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June 2006 Archives

Words from our board: digital shoplifting; captcha (bot); whomperjawed; heiligenschein (glory); POSSLQ, hypergamy; swive; godemiche, olisbos

Spanish Land-word Loanwords: bolson (bivouac); sierra; llano; paramo (puna); cuesta; arroyo (hogback); cay

Words from Spanish: camarilla; salver (morocco); vaquero, buckaroo; duende; vamoose; sympatico; quinella, perfecta, trifecta

F-word thoughts: flibbertigibbet; foofaraw (mano-a-mano); fustilugs (scullion, rampallian); farrago; furbelow; flocculent; flubdub, flapdoodle



Words from our board

This week we'll look back at a few of the interesting words that have been presented or used on our discussion board over the last few years. Those of you who haven't seen our board are encouraged to take a look and participate.

digital shoplifting – in a store, using a cameraphone to copy selected pages (e.g., a recipe) from a book or magazine


Japanese bookstores are set to launch a national campaign to stop so-called "digital shoplifting" … . It is the kind of thing that most Japanese young women wouldn't think twice about doing. They might spot a new hairstyle or a new dress in a glossy fashion magazine and they want to know what their friends think - so they take a quick snap with their mobile phone camera and send everybody a picture.
– Quentin Sommerville, BBC, June 30, 2003


We've all seen images like these. What do you call them?

captcha – a computer-generated test to distinguish human users from automated programs ("bots')
[Acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart]

A captcha is typically used to allow humans to use a program but to prevent automated "spamming" of it. The notion is that the human can pass the test but the bot cannot.


Some captchas have been solved with more than 90% accuracy by scientists specializing in computer vision research … But several Internet companies say their captchas appeared to be highly effective at thwarting spammers. "Researchers are really good, and the attackers really are not," says Mr. Jeske of Google.
– David Kesmodel, Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2006


Bonus word:
– a software program that imitates the behavior of a human


whomperjawed – askew; not fitting properly; also flabbergasted

We illustrate each sense, and direct you to the further discussion on our board.


I couldn't feature a boardinghouse more filthy … until I smelled its downstreet competitor. The structure's whomperjawed front door was screened, but flies buzzed in and out of the building's unchinked log walls. A toothless, fat man rocking on the stoop had no use for soap or the spittoon beside him. He smiled at me.
– Suzann Ledbetter, A Lady Never Trifles with Thieves

Suddenly, you find yourself whomperjawed, outraged, stupefied with disbelief.
– Molly Ivins, Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known


heiligenschein – [German for "holy light] a white halo of diffuse brightness surrounding the shadow of an object, often a person's head
glory – colored diffraction rings around the point opposite the sun (anti-solar point); i.e. where the shadow of the observer's head is

Heiligenschien, which is just now coming into English (23,000 google hits), does not yet appear in any major english dictionary, not even in OED. Despite that, we noted that it appeared late in the Scripps spelling bee last month, and tripped up one of the favored contestants. One wonders what criteria the bee uses to select words not yet in the regular dictionaries.


Two words from the same thread on our board:

POSSLQ or Posslq – Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters
[a census designation; pronounced PAH-sull-kew]

hypergamy – the tendency for women to marry "up"


There's nothing that I wouldn't do,
If you would be my Posslq,
You'd live for me and I for you
If you would be my Posslq.
We'd live forever, you and me,
In blessed posslq-ity!
– Charles Osgood

Thus does son preference among elites lead to hypergamy, the custom by which women marry men of higher status.
– Sarah Hrdy, Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species


swive – a synonym for the f-word. The latter first appears around 1500, and 'swive' (related to 'swivel') is the term previously used. The verb to quim may refer only to the female's role in the activity.

Here you'll find our 2-page discussion of each of these terms. There honestly is a good deal of discussion amid the giggling.


God give you both one shame's death to dien!
He swived thee; I saw it with mine eyen.

I have thries [thrice] in this shorte night
Swived the miller's daughter bolt-upright,

–Chaucer, Canturbury Tales, Reeve's and Merchant's Tales



This week's theme gives me a chance to introduce words unlikely to appear in one of our more typical weekly themes. Swive was one such. Here are two more, extremely obscure, to close this week.


godemiche – a dildo

olisbos – a dildo [from Greek 'to slip, glide']


I quietly refrain from sample quotations.



