March 2006 Archives


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A "chamade" is, according to Webster's 1913, "A signal made for a parley by beat of a drum."

But that's not all!

No, indeed!

For MW3 and Webster's 1828 add that it may instead be a trumpet signal for a parley!

"Chamade," you are indeed a versatile and many-faceted word.

However, I have not yet discovered what word to use in the case of a kazoo signal for a parley.



Over on Cute Overload, they keep calling various baby animals "prosh." I went and looked it up; according to Urban Dictionary, prosh is short for "precious" and thus basically means "cute" or "adorable."

See also kawaii.

fasnacht and paczki

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A "fasnacht" is a "yeast-raised potato pastry that's deep-fried like a doughnut [. . .] originally made and served on Shrove Tuesday to use up the fat that was forbidden during Lent." (Fasnacht is also a name for Shrove Tuesday, and a carnival in Basel.)

It's kind of like an Amish version of a beignet, or a paczek (apparently pronounced /'poUn tSEk/) (see ASCII IPA for pronunciation key). Paczki (plural of paczek) (pronounced /'p@ntS ki/) are "traditional deep fried pastries (something like jelly doughnuts)."

It turns out that there's a remarkable variety of fried dough variants around the world, from andagi in Okinawa to zeppole in Italy. Fat, sugar, and carbs--what's not to like? (I know, not all of them are sweet. But many are.)


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I wasn't planning to run an item today, it being my birthday, but then I learned my favorite bit of etymology in ages:

It turns out that "soccer" was originally an abbreviation for "association football."

My initial gut feeling was that that sounded awfully unlikely (just because the sounds of the words are so different, even though I know that that's no indication), but MW11 confirms it.

I'm guessing that the term "association football" (first appearance 1873, according to MW11) had to do with the Football Association, founded in 1863.

reductio ad Hitlerum

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I'm certainly familiar with the concept, but I hadn't previously encountered the phrase reductio ad Hitlerum, a phrase coined in 1950 by U of Chicago professor Leo Strauss to refer to arguments of the form "Adolf Hitler or the Nazi party supported X; therefore X must be evil."

See also Godwin's Law, although that's only somewhat related.


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I had heard of the band Fugazi, but I didn't know their name derived from a Vietnam acronym: "Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In."

Only really, as it turns out, "fugazi" is what Wikipedia calls a backronym: a back-formated acronym.

Originally, the term derived from the word "fugacious," which Wikipedia defines as meaning "ready to flee" (Run away!) (I suppose that means Lela Dowling's Weasel Patrol, whose motto was "Protect, serve, run away," was fugacious), but MW11 defines as a synonym for "evanescent."

Which brings us to the nominal topic of this entry: "fugacity," which is "a measure of the escaping tendency of a substance," especially a vapor.

So I suppose that things that are easily lost or very slippery could be said, metaphorically, to have a high fugacity.

I have no idea at this point where I ran into this word. It was only after I looked it up that I started wondering about the Fugazi connection.

Pandora's malware

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I was amused by the following somewhat overextended metaphor. ("RFID" refers to Radio Frequency ID chips.)

"RFID malware is a Pandora's box that has been gathering dust in the corner of our 'smart' warehouses and homes."

--"Viruses could infect RFID," article at Monsters And Critics, 16 March 2006

blende, a.k.a. sphalerite


I first encountered the term "pitchblende" when I was a kid, probably in some old science fiction book or other. I knew it had to do with uranium, but wasn't quite sure exactly what it meant 'til I looked it up recently: it's a mineral that contains radium and uranium, the "pitch" part referring presumably to it looking like pitch, and the "blende" part referring to, well, blende.

Which leads inevitably to the question: What's blende?

MW11 to the rescue: "blende," it turns out, is a synonym for "sphalerite."

And now you know as much as I do.

Well, okay, I know slightly more (unless you already knew this), because I have cleverly followed the dictionary's link to "sphalerite" and learned that it's a zinc ore, "composed essentially of zinc sulfide."

