Xanthe Tynehorne, Esq.’s
Curious Words

A.Grk. ἄδοξος (ádoxos) “obscure, ignoble” + γραφία (graphía) “writing”
n. Brilliant writing on a trivial subject.
O.Eng. ealle cynn “of all kinds”
a. Of all kinds; intermingled and various.

I saw a plain of peerless pulchritude
wherein aboundit alkin things good
Spice, wine, corn, oil, tree, fruit, flower, herbis green
All fowls, beastis, birdis, and alkin food

Gavin Douglas, “The Palice of Honour” (1501 / φξθʹ.δʹ)
Latin armiger
a. Bearing or entitled to bear a coat of arms.

Dutch, like its hillier cousin German, has something of a reputation as a harsh, guttural, and most of all ugly language. English may indeed roll nicer off the tongue (don’t tell my papa i said that), but its closest neighbour is still a beautiful tongue in its own right. To go along with all the Anglo-Saxon on this page, here are some of my favourite words in Dutch:

A word which means literally
desalniettemin Nevertheless… des al “of all this” + niettemin “nevertheless, not too little”
gezellig Cozy, comfortable, in that particular way that comes when, say, sitting around the sofa, drinking tea with a friend who loves and cares for you, or at a party with your best mates. from the same root as “silly”
koeienletters Big, massive, unmissable type — see “second coming type” further down the list. “cow letters”
de oerknal The Big Bang. “the ur-bang”
uitwaaien To clear one’s mind by going out for a walk in windy weather. “to blow out”
escumbrier “to disencumber”
v. To discharge one’s dung upon.
Latin bibulus “fond of drinking” ← bibó “i drink”
adv. Drunkenly, as if intoxicated or tired and emotional.
carry coals to Newcastle
Newcastle-upon-Tyne was once a major coal-producing and -exporting city; carrying yet more coal to there would be pointless.
Coal miners standing in a lift shaft.
v. To do something utterly redundant, as if giving a gift the recipient has more than enough of.

However curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing oil on the whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly contradict the old proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle, yet sometimes such a thing really happens; and in the present case Captain Derick De Deer did indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder as Flask did declare.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851 / χνζʹ.γʹ), ch. 81
Fr. céphalophoreA.Grk. κεφαλή (cephalē) “head” + φέρω (phérō) “i carry”
An engraving of St. Aphrodisius carrying his own severed head.
n. A Christian saint depicted in artworks as carrying their own severed head.
Fr. communiqué “something communicated”
n. An official report or communication from on high.
Latin con- “with” + félícitás “happiness”
n. Joy taken in another’s happiness: the opposite of schadenfreude.
Latin crepusculum “twilight, evening, darkness” ← creper “dark, dusky, obscure”
a. Of, reminiscent of, or coming out at the twilight hours of the day.
Latin dé fenestrá “out the window”
n. The act of throwing someone, particularly a high-profile official, out of a window; the act of uninstalling Windows from a computer.

The Third Defenestration of Prague occurred on 10 March 1948. During the closing stages of the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, Jan Masaryk, the popular foreign minister and son of Tomáš Masaryk, fell – or more likely was pushed – out of a window.

Adrian G. V. Hyde-Price, Int. Politics ’East Cent. Eur. (1996 / χϙγʹ.δʹ), pg. 40

Defenestration might be an option too. May I recommend Linux?

Diminutive of O.Eng. ding “dungeon, pit”
A forested valley.
Original image by Wikimedia user Stanislav Doronenko.
n. A narrow or enclosed forested valley.
the doldrums
Eng. doldrum “dullard” ← dull
A calm sea.
n. That part of the ocean of calms and only the slightest winds, where a ship cannot make progress; a state of apathy and ennui where one feels much the same.

[H]e would sit over the fire with a book in his hand, staring over it into the red glow with his brows knit, and a dogged, almost sullen look about his mouth. [...] Mrs. Gray, who was a woman of determination, and who had a horror of what she called ‘the doldrums,’ made up her mind that she had had enough of this kind of thing[...]

From an anecdote told by Mark Liberman, a linguist, of a woman who had long believed the word acorn to be *eggcorn.
n. A reanalysis of a word or phrase for another that sounds similar and could be taken to have a similar meaning.

  • deep-seated*deep-seeded
  • for all intents and purposes*for all intensive purposes
  • Alzheimer’s disease*old-timer’s disease
Perhaps O.Eng. elles “other” + rīċe “kingdom, dominion”
a. Unearthly, supernatural, of something that does not belong in this world.

Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother’s attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became silent.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850 / χνϝʹ.αʹ), pg. 126
From the folkloric idea of elves and faeries tangling and knotting the hair of sleeping children.
n. Hair wound up in tangled, tatty locks.
Eng. end + -ling
n. The last member of an animal species before its extinction.

You can hear the song of a Kauaʻi ʻōʻō endling online.

A.Grk. εὐ- (eu-) “good, well” + στάσις (stásis) “standing, state, position”
A car driving through a flooded street.
Floods like this one in Miami are caused by ongoing human-caused eustasy.
n. A global change in sea level, especially that caused by the melting of glaciers.
A.Grk. ἔξω (éxō) “outer” + φωνή (phōnē) “sound, voice”
a. Writing in a language one has not known from birth, as Conrad and Nabokov did.
Portmanteau of Eng. fax + folklore
n. A kind of folklore comprising memes and urban legends shared between people by fax machine.
A.Grk. γαστήρ (gastēr) “stomach” + Eng. diplomacy
n. The attempted improvement of a country’s diplomatic relations by means of promoting its national cuisine.

The phenomenon of modern gastrodiplomacy got its start in Thailand. Thai cooking and restaurants had been on the rise around the world since the 1980s. But in 2002, the Government of Thailand decided to use these kitchens and restaurants as new cultural outposts to promote brand Thailand and encourage tourism and business investment.

David South, South. Innov. #3 (2012 / χϙζʹ.γʹ), pg. 11
Ger. Graupel, diminutive of Graup “hulled grain of wheat”
n. A half-melted covering of snow or hail, with a consistency somewhere in between the two.

Also called soft hail or popcorn snow.

A.Grk. ἀλκυών (alcyōn) “kingfisher”
n. A bird of classical mythology said to calm the seas in order to nest its eggs; more generally, any kingfisher of the eponymous genus. a. Peaceful, calm, serene; often said with a longing for days gone by.

And, by the way, during those halcyon days (the halcyon was there, too, chattering above every creek, as he is all over the world) we fought another battle.

Latin hesternus “yesterday”; cognate with the yester- in Eng. yesterday
A sunset over mountains and a lake.
Sunset often marks the end of one day and the start of another.
a. Of or pertaining to yesterday.

I rose by candle-light, and consumed, in the intensest application, the hours which every other individual of our party wasted in enervating slumbers, from the hesternal dissipation or debauch.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Pelham (1828 / χναʹ.δʹ), pg. 216

See also crastinal: of or pertaining to tomorrow.

A.Grk. ἵππος (híppos) "horse" + τίγρις (tígris) “tiger”
a. Of or like the zebra.
A.Grk. ὑάλινος (hyálinos) "of crystal or glass”
a. Glassy in nature, letting the light shine and shimmer through.
Latin ille (third person pronoun) + Eng. -ism
n. The act of excessively referring to oneself in the third person.
Latin importuósusportuósus “many-harboured” ← portus “port”
a. Lacking a port or harbour.
ineffable ← Latin ineffábilisin- “not” + effor “speak, utter” + -bilis “-able”
a. Beyond expression in mere human language; indescribable, inexpressible.

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens (1990 / χϙβʹ.αʹ), pg. 23
Latin írisA.Grk. ἶρις (îris) “rainbow, halo” + Latin -escens “becoming, resembling”
a. Gleaming with all the colours of the rainbow, like a sliver of light caught in a prism.
A.Grk. ἰθύφαλλος (ithýphallos) ← ἰθύς (ithýs) “straight” + φαλλός (phallós) “penis”
A mediæval bronze figurine clutching its comically large, erect phallus.
a. Pertaining to the erect phallus carried in Bacchic processions, or of an artistic depiction of an erect penis; by extension, lavicious, or in the same metre as an ode sung thereto.
A.Grk. κάκιστος (cácistos) “worst” + Eng. -cracy
President Donald J. Trump.
oh no how did this picture get here
n. Rule by the worst and least qualified people.
Latin kalendæ, whence Eng. calendar
n. The first day of the month, especially in the context of Ancient Rome.

See also Noumenia, the first day of the month in the Greek lunisolar calendar, and the phrase Greek kalends, a metaphorical date which means something will never happen.

From the online handle of Usenetter James “Kibo” Parry, who had a habit of kibozing and replying to any message that mentioned him
v. To search an online service for mentions of your own name or online handle, usually with the intent of posting a response.

> That's a trifle patronising Se th!

Only a trifle? I’ll have to try harder. (BTW, the idiot apparently adds spaces to people’s names to prevent kibozing. It doesn’t help when you're replying to me in a newsgroup I read; I’ll find that article just fine. Besides, I don’t kiboze.)

Now more popularly known as namesearching, but i like this (somewhat old-fashioned in internet years) term better.
Uncertain; perhaps to do with Scots kludgie “toilet”, Ger. klug “clever”, Dutch kluitje “lump, clod”, or invented out of whole cloth by analogy with Eng. bodge and fudge
A ramp over a broken bridge.
n. An improvised technique to (hopefully temporarily) fix a problem; something that by all accounts should not work, but does anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.
lay·trih·nay·lee·ə, lat·rih
From Eng. latrine, by analogy with marginalia. Coined in 1966 CE (Ol. χηϝʹ.αʹ) by Alan Dundes, a U.S.-American folklorist.
A public toilet covered in graffiti from floor to ceiling.
n. The writings one finds scribbled and scrawled over the walls of public toilets.
Greek μαλακία (malakía) “masturbation; nonsense, bullshit”
n. Nonsense and rubbish.
Latin malus “bad, unpleasant, evil”, by analogy with Eng. benefit
n. The opposite of a benefit; a negative and harmful consequence.
Eng. meat + space, by analogy with cyberspace
n. The real, physical world, as opposed to the world of online interactions (cyberspace).
From King Mithridates VI of Pontus, who so feared being poisoned that he aimed to develop immunity by regularly consuming small doses of poison.
n. The building up of a tolerance to a harmful substance by gradually administering oneself non-lethal amounts.
From an anecdote told by Erasmus of an old monk who, instead of reciting the correct Latin quod in óre sumpsimus “which we have taken into the mouth” during mass, insisted on saying quod in óre mumpsimus even when told of its inaccuracy.
n. One who stubbornly adheres to old ways in spite of clear evidence of their falsehood*, an ignorant and bigoted opponent of reform; an error repeated in such a manner.

I see and hear daily, that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach, one contrary to another, inveigh one against another, without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost be in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do.

King Henry VIII of England at the state opening of parliament (1545 / φηαʹ.αʹ)

* Sumpsimus is sometimes used to mean the opposite: one who insists on using the technically correct term instead of a vastly more common and intelligible, if slightly inaccurate, form. (“Erm, ackshually, it’s called GNU/Linux…”)

Clipping of Eng. mundane
n. In the context of a role-playing game (offline or online), the person who roleplays a given character.

Wait a sec.... You mean.. this is a GAME??

And here I thought that nine tae five job my mun goes to everyday was a game and Norrath was my home..

Any suggestions on how to successfully turn this into a good SL, which will bring the characters back into the range of normalcy, without leaving the muns feeling deprived of everything their characters earned?

A.Grk. νῠχθήμερον (nychthḗmeron) ← νύξ (nýx) “night” + ἡμέρα (hēméra) “day”
n. A period of twenty-four hours, a day and a night.
O.Eng. ofer- “after” + morgen “tomorrow”
n./adv. The day after tomorrow.

New students in Greenbank and Carnatic Halls start moving in overmorrow.

See also ereyesterday: the day before yesterday.

Latin peregrínus “foreign; traveller, pilgrim, wanderer”
a. Wandering or migratory; foreign, be it to some place or some thing.

As soon as she had smiled her face altered again, and the petulant expression peregrine to her features took control.

Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan (1946 / χπαʹ.αʹ)
Eng. player + sexual
a. Of a video-game NPC: attracted to the player character regardless of gender.
Latin præternátúrálispræter “beyond” + nátúra “nature”
a. Beyond what is possible in the regular course of things, be it due to extraordinary talent or paranormal influence.
A.Grk. ψυχοπομπός (psychopompós) ← ψυχή (psychē) “soul” + πομπός (pompós) “conductor”
A painting of Hermes Psychopompos, ferrying the dead to the underworld.
Praise Hermes Psychopompos!
n. One who guides the souls of the dead to the next life.
Latin pýthónissaA.Grk. Πυθία (Pythía)
n. The priestess of the Delphic oracle of Apollon; a female soothsayer.

