Where to start? One could argue that indecision is itself a decision, in which case abulia, a state of pathological indecisiveness, might be logically impossible. So I had my doubts, but that thought was enough to persuade me to include the word…
Paul Klee is the art master of arrows. These variable pointers form a tentative balance in ‘Schwankendes Gleichgewicht’ (Unstable Equilibrium), 1922.
Cornflowers sound as if they are named to be agrestal. But couldn’t the word apply usefully to many people, those who go a little feral as they chafe against the restrictions of their conventional settings?
Agrestal: growing wild in a cultivated field
‘Will you marry me, Jason?’
‘The sleek Triumph Amourette Range combines elegance with sophistication to create a must have for every woman's lingerie drawer’ – but not for long, I suppose, for ‘amourette’ is defined as a trifling and ephemeral love affair.
To take a notorious example of amourette action, in 2004, Britney Spears and Jason Alexander - apparently in a state of some intoxication - were married at her instigation. It lasted 55 hours before being annulled on the grounds that Spears ‘lacked understanding of her actions, to the extent that she was incapable of agreeing to the marriage.' Of the various models in Amourette adverts, I’ve chosen the one who looks most like Britney. She’s wearing a 10166797 Triumph Amourette 300 W Bra. It sounds too good to be so short-lived: according to Swiss manufacturer Triumph International the bra offers ‘a comfortable and contemporary fit and feel, paired with chic and intricate, feminine styling… The soft semi-sheer lace is both attractive and comfortable. The stunning neckline flatters and accentuates your curves for a delicate everyday lingerie look’.
That sleep is actually of two types. 75% is a shallow, almost-waking rest called slow-wave sleep (SWS). Cats doze in a kind of ready position during 15-30 minute catnaps, their senses of smell and hearing in the ‘on’ mode, ready to react instantly. Only 25% is deep REM-reaching sleep, in small periods broken up by dozing. Oh yes… apricate: to sunbathe or bask in the sunshine.
Has the time for the return of the aventail, out of fashion for 600 years? It does, after all, cover pretty much the negative of a medical mask: what better to celebrate on the catwalk when and if we get clear of using those?
An aventail is a flexible curtain of mail attached to the skull of a helmet that extends to cover the throat, neck and shoulders. Aventails were most commonly seen on bascinets in the 14th century and served as a replacement for a complete mail hood. By the dawn of the 15th century, the plate-armoured neck guard of the Great Bascinet replaced the aventail.
This is what ratites (qv) lack. In most birds, the larger feathers consist of a shaft (rachis) bearing branches (barbs) which bear smaller branches (barbules). The smaller branches themselves bear tiny hook-bearing barbicels, which interlock with the barbules of an adjacent barb. Down has no barbicels, resulting in fluffy feathers which provide insulation. But in flightless birds the wing feathers have also evolved to be fluffy and ornate rather than tightly interlocking to support flight. That, in turn, is the basis for the commercial appeal of ostrich feathers… It does mean, though, that even if ostriches had the wing span needed to enable them to fly – probably up to ten metres rather than the two metres they currently sport – and the ability to flap them adequately, they still couldn’t fly. No wonder they gave up.
Wd we stell enderstend eech ether ef the enly vewel were ‘e’? Eesy-peesy, es es here beteemed.
My guess is that the only word people might have trouble with above is one in which no substitute ‘e’s are involved: 'to beteem' is to accord / vouchsafe / allow.
‘Before and after’ shots of blepharoplasty – surgical repair of eyelids – tend to be whole face comparisons. I rather like comparing the same eye before and after, but with the ‘after’ shot flipped to make a reasonably coherent face that has a comparison built in. Of course, it looks a bit odd, but that’s plastic surgery for you!
Breviloquence: brevity of speech. The image shows South Korean actor So Ji-sub, who has gained a reputation for short speeches at award ceremonies - he has only ever used the two words: ‘thank you’. I say two words: some might argue it is just the one. Properly speaking, though, ‘thank you’ as a verb phrase is two words, and ‘thankyou’ is either an adjective (‘a thankyou note’ or a noun ‘he sent the flowers as a thankyou’.
I’ve had one, but without the language to call it anything more specific than a blister. Actually, though, a vesicle is a circumscribed elevation of skin of 0.5 cm or more in diameter containing a liquid, and a bulla is the same thing but over 0.5cm – it’s just a size thing. Maybe I've only had vesicles. As for what the illustration shows, it depends I guess on how big your screen is. Either way, this is a modest example: it's easy enough to find some extreme skins problems online.
When I came across ‘calescent’ in Claire-Louise Bennett’s 2021 novel ‘checkout 19’, I didn’t know it. But I predict the word will take off, describing as it most economically does the condition of the world during global warming.
Calescent: increasing in heat. The picture shows a geothermal power plant in Iceland : a more benign form of calesence – indeed, a sustainable source of energy, the maximisation of which could help to offset temperature rises.
There does seem to be a shared spirit between children and birds, so it’s nice to find a word that makes the connection.
Chirm (noun): a din, especially from (a) the blended singing of many birds or (b) the noise of many children chattering (OED).
