Are you getting your past WORDSWORTHs?
Here are just a few:
dolor, caravansary, brainiac, appetence, zetetic, yin and yang, xenagogue, wattle, visage,
undulating, timorous, simulacrum, raddled, quibble, purpure, obsequy, nugatory,
mizzle, louche, keening, jocundity
I’ll raise a storm of words, and rain …
Aristophanes (c. 450-388 BC)
… I know that the Scots have their own vocabulary for rain. “Smirr,” for
instance, is “a fine spray mist which
drenched you before you knew it.” Add some wind to the rain and you
get “a scowthering gale.” Then there’s
“mizzle:” miserable drizzle.
“A Swatch of Scotland,” The Washington Post, November 12, 2006.
mizzle, noun or verb
Noun –A combination of mist and drizzle; a mist-like rain.
Verb – To drizzle, to rain in fine droplets.
Adj. – mizzling
British, but possibly from Low German miseln to drizzle; or compare
dialect miezelen to drizzle.
Fair to mizzling is the prospect,
With the odds upon the latter;
Windows misty, fogged, and rain-specked;
Outside: drizzle, puddles, splatter.
… and we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our
William James (1842-1910) The Varieties of Religion …
Of questionable taste or morality; not reputable or decent;
French, from Old French losche, squint-eyed.
I knew of a louche little bar quite near here.
E Waugh, Brideshead Revisited.
Slouched on a stool, in a shady bar,
sat dissolute Larry Louche;
Playing it cool, in the semi-dark,
smoking and slugging down hooch;
Eyeing the broads, who would sashay by,
sultry and slinky and hot.
Betting the odds, this shifty barfly,
and figuring, “Heck, why not?”
One caught his eye. He gave her his strange,
come-hither, smoldering glance;
And her reply – with no words exchanged –
said clearly, “I’ll take the chance.”
Ogle met leer, and Larry the Louche,
left stool and sleazy saloon,
Ushering dear, Desidra La Douce,
out into the murky moon.
I have words. That would be howl’d out in the desert air, …
William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
keening, noun or adj.
A shrill wailing, as of lamentation for the dead.
From the verb keen, to wail or lament bitterly.
Just as she touched Franz, a sound emerged. It was a roar of grief, a
loud, keening bellow, and it filled the room.
Louise Erdrich, The Master Butchers Singing Club.
It is the wild Irish women keening over their dead.
G. A. Lawrence, Guy Livingstone.
But if when anyone died
Came keeners hoarser than rooks,
He bade them give over their keening;
For he was a man of books.
William Butler Yeats, "The Ballad of Father O’Hart"
Instead, when anybody died,
Or some dire circumstance occurred,
He shunned all keening; and applied
The soothing, stilling, salve of words.
For wailing, shrieks, laments and such
Disturbed his bookish heart. He’d urge
The soulful prayer, the verbal touch,
The erudite, cerebral dirge.
Speak approving, cheering words while their ears can hear them, and
while their hearts can be thrilled and made happier by them.
George William Childs, A Creed.
In blisse with me thy place shall be
Replete with alle jocunditie.
Jacob (James?) Ryman, Poems (1492)
(joh kun’ dih tee)
The state of being jocund (jŏck’ und) i.e. lighthearted or merry in
Sprightliness, gaiety, joyful exuberance, facetious merriment,
He overflowed with jocundity, though he was neither a wit nor a
Julian Hawthorne, Fortune’s Fool (1883)
We’ll spend our days in merry bliss,
And lilting chatter, frequent kiss,
With sweet conviviality,
Replete with joviality.
From morn to setting sun, we’ll be
Abounding in jocundity,
Delighting in the chance to pose
Our sprightly puns and gay bons mots.
And – best of all – no need to coax
Your laughter at my feeble jokes.
High words, that bore
Semblance of worth, not substance.
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Of little or no value, negligible. Trifling, worthless, trivial, useless.