Less becomingly Origen states that when the Pythoness sat down at the mouth of the cave, “the prophetic spirit of Apollo entered her private parts”; […]

Elsie Clews Parsons, Relig. Chast.: Ethnol. Study (1913 / χοβʹ.δʹ)
Manx qualtaghquaail “meeting”
n. On the Isle of Man, the first person one meets after stepping out of one’s home on New Year’s Day.
Latin quid nunc? “what now?”
n. Someone eager to learn of the latest news and scandal.
From Vidkun Quisling, who ruled Nazi-occupied Norway during the second world war.
n. A traitor who collaborates with the enemy.
O.Eng. hreōh “fierce, wild, angry, disturbed”
a. In a state of wild, outrageous, mænadic frenzy; tipsy and befuddled by liquor.
By analogy with Eng. despair
n. The return of lost hope.
Fr. saccade “jerk”
n. A rapid jerk of the eye from one place to another, so quick that the brain hides it from one’s vision; a quick check of a horse; the sounding of two violin strings with a sudden pressure of the bow.
Entered by a Henry Dale and a Kate Butler into a nation­wide com­peti­tion to coin a term for “the law­less drinker”, sponsored by an enthusi­astic prohibitionist banker. The $200 prize — about $3,400 today — was split between the two.
n. One who habitually commits minor offences; say, a jaywalker, ignorer of parking tickets, or, in the days of prohibition, a partaker in that ancient Dionysian pass-time.

You can now visit a cocktail bar called Scofflaw in Chicago, or buy beer from Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewery. So much for prohibition.

second coming type
In reference to the Christian eschatological second coming of Christ, which would most likely be an occasion worthy of such type treatment.[citation needed]
The New York Times’ online front page on election day of 2020, with a headline in massive type blaring ‘Biden beats Trump’.
n. The gigantic typeface used in newspaper headlines for truly momentous events.

Thursday morning, walking to breakfast at the Red Flame Coffee House on West 44th Street, I noted a reinforced police presence outside Grand Central Station. The cover of Thursday’s New York Post used Second Coming type to blare the W-word — not weasel but war.

“New York Notes”, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2003 March 22 / κʹ Elaphebolion χϟεʹ.βʹ
It. sfumato “hazy, faded, disappeared” ← sfumare “to soften, to fade, to blur, to lighten” ← fumo “smoke”
The “Mona Lisa’s” skin has hardly any visible transition between colours.
The Mona Lisa, particularly in the shading around the eyes and face, makes heavy use of sfumato.
n. A technique of painting practised by Leonardo da Vinci and other Italian Renaissance painters, involving the application of thin, translucent layers of paint in such a way that there is no visible transition between areas of colour.
shib·ə·leth, ·lith
Hebrew שיבולת (shibbolet) “ear of wheat; stream, torrent”
n. A word used as a test to distinguish the in-group and out-group.

Examples include:
  • Hebrew שיבולת (shibbolet) “ear of wheat; stream, torrent”, used to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites trying to return home according to the Hebrew Bible
  • Dutch Scheveningen, used to distinguish Dutch from occupying Germans during the second world war
  • English lollapalooza, used to distinguish U.S.-American soldiers from the Japanese during the second world war
  • English (h)aitch, used to distinguish between Catholics and Protestants during the Troubles
skol·ee·onn, skoh·lee·ən
A.Grk. σκόλιον (scólion) ← σκολιός (scoliós) “curved, bent, winding, crooked”
n. A song sung in honour of Gods and heroes by invited guests at an ancient Greek banquet, the lyre being passed around from person to person and lyrics being improvised or based upon the previous singer’s contribution.
Calqued from Sanskrit दिगम्बर (digambara), referring to a school of Jainism which eschewed (alongside oh so many other things) clothing in the monastery. (The dharmic faiths were quite en vogue in Gardner’s time.)
a. Prancing around in the buff, especially in the context of a Wiccan or Pagan rite.

When we are skyclad, we are sharing ourselves as we truly are with the coven. There are no defences, no masks, no personas and nothing psychologically or physically to hide behind. This is the essence of sacred sexuality and the flow of feeling about that magic circle.

Old Norse spá “prophesy”
v. To prophesy, foretell, foresee, or divine an event. n. A prophecy.

See also speyman and speywife, for male and female fortune-tellers.

Ultimately from A.Grk. Σύβαρις (Sýbaris), a Calabrian port city renowned for its wealth and luxury.
a. Hedonistically devoted to the indulgence of luxury, comfort, and pleasure.

Riker: The place is called Risa, and believe me, captain, it is a paradise: warm, tropical breezes; exotic foods; nothing to do except enjoy the quiet, and then…

Both: The women.