The Earth travels
The Earth travelsabout 584m miles (940m km) per year in circling the sun. That's about 1.6m miles per day, or 66,627 mph. Circumsolar is a rather unusual unusual word, in that it's easy to work out what it means - yet I hadn't seen it used before...
This item of furniture does what its etymology implies: a portmanteau of ‘chiffonier’ (a moveable low cupboard with a sideboard top) and ‘wardrobe’. I favour this image because the leafy plant atop the chifforobe looks like a candidate for making a chiffonade (finely shredded greens, often as a garnish for soup), which might indeed be what the smaller pot contains if we press further into fantasy. So that’s three consecutive words in the Oxford English Dictionary ticked off: chiffonier – chiffonade – chifforobe! It would be nice to move on to the next: 'chignon' is another nice word (for a mass of hair worm at the back of the head) but I’m not sure how to tie it in…
A flat, usually earthenware, container for liquids with loops through which a belt or cord may be passed for easy carrying.
This attractively buttery mammiform example is from the Salisbury Museum: I came across the word there, rather than via a dictionary flick-through. It was found in 1953 but is undated: being from the local Verwood Pottery makes it likely to be 19th century.
Does the availability of a word affect what you look at? I think it can. I don't recall ever taking much notice of the jointed stems of grasses and sedges, but now that I know that such a stem is one of the meanings of ‘culm’…
The photograph is of the jointed goatgrass (Aegilops cylindrica), which must be the essence of culm.
It might be just a missing 's' slip, but when I saw 'customiable', my new word antennae were alerted. However, I can find no evidence that it exists. The word's chances of entering the lexicon are probably slim: 'customisable' and 'bespoke' cover the territory adequately. Besides, if it does become a word, it will lose what I like about it: that it could be the result of treating 'customisable' as customisable...
Not an Internet search image in this case, but my snap from an escalator passing over the Yi Fang drinks counter in Bond Street underground’s shopping centre.
A rather attractive and potentially useful term for us Earth-dwellers, first used over 200 years ago by the Irish poet and satirist Eaton Barrett (1786–1820), but yet to catch on much - the oddly diminutive ‘earthling’ is heard more often.
The illustration is of Yinka Shonibare MBE’s ‘The Townley Venus’, 2017, typical of the Anglo-Nigerian artist’s work in wrapping a figure in patterns associated with African fabrics and replacing its head with a globe to indicate a whole world rather than Eurocentric approach. Perhaps there’s something there of how an earthite, rather than a citizen of any particular nation, ought to look.
‘Echor’ means ‘encircling mountains’, a setting deserving of its own word. Whether it can count as an English usage is debatable, however. It is originally – maybe only – in Sindarin, the language of the Sindar, the Elves of Teleri lineage who chose to stay behind during the Great Journey to Aman before the First Age – as imagined in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.
If we allow the word, then the image shows what may be Europe’s finest echor-location. Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, is on a lake surrounded by nine mountains (though it’s known as 'the city between the seven mountains', channelling the good fortune associated with seven as a number, but leaving it unclear which are the seven mountains in question).
One of the commoner words I found I didn’t know has been hiding in plain sight for many years as the name of tennis star Chris Evert: its several meanings include to turn a structure outwards. Something often turned the wrong way out is the toilet roll (in case you’re in any doubt, the patent drawing submitted by Seth Wheeler of Albany, New York from 1891 shows the correct alignment). All of which leaves the one matter for investigation: does Evert evert her toilet rolls?
Can cows eat fog? Apparently so, fog being the term for long grass and other plants left standing in a pasture for winter grazing.
The less familiar word ‘Foggage’ is defined as ‘the right to pasture cattle on fog’. As a winter feeding system, foggage is becoming recognised as having environmental benefits compared with using silage.
Seaweed is on the up as a food, though it remains rare as clothing outside of the mermaid community. The main point to make about the 12,000 known species is that, despite relying on photosynthesis, they are algae not plants. Consequently, they have no leaves, stems, or roots to transport water or nutrients: rather, each cell develops what it needs directly from the seawater around it. Nutrition aside, algae – covering plankton as well – produces a majority of the world’s oxygen supplies. What, the fucoid? Yes, we should be grateful...
Fucoid – having the qualities of seaweed
If dumbbells aren’t quite enough for you, allow me to recommend a gabion basket. Perhaps you could fill one with dumbbells, though I can find no photographic evidence that anyone has done that yet.
A gabion (from Italian gabbione, ‘big cage’) is a cage, cylinder or box filled with rocks, concrete, rubble or sometimes sand and soil for use in civil engineering, road building, landscaping and military applications. I rather like, in passing, the American term for rubble: ‘riprap’.
Glabella — the flat area of bone between the eyebrows - a term I can find used only in the cosmetic surgery industry.
This turns out to be just one of many attractively-named medieval weapons based on the principle of fixing something heavy or sharp to the end of a pole, the better to apply enough force from a reasonably safe distance to trouble an armoured foe on horseback – something you couldn’t do with a straightforward sword or axe. Telling polearms one from another is a somewhat specialist task, but maybe there’s potential to play all these shapes into a cutting edge design of wallpaper or clothing…
No less a source than The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook (Revised) defines seven main classes of weapon, which I summarise as follows:
Bardiche: an elongated battle axe.
