Monday, December 30, 2013


bespoke [bɪˈspoʊk] a.

1.) Custom-made. Said especially of clothes.
2.) Making or selling custom-made clothes: ''a bespoke tailor'' (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: Old English be-, weak or stressless form of the preposition and adverb (biᴁ), by. The original Teutonic form was, as in Gothic, bi, with short vowel, probably cognate with second syllable of Greek ἀµϕί, Latin ambi; in Old High German and early Old English, when it had the stress, as a separate word, and in composition with a noun, it was lengthened to (, ), while the stressless form, in composition with a verb or indeclinable word, remained bi-; in later Old English, as in Middle High German and modern German, the latter was obscured to be- (also occasionally in Old English as an unaccented form of the preposition): cf. Old English bígęng, practice, bigangan, begangan, to practise + spoke, from Old English sprecan.

"Not impossibly, as it struck me on reflection, the spiteful individual might have a theory: he might conceive that, if a catholic chancery decree went forth, restoring to every man the things which truly belonged to him—your things to you, Cæsar's to Cæsar, mine to me—in that case, a particular brickbat fitting, as neatly as if it had been bespoke, to a contusion upon the calf of his own right leg, would be discovered making its way back into my great-coat pockets. Well, it might be so" ("A Sketch of My Childhood," Thomas De Quincey, 1851).

(Il sarto, Pietro Longhi, ~1741)

Monday, May 27, 2013


uroboros [jʊərəʊˈbɒrəs] n. also ouroboros, uroborus.

1.) The symbol, usually in the form of a circle, of a snake (or dragon) eating its tail (O.E.D. 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adaptation of Greek οὐροβόρος, devouring its tail (frequently connected with δράκων, dragon).

"At times, I found myself marvelling at the way that HBO has solved the riddle of its own economic existence, merging "Hookers at the Point" with quasi-Shakespearean narrative. In the most egregious instance so far, Littlefinger tutored two prostitutes in how to moan in fake lesbianism for their customers, even as they moaned in fake lesbianism for us—a real Uroboros of titillation." (The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum, 2012).

(Eternity Seated by a Fire, Holding a Tablet with the Ouroboros in Her Left Hand, Her Right Hand Leaning on a Sphere, as Wisdom Stands Nearby Leaning on a Staff Encircled with a Scroll Inscribed Rerum Magistra, Arnould Houbraken, ~1690)

Thursday, April 11, 2013


cosset [ˈkɒsɪt] n.

1.) A lamb reared without the aid of the dam. Hence: A pet, in general.

cosset [ˈkɒsɪt] v. t.

1.) To treat as a pet; to fondle (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary).

Etymology: Possibly from Anglo-Norman coscet, pet lamb, from Middle English cotsete, cottage-dweller, from Old English cotsæta: cot, cottage + sæte, inhabitant.

"But Nature is no sentimentalist,—does not cosset or pamper us. We must see that the world is rough and surly, and will not mind drowning a man or a woman; but swallows your ship like a grain of dust. The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple" (The Conduct of Life, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860).

(Das Eismeer, Caspar David Friedrich, 1824)

Friday, April 5, 2013


tutelar [tutlər] a.

1.) Of supernatural powers: Having the position of protector, guardian, or patron; esp. protecting or watching over a particular person, place, or thing.
2.) transf. Of or pertaining to protection or a protector or guardian; protective.

tutelar [tutlər] n.

1.) One who is tutelar; a tutelar deity, angel, or saint. Also transf. and fig. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: from Latin tūtēla, watching, keeping, guardianship (from tūt-, participle stem of tuērī, to watch).

"So, having made his arrangements and offered vows to the gods, when he was seen in the streets advancing at the head of his men to engage the enemy, a confused noise of shouts, congratulations, vows, and prayers was raised by the Syracusans, who now called Dion their deliverer and tutelar deity, and his soldiers their friends, brethren, and fellow-citizens" (Plutarch's Lives Translated From the Greek by Several Hands, John Dryden (trans.), 1683).

(Sword of Damocles, Richard Westall, 1812)

Friday, March 29, 2013


batten [ˈbæt(ə)n] v. i.

