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.”


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.


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 04

US Has Never Been a Fair Arbiter in the Middle East

Mehdi Hasan - American Checks and Balances Are Out of WhackTrump’s son-in-law not only lacks the necessary qualifications, experience and knowledge, he also lacks even the pretense of balance or objectivity.


But here’s the thing: have there ever been “fair arbiters”? From the US side? Kushner, for all his many sins and flaws, is only the most extreme and egregious example of a long-standing and bipartisan trend in US Middle East policy: the appointment of special envoys, negotiators, and ambassadors who see themselves more as advocates and defenders of Israel than as neutral or honest brokers.

Don’t believe me? According to former State Department official Aaron David Miller, who advised six secretaries of state, US negotiators, himself included, have spent decades acting “as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.” Miller has admitted that he, Martin Indyk and other members of the US negotiating team at the Camp David summit in 2000 brought a “clear pro-Israel orientation” to the discussions and that their “departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one — Israel.”


This isn’t rocket science. “There are many reasons for America’s failure to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians but the most fundamental one is that it is a dishonest broker,” observed the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim in 2010.

To be clear: the Palestinians and their supporters are not asking for the United States to attack or even abandon the Jewish state. What they want is fairness, not favors. But thanks to a mixture of factors — US strategic interests in the Middle East; the power of the military-industrial complex; the influence of Jewish American organizations; the rise of Rapture-obsessed Christian evangelicals — they tend to get neither.

Remember how Howard Dean, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, was pilloried by leading members of his own party, such as Nancy Pelosi, merely for suggesting that “it’s not our place to take sides” and that “the United States needs an even-handed approach in the conflict”? The former Vermont governor had to walk back his remarks and confirm that the United States had “a special relationship with Israel.”

In the context of US Middle East policy, “even-handed” is a dirty word. So too is “neutral.” Yet for the past two decades, according to polling data collected by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, despite a clear majority of Americans offering greater sympathy for the Israelis than for the Palestinians, an equally clear majority says the United States ought to take neither side in the conflict. In 2015, for example, 66 percent of Americans thought the US should “not take either side,” compared with only 29 percent who suggested the US should side with Israel.

–Mehdi Hasan
Jared Kushner’s Pro-Israel Bias Is Nothing New for US Mideast Envoys — It’s Just the Most Blatant

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Aug 03

Obamacare and Disingenuous Republican Tutors

Obamacare and Disingenuous RepublicansFor eight years, Republicans drove themselves into a fever-pitch hysteria against the Affordable Care Act without bothering to learn how the law worked. Working from the premise that Obamacare was a uniquely ill-designed law — death panels! train wrecks! — they easily persuaded themselves and much of the country that Republicans could write something vastly better.

Half a year of Republican-run government has systematically exposed the right-wing arguments against Obamacare as bad-faith rhetoric or outright fantasy. One small-business owner, who told the New York Times in 2012 that he opposed the law as something jammed down the public’s throat, was re-interviewed this year. “I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” he now says.

It is not surprising that only this year did the Affordable Care Act become popular. The law’s unpopularity depended entirely on the existence of an imaginary alternative that was free of trade-offs. The populist fallacy that everybody can get better insurance for less money if only the government wasn’t run by morons is seductive. Obama’s wonkish explanations could not expose the fallacy’s hollowness. But the Republicans in power have proven excellent (if inadvertent) tutors.

–Jonathan Chait
Obama’s Legacy Is Finally Coming Into Focus, Thanks to Trump

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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.


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.”


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

It’s Embarrassing to Have Trump as President

President Donald TrumpSo I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders. They like me. I like them. You know, it’s amazing. So I’ll call, like, major‚ major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem?

Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say — they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.

–President Donald Trump
Trump’s Wall Street Journal interview

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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.


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.


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.


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 31

We Are All Made of Trump

We Are All Made of TrumpIn a world that daily offers fewer pleasures, I was happy to receive a review copy of Paul Bibeau’s new book, We Are All Made of Trump. As he promised some months ago, the book is humor — not horror like last year’s State of Fear. But to some extent it is impossible to be reminded that Trump exists without being horrified.

The book is prime Bibeau. Who else has the insight to equate Donald Trump with John Wayne Gacy? When the time comes, I will be proud to be in the same camp as Paul.

At a little less than 20,000 words, it makes a nice single-sit read. And it’s a deal for just one dollar. Much of it is laugh-out-loud funny. Trump has provided Paul with a great cast of character. Alone he isn’t that interesting. But the book is filled with stories about his entourage as well as his delusional followers.

The Trump Cult

It’s interesting that I had never thought about it before reading We Are All Made of Trump, but there is something like a cult that surrounds the president. It goes well past the evidence-denying Christian fundamentalism — although that was certainly a prerequisite for the rise of Trump. But it helps to explain why people support him despite being far closer to the Antichrist than Jesus. You —
or they, anyway — don’t question what God does. God creates his own morality.

The book reads almost like a novel. It brings to mind Cannery Row. Of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending — or any ending at all. It is a short story collection. But more than that, we are only six months into this nightmare. What’s more, all of Steinbeck’s characters had the great humanity that he is known for. Paul’s oddballs are evil, determined to enrich themselves at the cost of everyone else.

