February 2006 Archives



It's possible I've seen this word before, but it's a funny word, so I'll post it anyway.

It turns out that the word "flock" can be a synonym for "floc." Which I don't think I've encountered before. And "floc" is short for "floccule," which I'm almost certain I've never encountered before.

And "floc" / "floccule" is defined as:

"a flocculent mass."

"Flocculent." It sounds vaguely obscene, and vaguely absurd. I like it a lot better than that Simpsons word with a vaguely similar sound, "cromulent." (Yes, yes, everyone get it out of your system by saying it in unison: "It's a perfectly cromulent word!" Now can we move on?)

Sadly, "flocculent" turns out to have a more mundane meaning than it sounds like it should have. MW11 says it means:

1: resembling wool especially in loose fluffy organization

2: [taking] the form of loosely aggregated particles or soft flakes

Between the loose fluffy organization, the loosely aggregated particles, and the soft flakes, it sounds a lot like my blogs. Perhaps I'll adopt "flocculent" as this blog's official adjective. Kind of like having a state bird.


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I had always assumed that "widdershins" derived somehow from "widow shins," though I was never quite sure what that had to do with anything (something about witches and shinbones, no doubt). Turns out that no, it's from various German words eventually deriving from "widersinnen," meaning "to go back" or "to go against." Distantly related to "with" and "send."


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A "topit" is a "[l]arge pocket in the lining of a jacket that allows [a stage] magician to vanish items by tossing them secretly and smoothly into the pocket," according to the MagicTricks.com Magic Glossary.


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I just looked up "oceanic," and the definition distinguished oceanic waters from "littoral or neritic waters."

I had a vague idea that "littoral" was something to do with margins, and indeed it turns out to describe things on or near the shore. But I don't think I had encountered "neritic" before; it refers to shallow coastal waters.

Apparently "neritic" may derive from "Nerita," a genus of marine snails. Huh.

While I'm here, I may as well note that "pelagic" means the same as "oceanic" in this context, whereas "bathypelagic" refers to the deeper ocean waters. It's not clear to me whether "abyssal" is a synonym for "bathypelagic" or a step deeper yet.

Littoral, neritic, pelagic, abyssal. An impressive series of words. Any suggestions for other impressive series?


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[...] yellow, like sand calcined and made incandescent by the sun[....]

--We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney in 1960; p. 92 of the 1977 Penguin edition

To "calcine" is to heat a substance in order to change it in some way (oxidize it, purify it, etc).


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His face had its usual look: it was a round plate of white faïence[....]

--We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney in 1960; p. 87 of the 1977 Penguin edition

"Faience" or "faïence" is a kind of earthenware, named after Faenza, Italy.



I always had a vague idea that "distaff" referred to a woman specifically in the role of wife. Turns out it just means female more generally, or specifically maternal. MW11 gives the example phrase "distaff executives"; okay, if it just means "female" then that makes sense, but it sounds somehow condescending to me.

As does the usage that made me go look the word up in the first place:

A distaff trio sued Scott's firm in a Bay State court[....]

--"Scott's Wal-Mart Told To Stock Morning-After Pill," article in Forbes, 15 February 2006

A WisCon panel description recently included the phrase "The antidistaff companions and compatriots of the Lady Poetesses[....]" From context it was clear that "antidistaff" meant "male" rather than "anti-female."


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This one isn't actually new to me now, but it was a few months ago, and I think it's a neat example of unexpected cultural differences, so I'll include it.

"Lac" is an alternate spelling of "lakh," which in India is a unit consisting 100,000 of something, often 100,000 Indian rupees, an amount currently equal to about $2200 US. So house prices or salaries are sometimes specified as, for example, "Rs. 30 lakhs"--which is to say, 3 million rupees, currently about $70,000 US.

What I find most interesting about this is that in the US, we don't generally measure things in tens of hundred-thousand-units per se; we measure in millions instead. But I don't see any particularly good reason to have one of those units as a standard instead of the other; just a cultural difference (presumably rooted in history).

Oh, yes, and a "crore" is 100 lakhs; ten million of something.

better mousetrap

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"Any challenger to a market where one player holds 80 percent share not only has to build a better mousetrap but improve upon the mouse," said Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, an IT research firm specializing in knowledge sharing and collaboration.

--"Amazon Challenges iPod," article in Red Herring, 16 February 2006

Block that metaphor! ~Yeah, I'd sure buy an improved mousetrap from someone who's also made a better mouse.~

I suppose "improve upon" might mean something like "make less objectionable." But I don't think he thought it through that carefully; I think he just thought it sounded catchy.

terror glorification

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I was amused by this headline the other day:

Blair wins terror glorification vote

--The Independent, 15 February 2006

Turns out the Terrorism Bill outlaws glorification of terrorism. The headline made me think Blair was trying to glorify terrorism.


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Also used in the same story as "salle." An "adit" is a near-horizontal entrance shaft to a mine.

This is yet another word that it's possible I've encountered before; it has a vague ring of familiarity to it.


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Used in a submitted story. "Salle" is apparently French for "room" or "hall"; in the UK, it's "a sorting room in a paper mill"; apparently it's related to "saloon."