1.) To grow better or improve in condition; especially (of animals) to improve in bodily condition by feeding, to feed to advantage, thrive, grow fat.
2.) To feed gluttonously on, glut oneself; to gloat or revel in. (With indirect passive, to be battened on, in modern writers.)
3.) fig. To thrive, grow fat, prosper (especially in a bad sense, at the expense or to the detriment of another); to gratify a morbid mental craving.
4.) To grow fertile (as soil); to grow rank (as a plant) (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: First found in end of 16th century, but may have been in dialectal use before; apparently adopted from Old Norse batna to improve, get better, recover, from bati, advantage, improvement, amelioration; cognate with Gothic gabatnan, to be advantaged, to be bettered, to profit, a neuter-passive form derived from batan, bôt, batans, to be useful, to profit, to boot. Cf. also Dutch baten, to avail, yield profit; baat, profit, gain, advantage, benefit; and see Grimm s.v. batten. A cognate bat in sense of 'profit, advantage, improvement,' although not known as a separate word in English, is implied in the derivatives batt-able, bat-ful, batt-le (a.).

"The Medical College piles up in its museum its grim monsters of morbid anatomy, and there are melancholy skeptics with a taste for carrion who batten on the hideous facts in history—persecutions, inquisitions, St. Bartholomew massacres, devilish lives, Nero, Caesar Borgia, Marat, Lopez; men in whom every ray of humanity was extinguished, parricides, matricides and whatever moral monsters. These are not cheerful facts, but they do not disturb a healthy mind; they require of us a patience as robust as the energy that attacks us, and an unresting exploration of final causes" (Society and Solitude, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1870).

(Pochodnie Nerona, Henryk Siemiradzki, 1876)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


dernier [ˈdɜːnɪə(r)] a.

1.) Last; ultimate, final.
2.) dernier ressort: last resort; originally (in reference to legal jurisdiction) the last tribunal or court to which appeal can be made, that which has the power of final decision; hence, a last or final resource or refuge.
3.) dernier cri [French, literally 'the last cry']: the very latest fashion. Also in predicative use and (without article) attributively.
4.) dernier mot: the last word (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adoption of French dernier, last, latest.

"The Right Honourable William Humble, earl of Dudley, G. C. V. O., passed Micky Anderson's alltimesticking watches and Henry and James's wax smartsuited freshcheeked models, the gentleman Henry, dernier cri James" (Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922).

(The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1839)

I'm pleased to report that this word finally allowed me to find a mistake by my hero David Foster Wallace. See, I originally discovered this word when I was rereading his essay "Up, Simba" the other month (and wrote it down in my trusty moleskin to save for later, as is my wont). He writes:
"One of the scrum's oldest and most elite 12M calls out one last time that surely after all there aren't any guns to the candidates' heads in this race, that surely Mike (the Monkeys call him Mike) would have to admit that simply refusing to 'quote, "respond"' to Bush and thereby 'staying on the high road' was something McCain could have done; and Murphy's dernier cri, over his shoulder, is 'You guys want a pacifist, go support Bradley.'"
But he should have written dernier mot, as anyone can see. Probably he was relying on his knowledge of French. But dernier cri doesn't mean last cry in English, it means latest fashion. So, once again, not knowing French turns out to be a better strategy in life.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ad kalendas graecas

ad kalendas graecas [ɑd kɑˈlɛndɑs ˈgraɪkɑs] adv.

1.) Never (Dictionary of Foreign Words, Adrian Room, 2000).

Etymology: Latin, literally on the Greek calends, from ad + kalendas graecas, accusative of kalendae graecae, Greek calends. The Greeks had no calends in their calendar, so this refers to a nonexistent time. (In the Roman calendar the calends were on the first day of any month.) Suetonius reports in his Life of Augustus that the emperor coined the phrase with reference to people who never planned to pay their debts: he would say "ad Kalendas Graecas soluturos" ("they will pay on the Greek Kalends").

"The dominion of Christ does not appear—in complete contrast to the Roman Empire—as an obvious, earthly and present political power. Thus the earthly power, ruling here and now, has no need—in its delusion—to feel concerned; the 'end of the age' and the coming of Christ for judgement can be deferred, as it were, ad kalendas Graecas" (Studies in Early Christology, Martin Hengel, 2004).

(Η Πέμπτη Σφραγίδα της Αποκαλύψεως, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος, ~1611)

Apparently there's the equivalent English phrase, "on the Greek calends," as well. That phrase is in the OED, while the Latin phrase isn't. But if you're going to make a Roman joke, I figure you might as well do it in Latin.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


pendent [ˈpɛndənt] a.

1.) Hanging; suspended from or as from the point of attachment, with the point or end hanging downwards; dependent. Of a tree: having downhanging branches. Formerly often following its noun, especially in Heraldic use.
2.) Overhanging; jutting or leaning over; also, descending in a steep slope; slanting; placed or hanging on a steep slope.
3.) fig. Overhanging; impending. rare.
4.) Hanging in the balance, remaining undecided or unsettled, pending.
5.) Grammar. Of which the grammatical construction is left incomplete (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: originally pendaunt, adopted from French pendant: noun use of present participle of pendre, to hang. About 1600, this began to be written pendent, after Latin pendens, pendentem, and this has now become the more frequent spelling, though pendant is often used, especially in senses associated with those of the noun.

"There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."
(Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1604)

(Ophelia, Odilon Redon, ~1903)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


amanuensis [əˌmænyuˈɛnsɪs] n.

1.) One who is employed to take dictation or to copy manuscript (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: Latin amanuensis (coined by Suetonius), from the phrase servus a manu, slave at handwriting: a, by + manu, ablative of manus, hand + -ensis, belonging to.

"First and foremost, of course, comes my poor Uncle Jeremy, garrulous and imbecile, shuffling about in his list slippers, and composing, as is his wont, innumerable bad verses. I think I told you when last we met of that trait in his character. It has attained such a pitch that he has an amanuensis, whose sole duty it is to copy down and preserve these effusions. This fellow, whose name is Copperthorne, has become as necessary to the old man as his foolscap or as the 'Universal Rhyming Dictionary'" (The Doings of Raffles Haw and Our Lady of Death, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1892).

(Milton, Munkácsy Mihály, 1878)

Monday, March 11, 2013


cope [kəʊp] n.

1.) In the University of Cambridge, a cape or tippet of ermine worn by doctors of divinity on certain special occasions.
2.) Eccl. A vestment of silk or other material resembling a long cloak made of a semicircular piece of cloth, worn by ecclesiastics in processions, also at Vespers, and on some other occasions. Often erroneously used as a historical term, where chasuble or pallium would be correct as a matter of fact.
3.) fig. (In cope of night, the primary notion was apparently 'cloak'; but in later use, that of 'canopy' or 'vault' appears to be sometimes present; cf. sense 4.)
4.) a. cope of heaven: the over-arching canopy or vault of heaven, under the cope of heaven = 'under heaven, in all the world' (an exceedingly common phrase from the 14th century to the 18th century). b. Also simply the cope. c. In later usage, apparently, vaguely used for (a) vertex, height (as if confused with cop); (b) firmament, expanse. d. A vault or canopy like that of the sky.
5.) Founding. The outer portion or case of a mould; the outer mould in bell-founding.
6.) A superficial deposit considered as a covering or coating of the stratum beneath.
7.) The coping of a wall, etc. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Middle English cope, from Old English -cap, from Medieval Latin capa, cloak, from Late Latin cappa.

"Are we struck with admiration at beholding the cope of heaven imaged in a dew-drop? The least of the animalcula to which that drop would be an ocean contains in itself an infinite problem of which God omni-present is the only solution. The slave of custom is roused by the rare and the accidental alone; but the axioms of the unthinking are to the philosopher the deepest problems as being the nearest to the mysterious root and partaking at once of its darkness and its pregnancy" ("The Statesman's Manual", Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1816).

(Nymphéas, paysage d'eau, les nuages, Claude Monet, 1903)

If there are any experts on the IPA out there (I'm looking at you Evi), what is the difference between kəʊp and koʊp? Apparently the former is the British pronunciation of this word and the latter is the American, but I can't hear any difference (I just used the British woman because she sounded attractive to me). Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 8, 2013


descry [dɪˈskraɪ] v. t.

1.) To catch sight of (something difficult to discern).
2.) To discover by careful observation or scrutiny; detect: descried a message of hope in her words (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: Middle English descrien, from Old French descrier, to call, cry out.

