Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Meaning: I'm sure we all know what it means, but if you want a titbit to start with, placenta originally meant cheesecake. No, really: placenta is from the Latin and Greek for 'flat cake', and Wikipedia mentions Cato's recipe for placenta, a cheesecake made for religious purposes.  I'm considering abandoning Artotyrism for a religion where cheesecake is central.

Usefulness: 2 (Cheesecake is often useful, and home-made baked cheesecake is always useful.)

Logofascination: 1 (Logofascination is expressed in many ways, including: the etymology of placenta; discovering that the word cheesecake has been around for 570-odd years; exploring the history of cheesecake all the way back to the Greeks; learning that there's a cheese called quark which allows you to have quark desserts such as quarkstrudel; and, finally, that the term beefcake originated from the slang use of cheesecake, somewhere in the 1940s or 50s: hoorah for the female gaze!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Meaning: the OED defines it as "that makes money in any possible way", and points out that it is an expansion of quōmodocumque, Latin for 'in whatever way'. It is italicised in Ekskybalauron, so Sir Thomas - or his typesetter - may have thought of this as a Latin word.

Usefulness: 1 (I'm sure you can manage your own examples for this one.)

Logofascination: 1 (Quomodocunquizing made it into Mark Forsyth's The Horologicon*a book so logofascinating that it may induce fainting if taken in too large a dose.)

Monday, October 29, 2012


Meaning: An old French word, Cotgrave defines it as:
A true, just, and precise interpretation, or translation of every single word.
Usefulness: 2 (It must be pointed out that 'a true, just and precise interpretation' and a 'translation of every single word' are rarely the same, as you'd know if you'd spent any time over at God Didn't Say That.)

Logofascination: 1 (Calepinus was a lexicographer, and his name lived on for several centuries in various words. A calepin was a dictionary and then a notebook in both English and French, after his Latin dictionary. As discussed further below, "Calepinus recensui" was apparently used as a sign-off by copyists.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Meaning: Cotgrave says it's "a circular motion; going round, wheeling about"; the OED "Going round, circumambulation"; Frame, more figuratively, glosses it as "beating around the bush".

Usefulness: 1 (Perhaps best used circumbilivaginationally: "Circumbilivagination and obfuscation are discouraged, in the interests of plain speaking.")

Logofascination: 1 (This is a Rabelaisian coinage and rather unusually, Sir Thomas only uses it where Rabelais used it; perhaps he did not find it as fascinating as I do.)


Meaning: to move to an earlier time; the opposite of postpone.

Usefulness: 1 ("Happy hour has been preponed to 4pm." "My meeting was preponed, so I'll be home early." "We need to prepone our next dinner - I have so much to tell you!")

Logofascination: 2 (Technically, we can also compone, depone, dispone, impone, interpone, oppone, propone and suppone; the pone is from the Latine ponere, meaning to put or to place.  Apparently the stem for this was confused with the stem for pose, so we generally compose, depose, dispose, impose, interpose, oppose, propose and suppose instead.)

Friday, October 26, 2012


Meaning: a racist epithet, this one word simultaneously insults Jews, Muslims and anyone who changed their faith - Cotgrave tells us that marrane (the French word Sir Thomas is translating) means:
A Renegado, or Apostata; a peruerted, or circumcised Christian; a Christian turned Turke, or Jew; also, a conuerted, or baptized Moore, Turke, or Iew; one that turnes Christian for feare rather then of deuotion; also, a Iewish, cruell, hard-hearted, or hollow-hearted fellow.
It's interesting that Cotgrave uses it of converts either way (to or from Christianity) as the OED and other sources only seem to have the sense of a convert to Christianity for reasons of fear or practicality. Cotgrave notes the element of fear in the conversion, but does not seem to see the contradiction inherent in the end of his definition.

Usefulness: 5 (Can't say I thought I'd ever feature a word this useless, but I don't think hiding from what makes us uncomfortable in a text is helpful.)

Logofascination: 2 (Sir Thomas has taken the French version, marrane, of what was originally a Spanish word, marrano, and re-Spanished it as maranisado; in fact he takes an entire phrase of which only one word is in Spanish in Rabelais and replaces it with Spanish.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Meaning: divination by cheese. That's right: Divination. By. Cheese. It involved interpreting the patterns made in cheese as it coagulated, or writing in it before it set and observing the outcomes. I know how I will be making all my life decisions from now on.

Usefulness: 2 (if nothing else, it's a good conversation starter: "Did you know that people used to read their fortunes in cheese?")

