Archives     Dictionary    HOME

September 2005 Archives

Horticulture words: umbrage (umbrageous); sprigging; allelopathy; espalier; tilth; cultivar (monoculture); geophyte (bulb, basal plate; corm; turnicate, imbricate; tuber; rhizome); (alchemy, sport, witches’ broom, topophysis)

Words of Railroading: deadhead; jerkwater; intermodal; wye; brownie points; featherbedding; dead man's switch/handle

Bible Eponyms: jorum; Samson (hansom); jumping Jehosaphat; adamite; Methuselah; Solomonic; doubting Thomas

Horticulture words

Yesterday we looked at Dolores Umbridge, a character in the Harry Potter books, and we defined the word umbrage. But the definition did match the woman's character. So too, 'Dolores' means 'sorrows', the Dolores character is not sad in temperament. Why then did author Rowling choose that name for her character?

The mystery is solved when we note that umbrage has another meaning, which is very apt for the woman, and which brings us to our new theme: 'words of horticulture'.

umbrage (adj. umbrageous) – shadow or shade; or something that provides it (also, a vague indication, a hint)
[from the Latin for shade. The same source gives us our term umbrella, which originally meant a sunshade, not a rain-protection.]

So one could say that Dolores Umbridge means "sorrowful darkness". And indeed, this woman is "sadly in the dark" about major, life-threatening events.


A raven sat upon a tree,
And not a word he spoke, for
His beak contained a piece of Brie.
Or, maybe, it was Roquefort:
Well make it any kind you please --
At all events it was a cheese.

Beneath the tree's umbrageous limb
A hungry fox sat smiling;
He saw the raven watching him,
And spoke in words beguiling.
"J'admire," said he, "ton beau plumage."
(The which was simply persiflage.)
– Guy Wetmore Carryl, The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven
(We quoted this verse in March 2003 for the word persiflage.)


sprigging – planting sprigs of grass in shallow furrows, to make a lawn
[This word is not yet in any major dictionary, but is in reasonably frequent use.]

You can make a lawn by laying sod, by seeding, or by plugging. Sodding (basically moving an existing lawn to a new location) is fast but expensive. Seeding is cheap but take time and continued effort; furthermore, some hybrid grasses do not grow "true" from seed. A compromise is to plant plugs of grass at intervals, and letting them knit together over time. Or you can plant smaller sprigs – which produces a lawn faster than does plugging.


The Grove Hill Town Council agreed Monday night to kick in an extra $6,200 to ensure that the new ballfield at Hudson Park will be fully sodded and not sprigged.
– Jim Cox, Grove Hill Council kicks in extra $6,200 to sod ballfield, avoid sprigging grass for surface, The Thomasville (AL) Times, Apr. 7, 2004


allelopathy – the release, by a plant, of chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants nearby
[Coined 1937, in German, by Molisch; came into English two decades later]

Researchers are studying allelopathy as an alternative to pesticides. Strongly-allelopathic plants include the black walnut, rhododendron, sunflower and sorghum. A more familiar example, known to anyone has casually observed pine trees, is that very little will grows where pines have shed their needles.


Pine needles contain acidic substances that discourage growth of other species. This is evident when pine needles are allowed to accumulate on the soil surface. In some areas, pine needles are sold for mulch. … growth of weedy species is reduced in mulched beds.
– Wendell Horne, Allelopathy ensures plants’ survival, Bryan Eagle (Texas), July 30, 2004

"Crops have been bred and engineered to defend against insects, nematodes, and diseases," says [researcher] Stephen Duke. "But almost nothing has been done to help crops fend off weeds. If major crops could be made to produce natural herbicides, use of synthetic pesticides would be significantly reduced." … the ultimate goal: introducing allelopathic traits to crops. "Allelopathy as a means of weed control has fascinated scientists since the early 20th century," he says.
– Luis Pons, Sorghum needs its space, too: how it guards itself may be key in crops' battle against weeds, Agricultural Research, May, 2005 (edited)


Bonus word: I quote board, where one of our members defined a term very well

espalier A tree or shrub that is trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall, often in a symmetrical pattern; also, a trellis or other framework on which an ornamental shrub or fruit tree is trained to grow flat
[pronounced either i-SPAL-yer or i-SPAL-yay]

[French, from Ital. spalliera, shoulder support, from spalla, shoulder, from L.Latin spatula, shoulder blade, from Latin.]
Nice photo at

Another reader notes: Apparently the practical reason is to be able to grow more fruit in a limited space, though they are pretty, too.


tilth – the physical condition of particular soil (less commonly: tilled ground)
Our first two quotes illustrate the two senses; our last explains what is involved in "physical condition".


