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April 2006 Archives

From the poems of Guy W. Carryl: lacerate, coping, pungent; epithet, bric-ΰ-brac, vulpine; dolce far niente, flippant, torpid; terrapin, expeditious, unction; Tartarean, phillippic; mordacious, pugnacious, rapacious; barrow; objet d'art, borough, shire

One Week of the Newspaper: Gresham's Law; alluvial, quantitate; rentier; Zukunftsangst; fractious, cosset; perdurable, perdure; anthropic, anthropic principle

Time for More Time: vespertine; postprandial; matutinal; antejentacular; crepuscular; aurorean; nudiustertian; sennight

Words of Deception and Trickery: fourberie; chicane; chouse; obreptitious; tregetry, legerdemain



From the poems of Guy W. Carryl

This week we'll enjoy the humorous poetry of Guy Wetmore Carryl, who wrote take-offs of famous fairy-tales and fables. Carryl is little-known, for he made the ultimate career mistake: he died young, in 1904, aged 31. His books are long out of print, and we will be taking our words from poems that are nowhere to be found on the web.

lacerate – to irregularly tear or deeply cut flesh (also figurative, for mental pain)
coping – the course of brick on top of a wall (usually sloping)
pungent – sharply strong in smell or taste; also, of remarks: cutting and caustic


A farmer built around his crop
A wall, and crowned his labors,
By placing glass upon the top
To lacerate his neighbors,
Provided they at any time
Should feel disposed the wall to climb.

He also drove some iron pegs
Securely in the coping,
One day a fox, on thieving bent,
A crafty and an old one,
Most shrewdly tracked the pungent scent
That eloquently told one
That grapes were ripe and grapes were good
And likewise in the neighborhood.

epithet – a characterization, used to stand for the thing mentioned; e.g. Catherine the Great (can be abusive)
bric-ΰ-brac – miscellaneous objects of little value; typically ornamental
[From old Fr. phrase ΰ bric et ΰ brac at random, any old way.]
vulpine – fox-related


The fox replied, with fine distain,
"Come country, don't be peevish."
(Now "country" is an epithet
One can't forgive, nor yet forget.)

The farmer rudely answered back
With compliments unvarnished,
And downward hurled the bric-ΰ-brac
With which the wall was garnished,
In view of which demeanor strange,
The fox retreated out of range.

Carryl tells the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

dolce far niente – pleasant idleness [Ital: 'sweet doing nothing']
flippant – not showing the proper seriousness or respect
torpid – sluggish, in mind or in body [noun: torpor]


Once a turtle, finding plenty / In seclusion to bewitch,
Lived a dolce far niente / Kind of life within a ditch;
One find day, as was his habit, / He was dozing in the sun,
When a young and flippant rabbit / Happened by the ditch to run:
This, of course, was banter merely, / But it stirred the torpid blood
Of the turtle, and severely / Forth he issued from the mud.

terrapin – one of certain small freshwater turtles
[Algonquin. The earlier form, torope, had by coincidence curious simlarity to torpor.]
expeditious – quick and efficient
unction – excessive, ingratiating compliments, a kind of "oiliness"

As we resume the tale of the exciting race, the hare speaks.


Shouting, "Terrapin, you're bested!

Quoth the turtle, "I refuse. / As for you, with all your talking, /

Sit on any lap you choose. / I shall simply go on walking."

Now this sporting proposition / Was, upon its face, absurd;
Yet the hare, with expedition, / Took the tortoise at his word,
Ran until the final lap, / Then, supposing he'd outclassed him,
Laid him down and took a nap / And the patient turtle passed him!

Plodding on, he shortly made the / Line that marked the victor's goal;
Paused, and found he'd won, and laid the / Flattering unction to his soul.


Tartarean – hellish, infernal [from Tartarus, a section of Hades reserved for punishment of the wicked]
phillippic – a bitter, violent speech of denunciation
[from Demosthenes' speeches, in 351-341 B.C.E., against Philip II of Macedon]

How is a child affected by a brutally strict scholastic regimen? Today we learn of Jack's unhappy upbringing; tomorrow we'll see how he turned out.


… His wearisome training began,
On a highly barbarian, / Disciplinarian, Nearly Tartarean / Plan!