From the Latin nugatorius, meaning worthless or futile.
…an elaboration of how a world which once had so wholly absorbed him
came to seem nugatory.
From a book review by Robert MacFarlane in The Observer, March 31,
2002, pg. 13.
The definition, plus the mere sound of the word nugatory - and a certain
confection it suggests - prompted me to write this vocabulary verse:
Today’s dessert – my post-lunch treat –
Is slightly crunchy, blandly sweet;
An empty bonbon, vapid truffle.
Amazing how this sticky stuff’ll
Pack just fluff per calorie,
And not much more, it seems to me.
And yet, I have a predilection
For this worthless, mousse confection –
(Nutritionally under par) –
My nugatory candy bar.
We die of words.
We are hanged, drawn, and quartered by dictionaries.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(ahb' sĭ kwee)
Often (usually, according to some sources) used in the plural -
obsequies. Its meaning:
A funeral or burial rite or ceremony; a memorial.
To wash his wounds, to weep his obsequies
John Dryden (1631-1700 )from his translation of Virgil's
Larry the Cable Guy.
This might provide an answer:
alas, for Mr. Nice.
Poor guy was frightened half to death.
Worse yet, it happened twice.
And if this humble verse seems far
too simple, and affronts:
We'd half a mind for something grand,
but had it only once.
Almost all words do have color, and nothing is more pleasant than to utter
a pink word and see someone's eyes light up and know it is a pink word for
him or her, too.
Gladys Taber (1899-1990)
purpure, noun or adj. (poor’ pyoor)
Purple. The tincture or color of (or, in the case of the adjective, of the
tincture or color of) purple.
Most often used in reference to heraldry, e.g. coats of arms, escutcheons,
etc. One of five heraldic colors, the other four being gules (red), azure
(blue), sable (black), and vert (green).
From the Latin purpura, purple. Used here to denote just another
synonym for a hue in the “purple family.”
I never saw a Purple Cow, / I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow, / I'd rather see than be one.
Here's my "Re-Verse":
I’ve never seen magenta kine,
Or lilac steeds, or fuchsia swine,
Or periwinkle kitties pied,
Or purple canines (though I’ve tried!),
Or herds of hairy antelope
The tint of winter heliotrope.
Now mind you, I’d not be averse
To meeting critters mauve, or perse,
Or orchid-hued. But heaven knows,
I’ve seen my share of purpure prose.
|Madame, it is an old word and each one takes it new and wears it out
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) Death in the Afternoon
raddled, adj. (radd’ ld)
Showing the effects of overwork or suffering.
Unkempt, run-down, or haggard in appearance.
Worn out; broken down.
E.g., Well, Henry, no one can say you're not experienced.
In fact, the word I'd use is old, old and raddled.
“Sally’s Arrival,” episode from Drop the Dead Donkey (1990 TV Series)
Time’s and tide’s effects are such
that languor has me in its clutch.
My timbers, once shipshape, are shivered.
My beauty spots, now aged, are livered.
I blame the ravages of time
for waning wits and insights I’m
not grasping. Yes, I’ve lost my steam.
My headlights are on lowest beam.
My metaphors are mixed – at best,
(as these anemic lines attest.)
My looks have faded, and my hair
(now gray) requires Ms Clairol’s care.
I’m looking haggard, truth be told.
I’m raddled. Raddled, yes. And old.
She was a little grotesque, a raddled caricature of a fading beauty.
Margaret Drabble, “Portraits of the Artists,” The Guardian, March 4, 2011
Let's not quibble! I'm the foe of moderation, the champion of excess. If
I may lift a line from a die-hard whose identity is lost in the shuffle, I'd
rather be strongly wrong than weakly right.
Tallulah Bankhead (1903-1968)
quibble, noun or verb (quĭb’ l)
verb - To raise trivial distinctions and objections, thereby evading the
truth or importance of an issue. To criticize for petty reasons; cavil
noun - Petty or irrelevant objections or carping criticism.