Picard: Of course…

Riker: I’m sure you would find their sybaritic outlook on life very appealing.

Ira Steven Behr, “Captain’s Holiday”, Star Trek: The Next Generation S3E19 (1990 / χϙβʹ.αʹ)
A.Grk. ταχύς (tachýs) “swift” + γραφία (graphía) “writing”
n. Writing at a very swift speed indeed; steganography and shorthand.
A.Grk. θάνατος (thánatos) “death” + κοινός (cœnós) “common”
n. An assemblage of fossils and other deceased life forms found together at one site, having once been separate parts of an ecosystem but being brought together post mortem by such factors as flowing water or deposition by a predator.
O.Eng. þingP.Ger. *þingą, whence Icelandic þing “assembly, council, parliament”
n. A public assembly, a judicial council; particularly in the context of the Germanic countries.

This is the original meaning of the word. The meaning of “object, matter” evolved from the use of the word to describe what was being discussed at things, and then to any object or matter of importance.

Japanese 積ん読 (tsundoku) ← 積む (tsumu) “to pile up” + (doku) “to read”
n. The act of leaving a book which one has bought unread, likely piled up with other books in a similar situation.
Latin proverb sútor, né ultrá crepidam “shoemaker, not beyond the shoe!”
n./a. One who speaks and criticises on matters beyond their knowledge.
uul·yoo·layt, yool·
Onomatopœic Latin ululo “i howl”
v. To let out one’s emotions by releasing a prolonged, wavering howl.
In reference to Germany’s tumultuous Weimar Republic, which suffered from economic hyperinflation and general chaos which would lead to the eventual installation of Adolf Hitler as dictator.
n. A state of economic crisis leading to political upheaval and extremism.
Scots weerdO.Eng. wyrd “fate, chance, event”
n. Fate, destiny, luck; a prediction; that which comes to pass. a. Connected with or able to influence fate; supernatural, unearthly, pertaining to witchcraft or the occult; strange or bizarre.

The sense of “supernatural, uncanny” comes from the usage of the term “weird sisters” in reference to the three Fates in Germanic myth. Shakespeare’s Macbeth repopularised the term and heavily influenced it to almost always just mean “strange”; most other senses are now obsolete, though the noun form hangs on in the learnèd borrowing wyrd.

Middle Saxon weddersinnes “going the other way” ← wider “against” + sinnen “travel, go”
adv. Counterclockwise, especially in the context of Wicca or Witchcraft.

See also deaseal, deasil, deosil: clockwise. The latter spelling is, if i recall, the dominant one among Witches, but the former two are perhaps truer to the etymology from Scots Gaelic deiseil.

zee·nee·yə, ·nyə
A.Grk. ξενία (xenía) “xenia, hospitality, guest room” ← ξένος (xénos) “foreigner, guest, stranger”
n. Hospitality to strangers, generosity and courtesy bestowed upon those who have otherwise no relation to the bestower; the principle of being a good guest and a good host.
M.Eng. ylem “primordial substance from which all is formed” ← Latin hýlé “matter, as opposed to form” ← A.Grk. ὕλη (hýlē) “wood, substance, matter”
n. The hot, dense plasma which made up the material Universe in the early stages of its expansion and cooling; the source of the cosmic microwave background.
zen·ith, zeen·
O.Fr. cenith ← Latin cenit ← Bungled transliteration of Arabic سمت الرأس (samt ar-raʼs) “direction of the head”
n. The point of the celestial sphere directly above the observer; the highest point reached by an object in the sky; the highest peak of something or someone’s achievements.

See also nadir: the point in the sky directly beneath the observer; the time of something’s lowest depression.

Eng. zenzic “squared” ← Ger. zenzusIt. censo “property, squared” ← calque of Arabic مَال (māl) “possessions, property”; from analogy of a square number with a depiction of an area
n. The eighth power of a number.

Part of a whole system of esoteric exponential terms used before the advent of superscript notation, such as:

  • zenzicubic: the square of a cube, or a number raised to the fifth power
  • sursolid: a prime-numbered exponent — the fifth power is the first sursolid, the seventh power is the second sursolid, the eleventh power is the third sursolid, &c.
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  1. Xanthe says…

    Added six new words: communiqué, exophonic, importuous, ithyphallic, peregrine, and qualtagh.

Please be nice. Comments may be edited for proper spelling and capitalisation, because i’m a pedant. Basic formatting: *bold*, /italics/, [//satyrs.eu links]→ More