Category Archive: Odd Words

Aug 10

Odd Words: Coelostat

CoelostatAre you ready for page 57 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition?! Well, even if you aren’t, here it is. It is mostly a rant about one word. And then we will get on to today’s word: coelostat.

Little Men

I have never heard the word “cockalorum” before. It is “a conceited or pretentious little man.” I am short, and for most of my life I was painfully thin. And it has always bugged me that small men have special words and phrases to describe them. The best known, of course, is the Napoleon complex. But isn’t that just like a short man to be bugged by such a thing?

Here’s the thing: we don’t have special words for big men who are conceited or aggressive or whatever. And what’s going on is exactly what’s going on with women. The assumption is that it is somehow wrong for a small man or a woman to be strong. So while a large man’s aggressiveness might be seen as him being “a go-getter,” it indicates some kind of pathology in a small man.

Women

The issue is obviously more important socially as it affects women. It tells half the population that they should be demure. Should they demand equality, there are lots of verbal smears that will be used on them. I might hate words like “cockalorum,” but there’s a whole industry devoted to creating words to keep women in their places. In some cases, it works well in that you know pretty much all you need to about a man who uses the word “feminazi.”

On the other side of this is that short men (and women) tend to be ignored. There is a joke I’ve seen a few times in movies and television shows. In it, a woman will say something in a business meeting, and everyone ignores it. Then a man says it and everyone congratulates him on his great idea. (See, for example, Miss Congeniality.) This has happened to me. I suspect I’m not alone among smaller men. And certainly this is something that happens to women commonly.

Small Men Are Less Aggressive

As a result, you would think that small men would exhibit signs of the Napoleon complex. The society certainly pushes them to. But at least one study found that this wasn’t the case. It found that taller men were more likely to lose their temper than short men. (I don’t think we need a study for women.)

Of course, if you think about it, it makes sense. When you find a hyper-aggressive short man, it sticks out. It’s not because he’s short; it is because it is so unusual. I find the whole thing ridiculous and annoying. But as I noted before, isn’t that just like a small man?

Coelostat

I probably should have known this word because I have used the device before. I used to be very involved with astronomy. But I always came at it from the computer end. I didn’t know anything cool like how to look up where a star is in the sky and then how to find it. Anyway, this is a great device, but not so great a word: coelostat.

Coe·lo·stat  noun  \sē’ləstat\

1. a telescope fitted with an adjustable mirror used to reflect the light of a star, etc, into the telescope.

Date: late 19th century.

Origin: from Latin caelum, which means “sky.”

Example: Naturally, Griffith Observatory is hosting a viewing event, featuring telescope viewing from the lawn, sidewalks, and on the coelostat (solar telescope) in the Hall of the Sky (note: personal telescopes aren’t allowed). –Gwynedd Stuart, Where to Watch the Solar Eclipse in LA.

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Aug 09

Odd Words: Cloche

Vilma Banky in ClocheToday, we do page 56 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! It’s an excellent page, and it introduced me to a new kind of hat: cloche.

All the Words I Knew Before

Page 56 had a lot of words I knew, and I don’t see why I should deny them to myself. I was thinking about how we all know just when we learned some words. One example of that is the word “clique.” It is “a small, exclusive circle of people, especially with identical interests.” I learned it when I took Psychology when I was in high school.

Interestingly, it was taught by the music teacher. It was very much pop psychology. I think the instructor, Mr Wright, had received a minor in it when he was in college. You could get much the same education from reading Psychology Today. Or perhaps even that is putting on airs. Nevertheless, it was a fun and interesting class.

“Solitary, Celibate, I Hate It”

Similarly, I know when I learned the word “cloistered” (or close enough). It means “alone; separated from everything else; sheltered away from the world.” Or so the dictionary says. It has specific religious meanings. And I learned it when I was perhaps 12 years old. I was in the habit of checking out original cast albums of musicals from the library. One of them was 1776.

In the song “Yours, Yours, Yours,” Abigail sings, “I live like a nun in a cloister; solitary, celibate, I hate it.” So I looked it up. (It’s interesting that people consider me an intellectual; the only thing that is different between me and others is that I drag out the dictionary.) Here is the song. It’s very sweet:

Dropping Stock of Clone

Now a word I have no recollection of learning is “clone.” I won’t bother defining it. But it does seem that the idea of cloning had a great hold on our society in the early 70s. There were lots of movies about it. People were fascinated about it. Now that it is a real thing, people aren’t as interested.