Logofascination: 1 (Tyro- is from the Greek for cheese. It's only in a few other words, but they're interesting: for example, the Artotyrites used to celebrate the Eucharist with bread and cheese, and tyremesis is the technical name for that distinctive curd-like vomiting that babies tend to.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Meaning: a dune which elongates parallel to the prevailing wind; from the Arabic sayf, meaning sword.

Usefulness: 2 (depending on geography, although I suppose it could be re-adopted as a simile: "Like the seif, her tendencies follow the strongest influence.")

Logofascination: 2 (It's a beautiful word, possibly due to some mysterious Arabian-nights style glamour; a simple entry to ease back into it after all that nebrundiation.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Meaning: From the best known passage of Sir Thomas' own writing, and possibly his most popular word, I don't think anyone knows exactly what hirquitalliency means. The OED itself avoids giving a definition - it is sometimes misquoted as defining it as 'having or acquiring a strong voice', but the 'strong voice' reference is in the etymology. The careful homework over at Laudator Temporis Acti brings us closer to the meaning of this word: I suggest you go and read that and then come back (don't look at the archives: you can read those later).

Done? Right. The hirqui- is obviously a reference to goats, and we've seen what their reputation is like. I think Corbett's 'delighted shouts' is close to the meaning, bearing in mind the context.  My personal theory is that Sir Thomas is playing on the difference between the sense and the impression of the word, as he does the contrast between the geometric imagery of sundials and the 'cobweb slenderness of his Cyllenian vestments', between discussions of purity and digressions into the rules of grammar.  The Latin twirls and fancies of the language suggest the delicate cobwebbery and obfuscation of the romance, but the loud, lusty, Rabelaisian reality is present in the meaning and allusions - the heroine's cries may well be goat-like, but they are also pleased. 

Even if I am wrong, I think anyone using it to mean merely 'strong voiced' should think carefully about the reference to goats and the original - and so far only - citation for this word.

Usefulness: 1

Logofascination: 1 (this should probably be labelled 1A, or 1 Prime: I think this is the word that started my fascination with Sir Thomas and all his works, and although it's not currently my favourite - I'm terribly fickle - it is the reason I've discovered all of the others.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Meaning: Cotgrave says that in French it is "a tumbling, a turning, or tossing upside down", and the OED adds a sense to these in English: "to drive back in disorder."

Usefulness: 1 (it has any number of meanings, although Sir Thomas, as we shall see, mainly associated it with the feat of the loose-coat skirmish.)

Logofascination: 2 (Rabelais used a similar word once, but not in the contexts in which Sir Thomas uses it; Sir Thomas seems to have picked up a slang usage - in France, perhaps, or from Cotgrave - and added it to his list of of synonyms.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The feat of the loose-coat skirmish

Meaning: One of the things I like about this one is that it's reasonably obvious.

Usefulness: 2 (could be handy for when people are stuck for words: "It turns out that all along they were, well..." "Performing the feat of the loose-coat skirmish?" "Yes. Yes, that's it.")

Logofascination: 2 (I think this might be one of Sir Thomas' phrases - I can't find any citations for it outside G&P, and Rabelais had chosette, a much less interesting euphemism.)

Friday, October 19, 2012


Meaning: Cotgrave tells us:
To grow hairie about the privities; also, to be as lascivious, or smell as ranke, as a goat; also, to be bookish, or, to read much in old bookes.

Usefulness: 1 (Too. many. jokes.)

Logofascination: 1 (And I'm not just being childish*. This French word apparently still means bookish, with an emphasis on old books, and may retain lascivious as a second sense. Here's my best theory; please bear in mind that I am now venturing into French etymology based almost entirely on wiktionary.** While the French have livre for book, they also borrowed from the Dutch to come up with bouquin, little book or old book, depending on whether you are feeling diminutive or pejorative. Meanwhile, bouc, meaning male goat, became the pejorative bouquin, old goat, and, voila, bouquiner means bookish or buckish, as you please.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fredin fredaliatory

Meaning: 'Fredin fredaliatory' is a Rabelaisian coinage*; the French is fretin-fretailler, and Williams suggests that
Rabelais’s vb (Cotgrave: to lecher) apparently combines fredaine (prank; faire de fredaines: to sow wild oats) with frétiller (to wriggle). 
Usefulness: 2 (it's fun to say; if you use it to curse, people will be aware that you're swearing, but not exactly sure what you're saying. )

Logofascination: 2 (It's a tough gig, being the post after two consecutive 0-degree words)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Meaning: Williams suggests that this means 'phallic jousting', hypothesising that the billi element is related to billy-goats (notoriously lustful), and the bod a shortened bourd, which has two meanings: jesting or banter, or playful jousting.* As an Urquhartian original, meaning and etymology is speculative; you could make up your own.