Many growers also practice flail chopping, in which the straw residue in the field is machine chopped and … plowed into the soil for improved tilth.
– Omie Drawhorn, Silverton (OR) Appeal Tribune, Aug. 17, 2005

Life progressed at the pace of a cart-horse in those days …. A man could plough an acre a day, walking eleven miles, one foot in furrow, one on tilth. You could tell a ploughman, apparently, by his wobbly gait.
– Sue Gaisford, The Independent (London), May 26, 1996

Sand hardly binds at all; clay binds so strongly that it's close to impenetrable when dry. In contrast, soil with good tilth holds together but still leaves plenty of "pore space" that permits water, air, [and] roots to travel with ease. [It] hangs on to moisture and nutrients, yet it lets excess water drain through it, preventing waterlogged conditions and allowing adequate space for soil air. It doesn't pack into hardpan when wet, and it doesn't blow away when dry. You can squeeze a handful into a ball, but when you open your hand, the ball crumbles without difficulty.
– Burpee (Guide): The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener (quote abridged)


cultivar – a plant variety produced in cultivation by selective breeding (the selection may be unintentional)

But see reader note at end of this theme

Bonus word: monoculture – the cultivation of only a single crop in a particular area

Our examples, which tell tales of marijuana, potatoes and tulips, come from Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (edited).


Most of the hybridizing needed to adapt cannabis to indoor conditions was done in the early 1980s by amateurs. Cultivars [that] performed especially well indoors were further bred and selected. By the end of the decade there were hybrids yielding flowers bag as fists on dwarf plants no higher than your knee. It was no longer unusual to find concentrations of THC as high as 15 percent. The plant had adapted more brilliantly to its strange new environment than anyone could have expected.

… a
potato that thrives on one side of a ridge at one altitude will languish in another plot only a few steps away. No monoculture could succeed under such circumstances, so the Incas developed a method of farming that is monoculture's exact opposite. Instead of betting the farm on a single cultivar, the Andean farmer made a great many bets, at least one for every ecological niche. Instead of attempting to change the environment to suit a single optimal spud, the Incas developed a different spud for every environment.

It's no surprise that the
tulip was the first flower to have its cultivars individually named – and named for individuals. (The word tulip comes from the Turkish word for "turban.")


Many plants, like the onion, die off each winter above the ground but store food underground to regrow the next year. Though laymen call any such underground structure a bulb, botanists distinguish four types: bulb, corm, tuber and rhizome, collectively called geophytes.

Geophyte literally means 'earth-plant'. Dictionaries list geophyte as the plant, but in usage the term can also refer to the underground bulb, etc. from which the plant grows. Credit for coining geophyte is variously given to Christen Raunkiζr or to F. W. C. Areschoug. As to the types of geophytes:

A bulb grows its stem up from a single central area, and its roots down from basal plate at the bottom. (Hence it must be planted right-side up.) So does a corm -- but a true bulb, such as an onion, contains layers (which are modified leaves), with embryonic flower already present at the center. It will produce new bulblets, and the original bulb will survive and regrow year after year. another year. A corm, in contrast, does not have that internal structure of leaves-and-flower. And though a corm will produce another generation of corm, the original corm does not survive.
            Many bulbs, like the onion, have a papery protective cove, called the tunic. Bulbs with a tunic are called turnicate bulbs; bulbs without that protection, called imbricate bulbs, require more care from the gardener,
            As examples: the onion, tulip, daffodil and lily grow from bulbs; the gladiolus and crocus from corms.

A potato grows from a tuber, which is simply a swollen root or stem. The tuber has no special layers (contrast bulb) or basal plate (contrast bulb and corm). A tuber can send up multiple stems.