Various Perspectives on Trump

The first part of We Are All Made of Trump — “Lessons and Grumbles” — looks that Trump and modern America from various perspectives. It starts with “Prayers of the People”: a plea to God from a self-aware conservative Christian, asking God to watch over Trump. It’s self-aware in that the writer knows that Trump needs watching over, “There are all those articles out there about how conservative Christians voted for Donald Trump to represent us in Washington, and if he makes us look like a bunch of ignorant jackasses, it won’t help You either.” I suspect, in the quiet of their own brains, many conservative Christians think much the same thing.

This transitions into “Alone on Twitter,” a story about the futility of battling the Trump brigade. Paul perfectly describes what drives these people and why it is pointless:

DeploraB20 wants to be the bad guy here. He’s resigned to it. He’s one of these jerks — I can tell this — one of these older, selfish, ignorant people who is probably bitter about how he got passed over for a promotion, and so he blames everyone around him for that and for marrying too young and taking on more responsibility than he could handle, and now he gets a sick, twisted thrill from saying awful stuff about religious minorities and black people, and the way my grandfather was probably an alcoholic, and I will be too…

Mice and Thumbs

“A Tiny Warning” is written by a mouse being given as much cocaine as it wants as part of an experiment. It notes that the cocaine has the same effect as the smug outrage peddled by conservative media. And “Incoming” is told from the perspective of an asteroid that is going to destroy us all. There is a follow-up from a nuclear weapon. The high point is probably “A Message to America From a Severed Thumb.” The thumb’s name is Stumpy. Need any more convincing?

The Trump Con

No one is a bigger mark than the person who will not admit to being wrong. Thus it isn’t surprising that the biggest thematic element of We Are All Made of Trump is the con. This really gets going in the second part of the book, “Visions and Hunches.” It is also where the real-life Trump characters come in. All of them are trying to deceive one way or another.

Sean Spicer is featured throughout this part. Well, someone who might appear to smart-pants people like Paul, but who spends most of his time claiming that he is not Sean Spicer. Similarly, we find Steve Bannon in his real form as a kind of left-coast stereotype — into natural food and herbs — using words like “mindfulness.” We first encounter him teaching landscape painting on public television in Alaska.

The funniest parts of the book are the stories featuring conservative celebrity Mike Cernovich. He starts by hawking reverse mortgages, but it gets more insane and hilarious from there. I’ll tell you about just one: the erectile dysfunction drug Deploracil.

Buy We Are All Made of Trump Now

There is lots more in the book; I’ve only touched on its delights. And for a buck — less than a cup of coffee — you can’t go wrong. It will also make you feel less alone.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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Jul 28

Odd Words: Cenotaph

CenotaphWelcome to page 45 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! The page did not offer that great a selection of words. But luckily, there was a word having to do with death. And I’m always up for that: cenotaph.


Much of page 45 was taken up using centi– words — those relating to one-hundredth. So we got words “centesimal” and “centigrade.” It occurred to me that the dictionary was published in 1972. This was when the metric system was all the rage.

I remember at the time that there was a certain amount of nationalism that went along with the metric system. A lot of people considered it to be some kind of foreign plot. Yet we did make the change without too much pain.

If it were going on today, you can just imagine. Fox News and hate radio would blow it up into an existential threat. There would be old conservatives all over the nation worrying about it the way people did nuclear war in the early 1960s. Of course, maybe that would be good — give them something to worry about rather than taking healthcare away from much of the nation.

Other Words

There isn’t much rhyme or reason to the rest of the words, so I’ll just touch on a few randomly. Of some interest is the word “celure,” which is “a decorated canopy for a bed, throne, etc.” It makes me think of the ceiling they have for Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But that isn’t accurate. It’s more what is above a canopy bed. When I was a kid, my sisters had canopy beds. It seemed very posh.

I love all the arcane words associated with religion. Today we have “canobite.” It is “a member of a religious group living a communal life.” That always sounds like something I would like. You know, the contemplative life. But I know I would end up going crazy.

And I’ll leave this section with “ceratoid.” I bring it up mostly because of the way our dictionary defined it: “horny; resembling horn.” I think even in 1972, “horny” mostly meant “feeling or arousing sexual excitement.” It just seems an odd choice. But maybe it’s only me.


Okay, enough of that. Let’s move on to “cenotaph.” This is actually a useful word. I always think that when I imagine trying to talk about something without using a particular word. In this case, you run into something like, “I visited his — well, it’s not his grave — it’s like a tombstone, but his body isn’t there.” It makes me want to give up.

Cen·o·taph  noun  \sen’-ətaf\

1. a tomb or monument erected as a memorial to a deceased person who is buried elsewhere.

Date: Early 17th century.

Origin: French cénotaphe via Latin cénotaphe via Greek kenos and taphos — literally “empty tomb.”

Example: But the push is to raise these funds before the end of summer — in order to move forward with the cenotaph revitalization and bronze memorial project in its entirety. –Lindsay Seewalt, Cenotaph Needs $20K

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