Usefulness: 1 (metaphorically - think of all those situations where guys are attempting to out-bloke each other. "If you two are done with the billibodring, can we get the meat off the barbecue?" "The meeting was pointless; the suits spent the entire time billibodring." "Dinner was awful, but the guys were billibodring about their cellars, so we had some incredible wine.")

Logofascination: 1

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Meaning: One of Sir Thomas' coinages, it's clear from the context that it indicates sexual activity of some kind. Gordon Williams suggests 'energetic pricking'; and helpfully goes on to speculate on etymology:
Neb may return us to the bird’s bill, but Dict. Of the Older Scottish Tongue notes it as ‘the tip of one of the protruding parts of a person’s body’. Rund = to make a grinding noise.
Usefulness: 2 (Since it's a blank slate, we can practise our word-building: one's life may be nebrundiationless, denebrundiated, anebrundiated, omninebrundiated, mononebrundiated, binebrundiated... and so on.) 

Logofascination: 1 (If Williams is correct, Sir Thomas is sneaking Scottish dialect in here; again, though, in the mouth of an outsider in the text, Herr Trippa.* There's a thesis of some sort in there, I'm sure: "Scots Dialect and Sir Thomas Urquhart's Conception of Otherness in Rabelais.")

Monday, October 15, 2012


Meaning: buzzing

Usefulness: 1 (handy at work, even if you're not a beekeeper.  "That presentation was particularly bombinating, George." "Will this bombinating never end?" "I'm off sick - there is a terrible bombination in my ear.")

Logofascination: 1 (it probably shares a Latin root with bomb, and in its OED entry Rabelais gets the citation; it's in a Latin phrase in G&P and so the French text is cited rather than Sir Thomas' English one.)


Meaning: to do with balm or reminiscent of balm or pleasantly scented or pleasant and warm (only used of evenings, for some reason) or a little crazy and / or excited - yes, barmy.

Usefulness: 1 (especially if you are lucky enough to have jasmine in your back yard, and can, on days as lovely as the one we had in Melbourne today, use balmy in several senses)

Logofascination: 1 (balmy and barmy are seperate words, but they have become in-laws thanks to the vagaries of English etymology - barmy is related to barm, an obscure term to do with yeast and the head on a beer, but it seems to have been conflated with a sense of balm which meant idiotic - to do with mildness, perhaps? While the ODO defines a balmy evening as a warm and pleasant one, the OED does not yet have any citations for balmy meaning warm. Pleasant or delicious - how is an evening delicious, exactly? - but not warm.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Meaning: writing one letter or word when you should write two - leter instead of letter, or The, when you meant The The

Usefulness: 1 (Who knew typos were so specific? Here's to the next level of pedantry.)

Logofascination: 1 (hapolography has nothing to do with mishaps, as I wrongly thought. Haplo means single or simple, whereas in mishap the hap means good luck, fortune, chance, - and, yes, eventually happy - and it's the mis- that indicates that things have gone awry. In case you were wondering, when you write two letters or words instead of one, it's dittographythe the rather than the.)

Friday, October 12, 2012


Meaning: beardless

Usefulness: 2 ( Could be used as faint praise; "You look particularly imberb today" would be interpreted almost entirely on tone.)

Logofascination: 1 (this is a French word which is listed in Cotgrave, but neither Rabelais nor Urquhart use it. The OED has a citation for imberbic from 1623, but imberb doesn't get one until Aldous Huxley in 1923, for which see below. Where did it go for 300 years?)

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Meaning: divination by mirror; there is the 'mirror, mirror' technique used in Snow White, and Pausanius gives an account of another, at a temple near Patras:
The sick person let down a mirror, suspended by a thread till its base touched the surface of the water, having first prayed to the goddess and offered incense. Then looking in the mirror, he saw the presage of death or recovery, according as the face appeared fresh and healthy, or of a ghastly aspect. 
Usefulness: 1 (can be used in allusions to Snow White; similarly to metopomancy; or extended figuratively: "Her decisions are made by catoptromancy; she sees her own reflection in everything." "If we only survey our own staff, we run the risk of catoptromancy.")

Logofascination: 2 (that's opt - as in optical, optician etc - in the middle)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Meaning: in French, this now means backfire, but Cotgrave helpfully gives us the original definition:
Gunshot of farting; also, a horses kicking, winsing, or yerking out behind, accompanied, for the most part, with farting.
Usefulness: 1 (while not as obscure as barytonize, you now have a mildly confusing term for 'gunshot of farting'.)

Logofascination: 1 (No, really - fart is quite interesting, linguistically, as discussed here and in ensuing links, or here at the OUP blog, or you could have a look at a few words it has snuck into over here.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Meaning: a book-burier - usually used metaphorically of someone who hides books or locks them away.