He taught him some Raleigh, / And some of Macaulay, / Till all of "Horatius" he knew,
And the drastic, sarcastic, / Fantastic, scholastic / Philippics of "Junius," too.

Jack's tartarean upbringing made him intellectually mordacious, pugnacious and rapacious. Good gracious!

mordacious – biting; caustic; sarcastic; capable of wounding (also biting in the literal sense)
pugnacious – combative; quick to argue or quarrel
rapacious – aggressively greedy; grasping [Latin rapere to snatch]


barrow – a cart for carrying small loads; also, a mound over a burial site; also, a pig castrated before sexual maturity [interesting combination here!]
objet d'art – a small decorative or artistic piece; a curio
borough – a town [as distinct from a city]
shire – a district roughly equivalent to a county

O'er a small suburban borough /
. .Once an eagle used to fly,
Making observations thorough /
. .From his station in the sky,

Looking downward at a church in /  .This attractive little shire,
He beheld a smallish urchin /
. .Shooting arrows at the spire;
In a spirit of derision, /
."Look alive!" the eagle said;
And, with infinite precision, /
 .Dropped a feather on his head.

Then the boy …

And he sat him on a barrow, / .And he fashioned of this same
Eagle's feather such an arrow /
 .As was worthy of the name.
"Bird of freedom," quoth the urchin, /
. .With an unrelenting frown,
"You shall decorate a perch in /
. .The menagerie in town;
But of feathers quite a cluster /
. .I shall first remove for Ma;
Thanks to you, she'll have a duster /
. .For her precious objets d'art."



One Week of the Newspaper

Interesting words need not be so obscure as to be worthless. This week we demonstrate that by reading a single newspaper, you can find an unusual and non-technical word daily.

I chose one of the few national papers in the US, and arbitrarily chose the week in which its publication expanded to six days. There was no difficulty finding a daily word to present. In fact, I rarely had to read more than just the editorial page.

Gresham's Law – fig: a process whereby inferior products drive out superior ones
[OED notes only the literal use, meaning the economic principle that 'bad money drives out good'. When two currencies in use are perceived to have different likelihoods of becoming debased, people tend to hoard and keep the better, thus leaving only the worse currency in circulation. Named after Sir Thomas Gresham, who noted this in a 1558 letter to Queen Elizabeth.]


A political Gresham's law has debased Senate confirmation proceedings … . And the more lofty the judicial position, the more the process has sunk into an unseemly and demeaning spectacle.
– Theodore B. Olson, Wall Street Journal, Monday, Sept. 12, 2005


alluvial – made of or relating to alluvium; that is, soil deposited by flowing water


… an engineering solution exists that would assure the reliability of the levees, even in the alluvial soil of New Orleans without the bedrock found elsewhere.
– Pete Wilson, former Calif. governor, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2005


Since we've already used a form of this word as our word-a-day, I'll include another one, commenting on the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, which target poverty, hunger and like problems:


… the measurements are so inadequate, that one cannot know … if the desired trend of improvement is actually occurring. …. serial guessing isn't helping poor people. If we set quantitative goals, then we ought to be concerned enough to actually quantitate.
– Wall Street Journal, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2005, quoting article in Oct. issue of PloS Medicine


quantitate – to measure or estimate the quantity of


rentier – a person living on income from property or investments


Iraq's enconomic models suffers from two basic weaknesses. First, it is a rentier economy designed to distribute the oil income via state subsidies.
– Amir Taheri, Guess Who's Coming to Dinar, Wall Street Journal, Wed. Sept. 14, 2005


Zukunftsangst – fear of the future
Today's word does not yet appear in any dictionary I know of. But what a useful word!


