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March 2007 Archives

People You Know: deipnosophist, dandiprat, wowser, neophyte, war horse, dotard, leman

People you may know, chevalier d'industrie, femme fatale, enfant terrible, mouton enragι, bon vivant, ιminence grisι, idiot savant

Occupations Surviving as Surnames: chandler, cooper, webster, wainwright, granger, mercer, fletcher

Eponyms from Surnames from Occupations: mercerize, Fletcherize (stonking), Grangerize, lister (listerine), mesmerize, napier, Napier's Bones (Gunter's scale), bowdler (bowdlerize), shepardize


People You Know


This week we talk of types of people. We start with a term that calls up the pleasures of a truly excellent dinner: fine food, and fine conversation.

Now, one could argue that this term has never really been a real word-in-use, but rather just a curiosity so attractive that lovers of obscure words can't resist trotting it out in word-lists and the like. But let's not be critical. Even if there isn't such a word, there ought to be, and if others can enjoy it, so can we. Besides, it gives me the chance to share a truly awful pun in the 1966 quote.

deipnosophist – a person skilled in the art of dinner-table conversation
[From the Greek treatise Deipnosphistai, written almost 18 centuries ago, where philosophers converse at a banquet. The term has always been too rare for usage to provide a good sense of its meaning, but until about 1900 it seemed to refer to enjoyment of fine cuisine, rather than of the fine conversation with that cuisine. (see 1910 quote; also 2006 quote?)]


Moyle takes pleasure in his ability as a deipnosophist. Schmoozing is one of his talents. But there was pitifully little socializing potential in that little town …
– TAKE ONE, Spring, 2000

[TV] Panel Moderator John Charles Daly, of "What's My Line," was outraged one Sunday when a member of his varsity squad hailed him as a Deipnosophist. John's composure was restored, however, when he learned that the word refers to a man who is a master of dinner table conversation.
     And speaking of Mr. Daly, John Merrill asks if you've heard about the sad fate of the poor little cannibal maid? HER MODERATOR.
– Bennett Cerf, in Vidette-Messenger (
Valparaiso, IN), May 28, 1966

By Apicius, the original dinner deipnosophist, the main thing is to enjoy the meal, whatever you call it.
– The Times,
Aug. 6, 2006

His master-passion, as we have seen, was at the table, but as a corollary to his pleasures as a deipnosophist he was devoted to conversation.
– Alexander Meyrick Broadley, Doctor Johnson and Mrs. Thrale (1910)


dandiprat – (in sport or contempt) a little fellow
[dandy + brat]


"May I?" The man motioned to the chair. Kane turned sideways in his seat, adding vinegar to his tone. "I would prefer that you did not." The impudent dandiprat sat anyway. Kane grunted. Today's youth were devoid of respect for their elders.
– Sari Robins, One Wicked Night


wowser – an obnoxiously puritanical killjoy [but see below]
Let's provide a quote in long form, to give you the full flavor.


"Look, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Mother," Carol eventually said icily. "We have a right to worry about you. It's an unstable way to live – wandering around in that absurd motor home. What can people think?"
     You are incessantly telling me what to do and how to do it, Maxie thought, but did not say. Everyone … seem to admire her having the freedom and the nerve to take off on her own thought it sounded interesting and exciting. Everyone, that is, but Carol and her wowser of a husband, who felt that they had a position and an image to maintain that were somehow threatened by a sixty-two-year-old "vagrant" mother. If they had their way, she wouldn't even return to Alaska periodically but would live tidily tucked up in some health care facility for senior citizens – near them – where they could keep an eye on her instability – with a power of attorney over her bank account.
– Sue Henry, Dead North: An Alaska Mystery


The word has another meaning, which the dictionaries have not yet picked up:
wowser – something so excellent as to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing


… take care in selecting your mailing list and write one wowser of a letter.
– Joyce Lain Kennedy, Cover Letters for Dummies