Usefulness: 2 (A name for someone who is obsessed with keeping their books immaculate.  If you spend time in rare book rooms and the like, you could use it of certain librarians. Carefully, if you'd like to continue spending time in rare books rooms.)

Logofascination: 1 (see that -taph on the end? That's the same taph that's in epitaph and cenotaph; making those connections is enormously satisfying. Well, for me.)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Meaning: a Scottish dialect word for the throat, more specifically the windpipe or larynx.

Usefulness: 3 (Perhaps if someone asks you to do a bad Scottish accent, or if, like me, you need a reason to mention that one of the last speakers of a Cromarty dialect has died recently.)

Logofascination: 3 (possibly not that fascinating, but it is used twice in an English translation of a French work. And it's quite old.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Meaning: Cotgrave tells us this means "wagging or shrugging".

Usefulness: 2 (technically, we should speak of Gallic jectigation rather than the Gallic shrug; shrugging is English, whereas jectigation came to us via French.)

Logofascination: 2 (Etymologically, it's related to pretty much anything that has ject in it, and a number of other words besides.  Although he didn't invent it, Sir Thomas has the first two citations for this in the OED.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Meaning: tending to be intoxicated, drunk

Usefulness: 1 (an appropriate word for a Saturday: "The city was full of temulentious footy fans." "Friday was temulentious, so Saturday was rather slow.")

Logofascination: 1 (temulent is the base, and also gives us temulence, temulency, temulentive, etc.)

Friday, October 5, 2012


Meaning: it's a meteor shower which occurs in January, and is named after an obsolete constellation (do constellations get severance pay?), Quadrans Muralis. The Quadrantids now live in the Boötes constellation, but have kept their original name. Boötids certainly doesn't have the same ring to it.

Usefulness: 3 (you wouldn't get to say it much; useful if around astronomers, in need of a particularly difficult trivia question, or looking for a name for an alien species in your latest SF work)

Logofascination: 1 (it just sounds lovely)

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Meaning: Divination by things in the air - generally clouds, but could also be birds, wind, and I guess aeroplanes, nowadays.

Usefulness: 1 (in a town like Melbourne, meteorology is glorified aeromancy. Could also be applied to watching vapour trails in London or any lazy afternoon outdoors: "I'm just off to the park for some aeromancy.")

Logofascination: 3

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Meaning: workhouses, although I like to think that Sir Thomas uses it more as we would 'factory'; it's related to the Latin for a house for slaves or other workers on an estate (ergastula).

Usefulness: 1 (This is what I'm calling my office from now on, and I quite like my job. Also handy to refer to those vast soul-destroying office 'parks')

Logofascination: 1 (all 0 degree words get 1; here Sir Thomas has Anglicised a Latin term - ergastulary, rather than the ergastulum/a/i. This word is referred to so little that it's not even in the OED, something I will be suggesting they rectify.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Flay the fox

Meaning: Cotgrave gives us a definition and the only etymological speculation I can find online:
"Escorcher le regnard.  To spue, cast, vomit; (especially upon excessive drinking;) either because in spuing one makes a noyse like a Fox that barkes; or (as in Escorcher) because the flaying of so unsavorie a beast will make any man spue." (Current French would be écorcher le renard.)
Usefulness: 3 (depending on your lifestyle. It should be noted that flay the fox sounds suspicious even if you don't know its meaning, so the French version could be useful if you need to describe a particularly good or bad weekend in front of the boss.)

Logofascination: 2 (mainly because it's slightly mysterious slang; I'm not quite sure what it is about old terms for bodily functions, but they're popular.  Jonathon Green has written an almost poetic list of synonyms for vomit, and points out that Australians have originated or are the main users of 38% of these terms. Having recently translated the lyrics of Land Down Under for some Americans, I can't comment.)

Monday, October 1, 2012


Meaning: people or animals in a painting who are not the subject of the painting, sometimes used as accessories to provide scale or setting.  Apparently in the nineteenth century there were books of them which you could "cut and paste" into your paintings of windswept-moor-with-tumbled-columns.

Usefulness: 1 (Besides being fun to say if you appropriately accent age, staffage provides an arty way to refer to stock photos, and of course the chance to sound impressive in art galleries, ironically or otherwise. It is also quite useful figuratively, particularly with its coincidental resemblance to staff: "In this meeting you only need attend to Mme Smith; the rest are merely staffage." "This pub is packed: shall we go somewhere with less staffage?" "The sheep are, of course, staffage - the real money is in the uranium deposits.")

Logofascination: 1 (It's a pseudo-French art word we stole from the Germans; a manufactured technical word which, etymologically, is probably just 'stuff'.)