Bec de corbin: has a pick or beak is to punch through plate, a hammer side and a short blade to finish things off.
Fauchard: a long, inward curving blade mounted on a shaft
Glaive: simply a single-edged blade mounted on a shaft.
Guisarme: an elaborately curved heavy blade, probably originating from peasants putting a pruning hook onto a spear shaft.
Glaive-guisarme: adds a hook to the back of the glaive’s blade.
Halberd: a combination weapon of large, angled axe blade tapering to a long spear point or awl pike, with a hook on the back for attacking armor or dismounting riders.
What is the hexaplanation for this? A hexapla is a sixfold text in parallel columns, most often used to show alternate translations of the bible. These columns are in the Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri in Columbia – they are the only remaining part of an Academic Hall that burned down in 1892. So the hexapla nation in question is the United States.
What can I buy with this? Something, surely? It’s a hiaqua - a necklace of large dentalium shells, formerly used as money by natives of the North Pacific coasts of America.
In this late 19th century necklace, columns of dentalium shells alternate with colourful beads and buffalo hide spacers. Dentalium is a large genus of tooth shells or tusk shells, marine scaphopod molluscs in the family Dentaliidae. Peoples of the Northwest Pacific Coast would trade dentalium into the Great Plains, Great Basin, Central Canada, Northern Plateau and Alaska for other items including many foods, decorative materials, dyes, hides, macaw feathers from Central America, and turquoise from the American Southwest.
I admit it: I’m in the recalcitrant 65% of men over-60 who don’t use a facial moisturising product, as opposed to the 65% of men in their 20’s and 30’s who do. The trend is clear, and I guess women are pushing towards 100%. What am I missing out on? Humectation would:
· - Help keep my skin hydrated and refreshed
· - Put less pressure on my glands to keep my skin healthy
· - Improve my skin’s chemical balance, reducing the chances of redness or acne
· - Give my face a firmer look, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
All this for an investment of two minutes a day. Maybe I’ll persuade myself yet…
Humectation - the action of moistening / condition of being moist
The only way is up... At the more erudite margins of the adult film genre – a friend of mine was telling me – those due to receive don’t gasp excitedly ‘You’re so hard!’ but ‘You’re hyperaemic! Your corpora cavernosa must be unusually full!’
Hyperaemia: the presence of more than the normal amount of blood in a part of the body. Corpora cavernosa: the two masses of erectile tissue forming the bulk of the penis (and the clitoris)
God is the exemplar of innascibility - and, one could argue, the only such being. But one can look at the term more broadly. It is often said that entrepreneurs / geniuses / criminals / champions etc (insert to taste) are not born but made. George Bernard Shaw even claimed that ‘Kings are not born: they are made by artificial hallucination’, though if there’s any role in life for which birth seems pivotal, it’s that of monarch. Moreover, ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’, according to Simone de Beauvoir. She may not have had physical transitioning between sexes in mind, but there’s that too…
Innascibility: the attribute of being independent of birth. Image from a website tracking ‘before’ and ‘after’ male to female transitions.
When Jackson Pollock worked primarily in brown, which wasn’t so often, the word ‘jaup’ might suit: ‘
Number 13A: Arabesque’, 1948
‘Faith’, ‘Frank’ and ‘Fern’ are effing obvious enough, but one of the more obscure cases in which a common name also has a meaning is 'Jill'. ‘To jill’ is to move a boat idly around. Online jilling led me to this Baltic screenshot from a site displaying current marine traffic based on AIS (Automated Information System) data. The symbol colours indicates ship types, e.g. passenger vessels are blue, cargo vessels green, tankers red. They’re probably not jilling, but those that are could be represented similarly.
Kakistocracy, from the Greek words, ‘kakistos’ (worst) and ‘kratos’ (rule) is government by the worst people. Perhaps TIME magazine was commenting on its ubiquity and common characteristics when producing this 2018 cover image of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin merging into each other.
Who’s the most famous person in the history of the world? Almost certainly Jesus, and his image - known from through many paintings - is kenspeckle to match. Oddly, though, there is little evidence of what he really looked like. If Jesus were to return, it’s perfectly possible that he wouldn’t be widely recognised.
Kenspeckle (adjective): easily recognizable; conspicuous. The illustrations are first, the classic western art representation of Jesus, in this case from a copy of da Vinci's The Last Supper attributed to Giapietrino and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio in 1515-20. And, second, a computerised reconstruction of Jesus's likely appearance as informed by British forensic experts and Israeli archaeologists' analysis of evidence including Semite skulls.
Whether or not you have a passion for tweed, lovat is as close to love as you can get, at least in a dictionary.
Liger / tigon
Their ranges don’t overlap, so there’s no chance in the wild of lions mating with tigers. Yet it can be brought about in captivity. You might expect a liger (offspring of a lion and tigress) to be rather similar to a tigon (offspring of a tiger and a lioness), but it’s not entirely so. The tigon is smaller than the liger, because female lions are quite a bit smaller than female tigers, even though male lions are of similar size to male tigers. To put it another way, male lions are up to 35% heavier than females, whereas male tigers are only 15% bigger than females.