All the Words I Didn’t Know Before

Some words seem too bizarre to be real. Thus it is with “clinker built,” even though I know it is a real thing. I’m sure for people into boating it is something they take for granted, but I have no experience with it. It means “(of ships) having boards or planks that overlap.” I was thinking of making it the word of the day, but I got distracted.

I often find myself looking for the name for a group of animals. There’s a great webpage for this: Animal Group Names. But only today I learned that there is a word for a group of cats: “clowder.” Although according to that page, a group of wild cats is called a “destruction.” That’s pretty cool.

There is also the simple word “cloy,” which is “to satiate or become distasteful through excess.” The word kind of makes me hungry. For the last month or so, food has tasted off. So the idea of eating enough to get sick of food sounds appealing. But this probably explains why I have now lost 15 pounds.

Cloche

I have a great fondness for women’s fashion. I used to really enjoy going clothes shopping with my wife. So I’m naturally drawn to any words that relate to women’s fashion. And I really like this: cloche.

Cloche  noun  \klōsh\

1. a glass cover, usually bell-shaped, placed over plants to protect them from frost.

2. a woman’s close-fitting, brimless hat.

Date: late 19th century.

Origin: from French for “bell.”

Example: The “flapper hat,” as it is often called, is actually a cloche hat. It works best with short, cropped hair, which was the style in the 1920s –Lena Maikon, Knitter’s Lib: Learn to Knit, Crochet, and Free Yourself from Pattern Dependency

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Aug 08

Odd Words: Clepsydra

ClepsydraAll I can say is “Happy, happy! Joy, joy!” as we do page 55 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It’s actually a pretty good page. And the word is odd indeed: clepsydra.

Civil Rights?!

The first entry on page 55 was “civil rights.” That’s interesting. The dictionary was published in 1972. I’m surprised they felt that need to define it. After all, it had been in all the papers! Today, I understand, that many people don’t understand what civil rights means. They think it means protecting the heads of “thugs” as they are put into the backs of police cars. But the definition is the same as it was then: “a citizen’s right to personal liberty as established by the US Constitution.” (Actually: there is nothing about needing to be a citizen in the Constitution.)

Clubs

There are two different words that have the exact same definition: “having the shape of a club.” They are: “clavate” and “claviform.” It’s odd to have two words that are so similar. What is even the point? I know: foolish me for looking for rationality in the English language. But still.

Other Words

There were a lot of good words that I already knew like “clairvoyance” and “clandestine.” But there were also good ones that I didn’t know. Even though it is easy enough to figure out, I like “cleptobiosis.” It is “a mode of existence in which one species steals food from another.” This is the mode of existence of the rich in the middle third of North America.

A really delightful word is “claque.” It is “a group of persons hired to applaud a theatrical performance.” That’s what I need. I need to hire a group of people to follow me around and laugh when I make a joke, applaud when I cross the street without incident, and otherwise murmur “Oh, very insightful” whenever I say something that isn’t funny.

And it seems appropriate to end with “climacteric,” which is “a period in life leading to decreased sexual activity in men and to menopause in women.” Although it appears to me that men have more profound changes than simply a reduced sex drive. Feel free to school me on this.

Clepsydra

Today’s word actually just means “water clock.” But for some reason, the dictionary wanted to describe it. So ladies and gentlemen, here is “clepsydra.”

Clep·sy·dra  noun  \klep’-sidrə\

1. an apparatus for measuring the passage of time by the regulated flow of water.

Date: late Middle English.

Origin: from Latin via Greek klepsudra, based on kleptein, which means “steal water.”

Example: The device above is known as a clepsydra (Greek for “water-thief”), which is a gourd with one hole in the top and one-to-many holes in the bottom. –Ethan Siegel, Yes, New York Times, There Is A Scientific Method

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Aug 07

Odd Words: Cirque

Cirque de Gavarnie

Page 54 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was a very difficult one! I’ll explain in a moment. But first, today’s word: cirque.

Around the Page!

The entire first column on page 54, and a little bit more, was made up of circum– words. I can’t say that I knew all of them, but it was trivial to figure out what they meant. Or close enough. They started with “circumambient.” A surprising number of these words just meant what this one did: “encircling; encompassing.” People apparently need a lot of different worlds to say “around.”