So can a rhizome, which unlike any of the others grows horizontally beneath the surface. Thus you can propagate a rhizome simply by cutting it into sections. (But don't try that with an onion bulb!) A rhizome simply grows and extends, without developing new "baby rhizomes". The bearded iris plant is an example.


Readers' notes:

Alchemy apparently comes from the Greek word khymeia, the juices or infusions of plants.

cultivar – a plant variety produced in cultivation by selective breeding (the selection may be unintentional)

Hovever, not all cultivars are produced by selective breeding. Sports, witches’ brooms, and topophysis are the source of many cultivars.

A sport is a spontaneous mutation in a branch resulting in a phenotypic difference. The sport is vegetatively reproduced, usually by grafting but sometimes by cuttings, to see if it produces a plant worth attention.

A witches’ broom is cluster of short, dense branches, usually the result of insect or disease. It is often vegetatively reproduced as above, often resulting in a dwarf plant. Sometimes viable seeds produced within a witches’ broom yield new plants.

Topophysis is the growth response of a plant part depending on its orientation or position on the plant. For example, a plant taken from a cutting of a vertical stem generally results in a vertical plant, while a cutting taken from a horizontal branch (2nd order branch) may result in a plant that grows horizontally.



Words of Railroading

Today we move from our horticulture theme to a new theme of "railroad words". Fortuitously, we can begin with a word that has meanings that fit each theme.

deadhead (horticulture) – to remove the blooms after flowering, so that the plant will devote its energy to developing of new flowers, rather than to producing seeds

deadhead (railroads and other carriers) – to move a train not to paying business, but simply to get it to where it needs to be for later work. (Also applies to moving of crews; a related noun-meaning of deadhead is "a non-paying passenger". The term is also used in trucking.)

Consider, for example, a railroad bringing seasonal crops to marked. At peak season, it may need many boxcars to bring the crops from farm to city – and not have enough freight to fill those cars on the way back to the farm.


A trucking company can collect a fuel charge only when hauling the customer's merchandise, Hyde said. But 12 to 15 percent of a truck's mileage is "deadhead," when it's empty traveling from the last unloading point to picking up another cargo.
– Kevin Bouffard, The Lakland (FL) Ledger, Sep. 5, 2005

If you're itching to recall the halcyon days of rail travel, there are private cars available for hire. But prices start at around $3,000 a day. You'll save a substantial amount if you fly to where the car is based rather than having it come to you. That cuts down on the owner's costs to position the car. If you're traveling one way, expect to pay for the empty car to deadhead home.
– Larry Armstrong, Ride Like A Railroad Baron, Business Week, May 10, 2004


A reader notes: deadhead (popular culture) – a term for itinerant fans of the band The Grateful Dead.


jerkwater – (contemptuous) 1. (of a place) remote, small, and insignificant, esp. "jerkwater town 2. contemptibly trivial: jerkwater ideas

This is probably the source of the noun jerk, as in, "He's a stupid jerk."


I could care less about some operation you guys ran in some jerkwater, third-world country ten years ago.
– Vince Flynn, Term Limits

"I never heard of him," said Captain Willie. "Well, you will," said the man called Doctor. "And so will everyone in this stinking jerkwater little town if I have to grub it out by the roots."
– Ernest Hemingway, The Tradesman's Return


Etymology: From conditions where a train, to replenish water for its steam engine, would stop to 'jerk' buckets of water from a stream or creek. Sources seem to conflict as to whether the original concept was:

�.                a dinky locomotive (needing frequent refilling),

�.                a two-bit railroad company (unsupplied with water tanks),

�.                a worthless town too tiny to have a water tank.

intermodal – involving the transfer of goods between two different modes of transport

When you're on the highway, notice that the large boxy container behind a semi-truck is not part of the truck. It's detachable, designed so that it can sit on a railroad flatcar for efficient long-haul transport to or near the destination city. There it is lifted off and hooked behind a truck cab, to be trucked to the exact destination.Ή

To thus lift and transfer large quantities of large containers, heavy with goods, a railroad needs massive intermodal facilities. Similarly, a port city will have intermodal facilities to transload between rail and ship, or truck and ship.


These various modes (rail, truck, ship, air) all grew up as independent and competitive businesses and with lots of mom-and-pop enterprises at various levels. Intermodal transportation can be confounding. Most of these modes were not invented or originally designed, to connect directly to one another.

