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November 2006 Archives

Dirksenian Prose, rheum, sesquipedalian, diapason, grandiloquence, Chautauqua, rapscallionry, floriated

Egyptology: ankh (caduceus, sistrum), scarab, shabti, faience, natron (desiccate), Rosetta Stone, cartouche

More toponyms: canopic (viscera), bialy, arras, doolally, K Street (parsimonious, metonymy), Beltway, limousine

One Day; One Newspaper: mecca, iconic, nascent, nonagenarian (fκte), cognitive dissonance, kowtow, infographics


Dirksenian Prose


One of the charms of the net is that you sometimes stumble across enjoyable items, such as one I found while researching our previous word, balduchin.

"Before he died of a pulmonary embolism at 73, [Senator] Everett McKinley Dirksen had himself become a unique object of Americana." Dirksen's skills of oratory inspired the purple prose of the obituary we quote this week.

rheum – a watery discharge from the eyes or nose [among other meanings]


He had the rheumy eyes of a bloodhound, the jowls of a St. Bernard and a baldachin of white hair like that of an extraordinarily unkempt poodle. His face, reporters joked, looked as if it had been slept in.
– Time Magazine, Sept. 19, 1969


sesquipedalian – 1. Given to the use of long words 2. (of a word) long and ponderous; polysyllabic
[from Latin sesquipedalis ‘a foot and a half long’]

diapason – an organ stop sounding a main register of flue pipes 2. a grand swelling burst of harmony
[Greek dia pason khordon ‘through all notes’]


[Everett McKinley Dirksen] was prophetically named for the 19th century orator Edward Everett and for William McKinley, who was elected President the year that Ev [was] born. When he spoke, there issued forth a sesquipedalian vocabulary, diapasonal sounds like a Hammond organ in dense fog.


Sidenote on orator Edward Everett: In 1863 Everett, as the featured speaker at the dedication of a Civil War cemetery, orated for two hours. He was followed by brief remarks from another speaker who had been added to the program as a last-minute afterthought. The latter speaker was Abraham Lincoln, and his remarks were his Gettysburg Address.


grandiloquence – a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or bombastic style, especially in language


In 1917, he quit school, joined the Army and shipped off to France, where … he was assigned to man a tethered balloon 3,500 ft. above the lines, spotting artillery targets and sweating out German fighters. He sometimes joked that his duty in the "gas bag" must have had something to do with his later grandiloquence.


A sample of Dirksen:


No, you can't eat freedom, or buy anything with it. You can't hock it downtown for the things you need. When a baby curls a chubby arm around your neck, you can't eat that feeling either, or buy anything with it. But what in this life means more to you than that feeling, or your freedom?


Today's quote uses fustian ('inflated, pompous language', among other meanings), a previous word-of the-day which comes from a place name (a toponym). Today's first word is also a toponym.

Chautauqua – an annual summer educational meeting providing public lectures, concerts, and dramas, usually in an outdoor setting.
[after such meetings originating in 1874 in Chautauqua, New York]

rapscallionry – the quality of being a rapscallion – a mischievous person; a rascal; a ne'er-do well


His performances had a consciously archaic quality about them. He satirized fustian while indulging in it. His senatorial solemnity was a species of burlesque. He belonged in a Chautauqua rather than a McLuhan age, although he became a master of television performing. His manner, leavened by an exquisite sense of self-parody, conjured up Americana, suggestions of snake-oil peddlers, backwoods Shakespeareans, the gentle rapscallionry of Penrod Schofield's or Pudd'nhead Wilson's world.


floriated – decorated or adorned with floral ornaments

Here used metaphorically.


He was personally kind and shamelessly sentimental. … Each year, in his most floriated prose, he beseeched the Senate to designate the marigold as the nation's official flower: "It is as sprightly as the daffodil, as delicate as the carnation, as aggressive as the petunia, as ubiquitous as the violet and as stately as the snapdragon."


Dirksen was not merely an orator; he was a leader of his party:


Among Senate Republicans, Dirksen exercised an unchallenged leadership that will probably be impossible for his successor to achieve. … the position will inevitably count for less now that Dirksen is gone. The reason is not merely the scope of the job; it is the stature and the enormous range of the man who has vacated it. Dirksen's act would be impossible for anyone to follow. Who else, after all, could have won a Grammy and outsold Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan with a record on which he read the Declaration of Independence, backed by full orchestra and chorus?