The use of ambiguous, less than factual language or arguments to evade
When your speeches are absurd,
I will ne’er object a word.
When you furious argue wrong,
I will grieve, and hold my tongue.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
When you twist those partial facts,
And your nod to truth is lax;
And your aim – it’s plain to see –
Is to irk and mislead me;
When you stall and shoot the breeze,
When you spout simplistic tripe,
When you quibble, cavil, gripe;
I’ll serenely play along,
Knowing all the while – you’re wrong!
|There are ... intangible realities which float near us, formless and
without words; realities which no one has thought out, . . .
Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972)
simulacrum, n. (sim yū lā’ krum) simulacra, pl.
A mere image or imitation of something, specious perhaps.
A slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.
An effigy, image, or representation, e.g. a simulacrum of Medusa.
. . . the sky, with silver swirls like locks of toss’d hair, spreading, expanding –
a vast, voiceless, formless simulacrum – yet maybe the most real reality and
formulator of everything – who knows?
Walt Whitman (1819-1892),
“A July Afternoon by the Pond”
A Swirl of Whitman
Encircling in vast skies – blue, gray – come
clouds with shapes. A simulacrum.
Images and semblances, maybe?
Likenesses? Or real reality?
How can these fancies in the yonder
change to real? Transformed, we wonder,
from illusion? -- shed their misty shrouds?
Are our heads too high up in the clouds?
Vast and gray, the sky
is a simulacrum
to all but him whose days
are vast and gray, . . .
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), “The Desolate Field”
|For whatever is truly wondrous
and fearful in man, never yet
was put into words or books.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
timorous, adj. (tim’ ǝr us)
Timid. Full of apprehensiveness or fear.
From the Latin timor – fear.
… those mere aggressive glances had put her timorous little heart into
such a flutter that she was ready to surrender...
William Makepeace Thackeray,
Regardless of how hard I try
and look straight at that passerby,
and offer up a friendly “Hi,”
. . . I’m timorous . . .
I can’t. Oh, why . . .
do better impulses defy,
and my best struggles to untie
this timid tongue all go awry?
My apprehensions multiply.
I’m very shy.
|Do not go forth on the gale with every sail
set into an ocean of words.
undulating, adj. (un’ dyoo late ing)
Moving in the manner of waves; rising and falling. From the verb,
undulate, To form or move in waves; fluctuate; rise and fall. To present a wavy
appearance, or to move or cause to move in a wavy, sinuous, or flowing manner.
undulate, adj. (un’ dyoo lut, or late) – Having a wavy surface or manner.
undulation, n. Rising and falling in waves; waviness or pulsating in motion.
undulatory, adj. Of or relating to undulation. undulant, adj. – Wavy,
The llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
With an indolent expression and an undulating throat.
Like an unsuccessful literary man (Hilaire Belloc)
When I consider undulating things, unlike Hilaire,
I don’t imagine pulsing throats. No, I think mal de mer.
With that undulating, fluctuating motion of my boat,
There’s no quelling or dispelling what is welling in my throat.
Rippling, rolling, ebb-and-flowing in my to-and-fro-ing ketch,
Surging billows make me bilious, and I think I’m going to retch.
Woozy, flailing, in this oscillating, vacillating sway,
I am failing at this sailing. So I’m bailing. (SAJ) 1999
To watch the gently undulating billows, rolling their silver volumes.
Washington Irving, Sketch Book
|Words are such temperamental beings
that the surest way to lose their essence is to take them at their face.
Learned Hand (1872-1961)
visage, n. (viz' ǝj)
The face, countenance, or facial expression of a person.
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously?
Why art thou clad so abominously?
Why art thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually in common between
Ogden Nash, "Kind of an Ode to Duty"
And thou, O Obligation,
Sterner Lawgiver than Duty and homelier than tarnation,
Whenever I look upon thy unsmiling visage,
Thou throw'st my freedom-loving spirit into a tizzage.
