Category Archive: Odd Words

Nov 05

Odd Words: Caducity

CaducityIt’s been over two weeks, but finally I am getting around to page 36 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. There are a lot of strange and useless words on this page. But I’ve picked a good word that seems like I should have known it: caducity.

Caducity Is Not a Musical Word

This page had a number of words I knew from music. And I learned something. The word “cadence” means both “the beat or measure of any rhythmical motion” and “a sequence of chords showing the end of a section or phrase.” Now, I knew both those words, but I was never certain if they were exactly the same word or if they were spelled differently. I know “cadence” well because I studied music theory. But the first definition is one I know only because I was in marching band in high school.

Another cool music word is “cadenza.” Now you might think this is related to “cadence,” but it isn’t. A cadenza is “an elaborate ostentatious passage for a solo instrument in a concerto, aria, etc.” They are often improvised or written by the performer. In my experience, they are dreadful. They are there for the purpose of showing off. Think: the classical music equivalent to a rock drum solo.

Other Words

There were a number of property words. For example, “cadastral,” which is “of or pertaining to property boundaries.” There were a couple more related words. But then there was “cairn” which is “a heap of stones serving as a landmark. There were many others that I didn’t know that had nothing to do with property, of course. For example: calathiform. How I got this far not having a word to describe something shaped like a cup, I can’t say. No, wait! I can! I just say, “Shaped like a cup.”

All right, here we go: caducity.

Ca·du·ci·ty  noun  \ke-‘dü-sə-tē\

1. senility.

2. the quality of being transitory; impermanence.

Date: mid 18th century.

Origin: from French, caducité, which means (Maybe?) “deciduous nature.” But it comes from the Latin word caducus, which is an adjective meaning “that falls” or “has fallen.” It was especially used in reference to warriors, as in, “He has fallen in battle.”

Example: This is also seen in The Pope’s Body, where Paravicini Bagliani inscribes the death of the pope within a dialectic of caducity and glorification. —Joëlle Rollo-Koster, in Death in Medieval Europe: Death Scripted and Death Choreographed.

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 19

Odd Words: Cacography

CacographyWe are starting the the C words with page 35 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. And I’ve picked another word that has to do with writing: cacography.

Beyond Cacography: Where’s Caboose?

I was shocked — Shocked I tell you! — that the word “caboose” was not in the dictionary. It is one of my very favorite words. When I was incredibly young, my sister and I used to run to the window each time the freight train went by, pointing and screaming, “The caboose! The caboose!” How can you not love a word like that. And it is also the case that cabooses are the coolest part of the train. I’ve never lost my love of the word. In Oregon, there is a town named Scappoose. It’s not very nice. But I’ve always loved it because it rhymes with “caboose.”

Words I Didn’t Know

Even though page 35 was a partial one, it still had some interesting words. There is “caboclo,” which may be the native peoples of Brazil or the people resulting from the mix of the Brazilian natives and the European invaders. It depends upon who you ask.

I was going to use the word “cabotage,” which has to do with trade at sea. But since I did a boat word yesterday, it seemed kind of boring. Most people would find it kind of boring anyway.

A word I did know was “cacciatore.” But that is just because Chicken Cacciatore is one of my standard dishes. I didn’t realize it was a dish “containing or prepared with tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs, etc.” But it is. It’s still one of my favorite things.

That’s enough of such trivialities, let’s get on to cacography!

Ca·cog·ra·phy  noun  \ka-‘kä-grə-fē\

1. inartistic or illegible handwring.

2. bad spelling.

Date: late 16th century.

Origin: from the Greek κακός which means “bad.”

Example: The clippings are peppered with bitchy annotations written in his highly stylized calligraphy to which I make additional acerbic annotations in my cacography of orange felt-tip ink and mail them back to him. —Jamie Brickhouse, You’ve Got Republican Mail!

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 18

Odd Words: Bumboat

BumboatWe reach the end of the B words on page 34 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. And I’ve picked a simple enough word: bumboat.

Other Words for Sale on My Bumboat

Page 34 featured two related words that are no doubt of use to readers of The New York Times: Bundestag and the Bundesrat. They are the legislative houses of the German government. From what I know (And I’m certain one or more of you all will correct me if I’m wrong!) the Bundestag is more like our House of Representatives and the Bundesrat is more like our Senate. But the Bundesrat is more like the Senate before the Seventeenth Amendment. That is to say: its members are not directly elected by the people but rather appointed by the state governments.

