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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Odd Words: Cavitation

CavitationAs the summer grinds on, we do page 44 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Today, we are highlighting the word “cavitation.” I actually know this word, given that it is used in every submarine movie produced over the last couple of decades. But I figured that I was allowed given that I didn’t actually know what the process was.

Similar Words

This page featured two sets of words that were very similar. The first set was comprised of “caudal” and “caudle.” They are “relating to, or situated at or near the tail” and “a warm drink for invalids made from wine, brandy, etc, mixed with bread, gruel, eggs, sugar, and spices.” It’s interesting that “caudle” sounds a lot like what we used to ingest to deal with hangovers in grad school.

The second set are anagrams: “cavate” and “caveat.” They mean “hollowed out so as to form a cave” and “a legal notice to a court to suspend proceedings temporarily.” I know the word “caveat,” of course. It’s one of my favorites, in fact. But I wasn’t aware of this definition for it. Of course, words like “cavate” make me think that The New York Times was just making up words to cover for errors they had previously published.

Latin Dogs

It isn’t hard to figure out what “cave canem” means: “beware of the dog.” But I wonder how useful this is. I can’t imagine anyone putting it on a sign. What for? To warn very educated trespassers? But more than that, under what circumstances would this phrase come up? I can’t image it other than some case like this one where we are talking about it as a curious construction. “Can you believe what they put in this dictionary…?”

Other Words

This page featured something quite unusual: a phrase that I didn’t know before or after I read about it in the dictionary: “cavore lievo.” If anyone can help me, I’d appreciate it. According to the dictionary, it is “a kind of sculpture in relief in which the highest points are beneath the level of the original surface.” I understand all the words, but I can’t form a visual representation of it.

Typography is always interesting to me. And today we got “cedilla”: “a mark placed under a letter, usually indicating a sibilant pronunciation.” Some sources say it is limited to the letter “c.” I don’t know, but that was the letter that flashed in my mind after reading the definition. For example, there is “façade.”

I know the words “celibacy” and “celibate,” of course. But according to the dictionary, these words do not have to do with refraining from sex but rather marriage. For example, of “celibacy,” it notes “the state of being unmarried, especially as the result of a religious vow.” That might come as some relief to certain Catholic priests.


The first time I recall hearing the word “cavitation” was in the movie The Hunt for Red October. I’ve heard it often since then. But other than “something that caused turbulence in the water” I didn’t know what it meant.

Cav·i·ta·tion  noun  \kav-itā’-shən\

1. the formation of partial vacuums in a flowing liquid in areas of very low pressure.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: English — cavity + ation.

Example: A common culprit in damaged water pipes and ship propellers, cavitation is the formation and collapse of gaseous bubbles that form in fluids.Team Develops New Math Equation to Predict Cavitation

Odd Words: Cataphract

CataphractWelcome to page 43 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! This was a pretty typical page with a good mix of known and unknown words. I went with “cataphract.”

A Very Special Sex Slave

The page started with a few words in the neighborhood of “catalyst.” They are words most people know — even if they’ve never taken chemistry. But right after them I got a surprising introduction to the word “catamite.”

It is “a boy kept for taking part in homosexual activities.” It’s quite an old word — dating back to the 16th century, when (as I understand it), finding boys attractive was something that heterosexual men did without social criticism. The word traces back to the ancient Greek word for the hero Ganymede.

The word reminds me of Spartacus. There is a scene where Crassus (Laurence Olivier) tells Antoninus (Tony Curtis) about liking oysters and snails — a very thin reference to his bisexuality and intent to bed the young man. This causes Antoninus to run away and join Spartacus.

Medical Words

Not surprisingly, there were a number of medical words. They must be arcane because they mostly don’t appear in regular dictionaries. For example, there is “catamnesis” — “the medical history of a sick person.” Then there was “cataphoresis” — “the action of passing medicinal substances through living tissue in the direction of a positive electric current; electrophoresis.” And so on. Not very inspiring stuff.


There were two unusual words that relate to theater. The first, I knew: “catastrophe.” Obviously, it has another definition. But in terms of theater, it is “the decisive point in a play, especially a tragedy.” This word I knew, but only because I had researched it in light of Samuel Beckett’s play Catastrophe. It’s 5 minutes of torture — but probably a good encapsulation of the lives most people live.

The other word is “catastasis.” It is “that part of a play immediately preceding the climax.” This is a very useful word. I often find myself talking about that part of play or movie. It is generally when things look like they might work out in a tragedy, or where they look hopeless in a comedy.


Everything in today’s post came from the first column of page 43. That includes today’s word: “cataphract,” which I’ll admit is not all that interesting.