Thou cloud’st my frail humanity with responsibility’s onus;
And I respond to thy strict, reproving, unchanging visage
with incredible slowness.
There’s something in thy visage
On which I dare not look, . . .
Parr’s Life Pills (Anon)
|Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held
together by the delicate, tough skin of words.
Paul Engle, New York Times, February 17, 1957.
noun (waht’ l)
The wrinkled, fleshy, often brightly-colored folds of skin under the
necks of certain birds and lizards.
By association, then, can be taken to describe the similar folds of skin seen
under the chins of some older people.
The years press on, like it or not,
Remorseless as a juggernaut.
My prime is passing on all fronts.
I’m not the fellow I was once.
My youthful grins have drooped to scowls;
I’ve sprouted paunch and sagging jowls,
And wrinkles, bags, and liver spots;
My vim and gut have gone to pot.
My mind has slowed, as has my gait.
Receding hair and graying pate
Contribute to my outlook surly.
My hearing’s dim; my bedtime early.
Attached to my hot water bottle,
I creak and groan and snooze and dawdle.
Forgetfulness and slowed response
Are bad enough. But what most daunts,
Dismays, disgusts, and gets my goat
Is all this flesh around my throat.
Yes, what most makes me overwrought ’ll
Have to be this wretched wattle.
Nels Gudmundsson, the attorney, … rose to cross-examine Art Moran with a
slow and deliberate geriatric awkwardness, … . raised his chin, fingered his
bow tie, and pinched experimentally the wattles of skin at his neck – a habit
of his when he was thinking.
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson.
|What a narrow groove of vocabulary authors travel –
they use the same words all the time.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
xenagogue, noun (zēn’ ǝ gog)
(Rare, and not found in many dictionaries.)
A guide. One who conducts strangers, tourists, or guests.
From the Greek xeno, meaning foreign or strange and agogos,
meaning leading or guiding.
A xenagogy is a guidebook. Here’s an example from the 16th century:
The places, whereof I ment to make note in this my Xenagogie and
perambulation of Kent. (Lambarde)
“It's official," crows the Oxford English Dictionary Web site, "we are a
nation ruled by time.". . . But doesn't it seem just a little curious that
the top English noun now in use is the word time . . . What's amazing
is how this rather mundane word suddenly stands above the other
615,000 entries listed in the Oxford book, which is more or less the
official receptacle of all words English. But how does time trump
words like xenagogue (a person who guides strangers) and the
ever-popular blog (which is computereze for boring*)? . . .
John Bogert, “It's time for you xenagogues to push us ahead of the
Daily Breeze [Torrance, Calif] 29 June 2006: A2.
*blog, "computereze for boring" - I like that.
Hence, my verse:
If you’re boring, and you know it, write a blog.
I’m imploring, though: Forgo it! Go whole hog
to a different type of writing –
wander- wonder-lust inciting –
(the exploring, go-it, show-it travelogue).
Change your style. Become a travel pedagogue.
Don a smile, and hum a meanderin’ dialog.
Guide some tourists round about.
Lead some guests, and I’ve no doubt,
In a while, you’re one unboring xenagogue.
|Words are female, deeds are male.
Italian proverb or saying.
Also attributed (sometimes using masculine/feminine or
men/women) to John Florio, Baltazar Gracian, and George
Herbert. And others!
yin and yang, n. phrase (yin’ and yāng)
Opposite sides, elements, or extremes.
From the Chinese (Peking) yin – dark, and yang – bright.
Two forces in the universe, according to a Chinese theory: yin
is the passive, negative (feminine) force, and yang the active,
positive (masculine) force. Their interaction influences the
destinies of creatures and things.
Within each of us lies conflicting forces: yin and yang,
light and dark, good and evil.
from “The Tiger and the Pussycat,” 2001 episode of The
Jackie Chan Adventures TV series.
I’m such a mix of clashing forces.
