Monday, December 24, 2012

El Niño de Navidad

Meaning: the Christmas child, (or, if you're feeling literal, the little boy of The birth) a shortened version of which - El Niño - is the nickname for a warm current off Peru which begins around Christmas time. This has given its name in turn to the larger, related climate pattern of El Niño/La Niña.

Usefulness: 1 (Could be used in all sorts of overblown metaphors about the arrival of Christmas and / or the Christ child, or as a slightly-more-interesting-than-usual way to start a conversation about the weather.)

Logofascination: 2 (Mainly in terms of the linguistic history - the Latin nativitas became Navidad, was shipped around the world to Peru, adopted to describe some weather, shortened, and then hijacked by scientists. If you keep following the trail you get to Japanese, via the El Niño "Modoki".)

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Meaning: forerunner or precursor; or introductory treatise or book; or symptoms characteristic of the onset of a disease.

Usefulness: 1 (I think this should be adopted as the name for the commercial preparation for Christmas, the secular equivalent to Advent. "Thank goodness the prodrome is nearly over; after two months of relentless tinsel-covered mercantilism, I'm not sure I'll have any festive cheer remaining for the feast itself.")

Logofascination: 1 (Another running word, part of the dromos family mentioned previously in hippodramatic and dromomania.)


Meaning: long-haired

Usefulness: 2 (The best use I've come up with so far is as an impressive sounding New Year's resolution: "I'm thinking of being more/less acrocomic in 2013.")

Logofascination: 1 (From Greek meaning hair on the crown or tip, which allows the OED to sneak a goat reference into the etymology:  "in Hellenistic Greek also having hair at the tip, like a goat's chin". Acro- applies to extremities - heights, tips, beginnings - and thus turns up in acronym, acropolis and acrostic.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Meaning: afterwit; the things you think of while wandering down the stairs to the taxi, as in l'esprit d'escalier.

Usefulness: 1 (Particularly if one is experiencing the unique pain of having met a long-admired artist - say, hypothetically, a musician - and having been struck dumb, only to think of all the witty and charming things one could have said after the fact. It's odd, but there is some comfort in thinking "Well, I know the word for that.")

Logofascination: 1 (Tintiddle was invented by Gelett Burgess, a chap who wasn't beholden to all this Latin and Greek nonsense, but made words up out of thin air and cigarette smoke. Not appearing in the OED, but redeemed by mentions at the Inky Fool and Sentence first. If you can cope with your average 1920's levels of sexism and/or misogyny, I recommend reading his dictionary, or at the least, examining its illustrations.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Meaning: divination by fig leaf, or the right kind of sycamore. You can write options on a number of leaves, throw them to the wind and see which ones you find; or write something on a leaf and see how long it takes to dry (longer is good, so don't use this one if you're in a hurry); or make the leaves into tea and then interpret them as per your regular tea-leaf.

Usefulness: 2 (may depend on your proximity to fig trees, or need for a rhyme for sycophancy)

Logofascination: 1 (The syco- is from the Greek for fig, and is also in sycamore, as the Biblical sycamore was a fig tree. It looked a bit like a mulberry tree, so this fig-mulberry - sykon and moron in Greek - in turn gave its name to trees that looked a bit like it; its American cousin, a type of plane tree, and the European sycamore, which is actually a maple and not related at all. The fig-mulberry's species name is ficus sycomorus, or the figgy fig-mulberryish tree.  Syco- also turns up in sycophant, for slightly rude reasons explained over at etymonline.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Meaning: It's a Rabelaisian invention, which Frame says is literally "to pass through a narrow passage such as that of a cornet". Thanks to its context (see below) Cotgrave defines it as "to plod or dunce upon, to beat the brains about" - trying to force information into one's brain faster than it is able to go.

Usefulness: 1 (I can always do with more words for cramming, and this has the added benefit of sounding quite rude.)

Logofascination: 1 (Rabelais was quite the logodaedalist, but in French, obviously, so it's always nice to find one of his originals. Sir Thomas adapted it from incornifistibuler to incornifistibulating, but otherwise left it alone. I also find it interesting as it indicates that Rabelais and Sir Thomas sometimes formed words on similar principles - stringing together as many Greek or Latin elements as are required to achieve the desired effect.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Meaning: lily of the valley. Dr Johnson's effort: "a flower".

Usefulness: 3 (They don't like heat much, so I haven't seen many of them down under. Would be a good name for a fairy, and could be useful if you were writing Romantic or Marian poetry.)