I recently viewed an exhibit of artifacts from ancient Egypt. This week I'll share some of the words I found there.

ankh – a figure resembling a cross, with a loop or ring forming a handle instead of the upper arm. used in ancient Egyptian art as a symbol of life.


… gold caducei wands, hundreds of Tjet ankhs resembling small standing angels, sistrum rattles used in ancient Egypt to dispel evil spirits …
– Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code


Bonus words:
(pl. caducei) – a herald's wand, often with serpents twined around it (used as a symbol of the medical profession)
sistrum – an ancient percussion instrument (still used in Nubia) of metal rods or loops attached to a metal frame.


scarab – a large dung beetle, sacred in ancient Egypt; also, an ancient Egyptian gem in the form of a scarab beetle


Scientists have observed homosexual behavior in 1,500 animal species … most widespread among animals with a complex herd life … as a kind of social glue … But researchers have no idea what the advantage is, if any, of homosexual behavior among dragonflies, scarab beetles, or, as observed at least once, two male octopuses of different species.
– We're Deer. We're Queer. Get Used to It. Plenty Magazine, Oct. 25, 2006


shabti (or ushabti) – a figurine placed in an ancient Egyptian tomb to be a substitute for the deceased in any work he might be called upon to do in the afterlife
At least one museum refers to its volunteers, in the Egyptian section, as its "shabtis".


… an indispensable part of any Egyptian's burial equipment, the "shabti"-figurine. Thousands of these objects have been found in tombs … examples … inscribed with a spell that ordered them to take the owner's place should he be called for any hard labor in the next world.
– Hiroshi Obayashi, Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions


faience – glazed ceramic ware
[a toponym: originally denoting pottery made at Faenza, Italy (French name Faοence)]


My eye fell upon a handsome box with an inlaid cover that bloomed with a garden made of ivory and faience and mother-of-pearl.
– Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

Unlike the tin-glazed earthenware of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, Egyptian faience is not clay but a ceramic consisting almost entirely of quartz … . Egypt produced small-scale masterpieces of faience from about 3500 B.C. until the first century A.D. … The copper-based blues and greens … often recall life in the marshes and along banks of the Nile … . The palette of faience expanded over the millennia to include carnelian reds, lemon yellows, and rich cobalt blues and violets - each color with its own symbolic meaning.
– Magazine Antiques, Sept. 1998


natron – a mineral salt, consisting of hydrated sodium carbonate [baking soda]; used to dessicate bodies for mummification
[another toponym: named for the wadi Natrun, where the salt was found]


The mummy makers would cover the body with natron and then let it sit for almost two and a half months. Natron … absorbed all the water from the body. Plus, it even had a mild antiseptic in it, which helped to kill any bacteria lurking on the corpse.
– Joy Masoff, Oh, Yuck: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty


Bonus word: desiccate – to remove the moisture from


Rosetta Stone – a key to some previously unattainable understanding


The Philadelphia research team may have hit upon the "Rosetta Stone" of cancer study by discovering a gene that controls the evolution of tumors …
– CNN, Feb. 24, 1996


cartouche – 1. a drawn frame around of an engraving, etc.; (esp. one in Egyptian hieroglyphics, inclosing royal or divine names or titles 2. a heavy paper cartridge case


A stone cartouche at the entrance proclaims in Hebrew, "This is the gate of the Lords into which the righteous shall enter."
– The Jewish Week, Dec. 30, 2005


The original Rosetta Stone, bearing an inscription repeated in hieroglyphics and two other in writings, was the key that enabled scholars to decipher hieroglyphics. It is named for Rosetta, Egypt, near which it was found (toponym) and is now in the British Museum.