This set of words ended with “circumvolve.” I’m sure few will be surprised to learn that it means “to wind about or around; rotate.”

The only really useful word of the bunch was “circumlocution,” which is about the only word that I specifically remember seeing. It’s a pretty common word meaning “excessive use of words to express an idea; an evasive or round about way of speaking.” I won’t name anyone, but it is a word that I associate very much with one of my close friends. (I’ll leave it to them to fight over who it is.)

My Side of Whatever

Almost a quarter of page 54 was made up of cis– words. In Latin, cis means “on this side of.” And that is what this prefix does to words. For example, “cisalpine” means “on this (the Italian) side of the Alps.” And then “cismontane” is a slightly more general “cisalpine,” meaning “on this side of the mountains.”

Similarly, there is “cislunar,” which is “lying between the Earth and the Moon.” And you know, even though it isn’t part of the classic thought experiment, if there were a teapot orbiting cislunar, we would very likely not have noticed it.

Cirque

And so, that takes us to today’s word, which despite a difficult page, is quite useful: cirque.

Cirque  noun  \surk\

1. a basin in a mountain forming a circular space like an amphitheater.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin circus, which is a circular line.

Example: Each lake occupies a glacial cirque ­– a type of basin named for its shape — with steep banks. –Deborah Wall, Lakes Loop Trail a Highlight of Great Basin

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Aug 06

Odd Words: Cicatrix

CicatrixIt is not with a great deal of pleasure that I present page 54 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. But it’s like a chore, so let’s get through it. I do at least like today’s word because it is very useful: cicatrix.

Useless Words

No words are truly useless. But some are so specialized as to make me wonder what they are doing in a dictionary of this type.

One such word is “chyle.” It is “lymph containing emulsified fats formed from chym in the small intestine.” And, of course, “chyme” is “the semiliquid mass of partially digested food formed by gastric secretion.”

Now I have little doubt that these are perfectly good words for biologists and doctors. But really: when would I use these words? And who could I be talking to who I could expect to know them?

Who? Nobody.

Useful Words

And then there are some very useful words. One of them is today’s word. Or maybe I just think that because I have scars.

The first word on page 53 is “chutzpa.” (The accepted spelling of it is “chutzpah.”) Most people know this word: “gall; audacity; impudence.” It’s a great word. And it sounds so great!

The last complete word on page 53 is “circuitous.” It is “roundabout; indirect.” I probably overuse the word. But it is so accurate, especially if it brings to mind a circuit board. And it does for me.

Cinema!

There were a few words related to the cinema. I believe they are all coined from the word “cinema” itself.

The first is “cineaste.” It is “an enthusiast for motion pictures, especially in their artistic and technical aspects.” That’s a word I’ve seen around a lot. There is also “cinema verite,” which is “motion pictures that are imitative of real life.” I just checked and before this article, I’d used the phrase in six articles on Frankly Curious.

But the third cinema word I have never seen and I kind of doubt it is a real word: “cinematics.” It’s easy enough to guess: “the art or technique of motion picture making.” I’m curious if anyone has ever run into it.

Cicatrix

And that leads us to today’s word:

Cic·a·trix  noun  \sik’-ətriks\

1. the scar that forms on a wound, which has healed.

2. a mark left on a stem by a fallen leaf.

Date: late Middle English.

Origin: from Latin cicatrix. which means “ulcer.”

Example: This apparatus was rather heavy and cumbersome and attended with the objection that the end of the thigh stump had to carry the weight of the body, and the stump cicatrix had to endure a constant pressure. –Berry Craig (quoted), Sixteenth Century French Barber Surgeon: A Man of Many Talents

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Aug 05

Odd Words: Chrysalis

ChrysalisSorry for missing yesterday. I took the day off and went to the fair. And then I was really tired and didn’t feel like writing. But I’m back at it with page 52 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Much like page 51, this page has a lot of space dedicated to two roots. I picked something different, however: chrysalis.

Two Big Roots

The first column on page 52 was made up almost entirely of two roots. The first is chroma–, which comes from the Greek chrōmatikós. So we get words like “chromogen,” which is “a substance, as a microorganism, which produces pigmented compounds when oxidized.”

The other root is chrono–, which is from the Greek word khronos — time. Most of the words have something to do with measuring time. Or the opposite, like with “chronopher,” which is “an electrical apparatus used to broadcast time signals.”

