Wondrous Words

wondrous2Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme run by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

These are some words from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens:

Usquebaugh – ‘what does my noble captain drink – is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh?’

This is obviously a drink of some sort, but I didn’t know what. Usquebaugh is Gaelic meaning “Water of Life”, phonetically it became “usky” and then “whisky” in English.

Flip – ‘every man … put down his sixpence for a can of flip, which grateful beverage was brewed with all dispatch, and set down in the midst of them on the brick floor; both that it might simmer and stew before the fire, and that its fragrant steam, rising up among them, and mixing with the wreaths of vapour from their pipes, might shroud them in a delicious atmosphere of their own and shut out all the world.’

Another intoxicating drink, I thought. Flip is eggnog, a drink of eggs and hot beer or spirits. I was interested to see it came in a can! Canning food was invented by a French chef in 1795 to preserve military food for Napoleon’s army. Barnaby Rudge, although written in 1839-41 when sealed cans similar to those we use now would have been in use, is set in 1775 and 1780 so Dickens was probably using the word to mean a container for holding liquid – or it’s an anachronism?

Poussetting – ‘Joe Willet rode leisurely along in his desponding mood, picturing the locksmith’s daughter going down long country dances, and poussetting dreadfully with bold strangers – which was almost too much to bear ...’

Poussette is simply a figure in country dancing when the couples hold hands and move up or down the set changing places with the next couple. And by the way Joe describes it he was thinking the locksmith’s daughter was being too familiar with strangers.

Wondrous Words

wondrous2Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at Bermuda Onion where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

I mentioned in my post on A Fearful Madness by Julius Falconer that there were some words I had to check in the dictionary. I’ve used the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to check the meaning of the following words

There are some words that I know I’ve looked up before and yet I just can’t remember what they mean and these are two of them:

Egregious: ‘After my consultation with the egregious Croft, I decided that action was what was needed.’ (page 70)

Egregious means:   ‘Remarkable in a bad sense; gross, flagrant, outrageous.’ The OED gives four definitions and I think this one fits the context the best. No wonder I can’t remember the meaning with four to chose from!

Exigent: ‘The woman was rough-tongued and exigent beyond belief: do this, do that, hurry up, I’m paying you enough, heaven knows, and so on.’ (page 177)

Exigent means: ‘Requiring a great deal; demanding more than is reasonable; exacting, pressing.’ I did know that after all!

Then there are these words:

Inchoate: ‘He murmured an inchoate prayer for guidance before rising and wandering at random round the church.’ (page 45)

Inchoate  – the OED gives two meanings: ‘Just begun, incipient; in an initial or early stage; hence elementary, imperfect, undeveloped, immature.’ and ‘Chaotic, disordered, confused; also, incoherent, rambling.’ I think the second meaning fits the context better.

Logorrhoeic: ‘Tea will do fine, thank you’. Ravensdale, unsure how best to break into the logorrhoeic flow without causing offence but impatient to hear whether she had any useful information for him or not, let her continue for a bit before broaching the subject of his visit. (page 115)

I thought this must have some connection with words and translated it in my head as ‘verbal diarrhoea’.

 Logorrhoea means ‘excessive volubility accompanying some forms of mental illness; also gen., an excessive flow of words, prolixity.’ I think logorrhoea sounds much better than ‘verbal diarrhoea’.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

wondrous2Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at Bermuda Onion where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

I’ve recently read A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, a book that I’ll be writing about in more detail. It’s his account of his journey in 1933/4 walking  to Constantinople. He uses many words that either were completely new to me or words that I wasn’t quite sure what they mean. As I was reading it on Kindle I was able to look up their meaning without too much distraction. Most of the words I didn’t know are described as ‘archaic’ and some of the words aren’t in the Kindle dictionary.

Here are just two:

  • imberb – ‘The figure of St John the Divine –  imberb, quizzically smiling, quill in hand and at ease in a dressing-gown with his hair flowing loose like an undress-wig …’

This isn’t in the Kindle dictionary and my guess was that it meant he had a beard. I was nearly right, but also completely wrong – the online Oxford English Dictionary has this definition: adjective from the French imberbe,  Latin imberbis – a rare word meaning beardless.

  •  flocculent – ‘Ragged and flocculent, fading to grey, scattered with specks of pink from the declining sun, varying in width as random fragments were dropping away and recohering and agitated with motion as though its whole length were a single thread, a thick white line of crowding storks stretched from one side of the heavens to the other.’
I like this sentence, which draws a clear picture for me of the storks flying across the scene in front of the setting sun, but wasn’t sure about ‘flocculent’ – a flock of storks?
It means having or resembling tufts of wool, having a loosely clumped texture from the Latin floccus.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

I’m currently reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. It’s taking me quite a while as it’s a long book of just over 800 pages and there are many characters and sub-plots. There are also many new-to-me words!

