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December 2007 Archives


Bodily Conditions: borborygm; eructation; suppurate (bubo, bubonic); bruxism; somnolent; blain (chilblain)

Kinds of People: janissary; voluble; endomorphic; younker; fashionista; reactionary; misoneism; naïf

Professions from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: summoner; reeve; canon (yeoman); manciple; haberdasher; franklin; pardoner

What's new?: neophyte; neoteric; neophobia; apophoret; neoteny; Hogmanay; qualtagh


Bodily Conditions


Last week’s theme tended to degrade into just fancy medical synonyms for body-parts which have a familiar, everyday name. I’ll try to avoid that trap as we spend a week on the workings of the body. Here’s an embarrassing but familiar concept for which we have no familiar word.


borborygm; borborygmus – a rumbling noise in the guts (due to moving gas)

[from Greek for ‘to rumble’]


OED’s quotes are too delicious for me to look further, particularly if, as I presume, the last one is figurative, referring to Carlyle’s writing.



The borborygmic note of the Arabian camel.

Times [London] Nov. 24, 1938



The room was very quiet, except for its borborygmic old radiator.

– Elizabeth Fenwick, A Long Way Down


The stertorous [loud] borborygms of the dyspeptic Carlyle!

– Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point


eructation – a belch (by a person, or by a volcano)


Not a pretty word, but we have two pretty quotes, one literal and one figurative.


The sounds of life rose about them: trilling cicadas, humming dragonflies, even the occasional eructation of a frog.

– Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Thunderhead


At intervals Salinas suffered from a mild eructation of morality. The process never varied much. One burst was like another. Sometimes it started in the pulpit and sometimes with a new ambitious president of the Women’s Civic Club. Gambling was invariably the sin to be eradicated. There were certain advantages to attacking gambling. One could discuss it, which was not true of prostitution … and most of the games were operated by Chinese. There was little change of treading on the toes of a relative.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden


suppurate – to form or discharge pus

Suitable for figurative use as an insult, as in the second quote.


[Oddly, during the Black Plague, Europe was in a great period of church-building.]

I don’t know about you, but if I lived in an age when God was zinging every third person in my town with suppurating bubos, I don't think I'd look on Him as being on my side.

– Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe


Hush, you suppurating old boil of a peasant.

– Gregory Maguire, Mirror Mirror


Bonus word:

bubo (adj. bubonic) – a swollen inflamed lymph node in the armpit or groin


bruxism – habitual, involuntary gritting or grinding the teeth, esp. when in stress or during sleep, as from anger, tension, fear, or frustration


I smiled at the titles of the two works that provide our quotes.


     The doctor jumped up from his seat and shouted, “… Are you gritting those teeth? We never ever grit our teeth. That’s a condition called bruxism and you’re in luck, dear lady. We have recently purchased a line of products called the Grindzappers … . When you sleep, if you start gnashing those teeth the headgear shoots out a current and you’ll awaken enough to stop immediately.”

     Get thee out of here, sweet Jesus, Mama thought, trapped under this freak’s bright lights and hovering face.

– Susan Reinhardt, Not Tonight Honey, Wait 'Til I'm a Size Six


There are two types of bruxism: good old-fashioned grinding, and clenching. "There tends to be a male/female divide. “[M]en tend to grind," explains Higson. "[W]omen tend to clench rather than grind, and get sore muscles. Females get more headaches, temporal ones especially."

– The Guardian, While you were sleeping, July 5, 2005 (ellipses omitted)


somnolent – sleepy; drowsy


We all know the feeling of oversleeping, which this quote describes so well!


I woke when it was almost tolling the hour for the evening meal. I felt dull and somnolent, for daytime sleep is like the sin of the flesh: the more you have the more you want, and yet you feel unhappy, sated and unsated at the same time.

– Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

also: somnolent – inducing drowsiness


From everywhere came the somnolent buzz of bees.

– Stephen King, Wizard and Glass


After all these fancy Latinate words, it’s nice to have a pair from plain Old English.


blain – a blister; an inflammatory skin swelling or sore

chilblain – painful, itching swelling, on hand or foot, caused by poor skin circulation when exposed to cold


A bit of inspired nonsense from Edward Lear:


Said the Table to the Chair,

"You can hardly be aware

How I suffer from the heat

And from chilblains on my feet.