To lignify is to make or become woody. Sean Landers illustrates that wittily through his alter ego character ‘Plank Boy’ – painted to resemble woodgrain, sometimes sculpted in bronze with the same surface effect, but never I think actually made of wood. Here's he caught in what could be the self-faking process...
The illustration is Sean Landers: ‘Plank Boy (Pygmalion)’, 2019 - Oil on linen, 210 x 150 cm
Pass the salt… This – landed in half an hour with rod and reel 10 miles off the Norwegian island of Soroya in 2013 – is the biggest cod ever caught: 47 kilograms and almost as long as its captor, German fisherman Michael Eisele. That would do 200 normal portions of fish and chips, making it a definite lunker.
Lunker: exceptionally large example of animal species, especially fish
An obvious word, with a little thought, but a nice one. And what could be less like the moon, lunularity apart, than a red hot chilli pepper? Is that, by the way, a red-hot chilli-pepper, or a red hot-chilli pepper? Either way, most peppers range from 100 (a sweet bell pepper) to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units, but exceptional levels of up to 3,000,000 SHUs are possible. A pepper spray for defence purposes is likely to be 2,000,000 SHUs+. Figures aren't available for the moon, but few cheeses have any SHUs at all.
Mease is a rare enough word that an image search throws it up primarily as an American surname, mostly borne by long-haired women and bearded men. Here are Kurt, Alma, Philip, Tonya; Dailisa, Paul, Leslie, Edward; Jon, Sarah, Darrell, Julie; Jessica, Quentin, Anna and John Mease. Names apart, a mease is a unit of 500 herrings, though I saw no evidence of fishmongery in what information the net provides on this not-all-that-measly sample – albeit, if they were herrings, the 16 of them would make up only 3% of a mease.
‘Mirlygoes’ is one of the many rare words of Scots origin used by Hugh MacDiarmid in the long poem ‘A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle’ (1926). Lines 2,371-2,376 (!) read:And let me pit in guid set terms
My quarrel wi' th' owre sonsy rose,
That roond about its devotees
A fair fat cast o' aureole throws
That blinds them in its mirlygoes,
To the necessity o' foes.
That takes something like the view that the English bathe so contentedly in a circle of their own light that its dizzying effect stops them seeing that they will always have enemies. Accordingly, I searched for ‘dizzy thistle’ and came up with the ‘Dizzy Thistle Dress’ made by Rodebjer. Absolutely the garment to wear while reading MacDairmid’s epic: I guess the book is in the handbag, though I worried a little that the bag, and hence the book inside it, seems to have been stolen after the first shot.
Mirlygoes - dizzyness
It must be the dream of every dictator: if only they could control memories reliably, suppressing the real and inserting the false to achieve a seamless influence beyond the practical scope of cruder weapons such as censorship and repression…
The narwhal is generally cited as the obvious example of a one-toothed animal, but I’m not so sure. True, they are known for the single sword-like spiral tusk, a dental development which protrudes from their heads. Yet consider: both males and females are born with two small teeth embedded in their skulls, not one. Only in males does the front left tooth normally grow into a spiral tusk up to 10 feet long, so the description does little for the vast majority of females, though 3% of them do develop a (small) tusk. Moreover, 1 in 500 males develop a second tusk from the other tooth. Monodonts? It seems a superficial claim.
The somewhat archaic ‘mumchance’ indicates a person who has nothing to say – or at any rate is silent. It’s also the title of this painting by Aaron Smith, who describes his work as ‘the belle époque on acid’. The matchingly-bewhiskered American artist collects photographs of Victorian and Edwardian era men, attracted to their combination of spectacularly bearded faces and distinguished attire with stiff poses and serious expressions that ‘belie an existential vulnerability’. According to Smith’s website his work ‘has found support from a convergence of interrelated subcultures including Neo-Dandyism and Bear Culture, as well as Beard and Mustache Enthusiasts. The artist shares a desire to revel in the exaggeration of masculinity's archetypes, mining past forms of male identity in an attempt to free them of any heteronormative constraints’. The subject may be dumb, then, but his depiction does say something.
Aaron Smith: ‘Mumchance’, 2013 – oil on panel, 40 x 36 inches
Hindu tradition dictates that on the wedding night, the bride wears a nose chain – or nath – which is hooked by a chain to either the earring or hair. That brings good fortune by showing respect and devotion to Parvati, considered the Goddess of marriage. Maharashtra women have traditionally tended to wear the most elaborate naths, normally on the left side of the nose. The word hasn’t reached the OED yet, but it does include ‘nathless’, which doesn’t mean ‘lacking a nose ring’ but something similar to ‘nevertheless’.
‘Where can we live but days?’ asked Philip Larkin, rather famously. One answer would be ‘nychthemerons’. Not so quite catchy, I grant, which may be why we still use the ambiguous ‘day’ to refer to a 24 hour period, when we mean a day and night, say 08.00 on Tuesday to 08.00 on Wednesday.
The photos are the maximal light contrast points of a nychthemeron, as seen in Singapore, the latter taken during the 15-minute laser show that lights up the unique ship-like rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel every evening. The 5-star hotel has 2,500 rooms, a shopping mall with faux-canals and Italian gondola rides, Singapore’s largest ice-skating rink, two nightclubs, a host of restaurants, and one of the world’s most expensive casinos. The most striking feature, though, is what looks like a cruise ship balancing precariously across the top of the three towers: it’s a 340m long sky park, holding a 150 m ‘infinity swimming pool’.