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Chorees--abrupt, swift, falling like a keen axe.

--We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney in 1960; p. 60 of the 1977 Penguin edition

MW3 says "choree" is a synonym for "choreus" (plural "chorei"), which is "a trochee in classical prosody."

A trochee, of course, being (at least in modern verse) a metrical foot in poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable; the opposite of an iamb.


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Their faces had the warm glow of lampads in an ancient church[....]

--We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney in 1960; p. 52 of the 1977 Penguin edition

A "lampad" is a lamp, but according to MW3, the term is specifically "used of the seven lamps of fire in Rev. 4:5." I'm not sure whether that means it's only used in that context, or whether that's just an example.



Karen M. recently referred to something as "emo," and suddenly I'm seeing the term everywhere. Turns out it's more or less derived from "emotional hardcore" as a genre of music, and so of course it now also refers to "a wide range of fashion styles and attitudes somewhat affiliated with Emo music and its related scenes," as Wikipedia puts it.

The musical term has apparently been in use since 1985 or earlier, so I guess this is still more evidence (as if we needed any) that I'm culturally illiterate.

I'm not normally a big fan of Urban Dictionary, but I'm amused by a bit of sample emo dialogue from one of their entries on emo:

girlfriend: C'mon, lets have sex.

boyfriend: I'm too sad to have sex.

girlfriend: I'm sad too; lets have sex and cry.

boyfriend: I'm already crying.

--from the definition submitted by "Pureblarney"

On a side note: "literally" alert! The Wikipedia entry for "Emo (music)" includes the phrase "members of a band would become spontaneously and literally emotional." As opposed to being only metaphorically emotional?


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Our Web site features the highest standard of encryption available. With this state-of-the-art security, your personal data is scrambled before it's transmitted through the Internet.

--flyer from MBNA, received 11 February 2006

I suppose that this isn't exactly a malaprop, because technically the statement is true--your data is "scrambled" when it's encrypted. But the connotations I have for "scrambled" make this amusing to me.

On the other hand, I suppose the term "scrambled" is in common use for this kind of thing in some contexts. Spies in movies use "scramblers" to talk secretly on the phone, for example. So maybe there's nothing really wrong with this.

Still, I was amused by it.


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The sky of beatific blue, the suns, tiny as children's toys, reflected in all the badges, faces unclouded by the insanity of thoughts [...]: all this was formed of some unique, radiant, riant matter.

--We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney in 1960; p. 23 of the 1977 Penguin edition

MW11 says "riant" means "gay" or "mirthful." From Middle French "rire," "to laugh."

back foot

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"Israel and US on back foot over Hamas"

--headline in Financial Times, 10 February 2006

UsingEnglish.com says back foot is a British idiom; to be on one's back foot means to be in a defensive/disadvantageous position.

I'm guessing it's a cricket term, but I suppose it could be from just about any sport.

trig point

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A trig point is a small tower that's part of a network that forms a conceptual grid of triangles over a geographical region.

A very useful tool for building computer models of a region, but also seems like it must have involved a whole lot of work to set up; the points have to be placed such that from any one of them, you can see at least two others.

They were apparently common in the UK in the 1930s and Australia in the 1970s, but it's not clear to me how much of each country was covered by them. I'm kind of surprised not to have come across them in fiction, but maybe I just haven't noticed.

My first thought was that perhaps there was some connection here to the colonel who's a "trig / westpointer most succinctly bred" in Cummings's poem "i sing of Olaf glad and big." But it turns out that's an unrelated word meaning "stylishly or jauntily trim" (according to MW11); comes from Middle English, related to Old Norse and Old English words meaning "faithful"; distantly related to "true."


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...the number of [...] fake pings--"spings"--has also increased...

--Blog firm working with Google to cut 'spings', vnunet.com, 10 February 2006

The wikipedia entry on sping says the word is short for "ping spam," and notes that spings are sent from "splogs," or spam blogs (which are blogs in which the content of the entries themself are spam; an explanation of what web spam is and why people do it is beyond the scope of this entry).

I'm amused that the Wikipedia entry for "splog" describes the term as a neologism, apparently without noticing that "blog" itself is a neologism.


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"Mokita" means "the truth everyone knows but no one talks about," according to Wendalyn at Mavens' Word of the Day.

Wendalyn adds that the word apparently "comes from the Kilivila language spoken on Kiriwina, the largest of the Trobriand Islands, part of Papua New Guinea."

It's still not in dictionaries, but it appears to be gaining wider use in political circles.

It's not clear to me whether it's used to refer to ordinary things that are so obvious that nobody bothers talking about them, or only things that are too sensitive to discuss.


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Turns out a "compere" is a master of ceremonies (MW11 sez "chiefly British"). And to compere is to emcee.

I had seen "compeer" before (mostly in Pogo, I think), for "companion" or "comrade," and if I had previously encountered the noun "compere" I think I assumed it meant the same thing. I'm pretty sure I hadn't previously seen the verb "compere."

I seem to be posting a lot of British terms here. Which is funny, 'cause I thought I was pretty up on British slang and usage, based on a lifetime of reading British books and watching British TV and being generally an Anglophile. But it turns out they've got all these terms nobody ever told me about. Hmph.

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