The dark’s inside me. Too, of course, is
Light or bright. A simple fact.
Active, passive; good and evil . . .
meet, butt heads; create upheaval –
Seeking balance, union, pact?
I’m nice and nasty; gloom and glee;
I’m Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
I complement and interact.
I’m masculine and feminine;
My yang must coexist with yin.
Will my opposites attract?
|Question everything. Every stripe, every star,
every word spoken. Everything.
Ernest J. Gaines (b. 1933), “The Sky is Gray”
(African-American author, e.g. A Lesson Before Dying)
zetetic, adj. or n. (zǝ tet’ ik)
Arrived at or proceeding by inquiry or investigation.
noun A seeker or skeptic.
The word comes from the Greek followers of the skeptic Pyrrho (c
360–c 270 BC). Pyrrhonians (or Pyrrhonism) can be subdivided into
those who are ephectic (a "suspension of judgment"), zetetic
("engaged in seeking"), or aporetic ("engaged in refutation").
Usually, in investigating the word itself, the “zetetic” word-aholic
will inevitably find references to Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a radical
19th-century British socialist who wrote under the pseudonym
Parallax, and to his "modern public revival of the flat-earth idea",
which he called "zetetic astronomy."
. . . my current favorite word, “zetetic”, meaning skeptical of all
established canons of skepticism or bias for or against likelihood,
even one’s own, . . .
From a book review, Denver Examiner, April 1, 2012.
The ascetic zetetic will turn off the phone,
unplug the TV, and will ponder alone.
No enigma’s too puzzling or tough.
His more sociable colleagues, their minds in a huddle,
while they skeptically probe some perplexing muddle,
sort the logical grist from the fluff.
They will question their theories and pose hypothetic-
al theorems and concepts, their methods zetetic,
thinking through to the bottom of stuff.
|Do you have to use words like that?
It really disempowers you.
From the movie Beautiful Thing
I've been substitute teaching in the local school district for almost two years. It seems to be a
common belief among the students that their (and their colleagues') inappropriate language
and behavior should be overlooked, since "that's just the we are!"
Why modify this behavior, when we just can't help it? It brings to mind the word
appetence, n. (ăpp’ ĭ tuns)
A strong, intense craving or desire.
A tendency, propensity, natural attraction, or affinity.
From Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book XI,
Bred only and completed to the taste
Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance
to dress and troll the tongue, and roll the eye.
Also appetency, a longing or desire.
Maybe I should adopt the attitude of my students. In fact, I do just that in the following verse:
I am inclined. I have a bent.
(A predilection.) Heaven sent,
this tendency? Or born of hell?
A curse or blessing? Who can tell?
I zig – or zag – ruled by intense
proclivity – or appentence.
Free will gets trumped by inclination –
I’m victim of predestination.
I simply know inherent needs
precipitated these base deeds.
I had to. I was predisposed.
I couldn’t help it. Case is closed.
|A fool and his words are soon parted;
a man of genius and his money.
William Shenstone (1714-1763), On Reserve
My first guess is that you have encountered some very smart and very talented
people. I have, too.
My second guess is that you have also discovered that the most intelligent and
talented among them are also the most unassuming. Modesty and humility seem
to expand with giftedness. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.
That’s why I was so stunned to read that a person in a very high office felt the
need to declare himself a genius. And a stable one at that! Could he be called a
brainiac, n. (brā’ nē ak) ?
An extremely intelligent person. From the villain, Brainiac, in Superman comics,
a mechanical, emotionless cohort of Lex Luther. Probably a combination of
brain and maniac.
Today, it is used more in a humorous sense to denote a highly (exceptionally,
even) intelligent individual. You will sometimes see it capitalized.
Again, the stable, well-grounded people I know don’t announce that fact.
They don’t need to! (Because they’re . . . stable!)
However, I tried to empathize and imagine and to put myself in the mindset of
such a person. I came up with the following verse:
Genius. And sharp as tacks – that’s me.