Germany is haunted. My countrymen see ghosts everywhere as they go to the polls … A balance of terror has emerged: Fear of unemployment competes with fear of an overly radical fight against it. Empty state coffers cause the same horror as the budget cuts designed to overcome them. … the word "fear" attaches itself to the word "future" – Zukunftsangst permeates German mind. Fear of reform, fear of stagnation, fear of a failure of democracy and now – as the frantic climax of this collective neurosis – the fear of a further growth of fear. The result is political exhaustion on all sides.
– Gabor Steingart, Wall Street Journal, Thursday Sept. 15, 2005


fractious – 1. difficult to control 2. easily irritated; quarrelsome


Mr. Talabani, arguably the most popular political figure in fractious Iraq, brings to this project a personal history built from political stress.
– Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, Friday Sept. 16, 2005


A quote illustrating the second sense:


... he enjoyed the cosseting for approximately twenty-four hours and then became in turn restive, restless, testy, irritable, cranky, fractious, and extremely bad tempered.
– Diana Gabaldon, Outlander


Bonus word: cosset – to care for over-indulgently
[from a noun meaning "a lamb brought up by hand, as a pet"]

perdurable – extremely durable and long-lasting; also, permanent; everlasting
perdure – to continue, endure; to persist; to last forever


… the U.N. perdures as it has for 60 years and through countless "reform" bids.
– Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Sat./Sun. Sept. 17-18, 2005

Our sweete lord God of hevene, that no man wole perisse [will perish], but wole that we comen alle to the knoweleche of hym, and to the blisful lif that is perdurable …
– Chaucer, Parson's Tale


anthropic – of or belonging to a human being; of a human sort
anthropic principle – the principle that theories of the universe are constrained by the need to allow for man's existence in it as an observer

Today we cite a most interesting article.


Some cosmologists said that the density [of matter] is what it is because if it were anything else we wouldn't be here to even wonder about it. That line of thinking is called the anthropic principle. But appealing to anthropic reasoning amounts to a premature surrender. … scientists basically threw up their hands and said "it is what it is," and missed the fact that the magic density emerges from something more basic. [Says Dr. Livio,] "Anthropic reasoning should not replace the search for fundamental explanations."
–Sharon Begley, Are the universe's traits random or inevitable?, Wall Street Journal, Friday, Sept. 16, 2005



Time for More Time

Nocturnal is a familiar word, meaning "pertaining to the night". But are there words referring to other times of the day?

This week we'll look at time-words, including several of that sort. We are supplementing a previous theme of time words, called It's About Time, from October 2003.

vespertine – of, related to or happening in the evening
[Vespertine flowers bloom in the evening.]


Up Broadway Chandler moved with the vespertine dress parade. For this evening he was an exhibit as well as a gazer.
– O. Henry, Lost on Dress Parade

Will you let me go upstairs and change into something a little more vespertine?
– Stephen Fry, Revenge: A Novel


A reader notes "vespers," a Christian worship service that takes place during the late afternoon or evening.


postprandial – after a meal; particularly after dinner

Sometimes much after, as in the following case.


A Postprandial Apology: Residents of a mountain village where an English missionary was killed and eaten in 1867 will offer an apology to the man's descendants. The only known white victim of islands once called the Cannibal Isles, the Rev. Thomas Baker was killed because he rudely touched a chief's head and was subsequently cooked. Chief Ratu Filimoni Wawabalavu had invited Mr. Baker's descendants for the apology. It is still considered rude in Fiji to touch another's head without permission.
– New York Times, Oct. 15, 2003


If vespertine means pertaining to the evening, what word means pertaining to the morning?

matutinal – relating to the early morning, esp. the period just after waking


This [the lack of heat] was to influence a number of Selina's habits, including nocturnal reading and matutinal bathing. A morning bath in the arctic atmosphere of an Illinois prairie farmhouse would not have been eccentric merely, but mad …
– Edna Ferber So Big


Yesterday we answered the question, "If vespertine means pertaining to the evening, what word means pertaining to the morning?" Today let's ask, "If postprandial means 'after dinner', what word means 'before breakfast'?

antejentacular – before breakfast

This word is seriously obscure, not to say odd. It seems to be Jeremy Bentham's coinage, but I don't find it ever used in context (one does not count "look at this word" as a 'use in context'). Thus, even though OED lists the term, it is not used frequently enough to be considered an 'accepted word' by normal standards.