Cat·a·phract  noun  \kat’-əfrakt\

1. an armed warship of ancient Greece

2. a Roman soldier in mail.

Date: Late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin, from Greek kataphraktos, which means “clothed in full armor.”

Example: In brief, from the Battle of Adrianople (378), the supremacy of the Roman infantry legion was superseded by the charge of the heavy armored horseman — the cataphract, a development of, primarily, Iranians that spread to dominate Europe and western Asia for over a thousand years, fundamentally reshaping economies, politics, and social organization. –Harry Eagar, Winning Edge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThis weekend, I decided to take my father out to the movies. It is part of my effort to have some kind of life outside of work (an issue I’ve struggled with throughout my life). And at the cheap theater they were showing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I mistook it, however — thinking they were just showing an old film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I was pleased to find that I was wrong. This pleasure did not last long.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is certainly the worst of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But before you listen to me, you should consider that I believe On Stranger Tides was the strongest of the films. The reason for this is simply that the Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) character is the heart and soul of the franchise. On Stranger Tides is the only film that is focused on him. What’s more, the film is wonderfully absent Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Dead Men Tell No Tales is not.

A Romance We Didn’t Want

As much as I didn’t care for the Turner-Swann romance, it was fine compared to a romance involving their son. Here we have Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) meeting his love interest Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Henry has no real personality to speak of, whereas Carina is a stock character: the science woman. But given that they are in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe where ghosts (and anything else the screenwriters find helpful) are very real, Carina’s commitment to Galileo Galilei and the scientific method are of little use and, ultimately, interest.

This romance is the heart of the film. So we are back to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but without characters that are even vaguely as interesting. What’s more, Carina turns out to be Barbossa’s daughter, turning a wonderfully complex and unpredictable character into a fawning “good father” who sacrifices his life to save her.

Fake Barbossa

Is it just me, or does Barbossa seem utterly fake when he smiles? Geoffrey Rush is a great actor, but all his skills don’t seem to be able to overcome such an uncharacteristic change in the character. It was hard to watch. This reached a peak with his sacrifice. I suppose since Barbossa had already gotten a good death in the first film, this second one didn’t need to be good. But it was cringe-inducing — probably the hardest scene to watch in the whole series.

Jack Sparrow

The plot that directly involves Jack Sparrow is only marginally better. He seems to be in the film only to push the plot forward. This is especially true when he trades his compass for a drink. Given how important the compass is throughout the other films, this strikes me as outrageous, even for Jack. But apparently the writers couldn’t come up with any other way to get the primary villain involved in the action.

The villain is Captain Salazar, who gets surprisingly little to do throughout the film. When he does become a major element of the film, it is in the form of Henry Turner (a waste of actor Javier Bardem). And then, he acts like a typical stupid film bad guy. Once the curse is lifted and he gets his life back, he doesn’t try to save himself. Instead, he continues with his vendetta against Sparrow. And this leads to exactly what we expect.

More and Worse Ahead

At the end of the credits of each Pirates of the Caribbean film, there is a short scene — a postscript. In general, it is meaningless. For example, in the first film, the monkey goes back to the chest and takes a coin out of it — becoming undead again. Yet the monkey showed up normally in this film without having ever returned the coin (at least according to the films).

But in Dead Men Tell No Tales, the post-credit scene seems to point toward a sixth film in the series. In it, Davy Jones is about to attack Will and Elizabeth as they sleep. But then Will wakes up, showing that it was all a dream, except that there are barnacles on the floor. Not exactly inspiring material for another go at this.

The whole franchise has really overstayed its welcome. Almost everything we saw in this latest offering had been in previous films. The thought of Will and Elizabeth on the run against Davy Jones sounds quite a lot like At World’s End. But I guess as long as these things continue to make money, Disney will continue to grind them out.

Afterword: Post-Credits Scenes

Overall, I like post-credits scenes. They are a nice kind of Easter egg for the film geeks around. But I think that Dead Men Tell No Tales broke a convention in its post-credits scene. Since there were no credits at the beginning of the film, the opening credits were put right after the end of the film. After they were done, the normal end credits scrolled up the screen.

A convention has been developed over the years that if you do such a thing, any post-credits scene will go after the first credits and before the scrolled credits. Dead Men Tell No Tales did not do this. As a result, everyone but my father and me exited the theater after the first set of credits. Badly played on the filmmakers’ part.

None of this would be a problem if it weren’t from the ridiculous 5 or more minutes of credits we are now forced to sit through. Although film is a collaborative art form, I don’t think this use of credits helps to make this clear. Instead, it tends to relegate someone who does make an artistic contribution to the final product (eg, an assistant editor) to the same position as one who doesn’t (eg, a caterer).

