Odd Words: Charnel

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

Paper

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

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

Fabric

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

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

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

Hats

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

Char·nel  noun  \chär’-nl\

1. a place where dead bodies are kept.

Date: 14th century.

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

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

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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