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June 2003 Archives

Animal words: carapace; dewlap; caudal/acaudal/scut; nidify/nidificate/nidicolous/niding; chirr; stridulate; epizootic/murrain/epizoic; zoosemiotics

More Phrases from French: billet-doux; amour propre; soi disant; raison d'etre; bete noire; bon vivant; au courant

Cooking Terms: sweating; granita; spoom, wasabi; quahob; ramp; ganache; brut

Bromatology – more food words: deaconing; albedo; runnels; gemel; bromatology; funistrada; sneeze guard; semese; eupeptic (dyspeptic)


Animal words  (Week of June 2, 2003)

Last week's words were highly abstract and conceptual. This week, we turn to concrete words from the animal world.


carapace – the thick shell that covers the back of the turtle, the crab, and other animals. also, metephorically, something likened to a shell that serves to protect or isolate from external influence.


The car has become the carapace, the protective and aggressive shell, of urban and suburban man.
– Marshall McLuhan


dewlap – a fold of loose skin hanging from the neck of a person, or of certain animals (like the wattle of a turkey, for example)


Originally used as to cattle. You can imagine the dewlap on an obese or elderly person.


Regarding etymology, the sources have an interesting conflict:

Webster says, "The pendulous skin under the neck of an ox, which laps or licks the dew in grazing."

Others say that 'dew' is of unknown source, and the 'lap' is from lappe "loose piece" (O.E. lζppa).


Some "tail-words"


caudal – pertaining to a tail (Latin cauda, tail)

acaudal – tailess


Coward comes from the same root. Think of the metephor of a coward as someone whe turns tail or slinks away with his tail between his legs.


scut – a stubby erect tail, as on a hare, rabbit, or deer


Some "nest" words:


nidify, nidificate – to make a nest

nidicolous – remaining in the nest after hatching until grown or nearly grown

(not to be confused with niding or nithing–a coward; a dastard)


What wonderful poetic metaphors come to mind!


Ever year my wife nidifies about the house, with her spring cleaning and redecorating.


Will we ever be empty nesters? Our nidiculous son, the high school graduate, won't move out: he lolls around the house all day. His older sister re-nidiculates: she's a boomerang baby who came back after college.


Laze outside on a warm summer evening, and enjoy the sound of the crickets chirring.


chirr - a trilling vibrant sound, such as that made by crickets, grasshoppers, or cicadas (verb: to make that sound)


stridulate - to make a shrill grating, chirping, or hissing sound by rubbing body parts together, as certain insects do. (It is a stridulant sound made by a stridulatory insect.)


epizootic – of a disease which attacks many animals at the same time. (The equivalent of epidemic; strictly speaking, that term is limited to a disease widespread among people.)


A similar word is murrain, from Latin for "death". As best I can tell, murrain originally meant a pestilence or plague, but now particularly means a plague among domestic animals.


Epizootic is not to be confused with epizoic: growing on the external surface of an animal; as, an epizoic parasite


It seems appropriate, for a word-board, to end an "animal theme" with a word on animal communiciation.


zoosemiotics - loosely, "animal language", but including signals other than sound, such as a dog's tail-wagging


Coined by Thomas A. Sebeok in 1963, apparently in his Communication in Animals and Men. This word is not in one-look's dictionaries. Who can check OED for us?



More Phrases from French (Week of June 9, 2003)

Ah, the French. Let's revisit a topic from nine months ago, and look at some further phrases from French.


billet-doux (plural billets-doux) - a love letter

(literally, sweet letter)


Those who don't speak french will be close enough to the correct pronunciation with bil-ay DOO.


'Twas then Belinda, if Report say true,
Thy Eyes first open'd on a Billet-doux.
Wounds, Charms, and Ardors, were no sooner read,
But all the Vision vanish'd from thy Head.
– Alexander Pope's classic Rape of the Lock

Young lovers in Victorian England, forbidden to express their affection in public and fearful that strict parents would intercept their billets-doux, sent coded messages through the personal columns in newspapers.
– Susan Adams, I've got a Secret, Forbes, September 20, 1999 (with thankful acknowledgement to


amour propre (or "amour-propre"; literally, love of oneself) –

self-esteem; typically with sense of excessive pride; vanity


At 24, in 1951, the critic was engaged by Guinness as Player King in his second Hamlet. Guinness invested much amour propre in this production. Its failure turned out to be a major factor in Guinness's move away from the classics and Shakespeare and into films, ultimately television, and new plays.
– Tom Sutcliffe, in The Guardian, August 7, 2000, on the death of Sir Alec Guinness


soi-disant (swah-dee-ZAHN) - self-styled


One major dictionary erroneously adds "so-called" in its definition. Spectator columnist Taki Theodoracopoulos skewered himself with this very misunderstanding, in his column of February 24, 2001.


Taki: Marc Rich, however, has done us a favour. By bribing everyone and sundry, he managed to expose the side of Clinton so many leftists and liberals refused to see. He also proved what we, soi-disant anti-Semites for daring to protest about soldiers shooting at kids, always knew.

Taki, in follow-up:  I said my soi-disant anti-Semitism, meaning that I have been besmirched with that charge ever since I protested against certain Israeli tactics.


In an unfortunate passage, Taki labelled himself an anti-Semite by confusing the term "soi disant" - thinking it meant "so-called" when in fact it translates as "self-styled".
– Matt Wells, The Guardian, March 16, 2001


raison d'etre (or raison d'κtre) – reason or justification for existing


Much hope for a nascent East Asian regionalism, encompassing both Northeast and Southeast Asia, arose from the July meeting in Bangkok of the ASEAN foreign ministers ... It is still unclear if ASEAN, Japan, China and South Korea all see an economic raison d'etre for a wider grouping, even if it is based on open regionalism.
– Time/CNN e-zine, Sept. 15, 2000


bete noire (or bκte noire) – something especially hated or dreaded; a bugbear

Some dictionaries imply a person hated or detested, but this is not accurate.