Oliprance precedes precipitation? Ostentation's anterior to a descent? It’s hard not to feel pleased with oneself for having so many words on tap, but maybe I should stick to pride, coming before a fall.
An online search will indicate that there are far more images of women looking in mirrors than of men doing the same. And that the women tend to be sitting, the men standing - often while fiddling with ties. The stereotyping implication is that a man might be expected to ask ‘what does this look like?’ but not ‘what do I look like?’. ‘Oliprance’ is pride or vanity, according to the OED.
Omnivert / Ambivert
Oscular: pertaining to kissing
One of history’s best-known – and most value-generative – signatures is that of Pablo Picasso. The question is: does the underline count as a paraph, or is the term reserved for more elaborate squiggles? The underline itself exploits the absence of a lower-case g,j,p,q or y in Picasso’s name – not a particularly rare feature, though Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Paul Klee - to take three of the 20th century’s other greatest artists - didn’t exploit that shared lexicological characteristic in a comparable way.
Paraph: a flourish after a signature
Alan Partridge may be the only comedian with a word in waiting should he be murdered for real, rather than just dying on the stage. More seriously, though, what are the ethics of shooting partridge, now that foxes are protected? According to the League Against Cruel Sports, over 50m game birds are released annually in the UK, many of them imported from intensive rearing abroad, with no welfare standards applied to how they are raised or transported. And then up to 40% are wounded, rather than killed outright: many are then left to die slowly when they are not retrieved by people or dogs. So my picture shows one of the luckier partridges…
Perdricide: killing partridges, especially for sport. Partridge: one of those words with a plurality of plurals.
This plastron is on the underside of a turtle. The term ‘plastron’ has also been applied to human body armour.
Birds and people hear pretty similarly, even though birds don’t have an external ear structure. Rather, their ear entrances are covered by auricular coverts, circles of soft loose-webbed feathers. Many owls, you might counter, do have external ears. However, these are just tufts of feathers: they have no connection to the skeletal structure of the ear and aren’t used to direct sound to its opening. Their true purpose is uncertain, but is likely to include camouflage, courtship, and communication, including to signal aggression to other owls. The technical term for such tufts is plumicorns (say 'plume-i-corn'), from the Latin for ‘feather-horn’.
Pictured is the Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus), the common name of which is likely to compound any confusion.
What is ptarmical? Pepper, most obviously. Or anything infectious that needs clearing from your nostrils. Or possibly some emotional states. Even sunlight in some people, the condition known as photosneezia. Nor is sneezing restricted to homo sapiens: most animals di it, and the pairing here is with Camelus dromedaries.
Ptarmical: causing sneezing
Pyxidium: a seed capsule opening by transverse dehiscense (OED)
I think not. Whereas
these seventeen syllables
make up a haiku.
‘Quotity’ is a certain number of individuals etc, a nice contrast to the less specific nature of a quantity. A haiku, at least under western conventions, consists of the inviolable quotity of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. The image is of the Korean band Seventeen, taken in 2021. It has thirteen members, potentially undermining its status as a quotity equivalent to a haiku. There is an explanation: ‘Seventeen’ stands for ‘13 members + 3 units + 1 team’, representing the 13 individual members from 3 different units (hip-hop, vocal, and performance) who all come together to form the one K-pop group. Still, I'm not sure this Seventeen is a quotity. It may be, of course, that the question refers to itself, not to the band, in which case I'd say that the number of words / syllables / letters in 'Is this a quotity?' is too arbitrary a matter to make it a satisfying example - though it does contain seventeen characters, if we're including the spaces.
Flightless birds – or ratites – are a related group: penguins are a separate matter, but kiwis and the former dodo are related to emu and ostrich, not to other birds of their size. Ostrich eggs are big: typically 1.6 litres, they take around 90 minutes to hard boil and make a more than substantial omelette. They’re small, though, up against the eggs of the Madagascan Aepyornis family of ‘elephant birds’, which had eggs with up to nine litres of content. One theory for their extinction by 1800 is that sailors ate the eggs, sealing the birds’ fate even though the three metre high adults weren’t easy to hunt.
An odd word, as it is defined as both ‘the depiction of mean, unworthy, or sordid subjects’, and ‘the painting of genre or still-life pictures’. Even allowing that still life and genre pictures had, in classical times, lower status than portrait, landscape and especially history painting, that seems somewhat contradictory. Yet maybe not: Rembrandt is generally considered the greatest etcher ever, and the potentially sordid subject of beggars, as well as the somewhat minor subject of a shell, are comparably invested with dignity and importance here in two of his finest prints.
‘The Shell’, 1650, is the only still life among Rembrandt van Rijn’s 300 etchings. There are many beggars, though, often cast in biblical roles. Of ‘Beggar Seated on a Bank’, 1630, Princeton University’s catalogue says: ‘In this free and wiry etching, Rembrandt lends his own features to a seated vagabond with ragged cloak and scraggly beard, who stretches out his hand to beg as he snarls at us. Unique among Rembrandt’s many exercises in role-playing, this self-identification with the down-and-out has been recently interpreted as a humorous response to the challenge of being a struggling artist who is reduced to begging for recognition from wealthy patrons.’
