Wednesday’s Wondrous Word

I have just one wondrous word this week –  ‘waffeting’.

It’s from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. In 1529, Cardinal Wolsey has been ordered to go straight to the Tower of London, but he decides to go to Esher. His barge has arrived:

When they get out to the cardinal’s barge his flags are flying: the Tudor rose, the Cornish choughs. Cavendish says, wide-eyed, ‘Look at all these little boats, waffeting up and down.’ For a moment, the cardinal thinks the Londoners have turned out to wish him well. But as he enters the barge, there are sounds of hooting and booing from the boats; spectators crowd the bank, and though the cardinal’s men keep them  back, their intent is clear. When the oars begin to row upstream, and not downstream to the Tower, there are groans and shouted threats. (page 54)

It didn’t strike me straight away that I didn’t know what waffeting means because this paragraph paints such a vivid picture of the spectacle of the barge on the Thames, with the sight of the boats and the threatening sounds of crowd. I thought waffeting must mean something such as the movement of the boats jostled together and bobbing up and down on the river.

I can’t find the word in any of my dictionaries or in any of the online dictionaries I’ve checked. The closest I could find are the verbs waff,  which means to wave, flap, flutter, and waft, which means to float, sail pass through the air.  The noun waftage is the act of wafting or waving, derived from wafter meaning a convoying vessel, probably derived from Low German or Dutch.

Interestingly (at least I think it is) waffeting is the word George Cavendish, who was Wolsey’s gentleman usher and later his biographer used to describe the scene:

 He was ordered to retire to Esher; and, “at the taking of his barge,” Cavendish saw no less than a thousand boats full of men and women of the city of London, “waffeting up and down in Thames,” to see him sent, as they expected, to the Tower.” (from Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p251) quoted in Froude’s History of England: The Reign of Henry VIII Volume I (page 125 ref: footnote 214) (first published in 1909).

Hilary Mantel doesn’t give a bibliography of sources for Wolf Hall, but in an Author’s Note she refers to George Cavendish’s book ‘Thomas Wolsey, late Cardinal, in his Life and Death’ which he began to write in 1554 when Mary came to the throne. It took him four years to complete. She writes that it is ‘ a very touching, immediate and readable account of Wolsey’s career and Thomas Cromwell’s part in it. It’s influence on shakespeare is clear.’ (page 651)

I think waffeting is such a good word and gives a contemporary and authentic description of the scene.

For more Wondrous Words go to Bermudaonion’s Weblog.

Wondrous Words Wednesday – King Arthur’s Bones

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.


This week I have a few words from King Arthur’s Bones by The Medieval Murderers, which I’m currently reading.

  • Calvarium – ‘Gingerly pulling that aside, they gazed down on a jumbled heap of mottled brown bones, some of which even their inexpert eyes recognised as human, especially as they glimpsed the rounded calvarium of a skull.’ (page 150)

I realised from the context what a calvarium is but didn’t know before that it is the upper domelike part of the skull without the jawbone or facial parts. From the Latin.

The next words all have a medieval origin as is to be expected in a book about medieval murder. No doubt I’ll come across more before I’ve finished this book. The meanings can all be surmised from the text but the dictionary definitions flesh out the words.

  • Cote-hardie – ‘A grey-haired man, dressed in a sombre but good-quality cote-hardie,  nodded his agreement.’ (page 157)

Obviously a garment of some sort – the dictionary defines it as a medieval close-fitting tight-sleeved body garment – from Old French.

  • Lymer – ‘ Before he got fifty paces, a dozen hounds broke cover, including several lymers and running dogs,  which hunted by scent rather than sight.’ (page 162)

Another word defined in the text, more specifically a lymer was  a forerunner of today’s bloodhound, used to find the lay of the game before the hunt even started, and it was therefore important that, in addition to a good nose, it remained quiet. Silence in the lymer was achieved through a combination of breeding and training. See this article on Medieval Hunting.

