High-Vocabulary Word of the Day

Endeavoring to contribute to your perspicacious lexicon.

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Gormless

Posted by kazvorpal on January 22, 2013


Gormless Charlie BrownGormless

Weak of mind or (occasionally) body, especially if one is gullible or clumsy

Examples:

And then you look at me gormless, like the salmon’s raw when it was requested medium. And what did you say?
Gordon Ramsey, Hell’s Kitchen (2005)

Now, If I were you, which arguably I am, I would be asking myself in a gormless sort of voice, “Did that bridge really collapse or is my good friend Clarence just playing an hilarious jape?” The answer, monkey man, is that I don’t even know myself. One way to find out. Please, don’t get us killed.
— Clarence, Penumbra (the video game)

[After Angel stops Spike from biting Cordelia]
Spike: She’s evil, you gormless tit!
Cordelia: Excuse me? Who bit whom?
Angel: Did you call me a tit?
Cordelia: I thought he had a soul.
Spike: I thought she didn’t.
Cordelia: I do.
Spike: So do I.
Cordelia: Well, clearly mine’s better!
Angel, episode You’re Welcome

Etymology:

The word is actually “gaumless”, gaum meaning “attentiveness”. But the British tendency to add an R into their pronunciation (America can sound like Americer) has altered the spelling.

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Shibboleth

Posted by kazvorpal on January 17, 2013


Shibboleth: Southerner vs YankeesShibboleth

A term, trait, belief, or action used to identify people belonging to the same group

Example:

The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not.
Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. Lochner v. New York

He boldly challenged the most cherished shibboleths of American political thought…a systematic critique of the very principle of American democracy.
— S. T. Joshi, Mencken’s America (2004)

During the war Gramsci drew these concerns together in a vitriolic attack on the favourite shibboleth of prewar anarchism and socialism: Esperanto.
Carl Levy, Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red (2012)

But maybe prayer is a road to rise,
A mountain path leading toward the skies
To assist the spirit who truly tries.
But it isn’t a shibboleth, creed, nor code,
It isn’t a pack-horse to carry your load,
It isn’t a wagon, it’s only a road.
And perhaps the reward of the spirit who tries
Is not the goal, but the exercise!
— Edmund Vance Cooke, Prayer, The Uncommon Commoner.

Etymology:

According to Judges 12 of the Old Testament, people called Ephraimites were unable to say “shibboleth” (a word meaning “flood”), pronouncing it “sibboleth”. This allows them to be identified and killed by enemy Gileadites:

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; 6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

Judges 12:4-6

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Anodyne

Posted by kazvorpal on January 10, 2013


Anodyne

Something that reduces pain or ailment, especially as an analogy

Examples:

It excites in him the gratifying reflection that his country has been the first to prove to the world two truths, the most salutary to human society, that man can govern himself, and that religious freedom is the most effectual anodyne against religious dissension
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Jacob De La Motta (1820)

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;
Emily Dickinson, Poems (1891)

Novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Etymology:

From the Greek anodynos, an = without, dyne = pain. May come from the same word as a root that means “to eat”. Like dining on your pain.

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Minatory

Posted by kazvorpal on January 7, 2013


Hulk Hogan's minatory confrontation with Rocky Balboa

Minatory

Daunting, or threatening

Examples:

A traffic warden, a lady of a minatory aspect, stood by the car. She pointed to a notice on the wall. “Can’t you read?” she said.
William Golding, nobel lecture

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl's face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.

Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree

The Spanish action was Minatory. It was a matter for our discretion to determine whether it was also hostile.
Theodore Roosevelt, Letter to Munroe Smith

Etymology:

This word has the same origin as “menace”; the Latin word minari

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Matriculate

Posted by kazvorpal on December 18, 2012


Matriculate

Matriculate is easy to remember, the same origin as Alma Mater.

Matriculate is easy to remember, the same origin as Alma Mater.