Odd Words: Catafalque

CatafalqueAnd so we stumble into page 42 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! There has not yet been a page that contained so few words that I knew.

The Words I Knew

Rather than go over the words I didn’t know, it is much easier to do the words I did. Really, there were only a couple that I knew. Have I gotten more ignorant since earlier when I started this series?

The first word on the page that I knew — Word 16! — was “castigate.” I’m really fond of that word. It reminds me of just how magical language is. I have no clear memory of ever hearing or reading the word, yet there it is in my brain. I assume that it is thanks to my mother, who had a very good vocabulary. It’s amazing to think about. I’m so lucky to have had that experience. Most people are not. I really think these kind of random influences on your life have a profound effect on who you are.

I also knew “casus belli,” which I think I would have worked out even if I didn’t already know it. Now that one I didn’t get from my mother. In fact, I have a vague memory of coming upon the word in books and working out its meaning.

I also knew “cataclysm” and “catalepsy.” But that was it. Given that I’m not feeling great about myself, this page was not really good for my mental health.


I really wanted to use either of the words “caseate” or “casefy.” They are words describing the process of being turned into a cheese-like substance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good quotes for it. I was looking forward to integrating a Wallace and Gromit video.

Well, I guess there’s nothing stopping me. I could go with the Cheese! video. But this one is nicer:


Surprisingly, I didn’t know the word “casualism.” I’m usually fairly up on philosophy. But this isn’t a very big one. It is “a philosophical doctrine holding that all events occur by chance.” According to Wikipedia, it was first developed by Epicurus. And it seems it is more a cosmological theory. The idea is that the universe exists by chance and not by the planning of a god or similar.

I was thinking that this belief could be applied more generally to life. What I have noticed in the world is that we are incapable of figuring out the cause of things. That’s not to say that there isn’t a cause, just that we are far too parochial to see the big picture.

Or maybe it is fundamental. My mind naturally rebels against casualism. I naturally believe there must be ways of perceiving and thinking that allow one to make sense of the universe. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe Aristotle was as wrong about logic in Organon as he was chemistry.


This takes us to our word of the day, which isn’t that great (except that it has to do with death): catafalque.

Cat·a·falque  noun  \kat’-əfalk\

1. a raised platform on which the coffin of a dead person is laid.

Date: Mid 17th century.

Origin: from French, from Italian catafalco.

Example: His casket rested Friday on the same wooden catafalque used for the body of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. –Ruane et al, Scalia Lies in Repose on Lincoln’s Catafalque as Public Bids Farewell

Odd Words: Cartomancy

CartomancyWelcome to page 41 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! This was a difficult page, but I found a great one in the last word of the page: cartomancy.

The Grecian Blues

A good quarter of the page was taken up with cardio– words: words that were based on kardioeidēs, the Greek word for “heart.” There was only one variation that I wasn’t well familiar with: “cardiomegaly.” It is the “pathological enlargement of the heart.”

An enlarged heart has always had a special creepiness factor for me. I don’t know quite why it is. Maybe it is just because the rib cage makes it seem like the heart is trapped. Thus, an enlarged heart might burst, like a pimple. Anyway, I never knew the word for this.

Fleshed Out Latin

The page also contained a number of words that were based on carnaticum, the Latin word for “flesh.” But, being the poor sinner that I am, I knew most of them. The list included some pretty common words: carnage, carnal.

But it also included some words I didn’t know. Some of it was pretty specialized like “carnification.” It means “the conversion into flesh of other tissue.” But there was also “carneous,” which is “resembling or having the color of flesh.” There was another (non-flesh) color word in the mix: “carmine.” It is “a rich crimson color.” It’s not surprising that I didn’t know these words, given that I’m very male in that way — having never had much of a color vocabulary.

Other Words

Outside the heart and flesh words, this page was pretty random. And I’m not even sure I didn’t know them. In particular, there was “carcanet”: “an ornamental jeweled circlet or neckband.” Similarly, “cardamom”: “the aromatic seed of various Asian plants used as a spice or condiment and in medicine.” I can almost convince myself that I actually did know these words.

The Future of Cartomancy

None of that was too interesting. Today’s word was much more interesting: cartomancy.

Car·to·man·cy  noun  \kar’-təmansē\

1. fortune-telling or divination by the use of playing cards.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: from French, cartomancie — where carte means “card.”

Example: To me, these fields of cartomancy and astrology are not definable as science but as pseudo-sciences. –Antares Stanislas, Practical Cartomancy for All

Odd Words: Capa


We have reached page 40 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It was odd. There were a lot of words that I didn’t know, but none were all that compelling. I settled on the first word of the page: capa.


