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

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!

Odd Words: Calumet

CalumetToday 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?

Other Words

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.

Cal·u·met  noun  \kal’-yəmet\

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

Odd Words: Callet

CalletI’m trying to get Frankly Curious moving again. To help in that, I thought I would get back to my reading through The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. When I last wrote about it, I did the word “caducity.” That brings us to page 37 and the word “callet.”

Is It Hot in Here?!

Roughly half of page 37 is dedicated to “cal—” words: those that come from the Latin calor, which means “heat.” It’s where we get words like “calorie.” But the dictionary doesn’t waste any space on words found on cereal boxes. One word I don’t recall seeing before is “calefacient.” It means: “a medicinal substance producing a feeling of warmth.” On the other side of the page was “calorimeter.” I think you already know what that word means.

When looking at these words in this context, it’s easy to see them in an SAT sort of way. If you were forced to, you could grab hold of “cal—” and figure it was something having to do with heat. And in context, it is always going to be clear. “The doctor used a calorimeter to measure my temperature after they gave me a calefacient.” Kind of boring, really.

Other Words

There were some other interesting words, both known and unknown. One known, but interesting, word, was “caldera.” You can’t have studied much earth science at all and have missed it. It is “a large crater formed by the collapse of the center of the cone of a volcano.”

Two words were completely new to me. And they related to turtles! The first is “calipash,” which is “an edible greenish-colored gelatinous substance lying beneath the upper shell of a turtle.” The second is “calipee,” which is “an edible, yellowish colored gelatinous substance attached to the lower shell of a turtle. Geez, biologists and cooks!

Another interesting word is “callipygian.” It means: “having well-formed buttocks.” Greek-based words tend to upset my sense of what is right in language. This one comes from the Greek word kallipūgos, which is a word that describes a famous statue of Venus, the goddess of love and all that. It is combined with pūgē, which means “buttocks.” So “Venus-like buttocks.” I won’t forget that one!

Onto Callet!

But okay, onto our word for today: callet:

Cal·let  noun  \kal’-it; kā’-lit\ (British dialect)

1. a prostitute.

2. a shrwish, sharp-tongued woman.

Date: Late Middle English (early 17th century).

Origin: I don’t know. It is a regional word, however. It’s hard to keep track of them.

Example: I don’t really have one. The word is obscure. And it is also a common name. And it is more popular in French than in English. But how about something like, “That callet will never be tamed.” That has a good Shakespearean feel to it.

There is something offensive about the word: that it more or less equates a sharp-tongued woman with a prostitute. But what do you expect from such an old word?

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.

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!

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)