Spanish Land-word Loanwords

Spanish has given us several words to name features of our landscape. We start with one rooted in a lovely metaphor.

bolson – a flat arid valley surrounded by mountains (can drain into a shallow central lake)
[Spanish bolsa, 'purse, pouch'; ultimately traces back to Greek 'wineskin']


The army had made its bivouac at a bolson fed by seeping springs and bordered by green marsh grass …
– Stephen Harrigan, The Gates of the Alamo

… extending from southern Oregon to western Texas, the [Southern Arizona] Basin and Range is an immense … region of north-south-trending, faulted mountains separated by wide, dry bolsons (basins of interior drainage).
– Randall J. Schaetzl, Sharon Anderson, Soils: Genesis and Geomorphology


Bonus word:
– a temporary camp without tents or cover (verb: to stay in such a camp)


Here is another Spanish-loanward rooted in a metaphor.

sierra – a range of mountains having an irregular or jagged profile
[From from Spanish for 'saw'. The Latin root also gives us 'serrated'.]

Mountains along the California/Nevada border are often called the Sierra Mountains (rather than 'the Sierras'). Technically that's improper, since 'sierra' implies mountains.


The next town they entered was two days deeper into the sierras. They never knew what it was called. A collection of mud huts pitched on the naked plateau.
– Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West


llano – an open grassy plain, treeless or nearly so


In Venezuela the fault-line ran between the mercantile and landowningh elite of Caracas and the Indian peasants … who ranged freely with their animals over the llanos – the grasslands of the interior – and saw the crown as their protector agains the growing menace of encroachment by the Caracas landowners.
– John H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830


paramo – a high, bleak plateau or district, with stunted trees, and cold, damp atmosphere, as in the Andes


At its altitudinal extreme, cloud forest may be stunted, becoming a bizarre elfin forest of short, gnarled … trees. Higher still on some mountains is treeless paramo, an alpine shrubland, or puna, an alpine grassland. – John Kricher, A Neotropical Companion


Bonus word:
– 1. a high bleak plateau in the Peruvian Andes 2. difficulty of breathing due to thin atmosphere; mountain sickness

Arid, cold, and in general, covered by short coarse grass, the puna has, nevertheless, long supported an Native American population. The icy wind sweeping the mineral-rich plateaus is also called puna. – Columbia Encyclopedia


cuesta – a ridge with a gentle slope on one side and a cliff on the other; a gentle upward slope ending in a steep drop
[Spanish, from Latin costa, side]


… the land surface is underlaid by strata that have been slghtly warped into the form of a stack of nested saucers. Erosion has exposed the edges of the saucers to form "cuestas," and it is in those exposures that fossils can be collected.
– Arthur N. Strahler, Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy


arroyo – a deep and usually dry gully cut by an intermittent stream


Over hogbacks, down into wooded watersheds, arroyos that carry the snowmelt down to the big river. Only a trickle now.
– Summer Wood, Arroyo: A Novel


Bonus word:
– a long steep hill or mountain ridge


If you have $20 million to spend, today's post will give you a shopping tip.

cay – a small, low island of coral or sand
[Sp. cayo shoal, rock, barrier-reef]
Key (as in the Florida 'keys') is a variant of the same word.


A private island can be what one real estate specialist calls "the ultimate trophy" … Big price gaps do exist between areas that have been frequented by the wealthy for decades and those that have not. … there are emerging areas like the cay-dotted coasts of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. "The absolute cheapest land in the Caribbean is in Nicaragua, followed by Honduras and Belize," Morrison said.
– International Herald Tribune, France, May 25, 2006



Words from Spanish

Last week we looked at words from Spanish describing land-formations. Here are some more-general words English has acquired form Spanish.

camarilla – a body of secret intriguers
[Spanish, literally, 'small room']

Although many dictionaries define the term as a body of scheming advisors, it is not limited to 'advisors' (see second quotation).


Finally, in order to ensure the stability of his regime and of the presidential succession, by 1940 Cardenas reached an understanding with the official camarilla that controlled Yucatecan machine politics.
– Paul K. Eiss, Journal of Social History, Summer, 2003

The shift of power from parliament to the army and the court camarilla was completed in Yugoslavia, whose parliament functioned either as a mere talking shop or not at all.
– Bosnian Institute News, UK, May 31, 2006


Today's word traces back to Latin salvus safe; salvare make safe (as in 'salvage').