The combined company would have become a single transport network capable of shifting goods via intermodal modes between ship, rail, road and air. It would have placed the data flow under one roof. Why is this worth watching? Because, thanks to growing costs, increasing complexity and a glut of players, you'll soon be seeing more combinations like this throughout the world.
– Robert Malone, Forbes, Aug. 23 and 30, 2005


Ή In these pictures the wheels needed for trucking are not part of the container; they are a separate unit to be attached after the rail portion of the shipment is complete. But alternatively, the item shipped by rail may include those wheels.


The dictionaries are weak on the etymologies of several of our railroad words. Today's word is the most obvious case.

wye – U.S. Railways. An arrangement of three sections of track in the shape of a concave-sided triangle or ‘Y’, freq. used for turning locomotives. (OED definition)

[Schematic here. Imagine that a locomotive, facing east, enters from the west along the main line, then curves down the left branch of the wye to the base, then backs up the east branch. By this process it ends up back on the main line – but is now facing west.]

OED's first cite is dated 1950. But a simple search of U.S. Supreme Court cases reveals this 1927 cite:


Drummond owned much land … on St. Andrews Bay. Steele desired to extend the railway from Panama City to the Bay. Drummond was willing to co-operate with him … to enhance the value of his lands. Drummond agreed to … pay the cost of clearing and grading the whole line, furnish and lay all ties, build necessary trestles and culverts, lay the rails, and put in a wye.
Steele v. Drummond, 275 U.S. 199 (1927)


brownie points – favor in another's eyes, esp. due to ones sycophantic behavior

Dear Abby; What would your reaction be if a young woman who worked for your husband named her baby after him? Well, that's my problem, and I'm still upset about it. What do you think this foolish girl had in mind? Was she trying to make Brownie points with her boss?
– "Dear Abby" syndicated column, Feb. 16, 1977


I believe brownie points is a railroad term, though other sources give non-railroad etymologies. Consider this problem that railroads, as the first large companies, would face: how can a railroad assure that its many supervisors will be consistent in how they handle disciplinary matters?

Around 1875 one George R. Brown, Superintendent of New York's Fall Brook Railway, devised a system. This is not merely local history, for many railroads adopted this "Brown System," thus spreading both the concept and the name. The system is still in use today. Under it each offense is worth a certain number of "demerit marks" to be noted in an employee's record, the employee to be fired if he accumulated certain number in within a period of time.

As you can imagine, rank and file railroad men were not fond of Brown-System demerit points. They derisively called them brownies. Thus we have a well-documented use of brownie as a pejorative (but not obscene) term for measuring merit by counting points.

I suggest this is source of the term "brownie points". In this I am a minority. OED has a different theory; AHD and Quinion have still another.


featherbedding – the practice of forcing the employer (by union rule, etc.) to hire more workers than needed (or to limit his workers' production).
[From the term railroaders gave to the practice. More generally, featherbed – to have provide a cushy job or like economic advantages]


So the prospect for Germany, as most voters clearly intended, is for a continuation of the status quo. They want their generous welfare state and feather-bedded employment arrangements. They have not yet experienced the kind of frightening economic crisis that persuaded the British in the 1970s to undergo the cold shower of Thatcherism.
– John O'Sullivan, German vote throws U.S. for a loss, Chicago Sun Times, Sept. 20, 2005


dead man's switch – a device that will take a specific action unless a human operator overrides it.
[For example, in your home, open both an ordinary door and a screen door. The ordinary door will stay open until you shut it. But a screen door is typically made so as to shut itself if you walk away. To keep it open, you must hold it open.]

A dead man's switch (or dead man's device, knob, pedal, treadle) is typically used as a safety device, to stop a machine if the operator becomes incapacitated. Most typically, to stop a train, as in the example from London five years ago.