If we took a little walk,

We might have a little talk;

Pray let us take the air,"

Said the Table to the Chair.


Said the Chair unto the Table,

"Now, you know we are not able:

'How foolishly you talk,

'When you know we cannot walk!"

Said the Table with a sigh,

"It can do no harm to try.

I've as many legs as you;

Why can't we walk on two?"


See here for the rest of this delightful poem.


cicatrice; cicatrix – a scar


He knew where the cicatrice of Caroline's vaccination stood out on her left thigh; but though he had seen Constance many times in a bathing suit, he wasn’t sure that she had been vaccinated at all.

– John O'Hara, Appointment in Samarra



Kinds of People


What words could be more fascinating than ones that pinpoint the personalities of people in our world? Such will be our theme this week.


janissary – one of a group of a highly loyal supporters


So say the dictionaries, but I think the term is more specific. It implies a ruthlessness and near-religious zeal. As in our quote.


Lenin saw that a resolute and well-disciplined group could by ruthless terror overthrow whatever other regime might attempt to replace [the tsars]. [H]e was resolved to prepare the appropriate instrument. He had little use for theories about the necessity of waiting for the workmen to rise of their own initiative in order to accomplish the grand revolution. What he needed was a well-trained bodyguard of revolutionist janissaries, deaf to any argument but his own, free from all inhibitions, impervious to the voices of reason or humanity.

– Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (ellipses omitted)


voluble – characterized by ready or rapid speech


Interesting history: the word comes from Latin for 'to roll', as in a wheel that 'revolves'. That should give you the hint that this is not an entirely complimentary term, but rather has the sense of talking too much, of habitually rolling on and on and on and on and …


Homer [my dog] stopped coming when I called, which was unacceptable … I put a leash on him and yanked him to me, and was voluble with praise and generous with treats when he complied …

– Jon Katz, A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me


Roosevelt … described Rudyard Kipling as a pleasant little man, bright, nervous, voluble, but rather underbred.

– Aida D. Donald, Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt


I'm surprised to find how rarely this word is used.


endomorphic – having a heavy rounded body build, with a marked tendency to become fat


Alexander Woollcott grew up in New Jersey, where he was unmercifully teased for his endomorphic body and thick spectacles. … he shocked his friends when in 1917 he volunteered to serve in the Great War. Not fit for any kind of military service (one officer called him “the pregnant mermaid”), he was soon transferred to th U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes …

– Mardy Grothe, Viva la Repartee


younker – a young man

[My sense is that it has the connotation of ‘a bit wet behind the ears’.]


When I was a younker a man with two nickels could feed like a king. The bartender was a little suspicious if you dug into the grub on the strength of one beer, but when you bellied up and ordered the second, you were a guest of the house and could eat your head off.

– Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy


Then he said, 'It's not respectful, sir, of you younkers to be imitating of your relations.'

– William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair


fashionista – an enthusiast for the trends of fashion

(A mildly disparaging term, not just for the wearer of the clothing, etc., but also for the designers, models, fashion-writers, etc.)


Credit Quinion for today’s quote.


Last week I finally realized that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a true fashionista — one of those guys and gals who can stumble out of a swamp covered with leeches and still look like a million bucks.

– Rocky Mountain News (Denver), Sept. 26, 1999


reactionary – an extreme conservative; one opposed of progress or liberalism (also as an adjective)


     I butted into the argument "This is a reactionary group. Correct? Right-wing loony lodge."

     He nodded.

     "So, considering that, and the high-level political and financial membership of this so-called hunting and fishing club, maybe we’re talking about a conspiracy to take over the government.”

     He smiled and replied, “I think they already did that on Election Day.”

– Nelson DeMille, Wild Fire


'Reactionary' is a common word. The word I’d hoped to present is stronger but ridiculously obscure, so obscure that you can insult someone with it without fear that he’ll understand! Just call him a misoeist, suffering from misoneism, the fear of anything new. (OED defines it as merely “dislike of novelty,” but I think of it as far stronger, as in its very first usage.)