To register for higher education, or as an ornate way of referring to one’s time therein

Examples:

He matriculated at Rostock, where he found little astronomy but a good deal of astrology.
— Walter William Bryant, Kepler (1920)

The peak of my school experience of Shakespeare came in my senior matriculation year; the set play was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and it was taught by a solemn donkey who understood nothing but the political organization of fairyland.
Robertson Davies, Shakespeare over the Port (1960)

Congratulations lad, you’re a fully matriculated student at State University.
— Colonel Gathers, The Venture Brothers

Etymology:

Latin, ultimately from the same source as “mater” (mother), like “alma mater”, your bountiful mother school.

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Haptic

Posted by kazvorpal on January 14, 2011


This was going to be a caption about the haptic experience depicted above...but this editor is too distracted to remember what he was going to say

Haptic

Having to do with the sense of touch, as in haptic poetry

A search of Google Books will produce hundreds of engineering books using this word, and one may anticipate it becoming common in society, as technology becomes more touch-oriented.

Examples:

Does ontological chaos (whether acoustic, visual, or haptic in origin) actively nourish equivocal magic, or is magic uncertain because it is rarely, barely discernible behind the chaos of the everyday?
— Hugues Azèrad, Peter Collie, Twentieth-Century French Poetry: A Critical Anthology

Haptic displays can be considered to be devices which generate mechanical impedances.
— D. W. Weir and J. E. Colgate, “Stability of Haptic Displays

The haptic system is the perceptional system by which animals and men are literally in touch with the environment. When we say figuratively that a man is in touch with the environment by looking or listening, the metaphor is something to think about.
— James J Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems

Etymology:

  • From the Greek hap (to grab), the same origin as “have”, and ticos, used to form an adjective from another part of speech

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Oleaginous

Posted by kazvorpal on January 13, 2011


Mad Man Mooney, used car salesman, oleaginous in spirit and person

Oleaginous

Oily in nature, either literally, or as an obsequious or manipulative personality

Example:

This is English at its very best. Easing is not one of the great events of life; it does not call for Beethoven; it is not an idea to get drunk on, to wallow in, to engage in multiple oleaginous syllabification until it becomes a pompous ass of a word like “facilitate.”
— Russel Baker, So This is Depravity (1981)

On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning young butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of recently chopped-up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood.
— Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008)

Disraeli once described the manner of Bishop Wilberforce as “unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous.” And the good prelate was ever afterward known as Soapy Sam. For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it.
— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)

Etymology:

Olea ultimately comes from the same Latin word as both “olive” and “oil”.

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Nabob

Posted by kazvorpal on January 13, 2011


Nabob

Wealthy, powerful or influential individual, usually of exaggerated self-importance

Examples:

In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club — the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.
— William Safire, written for a Spiro Agnew speech (1970)

We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie, and we have to be merciful, for those who lie. Those nabobs. I hate them. I do hate them.
— Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now (1979)

How can republican institutions, free schools, free churches, free social intercourse exist in a mingled community of nabobs and serfs; of the owners of twenty thousand acre manors with lordly palaces, and the occupants of narrow huts inhabited by “low white trash?”
— Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, to a meeting of the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress (1865)

Etymology:

  • Used in India and Pakistan, originally for governors imposed by the Mongol empire, this is related to the Arabic honorific, na’ib

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Cynosure

Posted by kazvorpal on January 11, 2011


Cynosure

Something bright that attracts the eyes, (therefore) something that serves as a beacon, guide

Examples:

Yes, we have throned Him in our minds and hearts — the cynosure of our wandering thoughts — the monarch of our warmest affections, hopes, desires.
— Richard Fuller, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

The age demanded a hero, Lawrence qualified, and the 20th century then got what it deserved: a loner, an ascetic, a man who might have been happier as a medieval monk than as the public cynosure he became
— Paul Gray, in The Hero Our Century Deserved, about T.E. Lawrence (1989)

Meadows trim, with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide;
Towers and balements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighboring eyes.
— John Milton, L’Allegro (1631)

Etymology:

  • Greek: Cyno means “dog”, oura is “tail”. referring to the tail of the Little Dipper, which contains Polaris, the star used to navigate in the northern hemisphere

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Aphorism

Posted by kazvorpal on January 10, 2011


Aphorism

A defining observation of the truth, always short

Examples:

The great writers of aphorisms read as if they had all known each other very well.
— Elias Canetti, The Human Province (1942–1972)

Santayana’s aphorism must be reversed: too often it is those who can remember the past who are condemned to repeat it.
— Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, The Bitter Heritage: Vietnam and American Democracy

The poem and the aphorism are Nietzsche’s two most vivid means of expression but they have a determinate relation to philosophy.
— Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and philosophy (1962)

Etymology:

  • Aphorismus, Latin for “to define”

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Nefandous

Posted by kazvorpal on January 7, 2011


Chthulu, on the Nefandous Southpark

Nefandous

Unspeakable.

A most severe pejorative

Examples:

Then the earth
In birth nefandous Coeus life produced
And Iapetus and Typhoeus dire
And that bad brotherhood which joined in league
To abolish heaven
— Dante Alighieri, Inferno (1308)

Only the bricks of the chimney, the stones of the cellar, some mineral and metallic litter here and there, and the rim of that nefandous well.
— H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour out of Space (1927)

No Topsman to your Tarpeia! This thing, Mister Abby, is nefand.
—  James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

Etymology:

  • In Latin, ne = not, fandus = to speak

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Brobdingnagian

Posted by kazvorpal on January 5, 2011


 

 

We couldn’t find a pic from the Jack Black movie that didn’t involve Lilliputians

Brobdingnagian

Truly colossal, enormous beyond normal bounds.

Wednesday is the day we try to pick a fun word. Thank Jonathan Swift for this one, via Gulliver’s Travels. It’s the opposite of Lilliputian.

Examples:

Sheldon:       This isn’t a desk, this is a Brobdingnagian monstrosity!
Kuthrapali: Is that an American idiom for “Giant, big-assed desk?”
Sheldon:      It’s actually British.
— Big Bang Theory, Brobdingnagian Monstrosity (2010)

I want you to understand something, Luthor. Although my distaste for you as a human being is Brobdingnagian, what I’m about to do isn’t personal.
— Question, Question Authority, The Justice League (2006)

We have the first rule of thumb: what has never been known to occur probably can’t. Then an application: Brobdingnagian and Lilliputian people have never been known to occur, so they can’t.
— Dennis Des Chene, Physiologia, Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought (1996)

He has the wit to insist on his tininess. He makes the most of his inches by clothing himself in a Brobdingnagian dress-coat, a Brobdingnagian waistcoat, a Brobdingnagian shirt front, Brobdingnagian trousers, and Brobdingnagian boots.
— James Douglas, Adventures in London (1909)

Etymology:

  • Brobdingnag is the (fictional) nation of gigantic people that Gulliver visits in Jonathan Swift’s book, Gulliver’s Travels.

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Hortatory

Posted by kazvorpal on January 4, 2011


Barry Goldwater, delivering a hortatory speech

Barry Goldwater, delivering a hortatory speech

Hortatory

adj. Giving exhortation or advice; encouraging; exhortatory; inciting; as, a hortatory speech.

Companion to the word “minatory”, which means to threaten instead of simply urging

Examples:

Considering the avowed purpose of his work, which is rather hortatory than historical, we are fortunate indeed to be given so much first-hand information by this embittered preacher.
— Nowell Myres, in Roman Britain and the English Settlements (1937) p. 329

The hortatory narrative was a peculiar species of literature which was frequently cultivated during our period. Stories of a purely fictitious character were composed which the author no doubt intended to be regarded as founded on fact, though at the same time the object in view was not so much to impart historical information, as to use these stories as a vehicle for conveying oral and religious lessons and exhortations.
— Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the time of Jesus Christ

As I begin this hortatory address to you, ye men of Greece, I pray God that I may know what I ought to say to you, and that you, shaking off your habitual love of disputing, and being delivered from the error of your fathers, may now choose what is profitable
— Justin Martyr, Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks

Etymology:
15th century, neoclassical Latin, Hortati means “to exhort”, an intensified version of Horiri, “to urge”. Same origin as “exhortation”.

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Penury

Posted by kazvorpal on January 3, 2011


Penury

Being very poor; poverty.

Often hyperbolic or poetic in use

Examples:

The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
— William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act III, sc. i

It is beyond belief that we know so little about how people get rich or poor, about how it is they come to dwell in comfort and health or die in penury and disease.
— Benoît Mandelbrot, The (Mis)Behavior of Markets (2004)

That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire.
— Ambrose Bierce, Wasp, 1882

The price of contributing to the greatest literature the world has ever seen is often struggle and penury: art is still too often its own reward. It is salutary sometimes to think of the early deaths of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Chatterton, Dylan Thomas, of the Grub Street struggles of Dr. Johnson, the despair of Gissing and Francis Thompson.
— Anthony Burgess, English Literature: A Survey for Students (1958)

I wanted to see if the sky would fall: you see writers are routinely schooled by their peers that maximal copyright is the only thing that stands between us and penury
— Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Etymology:

Penuria is Latin for “want or need”. Same origin as “paena”, “barely or almost”, like “paena insula”, “almost an island”…now peninsula.

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Autodidact

Posted by kazvorpal on January 1, 2011


Leonardo da Vinci

Having taught himself more about the sciences than any teacher of his age already knew, Leonardo Da Vinci is a quintessential autodidacts.

Autodidact (plural: autodidacts)

n. A self-taught person; an automath.

We’re back! The High Vocabulary Word of the Day is starting a new year with 365 words, including a reformatting of some old ones.

Examples:

When it came to formal classes, I was a slacker. But I’ve always been a diligent autodidact and can teach myself virtually any subject — if I have a serious interest in it.
— Dean Koontz, “Q&A” column, Dean Koontz: The Official Website (16 June 2006)

He was the perfect autodidact. He wanted to know it all.
— Gore Vidal, “Edmund Wilson: This Critic and This Gin and These Shoes“, The New York Review of Books (1980-09-25)

I’ve also incorporated into my autodidacticism a distrust of schools as inefficient, repressive institutions. It’s part of my new “damn the man” persona!
— T. Rex, Dinosaur Comics

Public-library intellectuals, magpies of knowledge, like most autodidacts we were incapable of evaluating our sources.
— Edmund White, “My Women,” ‘The New Yorker‘ (2005-06-06)

Etymology

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Sockdolager

Posted by kazvorpal on August 12, 2010


Sockdolager

A decisive blow or (by metaphor) remark, or something similarly powerful

Possibly a tent revival word, but reached popularity as a boxing term.

Examples:

Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap
— Tom Taylor, Our American Cousin (the laugh line Boothe used as cover, to shoot Lincoln)

Every second or two there’d come a glare that lit up the white-caps for a half a mile around, and you’d see the islands, looking dusty through the rain, and the trees thrashing around in the wind; then comes a H-WHACK!-bum! bum! bumble-umble-um-bum=bum-bum-bum- and the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away, and quit – and then RIP comes another flash and another sockdolager.
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

That’s a sockdolager of a skill set, ain’t it? Back then, the buldge on everybody.
— Brian D’Amato, Courts of the Sun (2009)

Jim restrained himself.
“Look, carrot-face, get the murerk, else I’ll fetch you a sockdolager what’ll lay you out till Christmas,” he said.
— Phillip Pullman, The Shadow of the North (1986)

Etymology:

Invented in the 19th century, “sock”, as to hit, plus perhaps a variation on “doxology”, which of course is a Christian term for praising God.

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Obsequious

Posted by kazvorpal on August 11, 2010


Obsequious

Fawning, submissively eager to please and agree

Examples:

Those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home.
— Washington Irving, Rip van Winkle

She what was honour knew,
And with obsequious majesty approv’d
My pleaded reason. To the nuptial bower
I led her blushing like the morn; all heaven
And happy constellations on that hour
John Milton, Paradise Lost

Prison taught him the false smile, the rubbed hand of hypocrisy, the fawning, greased obsequious leer.
— Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange

But it is hard to know them from friends, they are so obsequious, and full of protestations; for as a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend.
— Sir Walter Raleigh, writing about flatterers, in The Voyage of the Destiny.