Church

About a quarter of page 52 was made up of “church” words and phrases — mostly phrases. I’ll just list them out because they are kind of interesting, even if kind of familiar:

  • Church invisible: “the whole of Christianity both in heaven and on Earth.” So let’s see, that’s all of the Christians on Earth plus zero. Got it!
  • Church Militant: “those Christians constantly active in the fight against evil.” I’d say about half of them. The second half are the ones they are fighting.
  • Church visible: the whole body of Christian believers on Earth.” So the same as church invisible.

There’s also “churchwarden,” which is “a tobacco pipe with a long stem.” Interesting that I didn’t know that one.

Other Words

One word caught my eye for personal reasons. I know it, of course: “chronic.” It means “perpetual; unceasing.” The reason it struck me was that I’ve been dealing with problems with my blood pressure. I normally have what is considered normal blood pressure: 120/80. But recently, I’ve had roughly 150/100 during the day. Then it reduces to 120/85 at night.

Yesterday, I took my father to the fair. It was a very pleasant day, as I plan to discuss later today. When I got home, I took my blood pressure: 112/80. Great. Then I went to work, and something went wrong. I decided to check my blood pressure: 161/105.

I may end up on disability if I don’t watch out. Of course, with the Republicans in charge of Washington for the next year and a half, at least, there may be none — so I can just work myself to death.

Chrysalis

Today’s word is a specialized biologist word. But it is still the kind of word that a lot of people know and one that is useful: chrysalis. Note that the definition below is very limited; the word applies to a lot of different insects.

Chrys·a·lis  noun  \kris’-əlis\

1. the pupa of a butterfly.

Date: early 17th century.

Origin: from Greek khrusos, which means “gold” since some pupae are golden.

Example: This year, in addition to the Painted Ladies, two Monarch butterflies were released into the Butterfly House, as well as a chrysalis and some caterpillars. –Kirsten Barnhart, Master Gardeners Hold Butterfly Release Party

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Aug 03

Odd Words: Choli

CholiWe’re back moving forward with page 51 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! There wasn’t a lot to choose from, but I do like today’s word: choli.

Three Big Roots

I knew almost every word on page 51. It shows the power of knowing roots. The first of this was chloro–. It comes from the Greek word for green, khlōros. And so you get words like “chlorophyll,” which I’m sure you know means “the green coloring substance of plants and leaves associated with the production of carbohydrates by photosynthesis.” Although I bet you would have described it differently. More like, “Well, it’s the stuff, uh, that makes, you know, plants green.” At least that’s what I would have said.

Next were the chore– words. These are based on the Greek word khoreia, which means “dancing in unison” and is derived from the earlier Greek word khoros, which means “chorus.” And so we get words like “choreography,” which again, I expect you know is “the art of composing and arranging techniques, movements, etc, for dances, especially ballet.”

Finally, we have the Christo– words, which of course are words about Jesus. The only one that was even vaguely new to me was “Christophany.” It is “an appearance of Christ on Earth after the time of his resurrection.” So you know, those couple of times right after he died that were reported by no one outside a tiny cult. Not that I’m making any judgments! It could absolutely have happened — just like there might be a china teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars. Who am I to say?

Other Words

The other words were pretty specialized. There was “chitin” for example. It is “a horny, organic substance forming part of the outer integument of some insects and crustaceans.” See: even after reading the definition, I don’t really know what it is.

I suffer from nausea a lot. So I was interested to see the word “chlorpromazine.” According to the dictionary, it is “a drug used to depress the central nervous system and prevent nausea and vomiting.” But when I checked online, Google told me it was an antipsychotic. Maybe I could use that too!

I’ll leave you with a word that I feel like I ought to have known: “choragus.” It is “one who officiates at an entertainment, festival, etc.” It appears to derive from the leader of a Greek chorus, which may explain why I don’t know it. Ancient Greek theater does have its interests, but I’m not that into it.

Choli

Even though page 51 didn’t offer many options, it did contain one that I liked. It is similar to yesterday’s word, but this time from the east: choli.

Cho·li  noun  \chō’-lē\

1. a short blouse worn by women in India.

Date: early 20th century.

Origin: from the Hindu word coli.