The fear of the unknown has been named misoneism, … It is best exemplified in children and savages. (1886; credit OED)


naif – a naïve person

(in either of two senses: 1. natural and unaffected; and 2. lacking the judgement to be aware of dangers)


No one except a a naif or a political propagandist could believe that Israelis and Palestinians could live together in one state without civil war. Proponents of one state are mainly extremists like Hamas who want one state without Jews, or ultranationalist Israelis who would like to expel the Palestinians.

– Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 2007



Professions from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales


I’ve been enjoying a browse through The Canterbury Tales, where Geoffrey Chaucer tells of a motley group who, finding that each is on his way to Canterbury, decide to travel and entertain each other by telling stories. It’s interesting to see the personalities and professions as of about 1400. This week we’ll enjoy his descriptions of folks in professions that are less familiar today.


summoner – a petty officer who cites persons to appear in court


Can’t you just see this fellow, from Chaucer’s description?


A summoner was with us in that place,

Who had a fiery-red, cherubic face,

For eczema he had; his eyes were narrow

As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow;

With black and scabby brows and scanty beard;

He had a face that little children feared.

Well loved he garlic, onions, aye and leeks,

And drinking of strong wine as red as blood.

Then would he talk and shout as madman would.

And when a deal of wine he'd poured within,

Then would he utter no word save Latin.

No wonder, for he'd heard it all the day;

And all you know right well that even a jay

Can call out Wat as well as can the pope.

But when, for aught else, into him you'd grope,

'Twas found he'd spent his whole philosophy;

He was a noble rascal, and a kind;

A better comrade 'twould be hard to find.

Why, he would suffer, for a quart of wine,

Some good fellow to have his concubine …



The summoner was a petty government officer. A reeve was originally a high government officer – the chief magistrate of a town or district – but by Chaucer’s time had become sort of the “business manager” for a private person. Chaucer shows the reeve as a respected and well-rewarded professional.


We can practically see Chaucer's reeve: his physique, grooming, work, character and clothing. There are even homely details: his name, his horse, and his habit of riding at the back of the group.


reeve – a steward appointed by a landowner to superintend his estates, tenants, or workmen


The reeve he was a slender, choleric man

His beard was shaved as close as ever can.

His hair was closely cropped around his ears;

His top was tonsured like a pulpiteer's.

Long were his legs, and they were very lean,

And like a staff, with no calf to be seen.

Well could he manage granary and bin;

No auditor could ever on him win.

He could foretell, by drought and by the rain,

The yielding of his seed and of his grain.

His lord's sheep and his oxen and his dairy,

His swine and horses, all his stores, his poultry,

Were wholly in this steward's managing; …

Yet no man ever found him in arrears.

There was no agent, hind, or herd who'd cheat;

He knew too well their cunning and deceit;

They were afraid of him as of the death.

His cottage was a good one, on a heath;

By green trees shaded was his dwelling-place.

Much better than his lord could he purchase. …

In youth he'd learned a good trade, and had been

A carpenter, as fine as could be seen.

This steward sat a horse that well could trot,

And was all dapple-grey, and was named Scot.

A long surcoat of blue did he parade,

And at his side he bore a rusty blade.

Of Norfolk was this reeve of whom I tell,

From near a town that men call Badeswell.

Bundled he was like friar from chin to croup,

And ever he rode hindmost of our troop.


canon – a clergyman living with others in a clergy-house, living per church rules

yeoman (older meaning:) – an attendant/assistant to an official, etc. (and more specifically: a servant in a royal or noble household (usually above the lowest level, a groom or page)

(current meaning: 1. a diligent, dependable worker 2. a farmer who cultivates his own land)


Along the way the travelers meet a canon and his talkative yeoman. The latter (regular type below), under the host’s artful questions (blue italics), reveals that his master is an alchemist seeking to create gold – and is a miserable failure. This indiscreet chatter of course infuriates the canon (“… suspicion always woke / In him, indeed, when anybody spoke. / For Cato says suspicion's ever fed / In any guilty man when aught is said.”). He leaves in a huff, and the yeoman then speaks even more bitterly.


… I warn you well, he's a surpassing man.

Well, said our host, then pray tell, if you can,

Is he a clerk, or not? Tell what he is.

Nay, he is greater than a clerk, ywis, …

From here right into Canterbury town,

Why, he could turn it all clean upside-down

And pave it all with silver and with gold. …

Since your lord is a man of such science,

For which men should hold him in reverence,

That of his dignity his care's so slight;

His over-garment is not worth a mite

For such a man as he, so may I go!