Journalist Kurt Eichenwald is making news again with his Dec. 19, 2005, New York Times wowser about child pornography on the Internet
– Slate Magazine,
March 8, 2007


neophyte – a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief
[Greek neophutos 'newly planted'. can particularly mean a religious-order novice, or a newly ordained priest – a sense echoed in the second quote]


In her new book … she teaches her good friend and wine neophyte Peter Travers a few wine fundamentals – for example, how to order off a restaurant wine list without fear.
– CNN, Mar. 22, 2007

How do you know? … you are as ignorant of the matter as this cameo head … You have no right to preach to me; you neophyte, that have not passed the porch of life, and are absolutely unacquainted with its mysteries.
– Charlotte Brontλ, Jane Eyre


Today's term is the opposite of yesterday's 'neophyte'. The surprisingly few dictionaries that have it would lead you to think of it as "an experienced veteran," with positive connotations. But I see negative connotations too.

war horse – a respected veteran, reliable and competent – but uninspired and a little bit past his time [also used for things, such as a play or hymn]


… some of Captain America's values have gone by the wayside in today's generation of superhero. … "His values were kind of sidetracked by other heroes who kind of had a darker agenda," he said. "They sort of look at him as this old war horse. Someone they look up to, but whose values are now meaningless," said Mr. Kalet.
– Packet On-line News, Mar. 15, 2007

No disrespect to the thirty-seven year old war horse, but we must be honest. Oleg has been referred to as the most inimitably beatable heavyweight champ since Leon Spinks back in the 1970’s.
–, Mar. 7, 2007

[Chirac, stating that he will not seek a third term,] spent most of the address expressing remarkable emotion for a political war-horse who has cultivated the lofty, regal image of an elder statesman among Western leaders.
– Daily Mail (Charleston, WV), Mar. 12, 2007, from LA Times

[speaking of a theater drama] In England, it's a very well-known, tried-and-trusted war-horse. It worked there because we reinvented it for a contemporary audience.
–, NY,
Feb. 23, 2007


dotard – an old person, especially one who is weak or senile (in his dotage)
leman – (archaic) a lover or sweetheart


… Prof. Donald Trefusis, a raving old dotard of a philologist at Cambridge, who was invited to speak of modern times, of which he was entirely ignorant …
– CBS News, Jan. 15, 2007

Taxes, taxes, taxes so the old dotard may satisfy his leman, or satisfy his itch to rule France …
– Anya Seton and Philippa Gregory, Katherine



People you may know – French


Last week we talked about people you know. This week we'll look at terms that French has given us to name various sorts of people you might know.

chevalier d'industrie – one who lives by his wits, specially by swindling [lit. "knight of industry"]

Our second quote is of a chevalier d'industrie who worked on a grand scale: he cornered the market in dice.


… they took grand tours of their own, living by their wits and the gullibility of their victims. Having tramped around Europe with these chevaliers d'industrie in his youth, Rousseau in The Social Contract condemned the cosmopolitan …
– Robert Darnton, George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century

… in 16th-century London false dice could readily be obtained … . The labour of good professionals, though, was always at a premium. … Poor manufacture was easily detected. … shaved dice were "made always proportionable to the Impudence of the Operator; for you must know, there are some made so very strong, that you may discover them as soon as put upon the Table; a modest Man takes more Caution."
     One of the most impudent operators was an Italian advantage player named Pimentel, who enjoyed great success in France during the reign of Henry IV. The court was in the midst of a veritable gambling craze, and it was rumoured that Pimentel's good fortune was sanctioned at the highest level, the King believing that the impoverishment of his courtiers strengthened the monarchy. Pimentel managed to purchase the entire stock of dice in Paris, and he then had an accomplice provide a new shipment at unusually low prices. The merchants and eventually the gamesters who purchased the dice became unwitting accomplices of the Italian: they did not realise that every cube had been doctored to his specifications. There was scarcely a game in Paris that did not play into the hands of this chevalier d'industrie.
– Rosamund Purcell, The Secret Life of Dice, The Independent, (London),
Apr. 8, 2001


femme fatale – 1. a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations 2. an alluring, mysterious woman of charm and mystery
[French: woman + fatal, deadly]