Example: The lehenga was paired with a plunging neckline choli that had gotta patti work on it as well along with short sleeves. –Shikha Kohli, Fashion Faceoff: Ileana D’Cruz or Kriti Sanon, Who Wore Anita Dongre Better?

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Aug 02

Odd Words: Chemisette

ChemisetteToday we do page 49 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t we do page 49 yesterday?!” Well, we did. But not anymore. If you go back and look, you will see that I changed it to page 50.

You see, as I do this series, I pull out the page I’m working on. The book is falling apart anyway. And it is just more convenient to deal with a single page. But with the discolored pages, it is kind of hard to read and so yesterday, I read the wrong side. So we are doing page 49 today. And the word is: chemisette.

Chemical Reactions

Well over half of page 49 was made up of chemi– and chemo– words. They are such that even if you have never seen them, you can figure out what they mean. So there are words like “chemoreflex,” which is not surprisingly “a reflex brought about by a chemical stimulus.”

I was interested to see that “chemiculture” is another word for “hydroponics.” But then it occurred to me that I don’t actually know what “hydroponics” is. I just know it because people use it to grow cannabis. It is a way of growing things without soil — in rocks, generally. But when I looked it up, I found out that I was right. Sometimes, you don’t need to look up a word.

There are two words related to the atmosphere. First is “chemosphere”: “a stratum of the atmosphere in which the most intense chemical activity takes place.” No one uses the word anymore. It is really just the upper stratosphere — from about 30 km to 50 km. A related word is “chemopause”: “the stratum or boundary lying between the chemosphere and the ionosphere.

There are lots of –pause words. What it actually indicates is where a temperature trend change takes place. For example, as you go up in the lowest part of the atmosphere (troposphere), the temperature gets colder and colder. But at the tropopause, the temperature gets warmer as you go up. Then you are in the stratosphere. At the stratopause (also the chemopause), the temperature again starts going down.

When I was in graduate school, my thesis adviser was the editor of the scientific journal Chemosphere. I published my best work there — the permafrost stuff.

Other Words

Outside of the words related to chemical reactions, the pickings were limited. Some were interesting though. For example, “chela.” It is “a nipper- or pincer-like organ of certain crustaceans. This reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster.” In it, he talks about how lobsters are loners and they have to have their chelas taped shut or they would harm each other. It is but one part of the horror that we put these creatures through.

I hate cigars. It’s nothing about cigars themselves. It’s just that cigars are so linked to jerks. You have reached the pinnacle of vileness when you’ve made the cover of Cigar Aficionado. Anyway, there is a specialized cigar word, “cheroot.” It is “a cigar cut square at each end.”

Chemisette

Today’s word is quite far away from everything else we’ve considered. It’s actually quite interesting — at least to me, since I like women’s fashion.

Chem·i·sette  noun  \shemizet’\

1. a woman’s garment worn over a low-cut bodice.

Date: early 19th century.

Origin: from French — diminutive of chemise.

Example: The standing band was also made with small collars attached and was particularly popular on the chemisette. –Joan L Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 – 1900.

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Aug 01

Odd Words: Cheval Glass

Cheval GlassToday we do page 50 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! As I went through the page, I was struck by how many words seemed pretty useless. But I decided to feature a word that I’m shocked I didn’t know: “cheval glass.”

Some Words I Knew

Page 50 had more interesting words that I knew than ones I didn’t. For example, there is the word “chez” as in “at or to the home of.” There was a certain period of my life when I hung out with a lot of, well, my mother would call them “artsy-fartsy” types. And they loved using this word. Or anything French, to be honest.

Of more interest is “chicanery.” It is “trickery by the use of subterfuge or sophistry.” It’s a word that I associate with magic. Indeed, I’m sure that’s how it first entered my vocabulary. Of course, now I associate it with the current administration. But the truth is that there isn’t much trickery. A small-time con man would never make any money if they were as bad as Trump and company.

A word I don’t think I’ve heard since childhood is “chinchy.” It means “miserly, stingy, or cheap.” But when I was young, I used the word a lot. Or I heard it a lot. Or both. It does seem like a child’s word. When you are an adult, you are too busy trying to survive to talk about other’s cheapness.

A related word is “chintzy.” It means “tawdry; cheap; gaudy.” The two words sound very similar. I should start using it. It too reminds me of Trump.