Disgusting Biology

One word I didn’t know may surprise you: bung. It is “a plug or stopper for the hole in a wooden barrel.” I certainly knew the coarse word “bunghole,” which I assume is derived from it. It is a marvel that for a great many people, the anus never loses the fascination that it held when they were children. I, of course, find almost everything about the human body disgusting. Really: observe yourself while you’re eating some time. You’ll quickly conclude that eating should be done in private and with great shame.

Thirty white horses on a red hill
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.

But enough of such talk. Let us move to bumboat!

Bum·boat  noun  \bəm’-bōt\

1. a small boat used to ferry provisions to ships lying in harbor.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: apparently from the Dutch word bomschuit, which some sources say means “small fishing boat.” However, I can’t find that word defined anywhere. The Dutch word schuit means “boat.” So I suspect that bomschuit is slang or jargon.

Example: Now it seemed the bumboat was returning to her best customer. —Hal Weidner (Heart of War: A Descent into Darkness)

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 15

Odd Words: Bruit

BruitLots of interesting words on page 33 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Today, we have a cool little verb: bruit.

Picking Bruit

I’ve taken a different approach today in picking a word. I found an example sentence first. This is often the most time consuming part of the whole exercise. For example, I really wanted to use the word “brulé” today. It means “a forest region destroyed by fire.” But there are so many people with that last name that finding the word in a sentence was difficult. Actually, “bruit” turned out to be too; but I found something that worked out well just as I was about to give up.

I thought it was interesting that “bulimia” was in the dictionary. This edition of the book was published in 1985. That’s just two years after Karen Carpenter died. But to stop thinking about that, you can listen to “Superstar” by The Carpenters. It’s not the best version. But it does have a naiveté that works for it and makes it special.

A word that brought back a lot of memories was “buccal,” which describes something related the cheek. One doesn’t normally need such a word, but in a dentist office, it is critically important.

But on to bruit:

Bruit  verb  \brüt\

1. to spread a rumor

Date: early 15th century (but as a noun).

Origin: late Middle English from Old French bruire meaning “to roar.”

Example: Sleazy headlines bruit about that Labine was slain in a gangster’s love nest. —Kenneth Tucker (Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: The Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions)

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 09

Odd Words: Brannigan

Zapp BranniganPage 32 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition didn’t have much to work with. But at least we had “brannigan.”

Beyond Brannigan

There were a couple of words today that reminded me of Donald Trump. One is today’s word itself. But there are other things like bravado and bray. I especially think of “bray” when I watch Trump. Bravado is obvious.

There were a couple of words that I didn’t know. The first was “bretelle.” That is “an ornamental shoulder strap.” No surprise that I wouldn’t know a word that had to do with fashion.

The second word was “brisance.” That is more jargon than word: “the shattering power of high explosive.” Now that I think of it — another Trump word!

But on to the chosen word:

Bran·ni·gan  noun  \bra’-ni-gən\

1. a squabble or brawl; a spree.

Date: late 19th century.

Origin: unknown, but apparently based on the last name.

Example: There might be a huge brannigan at tonight’s debate —Frank Moraes (Because, really, how to research a word like this?)

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 07

Odd Words: Boustrophedon

BoustrophedonI can’t complain about Page 31 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. How can you fault a page that gives you a word as great as “boustrophedon.”

This Article Will Not Use Boustrophedon

Truthfully, I really wanted to do a word I know really, really well: bourgeois. But maybe not, because these Odd Words articles are really more about talking about the words that I don’t use. So let me talk about “bourgeois.”

I remember knowing this word when I was very young — five years or less? It was a fun word because it sounded so weird. My sister and I would repeat, “That’s so bourgeois!” We must have heard that phrase somewhere. To us it meant more or less tasteless. I was shocked in my teens to learn the word in its proper context as a class construct.

Of course, I have to admit, that I still do have something of an attitude about middle class tastes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an attitude about proletariat tastes too. Much of my artistic thinking is involved with the creation of art that is both fun but challenging. The essence of bourgeois taste is that it is comfortable; it tells people that the way things are is just fine. I don’t think that.

I’m So Bourgeois!

The problem is: that is such a bourgeois way of thinking. Sure, it isn’t the standard bourgeois thinking. But it is clearly the thinking of a member of that class. And I know that if I ever find an audience for my work, it will be the bourgeoisie. Someone quite like me will say, “That’s so bourgeois!” It’s a good thing I love contradiction!

Okay, on to a truly wondrous word: boustrophedon:

Bou·stro·phe·don  noun  \bü-strə-‘fē-dän\

1. writing in which alternate lines read in opposite directions.

Date: early 17th century.

Origin: from Greek, βόδι, which means “ox,” and στροφος, which means “turn.” So: the ox turns — as in plowing a field.