Josie looked at the weeping, bedraggled woman. This was the femme fatale who wrecked two marriages and nearly sent an innocent woman to prison?
– Elaine Viets, High Heels are Murder: Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper


enfant terrible – one who is strikingly, shockingly unconventional (often, one who embarrasses or compromises his associates by being so; see last two quotes)
[French, "terrible child"]


Prokofiev … The enfant terrible whose iconoclastic creations had left audiences electrified and confused through the 1920s …
– Ted Libbey, The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection

Belgium's Prince Laurent, known as the enfant terrible of the royal family, is to marry … in April.
– BBC News, Dec. 19, 2002

Goldschmidt, as an enfant terrible, clearly enjoyed the fuss that he had engendered: "I certainly had struck a hornet's nest. … This time I was not only crazy but almost a criminal."
– Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory


Today's term, though very uncommon, would seem very useful. It's also a striking image, literally meaning 'rabid sheep'.

mouton enragι – a normally calm person who has suddenly become enraged or violent


Her mouton enragι of a discarded adorer.
– Times Lit. Suppl. Oct. 27, 1932 [credit OED for quote]

At the first signs of such oppositition … the whole flock of party sheep will be in full cry upon our track. The ferocity of the mouton enragι is proverbial; and we shall be treated to the same rancor, spleen, and bile …
– George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wilshire, Fabian Essays in Socialism


bon vivant – a person indulging in a sociable and luxurious lifestyle, especially one who enjoys superb food and drink
[French; literally,'good liver']


The excellence of the food explained the crowed room …. The owner was a bon vivant, greeting favored customers, guiding them to their places with Old World hospitality. Snappy dresser, too, Kelly saw …
– Tom Clancy, Without Remorse

… the new pope [Leo X, 1513-1521] was a hedonist. … All the care of Lorenzo the Magnificent for the education and advancement of the cleverest of his sons had produced a cultivated bon vivant devoted to fostering art and culture and the gratification of his tastes, with as little concern for cost as if the source of funds were some self-filling magic cornucopia.
– Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly: From Troy to


ιminence grisι – 1. an adviser or decision-maker (often secret) with great power beyond any official status; one who wields real though not titular control; a "power behind the throne" 2. a respected elder statesman

[French for 'gray (shadowy) power'. Originally applied to Pθre Joseph (1577-1638), confidential agent of Cardinal Richelieu, who wore a grey cloak over his monk habit (contrast the red robes of the Cardinal, ιminence rouge). I suspect that the "elder statesman" sense evolved from a misunderstanding of what was meant by 'gray'.]


After describing me as difficult to get along with, mercurial, impulsive, manipulated by an "eminence grise" – meaning Warren – Time concluded by acknowledging, "Whatever the problems, Graham's company will show record profits and record revenues."
– Katharine Graham, Personal History. [Graham's wikipedia article says she "cultivated Warren Buffett for his financial advice; he became ... something of an eminence grise in the company."]

So in writing this book I must acknowledge a great debt to the wisdom and experience of my 70-year-old grant review chairman, James Birren, ιminence grisι of the science of gerontology.
– George E. Vaillant, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life


idiot savant – a mentally handicapped person who displays brilliance in a specific area, especially one involving memory
[French, 'knowledgeable idiot']

So say the dictionaries. An example would be a person who, though profoundly retarded, can play any piece on the piano upon hearing it once. But in practice the term is extended to less extreme cases: a normal (not idiotic) person with a notable (though not necessarily mind-boggling) talent in one area. See last quote.