The sexual parts must be the most likely candidates for agastopia, the fascination for a particular part of the human body. Foot fetishism - podophilia - is said to be the most common form of it for otherwise non-sexual body parts. I’m guessing that the glabella (qv) is among the least frequently fetishised parts. That said, the somewhat broader rhytiphilia is a thing: taking a particular interest in the patterns of facial wrinkles. I wonder whether WH Auden’s famous ‘wedding cake left out in the rain’ appeals to rhytiphiliacs. I like David Hockney’s line on him: ‘if that's his face, imagine his scrotum!’ As for why he developed such a geological visage by his fifties, Richard Davenport-Hines explains, in his biography, that Auden (1907-73) suffered from Touraine-Solente-Gole syndrome ‘in which the skin of the forehead, face, scalp, hands and feet becomes thick and furrowed and peripheral periostitis in the bones reduces the patient's capacity for activity. There was no therapy for the syndrome, which does not affect either life expectancy or mental status, but which accounted for Auden's striking appearance of grave, lined melancholy.’
Scapulimancy strikes me as implausible, even if you’re forecasting the prices or health of cattle.
In Ancient China oracle bones were used for divination: if an ox scapula was used, that was ‘scapulimancy’. Questions were carved onto the bone using a sharp tool. Intense heat was then applied with a metal rod until the bone or shell cracked: the diviner would then interpret the pattern of cracks to answer the questions, and add the prognostication to what was written on the bone.
Why call a young cod a codling when the tastier word ‘scrod’ is available?
Scrod: a small cod or haddock. In the wholesale fish business, scrod is the smallest weight category of the major whitefish.
This may be a chance to make art: the nematic phases of liquid crystal – in which the molecules are oriented in parallel but not arranged in well-defined planes – could be rendered in a crystalline liquid to make an abstract painting that enacts its molecular process.
Note: this is Figure 1 from the 2021 paper ‘Meta-stable nematic pre-ordering in smectic liquid crystalline phase transitions’ by Nasser Mohieddin Abukhdeir and Alejandro D. Rey, Department of Chemical Engineering, McGill University, Montreal. It shows ‘a schematic of a growing liquid crystalline front summarizing the phenomena of interest: nematic (orientational) and smectic-A (lamellar) liquid crystalline ordering and interfacial splitting. The orientationally/translationally-order smectic-A mesophase is on the left (blue), orientationally-ordered nematic mesophase is in the center (green), and the isotropic liquid (no orientational or translational order) is on the right (red).’
Is this mere snotter? Or doesn't it matter that I’d never heard of a simple word with five meanings?
Probably not, as there’s not a lot more to say…
Snotter: something of no importance / a length of rope with an eye spliced in each end / a fitting which holds the heel of a sprit close to the mast / to breathe heavily / to snivel
‘Speluncar (adjective) - from the Latin spelunca, cave: of, pertaining to, or resembling a cave; of the nature of a cave’ – OED.
Is the most succidious image ever? Adam and Eve stand beneath a tree of almost ridiculously ripe apples, the only question being whether they will fall before the fruit does. Whether this is an appropriate moral myth is another matter. As John Gray has asked: ‘Why would a benign God deny any knowledge of good and evil to the creatures it had created and then, when they acquired such knowledge, condemn them to a life of misery? If this God was omniscient, it knew in advance that they would breach the prohibition. The first humans, on the other hand, were too innocent to understand the punishment that God threatened; they knew nothing of death or labour, by which they would be cursed when they were expelled from the garden. A God that devised and enacted such a cruel drama would be a capricious tyrant, wreaking senseless suffering on the world it had created.’ It doesn’t amount to a justification, but I like Martin Luther’s rather surprising 16th century answer to the question of why Adam took and ate the fruit (as cited in Stephen Greenblatt’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve’, 2017): ‘He could scarcely have put it into words, but if compelled, he might have said: an eternity in this condition is unendurable. I hate the contemplation of the One who made me. I hate the overwhelming debt of gratitude. I hate God.’
Succiduous: ready to fall. This is the Courtauld’s ‘Adam and Eve’, 1526, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of 50 versions of the subject made by Cranach and his workshop. As the gallery explains: ‘Having bitten the fruit, Eve hands it to Adam. Although Lucas Cranach has represented him hesitant and seemingly bewildered, Adam will soon also taste it and the couple will be banished in punishment. Cranach’s carefully observed rendering of the peaceful animals creates a sense of serenity, soon to be lost. The placid lion and the lamb, on either side of the tree, will become natural enemies… However, the theme of redemption is also included. The vine, laden with grapes and spiralling up the tree, counters the serpent above. Wine is a traditional symbol of the blood shed by Christ, who will absolve humanity with his Crucifixion.’ John Gray was writing in the New Statesman, Sept 2017.
Sweat has no odour, provided you don’t allow it to come into contact with your skin, when it will interact with bacteria. Therein lies the problem: how to eliminate the bacteria or else deflect the sweat from your three million-or-so sweat glands away from the skin. Perhaps antiperspirant is a simpler solution.