Logofascination: 1 (It's just such a beautiful word: liriconfancy. The OED suggests that its a corruption of the Latin lilium convallium.)


Meaning: etymologically, it's from Greek meaning "tending to work out", but in its original context, Sir Thomas was probably extending a rhetorical term - exergasia - which involves repeating the same idea in different ways.

Usefulness: 1 (If you go with the etymological meaning - the only one provided by the OED - it can be applied to gyms and their frequenters, as suggested in The Horologicon, or used of formulae or budgets: "I never worry too much about my finances, they're basically exergastic." The rhetorical sense is also useful: "Great speech boss; most exergastic.")

Logofascination: 1 (Under exergasia, the OED has a quote suggesting it is imagery from 'polishers of marble', and several definitions over at LEME mention polishing or trimming; repeated images in a speech seem to be likened to a worker in marble, patiently bringing out the patterns within.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Meaning: a long or tedious sermon; also a piece of doggerel, a rhyme. 

Usefulness: 1 (I was asked for a word to describe the "You wouldn't steal a car..." blurb at the beginning of most videos these days; while nominy captures the moralising tediousness, it lacks the compulsory element. Can obviously be used in a number of contexts: "Not another nominy, George: we've heard enough today.")

Logofascination: 1 (Possibly from in nomine patris... at the beginning of sermons; that's probably about all that was retained of sermons delivered in a drone or muttered in a monotone.)


Meaning:  sinuous, twisty, winding or craggy, rugged, coarse, rough, uneven. Whoever wrote the wiktionary definition decided to save time, and make it a (slightly poetic) list of synonyms as well as a definition. To be fair, the OED has "Winding, sinuous, involved; roundabout, circuitous; spiral" or "rugged, craggy". Apparently conjunctions are not necessary when it comes to this word.

Usefulness: 1 ("Your anfractuous arguments do not deceive me, good sir!" "My GPS'* route may be anfractuous, but you can't deny it is scenic.")

Logofascination: 1 (Various sources suggest that, etymologically, it is a cousin to the rather lovely frangible.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Meaning: Skill, craft or cunning with words.

Usefulness: 1 (Particularly with regards to Sir Thomas; will come in handy next time I update the About... page.)

Logofascination: 1 (The OED's first citation is from 1611, and it appears that it was coined to describe Thomas Coryate. It's formed from logo- - words, obviously - and Daedalus, father of Icarus and builder of the Labyrinth.)

Friday, December 14, 2012


Meaning: divination by pig entrail.

Usefulness: 2 (May depend on your interest in nose-to-tail eating. I've eaten some pig innards, deep fried - it seems I missed a chance to find a sign from the gods. Could also be used of pork belly, I suppose.)

Logofascination: 1 (This word is not even in wiktionary, but it is used - with variant spelling - by Rabelais, Sir Thomas and Frame. The etymology was hard to trace - it's from a Greek word for pig, or possibly hog, but most of our pig-words are old English, with a bit of Latin, so the Greek influence is minimal. )

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Meaning: going out of bounds; originally applied to bodies of water overflowing their banks or exceeding their boundaries. Also used to mean going to excess.

Usefulness: 1 (It's a fancy word for playing hooky: "Sorry I'm late; had some urgent debording to attend to.")

Logofascination: 2 (Related to border, unsurprisingly.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Meaning: the small pot used by apothecaries in times past to hold ointments and so forth. Extended to mean hard or difficult words such as those used by apothecaries, and, Grose tells us, people who are "as superficial in their learning as they are pedantic in their language."

Usefulness: 1 (While doing my best to avoid superficiality, this blog is proudly dedicated to gallipots, gallipotions and everything gallipotionesque.)

Logofascination: 1 (A cousin to ink-horn terms, of which this blog is even more fond - still being coined today, as evidenced over at LTA. Many 'new' words today are lazy portmanteaus, and ugly ones at that.)

Monday, December 10, 2012


Meaning: inserting a word into the middle of another word (e.g. abso-bloody-lutely, a-bloody-mazing). Wikipedia also discusses its technical application to classical languages and phrases.

Usefulness: 1 (Apparently this is an Australian tendency - I had trouble thinking of an example that didn't involve swearing, but am relieved to have a name for it.)