A Thousand…

There were two words that come to us via the Greek word khiliastēs, which means “a thousand years.” First is “chiliarch,” which is “(in ancient Greece and Rome) an officer in charge of a thousand men.” The second is “chiliasm,” which is “the doctrine that Christ will return to reign on Earth for a thousand years.”

This last word is interesting because it shows how limited the time scales were for people in the past. It has only been the last couple hundred years that we’ve known just how old the Earth, solar system, and universe are. The idea that Christ will reign for just a thousand years is pathetic. Of course, it isn’t if you believe the universe is only 6,000 years old.

Cheval Glass

There were other words, of course. But none were that interesting. I was interested to see that “chirography” is “handwriting or penmanship.” But otherwise… So that brings us to the word (or phrase) of the day: “cheval glass.”

Chev·val glass  noun  \chəval’\

1. a full-length mirror suspended on a frame so that it can be tilted.

Date: mid 19th century.

Origin: from French cheval as in “frame.”

Example: I would not say no to a cheval glass in the living room instead of a coffee table. –Jessica Grant, Come, Thou Tortoise.

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Jul 31

Odd Words: Charnel

CharnelAnd so we tackle page 48 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! It contained a number of good words that I knew: charlatan, chasten, chastise. The words I didn’t know, as usual, struck me as less useful. But I found a good one that has to do with death: charnel.

Paper

I’m always interested to find new word roots. Today brought my attention to one. It came in the form of “chartaceous.” It is an adjective meaning “resembling paper.” There was also “charta,” which is “a piece of paper impregnated with medicine for external use” or “a piece of paper folded to hold powdered medicine.”

The root here is “char.” It comes from the Latin word charta, which means paper or papyrus leaf. I’ll have to remember that one.

Fabric

One thing you may not know about me is that I’m very tactile. I can’t walk through a story without touching each piece of cloth I encounter. And I’m pretty good. At one time, I could tell you with great accuracy the percentages of different material going into a piece of cloth.

Now it is really hard. Polyesters have gotten so good that they alone mess me up. And when combined with other fibers, all bets are off. It’s pretty amazing, however; when I was a kid, polyesters were so horrible. Now I don’t mind wearing them at all. But I still prefer a linen and cotton blend.

Anyway, page 48 featured the word “charvet.” It is “a soft fabric in silk or rayon.” It sounds wonderful.

Hats

Most people know that I’m very fond of hats. So I was interested to see the word “chechia”: “a close-fitting hat with a tassel, worn in the Middle East.” I’m sure you’ve seen them around. I will have to get one. I’ve stopped wearing fedoras and pork-pie hats because of their association with libertarians. But a chechia might be great.

Char·nel  noun  \chär’-nl\

1. a place where dead bodies are kept.

Date: 14th century.

Origin: Old French via medieval Latin carnalis, meaning “related to flesh.”

Example: One of them said, “Sisters, instead of going to a park to enjoy the spring flowers, let’s go together to see the charnel grounds.” The others said, “That place is full of decaying corpses. What is such a place good for?” –Bonnie Myotai Treace, “Seven Wise Women in the Charnel Grounds,” in The Hidden Lamp.

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Jul 30

Odd Words: Champlevé

ChamplevéI found several interesting words on page 47 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! It also contained a number of words that were odd in a bad way too. But mostly, it’s a very good page. Even the featured word is interesting (although French): champlevé.

Singer of Songs

Everyone who reads this site should know what a “chanson” is. I’ve forced Jacques Brel on you often enough. But actually, the definition of the word is kind of variable depending upon who you ask. The default Google definition is just “a French song.” Wikipedia offers a more reasonable definition, “A chanson is in general any lyric-driven French song.”

The dictionary offered a special kind of chanson: “chanson de geste.” It is “a medieval French epic poem.” I’m more interested in the modern version of the chanson. But it is interesting that the general form has been around so long.

Anyway, let’s listen to Brel do “Port of Amsterdam”:

A Nice Cup of Tea

Also on page 47 was the word “chanoyu.” It is “a Japanese tea ceremony.” As you all know, I’m pretty fond of tea. But in Asia, people take tea consumption to shocking heights.

The last time I went China it was to talk to a company that made credit card processing machines. They wanted someone to create software for iPhones that used their device. Now, of course, these things are very common.

The problem was, in the time between them buying our tickets and us going, they had decided not to outsource the work. (Interesting thought though: a Chinese company outsourcing to the US.) So the trip mostly involved us siting in tea shops drinking tea.