Example: The inscription is believed to be older than the inscription he found in the Maruthom forest area of Kasaragod, which, he said, was boustrophedon style, and the scripts found at Edakkal in Wayanad.The Hindu

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 05

Odd Words: Borborygmus

BorborygmusI thought I might not find anything I didn’t know on Page 30 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. But there was a medical word that is actually useful: borborygmus.

Beyond Borborygmus

Again with the repetition: botulin, botulinus, and botulism. To make matters worse, the definition of the first is “the toxin produced by botulinus, the cause of botulism.” So the first word defined the two that followed it. I want to pull my hair out.

There was also “boondoggle” and “boondocks.” These are wonderfully fun sounding words. Plus, it’s an excuse to listen to Billy Joe Royal doing Joe South’s “Down in the Boondocks.” South is best known for his song “Games People Play.” He also wrote “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden.” Yes, he was one of the greats.

Okay, enough about Joe South. Here’s borborygmus:

Bor·bo·ryg·mus  noun  \bȯr-bə-‘rig-məs\

1. the technical word for rumbling or gurgling in the stomach, a natural sound.

Date: early 18th century.

Origin: Latin, from the Greek γουργουρητό, meaning “rumbling.”

Example: Wind is like the human breath, rain like secretions, and thunder like borborygmusCh’ung Wang

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 04

Odd Words: Blatherskite

Donald Trump - BlatherskiteAs you can see, I’m not doing these posts every day. They’re hard. But today we do Page 29 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It had a great word for today and to the general election and then maybe another four or eight years: blatherskite.

Me No Blatherskite

In a regular dictionary, you know you are going to get a lot of repetition. But for one like ours, repetition is annoying. This pages starts with: blaspheme, blasphemous, and blasphemy. Now really: anyone who knows one of those words knows them all, right? And it had words like “bleak.” If you don’t know that word, you need a regular dictionary.

But there were a lot of things I didn’t know. Blaue Reiter is “a group of artists employing free form and unconventional colors, active in Munich in the early 20th century.” They did beautiful work. I’ll have to do some more research on them.

But I’m in a bit of a rush, so on to blatherskite:

Blath·er·skite  noun  \bla’-thər-skīt\

1. one given to blustering or empty talk.

Date: mid 17th century.

Origin: not surprisingly, it comes from the English word “blather.” It is combined with the Scottish pejorative “skite,” which means “one held in mild contempt.” But I have found that the word is usually spelled “skyte” or “skate.”

Example: Trump’s more important because he can make a shambles of the Republican debates. Just by being there, he can hurt the Republican Party. He is what is called a “blatherskite.” That is a word my grandmother was fond of as someone who blathers promiscuously.George Will

The word seems to have first appeared in the Francis Sempil song “Maggie Lauder.” It has the line, “Jog on your gait, ye blatherskate.” Enjoy!

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 02

Odd Words: Bissextile

BissextileAnd so we get another one! Page 28 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was no fun! Lots of bi- and bio- words. Do you know them? If you don’t, you can figure them out. So today’s word is “bissextile.”

In This Bissextile Year, Let Me Rant About “Bipartisan”

I have to say something about a very common word on Page 28: bipartisan. In a two party system such as ours, it really should be seen as a pejorative. If you look back at the great bipartisan deals we’ve had, they’ve been terrible. They’ve been the result of the Democratic Party becoming conservative. So we got welfare “reform,” which had the result of making the poor poorer. We got trade deals that did the same thing. We got costly and bloody wars.

In general, bipartisanship is not something that comes from the voters; it’s something that comes from the party elites. I’m no fan of the Tea Party idiots, but I’m with them on the idea that such compromises are really just a form of selling out. What’s funny is that it has been the liberal leadership that has sold out its base. And maybe that’s why. The conservative leaders know that their base is so crazy that it complains about compromise when they do no compromising.

Compromise Is Good

Liberals like the idea of compromise. So do I! But that’s not what bipartisanship has been during my lifetime. In 2011, Obama was willing to trade small tax increases on the wealthy for decreases in Social Security. Tax increases on the rich is a liberal policy — but only when the economy is doing well. It wasn’t. Raising taxes on the rich was part of an austerity program. You know: a conservative program. So he was trading a conservative policy for a conservative policy. Bipartisanship! Let’s have a parade!

And what would the long-term results be? Well, the Social Security cuts would stick. But the rich would find a way around their tax increase. If you haven’t noticed, pretty much whenever a Republican gets into the White House, their taxes get cut. So it would have been a temporary inconvenience. Meanwhile, poor old people would suffer — in perpetuity.

But enough of that. On to bissextile:

Bis·sex·tile  adjective  \bē-‘seks-til\

1. having or denoting February 29, the extra day of a leap year.

Date: late Middle English.