A Tube train with more than 100 terrified passengers on board rolled backwards in a tunnel for over half a mile after the driver apparently fell asleep at the controls. The "dead man's switch", a spring-loaded lever which is a safeguard if the driver is taken ill at the controls, would have stopped the train automatically if released, but the handle was kept in the "on" position. Scores of new Tube trains will have to be modified after the revelation that … if an unconscious driver slumps forward against the handle it could remain in such a position which prevents the brakes from being applied.
– Dick Murray, London Evening Standard, July 10 and 13, 2000 (two reports, combined)

"Then I think we'd better have better have a look at that lawn mower when they fish it up," the sheriff said. "Those things have a deadman switch on 'em. No way it could just keep going without his foot on the pedal ..." "Unless it was tampered with," Dad finished. They both looked grim and headed off in the direction of the bluff.
– Donna Andrews, Murder With Peacocks


British readers note that the usual phrase there is 'dead man's handle'.



Bible Eponyms

jorum – an unusually capacious bowl or goblet (Charles E. Funk)
[Believed to be derived from this bible passage: Then Toi sent Joram his son unto king David, to salute him … And Joram brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass. II Samuel 8:10]

Charles Dickens was apparently fond of this word. He used it in five novels (Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Martin Chuzzlewit, The Pickwick Papers, The Old Curiosity Shop), and in lesser works.


As to what you say in your letter about introspection & scruples, you must remember how much bigger than itself a think becomes by being put in writing. A very small dose of self-examination, so small as to be quite wholesome, looks a positive jorum in a letter.
– C.S. Lewis, family letter

The amiable creature beguiled the watches of the night by brewing jorums of a fearful beverage, which he called coffee, and insisted on sharing with me ; coming in with a great bowl of something like mud soup.
– Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches



Recently, an editoriallist sadly commented that we have lost the farmility with the bible that had made it part of our normal conversational culture. Nowadays, if you should allude to a biblical passage, you cannot expert your hearer to understand the allusion.

That has inspired our new theme on "biblical eponyns". Perhaps we can do our small bit to counteract that trend the editorialist noted. I quote below about a quarter of the editorial.


Do we need to know what it says in the Bible? Are we somehow illiterate if we don't? Up until, say, 100 years ago, biblical literacy would have been practically mandatory. If you didn't know … you would have been excluded from the culture. It might be said that a civilization consists, at its core, of these easily transmitted packages of implication. They are one of the mechanisms by which cultures can be both efficient and rich.

But I would guess that biblical literacy is a thing of the past. The lingua franca of modern, English-speaking people is not dense with scriptural allusion [or] reference to classical civilizations. If you dropped the names of Nestor, Agamemnon or Pericles, you would, I think, draw a near total blank from even educated listeners. The references we make today are not to these ancient sources of meaning. The references we make today tend to come from more recent worlds: Jefferson and Lincoln, Nelson and Churchill; Madonna not the Madonna, Britney not Brutus.

Does it matter that we have tended to drop the old referential structures? This is not necessarily a disaster. … But it is at least a shame, the fading of an aspect of our civilization that has enriched it. Without the set of archetypes and fount of wisdom in the Bible, our lives would be thinner and poorer.
– Adam Nicolson, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 23, 2005


Samson – a man of great physical strength.
[After the biblical strong-man whose tale is told in Judges xiii-xvi.]

Since the definition reads in the meter of a limerick, it seems appropriate to use a limerick (non-original) as our illustrative quote.

A comely young woman Ransom
Was ravished three times in a hansom.
When she cried out for more,
A voice from the floor
Said, "Lady, I'm Simpson, not Samson."


As a bonus, that verse gives us another eponym:
hansom – a two-wheeled horse-drawn cab, with the driver seated behind
[after Joseph A. Hansom (1803-82), English architect, who designed it about 1834]


jumping Jehosaphat – used as a mild expletive ( Amer.Eng.), with an old-fashioned and countrified feel
[Several parts of the bible tell of the story of Jehosaphat, king of Judah, whose name has several different spellings. See 1 Kings ch.22; 2 Kings ch.3, and 2 Chronicles ch.17–22.]


