
Danger and shame and death betide me!
For Olaf the King is hunting me down
Through field and forest, through thorp and town!"
Thus cried Jarl Hakon
To Thora, the fairest of women.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Tales of a Wayside Inn
betide – to happen to (transitive); to take place; to befall (intransitive)
whoreson – a low, scurvy fellow (also adj.)
This luscious word is almost never used (see second quote as a very-rare exception), except as historical curiousity. Pity. The first quote is long because … well, because I like it!
Sir John Falstaff, fat rogue, globe of
sinful continents, candle-mine, sweet beef, whoreson round man,
is not a character who requires fleshing-out. Prince Hal's drinking chum can
hardly be made rounder or thirstier. Nor does he present a puzzle: his belly is
his biography. Nevertheless, Robert Nye, a British poet who lives in
Nye's counterfeit turns out to be exactly what it should be: grossly indelicate, boozily funny, unstoppable as a belch or a rush of sack to the kidneys.
– Time Magazine, Nov. 8, 1976, reviewing Falstaff by Robert Nye
This week marks Alex Ferguson's 15th year in
charge of Manchester United. But the mighty team he has built appears to be cracking.
… Times newspaper columnist Simon Barnes … described a frustrated
– CBC Sports, Nov. 5, 2001
rumbustious – uncontrollably exuberant; unruly
Keep today’s word in mind when you look at tomorrow’s. They have the same dictionary definition, but the quotes suggest to me slightly different meanings.
hight – named; called
[from Old English “to summon”. Related to behest, incite and kinetic.]
He hath three squires that welcome all his guests;
The first, hight Chamberlino, who will see
Our beds prepared, and bring us snowy sheets,
Where never footman stretched his buttered hams;
The second, hight Tapstero, who will see
Our pots full filled, and no froth therein;
The third, a gentle squire, Ostlero hight,
Who will our palfreys slick with wisps of straw,
And in the manger put them oats enough,
And never grease their teeth with candle-snuff.
– Beaumont and Fletcher, Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607; this play, a satire on chivalric romances, is the first parody play in English)
The names match the duties. Chamberlino minds the bed-chamber; Tapstero tends the beer-tap (and isn’t one of those barmen who give you a pint that’s mostly foam on the top); and Ostlero is the ostler, or horse-tender.
Bonus archaic words:
hostler; ostler – one who tends horses, especially at an inn
[related to host, hotel, hospital and hospitality]
palfrey – a docile horse ridden especially by women
clepe – to call; to name [yclept is the past participle]
This is the same definition as hight, but based on the usages, my sense is that hight means to call by name (“Call me Ishmael”), and clepe means “call” as in “they call him a fool”. Admittedly, some of my readers have disagreed with me on this.
Hamlet notes that other nations think ill of his countrymen's fondness for strong drink:
The King … keeps wassail, and … drains his draughts of Rhenish down …
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduc'd and tax'd of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards …
Recall our recent word palfrey (“a docile horse ridden especially by women", as distinguished from a warhorse”). The pal- part comes from Greek para- "beside, secondary"; thus at root a palfrey, a woman’s horse, was a “secondary” horse. Tells you something about the status of women.
Many para- words have an obvious connection with “beside” or “secondary": paramedic and like terms (paranormal, paralegal, paramilitary), parallel and even parenthetical. This week we'll look at ones where the connection is less obvious.
We’ll begin with one which, like palfrey, is originally rooted in the status of women. Until 1882, English law provided when a woman married her property automatically became owned by her husband. He could sell it without her consent, and upon his death it would pass to his heirs, not to hers. There was one exception: the rule did not apply to miscellaneous, personal items, such as jewelry or clothing, which remained her property. (My understanding the English gave women less rights than did laws derived from the Romans, where her "retained property" included the furniture she brought with her.)
This miscellaneous property she had “besides her dowry” was given a name from the Greek para- “beside” + pherne “dowry”. It was called paraphernalia.
paraphernalia – miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity
An acquaintance inflicted the gift of a piranha with appropriate aquarium and paraphernalia on me. For six or seven months now I have had to put up with the gurgling water, whirring motors, and the uneasy feeling that I am a potential meal.
– William F. Buckley, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes & Asides from National Review
parable – a story told to convey a moral or spiritual lesson
[from the concept of a story with a meaning that “stands beside” its facts of its plot]
It can get a bit extreme, though.
But do the books [by Dr. Seuss] have a hidden meaning? Some anti-abortion rights groups have interpreted the book "Horton Hears a Who" as an anti-abortion parable. Horton the elephant discovers a whole town of tiny people living on a speck of dust. Horton makes it his mission to protect his new friends, declaring his intention with the famous line: "A person's a person no matter how small."