I'd think this term can mean something highly problematical and difficult, though not necessarily disliked. Comment?


The Tory party's festering sore, the issue of Europe, was exposed to the fore yesterday as the two rivals for the leadership clashed during the only head-to-head debate of an increasingly acrimonious contest. Despite both Kenneth Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith agreeing the party should not allow itself to be monopolised by the issue, discussion of its bete noire dominated 40 of the 55 minutes of the debate.
– Sarah Hall, in The Guardian, August 23, 2001


bon vivant (bon vee-vahnt') – a person who lives luxuriously and enjoys good food and drink.


But his sense of humor, and the twinkle in his blue eyes, never dimmed. He was once asked if he considered himself a "bon vivant." "Well, I am not really a bon vivant," he replied, "because a bon vivant I think of as a connoisseur of wines. I am a connoisseur of Scotch whiskey...and try to inculcate it in my law clerks so they won't get too involved with musty volumes of law."
– CBS News, December 13, 1999, on the death of Judge Minor Wisdom

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most remarkable figure in American history: the greatest statesman of his age, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the American republic. He was also a pioneering scientist, a bestselling author, the country’s first postmaster general, a printer, a bon vivant, a diplomat, a ladies man, and a moralist--and the most prominent celebrity of the eighteenth century.
– Publisher's blurb by Yale University Press


au courant (oh' koo-rahn') - up-to-date.


Note: some dictionaries say express this "up to date" in the sense of "fully informed", but I understand it to be more commonly used in the sense of stylish: "The shoes, the hair, the clothes — every last detail — was utterly au courant."


The sale will feature a selection of magnificent jewels designed by leading international jewellery designers, the majority of them unique examples of the individual jeweller’s work. ... Each enjoys an international reputation among the cognoscenti who are "au courant" when it comes to the world of high fashion and jewels.
– Sotheby's: press release on a special auction in Geneva in November, 2000



Cooking Terms (Week of June 16, 2003)


sweating – cooking foods over low heat without browning


granita – an Italian dessert made by freezing water, sugar, and a liquid flavoring. Frequent stirring during freezing results in its texture.


spoom – a frothy light-as-air sherbet made with a light sugar syrup mixed with a liquid such as fruit juice, champagne or sauternes. Halfway through the freezing process, the mixture is combined with uncooked meringue.


wasabi – a pungent, green-colored Japanese condiment, from a plant root similar to horseradish. It often accompanies sushi.


quahog – an Atlantic Coast hard-shell clam; quahog clam clan includes popular littlenecks and cherrystones. The largest quahogs are called “chowder clams”.


ramp – a vegetable resembling broad-leaved scallion, with strong garlicky-onion flavor. Its peak season is March to June.


ganache – a rich icing of melted chocolate and whipping cream, heated and stirred together. When cooled can be used as a frosting, or whipped to twice its volume and used as a filling for cakes.


brut – a taste classification for champagne. "Brut" champagne has a crisp, dry taste. "Extra-brut" does not mean a drier champagne, but a sweeter one.



Bromatology – more food words (Week of June 23, 2003)

This week we'll present food words that are a bit more oddball. Credit to Paul Dickson


deaconing - the practice of putting the best-looking food on top, as putting the most attractive berries on the top of the basket


Reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce's definition:



BLACKGUARD, n. A man whose qualities, prepared for display like a box of berries in a market -- the fine ones on top -- have been opened on the wrong side. An inverted gentleman.


albedo - the spongy white tissue on the inside of the rind of citrus fruit.


I'd take it then that in (say) a lime, the rind is limited to the outer green surface; the white beneath that green, but above (supposedly) edible fruit, is the albedo. So when you peel a lime, you're removing both rind and albedo.


Albedo has further meanings, which I'll leave for discussion.


Today's word names something more commonplace.


runnels - the grooves or runways on a carving board or platter, which channel the juices of the meat


More generally, a runnel is rivulet or brook; or a narrow channel or course, as for water. In the dictionaries I find only this general definition, not the specific food-definition that Dickson provides as above.


gemel (the g pronounced as in gemini) - a set of cruets for oil and vinegar, fused together, with spouts diverging so that either can be poured without the other.


I cannot find a more gemel graceful to display than this one. But perhaps this, with interior/exterior cruets, would be called a gemel.


In general the dictionaries omit this cruet-definition, and define gemel only as an adjective meaning "paired" or "twinned", particularly in heraldry.


the title of this thread.


bromatology - a treatise or essay on food


And on a light note, here's a non-dictionary "word":


funistrada — a nonsense food name created for in a 1974 preference survey, along with 375 real foods, to use as a control to see if those taking the poll were paying attention. Funistrada was rather well liked: the survey-respondents reported that they preferred funistrada over eggplant, instant coffee, apricot pie, harvard beets, canned lima beans, grilled bologna, and cranberry juice. They did not give so high a ranking to buttered ermal or to braised trake.


Two common concepts, but one or perhaps both the words are unfamiliar:


sneeze guard – the clear plastic or glass shield over salad bars, etc. Knowing the name, will you ever be able to see this shield without having the image that its name brings to mind?


semese – half-eaten


Some may know the word dyspeptic: having a bad digestion (also, irritable, morose, gloomy). But after a fine meal, one might enjoy the sensation of that word's more-more-obscure antonym.


eupeptic – having good digestion; also, of cheerful disposition


Thus each word's literal meaning has extended to a figurative meaning.