So I went to a dentist. So help me, I had forgotten what he would see when he looked into my mouth. He blinked, moved his mirror around, and said, "Great jumping Jehosaphat! Who was your dentist?"
– Robert A. Heinlein, The Door into Summer


The interjection Jehosaphat, first recorded in 1857, was probably a euphemism for Jehovah. (This would be like many other oaths that take, but coyly alter, a holy name. Thus oh God! and Jesus! become the oaths egad! and jeez!) Jumping had been added to other oaths, as in Jumping Geraniums!, Jumping Jellybeans!, Jumping Juleps!, Jumping Jupiter!, and Jumping Jiminy Cricket! (Notice that Jiminy Cricket plays off the initials of Jesus Christ.) Within a decade the verbal Jehosaphat was sometimes one who jumped (Mayne Reid, 1866: By the jumpin’ Geehosofat).

But at the time other forms were used as well, including an alliterative one. (George Washington Harris 1867: by the jinglin' Jehosephat), and the prevailing form seems to have been simply Jehosephat! or Great Jehosephat!, without jumping. No one has explained why jumping Jehosaphat ultimately prevailed.

Your wordcrafter may have discovered why. Recall that newspapers constantly need brief "filler" items to fill up the short games between articles. Here's one from the 1880s:


A Yankee came running down to a pier just as a steamer was starting. The boat moved off some four or five yards as he took a jump, and, coming down on the back of his head on deck, he lay stunned for two or three minutes. When he came to the boat had gone the best part of a quarter of a mile, and, raising his head and looking to the shore, the Yankee said: “Great Jehosaphat, what a jump!"


Oddly, I've found this anecdote told, word-for-word, in two papers, in Alabama (Vernon Clipper, 9/24/1880) and Illinois (Decatur Daily Review, 8/1/1881). Since those papers they are far apart geographically, neither is likely to have gotten it from the other. Rather, one would guess that they each got it from the same source, a source that was providing "filler" for those two papers, and for others. If that's the case – if we find the same anecdote in other old papers as they are brought on line – it would explain why the concept of jumping Jehosaphat spread in the public mind.

Sorry to be long-winded, but this follow-up will bring you a grin.
The earlier writers often treat Jehosapaht! as the sort of oath that a country bumpkin or a rube would use. That is, a character using that word is often portrayed as the butt of a joke, or as an illiterate. For example:

● Butts of jokes: the above 1880/81 steamboat story, and this further tale:
She was obliged to lift her dress as she crossed Main Street, as the street was muddy and she had on striped stockings. They were yellow stripes and green, and looked like a lot of crawling snakes; and a prominent citizen gazed on them in horror as he remarked, "Jehosaphat, I never had 'em that bad before," and right there he registered a vow that he would join the [temperance] movement. – Fred. H. Hart, Sazerac Lying Club (1878)

● Illiterate characters: the above 1867 and 1866 quotes, expanded:
‘By the jumpin’ Geehosofat, what a gurl she air sure enuf!’

Sut said carelessly, "Oh, nuffin but his note, I speck. Say yu thar mister a-b ab, is the fool-killer in the parts yu cum frum, duin his juty, ur is he ded? I thot so, by the jinglin Jehosephat." The old gentleman turned to me and asked in a confidential whisper, "Is not that person slightly deranged?" "Oh, no, not at all," [I replied,] "he is only troubled at times with violent attacks of durn'd fool."


Amazing how people can twist religion to support what they wish to do or believe. Two such doctrines involve the biblical Adam and are called "Adamite" (and more importantly, each led do a more-interesting secular meaning of the term).

Since Adam was naked, some claimed that the proper way to worship was to return to that state by casting off one's clothes. (How enjoyable worship must be! It often involved – well let's delicately say "the activities you might expect of naked adults gathered together.") More perniciously, some claimed that the Lord had created other, inferior humans before Adam. The descendents of Adam ("Adamites") were therefore superior to the others' descendents ("pre-Adamites") and, not surprisingly, the former were identified with the white race. Other peoples were classed as pre-Adamite and therefore inferior. I know, it sounds unbelievable, but I quote a modern proponent of that view:


… the false doctrine that "all races are derived from Adam". That there was a pre-adamite creation of bipeds is made clear in Genesis 1:24-25 and what we must note is this difference between the two. The pre-adamite was made with substance or he was material, the first Adam was created in the image and likeness of God.

