Sunday, 28 February 2010


I love this word, even though I could have guessed the meaning:

tatterdemalion n a tattered person, a ragamuffin [Origin from tattered or tatter, with termination of uncertain formation] Chambers, 1998

I don't know where the ending comes from either, but maybe it's something to do with the Latin word malus meaning bad. Or, uh, something do with lions?

Saturday, 27 February 2010


mallemaroking (naut; rare) carousing of seamen in icebound ships [Obscure Dutch mallemerok, a romping woman, from mal foolish, and marok, from French marotte a favoured object]

The word itself sounds amazing (sort of "mally-ma-ROOking"), but the etymology is fascinating too - we're talking about a word that means crazy drunken sailors. And crazy drunken sailors specifically on an icebound ship, headed north. Where's the word come from? The idea of a romping woman, which might go some way to explaining their highly excited mood. But where does the woman come from? She comes from the word for "foolish". So actually the drunken partying has taken on a bit of a pathetic tone. But wait - the French word for "a favoured object" is in there too - she may be a complete slut, but we love her for it. Now the sailors drinking seems happy, appreciative of small human things, perhaps even a little nostalgic.

In the space of a few lines in a dictionary, this word has gone from wild-eyed drunkenness to sad sluttiness to happy, quiet nostalgia - just like so many of the great long sessions, eh? I will endeavour to remember this word and bring it up the next time I find myself wearied with whiskey at three in the morning. Of course I'll probably remember it wrong and spend ten minutes repeating myself: "there's this great ice sailing word, the Germans, no, wait, it's French, and the women, drinking, there's a boat, you know, ice, moomoomoorooookka roook kkaaaaaaaaahh..."

Friday, 26 February 2010


This is a medical word, but I like it for shamefully 'poetical' reasons:

asystole (med) n inability of the heart to empty itself - Also asystolism [Origin from Greek a- (privative), and systole contraction] Chambers, 1998 (FYI it's pronounced like "a(h)-SIS-toe-lee"

I'm too ashamed to comment further. Will return to some pleasantly smutty dratchell-type words tomorrow.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


I am shocked that there is a word for this other than "rung" and I've never heard of it before:

rundle n a rung of a ladder; a wheel or similar rotating object [Origin from Middle English var. of roundel]

Shocked, I say to you, shocked.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Well, I know I've already had a humdudgeon, but I couldn't resist this word too. Stick a "hum" in front of anything and I'll go for it.

humgriffin or humgruffian n a terrible person. [Apparently hum (to make a sound like bees) and griffin (imaginary animal with lion's body and eagle's beak)] Chambers, 1998

It sounds like a word from a fairytale, although I'd like to reintroduce it in the context of pushy commuters.

Also, I know that "to make a sound like bees" is an accurate description of humming, but it still makes me laugh written down.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


criant adj garish, discordantly coloured. [French] Chambers, 1998

I'm having fun applying this adjective to some of the nouns I've found on my travels:

A criant dratchell

A criant bagarre

A criant jingbang

A criant morkin

I don't think a single one of those is actually appropriate.

Oh, also, check out another act of plagiarism thrown this way by @sheennotheard : He says his sword is mightier than his pen is, but I wonder.

Monday, 22 February 2010


A little word to start off the week:

roke (dialect) n a vapour; steam; mist; small rain; smoke. - vt and vi to steam; to smoke. -adj roky. [Perh Scand] Chambers, 1998

Sunday, 21 February 2010


To follow on from yesterday's theme of words that are appropriate for the weekend:

larrikin (Austr) n a rough or hooligan; someone who is careless of usual social conventions or behaviour - Also adj - n larrikinism. [Origin doubtful; a connection with "larking about" has been suggested but remains unsubstantiated; also perhaps Cornish larrikin a rowdy youth] Chambers, 1998

There are so many things I like about this word. The sheer sound of it, for one: "larrikin". It sounds like it should be a sherry glass. Then the definition: "a rough". That's brilliant. When was the last time you heard "rough" used as a noun?