There is only one cartouche (five times repeated) on the Rosetta Stone, and this was assumed to contain the name of Ptolemy, because it was certain from the Greek text that the inscription concerned a Ptolemy.
– British Museum, The Rosetta Stone



More toponyms


Three of last week's "Egyptology" words (faience, natron, and Rosetta Stone) were toponyms: words derived from place names. So were two of the words presented the previous week under the "Dirksenian prose" theme (fustian; Chautauqua). So it seems appropriate to follow with a theme of toponyms, even though we've done one recently – particularly since I've recently come across a few more toponyms to add to my list.

We'll start with one more toponym of Egyptology.

canopic – relating to an ancient Egyptian jar, etc. used to hold the viscera of an embalmed body
[after Canopus, an ancient city in northern Egypt]


The most splendid statue of the dog god was found guarding the great chest which contained the king’s viscera in canopic urns.
– Malta Independent, Nov. 22, 2006


Bonus word:
– (plural noun; sing. viscus) the internal organs in the main cavities of the body, especially those in the abdomen


bialy – a flat, round baked roll topped with onion flakes (somewhat like a bagel but, unlike the bagel, it is not boiled before baking)
[after Bialystok, a city in northeast Poland]


She'd laid on some fresh bialys from Columbia Bagels and some Krispy Kreme donuts for my return.
– Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


arras – a tapestry wall hanging
[after the French town of Arras, where tapestries were made]

You may recall from Hamlet, that Polonius hides behind an arras, to eavesdrop ("Behind the arras I'll convey myself, / To hear the process … ), and that Hamlet stabs him there. As Queen Gertrude relates (Act 4, Scene 1):


Mad as the sea and wind, … in his lawless fit,
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries, 'A rat, a rat!'
And, in this brainish apprehension, kills
The unseen good old man.


doolally – UK and India: dotty; eccentric; "nuts"
[Indian army slang doolally tap: from Deolali, a town near Bombay, + tap fever]


Let me assure Miss Tsien that our Secretary of State is in no way crackers, dotty or doolally, as the British would say.
– New York Times, May 9, 1982

Lawrence Mortimer said, 'As you can tell, my mother went doolally years ago. Me and my wife tried to get her certified in 1999, but her doctor said collecting books wasn't a reason for having her put away.' 'Indeed not', said Mr Carlton-Hayes, 'or I should have been confined to a padded cell many years ago.'
– Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction


As to meaning: Usages show a mild madness, not necessarily temporary and not enough to call for confinement. Hence I disagree with OED's "[of] an unbalanced state of mind", and Compact OED's "temporarily insane".

As to etymology: Some say Deolali was the site of a sanitarium; some say it was where British soldiers waited, pending transport home after their tour of duty, and were driven mad by heat, idleness and boredom. The tap may be from previous importation of tap as an English term meaning malarial fever (Pers. tap fever, heat), or directly from Urdu tap fever; ultimately it traces to Skr. tapa heat; pain; torment.


Today's word is not in any on-line dictionary I've found, but it's quite common in the press. I have provided the definition below.

K Street – the political lobbying industry of Washington, D.C.


Democrats are making their comeback on K Street, the metonymic home of Washington's $2.36 billion lobbying business. A gold rush is under way for lobbyists who have an in with the winning team.
– Time, Nov. 26, 2006

[Senator] Ken Conrad's Web site proclaims [he] "has been a leading voice for fiscal responsibility" in Washington … [but] the parsimonious Mr. Conrad is attempting to shovel [$4.9 billion of drought relief] into a Senate military construction bill … . If this is the sort of "fiscal discipline" we can expect …, K Street ought to be popping the champagne corks.
– Wall Street Journal, Nov. 11, 2006


Bonus words:
– excessively sparing or frugal
metonymy – substituting one word or phrase for another with which it is closely associated, as Washington for the United States government


We return to Washington, D.C., which gave us yesterday's word.

Beltway – (typically in the phrase inside the Beltway) the political establishment of Washington, D.C., including federal officeholders, lobbyists, consultants, and media commentators


The sum total of all of these trends has been to produce a crucial gap between the political machinery inside the Beltway and the American public.
– Stratfor, Nov. 22, 2006


Here’s a familiar word, but you probably did not know it came from a place-name.


limousine – a large luxurious car; esp. one with separate compartments for driver and for passengers


Limousine meant originally a heavy shepherd's cloak from the Limousin region of France [centered upon the city of Limoges.] The first chauffeurs, forced to sit in the open air, adopted this coat, and gradually the word transferred itself from the drive to the vehicle. By 1902 it was part of the English language.
– Bill Bryson, Made In America (citation omitted)


[Note: Wikipedia has a different explanation: "The limousine car is named after the region because the inhabitants wore a hood with a profile perceived to be similar to that of the car."]



