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A reader wrote, “Hi, Wordcrafter. I'm just finishing a novel called The Sea by John Banville-- suggested by a book club member because the setting is the Irish seaside village she grew up in. Besides being a beautifully crafted and moving novel, it is the first I've read in years where I need a dictionary at hand! I've started circling the words he uses that I've never seen before. Should I pass my list along to you for one of your vocabulary weeks?” And I replied, “Laughing! Please do so ASAP; I'm suffering writer's block looking for a theme!”

Ginny, thank you for sharing your enthusiasm. We’ll start our “Sea” theme with an earthy word from Old English, a word I'd never heard of. Brits, is it more familiar on your side of the pond?

haulm1. a stalk or stem 2. the stalks or stems of peas, beans, or potatoes collectively
    The thought occurs and at once there I am, in shirt-sleeves and concertina trousers, stumbling sweat-stained behind the mower, grass-haulms in my mouth and the flies buzzing about my head.
 
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I'd only come across it as a plural noun meaning the same as "straw" (for bedding, etc). It's certainly not a common word, though, unless some country areas still use it locally.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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And I've never heard of it.
 
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Today, a word whose sound that makes me smile.

cackhandedUK; informal: ham-handed, clumsy, awkward
OED speculates that it may come from cack, which means ‘excrement’ and, like the usual four-letter word for excrement, can be used as either a noun or a verb.
    In fact it is a field no longer but a dreary holiday estate packed higgledy-piggledy with what are bound to be jerrybuilt bungalows, designed I suspect by the same cackhanded line-drawer who was responsible for the eyesores at the bottom of the garden here.
 
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Now that word is in common use in my dialect.
 
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I understood that it was so named because the left hand is the one generally used when wiping.

In Islam, all clean and desirable actions are performed with the "right" hand (eating, shaking hands, etc.), while all other actions are done with the left hand (washing one's private parts, picking up garbage, etc.). In the Qur'an, the good are described on the Day of Judgment as receiving their book of deeds in their "right" hands, while the wicked receive theirs in their "left" hand.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Since we’ve just now had a word rooted in “excrement,” today's word may be an appropriate follow-up. How embarrassing it can be when your room lacks private plumbing facilities.

strangury – a condition of slow, painful urination, caused by muscular spasms of the “plumbing”
[ultimately from Greek for ‘drop, trickle’ (or ‘drop squeezed out') + ‘urine’]

How inimical to our theme of “The Sea”!

    There goes the Colonel, creeping back to his room. That was a long session in the lav. Strangury, nice word. Mine is the one bedroom in the house which is, as Miss Vavasour puts it with a demure little moue, en suite.
 
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From whence is the quote on the Colonel and Miss Vavasour?

Note this from Wiki: "A vavasour, (also vavasor, Old French vavassor, vavassour, French vavasseur, LL. vavassor, probably from vassus vassorum "vassal of the vassals") is a term in Feudal law. A vavasour was the vassal or tenant of a baron, one who held their tenancy under a baron, and who also had tenants under him."

Also note this from Edward Gorey:
The partition of Vavasour Scowles
Was a sickener: they came on his bowels
In a firkin; his brain
Was found clogging a drain,
And his toes were inside of some towels.


RJA
 
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>From whence..

see initial post, Robert.
 
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lour – (of the sky) to look dark and threatening (noun: such an appearance)
[Also, unconnected with sky: a scowl; to scowl]
    There was open land to my right, flat and undistinguished with not a house or hovel in sight, and to my left a deep line of darkly louring trees bordering the road.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
Note this from Wiki: "A vavasour, (also vavasor, Old French vavassor, vavassour, French vavasseur, LL. vavassor, probably from vassus vassorum "vassal of the vassals") is a term in Feudal law. A vavasour was the vassal or tenant of a baron, one who held their tenancy under a baron, and who also had tenants under him."

I'm so glad you thought to check this out, Robert! It didn't occur to me (while reading the book) that her name might be metaphorical. Had I known its meaning, it would have provided a foreshadowing of her social position, which (along with her identity) is revealed near the end.
 
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Today’s word ties into our recent word ‘haulm’. Author Banville uses it figuratively, which is much more interesting.
    … the genteelly outmoded atmosphere that pervaded my dream of what was to come. The precise images I entertained of myself as a grown-up were imbued with that etiolated, world-weary elegance, that infirm poise, which I associated with the world between the wars. [ellipses omitted]
etiolate – to cause to appear pale and sickly; also, to make weak by stunting the development of.
[from the meaning in botany: to make (a plant) pale by preventing exposure to sunlight]
[from Norman French étieuler, to grow into haulm]
 
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apotropaic – intended to ward off evil (an apotropaic amulet)

This strikes me as a very useful word, but I’d never heard of it.

Our quote concerns a cancer-sufferer who has been referred to a specialist.
    The consultant’s name was Mr. Todd. This can only be considered a joke in bad taste on the part of polyglot fate. It could have been worse. There is a name De’Ath, with that fancy medial capital and apotropaic apostrophe which fool no one.
Note: Sweeney Todd is a fictional barber who murdered his victims by cutting their throats with a straight razor.
 
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Of the bunch presented so far the only one I've heard used is cackhanded. I wonder if it's related to caggy handed which is used in my part of the world (and maybe elsewhere) to mean left-handed.
 
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apotropaic

I first came across this word in old folklore and anthropology texts.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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"Transactionally they represent guilt-relieving or reward-seeking compliances with traditional Parental demands. They offer a safe, reassuring (apotropaic), and often enjoyable method of structuring time." - Eric Berne, Games People Play

"The Duce hurriedly withdrew his left hand from his crotch and thrust it into the bosom of his morning coat. He had instinctively been making the apotropaic gesture against the sacerdotal evil eye." - Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers

This message has been edited. Last edited by: tsuwm,
 
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unctuous – excessively flattering or ingratiating
[Think ‘oily’. It comes form Latin for ‘to anoint’, as in the rite of extreme unction.]
    He bowed to me, beaming, hands clasped into fists before his chest in an excessive, operatic gesture. … His look was unctuous yet in some way minatory. Perhaps I had been expected to tip him also.
 
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