You may recall a few days ago, we had two odd words that related to different edible parts of the turtle. Well, today we got another turtle word: “carapace.” It is “the tough upper part of a turtle’s shell.

That’s fine; I can definitely see a need for such a word. But it makes me wonder if the editors of the dictionary didn’t have a special fondness for turtles.

Technical Words

The reason it was hard to find a good word was that this page was filled with technical words — those associated with some kind of specialized endeavor. That’s even true of the chosen word today, “capa.” And it is true of “carapace” too.


One such word, which I assume comes to us from statistics, is “capitation.” It is “a method of assessment or enumeration on the basis of individuals.” It’s kind of odd that the word was a mystery to me, because I’m pretty up on statistics. What’s more “per capita” is something that pretty much everyone knows. But whereas “per capita” is a word for outsiders looking in, “capitation” is a word for those who practice the art.


One area that is always good for arcane words is sailing. And today, we had “caravel,” which is “a small, two or three-masted vessel, used by the Spanish and Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Interestingly, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he brought two caravels with him: the Niña and the Pinta. The Santa Maria was a carrack, a larger boat — which the big man himself used.


Another word of this type is “capilarity,” which is “the action by which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid is raised or lowered, depending on surface tension and the forces of cohesion and adhesion.” Unfortunately, I knew that word. Normally, I wouldn’t. But the work I did for my MS degree was all about permafrost. (It was titled something like “Trace Gas Emissions From Permafrost in the Warmer World,” which was actually kind of a hot topic for a while — and one I still see people writing about.)

The way that water resides in soil is fascinating. Soil is filled with capillaries, where the water resides (assuming it is wet). The capilarity causes a lot of interesting effects in permafrost. It isn’t as simple as heating a bowl of water; you have to take a lot of things into account. I miss working on that kind of stuff!

Do Not Chase the Capa

Although today’s word is technical, I think it is interesting: capa.

Ca·pa  noun  \kā’-pə\

1. the red cloak carried by a bullfighter.

Date: Late 18th century.

Origin: from Latin (via Spanish), cappa.

Example: The capeador calmly trots his horse up to the bull, and, when within a few feet, jeeringly waves his capa before its very nose. –Otis Mygatt, The Real Bull-Fight — An Englishman’s View of Bull-Fighting

Odd Words: Canopic Jar

Canopic JarToday, we tackle page 39 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Unlike yesterday, there were few unknown words on this page. Thus I ended up picking something that isn’t even a word: Canopic Jar.

The Bells!

Page 39 contains two “bell” words, and I can’t say whether I knew them or not. There is “campanulate,” which means “shaped like a bell.” And there is “campanology,” which I think you can figure out. These are words I’ve come across before, but it is hard to say whether I would have known them in the middle of an SAT exam.

There were some other music-related words, although ones I knew well. They were all based on the Latin word canticum, which is their word for a song (more or less). So we get words like “canticle” (hymn or chant), “cantilena” (simple melody), and “cantillate” (intone or chant).

That took up a good 20 percent of the page. It’s good to know that a little Latin will still go a long way in English. After yesterday, I was concerned.

Other Words

There were, of course, other words that I didn’t know. I was particularly struck by “campestral,” which means “pertaining to the countryside.” It sounds so familiar, like it is a word I use every day. But it isn’t. It isn’t even in the online Oxford Dictionary. I don’t know if others have the same feeling about it.

There are a couple of words that relate to the eye. There is “campimeter,” which is “an apparatus for testing the field of vision of the human eye.” Much more interesting is “canthus,” meaning “either of the angles formed by the junction of the upper and lower eyelids.” I always find it interesting when there are words for things I’ve never really thought of as existing. At the same time, I can well imagine that “canthus” is a very useful word in anatomy.

One word I knew, of course, was “cannabis.” But it’s worth highlighting because I get flack from people for using it rather than “marijuana” or “weed” or whatever. The reason I do that is because I want to be precise and objective. In particular, “marijuana” was a word coined to associate cannabis use with Mexicans. I don’t want to be party to such racist distortions.

It seems we can’t go a whole page without some kind of military word. Today it was “cannonade”: “continuous, heavy artillery fire.” That one makes sense, though. The “cannon” construct has always struck me as artificial.

You’ll End up in a Canopic Jar

Enough of that! Today we have: Canopic jar.

Can·no·pic jar  noun  \kanō’-pik\

1. a vase used by the ancient Egyptians to hold the entrails of a deceased person.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: from the Latin name of Canopus, a town in ancient Egypt.

Example: Initially discovered in the Valley of the Queens, all that remains of the mummy is a well-preserved head, a few pieces of bandage, and the Canopic jars that contain his organs. –Josh Davis, Face And Brain Of 3,800-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Recreated, IFL Science!