He attended … [s]chool meant for the mentally challenged and slow-learning children. … [but] Pandu still acquires an extraordinary memory. He has a rare gift known as "idiot savant" … If you give him any date, past or future, Pandu would immediately tell you what day of the week it is. He also can memorize train and flight schedules. His other hobby is to remember telephone numbers from the directory.
–, India, Mar. 28, 2007

he could handle it the way certain idiots savants can multiply and divide seven-digit numbers in their heads.
– Stephen King, The Stand

Chris Rock is a comedy idiot savant: brilliant at stand-up; really, really bad at everything else.
– Santa Fe Reporter,
Mar. 14, 2007




Occupations Surviving as Surnames


When people first took surnames, many used the name of their occupation. Thus Tom the miller, John the baker, and William the smith might become known as Tom Miller, John Baker, and William Smith. When we see those surnames today, we recognize them as occupational names.

Many names come similarly from occupations that have long since been forgotten. This week we'll recall some now-forgotten occupations, in Merrie Olde England, that survive as familiar surnames. We'll start with one which, though previously presented here, allows us to present one of last week's words.

chandler – (orig.) a candle-maker or candle-seller; also, a retailer of specified goods or lines [typ. nautical]; also (chiefly Brit.), a small shopkeeper selling provisions, groceries, etc.


Beneath canvas shades, a blacksmith pounded metal into hooks; a chandler dipped string into molten beeswax; a woodcarver explained the symbolism of a spoon he had been working on for years.
– Charlotte Sun-Herald, FL, Mar. 4, 2007

Steve, who revels in his enfant terrible persona of the chandlery world, is never happier than when he is making waves - in one of the many dinghy classes he sails or when challenging the big boys of the chandlery business.
– Sail World, Australia,
Feb. 28, 2007


cooper – a barrel-maker or barrel-repairer


He saw Adair, the cooper, flirting with a woman who was not his wife, saw young Muggins slip quietly into the shadows with the blacksmith's daughter.
– Amanda Ashley, in Midnight Pleasures


webster – a weaver
[the root means "web", a nice image. I quote the Scottish version of the word]


What drew artisans to New York was the ood pay they could expect after they had served their terms [of indenture]. In "York city," James Murray wrote home in 1737, "a Wabster gets 12 Pence a Yeard, a Labourer gets 4 Shillings and 5 Pence a Day …
– Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898


wainwright – a wagon-maker


Mr. and Mrs. Thompson tried to engage Mr. Helton in conversation, but it was a failure. They tried first the weather, and

"Maupoissat?" one of the assassins … piped in.
"You know the name?"
"Nearly a decade ago, we killed a wainwright by that name," the man admitted, "a wagon maker and his wife. And we were paid handsomely for the task, I must say."
– R. A. Salvatore, The Cleric Quintet


granger – a farmer

then the crops, and then the cows, but Mr. Helton simply did not reply. Mr. Thompson then told … about some of the other old grangers at the hotel, friends of his, giving beer to a goat, and the goat's subsequent behavior. Mr. Helton did not seem to hear.
– Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider

We're already part granger now with all the hay we cut and stack.
– Janet Dailey, Stands A Calder Man


mercer – a cloth merchant


Fawkener was ten years older than he and came from the same class; his father was a mercer, as Voltaire's grandfather had been, and his grandfather a druggist.
– Nancy Mitford, Voltaire in Love


fletcher – one who makes arrows


Kingmaker is a similar set-up at the castle, where children can watch the fletcher construct traditional bows and arrows.
– The Independent,
Dec. 15, 2001



Eponyms from Surnames from Occupations


Last week we've seen how an occupation can become a surname. In previous "eponyms" themes we've seen how a person's surname can become a new word.

So in theory a word could combine both steps: a profession becomes a surname, and then a person of that surname gives rise to an eponym. In fact, it's happened surprising often, and this week we'll look at eponyms of that sort.

