June 2006 Archives


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My favorite new word from recent weeks is "moulage."

MW11 has a relatively staid definition: "an impression or cast made for use especially as evidence in a criminal investigation."

But in emergency-response circles, "moulage" is (as Wikipedia puts it) "the art of applying mock injuries for the purpose of training [...] medical and military personnel."

Mock injuries. They make fake wounds out of latex, and they sell kits that contain fake wounds along with makeup for creating more of them. (That kit page amusingly says they sell "Moulage Makeup & Causality Simulation." Can I get a causality simulation?) You can take classes in this stuff.

I gather it's still called moulage when makeup artists do it for movies and plays. Which is too bad if true; I liked the idea of there being a word specifically and exclusively for this particular aspect of emergency medical training.

Anyway, the word is, of course, from French; the roots have to do with molding, casting, or forming.


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According to James Clavell's Shogun, "[a] rutter was a small black book [used for ocean navigation] containing the detailed observation of a pilot who had been there before."

Such a book was also known as a "portolano," which MW3 says is "from Medieval Latin 'portulanus,' harbor official." In Dutch, it's apparently known as a "scheepsjournaal." I love Dutch words; they make me grin. Scheepsjournaal! That's clearly an ovine diary. And now the Supersheep Overture is stuck in my head.

Found "rutter" and the Clavell quote (though not the sheep stuff) in Charlie Finlay's article The Artful Infodump.

Apparently a "rutter" can also be (in addition to "something that ruts") a horseman or trooper, from Dutch "ruiter," or "rider." There's that Dutch again.


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According to Wikipedia, "spaewife [...] is a Scottish term for a fortune-telling woman." It adds: "'Spae' is derived from the Old Norse 'spá,' meaning prophesy." MW3 suggests that synonyms include "prophetess" and "witch."

Encountered this one in a submitted story (the same one that featured "strake," actually).


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I think after I looked this one up, I remembered having seen it before. But it's a good word, so: an "ogive" is (among other things) a pointed arch. It's remarkable how many nifty words there are related to cathedral architecture.

I'm not sure y'all will be able to see this, but take a look at MW's arch illustration, featuring an impost, a springer, a voussoir (see also coign), and various kinds of arches. I'm guessing that #3, the lancet arch, is an ogive; however, "ogive" can also be a synonym for "ogee," the kind of onion-dome-profile-shaped arch in #4.


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"Arthrogryposis" is any of several congenital conditions in which one or more joints get stuck in an extended position. Not sure where I came across this; someone's blog, maybe?



I saw the movie of The Da Vinci Code the other day, which led eventually to my reading the Wikipedia entry on the (fictional, as it turns out) organization known as the Priory of Sion. The article describes the organization as (among other things) "a modern Rosicrucian-esque ludibrium." The term clearly had something to do with games (derived from Latin "ludus," related to play, as in Hesse's Magister Ludi, and also a root of words like "ludicrous"), but I wasn't sure what, so I followed the link to the ludibrium article. (The term is not in MW3 (unabridged) nor in MW11. Interesting.)

The Wikipedia article defines "ludibrium" as "a plaything or a trivial game," but then goes on to apply the term to the third Rosicrucian Manifesto, to the Situationist International, and to the Priory of Sion, so I'm guessing it can also refer to elaborate hoaxes that in some sense are treated like, or feel like, games. Apparently Frances Yates (author of Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and The Art of Memory, both of which I really ought to read someday) indicated that (to quote Wikipedia) "the term implies more some sort of Divine Comedy, a dramatic allegory played in the political domain." I have no clear idea what that means, or what it has to do with playthings or games. I'm really falling down on the job here, aren't I? I'll try to do better.


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I think (judging by the MW11 definition) that "strake" is the generic term for any strip or band of hull planking (or plating) on a boat or ship. Hard to be sure, though, from the Wikipedia entry, which goes into a great deal of detail about how many different kinds of strakes there are without ever actually saying what a strake is used for or why you would have on one a boat.

(I've posted a note on the discussion page there pointing out that the current phrasing suggests to me that a strake is an extra piece attached to the outside of the hull, rather than a term for a piece of the hull itself; with luck, someone who knows the word will come along and clarify the phrasing.)

I encountered the term in a submitted story.


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"Presbycusis" is the condition of hearing less well as you get older.

And yes, the "presby" part is as in "Presbyterian." In Greek, "presbyteros" apparently means (or meant) "priest" or "elder"; "presbys" means "old man." The "cusis" part is from Greek "akousis" meaning hearing, which is the root of "acoustic."