It is all dirty and it's torn also.

Why is your lord so slovenly, pray I,

And yet has power better clothes to buy… ? …

Why? asked this yeoman, Why ask this of me?

God help me, wealthy he will never be! …

For when a man has overmuch of wit,

It often happens he misuses it;

No matter then, good yeoman, said our host;

Since of the learning of your lord you boast,

Tell how he works, I pray you heartily …

We stir and mix and stare into the fire,

But for all that we fail of our desire, …

And never do we come to our conclusion.

To many folk we bring about illusion,

And make them think, aye, at the least, it's plain,

That from a pound of gold we can make twain! …

But that science is so far us before,

We never can, in spite of all we swore,

Come up with it, it slides away so fast;

And it will make us beggars at the last. ... [The canon leaves]

Seven years I've served this canon, but no more

I know about his science than before.

All that I had I have quite lost thereby;

And, God knows, so have many more than I.

Where I was wont to be right fresh and gay

Of clothing and of other good array,

Now may I wear my old hose on my head;

And where my colour was both fresh and red,

Now it is wan and of a leaden hue;

Whoso this science follows, he shall rue. …

And I am still indebted so thereby

For gold that I have borrowed, truthfully,

That while I live I shall repay it never.

Let every man be warned by me for ever!


manciple – a person responsible for provisioning a group of people (more specifically, one who purchases provisions for a college, monastery, Inn of Court, etc.)


There was a manciple from an inn of court,

To whom all buyers might quite well resort

To learn the art of buying food and drink;

For whether he paid cash or not, I think

That he so knew the markets, when to buy,

He never found himself left high and dry.


The reeve’s tale is set off by the illness of the manciple of a Cambridge college, Soler Hall. Two students undertake his job of having the school’s grain ground at the local mill, and the thieving miller takes advantage of their inexperience to steal them blind. But never fear: they get back at him, uproariously.


Large tolls this miller took, beyond a doubt,

With wheat and malt from all the lands about;

Of which I'd specify among them all

A Cambridge college known as Soler Hall;

He ground their wheat and all their malt he ground.

And on a day it happened, as they found,

The manciple got such a malady

That all men surely thought that he should die.

Whereon this miller stole both flour and wheat

A hundredfold more than he used to cheat;

For theretofore he stole but cautiously,

But now he was a thief outrageously,


Solar Hall was real; a century and a half later it merged with another college to become Trinity. (It should be noted that the famous limerick which rhymes ‘Trinity’ with ‘virginity’ refers to the Oxford college of the same name. Wink)


Chaucer did not complete his Canterbury Tales, and several of his pilgrims never tell a story and are barely described. Among them is a “haberdasher”. Today, this is one of those words that has different meanings “on opposite sides of the pond,” in the UK and the US.


haberdasher – (formerly, a dealer in odds and ends)

1. UK: a dealer in dressmaking and sewing goods 2. US: a dealer in men’s clothing


Since Chaucer gives only a passing mention of his haberdasher, we’ll turn elsewhere for illustrative quotes. Humorous ones!


UK: Your investigative reporter visited that haberdasher shop. A jowly, sideburned man in his mid-sixties was behind the counter. "What can I do for you, Sir?" he asked. "Buttons," I said, raising an eyebrow meaningfully. "What type?" he asked. I looked blank.

– Telegraph, May 3, 2002


US [re a future use of computers]: … want some new threads? Your haberdasher will scan your body – and keep it confidential, we hope – then transmit the information to a factory. Your custom-made duds could then be delivered the next day.

– Business Week, Aug. 10, 2000


older sense of ‘odds and ends’:

In the film's funniest scene, Bond's gadget haberdasher, Q (John Cleese), outfits James with his requisite toys: a glass-shattering ring, a supercharged watch ("Your 20th, I believe") and a car whose dashboard includes buttons for grenade, mortar and adaptive camouflage.

Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2002


franklin – a landowner of free but not noble birth (14th and 15th cent. England)


Chaucer’s franklin enjoys his eating and drinking.


There was a franklin in his company;

White was his beard as is the white daisy. …

Delightful living was the goal he'd won,

For he was Epicurus' own son,

Who held the view that plain and pure delight

Was true felicity, perfect and right. …

His bread, his ale were always good and fine;

No man had cellars better stocked with wine.