But . . . firmly grounded!
And charges I’m quixotic and small-minded are unfounded.
Rash decisions? Made-up “facts”?
I haven’t the capacity,
'cuz mine’s a solid, level-headed perspicacity . . .
fueling smart, yet steady acts.
I’m not some dotard maniac.
No, I’m a stable, balanced, even-tempered brainiac.
Gut reactions? Not the track
for me. It’s just the consequence
of my intense, High-Q, unflappable intelligence.
|Footless words may travel out a thousand miles
It's getting to be graduation time.
In most communities, schools will soon be closed for the summer.
What that means for many families is the yearly summer vacation. Where shall we go
this year? What did we learn from last year's experience? Stella Benson (1892–
1933), in Pipers and a Dancer, wrote, "Family jokes, though rightly cursed by
strangers, are the bond that keeps most families alive." Let's get the car, the van, the
SUV loaded. It's almost time to make more family jokes and memories on that yearly
. . .
caravansary, n, kăr’ uh vann’ suh ree – also kăr’ uh vann’ suh rī
A large inn or hotel.
Originally, a large inn built around a court,
designed for accommodating caravans at night in the Near or Far East.
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.
Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883)
Bedraggled, weary, exiting the van,
Are (count them!) – one, two, three, four, five. Our clan.
We’re on our yearly bonding ritual,
The touted holiday familial.
Each somehow like the one before,
whose varied tellings pass into our lore.
I know you’re hot. (Somehow, we’ve lost the air
conditioning.) Yes, dear, we’ll soon be there.
Wrong turns get made. We’re lost. Let’s pin some guilt!
He’s jabbing me. Look, Mom, my Coke just spilt.
More squabbling from the rear. She hit me first!
They’re crowding me. We’ve got to stop. I’ll burst.
A tire goes flat. And one of us throws up.
There’s Mom, jaw set in patience. Dad blows up.
At long, long last, (Now, aren’t we having fun?)
We see both neon sign and setting sun.
An end in sight. Farewell, sweet odyssey:
We’ve reached our (budget) caravansary.
|I sometimes hold it half a sin
to put in words the grief I feel;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Remember the little verse about Monday's Child? (Full of grace?
And Tuesday's, Wednesday's etc, through the week?) It was
supposed to help children remember the days of the week, AND It
was supposed to tell a child's character or future based on his or her
Well, here's a more-than-slightly updated version of the verse, and
considerably less sunny. And, it attempts to include a bit of a pun at
the end and to highlight the word
dolor, n. (dō’-lər) –
Sorrow, grief. Painful anguish, suffering.
With this new word/verse posting, you get two-for-the-price of one.
Since we're talking about something happening weekly (AND
grimly) we've given the verse a corresponding title.
A note regarding the pronunciation of dolor:
Most dictionaries still give what I've shown above, with the first
syllable having a long "o." However, m-w.com gives a second,
therefore acceptable pronunciation of "dollar." One of my favorite
websites, rhymezone.com, doesn't give a pronunciation, but the
rhymes it gives all rhyme with "dollar." Hmmm.
Abomidable Hebdomadal* (Bleakly Weekly)
Monday, as is oft the case,
a new week hit me in the face.
Tuesday’s madcap gosling chase
put me squarely in last place.
Two more laps in life’s rat race.
Wednesday ebbed, but wouldn't flow;
Instead of “to,” it just went “fro.”
Hoping for some weal, but nooo. . .,
Thursday brought me only woe.
Two more days, ho-hum, hum-ho.
Friday – fraught with cares and sighs,
darkened prospects, and bleak skies.
Saturday. Soooo, should I rise?
“Why get up?” my being cries.
Two more days. Gloom magnifies.
Now comes Sunday: absence solar –
Sun-less. Storm clouds. Gray steamroller.
Another day. Another dolor.
*hebdomadal, adj. (accent on the second syllable), weekly