I’m reading it in bed on Kindle, a free edition without any notes, but, of course Kindle has its own built in dictionary, which I’m constantly using. During the day I’m reading the Wordsworth Classic edition, which does have notes, and illustrations and an introduction, all of which help with understanding the literary references as well as words that are no longer in current use.

For today I’m just going to pick out one word: hippedEugene Wrayburn has been telling Mortimer Lightwood, his friend and fellow lawyer about how he enjoys goading the schoolmaster, Bradley Headstone, by walking all over London knowing that he is being followed by Headstone. He describes this as enjoying the ‘pleasures of the chase’. Lightwood says he doesn’t like it. Eugene then says:

‘You are a little hipped, dear fellow’, said Eugene; ‘you have been too sedentary. Come and enjoy the pleasures of the chase.’

I wasn’t at all sure I knew what that meant – was Lightwood getting a bit broad in the hips, sitting down too much, a bit too fat, maybe and needing the exercise?

One of the Kindle dictionary defines it as ‘having hips of a specified kind: a thin-hipped girl, so maybe that’s what Dickens meant – Lightwood has fat hips! Another definition given on Kindle is ‘obsessed or infatuated with‘, which seems to fit better.

The Wordsworth Classics edition has a more appropriate definition, I think. Hipped meaning ‘depressed‘. Lightwood needs more exercise to lift his mood.

Then I wondered how my Chambers Dictionary defined hipped. It has several to choose from, including the more modern use of ‘hip‘, meaning ‘following the latest trends in music, fashion, political ideas, etc’, ‘ the fruit of the dog-rose or other rose‘, and so on. But the one that fits is:

hipped: melancholy; peevish, offended, annoyed; obsessed.

No wonder, it’s taking me longer than usual to read this book, when just one little word takes up so much thought. 🙂

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme created by Kathy at BermudaOnion, where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

I came across this wondrous word yesterday when I visited Smailholm Tower, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders. It’s: Barmkin and here is a photo –

Smailholm Tower and Barmkin Wall

A Barmkin is a stone perimeter wall, built to protect the courtyard and tower. This one at Smailholm was originally 6 ft thick, although most of it is a ruinous state now. My photo shows it at the western end where it remains with the only entrance gate into the courtyard.

I like the sound of this Scots word which is thought to be a corruption of the word barbican, meaning the outer fortified defence  of a city or castle.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme created by Kathy at BermudaOnion, where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

Wondrous Words

Reading Agatha Christie’s books I often come across words or phrases that I’m either not sure what they mean but can get the gist of the meaning from the context, or have never come across before.

I found an example of each type whilst reading The Murder on the Links, an early Poirot mystery first published in 1923:

Traps as in this sentence: ‘I had made a somewhat hurried departure from the hotel and was busy assuring myself that I had duly collected all my traps, when the train started.(page 5)

Captain Hastings is the narrator and is returning to London on the Calais train, so I thought he couldn’t be taking animal traps with him on the train and it was more likely to be his luggage. According to the Chambers Dictionary that is the meaning of the word: ‘personal luggage or belongings’. 

I didn’t know what the Bertillon system was. Poirot referred to it when talking about the lack of fingerprints on the murder weapon and remarked that ‘The veriest amateur of an English Mees knows it – thanks to the publicity the Bertillon system has been given in Paris.’ (page 35)

The Bertillon system is described in Wikipedia in the article on Anthropometry. Simple put it is a system for identifying criminals based on a series of their physical measurements introduced by Alphonse Bertillon in 1883. In 1894 England had adopted the system and had added the partial use of fingerprints. By 1900 England relied on finger prints alone.

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Kathy at Bermuda Onion.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It is hosted by Kathy, over at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

My words this week come from After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson, set in 1922.

  • jounced – ‘Alec increased the speed again as we passed the sign for Reivers Rest and we jounced over the close-cropped turf faster and faster until the car rounded the last of the gorse into the open and skidded to a slithering halt.

I could tell from the context what ‘jounced’ means, but it’s a word I’ve not come across before. Looking it up I found it does mean just what it sounds like – ‘to jounce is to move or cause to move with bumps and jolts’ (from The Free Dictionary).

I like the Wikipedia definition of jounce – ‘in physics, jounce or snap is the fourth derivative of the position vector with respect to time, with the first, second, and third derivatives being velocity, acceleration, and jerk, respectively; in other words, the jounce is the rate of change of the jerk with respect to time.’ As I said, just what I thought it was!

  • Thawpit – ‘I should begin calmly but ready to dissolve into tears if the occasion arose and a corner of my handkerchief was soaked in Thawpit to help with the dissolving.’

I had no idea what Thawpit was – and amazingly discovered that it was a a stain remover, a solvent that containing carbon tetrachloride. It’s no longer available, presumably because of the danger of sniffing it etc. No wonder Dandy Gilver (the amateur sleuth in the book) ‘succumbed to a fit of weeping’ when she ‘dabbed her eyes’ with the Thawpit soaked hankie.