A king's food was pre-tasted to assure it was 'safe' – not poisoned – and thus 'saving' the king. After this testing (pregustation) the food was presented to the king on a special, identifying tray. In Spanish the pre-tasting, and the tray itself, were named salva from the Latin. When the word passed into English (perhaps through French), an -er ending was attached, akin to platter.

salver – a tray, usually silver, for formal serving of food or drink


Nat, Tommy, and Demi left the room, and speedily returned with a little red morocco box set forth in state on Mrs. Jo's best silver salver.
– Louisa May Alcott, Little Men

It's fitting that Venus Williams keeps winning the gilded, silver salver that has been awarded to the ladies' singles champ at Wimbledon since 1886. Like Williams, the Venus Rosewater Dish is named for a goddess.
– Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 2006


Bonus word:
– fine flexible leather made (originally in Morocco) from goatskins tanned with sumac


vaquero – a cowboy; a cattle-driver [esp. used in Texas] [from Spanish vaca cow]
buckaroo – a cowboy; a cattle-driver [an Anglicized version of vaquero, from California]

The second quote uses buckaroo as a verb, a usage I have not found in the dictionaries.


Rock-cowboys rode the range in Spanish Mexico. They called themselves vaqueros, or cowherders, from vaca, the Spanish word for cow.
– Russell Freedman, In the Days of the Vaqueros: America's First True Cowboys

He left home at age 15 to buckaroo for a number of large open range outfits in Nevada and southern Idaho.
– obituary for Wayne Hage, Eldrige (Iowa) North Scott Press, June 14, 2006

Now hold on, partner. I'm not the young buckaroo that I once was, but I have been on MySpace.
– Motley Fool, May 26, 2006


The dictionaries define today's word as "inspiration, magic, fire" (OED) or as "power to attract by personal magnetism and charm" (AHD; MW). I believe these definitions are too broad (the latter would apply to Bill Clinton). Rather, the term is for a performer.

duende – a performer's fiery intensity that sweeps away the audience
[think of a powerful flamenco dancer] [Sp. dialect, from Sp. for 'ghost; goblin]


His own dancing was polished but lacking in what Spaniards call duende – the demoniacal intensity which sweeps audiences off their feet.
– Daily Telegraph, Mar. 31, 1970 (credit OED)

It was genuine flamenco too, none of your tourists' stuff. But there was no duende. The majority of our group were far too caught up in their own class, culture and language to appreciate the efforts of a couple of stamping gypsies, and we just sat there like a row of gargoyles. Most of us didn't even clap.
– Jeremy Clarke, The Spectator, June 10, 2000


vamoose – informal: to depart suddenly and hurriedly
[from Spanish vamos let's go]


Henry walks around to the side of the car and opens the door. "Clare, let's vamoose. This is pointless."
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife


sympatico – likeable; congenial 2. of like mind or temperament; compatible
[Spanish simpαtico or Italian simpatico]

Note that this word can describe either a person, or a relationship between people. The latter sense implies, I would think, a close mental harmony; see last two quotes.


Prosecutor Paolo Ferri called Hecht, "smart and simpatico," but also said the damage he has done to Italy's cultural heritage is immense. – UPI, June 21, 2006

He liked being put to work, feeling useful, and my grandmother liked to use him. They were a simpatico team. – Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones: A Novel

It was like an ultimate simpatico, being two people at once: not telepathy, but mutual awareness. – Frank Herbert, Dune


quinella – a bet where the bettor must name the top two finishers
perfecta – a bet where the bettor must name the top two finishers, in order (also called exacta)
trifecta – a bet where the bettor must name the top three finishers, in order
[Am. Spanish quiniela. Spanish, a 'perfect' or 'exact' quinella.]

Trifecta is much more interesting when used figuratively, as in our example quote. It was claimed that a candidate will do well by adopting the issue-positions of the winner of a recent election.


But all that election really proved is that a GOP [representative] could keep a seat in a 60% Republican district so long as he outspent an opponent who committted [a] final-week gaffe. Replicate that trifecta around the country …, and Republicans wouldn't need to campaign.
– Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2006



F-word thoughts

This week's theme is not what you might have thought from the title!

So many f-words are funny just to hear. You can laugh at the sound of filibuster, and fi-fi-fo-fum, and the cartoon name Elmer Fudd. And many f-words have a 'light' meaning. You can be a frivolous fool or a fuddy-duddy. You can be a figdety fuss-budget or, quite the converse, a fickle flighty fanciful floozy. You can fiddle around, fribble away your time or fritter away your money on frippery. You can flim-flam and finagle.