Etymology:

Latin: Ob = after and sequi = follow. Think “follower”, with sequi as “sequence”

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Apodictic

Posted by kazvorpal on August 9, 2010


Apodictic

Absolutely certain, having been shown

In case it’s not obvious, we like to use real quotes that have working examples, but don’t necessarily endorse their contents…

Examples:

We know this apodictic rock beneath our feet. That dogmatic sun above our heads. The world of dreams, the agony of love and the foresight of death. That is all we know. And all we need to know? Challenge that statement.
— Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang

But all these ideas, regardless of how convincing they may be for the individual, are submitted to the critical examination of this individual and hence to a fluctuating affirmation or negation until emotional divination or knowledge assumes the binding force of apodictic faith.
— Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

Etymology:

Greek, apo = “away”, dieknynai = “to show”

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Dolorous

Posted by kazvorpal on August 6, 2010


Dolorous

Deeply sorrowful, or causing great sadness

Dolor is its own legitimate word, for sadness or pain, even physical pain

Examples:

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of
dolorous pitch
Thomas Hood, Song of the Shirt

He is not violent, nor tormented by immeasurable and dolorous conceptions; his painting is healthy, exempt from morbid questionings and from painful complications; he paints incessantly, without turmoil of the brain and without passion during his whole life.
Hippolyte Taine, writing about Renaissance artist, Titian

From time to time Sancho gave forth profound sighs and dolorous groans; and on Don Quixote asking him the cause of is sore anguish, he answered that from the end of his backbone to the nape of his neck he was aching, so that it drove him out of his senses.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote de la Mancha

Etymology:

Dolor is Latin for “pain, painful”

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Polymath

Posted by kazvorpal on August 5, 2010


Polymath

One with many skills or fields of knowledge; a renaissance man

Examples:

A Catholic sense of sin and a social sense of disaster, a fascination with the polymathic and polyglot artist and the strange and often gross and unbidden sources of art. Nor had Burgess taught languages or studied Joyce for nothing…
Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel (1993)

You could give Aristotle a tutorial. And you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect. Yet not only can you know more than him about the world.
Richard Dawkins, The Richard Dimbleby Lecture (1996)

Etymology:

A classical greek word, its parts are poly, many, and mathes, learned. The word “mathematics” does come from the same root word, as understanding numbers was once a sign of being educated.

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Penumbra

Posted by kazvorpal on August 5, 2010


Penumbra

A vague, poorly defined area or idea

This usage comes from the euphemistic use of the word, which originally referred to actual, shadowed areas. Made infamous by judicial activists on the Supreme Court.

Examples:

Greetings traveller. Who am I? Perhap’ you have met me twixt sleep and wank, in the penumbra of uncertainty you call “unconsciousness”.
Garth Marenghi, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place

William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” None of our beliefs are quite true; all at least have a penumbra of vagueness and error.
Bertrand Russel, Skeptical Essay

Stalking and martyrdom are acts that are seen, to their executors, to fall under the penumbra of “love”.
Kaz Vorpal

Etymology:

Paena is Latin for “almost”, umbra for “shadow”…an umbrella is a “little shade”

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Risible

Posted by kazvorpal on July 31, 2010


Risible

Laughable, ridiculous

This word once meant “capable of laughter”, like “Man is a risible animal”, but it’s meaning has transferred from active to passive, the same error as using “done” to mean “finished”.

Examples:

The reciprocal civility of authors is one of the most risible scenes in the farce of life.
Samuel Johnson, The Life of Browne (1756)

The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote, is extremely risible, so is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the side by hand and foot, hangs there in terrible dismay till the morning, when he discovers himself to be within a foot of the bottom.
— Lord Henry Home Kames, Elements of Criticism (1761)

Orwell’s attempt to connect the leader of the Petrograd Soviet to the stalwarts of “Dad’s Army” is nearly, but not quite, risible.
Christopher Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters (2002)

Etymology:

Risus is latin the past tense of ridere, to laugh, so this can be remembered as coming from the same word as “ridicule”, however different it now sounds.

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Malamanteau

Posted by kazvorpal on July 29, 2010


Malamanteau

A neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism.

