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.

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.