"Darling, I sat next to the most dreadful rough on the commuter train this morning."
"Oh how awful. How about a larrikin of sherry?"

Also, though, I like the way the origin is described as "doubtful", before Captain Dictionary goes on to say that there is a Cornish word "larrikin" with a near-identical meaning. Mystery solved, I'd say! Or has Captain Dictionary forgotten that some Cornish people would have been involved in the initial European colonisation of Australia? Congratulations, you forefathers with your casual "sweep them under the equator" attitude. This larrikin's for you. As for Captain Dictionary, don't get me started.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Well, this seems to be a suitable Saturday night word:

dratchell (dialect) n a slut

Er, yes. Think I'll leave that one there.

Friday, 19 February 2010


oscheal (med) adj relating to the scrotum. [Origin from Greek oscheon scrotum] Chambers, 1998

The less said about this word the better, but I can imagine inserting it into a long string of general insults: "Why you low-down, good-for-nothing, oscheal, curmurring cockatrice" or similar.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


I'm delighted that @twentington has put this blog to excellent use in the 100 Days project's "plagiarism week" and made a poem out of lots of the words I've found here. Go and look, it's a work of brilliance.

In his honour, I've chosen a word whose exuberance will I hope be taken in the spirit of celebration rather than, er, weirdness. FYI, it's pronounced like home:

heaume (archaic) n a massive helmet [Origin from French] Chambers, 1998

Interestingly, the origin of "helmet" is Old English helm and German Helm, so this is something slightly different. Also, IT IS MASSIVE.

Join me in celebration of the giant heaume!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Rushing out the door, so just a quickie for today I like the sound of:

quiddle (dialect) vi to trifle - n a fastidious person. - quiddler. Chambers, 1998

Presumably you can quiddle with a quiddler then? What would that entail - putting coathangers in the wardrobe facing different ways perhaps? Or rearranging tins in the food cupboard?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Yeeuch. I always wondered if this had a specific name, being something of a Murder She Wrote/Poirot devotee (for my sins):

curettage (surg) n the scraping of a body cavity or internal organ by means of a spoon-shaped instrument known as a curette, usu to remove diseased dissue or a sample of tissue for diagnostic purposes - curette to scrape with a curette - n curettement curettage. [Origin from French curer to clean, clear] Chambers, 1998

In my random, brokenly-linking brain the sound of it reminds me of carrots, and now I'm thinking of a curettage salad, and how awesomely unpleasant that might be.

Monday, 15 February 2010


bagarre (French) n a scuffle, brawl, rumpus. Chambers, 1998

There's only one rule about bagarre club: don't talk about bagarre club, etc.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


What a wonderful word:

oxter (Scot) n the armpit - vt to take under the arm; to support by taking the arm. [Origin from Old English oxta] Chambers, 1998

I really do love all these Scots words. My gran was Scottish - I wonder how many of these she would have already known.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


This is how I'm considering reacting to another one of these "themed" weeks from Team 100:

vi to lie low - vt to hide [Origin from French tapir, tapiss-] Chambers, 1998

This weekend I am officially going to tappice myself.

Friday, 12 February 2010


Well, this is still vaguely relevant to the bits of cold weather Britain's getting at the moment:

graupel n frozen rain or snowflakes. [Origin from German graupeln to sleet] Chambers, 1998

The most disappointing weather activity known to man - it's not quite rain, it's not quite snow, but it's cold enough to give you ruddy cheeks for the next seven hours.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Just a quickie, today. For the man/woman who has all the interjections:

aikona (Bantu) interj it is not; no (Chambers, 1998)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


I'm including this not so much for the word itself, but for the wonderful overly-English definition that comes with it:

pium n a small but very troublesome Brazilian biting fly (Origin from Tupi) Chambers, 1998

I can just visualise the scene at the Explorer's Club: "Very troublesome, weren't they, Jenkins?" "Oh yes, vey troublesome, vey troublesome."

