Today we are at page 38 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Interestingly, I knew a surprisingly few of these words — and some are quite useful! But I’ve chosen to use a specialty word, mostly because I could find quotes and images for it: calumet.
Whole Lot of Ignorance
I knew so few of the words on this page, that it’s hard to know how to make any kind of coherent narrative out of them. There aren’t many shared roots in the words. But I guess I’ll make due.
I’m always interested to see the arcane words of specialists. On this page, we had “caltrop.” It is a word of warfare. The military is always good for odd words. “Caltrop” is “a small spiked iron device used to obstruct the passage of cavalry.” They look kind of like the tokens you pick up in the game Jacks. I feel somehow that these things don’t deserve their own word.
Similarly, “camouflet” is “a bomb, mine, etc, exploded underground, which makes a cavity but does not break the surface.” Now that is a very specialized word! But I can well see that in mining it is one that would be of use. But it still makes me think of Shaw’s idea that every profession was a conspiracy against the laity.
Moving on to religion, we have “callotte.” It is the word for the skull caps worn by Roman Catholic clerics. In this case, of course, the word is hard to justify. It’s not like there would be any confusion if we referred to a cleric’s callotte as a “skull cap,” right?
I probably should have chosen “cambion.” It is “the offspring of an incubus and a succubus.” But if you are like me, you don’t believe in demons. So we have two words for mythical creates — and then a third for their spawn. Of course, we need to remember that people have taken these demons to be very real in the past.
In fact, if you listen to Pat Robertson, you will hear a lot of explicit references to demons. This is also true for most of the people on my mother’s side of the family. Just imagine if they ever got to create a society without restriction. It would be a return to the Inquisition. We really haven’t progressed very much.
“Camelopard” is another word for a giraffe. It is a combination of “camel” and “leopard.” This is because it is shaped like a camel and spotted like a leopard. This is one of the silliest words I’ve ever seen.
I’ll end this section with a useful word, which I’m surprised I didn’t know, “calumniate.” It is “to malign; accuse falsely; spread malicious reports about.” I can’t image that I haven’t run into this word dozens of times. Yet I can’t remember it!
Put That in Your Calumet!
But today, our word is: calumet.
1. an ornamented ceremonial pipe used by North American Indians.
Date: Late 17th century.
Origin: from Latin (via French), calamellus, which means “little reed.”
Example: Incorrectly known as “smoking the peace pipe,” the use of the calumet formed an important part of the ceremonies surrounding many forms of negotiations. —Family Life in Native America by James M Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo