Archives     Dictionary    HOME

December 2002 Archives

Counterpart Words, Female and Male: anile; cicisbeo; tarassis; sororal; andropause; muliebrity; yonic

Words from "Pirates of Pergamon": parthenian; sapphism; chakra (chakram); ebullient; ululate; omphalos (omphaloskepsis); antipodes

How did Language Arise? bow-wow theory; ding-dong theory (echoic, onomatopoetic, onomatopoeia); ha-ha theory; ba-ba; sing-song; pooh-pooh; you-he-ho; ma-ma; pa-pa

Words from Christmas Carols: bobtail (rag, tag, and bobtail); incarnate; belfry; oblation; dint; wassail; frankincense; myrrh

Phrases from Latin: deus ex machina; ex cathedra; Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?; vox populi; in flagrante delicto; rara avis; e pluribus unum


Counterpart Words, Female and Male


Many words come in male/female pairs, such as the familiar maternal/paternal. This week we explore such pairings where one counterpart is much less well-known than the other.


"Senile", a familiar word, originally meant "like an old man". The feminine counterpart is:


anile - old-womanish; like a doddering old woman.


It is the anile priggishness of the Puritan marm, lips pursed, seeking nits to pick.
Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America by Robert Hughes (Oxford University Press 1993)

That puerility and anility which were presently to find, for the time, final expression in the Della Cruscan school, displayed themselves in Hayley with less extravagance, with less sentimentality and with less hopelessly bad taste ..., but still unmistakably.
Cambridge History of English and American Literature


A married man might have a mistress.

A married woman might have a cicisbeo.


cicisbeo – the young male lover/escort/admirer of a married woman. The definition is imprecise; the term covers a wide range of male admirers, from hangers-on to full-fledged lovers.


This definition comes from Depraved English by Novobatzky and Shea (1999). The major dictionaries tend to be coy, as where Web. Rev. defines cicisbeo as "a professed admirer of a married woman."


"I recalibrated my attitude to the whole matter of marital infidelity," he explains. He takes satisfaction in the word "cicisbeo", a married woman's lover, and presents [it] as an argument for acting on it when he meets his Selina. It's "a very sophisticated word, for a sophisticated idea," he instructs her. "You can be civilized without being ... puritanical"
– Book Review by Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe, April 30, 1996


You might not be aware that hysteria is a feminine word.  hysterical - 1615, from L. hystericus "of the womb," from Gk. hysterikos "of the womb, suffering in the womb," from hystera "womb." Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus.


The male counterpart-word is tarassis – male hysteria. How interesting that our language persists in using the female term almost exclusively.


Elaine Showalter … argues that male hysteria in particular was always labelled in such a way as to differentiate it from 'hysteria' as a woman's affliction. So it was called 'obsessional neurosis', 'shell shock', or 'post traumatic shock syndrome'.
– From the report by Freud Musuem, London, of its sponsored lecture


sororal - like or befitting a sister; "sisterly kindness"; "sororal concern". Contrast "fraternal".

"Sororal" can easily be remembered by thinking of collegiate sororities and fraternities.


Despite the combative environment that results from sisters who envy or are threatened by their siblings’ talent, the relationship between the sisters grounds them emotionally, socially, artistically, and intellectually, and provides them with a sororal community in which they can act out their fears and anxieties, and negotiate their expected social roles.
– Lisa R. Barry, The Review of Communication, April 2002


"Sororal" ought to be a very useful word, expressing a familiar and important kind of bonding, but oddly it is quite rare. It has only 1,610 google hits (contrast 460,000 hits for "fraternal"), and even of that number, very few concern the sisterly relationship. (Most concern "frateral/sororal organizations", or "sororal marriage", that is, a man married to two sisters simultaneously or sequentially. )


This is a word that should be dusted off and put to good use!


andropause – the male equivalent of menopause

An alternate term is viropause, a term which I gather is used chiefly in Great Britain.


