Monday, March 31, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: DETRITUS


product of disintegration or erosion

The origin of the word is the Latin verb deterere, 'to rub away' (past participle passive detritus), and the initial meaning of 'detritus' in English, when it was adopted from French in the eighteenth century was 'wearing away by rubbing', that is, denoted the action, not the product. The current sense was soon acquired, however, and the earlier meaning rapidly became obsolete.

from Dunces, Gourmands & Petticoats: 1,300 Words Whose Meanings Have Changed Through the Ages by Adrian Room

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: DEFALCATE


In its original sense defalcate meant "to cut off by a sickle." Its Latin source, defalco, was formed from the preposition de, off, and falx, sickle, and that was the literal sense in which the word was employed in Medieval Latin. After its introduction into English speech, however-possibly from the notion that grasses cut with a sickle are then to be taken away-defalcate was used in the extended sense, "to take away." This has become its usual meaning, chiefly applied to the embezzlement of money.

from Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins by Charles Earle Funk

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: FRESH BOILED OWL


By most careful research philologists have learned that many years ago, in colonial times, a Yankee whose provisions had run short in the dead of winter, took his gun and set forth through the snows in search of game to feed his family. His luck was poor, he sighted nothing until near sundown, when he spied a big owl perched on the limb of a blasted pine. He let fly with his gun, got the critter and lugged it home to feed his wife and hungry children. She boiled it and when it came out of the kettle it closely resembled old Uncle Jehosophat when he was in his cups, which was most of the time. From then on, whenever he saw Uncle Jehosophat under the weather, he said he was "as stewed as a fresh boiled owl." The term spread and became common and has endured to this day, an instance of how something that one man said so long ago can become a part of the language. This phenomenon continues to puzzle philologists, although research upon it continues and we may be on the threshold of an important breakthrough in this field of science.

from the Yankee Dictionary by Charles F. Haywood

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: THE JUMPING-OFF PLACE


Originally, this imaginary place was the edge of the earth, the ultima Thule. From there, one could proceed no farther, other than to leap straight into hell. At least, such appears to have been the thought of our American pioneering forebears in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century when this description was first applied. Perhaps it was an adaptation from some Indian belief, but, of course, by the early nineteenth century it was applied figuratively to any place, as a God-forsaken town, a desolate waste, any hopeless out-of-the-way spot, which one might deem to be literally next door to hell.

from A Hog on Ice & Other Curious Expressions by Charles Earle Funk

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: SABSUNG

SABSUNG (SOB-soong; verb Thai)

To slake an emotional or spiritual thirst, to be revitalized.

Have you ever returned home from a stressful and exhausting business trip, listened to some favorite music, and felt a sense of psychic and spiritual revitalization, as if the music had poured extra life into your soul? Have you experienced a strangely similar sensation in a very different context, where a few precious words from a special person seemed to soak into your being the way rain soaks into the parched ground after a drought? The Thai word sabsung serves to describe both kinds of revitalizing experiences, a slaking of both the mind's and the heart's thirst. Have you ever felt that something is wrong in your life, but you can't quite state what it is? Recognizing that one has certain spiritual and psychological needs is something that can make life richer. Sabsung is both the act of quenching metaphysical thirsts and the feeling that comes with the fulfillment of these hard-to-define but all-important needs.

The literal meaning of sabsung refers to the physical act of immersing in liquid something that has become dry. But the personal connotation points to a kind of spiritual emotion, a specific reaction that comes from one's soul in response to the slaking "substance," whether it is literally a drink of water, a kind word, or a beautiful work of art. You can use the word for special moments when you encounter a great painting, or else see your family after a painful separation, or reread a favorite poem. You can also do yourself a favor by seeking or demanding it when the stress and complications of the world threaten to overwhelm you: "I badly need to sabsung. I'm retiring to my room with the Rubaiyat, a jug of wine, and my collection of heavy-metal records."

from They Have A Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases by Howard Rheingold

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Dictionaries Word(s) of the Day: HENRY, HARRY & LOUIS

HENRY (noun British)

1 Heroin. A personification used by addicts in the 1970s, perhaps influenced by the use of the name 'Henry the Horse' in the song 'For the Benefit of Mr. Kite' on the Beatles' 1967 LP, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band.

See also HARRY*.

2 An eighth of an ounce (of cannabis). A drug dealer and user's jargon term of the later 1980s inspired by King Henry VIII. (A LOUIS** is one-sixteenth of an ounce.)