  • Mazer – ‘Peter lifted his eyebrows and gazed pensively at the jug as his bottler poured two mazers of wine.’ (page 201)

A mazer is a type of drinking bowl made originally of maple wood (Old French masere, of Germanic origin).

  • Murdrum – ‘ ” No need to worry about proving he was local, then. Just a murdrum fine and the usual amercements”, Sir Richard grunted.’ (page 210)

Again from the text I could understand that murdrum is a fine. Specifically as defined in the Norman Conquest Encyclopedia murdrum “derives from the Old French murdre from which the English word murder comes. The new law provided that if a Norman was killed and the killer was not apprehended within five days, the hundred within which the crime was committed should be liable for a collective penalty of whatever balance of the sum of forty-six marks of silver the lord of the hundred could not pay. The killing of a Saxon triggered no such penalty.”

  • Deodand – ‘I will say the weapon was worth at least a shilling, and that much is deodand.’ (page 219)

My Chambers Dictionary defines deodand as ‘ a personal chattel [property] which had been the immediate accidental cause of the death of a human being, forfeited to the crown for pious uses. (Latin deo to God, and dandum, that must be given from dare, to give).’

The online Free Dictionary gives additional information that it traces back to the 11th century and has been applied, on and off, until Parliament finally abolished it in 1846. In theory, deodands were forfeit to the crown, which was supposed to sell the chattel and then apply the profits to some pious use. In reality, the juries who decided that a particular animal or object was a deodand also appraised its value and the owners were expected to pay a fine equal to the value of the deodand. If the owner could not pay the deodand, his township was held responsible.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

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

This week I have just two words from The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which I haven’t finished yet.


‘You’ve considered epilepsy, I suppose?’  ‘It was my very first idea. I still think it may explain some of it. The aura, producing queer sensations – auditory, visual and so on. The seizure itself, the weariness after it; it all fits to a degree. But I can’t believe it’s the whole story.’

He said, ‘How about myxoedema?’

Myxoedema means a diseased condition due to deficiency of thyroid secretion, characterised by loss of hair, increased thickness and dryness of skin, increase in weight, slowing of mental processes and diminution of metabolism.


Caroline said, ‘I hate this bit. It’s like having to hurl oneself on a paternoster lift.’

Paternoster lift is a lift for goods or passengers, consisting of a series of cars movin on a continuous belt, the floors remaining horizontalat the top and bottom of travel.

I don’t fancy that as I have enough difficulty getting onto an escalator.

Wondrous Words from The Franchise Affair

Each Wednesday Kathy (Bermuda Onion) runs the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme to share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

This week my words are from The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (see here for my description of this book).


  • Drugget – “Round the corner it is drugget. A Victorian way of economising. Nowadays if you are poor you buy less expensive carpet and use it all the way up. But those were the days when what the neighbours thought mattered. So the lush stuff went as far as the eye could see and no further.”

Drugget is woven and felted coarse woollen fabric; a protective covering made of such fabric, for a  floor or carpet.

  • Preceptors – “It was a savage emotion, primitive and cruel; and very startling on the face of a demure schoolgirl who was the pride of  her guardians and preceptors.”

Preceptor is a teacher, an instructor, a tutor. It’s also the head of a school; the head of a preceptory of Knights Templars.

  • Picking Oakum – “You can’t imagine what a relief your note was to us. Both mother and I have been picking oakum for the last week. Do they still pick oakum, by the way?

Picking Oakum was untwisting old ropes and was done by prisoners and inmates of workhouses – appropriate in this case as Marion and her mother were virtually prisoners in their own house.

  • Oleograph – “Ben Carley calls her the ‘oleograph‘, by the way.” “How lovely. That is just what she is like.”

Oleograph is a print in in oil-colours to imitate an oil painting.