Middle-aged men should receive hormone therapy to treat the andropause - the male equivalent of the menopause, say doctors. But there is debate amongst the medical profession over whether the male menopause actually exists. Dr Malcolm Carruthers, chairman of the Andropause Society, said the condition should be recognised and treated and said it was "grossly unfair" that men were discriminated against. Dr. Carruthers estimates the andropause affects around 50% of men in their fifties.
– BBC News, Dec 5, 2000


muliebrity - the state of being a woman or of possessing full womanly powers (correlate of virility). Hence also effeminancy; softness


Love and adoration are the most underestimated powers delivered by automobiles. The Corvette has the power to entice, mesmerize, and seduce. The muliebrity of the styling, coupled with the virility of the engine, provide a magical mix.
– proposed advertising and promotion campaign, R. Ewing, D. Kirkman, E. Tan (1995)


We end our week of masculine/feminine pairs by noting the word phallic. That word is familiar, but what is the counterpart female word?


yonic - having to do with the vagina (from Sanskit, I believe)


I'll defer providing a sample sentence, since this word appears in one of the samples for next week's theme.


Our theme for the next week will be words used in a particular parody of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan, "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General". The parody begins tomorrow.



Words from "Pirates of Pergamon"


Some of you may know the television show Xena, the Warrior Princess, set in ancient times. Kevin Wald recently discovered that Gilbert and Sullivan composed an obscure operetta in Xena's honor. That work, The Pirates of Pergamon, included the song that gives us this week's words.


We join our operetta in progress. The infamous Pirates of Pergamon have just seized a bevy of beautiful Mytilenean maidens, to carry them off for matrimonial purposes.


Gabrielle: Hold, scoundrels! Ere ye practice acts of villainy
Upon the peaceful and agrarian,
Just bear in mind, these maidens of My-TIL-ene
Are guarded by a buff barbarian!

Pirates: We'd better all rethink our cunning plan;
They're guarded by a buff barbarian.
Maidens: Yes, yes, she is a buff barbarian.

[Xena leaps in from the wings, with a tremendous war cry, does a mid-air somersault, and lands on her feet on the Pirate King's chest.]

Xena: Yes, yes, I am a buff barbarian! [The orchestra starts up.]

I am the very model of a heroine barbarian;
Through Herculean efforts, I've become humanitarian.

I ride throughout the hinterland -- at least that's what they call it in

Those sissy towns like Athens (I, myself, am Amphipolitan).

I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian

And scribbles her hexameters in Linear Mycenian
¹ ... [to be continued]


parthenian – virginal


¹Mycenian is the ancient Greek dialect that was written in Linear B, which predates the adoption of the alphabet. Gabrielle is said to write in Linear B; if Xena takes place around the time of the Trojan war, this is chronologically reasonable.


Last week we saw "sororal", sisterly, as in "sororal concern". In contrast:


... I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian
And scribbles her hexameters in Linear Mycenian
(And many have attempted, by a host of methods mystical,
To tell if our relationship's sororal or sapphistical).


sapphism - female homosexuality; lesbianism

[from Sappho, lyric poetess of the isle of Lesbos c.600 B.C.E., whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men. sense of "pertaining to sexual relations between women" is from 1890]


chakra - a cycle, a wheel; also, any of several points of physical or spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy. chakram - flat steel ring with a sharpened outer edge used as a thrown weapon (thrown like a frisbee)


Clearly Xena has that last meaning in mind.  In her words we also find the promised example of last week's word "yonic".


[...I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian
And scribbles her hexameters in Linear Mycenian
(And many have attempted, by a host of methods mystical,
To tell if our relationship's sororal or sapphistical).]

My armory is brazen, but my weapons are ironical;
My sword is rather phallic, but my chakram's rather yonical
(To find out what that means, you'll have to study Indo-Aryan).
I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!


ebullient - zestfully enthusiastic ("the ebullient enthusiasm of the French" -- Carlyle) (also a lesser-known meaning: boiling; bubbling)


The literal meaning was the earlier (1599), the figurative sense of "enthusiastic" is first recorded 1664.