Putting it all together, adding the innocent meanings and illustrating only the latter:

adamite – 1. (religion): a. a sect whose members, purporting to return to Adam's pure condition, cast off their clothing as part of worship. b. a descendant of Adam – as opposed to a descendent of inferior peoples the Lord is supposed to have created before Adam (pre-Adamite). 2. (after 1.a. and b. above) a. a nudist or a naked person b. pre-Adamite (adj): of extreme antiquity


an Indian wench, perfumed with grease of bear and covered no more than an Adamite, flings herself upon him and bites him in the neck! "'God!" cried Ebenezer. The good man struggles, but the maid hath strength ...
– John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor [I modestly refrain from continuing to its conclusion this tale of "the singular martyrdom of Father FitzMaurice," a missionary – that is, his seduction.]

But don't you worry none, I've nought to fear from the likes o' that over there. He's just a barmy old loon-Verney the Adamite he is, harmless but he do tend to tear yer clothes given half the chance.
– Robin Jarvis, The Alchemist's Cat

Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales … have … at various intervals intervals, been found …
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 104; more in ch.104-105

I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable.
– Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado, as spoken by Pooh-Bah


There's an interesting twist in the last quote: Pooh Bah is using pre-adamite to denote superiority rather than inferiority.


Methuselah – a very old man [but see below for extended senses]
[After biblical Methuselah, Genesis 5, who lived for 969 years.]


The General nodded … "They should have given him the division" he added grumpily. "MacArthur said he was too young. Apparently you've got to be a Methuselah to get a command out there. The magic age seems to be fifty-two."
– Anton Myrer, Once an Eagle

[F]or most people more learning goes on faster up to the age of eighteen or twenty than ever after, even if they live to be older than Methuselah. (That is why vocabulary increases so rapidly for the first twenty years of life and comparatively at a snail's pace thereafter.)
– Norman Lewis, Word Power Made Easy


Methuselah (by extension) – 1. any plant or animal alive but extremely old for its kind or circumstances 2. pertaining to extremely long life-span


We had a mouse that lived for several weeks with the vipers. While other mice dropped in the terrarium disappeared within two days, this little brown Methuselah … scampered about in plain sight of the snakes. We were amazed.
– Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Scientists have pinpointed the Methuselah gene - a stretch of DNA that confers healthy old age on men and women …
– Robin McKie, The Observer, Feb. 3, 2002


Note re wine:
A methuselah (not capitalized) is a wine bottle of eight times the standard size.
Many oversized wine bottles are named after biblical characters: you can get a Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah, Salmanazar, Balthazar, Nebuchadnezzar, Melchior, or a Solomon of wine. Caution: Some of these terms refer to one volume when used for wine generally, but to a different volume when used for champagne.


Solomonic – having great wisdom or discretion in making difficult decisions; esp. by crafting compromise or by creatively "thinking outside the box"

OED's definition ("suggestive of the wisdom of Solomon") is not particularly helpful, unless you're already familiar with Solomon and know the nature of his wisdom. So I've composed the above definition, based on review of usage. If you don't like it, your money will be cheerfully refunded.

Here's a fine case of thinking outside the box:


They told me the story of a recent attempt to stage Julius Caesar at the University of [Pakistan]. It seems that the authorities became very agitated when they heard that the script called for the assassination of a Head of State. … Extreme pressure was brought to bear on the University to scrap the production.
     Finally, the producer came up with a brilliant, a positively Solomonic solution. He invited a prominent British diplomat to play Caesar, dressed in (British) Imperial regalia. The Army relaxed; the play opened, and as the first night curtain fell, [one saw] a front row full of Generals, all applauding wildly to signify their enjoyment of this patriotic work depicting the overthrow of imperialism by the freedom movement of Rome.
– Salman Rushdie, Shame: A Novel


doubting Thomas – one who insists on "seeing the evidence" (Note: this is not a term for simple hardheaded skepticism. Rather, it implies that the demand for evidence is uncalled-for or extreme.)

[After the apostle Thomas, who said he would disbelieve Jesus' resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes. (John 20:24-29)]


The IRA - Western Europe's deadliest terrorist group - yesterday declared that it had put its formidable armoury beyond use. … The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party found instant fault with the announcements … a highly significant event was shrouded in clouds of cynical mistrust … Mr Paisley will therefore, as expected, remain a doubting Thomas, his demand for photographs of the decommissioning having been rejected.
– David McKittrick, The Independent (UK), Sep. 27, 2005