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If a familiar word appears in a context where it doesn't seem to make sense to you, it may have another meaning that you hadn't known, one that makes perfect sense in that context. This week we'll see a few of the many well-known words that have additional, less-known meanings.

fluke – each of the two lobes on a whale's tail

Several further meanings are probably related. A fluke is a kind of flatfish and also, from that flat shape, certain parasitic flatworms (called trematodes) that attach to their host with suckers. Probably for the same 'flat' reason, fluke came to mean the triangular plate at the end of each arm of an anchor. This 'anchor' sense led to its meaning for whale tales.

Of course, we all know of a fluke meaning 'a stroke of good luck' (originally, 'a lucky shot at billiards). Apparently this has no relation to the less-known senses above.
 
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clock – the downy flower-head of a dandelion, etc. that has gone to seed [Scientific name: pappus]
[From the child's play of blowing away the feathered seeds to find 'what o'clock it is'.]

secular – concerning a long period of time, esp. long-term change
    technicians still ponder whether the bear market has turned from cyclical to secular.
    . . .During the past two centuries of U.S. market history, there have been just 14 secular market trends. The secular bull that began in 1982 was exceeded only by two 20-year bull stretches in the 19th century. The subsequent two bear cycles lasted eight years and 15 years. The bear that followed the 1929 crash endured for a record 20 years.
    . . .Secular bull markets are sustained; exhilarating moves and corrections are sharp but swift. Secular bear markets are insidious. [T]hey zig-zag to nowhere for years on end.
    – David Simons, Secular Is As Secular Does, Forbes , Oct. 4, 2001

    There was an article in last month's Wired that made two fascinating claims: one, that humans are becoming more intelligent and two, that the engine of this secular trend has to do with video games. "Hint: Stop reading the great authors and start playing Grand Theft Auto," counseled the author, Steven Johnson.
    – Demir Barlas, Line56 (e-mag), June 1, 2005
 
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I didn't even know that puffy white part of a dandelion had a name! I wonder how common the word "clock" is to describe the dandelion that has gone to seed.
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
clock – the downy flower-head of a dandelion, etc. that has gone to seed [Scientific name: pappus]

Actually, the pappus is properly only the feathery white hairs of one of the "parachutes" of the seed head.

Flowers of the Composite, or Aster, family (Compositae or Asteraceae) are clustered in flower heads called inflorescences. Each small flower, or floret, has a very reduced caylx (collective term for the sepals) called a pappus (plural, pappi or pappuses), which surrounds and is attached to the top of the ovary. When the flower matures, the ovary develops into a single-seeded fruit called an achene. The tip of the achene, the beak, elongates into a thin stalk that supports the mature pappus, which is the "parachute" of dandelions and other composites.

Here is a description of the Asteraceae:

quote:
The pappus may consist of capillary hairs (fine hairs) that may be plumose (have yet finer hairs on them, like down); or they may have bristles, awns, scales, or no pappus at all (epappose). Think of a dandelion that has gone to seed, and you’ll recognize the function served by the pappus in most Asteraceae: seed dispersal. The “parachute” of a dandelion consists of capillary hairs that form the pappus. The “ropes” connecting the parachute to the portion of the ovary with the seed is an extension of the upper part of the ovary (beak).

Here 's a description of the dandelion:

quote:
Dandelion
The dandelion (genus Taraxacum) is a very familiar flower in the UK, particularly when it produces the attractive 'clock' of seeds which are easily dispersed by the wind. A partly dissected seed-head is shown at the top of this page to show how each individual seed is inserted into the remains of the flower-head. The Dandelion is a member of the Compositae family because a flower-head is actually a composite of small flowers called florets. Each floret produces a single seed called an achene with a thin stalk (the beak) attached to the feathery hairs (the pappus).

Each seed with it's miniature 'parachute' is a marvel of nature's economical engineering and serves admirably to aid their dispersal when the wind dislodges a seed with pappus from the seed-head. The seeds have an attractive ribbing which is shown in the image above left.

Here 's a Wikipedia article on dandelions, showing the dandelion "clock".

Here 's an article on Goat's Beard (Tragopon pratensis, and T. dubius) in the U.K. Goat's beard is a very different plant around here!

Tinman

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sublime (or sublimate) – chemistry: to change from solid to vapor, without passing through liquid stage [transitive: to cause to sublime]

When you pack for a picnic, you might fill an ice-chest with ice to keep your food cool. But during the day, as the ice melts, the chest will fill with a slop of cold water.

You have no such slop if you pack the chest with chunks of frozen carbon dioxide, because that substance, as it warms, will sublime. It vaporizes without leaving any intermediate liquid. That's why frozen carbon dioxide is called 'dry ice' (originally a trademark).

anorexic – of severe economy of style and expression
[A rare use: in AHD but not in OED, MW, etc.]
    The book consists of nineteen rather anorexic stories, stripped of all but vestigial traces of emotion and often of plot.
    – Madison Smartt Bell (as quoted by AHD)

    I often wondered as I read this collection of stories whether the author dosed herself up on Prozac – the narration is so sedated, pared down, that it has all the brio of a conversation with someone coming to after surgery. Banks' narrative voice [is] minimalist, stripped of all but explaining what's happening. However, if you decide to strip your story down to its essence, you should be sure the essence has some life, some substance, some marrow. I found the narration flat, monotonous, stunted, and one dimensional. This is anorexic writing: I felt like I needed a good meal, a big drink and a real conversation after reading it.
    – Amazon; reader review of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
 
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I never really though of sublimation as the lesser known of the two words. Of course, the band Sublime will always be the primary meaning of the term for me.
 
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Tinman, I surely had no idea there were so many words associated with dandelions. Thanks for all the information!

I have to agree with Sean regarding "sublimate," though perhaps not about the band Sublime. Wink Yet, I have never heard "anorexic" used that way! It makes sense, though.
 
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sophisticate – to adulterate commodities with some foreign or inferior substance; thus, to similarly corrupt a document, a person, etc., making it less genuine or honest
    it was also worked on by one or more sophisticating scribes and by compositors whose changes are sometimes hard to distinguish from those of Shakespeare.
    – editorial comments in Bantam edition of Shakespeare's Othello
riddle – a large coarse sieve, as for separating, sand from gravel, ashes from cinders, etc.
[This is akin to the sense of 'riddled' meaning 'having many holes or faults', as a corpse riddled with bullets; a corporate staff riddled with incompetents. It is unrelated to the sense of riddle as 'conundrum'.]
 
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Interesting theme this week.

Both clock and riddle in these meanings are so commonplace in my part of England that I would never have thought twice about these uses for either of them. Here riddle is also used as a verb meaning to separate the stones from the soil with such a coarse sieve.

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And in America, I've never heard clock or riddle used in either. Maybe this is because I've never had a garden, or done any gardening or landscaping.
 
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