I wake up every morning, ere the dawn is rhododactylous¹
(Who needs to wait for daylight? I just work by sensus tactilis².)
And ride into the sunrise to protect some local villagers
From mythologic monsters or from all-too-human pillagers.
I hurtle towards each villain with a recklessness ebullient ...


¹rhododactylous: rosy-fingered. Homer makes frequent reference to rhododaktulos eos -- "rosy-fingered dawn".
²sensus tactilis: Latin for "sense of touch".


ululate (UL-u-late)- to howl or wail, like a dog or a wolf
the adjective form is ululant; Xena misspeaks.


At the funerals of their sons, the mothers ululate as though celebrating a wedding as the body of a boy, now defined as a martyr killed fighting Israel, is carried high into streets full of Palestinian flags.
– Victoria Brittain, Guardian, December 12, 2001


Xena sings:

...I hurtle towards each villain with a recklessness ebullient
And cow him with my swordwork and my alalaes¹ ululient;

He's frightened for his head, because he knows I'm gonna whack it – he's

Aware that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!

[The music crashes to a halt, as the Chorus stares at Xena in utter confusion. She sighs.] It's Greek. It means "Warrior Princess"!  [Light dawns on the Chorus, and the music resumes.] Sheesh ...

Chorus: He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!
He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!

He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhe-makhetes,

Xena: Because I've got my armor, which is really rather silly, on

(It's cut so low I feel like I'm the topless tow'rs of Ilion,

And isn't any use against attackers sagittarian²).

I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!



¹ "alalaes" are war-cries
² sagittarian: archer-like.


omphalos - the navel (also, a central part or focal point)
We all have at some point contemplated our omphali.
omphaloskepsis - meditation while gazing at one's navel


In short, when I can tell you how I break the laws of gravity,
And why my togs expose my intermammary concavity,
And why my comrade changed her dress from one that fit more comfily
To one that shows her omphalos (as cute as that of Omphale), ...


A note concerning Xena's final verse and chorus:

The tomato (genus Lycopersicon) is a New World plant, unknown in ancient Greece. Thus, its appearance in Xena's story is out of its proper time and place. The word for something "out of proper time" is anachronism. I cannot offer a similar word for "out of proper place".


antipodes - literally, any two places on diametrically opposite sides of the earth.
figuratively, something that is the exact opposite or contrary of another  (from greek antipodes, "people with feet opposite ours". anti- "opposite" + pous "foot")


Xena concludes:


In short, when I can tell you how I break the laws of gravity,
And why my togs expose my intermammary concavity,
And why my comrade changed her dress from one that fit more comfily
To one that shows her omphalos (as cute as that of Omphale),
And why the tale of Spartacus appears in Homer's versicon,
[She holds up a tomato:]
And where we found examples of the genus Lycopersicon,
And why this Grecian scenery looks more like the Antipodes,
You'll say I'm twice the heroine of any in Euripides!

But though the kinked chronology, confusing and chimerical
(It's often unhistorical, but rarely unhysterical),
Would give a massive heart attack to any antiquarian,
I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!



How did Language Arise?


This week we change our tack a bit to discuss not individual words, but rather the theories of how language arose. All credit here to Joseph T. Shipley, whose book In Praise of English (1977) our daily entries will largely quote verbatim.


Shipley notes nine hypotheses: (1) the bow-wow notion, (2) the ding-dong notion, (3) the ha-ha notion, (4) the ba-ba notion, (5) the sing-song notion, (6) the pooh-pooh notion, (7) the yo-he-ho notion, (8) the ma-ma notion, and (9) the pa-pa notion. As he explains:


The basic unanswered question about language is how it came to be. Various guesses as to how speech began, labeled hypotheses, have been advanced. Each of these has many scornful dissenters, and the methods have been given names by the mockers. In this century, these have become the usual terms.


1. The bow-wow notion suggests that human speech arose in imitation of animal cries. This is perhaps the weakest of the suggestions, for, while animals can roar, growl, whimper, purr, and whine, incipient men could no doubt make similar emotional sounds, and there seems no good reason to suppose that they learned speech from creatures with smaller and less convoluted brains. As Bertrand Russell phrased the objection, no matter how eloquently a dog may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were poor but honest.