It is itself a portmanteau of “malapropism” and “portmanteau”

Examples:

Malamanteau is a cromulent word
Randall Munroe, (∞)

Etymology:

Mala is Greek for “bad”, manteau is French for “cloak” (same origin as the word mantle)

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Logolepsy

Posted by kazvorpal on July 28, 2010


Logolepsy

n. A severe fascination or obsession with words

Pretty straighforward

Examples:

Thanks to the magic of teleconferencing, often the format for a given show is call-in, and the phones and airwaves crackle with logolepsy.
— Richard Lederer, A Man of My Words (2003)

A case of logolepsy is easily distinguished from the perfectly sane mood which demands and imperiosly seizes the pregnant sign, and makes it the exponent of a hidden power.
— Maurice Thompson, My winter garden: a nature-lover under southern skies (1900)

Etymology:

Logos is Greek for “word”, -lepsy is Greek, “to seize”


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Ablution

Posted by kazvorpal on July 26, 2010


Ablution

Cleansing with water, literally or metaphorically

This word was often used when the purification achieved had a religious backing, as in Islam and Christianity, but when Christian purification spread to the 19th century Victorian obsession with cleanliness, this word went with it.

Examples:

Bright star! would I were stedfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure
ablution round earth’s human shores.
John Keats, Bright Star (1819)

If his ankles be weak, let them every morning be bathed, after the completion of his morning’s ablution, for five minutes each time, with bay salt and water…
— Pye Henry Chavasse, “Advice to a mother on the management of her children” (1868)

In the center of the court is a large fountain, and a small stream surrounds the piazzas, where the Moors perform the ceremony of ablution.
— John Pinkerton, Voyages and Travels (1814)

Etymology:

From the Latin Ab (off) and luere (wash), related to another less-used English word for washing, “lave

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Fillip

Posted by kazvorpal on July 23, 2010


Fillip

v. To flick one’s finger (or the act of doing so), by bracing it against and snapping it away from the thumb, often euphemism or simile for encouragement

This may be a dismissive gesture, be used to indicate a direction, or to discard probuscine effluvium

Examples:

If I do, fillip me with a three-man beetle.
— Falstaff, Henry IV part 2, by William Shakespeare (1599)

Eat, drink, and love; the rest’s not worth a fillip.
Lord Byron, Sardanapalus (1821)

Faithful horoscope-watching, practiced daily, provides just the sort of small but warm and infinitely reassuring fillip that gets matters off to a spirited start.
— Shana Alexander, “A delicious appeal to unreason” (2005)

Etymology: Appearing in the 15th century, it seems simply to remind one of the sound that the gesture would make

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Evanescent

Posted by kazvorpal on July 22, 2010


Evanescent

adj. Something that is disappearing, or that only happens for moments; ephemeral

Yes, it sounds like the name of that band…but many people don’t know what the actual word means.

Examples:

Human life, with all its unreal ills and transitory hopes, is as a dream, which departs before the dawn, leaving no trace of its evanescent lines.
Percy Shelley, Essay on Christianity (1859)

It was a dark world; it was full of preventable disorder, preventable diseases, and preventable pain of harshness and stupid unpremeditated cruelties; but yet, it may be even by virtue of the general darkness, there were moments of a rare and evanescent beauty that seems no longer possible in my experience.
H. G. Wells, In the Days of the Comet (1906)

He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.
James Joyce, Stephen Hero (1944)

Our knowledge of physics only takes us back so far. Before this instant of cosmic time, all the laws of physics or chemistry are as evanescent as rings of smoke.
Joseph Silk, The Infinite Cosmos (2006)

Etymology: Easier than it sounds: Latin, “ex” (out of) and vanescere, which also forms the word “vanish”

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Malversation

Posted by kazvorpal on July 21, 2010


Malversation

n. Corruption, as of a public official

Yes, we are aware that “corruption of a public official” may be redundant. See “criminal lawyer”.

Examples:

He charged him with several grievous acts of malversation in office, with abuses of a public trust of a great and heinous nature.
— Edmund Burke, speech “On the Nabob of Arcot’s debts.” (1785)

They protest against the malversation of the whole of the moneys raised by additional taxes as a Famine Insurance fund to other purposes.
— Rudyard Kipling, The Enlightenments of Agett, M. P.