Origin: from Latin bissextus, which literally means “twice sixth.” Apparently the Romans had two February 24ths on each leap year. So why the “sixth”? Well, because February 24th was the sixth day before the beginning of March. If this seems a bit odd to you, well you obviously wouldn’t have made a good Roman.

Example: There are other terms for the added day: bissextile day (which takes some explaining), intercalary day.Guy Ottewell

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Oct 01

Odd Words: Billet-doux

Billet-douxOh, how I’ve missed you all! My writing for Frankly Curious is really the basis of my social life. Make of that what you will. If it sounds really pathetic, I think you get the idea. And these odd words posts are often very personal. Today, we do Page 27 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Today’s word is “billet-doux.”

Too Tired to Go Beyond Billet-doux

Part 27 was no all that great. It had a bunch of bi- words and then a bunch of bio- words. Not a lot of fun. But in addition to that, I’m still really tired. And whatever I had affected my eyes and is still doing so. So reading is difficult. But I will tell you one story.

When I was young, I was with some friends at the beach at night. And as I walked along the wet sand, it seemed like sparklers were emitting from the front of my shoes. Now me being me, I just thought I was hallucinating. So I asked a friend and sure enough, it was a real thing. We picked up sand and poured it on the ground and saw the same thing. So we took a bucket of it home. The next night, there were no sparklers in the bucket of sand. I think that’s when I first realized that the light came from little animals — which were all dead now. And that what I had seen was bioluminescence.

But enough of that. On to billet-doux:

Bil·let-doux  noun  \bēl’-əy-doo\

1. a love letter.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: from French billet-doux, meaning “sweet note.”

Example: The missive that sets wheels in motion here seems, by contrast, harmless: an anonymous billet-doux.Daily Mail

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Sep 26

Odd Words: Biedermeier

BiedermeierWe are back on track with Page 26 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Before I start complaining, let me just tell you that today’s word is “Biedermeier.” Yes: capitalized.

Not Great Beyond Biedermeier

As I’ve noted in the past, words tend to clump because of roots. This was a big day for biblio- words. There were 14 of the little suckers. That’s almost an entire column. And then there were the bi- words. There were eight of them — with more to come. The page still had a lot of good words, however. It had bibelot, a small decorative objective. It also had biggin, which is some kind of coffee pot contraption. And it had bijouterie, a collection of jewelry.

It also had some interesting words that I already knew. For example, it had “Donald Trump.” I’m sorry, I mean “bigot.” Additionally, it had “bigamy.” I don’t especially care, except for a great Captain Spaulding bit in Animal Crackers. When told that his suggestion that two women marry him is bigamy, he responds, “Yes and it’s big o’ me too! It’s big of all of us. Why not be big for a change!” And that’s just an excuse for embedding this little bit of video:

But enough of that. On to Biedermeier:

Bie·der·mei·er  adjective  \bē’-dər-mī-ər\

1. denoting or relating to a style of interior decoration, furnishing, etc, found in German-speaking countries in the 19th century and characterized by ebony inlays and veneers of fruitwood used in a simplified style resembling French Empire.

Date: mid 19th century.

Origin: from the character Gottlieb Biedermaier.

Example: Ruszwurm, a tiny shop close to Buda Castle, is a Biedermeier-era throwback flaunting original wood and spot-on krémes that unite buttery vanilla cream with flaky pastry.Alia Akkam

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Sep 25

Odd Words: Bedizen

BedizenPage 24 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition just sucked. Really! First we got more be- words. Then we got a bunch of ben- words. I decided to go with “bedizen,” because there was only one other word that I could even remotely say I didn’t know.

One Word Beyond Bedizen

The other word was beldam, which our dictionary defines as “an old woman; a hag.” That’s interesting in that I would have figured that it meant “beautiful woman.” That is, after all, what it literally means. And apparently, it was first used to mean more or less “grandmother.” But now it’s just an old woman or even a hag. Anyway, I think the word is archaic. Thus: don’t use it — not even for an odd words post.

Bedizen is a more interesting word:

Be·di·zen  verb  \bi-‘dī-zən\

1. to ornament or dress gaudily or vulgarly.

Date: mid 17th century.

Origin: it seems to come from the Dutch word disen, which seems to mean to put on a facade to impress others. But I’ve had to use a number of different sources to come to that conclusion.

Example: But with age — and possibly, I concede, declining virility — I began to see that pornography entailed the exploitation of vulnerable and mostly young people, while the depictions of violence which bedizen our ubiquitous screens aren’t victimless crimes — no matter how enthusiastically those who stage them, may consent.A Point of View

Permanent link to this article:

Amazon Ad

Older posts «