2. The ding-dong notion suggest that speech arose in imitation of the sounds of nature. It has the largest number of actual words in support. There are indeed many echoic (onomatopoetic) word, such as crack, buzz, click, snap, splash, with more intricate approximations of nature such as Tennyson's lines in The Princess:


Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro, the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms
And murmuring of innumerable bees.


Other people hear other sounds. This, however, in no way challenges the theory, as each language may form words from the sounds its users hear. A cat in France purrs ron-ron; in Germany it purrs schnurr.


(A reader notes: According to my sources, the word is onomatopoeia and the adjective is onomatopoeic and not onomatopoetic. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms) Wordcrafter adds: Ma'am, the word is Shipley's, and my reaction to it was the same as yours. But upon checking I found to my surprise that, at least according to AHD, onomatopoeic and onomatopoetic are each acceptable.)


3. The ha-ha notion claims that speech evolved from the bubbling spontaneous laughter of the happy babe, whose meaningless joyful prattle gradually assumed significance.


4. Complementing this, the ba-ba notion lays greater stress on the crying of the hungry or uncomfortable infant. At first its cries are automatic; then it discovers that the noise activates a parental response, whereupon the crying becomes deliberate, directed toward a goal: the proffer of breast or bottle, or dry diaper.


This assumes, however, that the adults are already speaking a vernacular. These two processes may thus more accurately describe the manner in which each newborn child in every generation learns to talk, than the way in which speech originally came into being.


The ha-ha and ba-ba theories look to an infant's cries of joy or pain. Other theories, turning to adults, stress adult cries of joy or pain; or adult cooperation.


5. The sing-song notion suggests that man's first speech was song. Looking down a hillside to a lush valley watered by a limpid stream, all graced by the warming sun, man in exuberant spirits burst into exultant or thankful sound. A sort of primitive yodeling soon became a signal to fellow-tribesman or mate on the opposite hill.


The Greeks accepted this idea of the origin of speech; it had weight also with Darwin, and the astute linguist Jesperson.


6. The pooh-pooh notion turns on other spontaneous utterances, emotional cries of anger, triumph, pain. expressive gestures are naturally accompanied by appropriate sounds. And gradually the symptom becomes the symbol.


7. The you-he-ho notion is allied to this, in the the thought that speech arose from the grunts and calls and signals of cooperative labor. Men surrounding a bear at bay, men hauling a great log to hew out a boat, called together, often rhythmically, to guide their movements, and evolved a primitive speech.


8. Abandoning these approaches, the ma-ma notion claims that the speech faculty is given, not derived; it is innate. In India, the god Intra is credited with inventing speech, and myths around the word make similar attributions. Socrates declared that the gods named things in the proper way.


Words were thus holy; from this sprang the relation of nomen et omen: knowledge of the name gave power over the thing named. Even today, the [Orthodox] Jews do not use the hidden name of their God. Words may have magic power: Ali Baba's "Open sesame" unshut the cave of the Forty Thieves. "Solomon knew the names of all the spirits, and having their names, he held them subject to his will." (William James)


Those accepting the idea of an innate capacity for speech without attributing its existence to a god, assume a natural development, such as the pursing lips of the suckling babe, which seem to form an m-m-m. This sound of course comes close to us in mamma – mother, Mutter, mater, mere, and all the suckling mammals.


9. Finally, the pa-pa notion relies on the simple method of trial and error. There was a need to communicate -- and language emerged. Difficult or inappropriate sounds were sloughed; communication struggled through. This idea has at least the added attraction that it is the second step in all the other hypotheses. However language may have started, this is how it grew, and still is growing.


Summary: While a germ of truth may lie within each of these notions, there is no device to probe prehistory and establish how the first speakers achieved meaningful word forms. To check unending argument, in 1866 the Linguistic Society of Paris ruled that its members indulge in no further speculation as to the origin of language.


It may be well, now, for us too to obey that rule.