  • chafing-dish – ‘I trigger no obvious trip-wire en route from my bedroom to the ground floor, but every morning Pallister appears with a chafing-dish just as I’m sitting.’ He then cooked Dandy’s eggs.
An old woman poaching eggs in a glazed earthenware chafing dish over charcoal

A chafing-dish is a new term to me. Wikipedia explains that it is ‘a kind of portable grate raised on a tripod, originally heated with charcoal in a brazier, and used for foods that require gentle cooking, away from the fierce heat of direct flames.’


Wondrous Words – Flapjack

Reading Agatha Christie’s books I sometimes come across words that I recognise, but know they cannot possibly mean what I understand them to mean. I found an example recently in Death in the Clouds.

A murder has taken place on a plane and Poirot has asked for a detailed list of the passengers’ belongings. In amongst those belongings three of the passengers have flapjacks in their bags. I thought that was quite strange, because to me a flapjack is a type of biscuit made of rolled oats, syrup and maybe pieces of fruit. They’re delicious. I wondered why these people would have flapjacks in their bags, along with cigarette holders, cigarette cases, keys, pencils and loose change, etc.

I was intrigued enough to look up the word. Wikipedia tells me that the word was not used to describe a food made of oats until 1935. Death in the Clouds was published in 1935, so it is just possible that Agatha Christie meant the flapjack that I know, but not very likely when I noticed that these three people were all women and also had lipstick and rouge in their bags and none of the men had flapjacks.

The answer is quite simple when I checked in my Chambers Dictionary:

A flapjack is a flat face-powder compact.

And this website adds that it was a term used in the 1930s and 1940s – voilà, the correct definition!

Nothing to do with the murder, though.

See more Wondrous Words at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday, run by Kathy (Bermudaonion),  is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

My words this week are from The Fall by Simon Mawer. This is a novel involving rock climbing and mountaineering:

Exiguous – I thought I should know this word but I couldn’t work out the meaning from this sentence, so I looked it up – ‘She reached the edge and there he was around the corner taking in the rope as she moved on to his exiguous ledge.’ (page 144) Exiguous means ‘scanty’ or ‘slender’. In this context I’d say it means ‘narrow’.

Solecism another word I’m sure I’ve looked up before, but I couldn’t define it. People looked at one another nervously, as though to move would be to commit a solecism. (page 248) Solecism means an absurdity, impropriety, incongruity; a breach of good manners or etiquette. Also a breach of syntax or nonstandard grammatical usage.

Hieraticthis sentence didn’t make sense to me if I took hieratic to be something to do with ‘hierarchy’. ‘The gesture seemed almost hieratic, a mixture of farewell and blessing.’ (page 305) Hieratic means priestly.

Hematocrit He’d got big lungs had Jamie, and a strong heart and tough arteries, a high lactate threshold and high hematocrit; all the physical and physiological qualities that you need to go high.’ (page 396) Hematocrit means a graduated capillary tube in which the blood is centrifuged to determine the ratio, by volume, of blood cells to plasma. Still not sure what it means – something to do with the amount of red blood cells in the blood which if you have a lot – more than the average – helps when climbing to high altitude.

Ogive – ‘The coroner’s court was as solemn as a Welsh chapel – might have been a chapel once, in fact, with its ogive windows and steeply pitched roof .’ (page 414) this is another word that I felt I should know, but didn’t. Ogive means either a diagonal rib of a vault or a pointed arch or window.

Definitions taken from The Chambers Dictionary.

Wondrous Words on Wednesday

There are two memes I sometimes take part in on Wednesdays, diametrically opposite to each other, which amuses me. One is this one, Wondrous Words Wednesday run by Kathy of Bermuda Onion’s Weblog and the other is Wordless Wednesday which I did earlier today – featuring a sparrow feeding its baby in our garden and a baby rabbit eating cherry blossom, also in our garden.

I have just two words this week that I didn’t immediately know their meanings. One is from The Holly-Tree Inn, written in 1855 by Charles Dickens:

The narrator is travelling by stagecoach in the dead of winter. This is what he finds when he arrives at the Peacock Inn in London where he was joining the coach:

When I got up to the Peacock – where I found everybody drinking hot purl, in self-preservation – I asked, if there were an inside seat to spare.

Purl here is not a knitting stitch but  is warm beer infused with gin and spices or herbs, usually ginger and sugar, also called ‘dog’s nose’.

My second word is from The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie. In this scene Mr Van Aldin is describing to his daughter a little adventure he had in Paris:

Nothing to tell, Ruthie. Some apache fellows got a bit fresh and I shot at them and they got off. That’s all. (page 24)

Apache in this instance is not a native American Indian, although the image of a Red Indian waving a tomahawk in Paris did come immediately into my mind,  but it is a lawless ruffian or hooligan in Paris or elsewhere.