Baked meat was never wanting in his house,

Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous

It seemed to snow therein both food and drink,

Of all the dainties that a man could think.

After the sundry seasons of the year

He changed his diet and his means of cheer.

Full many a fattened partridge did he mew,

And many a bream and pike in fish-pond too.

Woe to his cook, except the sauces were

Poignant and sharp, and ready all his gear.

His table, waiting in his hall alway,

Stood ready covered through the livelong day.


In this season we’re reminded what a conflicted holiday Christmas has become. Sublime holiness mixes uneasily with frantic flamboyant commercialism. Prophet and profit, if you will!


Chaucer embodies that conflict in two characters, both men of religion, so it seems only appropriate to present each of them here (though only one gives us a typical, unfamiliar word). Today we display the pardoner, who sells religion for money. Tomorrow, as our Christmas present, we will present to you the honest country parson, “poor [in goods], but rich in holy thought and work.”


pardoner – one licensed to sell papal pardons (theoretically to raise funds for the church)


With him there rode a gentle pardoner

Of Rouncival, his friend and his compeer; …

This pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,

But lank it hung as does a strike of flax;

In wisps hung down such locks as he'd on head,

And with them he his shoulders overspread;

But thin they dropped, and stringy, one by one. …

It seemed to him he went in latest style,

Dishevelled, save for cap, his head all bare.

As shiny eyes he had as has a hare.

He had a fine veronica sewed to cap.


His wallet lay before him in his lap,

Stuffed full of pardons brought from Rome all hot.

A voice he had that bleated like a goat.

No beard had he, nor ever should he have,

For smooth his face as he'd just had a shave;

I think he was a gelding or a mare. …


In his bag he had a pillowcase

The which, he said, was Our True Lady's veil:

He said he had a piece of the very sail

That good Saint Peter had, what time he went

Upon the sea, till Jesus changed his bent.

He had a latten cross set full of stones,

And in a bottle had he some pig's bones.

But with these relics, when he came upon

Some simple parson, then this paragon

In that one day more money stood to gain

Than the poor dupe in two months could attain.

And thus, with flattery and suchlike japes,

He made the parson and the rest his apes.

In his bag he had a pillowcase

The which, he said, was Our True Lady's veil:

He said he had a piece of the very sail

That good Saint Peter had, what time he went

Upon the sea, till Jesus changed his bent.

He had a latten cross set full of stones,

And in a bottle had he some pig's bones.


But with these relics, when he came upon

Some simple parson, then this paragon

In that one day more money stood to gain

Than the poor dupe in two months could attain.

And thus, with flattery and suchlike japes,

He made the parson and the rest his apes.


But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve

He taughte, but first he folwed it hym-selve.


I can tell you that the word “shitty” below is in the original. Beyond that, nothing need be added to Chaucer’s portrait of the parson.


There was a good man of religion, too,

A country parson, poor, I warrant you; …

Who Christ's own gospel truly sought to preach;

Devoutly his parishioners would he teach.

Benign he was and wondrous diligent,

Patient in adverse times and well content,

As he was ofttimes proven; always blithe,


He was right loath to curse to get a tithe,

But rather would he give, in case of doubt,

Unto those poor parishioners about,

Part of his income, even of his goods.

Enough with little, coloured all his moods.


Wide was his parish, houses far asunder,

But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,

In sickness, or in sin, or any state,

To visit to the farthest, small and great,

Going afoot, and in his hand, a stave.


This fine example to his flock he gave,

That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;

Out of the gospel then that text he caught,

And this figure he added thereunto-

That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?

For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,

What wonder if a layman yield to lust?

And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,

A shitty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.

Well ought a priest example good to give,

By his own cleanness, how his flock should live.

He never let his benefice for hire,

Leaving his flock to flounder in the mire, …

Nor in some brotherhood did he withhold;

But dwelt at home and kept so well the fold

That never wolf could make his plans miscarry;

He was a shepherd and not mercenary.


And holy though he was, and virtuous,

To sinners he was not impiteous,

Nor haughty in his speech, nor too divine,

But in all teaching prudent and benign.

To lead folk into Heaven but by stress

Of good example was his busyness.