This week we'll take a lingering look at light, laughing f-words.

flibbertigibbet – a frivolous and restless person, silly and flighty, scatterbrained or constantly talking


How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find the word that means Maria?
A flibbertigibbet;
A will-o'-the-wisp;
A clown.
Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her.
Many a thing she ought to understand.
But how do you make her stay and listen to all you say?
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
– The Sound of Music


Shakespeare used the word differently, to mean a demon (King Lear: "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet"), but that usage remains distinctly secondary.


foofaraw – frills and flashy finery. also, to-do over a trifle; a fuss


… she did feel somewhat out of place amongst the other women who'd decked themselves out in vivid color and foofaraw. Even Shelly, who usually dressed strictly for comfort, had squeezed herself into satin and sequins like she was a prom queen.
– Rachel Gibson, True Confessions

… turned down the offer to become dean of the College of Education because she didn't want the hassle, especially the foofaraw of being the first woman dean.
– Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts From the Heart of America

[Discussing URLs] They're long, they're confusing, they're messy, and they're almost impossible to type correctly the first time. Not to worry, though. I've gone mano-a-mano with this URL foofaraw, and I've come up with a plan that's designed to ..."
– Paul McFedries, Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Web Page & Blog


Bonus word (from our last theme):
mano-a-mano – (noun, adj., adv.) face to face confrontation; direct competition
[Spanish "hand to hand"]


fustilugs – (obsolete dialect) a gross, fat, unwieldy person, esp. a woman

What a wonderful sound! This is not a well-known word, to say the least, but that makes it particularly valuable for use as an insult: your victim will never know he/she's been dissed. In fact, the word is almost never seen in print. Shakespeare coined an interesting variant, though.


a vast virago, or an ugly tit, a slug, a fat fustilugs, a trusse, a long lean rawbone, a skeleton
– John Keats, letter to George Keats, Sept. 1819

Away, you scullion! you rampallian; you fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.
– II Henry IV, Act II scene 1


As long as we're on antique insults:
Bonus words:
– a household servant of the lowest rank; hence, a person of the lowest order
rampallian – a ruffian, villain, scoundrel


farrago – a confused mixture, a hodgepodge [but see below]
[Latin farrago mix of grains for animal feed, from far grain]


Pyles calls his [Webster's] Dissertations on the English Language "a fascinating farrago of the soundest linguistic common sense and the most egregious poppycock."
– Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue

Our genome is a veritable farrago of non-functional DNA, including many inactive `pseudogenes' that were functional in our ancestors.
– Jerry A. Coyne, in Intelligent Thought (John Brockman, ed.), as quoted in newspaper


Yes, but there's another sense. It's not in any dictionary, but Quinion notes "that people are sometimes using farrago to mean a lot of noise and argument about nothing very much." OED has in its files, says Quinion, "an example from as long ago as 1989."

Well, we take it back to a 1957 Ogden Nash poem. Nash introduces the subject by quoting a news account: "A new prawn has been dredged up near Santiago, Chile … it is succulent and mysterious. … The new prawn has not been named, a fact that is causing no concern in Chile." Nash's poem follows, ending thus:


Hadst thou in Yankee seas appeared,
Account executives would have cheered …
Yea, shouldst thou hit our markets now,
Soon, prawn, wouldst thou be named – and how!
I see the bright ideas drawn:
Prawno, Prawnex, and Vitaprawn;
And, should upper-bracket dreamers wake,
Squab o'Neptune, and Plankton Steak.
Small wonder thou headest for Santiago,
Where gourmets ignore such frantic farrago;
That's exactly where I myself would have went if I'd
Been mysterious, succulent, unidentified.


furbelow – 1. a ruffle or flounce on a garment 2. usually plural: a piece of showy ornamentation


Well, I don't know that fifty is much for a dress, with all the furbelows and notions you have to have to finish it off these days.
– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

… after the Reformation, Protestant churches were stripped of furbelows, pared down to Calvinist purity.
– Carol Strickland, The Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History Of Architecture


flocculent – fluffly, like tufts of wool

We give literal and figurative example-quotes. The noun form is floccule, a word upon which you can exercise your punning creativity.


You imagine yourself gliding down through the flocculent clouds into a blue ocean full of your fondest memories of childhood.
– Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

MacDonald's 'noble, if somewhat flocculent eloquence' must be replaced by greater precision.
– Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (interior quote is from Churchill)


We deal with two forms of nonsense today.

flubdub – pretentious nonsese; bunkum; bombast
flapdoodle – foolish talk; nonsense


I had summoned all my resources to phrase this flubdub eloquently and correctly
– Henry Miller, Quiet Days in Clichy

… any splotching of colors and any flubdub in written composition can pass as creative self-expression.
– Boyd H. Bode, Progressive Education at the Crossroads

Barbaro's injury has inspired more drivel and flapdoodle than any single event since the calamitous and great fall of Humpty Dumpty from his seat atop the wall.
– Fort Worth Star Telegram, June 2, 2006