Sudoral: of or relating to sweat.
This couple certainly look to be on the engaged side of 'thigmotropism': the movement of an organism in response to a stimulus, in particular the habit of turning towards or away from a physical contact.
A verb so onomatopoeic its primary meaning in the OED is ‘to make a sound by pressing part of the tongue against the palate and withdrawing it with suction’, though such clucking is also ‘a command to urge on a horse’. Here’s the ultimate romantic horse-urging scenario: a bride riding a handsome grey along the beach (courtesy of Matthew Rycraft Wedding Photography: I’m sure my wife would have fancied such a bridal shot had the opportunity arisen).
I remember… Forty years ago you could walk into the office of a manager who smoked and hardly see for the thurification, not to mention the odour. I didn’t much mind, but I suppose I would now,
Thurification: to perfume by burning, most typically a shrine via a censer, but why not a quotidian room with smoke, in the days when that was allowed?
'Tierce' is unusual among rare words in being one syllable carrying multiple
meanings: a 35 gallon cask; a band of soldiers; a sequence of three playing
cards of the same suite; a parrying position in fencing; an organ stop giving
particular tones; a heraldic charge with a three-fold division.
Heraldry is a historic discipline with a rich vocabulary all of its own. The illustration shows the formations ‘tierced per pairle’, ‘tierced per pairle reversed’, ‘‘tierced per pale’ and ‘tierced per fesse’ in gules, argent and azure.
What meal is most likely to generate aesthetic tittynopes?
Probably not the cheese sandwich with tomato and pickle I’ve used here. That said, there are – surprisingly - licensable
images of food scraps on several online sites. They’re no more spectacular: I
might as well use my own modest repast.
Tittynope: a small quantity of anything remaining. On a plate, I’d say, not quite enough to count as ‘left-overs’.
A rather neatly unusual word, in that its negation - 'intrepid' - is very common, as is the noun form ‘trepidation’, but I’ve never seen the root word used: ‘trepid’ - fearful or apprehensive. Put it into an image search, though, and the top twenty results are all of staircases. Are people more frightened of falling down stairs than of the many other traumas that might afflict them? No, it turns out that ‘trepid’ is the Estonian for ‘stairs’. Those results come from Estonian companies who make rather attractive wooden flights.
Triskelion / Triskeles / Vexillology
Two flags of islands feature a triskelion, or triskeles, of three bent legs joined together at a central point. It derives from the triple spiral used by many ancient civilisations, the swastika being another form. The term comes from its Ancient Greek origins - 'triskelḗs' means ‘three-legged’. The association with Sicily goes back to the 4th century: the flag combines it with the head of Medusa and three wheat ears, representing the fertility of the land. The triskeles is said to represent the three capes of the island - Pelorus, Pachynus and Lilybæum - and the colours the regions of Palermo (red) and Corleone (yellow). The Isle of Man’s triskeles, became the local flag in 1313, but it was standardised only in 1966 - armoured but sparser, and with curiously similar colouring. It’s worth flagging up in passing that ‘vexillology’ is the study of flags.
With slight artistic license, I have edited the Manx flag into the Sicilian shape.
Tsavorite is a variety of the garnet group species grossular, a calcium-aluminium garnet with the formula Ca3Al2(SiO4)3.That’s named after the gooseberry, botanically grossularia, as several types have a green coloration, provided in tsavolite by trace amounts of vanadium or chromium.
It’s hardly here, there and everywhere - it’s not even a common spelling mistake. Yet ‘ubiquious’ is listed by the OED as a valid alternate spelling of the more ubiquitous ‘ubiquitous’.
That, as Beatles fanatics will presumably know, is the 1967 Portuguese issue on Parlophone of the 7” Vinyl, 7" 45 RPM EP in Mono. The love song, written by Paul in 1965 with Jane Asher in mind, was cited by Lennon in 1980 as his favourite by McCartney.
For some reason – perhaps I look a bit too ‘normal’, appearances can be deceptive – wherever I go in the world I tend to be asked for directions. Surprisingly often, the answer is as simple as ‘you’re there already’ or ‘the railway station is that way’, but when you don’t know, there is the slight temptation to look good and earn gratitude by making something up: after all, there’s no come-back and you might be right anyway. That would be the ultracrepidarian approach in one of its purer but less common settings.
Ultracrepidarian: a person who offers opinions that extend beyond their knowledge.
Does this picture scare you? There are so many obscure phobia we ought to have one in this list... Uranophobia is the fear of Heaven, derived from the Greek for heaven, Uranos. That would seem on the face of it to be one of the least rational phobias, right up there with fear of pleasure (hedonophobia) or happiness (cherophobia) – though I suppose anything is worrying if you have phobophobia (fear of phobias). Stigiophobia (fear of Hell) seems much more on point – sufficiently so that I’m glad I don’t believe in the afterlife either way.
One of those things one would have suspected there was a word for had one thought about it, and another illustration of just how much dictionary content can be traced to military history – see below and also 'aventail', 'guisarme' and 'tierce'. Could be handy for metaphorical use, were anyone going to understand you.