One Day; One Newspaper


Sometimes in your day-to-day life you happen across an interesting word. It's the easiest way to learn a new word. But how often does this happen?

"Not often," you might think, and so I'd thought before I started doing words-a-day. But nowadays, as I go about my everyday reading, I am much more apt to notice words that might be interesting candidates for words-a-day. Some are fairly obscure and unfamiliar terms that you'd not want to use in conversation (they might not be understood), but most are words you may know but don't use in conversationally. They are not just curiosities; they would useful additions to your everyday speech.

My point is that far more such words than you might suppose are available to you in your daily reading. To illustrate this, our new theme presents words that were found in a single newspaper last Monday, ready for the reader to seize.

mecca – a place which attracts many people of a particular group or with a particular interest
[from the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. In other words, a toponym, like the words of our previous theme.]


The leaders of the [Kazakhstan] were once so outraged by Sacha Baron Cohen's lewd fictional alter ego, "Kazakh TV reporter Borat Sagdiyev," that their president is said to have complained to President Bush …. … Then came the hit movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" … Its success fast proved … 'that any publicity is good publicity.'
Even with its Caspian oil riches, Kazakhstan couldn't buy this sort of global exposure. As the film took off, … cable TV travel shows sent reporters to the country's beautiful mountains and came back touting an unspoiled holiday destination. reports a post-Borat 300% spike in searches for accommodation … The New York Times wrote … that the country's 'once sleepy second city, Almaty, has become a designer mecca.' Naturally.
– Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2006


iconic – of an icon; that is, of a pictorial representation


The iconic design of the Journal will remain steadfast, from the prominent "What's News" column on page one to our stipple dot drawings to the return of the "Pepper … and Salt" cartoon to the daily editorial pages.


We saw the word stipple (dotted) here.


Two words today from opposite ends of the age spectrum.

nascent – just coming into existence and beginning to develop
[from Latin nasci to be born; akin to English genus and genesis]


Comedy Central … will air a political parody show produced by [a] start-up wireless carrier …, marking the first time that a U.S. TV network will broadcast a show originally produced for cell phones. … [This] raises to a new level the nascent business of developing TV shows for cell phones, demonstrating that it has potential to become a breeding ground for TV content.


nonagenarian – a person between 90 and 99 years old (also adj.)
[Latin nonaginta ninety]


The Spanish government recently feted nonagenarian foreign veterans who volunteered to fight against Franco in the Civil War [1936-1939].


Bonus word:
– noun: a celebration or festival; verb: to honor or entertain lavishly


cognitive dissonance –the mental discomfort of simultaneously holding incompatible attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, etc.

It is fascinating how the mind will struggle to alleviate the tension. Here's an illustrative extract from the article that gave me this term. (You can find the full article reprinted here.)


In the aftermath of a severe earthquake, people who lived in a region that had felt the shock but were spared death and destruction began circulating rumors that other terrible disasters were about to befall them -- a cyclone, a flood, another earthquake or "unforeseeable calamities." Why would rumors arise that provoked rather than allayed anxiety, especially among people who hadn't suffered any immediate loss? And why were the rumors so widely accepted?

When feelings and facts are in opposition, people will find -- or invent -- a way to reconcile them. The people who had narrowly escaped the earthquake were scared, but their fear seemed largely unjustified. The rumors provided people with information that fit how they already felt, reducing what [the researcher] called their "cognitive dissonance."


kowtow – to be excessively subservient towards someone


The Senators … have enormous power to punish Exxon if it doesn't kowtow to them. … we've seen what happens to other companies that dare to resist Congressional intimidation.


infographics – visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used anywhere where information needs to be explained quickly or simply, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education
[definition from wikipedia; not defined in the usual dictionaries]


[In the newspaper,] a new style of infograpics and data visualization will deliver more information in less time.