It was remarkable to watch these young women make tea. It was like they were doing chemistry. Such great care was taken in the brewing process. Of course, we were drinking green tea, and it is brewed at a low temperature (roughly 160°), so this was necessary in order to create a really good cup (Bowl?!) of tea.

None of that helped, of course. I spent the entire trip blinded by rage. I’m not that fond of traveling. And I really don’t like China. I couldn’t believe that they wasted our time like that. But it was just one of those things.

Champlevé

Well, enough of French songs, Japanese tea, and that time I had to go to China for no good reason. The word of the day is “champlevé.” It has to do with jewelry making. I’ve always been fascinated by the processes that go into this art. Of course, I’ve never done it.

Cham·le·vé  noun  \shämləva’\

1. a technique for making jewelry and other small objects in which enamel is fused on to designs on a metal base.

Date: 19th century.

Origin: French — champ and levé — “field raised.”

Example: Celebrating the year of the rooster, the brand employs the champlevé enamel technique to bring the Classico Rooster to life. –Simone Louis, 10 Ornate Time Pieces For Those Who Love The Little Details.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/07/30/champleve/

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Jul 29

Odd Words: Cervelat

CervelatWill you ever be happy you tuned in for page 46 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Never has then been a page with so many words about the brain and wax. Somehow, that seems appropriate. But I picked a word that had to do with neither: cervelat.

Brain Words

First up are all the brain words. These are words based on the Latin word for brain: cerebrum. But it’s likely you know most of these words: “cerebral” and “cebebrum.” We humans really like talking about our brains.

I’ve long thought that we over-estimate the importance of our particular way of thinking. And I’m not talking about ignorant people. The whole Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program is based on the idea that lifeforms would start sending out radio ways to the universe. I’ve come to find this a very big assumption. Other intelligent species might well do very different things. Hell, we may do very different things in a few centuries. (I hope so.)

There was one word that was totally new to me: cerebrotonia. Our dictionary defines it: “the personality pattern usually associated with the ectomorphie body type, characterized by sensitivity and concern and involvement with intellectual matters.” Now I don’t know what all this body type business is all about. But the ectomorphic type is “having a thin body build, roughly characterized by the relative prominence of structures developed from the embryonic ectoderm.”

Wax Words

Before discussing wax words, let me draw your attention to an article I wrote three years ago, Fun Horror Films With Wax. In it, I discuss four films. It’s something I will likely move to Psychotronic Review eventually.

But back to the words. There were a lot of them. These word come from From Latin cera or Greek kēros. So we have “cerecloth,” which is “a wax-coated, waterproof cloth, used as a winding sheet.” Or the closely related “cerement,” which is “a cerecloth used as a shroud for the dead.” Then there is “ceriferous,” which I won’t insult you by defining. And a couple of others even more arcane.

Other Words

Page 46 also included “cerulean.” It is an adjective “deep blue; resembling the blue of the sky.” This reminds me of the fact that blue is a color that humans developed words for only very late. There aren’t really things in nature that are blue other than the sky and the sea. And these things were so pervasive that they didn’t seem to have any color at all.

This is said to be the reason that Homer described, for example, the sea being red. For a long time, it was thought that Homer was blind. But now we think it was just that people didn’t have much of a color vocabulary for blues at that time.

One word tickled me, “chad.” It is defined as “the paper removed when holes are perforated in a card or tape.” That’s a word I — and I dare say most people — wouldn’t have known. Except, of course, because of the 2000 presidential election and the Florida recount. You know, the more I look at the past, the more I see the Republican Party as being a pox on our culture. The party really is postmodern in the sense of not believing in a shared reality. The only thing they believe in is power. And I’ve become more and more convinced that this is how great empires fall.

Cervelat

Now that I’ve depressed you, let’s talk about food. Well, cervelats anyway.

Cer·ve·lat  noun  \sur’-vəlat\

1. a smoked sausage made of pork and beef.

Date: early 17th century.

Origin: earlier form of French cervelas via Italian cervellata.

Example: Take white bread cut in slices of the thickness of a knife blade, remove the crust and let it cook in the oven or in a testa, and have rich broth, in which has been cooked beef, capons, and cervelat sausages. –Ken Albala and Lisa Cooperman, Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/07/29/cervelat/

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