Vamplate: conical hand defence affixed to a lance. This doubly-depicted 16th century Italian steel example is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It's part of an unusually large armour garniture for the tilt - a tournament fought on horseback between two opponents armed with lances and separated by a lengthwise barrier. The full set includes helmet and vambraces (arm defences), buffe (chin defence), second breastplate, manifer (reinforced left gauntlet), trellised targe (shield), reinforce covering the left half of the torso and left shoulder (mezzo sovrapetto) and a larger elbow defense (soprabracciale). The decoration consisting of etched bands containing trophies of arms and musical instruments was a popular design at the time.
‘Vandyke’ is available as either a noun, describing the type of beard-moustache hybrid typically seen in paintings by the Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), or as a verb, meaning to take a zig-zag course consistent with the ins and outs of such elaborate facial hair. As such, it is surely the ideal name for a Belgian detective, who wears a Vandyke beard - both a moustache and a goatee with all hair on the cheeks shaved - and follows convoluted cases wherever they take him as he wends his way to a solution. There is, in contrast, no link between the name ‘Hercule Poirot’, his spectacular waxed moustache and his manner of solving crimes.In his ‘Self-Portrait with a Sunflower’ (1633), van Dyck points to himself while holding up for display the gold chain recently presented to him by his patron, Charles I; with the other he gestures toward a large sunflower: Van Dyck represents himself as the ideal courtier, whose devotion to his monarch is likened to the flower’s natural inclination to follow the path of the sun… There have been different Anglicised spellings of Antoon van Dyck over the years, and it’s the one with an ‘e’ which has entered the lexicon.
Monitor lizards have interesting qualities, perhaps most evident in the biggest of them, the komodo dragon. They never blink, of course, can reproduce asexually, and can eat 80% of their body weight in one sitting. What distinguishes them most, though, is a fast metabolism and high aerobic capacity, more like the typical mammal than the typical reptile. That explains their muscularity, which also enables them to run at 12 mph for surprising distances, given their somewhat lumbering build.
Varanian: characteristic of monitor lizards, the genus Varanidae
She’s wearing one: a belted jacket in cardigan-style. Will the wamus warm us, too?
Who’d have thought that so many specialist terms were
applicable to a simple key? The one that strikes me a word not seen in other
contexts is ‘warding’ as a noun. My source, The Art of Lock
Picking, sounds dubious - though it does advise, who knows how sincerely, ‘Only
pick locks that you personally own or have explicit permission from the owner
to pick’, making it sound like a hobby akin to solving Rubik's Cube. The guide explains that ‘the lock's warding is essentially the
shape or formation of the keyway, and this shape protrudes through the entirety
of the lock. Keys are manufactured to fit their lock's exact warding shape.’ The
word ‘ward’ seems to be commoner in this context, e.g. the Encyclopaedia Britannica
states that ‘The Romans invented wards—i.e. Projections around the keyhole,
inside the lock, which prevent the key from being rotated unless the flat face
of the key (its bit) has slots cut in it in such a fashion that the projections
pass through the slots.’ But ‘ward’ is a very common noun, and one with copious uses – the OED gives 18 different meanings for it!
Whelve is an interesting word since its old English origins have it meaning to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something, and more modern definitions have it meaning to bury deeply or hide something. The meanings relate to each other, since both end up hiding something.
The illustration is from the 1820 book of children’s verses ‘The World turned upside down’, printed in York by James Kendrew:‘Here you may see what's very rare,
The world turn'd upside down;
A tree and castle in the air,
A man walk on his crown.'
This is the frontispiece: most of the illustrations show animals engaging in human activities.
What was I saying, that warrigals couldn’t drag me away? Well, maybe these could, provided that they moved on from each other.
‘Warrigal’ is an Australian term for a wild or untamed horse.
Yelm: a bundle of combed straw for thatching. There are some 35,000 thatched properties in England, just 0.15% of the 25m dwellings. So having one makes you agreeably distinctive, and perhaps there should be more. Fire is no more likely than with other roofs if the right care is taken. That aside there are pro and cons:
Pro: Water reed, the most durable thatch, has a lifespan of 55 to 65 years; thatch is naturally insulating, so it will keep your house cool in summer and warm in winter; thatch is environmentally-friendly and sustainable; it can be shaped into soft forms not likely to be available in other roofing materials: it is light and doesn’t need the heavy support structures that other roofing materials require, so reducing building costs.
Con: installing thatch is labour intensive, and so expensive; it needs an annual professional inspection to check its condition; regular maintenance is essential, else leaks may occur; safety precautions are required - you need to cut down overhanging branches so that the thatch doesn’t hold onto moisture, install a lightning rod to disperse lightning strikes and a spark resistor for your chimney, and apply treatments to deter pests.
A zabra is not necessarily a typo (‘mis-stripe-o’!?): for ‘zebra’: it may refer genuinely to a midsized Iberian sailing vessel used to carry goods by sea in the 13th-16th centuries. My image, though it is a boat, is a visual typo of sorts, as it is a Zebra. Not Equus quagga , but a boat of that name, created by Parisian industrial designer and engineer Dimitri Bez. Its main selling points are the minimalist style and an electric motor, making it environmentally friendly compared with other powered boats, and attractively quiet. I guess the zabra was also quiet and non-polluting, so perhaps we haven’t made so much progress.