Turns out "sphalerite" derives from Greek "sphaleros" meaning "deceitful," because sphalerite is "often [...] mistaken for galena." I'm amused that whoever named it (around 1868) felt that its deceitfulness was its most important property, and felt so strongly about that that they named it in Greek.

At any rate, this obliquely reminds me of one of my favorite dictionary definitions: once, years ago, I looked up an unfamiliar term and found a definition that I remember as having said "a specular variety of galena, found most often in Derbyshire." Which sounded approximately like gibberish a la "The gostak distims the doshes" to me. Sadly, I don't recall what the word was that had that definition, and a web search isn't turning up any promising candidates.

Now I suppose I have to tell you that "galena" is apparently a lead ore, lead sulfide.

If this keeps up, I may have to retitle this blog to "Rocks & Stuff."



To "ret" is to soak plant material (flax, jute, hemp, kenaf, etc) to loosen the fibers.

Wikipedia notes that you can also ret by leaving the crop in the fields, and that that process is called "dew retting." Hence the name of the famous cartoon botanist Dudley Dew-Ret, and that Beatles song about hemp fiber, "Ticket to Ret," featuring the line "She ought to think twice, she ought to dew ret by me."

In related news, Jed is kind of punchy at the moment. In case that wasn't obvious.


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I've known the word "gunnysack" (for a burlap bag) since I was a kid, but it was only a few days ago that it finally occurred to me to wonder where the term came from. Turns out it's from "gunny," an Indo-Aryan-derived word referring to coarse fabric; there are related words in Hindi and Punjabi.

Specifically, I think "gunny" is a fabric made from jute (the plant fiber, not the Germanic people). I've know the word "jute" since I was a kid, too, but I never had a clear idea of what it was or what it was used for 'til I read that Wikipedia article recently.

shake of the whip

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I've heard "fair shake" before, but hadn't heard it connected to whips:

No film-maker ever got a better shake of the whip than I did.

--Robert Altman, quoted in a Guardian article about the Oscars, March 5, 2006.

See also fair shake of the whip in the idiom dictionary.

bitten by backdoors

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Block that metaphor!

This just in (a couple weeks ago, when I forgot to post it) from the National Weather Service forecast (which always uses all-caps):


Thanks to Melissa R for passing that along.


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An "ostinato" is (according to Wikipedia) a musical phrase that's played or sung repeatedly at the same pitch.

(Found this word in the Wikipedia entry for "dhikr.")


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"Salawat" (also transliterated "salawaat" and perhaps other ways as well) is apparently the term for certain blessings used by Muslims, particularly the Arabic phrase "salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam" (abbreviated SAW or saas), usually translated as "Peace be upon him" (abbreviated PBUH), after saying or writing the name of Muhammad.

I'm not clear on whether "salawat" simply means "blessing" or whether it specifically refers to those particular blessings. Information welcome.

See also "dhikr," which Wikipedia describes as "the remembrance of God commanded in the Qur'an for all Muslims." It goes on to note: "Dhikr as a devotional act includes the repetition of divine names, supplications and aphorisms from hadith literature, and sections of the Qur'an. More generally, any activity in which the Muslim maintains awareness of God is considered dhikr."

Mind the gap

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Sorry about the long pause here over the past couple weeks. I haven't forgotten about this blog; just been busy, and keep neglecting to post the words that have been piling up. More soon.


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Another one from a submission.

"Catchpenny" is an adjective, meaning "using sensationalism or cheapness for appeal" (sez MW11). Useful in all sorts of circumstances. Dates back to 1750.

Presumably refers to stuff designed to catch a potential audience's pennies.

platypus beatkeeper

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I'm sure y'all know about hinky-pinkies. Here's a sort of quasi-variant: one person gives a clue, others try to find an answer that consists of two adjoining words (or phrases) that are anagrams of each other.

For example, the clue might be "platypus beatkeeper." For the answer, see the extended entry.

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