But if some sinful one proved obstinate,

Be who it might, of high or low estate,

Him he reproved, and sharply, as I know.


There is nowhere a better priest, I trow.

He had no thirst for pomp or reverence,

Nor made himself a special, spiced conscience,

But Christ's own lore, and His apostles' twelve

He taught, but first he followed it himself.


May we so live.



What's new?


With the new year nearing, let’s talk about words of newness.


neophyte – a person who is new to a subject or activity; a beginner, a novice (also, a novice in a religious order, or a newly ordained priest)


The etymology is rather sweet, once you realize that the word originally meant “a new convert to a religion”. It literally means ‘newly planted’ (Greek neo- new + phytos planted).


Last spring, 12 climbers died and 84 reached the summit … Truth be told, climbing Everest has always been an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking and doubtless always will be, whether the people involved are Himalayan neophytes being guided up the peak or world-class mountaineers climbing with their peers

– Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster



     (of an author or other person): of recent times; modern; also, having a modern outlook

     (of beliefs, practices, or other things): modern, recent, new

Also used as a noun.


Please note that this is not necessarily complimentary. “Freq. with disparaging connotations,” says OED; “objectionably novel, ‘newfangled’.


One of the remarkable things about the modern age is the number of sensitive men who march forward determined to resynthesize all human experience and give to us a wholly new worldview. Such people sometimes have difficulty being heard, in which case they do not do too much mischief; sometimes they are heard, like Karl Marx, and there is hell to pay. These neoterics begin on the flat assumption that the philosophical patrimony of the Western world is useless, and square. God is dead! Nietzsche announced. God is dying! Mailer corrects him.

– Samuel S. Vaughan and William F. Buckley Jr., The Right Word


neophobia – fear or dislike of anything new or unfamiliar

[The term is often used for a condition familiar to parents: a child’s refusal to try a new food, particularly vegetables!]


Caution for the New-Year season: did you know that neophobia is hazardous to your health?


     Scientists find that neophobia, or fear of novelty, shortens lifespan, at least in lab rats. After testing the animals for neophobia (when plunked down in an "exploration arena" filled with a bowl, brick and other novel amusements, the scaredy-rats moved less than neophilic ones), [they] waited for the bodies to pile up.

     Neophobes were 60% more likely to die at any time than their novelty-loving brothers. The causes of death were tumors, primarily. But while neophiles survived their tumors for a while, neophobes quickly succumbed, apparently because neophobia keeps their cells awash in stress hormones. In people, too, neophobia seems to be marked by unhealthy levels of stress hormones.

– Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2003 (ellipses omitted)


     In a less enlightened time, kids who refused to eat their veggies were branded picky eaters. We now know that many of those youngsters suffer from something psychologists call neophobia, or the fear of new things. So instead of thrusting carrots at them or banishing them to bed without dinner, we turn the kitchen into a diner and cook separate meals for parents and kids. Or get takeout.

     This may keep peace at the table, but it doesn't solve the problem of getting the necessary nutrients into those growing neophobes – many of whom are still feasting on sugary holiday treats.

– Chicago Tribune, Dec. 27, 2007 (ellipses omitted; thanks go out to Kalleh for the quote)




Today’s term is very rare: under 20 “hits” as an English word, Google and Googlebooks. And every hit is a dictionary or the similar word-list. The term has never been spotted in actual usage, ‘in the wild’ as it were. (Hmmmmmmm: if it's never been used, is it truly a word, or just a case of dictionary-writers copying from each other?)


Nonetheless, even just the in-print sources manage to come up with be three different definitions. One of them pertains to New Year’s Day, so we’ll put the term under this theme. The three are:¹


1623: “a new yeeres gift”

1676: a gift presented at some solemn time; as New-years or the like.

1955: “a smiling word for a present a hostess gives her guest (as at a wedding or a party , or for knowing when to take leave).” [in other words, a goodie bag. – Wordcrafter]


Which is right? You pays your money, you takes your choice. OED ducks the matter, and just quotes the two definitions that predated OED. Personally, I go with the 1955 ‘goodie bag’ version, because it seems more consistent with the Greek roots of the term: apo- away + pherein to carry.