– ABC News, March 16, 2008 (ellipses omitted)
paraplegia – paralysis of the legs, the lower body [The sufferer is a paraplegic.]
An interesting shift in meanings. The original Greek word meant what we now call hemiplegia: “paralysis on one side”: παρα- para- “beside” + “to strike”. By the time it came from Greek through Latin to English, it had changed to mean “any paralysis;” it later settled down to mean “lower body paralysis”.
Melanie Trevethick wheeled herself into the High Court, to make a political point [that] government policy discriminates against people like her. Because she became disabled through illness, she is entitled to less help from the state than had she driven drunk, wrapped herself around a power pole, and become a paraplegic. Then, ACC would have remodelled her home to accommodate her wheelchair, bought her an adapted vehicle and paid her 80 per cent of her former income. Instead, she is eligible only for a welfare benefit for income and considerably less taxpayer assistance with some expenses. The discrepancies are obvious and, on the face of it, unconscionable.
– Dominion Post (
Today, a familiar word which literally means “beside one’s mind”, para- "beside, beyond" + noos "mind".
paranoia – any unjustified, excessive fear of the actions or motives of others (medical sense: a persistent delusional system, usually on the theme of persecution or exaggerated personal importance)
A movie titled 21 is currently playing. But the book from which it’s taken (the sources of our quote) has a more revealing title, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich
Andrew Tay became the “donkey boy,” carrying most of the stash taped to his body. In this role, his paranoia came in handy; he carried the bags of money if they were filled with unstable explosives, and worked his way through airport security with a drug smuggler’s intensity.
The origin of today’s word is clear, once you know that -philia means “love”. The word is defined by our quote, where a witness testifies in court.
“Tell the jury about
“Well, I am the director of the Psychohormonal Research Laboratory at USC. …. I have conducted wide-ranging studies of sexual practice, paraphilia and psychosexual dynamics."
"What is a paraphilia, doctor? In language we will all understand, please.”
“Well, in layman’s terms, paraphilia are what are commonly referred to by the general public as sexual perversions – sexual behavior generally considered unacceptable by society.”
“Such as strangling you sex partner?”
“Yes, that would be one of them, big time.
There was a polite murmur of humor in the courtroom.
– Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blonde
Ah, happy coincidence! Yesterday, while reading, I happened on a word that fits this week’s theme. Quite obscure: it’s not in any on-line dictionary, not in OED, not in Bailey’s or in Mrs. Bryne’s dictionary. But amazon has enough hits to convince me that it’s a legitimate word.
Context: Medical learning was limited for centuries because no one could study a human cadaver by dissecting it. Religion forbade human dissection, so the professionals instead relied on the conventional wisdom that a pig would do. A medical student in about the year 1050 is told:
”The pig‘s organs are identical to the organs of man. … So it has been written since the time of Galen, whose fellow Greeks would not let him cut up humans. The Jews and the Christians have a similar prohibition. All men share this abhorrence of dissection.”
[The student asks if perhaps earlier ancients have left wisdom obtained by dissections.]
“I have gone back in time,” Yussuf said. “Far as I am able. Into antiquity. Even the Egyptians … were taught it is evil and a disfigurement of the dead to open the abdomen.”
But … when they made their mummies?”
“They were hypocrites. They paid despised men called pararschistes to sin by making the forbidden initial incision. As soon as they made the cut the pararschistes fled lest they be stoned to death, an acknowledgement of guilt…
– Noah Gordon, The Physician
The para- part is familiar, and I’d imagine that the schite means “to split”, akin to schism and schizophrenia. Thus a paraschite is one who “cuts the side”.
(And by the way, I believe the stoning of paraschites was purely ceremonial, a ritual formality to punish the “sin” committed.)
paraschite (or pararschiste) – person hired to cut a body, for mummification
1865: Eugene Rimmel, The Book of Perfumes: One of the most curious parts of the performance was that the paraschistes, or dissector, who had to make an incision in the body, ran away as soon as it was done, amid the bitter execrations of all those present, who pelted him with stones, to testify their abhorrence of any one inflicting injury on a human creature, either alive or dead.
The word was apparently coined in a description of mummification written by an ancient Greek writer, Diodorus Siculus. It looks like the French took the term from him before the English did.
Today we honor April Fool’s Day. A burlesque or spoof of a song (an ode) would be a para-ode. That word, in ancient Greek, gave us today’s word.
parody – a literary composition imitating (and esp. one satirizing) another work. Also, by extension: a poor or feeble imitation; a travesty
It looks like a typical National Geographic
cover … . So what's Paris Hilton doing on there? The folks at Harvard Lampoon
persuaded employees of one of the most respected magazines to help them ensure
their April Fool's parody — with stories on
– International Herald Tribune, April 1, 2008
Happy April Fool’s Day!