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


At last, a useful relationship word. Heh:

hircine adj goat-like; having a strong goatish smell. n hircosity goatishness - hircocervus a fabulous creature, half goat, half stag.

I will hope to use this word frequently. I suspect it may make a nice partner to curmurring. And just in case you want to know what Mr Hircocervus looks like, here's a postcard:

Monday, 8 February 2010


I can think of a few ways I could use this word in everyday speech though most of them are insulting, which is a shame as it's such a nice word.

benthonic or benthoal adj living on the sea bottom.

Seahorses are benthonic. I wouldn't like to insult a seahorse, they're far too pretty. Also they blend in well with their surroundings, which makes them all the better for benthonically stalking you before leaping out from the benthonic undergrowth to give you a benthonic good beating.

Uh, anyway, some related words here:

n the flora and fauna of the sea bottom or lake bottom adj benthopelagic (of marine fauna) living just above the sea bed n benthoscope a submersible sphere from which to study deep-sea life. [Origin from Greek benthos depth] Chambers, 1998

Sunday, 7 February 2010


Today's offering:

ooidal adj egg-shaped. [Origin from Greek oioeides, from oion and eidos form] Chambers, 1998

It's prounounced, roughly, oh-oy-dal, with emphasis on the Oy. Feel rather like I should know this one too. It's a great word though - strikes me as a useful one in scrabble.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


Again, why don't I know this word? It seems very familiar:

minacious adj threatening. n minacity. [Origin from Latin minax, -acis, from minari to threaten] Chambers, 1998

Just a quickie. Have some place minacious to be.

Friday, 5 February 2010


I can't stop smiling at this word. Apologies if you already knew this - I hadn't heard of it before. What a brilliant word!

yakow n an animal crossbred from a male yak and a domestic cow. [yak and cow] Chambers, 1998

Not only is it a wonderful example of the simple adaptability of language (and indeed animal breeding), but it sounds like it should be a sound effect in a comic. YAKOW!

And in case you were wondering, my Chambers doesn't list any words to describe an animal crossbred from a female yak and a domestic bull, though I did try looking up cowak, cowyak and coyak. The only other amusing related word I found was this (and note the origins of "cow" - very interesting):

cowpuncher (US colloq) a cowboy; a herder of cows [Origin of cow from Old English cu, German Kuh and Sanskrit go a bull, cow]

Oh no! The cowpuncher's gone for the big one: YAKOW!

Thursday, 4 February 2010


On the one hand I'm disappointed with this word, because its meaning is fairly easy to guess just from looking at it. On the other hand, I love the sheer naughtiness of the way it sounds: it's a very sultry word. I think we're talking sexy-good-witch-of-the-North, not wicked-witch-with-curly-under-house-toes.

ensorcell (archaic and poetic) vt to bewitch. [Origin from Old French ensorceler, from en, and sorcier a sorcerer] Chambers, 1998

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Hang on - is this what the mice were saying in the middle of the Dogtanian themetune?

rataplan n a drumming sound [Origin from French] Chambers, 1998

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Mmm, lovely. I want to say this word over and over:

susurrus (poetic) n a murmuring; a whisper; a rustling. adj susurrant. vi susurrate. n susurration. [Origin from Latin susurrus] Chambers, 1998

Let's move it from the purely "poetic" back into general usage, shall we?

Monday, 1 February 2010


wankle (dialect) adj unstable, unsteady; changeable; not to be depended on. [Origin from Old English wancol; of Germanic origin] Chambers, 1998

Brilliant. Not only is it a great word but this is definitely one I think I can insert into my active vocabulary. I feel like I want it to be a noun instead of an adjective though - the example below feels wrong. I keep thinking of it as a word like "fickle" in terms of audible comparison.


I went to the Poetry Live For Haiti reading on Saturday. Gordon Brown went too. He gave a speech at the start but then only stayed for the first poet's reading, ducking out straight after Dannie Abse finished. He is a wankle man, at least when it comes to poetry.