¹ The three sources are, in order, Cockeram’s Dictionary, Bullokar’s Dictionary, and Dictionary of Early English by Joseph T. Shipley. Complicating this even more, another published source has different definition for ‘apophoretum’: “a consecrated vessel for holding the relics of the saints” (Orby Shipley, Glossary of Ecclesiastical Terms (1872).


An adult animal may retain features which closely-related species grow out of, in juvenile stages or in embryo. (For example, while the big toe of most primates begins as ours but later moves to become opposable like the thumb, our toe retains the original form.) Or development may be completed at a much slower pace than in kindred species. (For example, at birth the human brain has achieved only 23% of its adult size, compared with 40.5% for a chimp and 65% for a rhesus monkey.)


neoteny1. the retention of juvenile features in an adult animal

2. sometimes used to mean: the characteristic of having a relatively long period of development

[from Greek for ‘holding the new’]


Among mammals, primates are highly neotenic; among primates, apes are highly neotenic; and among apes, humans are highly neotenic.


Man has absolutely the most protracted period of infancy, childhood and juvenility of all forms of life, i.e., he is a neotenous or long-growing animal. Nearly thirty percent of his entire life-span is devoted to growing.

– W. M. Krogman, Child Growth


The theory of human neoteny is .. I believe … an essential, if not dominant, theme in human evolution. … Compared with other primates, we grow and develop at a snail’s pace …

– Stephen J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin


The beasts and birds their common charge attend

The mothers nurse it, and the sires defend;

The young dismiss'd to wander earth and air,

There stops the instinct, and there ends the care; …

A longer care man’s helpless kind demands,

That longer care contracts more lasting bands …

– Alexander Pope


I’ll take today’s definition from Jonathan Bernstein’s Dictionary of British Slang, titled Knickers in a Twist.


HogmanayScotland's apocalyptic alcohol, violence, and fireworks-filled New Year's Eve celebration [accent on last syllable]


‘Ay, but I’m ma strong teetotaler,’ he said pugnaciously. `I took the pledge last Martinmas, and I havena touched a drop o' whisky sinsyne. No even at Hogmanay, though I was sair temptit.’

– John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps


Scottish cities hold enthusiastic Hogamanay revels. (U.S. readers may think of the huge annual New Year’s celebration in New York City, in Times Square.) At “Edinburgh's popular and raucous Hogmanay celebrations” (Guardian, Jan. 25, 2006), the crowd is – in proportion the size of the country – six times as big as New York’s.


We’ll end the year with an rare term with two meanings for the season. It comes from Manx, the Gaelic language of the Isle of Man. (For those unfamiliar, the Isle of Man is a small self-governing island, population about 75,000, in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain.) Manx became extinct in 1974 but is being revived.


1. qualtagh – the “first foot”; the first person to step into your home (or the first person you meet) on New Year’s Day (sometimes, the first met after leaving home on a special occasion)


The qualtagh indicates one’s fortune: a dark-haired male qualtagh is good luck; a red-head, a female, or a cat, bad luck; and a spaagagh (splay-footed) qualtagh terrible luck. (In other words, you do not want a flat-foot first-foot.) Some women would stay home until the qualtagh came, for fear of going out and meeting the wrong sort of qualtagh. Other parts of the British Isles also had “first foot” beliefs.


Who will be your ‘first foot’ this year, I wonder? It was John Storm last year, you remember, and being dark as a gipsy he made a perfect qualtagh.

– Hall Caine, The Christian, ch. X, as published in The Windsor Magazine Vol. V (1897)


OED quotes the following as late as 2000: “Some traditions have been maintained almost in their entirety. Most households would feel uneasy without a qualtagh, or ‘first-footer’.”


2. Qualtagh was also the name for a Christmas or New Year’s custom of going caroling door to door, singing for food or gifts. One such song, translated from Manx Gaelic, is our New Year’s wish to you.


A merry Christmas, and a happy new year,

Long life and health to all the household here.

Food and mirth to you dwelling together,

Peace and love between men and women;

Wealth and distinction, stock and store,

Plenty of potatoes, and herring galore.

Bread and cheese, butter and beef.

May death, when it comes, find you at your ease,

Happy as a mouse in a well-stocked barn,

Sleeping safely in bed at rest,

And by the flea’s tooth not distressed.


The best of years to you and to yours.