Our first eponym comes from a Mr. Mercer. A mercer is a cloth merchant, as we saw last week, and by odd coincidence Mr. Mercer's eponym relates to the textile industry.

mercerize – to treat cotton thread with lye, so as to increase its strength, luster and affinity for dye
[after John Mercer (1791–1866), British calico printer]


… if you want something with a bit of sheen, look for cotton that has been mercerized. I don't know who Mercer was, but he figured out a dandy way to dip cotton into a bath of lye and make it emerge happy and shiny (I wouldn't but then again, I'm not cotton). Mercerized cotton is strong and slippery and smooth, it can even resemble silk in its sleekness.
– Debbie Stoller, Stitch 'N Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker


We've seen fletcher, an arrowmaker. Today's fletcher-eponym is suitable for figurative use, as in the last quote.

Fletcherize – to masticate [chew] one's food slowly and thoroughly
[American health-food fadist Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) advocated a mimimum of 32 chews: "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate." Disciples of "the Great Masticator" included John D. Rockfeller, Henry James, Thomas Edison and John Harvey Kellogg (as in Kellogg cereals).]


A stonking meal in a stonking restaurant. But alas, Sue and I are being taught the chew-chew diet, or Fletcherism, … which compelled diners to bow their heads and chew each mouthful for one minute, until it had liquefied and could be simply absorbed by the mouth.
– Times Online, Apr. 12, 2007

… thousands of people in the United States and Europe engaged enthusiastically in the practice in the 1890s, and mothers dutifully exhorted their children to "fletcherize" every bite on their plates.
– Bruce Felton, What Were They Thinking?: Really Bad Ideas Throughout History

… one still hears how if women were allowed to vote, only the bad ones would avail themselves of the privilege. This is absolutely the reverse of truth. … the educated womenn vote, and the others do not. … Also fletcherize on this: Judge Ben B. Lindsey, the creator of the Juvenile Court in
America, … was elected by a very safe plurality of women. Why? … Women are mothers – actual, vicarious or potential. Ben Lindsey is the friend of the children.
– Fra Elbert Hubbard, The American Bible (Elbert Hubbard's Selected Writings, Part 12)


Bonus word:
– Brit., colloquial: excellent, amazing; considerable, powerful
[from military slang: stonk – to bombard with concentrated artillery fire]


We've seen granger meaning 'a farmer'.

In 1769 James Granger published a history of
England, with blank leaves in which the buyer could place his own illustrations of the text. The filling up of a ‘Granger’ became a favorite hobby, and afterwards other books were treated in the same manner. Apparently this became something of a fad in the 1880s, annoying those who faced the books denuded by the vandal's knife. The words Grangerize, Grangerism and Grangerite suddenly popped into the language, only to virtually disappear a few years later.

Grangerize – to illustrate (a book) by adding prints, etc., especially ones cut out of other books


Marcus Varro went up and down
The places where old books were sold;
He ransacked all the shops in town
For pictures new and pictures old.
He gave the folk of earth no peace;
Snooping around by day and night,
He plied the trade in
Rome and Greece
Of an insatiate Grangerite.

"Pictures!" was evermore his cry –
"Pictures of old or recent date,"
And pictures only would he buy
Wherewith to "extra-illustrate."
Full many a tome of ancient type
And many a manuscript he took,
For nary purpose but to swipe
Their pictures for some other book.

– Eugene Field, The Love Affairs of Marcus Varro (For the rest of the poem, see our board.)


The occupation: lister – a dyer

The person: Joseph Lister (1827-1912), English physician who revolutionized surgery by performing the first ever antiseptic surgery in 1865. He objected in vain to the use of his name for the product noted below.

The eponym: listerine – an antiseptic solution
Originally formulated as a surgical antiseptic; today, used as a mouthwash. We illustrate both usages.


In those days carbolic acid was scarcely understood, iodoform did not exist, listerine was yet to be discovered, and A physician would sooner have beheaded a patient than have bandaged a wound and left it untouched for days depending on nature and bichloride of mercury to heal it.
– New York Times,
Apr. 16, 1898, regarding the US Civil War.