Wondrous Words

Each Wednesday Kathy (Bermuda Onion) runs the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme to share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

This week my words are from Poetic Lives: Shelley by Daniel Hahn. This is a short biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley. In this extract Shelley is writing to a friend about the poet Robert Southey, one of the “Lake Poets” and a contemporary of William Wordsworth. Southey was older than Shelley, who had idolised him, until he met him, that is. He disappointed Shelley:

Southey has changed. I shall see him soon and I shall reproach him for his tergiversation. – He to whom Bigotry, Tyranny, Law was hateful, has become the votary of these idols in a form the most disgusting. (page 28)

I had no idea of the meaning of tergiversation and only a vague idea about votary.

To tergiversate means to turn one’s back; to desert; to change sides; to shuffle, shift , use evasions.

A Votary is a person dedicated by or as if by a vow to some service, worship or way of life; someone enthusiastically addicted to a pursuit, study etc.

Mmm,  it seems I’m a votary of reading and books and I have no intention of being a tergiversator.

Wondrous Words

Each Wednesday Kathy (Bermuda Onion) runs the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme to share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

My words this week are from The Hollow by Agatha Christie. This is a country house murder mystery featuring Hercule Poirot(see yesterday’s post for more details) in which I came across these wondrous words that were completely new to me.

  • Tritoma – here the victim is imagining himself in San Miguel, thinking of the “blue sky … smell of mimosa … a scarlet tritoma upright against green leaves … the hot sun … the dust … that desperation of love and suffering …”

Tritoma is obviously a plant of some sort, I thought and I discovered it’s a Red Hot Poker.

  • ‘Tuft-hunter’ – “Inspector Grange did not think much of the Chief Constable of Wealdshire – a fussy despot and a tuft-hunter.”

I had no idea what a tuft-hunter could be – it’s a toady, a hanger-on to noblemen, or persons of quality. ‘Tufts‘ were gold tassels formerly worn on a nobleman’s cap in English universities, a titled undergraduate – a person of consequence.

  • ‘Coloratura’ – “Lucy has to give the coloratura touch – even to murder.”

Something to do with colour, I thought. It means “florid”, “embellished”.

  • ‘Meretricious’ – “Edward knew nothing about women’s clothes except by instinct, but he had a shrewd idea that all these exhibits were somehow of a meretricious order.”

I was getting this word confused with ‘meritorious‘ meaning worthy of merit or praise, but that didn’t make sense in the context, because the next sentence is: “No, he thought, this place was not worthy of her.”

‘Meretricious’ means: ‘of the nature of or relating to prostitution; characteristic or worthy of a prostitute; flashy; gaudy’ – not at all ‘meritorious’!

Wondrous Words

Each Wednesday Kathy (Bermuda Onion) runs the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme to share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

I’ve been reading and learning new (to me) words for a while but haven’t yet joined in. Here are my first “Wondrous Words”, taken from Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, an Inspector Rebus book. I always come across words I’m not sure I understand but usually I’m so engrossed in reading that I don’t stop to look up their definitions. I’m reading this book for the second time, having raced through it recently and this time I’ve jotted down a few words to look up. Some of them I could guess the meaning from the context, others I couldn’t. As you can see they’re all Scots words.

  • Radge – ‘On dope, he was a small problem, an irritation; off dope, he was pure radge.’

‘Radge’ means a rage,  an unpleasant person.

  • Bridie – ‘He’d laughed again, bought her tea and a bridie at a late-opening cafe.’

‘Bridie’ is a minced meat and onion pie.

  •  Smirr – ‘Only it wasn’t real rain, it was smirr, a fine spray-mist which drenched you before you knew it.’

‘Smirr’, is defined in the text.

  •  Dreich – ‘It was all Rebus needed first thing on a dreich Monday morning.’

‘Dreich’ is tedious, dreary, long drawn out.

  • Stoor – ‘We had this lot stashed in a storeroom’, Ancram said. ‘You should have seen the stoor that came off when we brought them out.’

‘Stoor’ – is fine dust.

  • Broo – ‘The cabbies are all on the broo, claiming benefit.’

‘Broo’ – is unemployment benefit.

  • Stooshie – ‘Does that mean the stooshie’ll die down?’

‘Stooshie’ – is fuss, disturbance, ado.