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According to Wikipedia, an entheogen is "a psychoactive substance [. . .] that occasions enlightening spiritual or mystical experience." Specifically:

In a strict sense, only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated entheogens, but in a looser sense, the term could also be applied to other drugs, both natural and artificial, that induce alterations of consciousness similar to those documented for ritual ingestion of traditional entheogens.

The term was "coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists and scholars of mythology (Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott and R. Gordon Wasson)." Apparently it was intended as a more positive-connotation replacement for the terms "hallucinogen" and "psychedelic."


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I always vaguely wondered how "lysergic acid diethylamide" got abbreviated as "LSD." I think I figured (or had been told) that the S came from "lySergic," but that didn't make much sense.

Turns out, according to Wikipedia, the acronym is from the German name: "Lysergsäure-diethylamid," where the S is for "säure."


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I've seen epergnes plenty of times: they're those structures used at fancy dinners and teas and such, with tiers to hold serving dishes and candles and so on.

But I don't think I was previously aware that such items were called "epergnes." Now I know.

blick and fulguration

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The "bleak," also known as the "blay" and the "blick," is a particular "small European river fish," according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary.

But what interests me more is that "blick" is also defined as "fulguration."

Which, in turn, is "the act or process of flashing like lightning," according to MW10. I would not have thought that enough things flashed like lightning to require a whole word for it.

"Fulguration" can also refer to "electrodesiccation," which (as you might expect) is desiccation by means of electricity.

I imagine I came across "fulguration" in some Bradbury story, probably Something Wicked This Way Comes if nothing else. But I don't think I've seen "blick" before.


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I was familiar with the word "area," of course, but I didn't know 'til recently that the adjective form is "areal."

...you can get the same volume of magnetic dipoles packed into a smaller surface area--hence, better potential areal density for the same signal-to-noise ratio, more or less.

--"Toshiba spins 200-Gbyte, 2.5-in. hard-disk drive," by Ron Wilson, published in EDN, 5 June 2006


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A recent story in Asimov's referred to a character having an "ischemic defect" in his heart.

MW11 says that "ischemia" is a "deficient supply of blood to a body part [...] due to obstruction of the inflow of arterial blood."


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Related to that last entry, the etymology of "sneeze" is pretty cool:

MW11 says it's from Middle English "snesen," alteration of "fnesen,"; related to Middle High German "pfnusen," to snort or sneeze, and to Greek "pnein," to breathe.

We've got a lot of "sn-" words in English, and some "pn-" words, but not so much with the "fn-".

Thanks, Will!


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Will Q. recently introduced me to the word "fnug," also spelled "fnuck"; it's a Danish word meaning "fluff" or "speck."

Presumably if you have a big pile of fnucks, they're flocculent.

Apparently the Swedish vernacular version is "fnok" or "fnyk."


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I happened across this word a couple weeks ago, and made a note to myself to post it; then on the way back from WisCon, Lisa M. mentioned that people in her poetry class had been assigned to write some ghazals.

The "ghazal" is, obviously, a poetic form; that Wikipedia entry notes that it consists of a set of couplets with a refrain and a particular rhyme scheme. One interesting thing about it is that it traditionally includes a maqta, a couplet that incorporates the name of the poet. Which makes me think of some rap songs, the kind that are all about the performer (and refer to the performer by name).

Some years back, Gene Doty wrote an article discussing what a ghazal would be like in English.


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"Pietism" was "a 17th century religious movement originating in Germany in reaction to formalism and intellectualism" (sez MW11); I guess a "Pietist" was a member of that movement, but I've forgotten what context I saw the word in.


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To "parget" is "to coat with plaster," especially ornamental or waterproofing plaster.

I'm surprised that we have a word for such a thing, and particularly that it's been around since the 14th century. I guess plaster's been around a long time.

MW11 informs me that the word derives from Middle French "parjeter," meaning "to throw out." I'm a little unclear on the connection.


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This is one of those words that I'm reluctant to list because it's such an obvious alteration of well-known words. On the other hand, it's one of the few words I've listed that's actually relatively new, instead of just new to me.

So: "satnav" means "satellite navigation system."

I encountered it in an article in April titled "UK's Queen celebrates 80th birthday," which contains the following sentence:

From the age of the steam train to the era of satnav, she has been on the throne through it all.

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