*HARRY (noun British) heroin. An addict's term from the 1960s, personifying the drug in the same way as CHARLIE for cocaine.

**LOUIS OR LOUIE (noun British) 1 one-sixteenth of an ounce (of cannabis). This is the smallest quantity of the drug that can normally be bought by weight in Britain. The term was first heard in the late 1980s and is derived from Louis XVI, the king overthrown in the French revolution, in the same way as HENRY for an eighth of an ounce.

'OK, make it a louie.'

from The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang by Tony Thorne

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: RESPICE FINEM

RESPICE FINEM (REH-spih-keh FEE-nehm)

look before you leap

Literally "examine the end." The full proverb, quidquid agas prudenter agas et (KWIHD-kwihd AH-gahs proo-DEN-tehr AH-gahs et) respice finem, may be translated as, "whatever you do, do with caution, and look to the end."

from Amo, Amas, Amat and More: How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others by Eugene Ehrlich

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: ZULU


An immigrant car, provided for the transportation of the stock and household effects of a settler moving from one part of the country to another, and which presented a weird appearance when loaded with all the impedimenta.

from American Tramp and Underworld Slang ed. by Godfrey Irwin

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: DITTOGRAPH


In writing or typing, perhaps your secretary has unintentionally repeated a letter or a a word (as I have just done). The repeated element is a dittograph.

from The Grand Panjandrum: And 1,999 Other Rare, Useful, and Delightful Words and Expressions by J. N. Hook

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: MUNG


A crowd of people; also chicken feed. Both definitions deal with mixing together disparate elements.

from Poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words by Susan Kelz Sperling

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: BASTINADO


A punishment, of oriental origin, in which the soles of the feet are beaten. The term is useful for waiters who wish to preserve their dignity in dealing with female American tourist. When she palpates and rejects the third avacado you have offered her and in so doing casts hyperaudible aspersions upon your integrity, you smile imperturbably and say: "Would Madam perhaps prefer the Bastinado?" Alternatively, you might invoke the strappado-a torture inflicted by hoisting the victim by his tied hands and then dropping him so that his fall is cut short by the taut rope before he reaches the ground.

from The Superior Person's Book of Words by Peter Bowler

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: ENIGMATOLOGY


study and construction of puzzles.

Factlet for cruciverbalists (crossword puzzle fans): Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times, is the world's only academically certified enigmatolgist*.

from There's A Word For It!: A Grandiloquent Guide to Life by Charles Harrington Elster

*at the time of the printing of the book in 1996

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: OGFRAY


a Frenchman. Pig Latin for "FROG*."

[U.S. slang from the 1900s)

from Slang and Euphemism edited by Richard A. Spears

*a Frenchman, a Parisian. From the [fleur-de-lis], the bogy site of Paris and frog's legs eaten for food. [Circa the 1700s]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: YENTZ

YENTZ (Yiddish, pronounced just as it looks)

literally means to fornicate, but more casually or generally means to cheat:

"Watch out for Larry, he'll yentz you any way he can."

from The Phrase-Dropper's Handbook by John T. Beaudouin & Everett Mattlin

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: MACARONIC


1 Involving a mixture of languages.

2 Mixed; jumbled.

from The Grandiloquent Dictionary by Russell Rocke

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: CICISBEO


The lover or escort of a married woman (and a word originally applied to amorous gallants of 18th-century Italy). The young architect who's been increasingly seen with unhappily married Mrs. DuCamp at gallery openings? Or Steve, who's been seen repeatedly in the back row of the local movie house nibbling popcorn off Alice M's shoulder while Joe M. is out of town? Cheeky cicisbeos both. Lovers? Or just riends?

from Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams: Words to Describe Life's Indescribable People by David Grambs

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Dictionaries Word of the Day: OBSEQUIOUS


Compliant in a servile way.

In the fifteenth century, when the word was first current, 'obsequious' meant merely 'readily compliant', without the association of servility that it acquired a hundred years later. This is the sense in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (1598), when Falstaff says to Mistress Ford: 'I see you are obsequious in your love', and similarly in Milton's Paradis Lost (1667):

Light issues forth, and at the other dore
Obsequious darkness enters.

This usage was virtually obsolete by the end of the nineteenth century.

from Dunces, Gourmands & Petticoats: 1,300 Words Whose Meanings Have Changed Through the Ages by Adrian Room