"Fate is Jove's perfect and eternal eye,
For Jove and Fate our ev'ry deed descry.
Come, gentle pow'rs, well born, benignant,
Atropos, Lachesis, and Clotho nam'd:
Unchang'd, aerial, wand'ring in the night,
Restless, invisible to mortal sight;
Fates all-producing, all-destroying hear,
Regard the incense and the holy pray'r;
Propitious listen to these rites inclin'd,
And far avert distress with placid mind."
(The Hymns of Orpheus, Thomas Taylor (trans.), 1792)

(Medici-Zyklus: de schikgodinnen voorspellen de toekomst van Maria de Medici, Peter Paul Rubens, ~1623)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


braggadocio [ˌbrægəˈdoʊʃiˌoʊ] n.

1.) A braggart.
2.) Empty or pretentious bragging.
3.) A swaggering, cocky manner (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: Alteration of Braggadocchio, the personification of vainglory in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, from brag.

"—Mattie: It is the same idea as a coon hunt. You are just trying to make your work sound harder than it is. Here is the money. I aim to get Tom Chaney and if you are not game I will find somebody who is game. All I have heard out of you so far is talk. I know you can drink whiskey and snore and spit and wallow in filth and bemoan your station. The rest has been braggadocio. They told me you had grit and that is why I came to you. I am not paying for talk. I can get all the talk I need and more at the Monarch Boarding House" (True Grit, Joel Cohen and Ethan Cohen, 2010).

(Prinz Arthur und die Feenkönigin, Johann Heinrich Füssli, ~1788)

Monday, March 4, 2013

credo quia absurdum

credo quia absurdum [ˈkreɪ:dəʊ 'kwiə æbˈsɜːdəm] int. also credo quia absurdum est

1.) 'I believe because it is absurd' (Dictionary of Foreign Words, Adrian Room, 2000).

Etymology: Latin, from credo, 1st person singular present indicative of credere, to believe + quia, because + absurdum, absurd. The phrase is a misquotation from Tertullian's On The Flesh of Christ, ~206. The actual quote is "Crucifixus est dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est. Et mortuus est dei filius; credibile prorsus est, quia ineptum est. Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile." (The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed, because it is shameful. The Son of God died; it is immediately credible, because it is silly. He was buried, and rose again; it is certain, because it is impossible.")

"Many have no doubt attained to that humility which says: credo quia absurdum est and sacrificed their reason to it: but, so far as I know, no one has yet attained to that humility which says credo quia absurdus sum, though it is only one step further" (Daybreak by Friedrich Nietzsche, R. J. Hollingdale (trans.), 1982).

(Die Jungfrau züchtigt das Jesuskind vor drei Zeugen: André Breton, Paul Éluard und dem Maler, Max Ernst, 1926)

Bonus nerd points for the first person to translate the 2nd Latin phrase in the quote!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rhetoric - hypallage

hypallage [hɪˈpælədʒi] n.

1.) The reversal of the usual syntactic or semantic relationship of words; especially, the transference of an adjective from the person who has the quality denoted to some object (person or thing) with reference to which the person manifests that quality, e.g. "flattering offer" (Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd Edition).

Etymology: Latin hypallagē, adopted from Greek ὑπαλλαγή, interchange, exchange, from ὑπό, in a subordinate degree, slightly + ἀλλάσσειν, to exchange. Cf. French hypallage.

"Adieu, adieu! my native shore
Fades o'er the waters blue;
The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,
And shrieks the wild sea-mew.
Yon sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight;
Farewell awhile to him and thee,
My Native Land—Good Night!"
(Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, George Gordon Byron, 1818)

...and now, fair Italy!
Thou are the garden of the world...
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm which cannot be defaced.

(Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - Italy, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1823)

Apparently those lines (also from the eponymous Byron poem) are supposed to be displayed with this painting.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


lave [leɪv] v. t.

1.) To wash, bathe.
2.) Of a river, a body of water: To wash against, to flow along or past.
3.) To pour out with or as with a ladle; to ladle. Also absolute. Construed with in, into, on, upon.

lave [leɪv] v. i.