Our last visit was to my old and valuable friend Jeremy Bentham. … We found him … taking exercise by way of fitting himself for his labours, or, to use his own strangely invented phraseology, taking his antejentacular and postprandial walks…
– The Gentleman's Magazine, January, 1841

You know instinctively that anyone who calls his morning walks something as pompous as "antejentacular circumgyrations" is likely to be pretty cut off from life.
– David Boyle, The Sum of Our Discontent


crepuscular – resembling or relating to twilight


And so the particles … altering so vividly the colors of the sunlight that passed by them, and by staining the crepuscular sky with vermilions and passion fruits and carmines and royal mauves, so they ensured more potently than any other effect that Krakatoa would soon become the most famous volcano in world history.
– Simon Winchester, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883


If crepuscular refers to twilight, what word refers to dawn?

aurorean – belonging to dawn, or resembling it in brilliant hue

This is a rarely-used word. I'll illusttrate it with a beautiful metaphoric usage.


... another Aurorean kiss, just brushing the dew on her lips ...
– George Merideth, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel


Nathaniel Ward liked to coin words. One page of his 1647 work has five words which, according to OED, no one else used before or since: nudiustertian, nugiperous, exadverse, mong (in his sense) and drossock.

So his usage is the only source from which to find what those words mean. I disagree with OED’s definition for nudiustertian, which several word-lists copy. OED looks to the Latin root; I look to Ward’s use. I’ll quote, and leave you to decide for yourself.

nudiustertian – pertaining to the day before yesterday (OED)
nudiustertian – the very latest, as fashion (Wordcrafter)


I heare a nugiperous Gentledame inquire what dresse the Queen is in this week: what the nudiustertian fashion of the Court is; I meane the very newest: with egge to be in it in all haste …


sennight – seven days and nights (half a fortnight)
This word, once common, lost out to the briefer week.


One day he'll be tired of [her] tantrums and a woman like Jane Seymour will seem like a pleasant rest." I shook my head. "She'd bore him to tears in a sennight."
– Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl



Words of Deception and Trickery

fourberie – trickery or deception
This word, from from Webster's Unabridged, is not in OED.


The latest ad uses some technical fourberie to create an image of the five-year old Tiger [Woods] carrying his bag down the 18th hole of the Old Course as fans run behind him.
– Chris Noon, Forbes, July 18, 2005


Today's word has an interesting variety of meanings.

chicane – 1. chicanery 2. bridge (game): a holding of no trumps 3. motor traffic or racing: a sharp double bend [or other obstacle made to slow traffic?]


A war of chicane is a war of artifice and bickering …, a warr where a fortnight's delay before some awkward lines or fortress would run an enemy short of bread or cash, a war where time would count more than action, a baffling war; a war ofd deadlocks, a war where the enemy must face continualy an ebbing tide. This was not Marlborough's kind of war.
– Winston Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book Two)

London's most hated trafficcalming scheme - a brutal chicane that has caused scores of collisions - is being redesigned. … Motorists said it was so tight their cars collided with the kerbs, causing damage to tyres and wheels.
– David Williams, Evening Standard, Aug. 23, 2002


Today, another word with divergent meanings.

chouse –
1. a cheat; a swindler (verb: to dupe, cheat, trick or swindle)
2. to disturb or harry (cattle)

The first sense seems to come from Turkish chiaus, an official messenger. The story is that a Turkish chiaus, in England in 1609, swindled home-country merchants out of a substantial sum. But OED is skeptical of this tale.


obreptitious – making false statement to obtain something

In ecclesiastical law obreption is distinguished from subreption in that the former involves misstating facts, and the latter suppressing or failing to reveal facts. But the latter, like the familiar word surreptitious, has been generalized to cover both cases.


The feeling which Burr's actions inspired, that he was obreptitious, was overcome by the fascination of the man when one was under his personal influence; yet the impression of indirectness and duplicity which he caused …. made it possible for his enemies … to build up about his name a structure of public suspicion, and even hatred …
– Albert J Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall


One of today's words is antique, the other modern, but notice how similar they are in each of their meanings.

tregetry – 1. juggling 2. deception; trickery
legerdemain – 1. sleight of hand; jugglery; conjuring tricks 2. trickery, deception, hocus-pocus


Ther saugh I Colle tregetour
Upon a table of sicamour
Pleye an uncouthe thing to telle;
I saugh him carien a wind-melle [carry a windmill]
Under a walsh-note shale. [walnut shell]
– Geoffrey Chaucer, The House of Fame