Words from Christmas Carols


The merriest of Christmas seasons to all!
This week we'll treat ourselves to words from Christmas caroling.


bobtail – an animal with a short or shortend tail; that tail itself
also, something that has been cut short or abbreviated
rag, tag, and bobtail – the rabble


Music, maestro!


Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh;
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtail ring,
Making spirits bright;
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.


incarnate – in the flesh; in human form;
also to realize in action or fact; as actualize; community that incarnates its founders' ideals


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing [Tune: Mendelssohn, 1840]


Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!


As I, and many of you, may soon be away from our computers, it seems well to send our Christmas Word-of-the-Day a bit earlier in the day than usual. The word appears in a poem, dear to my heart, that seems particularly appropriate this year.


belfry –a bell tower
Despite appearances, the bel in belfry originally had nothing to do with bells. It was either bergan = "to protect" or berg– = "high place" (the second part is frij = peace, safety); hence the old Germanic compound would be either "a defensive place of shelter" or "a high place of safety, tower." In any event, its Old French descendant berfrei = "siege tower" came to mean "watchtower" and, presumably because bells were used in these towers, was applied to bell towers as well. The form belfroi, which reminded English speakers of their word belle (our bell), entered Middle English with the sense "bell tower," first recorded in 1272.


Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow;
written during the American Civil war

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet / The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along / The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, / A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound / The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn / The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, / And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, / The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."


May this year's Christmas be the start of a year of peace on earth, good-will to men.


oblation – the act of offering something to a deity; also, a charitable offering or gift.


From "O Come All Ye Faithful":


See how the shepherds
Summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze!
We, too, will thither
Bend our hearts' oblations.

O come let us adore Him ...[etc.]


dint - n. force or effort; power: succeeded by dint of hard work
also, n.
a dent; tr.v. to put a dent in


Good King Wenceslas:
In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod

Which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

Wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor,

Shall yourselves find blessing.

Those little valleys had the lines of a cup moulded round a woman's breast; they seemed the dinted imprints of some huge divine body that had rested on these hills. Cumbrous locutions, these; but through them he seemed to be getting nearer to what he wanted. Dinted, dimpled, wimpled--his mind wandered down echoing corridors of assonance and alliteration ever further and further from the point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words.
Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow, Ch. I


wassail – a festivity characterized by much drinking; a toast to drinking someone's health at festivity. verb: to drink to the health of

Thought to come from Anglo Saxon wes hal = "be healthy". Traces back to Old Norse.


Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you, and to you our wassail, too.
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.


Here is the remembered finale of an Ogden Nash poem celebrating the joys of liquor.


Then here's to the heartening wassail
Wherever good fellowship's found.
Be its master instead of its vassal,
And order the glasses around.
For there's something they put in the wassail
That prevents it from tasting like wicker.
Since it's not tapioca
Or mustard, or mocha,
I'm forced to conclude it's the liquor.


frankincense and myrrh – each an aromatic gum resin, used in perfumes and as incense.


Myrrh was a principal ingredient in holy anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). As it was also used in embalming, it came to represent mortality, suffering and sorrow (see carol below).


The sources conflict as to exactly what trees provide frankincense. Some (AHD) say those of genus Boswellia; others (Webster) say it can be either Boswellia or the (inferior) Norway spruce. The source of biblical frankincense is also unclear: Webster says it is unidentified; Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary says it was the Boswellia.


We Three Kings of Orient Are
Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God on High.

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Seal'd in the stone-cold tomb.



Phrases from Latin

This week we'll look at some Latin phrases in our language.


deus ex machina (literally "a god from a machine") - an agent who appears unexpectedly to solve an apparently insoluble difficulty
(in ancient Greek and Roman drama, a god introduced by means of a crane to unravel and resolve the plot. Euripides particularly used this device.)