Before you give a kid Listerine, make sure that he knows not to swallow it.
– Jack Canfield et al., Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul


The occupation: messner – South German occupational name for a sexton, churchwarden, or verger. (The double s is from association with Messe 'Mass'.) Alternate spelling Mesmer.

The person: Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), Austrian physician who developed a theory of animal magnetism and a mysterious body fluid which allows one person to hypnotize another.

The eponym: mesmerize – 1. to spellbind; enthrall 2. to hypnotize


But that night, I was mesmerized. This world was where I belonged. On that night I had started on my way to become a Harlemite. I was going to become one of the most depraved parasitical hustlers among New York's eight million people – four million of whom work, and the other four million of whom live off them.
– Attallah Shabazz, Alex Haley, and Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Frolicking in the wildflowers just ain't Texan, it would seem. Yet at this time of year, tens of thousands of men, women and children head to the central hills to linger, lounge and lollygag amid the bluebonnets. … With petals that legend says resemble the hats of pioneer women, the boot-high bluebonnet can mesmerize the toughest of big folk in
Texas. … Yes, the flower is even named "texensis."
Chicago Tribune, Apr. 12, 2007


napier – a maker or seller of table linen; the servant in charge of the linen a great house

Napier's Bones – a set of graduated rods used to perform multiplication quickly. It was an early calculator. See here.
[After John Napier (1550-1617), Scottish mathematician who invented logarithms and introduced the use of the decimal point. Napier published his invention under the title Rabdologiζ (Greek rabdos rod + logos word). Hence the art of performing arithmetic with Napier's bones is called rabdology or rhabdology.]


He was enchanted, and he would have gone on for ever, if I had not mentioned Napier's bones, Gunter's scales – the applied mathematics of navigation – lunars – the necessary tables.
– Patrick O'Brian, H.M.S. Surprise


Bonus Word:
Gunter's scale
– a wooden rule, marked with scales of trigonometric functions and logarithms, to solve mechanically problems in surveying and navigation [invented by the Rev. Edmund Gunter (1581-1626), prof. of astronomy, Gresham College, London]


bowdler – a worker in iron ore

Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825) published an expurgated Shakesreare edition "in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family."

bowdlerize – to expurgate prudishly, by deleting or editing matter deemed indelicate


I am addressing parents who, in numerous locales, have demanded the removal of Huckleberry Finn from syllabi solely on the basis of the presence of the N-word -- without having read the novel itself … . I am addressing eradicationists who, on grounds of racial indecency, presmumably want to bowdlerize or censor such poems as Carl Sandburg's "Nigger Lover," stories such as Theodore Dreiser's "Nigger Jeff," Claude McKay's "Nigger Lover," … [etc.]
– Randall Kennedy, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word

[Interesting insertion of the word presumably.]


The reader who provided today's word assures me that though it is not in any dictionary, it is well-known to any US-trained lawyer. It is part of elementary training in legal research.

A lawyer, writing a brief, is about to cite a court case. How embarrassing would it be if he cites and relies on a case that was later overruled! To be certain, he needs some resource which, for any case, gives him a list of all later court decisions that cite it. (That may also lead him to cases that agree with the legal point but state it more convincingly.)

Legal publishers have put out that resource, titled Shepard's Citations, in book form with frequent supplements. Lawyers routinely check their cites this way, and it would be sloppy practice not to check. That checking has come to be called shepardizing (even though it can now be done with various net-sources, rather that by Shepard's paper-volumes).

shepardize – to update a legal citation by finding later cases that cite that same citation


[Judge] Jahnke told all parties he would research the issue – "Shepardize these citations," and issue his decision in a memo.
– Grand Forks (ND) Herald,
Mar. 4, 2007

If you have made a mistake, own up to it. If you forgot to shepadize a case and a partner asks you about it, come clean rather than fudge your answer. We all goofed at one time or another …
– Summer Associates (Supplement to The Legal Intelligencer and Pensylvania Law Weekly), June 2005