Destitute of the lawful means of supporting his rank, his dignity presents a motive for malversation, and his power furnishes the means.
— Jeremy Bentham, The Rationale of Reward

The odium lies in the malversation of the real, the faking of the event and the malversation of the war.
— Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War did not take place

Etymology: Mal is, of course, Latin for “bad” (think malicious), and versari is Latin for “to behave” (think “versatile”)

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Heliolatry

Posted by kazvorpal on July 16, 2010


Heliolatry

n. Worship of the sun, whether real or metaphorical

Sun-worship was ancient in Peru, but it was the Incas who made it the great state religion, and their heliolatry was organized for political ends.
— Rushton M. Dorman, “The Origin of Primitive Superstitions”

I remember hearing stories in college about Ibiza, where big-breasted women laid out naked practicing heliolatry on the beaches, and E pills were as abundant as hard candy in an old folks’ home.
— Chris Baker

I am certain that if our preparations for greeting the returning sun were seen by other people, either civilised or savage, we would be thought disciples of heliolatry.
— Frederick Albert Cook, Through the first Antarctic night

Etymology: Helios was the Greek god of the sun (Apollo the god of light, not the sun, although his worship became so popular that it eventually adopted many of the stories that originated with Helios, including that of the sun being a chariot he drove)

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Defenestrate

Posted by kazvorpal on July 15, 2010


Defenestrate

v. To throw out of a window, or by simile for throwing out, or a lack of windows

A term made famous by the Defenestrations of Prague, the start of a growing tradition of throwing bad politicians out of windows when ousting them from power.

Now, I don’t want to go on a rant here, but America’s foreign policy makes about as much sense as Beowulf having sex with Robert Fulton at the first Battle of Antietam. I mean, when a neo-conservative defenestrates, it’s like Raskolnikov filibuster deoxymonohydroxinate.
— Dennis Miller, our honorary solecistic sesquipedalian, on The Family Guy

Apple lost its opportunity to defenestrate Windows
Nick Farrell (2007)

All of this gets defenestrated (right out the window) if we find we cannot trust the Bible regular, day-to-day, earthly information.
Cliff Walker, March 31, 2008

Etymology: This is a back-construction from the word “fenestrated”, meaning “to have windows”, originating with the original, 17th century Defenestration of the Prague.

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Cromulent

Posted by kazvorpal on July 14, 2010


Cromulent

adj. Acceptable, or more than acceptable

Wednesday shall heretofore be our day for neologisms and other cromulent amusement…previously, this was done on the weekends

Edna Krabappel: “Embiggens”? I never heard that word before I came to Springfield.
Miss Hoover: I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly
cromulent word.
Lisa the Iconoclast

Don’t get flusterated. Everything I say is perfectly cromulent, and it might do you well to embiggen your vocabulary before you fling accretions my discretion.
— Qui the Promoter, Jade Empire

It’s a perfectly cromulent word
— Dan Conner

Etymology: Crom; Cimmerian solar deity, -ulent Latin (ulentus); “having the quality of”, writer David X. Cohen

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Osculation

Posted by kazvorpal on July 13, 2010


Osculation

v. To kiss, or come into contact with something or someone in a way that could be referred to as kissing by simile

This may not be the most romantic way to say “kiss”, but it’s certainly among the most interesting

All animals copulate but only humans osculate. Parakeets rub beaks? Sure they do, but only little old ladies who murder schoolchildren with knitting needles to steal their lunch money so that they can buy fresh kidneys to feed overweight kitty cats would place bird billing in the realm of the true kiss.
Tom Robbins, Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)

He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
— James Joyce, Ulysses (1923)

According to a famous Yale professor
Osculation
is a sensation that is nice”
— Dean Martin, Tonda Wanda Hoy (1951)

Greetings, Gate. Let’s osculate.
— Daffy Duck, The Wise Quacking Duck (1943)

Etymology: From the Latin osculum, literally “little mouth”

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