Logofascination: 1 (Besides being a handy Scrabble word, the source is fascinating. Tmesis turns up in the text of an unpublished epigram of Sir Thomas' - see below - discovered thanks to a terribly interesting and useful MetaFilter thread.* It's quite reassuring to discover that I'm not the only one so logofascinated.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sir Thomas on the BBC

I'm at a music festival this weekend, so for various technical reasons* there will be no posts this weekend.

I will point out that Sir Thomas got a mention on BBC Radio 4 this week, thanks to The Horologicon being book of the week - quomodocunquize and a quote from Sir Thomas' own works turned up in Wednesday's episode, complete with accent by Hugh Dennis.  Exergastic**, another of Sir Thomas' inventions got a mention in yesterday's, and the passage in which we find hirquitalliency may well turn up in the finale - the rather long first sentence is quoted in the evening hours of the book.

*my not being organised enough to have written any in advance.
**Coming Soon to this blog. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Meaning: divination by ashes.

Usefulness: 2 (I'm a little surprised no-one has yet used it regarding the Ashes, but I'd like to see it used on CSI or a show of that ilk*, while examining a fire or a cigarette butt: "Well," he drawled, removing his sunglasses, "it's clearly time for some... tephromancy." Cue dramatic music.)

Logofascination: 2 (Tephra is Greek for ash, and is the technical word for everything produced by a volcanic eruption.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Meaning: obedient, compliant, obsequious. 

Usefulness: 1 (It's a word that seems to lend itself to insult: I can imagine calling someone morigerous in a hissed aside, with utmost insouciance, or while yelling and banging on the table. Morigerating and morigerousness - both in the OED - are lovely to say, but seem to come out with a snarl.)

Logofascination: 1 (Morigerate, the verb form, has a citation from 1623 and then one from 1936. How does a 17th century term amuse itself for 314 years? Etymologically, loosely related to morals.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Meaning: a Scottish verb meaning to conform, or to be in harmony with; both meanings are extended from its original sense of squaring, as in numbers.

Usefulness: 1 ("Emoticons are not for me; I shall not quader to their laziness." "Of course, hipsters quader as much as the rest of us, but to rather different rules. Boundaries of a negative space - trenchant non-conformism;  or a positive space - a codified sub-culture; are still boundaries.")

Logofascination: 1 (It originates from quadrate, a fancy Latin way of saying square, although the qu- in square is also from the Latin quad-, four, the base of all these words. And, it turns out, cadre, which is what quader started to sound like after I'd said it to myself a few too many times.  I also quite like the fact that squares were associated with conforming in Scotland in the 16th and 17th century, and in the US in the 1940's.)

Monday, December 3, 2012


Meaning: in cricket, a hundred runs; also known as a century. The OED has this as definition 5a.(colloq*), but wiktionary recognises that cricket is its own special linguistic category, and describes this sense as 7. (cricket). May or may not have been borrowed from darts, where a ton means a hundred points.

Usefulness: 2 (its usefulness is variable - for example, Australia did not get to use it today**. Can be extended figuratively to a hundred of anything, such as blog posts: "This post brings up the ton for Six Degrees of Sir Thomas.")

Logofascination: 1 (Words often reveal our assumptions or biases; I have a metrical bias*** - since a tonne is 1000kg, I wondered how a ton could be 100 of anything. All the senses of ton - weight, lots of anything, a hundred of anything - are originally from the word we now know as tun, a very old word for a very large cask. The cricket term is possibly a specialised application of the sense 'lots of anything'.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Meaning: rising and setting with the sun - when applied to stars, those that rise just before or set just after the sun, since if they rise or set at exactly the same time you wouldn't be able to see the star.

Usefulness: 1 (Stars move through this cycle, which has allowed people to do various clever and useful things by tracking them.)

Logofascination: 2 (Heliacal means relating to the sun, and as etymonline points out, a heliacal year can also be a canicular year, thanks to our friend Sirius, the dog star.)


Meaning: adorned with a liripipe, which is a graduate's hood; extended from the name of the tail of a hood or cloak. Used figuratively to mean a rote part (as one might cram learn things for an exam), and / or a foolish person.

Usefulness: 1 (Could be used of resumes -  "His CV is liripipionated with every certificate course in the area" - people who talk about their school/study/college/degree all the time - "Her conversation is liripipionated with that year at Yale" - graduations - "The hum of the recently liripipionated filled the auditorium" - or as a general insult - "You liripipionated fool, what you have done?")

Logofascination: 1 (Liripipe sounds great, has the even better sounding liripoop as an alternative, and an etymology so unknown that the OED calls some speculations a "ludicrous guess".)