[W]ith technology that always seems to arrive like a deus ex machina to solve any problem, it becomes easy to believe that life is perfectible.
– Stephanie Gutmann, The Kinder, Gentler Military

Molly Haskel, writing about her husband's driving (excerpted):
These are accidents, the responsibility for which is quite plainly his, but which he must dramatize by invoking a deus ex machina to exonerate the dummy in the machine.
– Molly Haskel, New York Times Magazine, September 24, 1989


ex cathedra – spoken with authority; may be used ironically to describe dogmatic, self-certain statements. (literally "from the chair; in Roman Catholic doctrine, refers to the Pope speaking with infallibility)


The New York Times, speaking ex cathedra, announces, "The seat is executed in a style of the two masters."
– George Will, commenting on the proposed auction sale of a three-hole outhouse seat bearing paintwork said to be that of artists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Washington Post, January 23, 1992


During 2002 we learned of Arthur Andersen's "accounting" of Enron; established a Department of "Homeland Security"; saw Saddam Hussein elected by literally a 100% vote; and found that the bishops of Boston had covered up a scandal of pedophile priests. Here is a maxim it may be well to consider as the new year starts.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who will guard the guards themelves?
It is relevant to ask, whenever anyyone is set in a position of watchful authority over others, "Who will keep them on the straight and narrow?"


Composer Alvin Singleton has often used music to make comments on the circumstannces of our troubled times. His lates work, "56 Blows (Quis Custodiet Custodes?"), is his response to the Rodney King beating and the initial acquittals of Los Angeles police officers charged in the assaust.
Lesly Valdes, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 15, 1994

It was the real Cardinal Wolsey who said, "Put not your trust in princes", and I would say to your Lordships, "Put not your trust in appointments commissions". As my dear mother would have said, "Who are these people?" In language which all your Lordships will be familiar with, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" I will not insult your Lordships by translating it.
– Lord St John of Fawsley, in Parliament, 7 Mar 2000


vox populi – voice of the people. Short for vox populi vox Dei, "the voice of the people is the voice of God", meaning that popular opinion of ordinary people reveals God's will, and should be obeyed. The full version first appeared in a letter to Charlemagne, from his adviser Alcuin.


Most often used in political contexts. Often used negatively, in the sense that the popular voice may in fact be an unwise lowest-common denominator, but nonetheless may be as irresistible as the voice of god. As William Tecumseh Sherman (U.S. Civil War General) wrote in a letter to his wife: "Vox populi, vox humbug."


For a man who considers himself the vox populi, Mr. Gingrich was slow to fathom public sentiment toward PBS. He started out assuming that a routine incitement of class resentment would carry the day.
– Editorial by "TRB" in New Republic, as reprinted in the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 3, 1995


in flagrante delicto - caught red-handed, in the act of committing a misdeed. (also, caught in the midst of sex). Latin for "while the crime is blazing".

Frequently applied to embarrassing but non-criminal situations.


The White House statement reveals a sophisticated grasp of a principle of damage control that is indispensible to anyone taking a side trip from the path of righteousness. When caught in flagrante delicto, a wily transgressor always apologizes fulsomely when taking responsibility for a documentable lesser offense.
– Mary Alice Daniels, Kansas City Star, July 10, 1996


rara avis - a rare or unique person or thing
[Latin for 'rare bird'; plural 'rara avises' or 'rarae aves']


One often reads about the art of conversation--how it’s dying or what’s needed to make it flourish, or how rare good ones are. But wouldn’t you agree that the infinitely more valuable rara avis, is a good listener?
– Malcolm Forbes

He was, after all, that rara avis, a Jewish Catholic priest with a wife and children.
– Jeremy Sams, "Lorenzo the Magnificent," Independent, May 16, 2000


e pluribus unum - from many, one.


This, the official motto of the United States of America, is mentioned here because of the interesting bathos of its prosaic source.


It comes from Virgil's early poem 'Moretum', which is essentially a recipe for making a salad. As part of the preparation the protagonist mashes garlic and herbs together until the many colors have blended into one: "color est e pluribus usus."


I cannot say whether our founding fathers took this from Virgil, or from a previous borrowing. For example, each year when Gentleman's Magazine (London, 1731-1922) collected monthly issues into a single volume, it did so under the legend e pluribus unum.