1.) To bathe, lit. and fig. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Two distinct formations appear to have coalesced—(1) Old English had lafian, to wash by affusion, to pour (water), corresponding formally to Middle Dutch, Dutch laven, Old High German labôn (Middle High German, modern German laben), to refresh; cf. Old High German laba, modern German labe, refreshment. By some scholars the Old English, Dutch, and German words are considered to represent a West German adoption of Latin lavāre, to wash. This view involves some difficulty, as the numerous Old High German examples refer to refreshment by food, drink, or warmth, so that the assumed primary sense 'to wash', if it ever existed, must have been quite forgotten. The Latin origin, however, accounts well for the senses of the Old English word, which perhaps may be only accidentally similar in form to the continental words. (2) In Middle English the representative of the Old English verb blended indistinguishably with the verb adopted from French laver from Latin lavāre = Gr. λούειν, from Old Aryan root lou-, to wash (whence lather).

"And I am seized by long-unwonted yearning
For that domain of spirits calm and grave,
To tenuous notes my lisping song is turning,
Like Aeol's harp it fitfully would wave,
A shudder grips me, tear on tear is burning,
With softening balm the somber heart they lave;
What I possess I see as from a distance,
And what has passed, to me becomes existence."
(Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Arndt (trans.), 1976)

(Diane et Actéon, Jean-Baptiste Corot, 1836)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


styptic [ˈstɪptɪk] a.

1.) Having the power of contracting organic tissue; having an austere or acid taste; harsh or raw to the palate; having a binding effect on the stomach or bowels.
2.) Of a medicament, etc.: That arrests hæmorrhage, e.g. a styptic pencil, a stick of styptic substance used to stem the bleeding of small cuts.
3.) fig.

styptic [ˈstɪptɪk] n.

1.) A substance having the power of contracting organic tissue.
2.) A remedy for hæmorrhage.
3.) fig. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adaptation of late Latin stypticus, adopted from Greek στυπτικός, from στύϕειν, to contract, have an astringent effect upon. Cf. French styptique.

"Murphy says he's 'just swung by' to provide the press corps with some context on the strident press release and to give the corps 'advance notice' that the McCain campaign is also preparing a special 'response ad' that will start airing in South Carolina tomorrow. Murphy uses the word 'response' or 'response ad' nine times in two minutes, and when one of the Twelve Monkeys interrupts to ask whether it'd be fair to characterize this new ad as Negative, Murphy gives him a styptic look and spells 'r-e-s-p-o-n-s-e' very slowly" ("Up, Simba", David Foster Wallace, 2000).

(Le citron, Edouard Manet, 1880)

The "Twelve Monkeys" mentioned in the quote are elite reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, etc., in case anyone was confused. I would highly recommend that essay to anyone interested in American politics, by the way. Also, how's that for a painting? See, you don't need fancy mythological scenes in order to make a great painting. Just get yourself a lemon. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 25, 2013


zaftig [ˈzɑftɪk] a. Also zoftig, zoftick.

1.) Of a woman: plump, curvaceous, 'sexy' (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Yiddish, adoption of German saftig, juicy.

"Everyone, without exception, is flummoxed; how could this demure but zoftick freshman, with a brain rivaling Spinoza's encased in the body of a Lollobrigida, have consented to pose in her birthday suit for Leer magazine?" ("The Skin You Love to Watch", S. J. Perelman, 1969).

(La Naissance de Vénus, Alexandre Cabanel, 1863)

I had to go out into the cold to the library to get this quote, I want you to know, gentle readers. (I guess I didn't have to, but I really like it and the googs hasn't digitized the book yet.) Also, be careful: this word is borderline slang. Still, it might be nicely euphemistic in the right circumstances.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rhetoric - zeugma

zeugma [ˈzugmə] n.

1.) The use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two nearby words, one having a metaphorical sense and the other a literal sense (Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd Edition).

Etymology: modern Latin, adoption of Greek ζεῦγµα, a yoking, from ζευγνύναι, to yoke, related to ζυγόν, yoke (of land).

"This day, black Omens threat the brightest Fair,
That e'er deserv'd a watchful spirit's care;
Some dire disaster, or by force, or slight;
But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night.
Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law,
Or some frail China jar receive a flaw;
Or stain her honour or her new brocade;
Forget her pray'rs, or miss a masquerade;
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball;
Or whether Heav'n has doom'd that Shock must fall."
(The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope, 1717)

(Plöjningen, Carl Larsson, 1905)

Thursday, February 21, 2013


seriatim [ˌsɪəriˈeɪtɪm] adv.

1.) One after another, one by one in succession.

seriatim [ˌsɪəriˈeɪtɪm] a.

1.) Following one after the other. rare. (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition)

Etymology: Medieval Latin seriatim, from Latin series, series.

"To all of which flattering expressions, Mr and Mrs Kenwigs replied, by thanking every lady and gentleman, seriatim, for the favour of their company, and hoping they might have enjoyed themselves only half as well as they said they had" (Nicholas Nickelby, Charles Dickens, 1839).

(Marter der zehntausend Christen, Albrecht Dürer, 1508)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


panglossian [pænˈglɒsiən] a.

1.) Blindly or naively optimistic (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: After Pangloss, an optimistic professor in Candide, a satire by Voltaire. Pangloss believes that 'all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,' parodying the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

"Thales, serene and apparently wise, argues for water as the first principle, while remaining blind to the catastrophes of Walpurgis Night. Anaxagoras, apostle of fire, is a revolutionary apocalyptic like Blake's Orc or the actual visionaries who helped bring on the French Revolution. Since Anaxagoras is left prostrate upon the ground, adoring Hecate while blaming himself for disasters, the palm is clearly awarded to the sweet-tempered if rather too Panglossian Thales" (The Western Canon, Harold Bloom, 1994).

(Un philosophe et un ours dans un paysage fluvial montagneux, Jean-Charles Tardieu, ~1828)

I'm not actually sure that that's how the painting is referred to in French. I could not find the answer anywhere on the google. So, if anyone out there is a French-speaking art historian (I'm looking at you here Bibi), I'd appreciate some help. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


dolorous [ˈdɒlərəs] a.

1.) Full of grief; sad; sorrowful; doleful; dismal; as, a dolorous object; dolorous discourses.
2.) Occasioning pain or grief; painful (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary).

Etymology: Middle English, from Old French doloros, from Late Latin dolorosus, from dolor, pain, from dolare, to suffer, feel pain.

"As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,
I bowed my face, and so long held it down
Until the Poet said to me: 'What thinkest?'
When I made answer, I began: 'Alas!
How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,
Conducted these unto the dolorous pass!'"
(Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (trans.), 1867)

(Les ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta apparaissent à Dante et à Virgile, Ary Scheffer, 1835)

Monday, February 18, 2013


marl [mɑrl] n.

1.) A kind of soil consisting principally of clay mixed with carbonate of lime, forming a loose unconsolidated mass, valuable as a fertilizer.
2.) "Burning marl": used symbolically, after Milton, for the torments of Hell.
3.) Poetical. Used generically (like clay) for: Earth (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adoption of Old French marle (still in dialects; replaced in modern French by the variant marne), from late Latin margila (whence Old High German mergil; Middle High German, modern German, and Dutch mergel; Danish mergel; Swedish märgel), diminutive of Latin marga (whence Italian and Spanish marga), said by Pliny to be a Gaulish word. It does not, however, occur in the modern Celtic languages: the alleged Breton marg does not correspond phonetically; the Breton merl is from French, and the Welsh marl and Irish and Gaelic marla are from English.

"— Leonato: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
— Beatrice: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I'll none: Adam's sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred" (Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare, 1600).

(Beatrice, Frank Dicksee, 1888)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rhetoric - parataxis

parataxis [ˌpærəˈtæksɪs] n.

1.) The coordination of successive, equal clauses without expressly showing their syntactic relationship, so that the reader must infer how they are related (Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd Edition).

Etymology: modern adoption of Greek παράταξις, a placing side by side, from παρατάσσειν, to place side by side, from παρα, beside + τάσσειν, to arrange, τάξις, arrangement.

"The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star" (Walden, Henry David Thoreau, 1854).

(Looking Down Yosemite Valley, Albert Bierstadt, 1865)

Thursday, February 14, 2013


reck [rɛk] v. i.

1.) To make account; to take heed; to care; to mind;—often followed by of.

reck [rɛk] v. t.

1.) To make account of; to care for; to heed; to regard.
2.) To concern;—used impersonally (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary).

Etymology: Middle English recken, from Old English reccan.

"I kepe noght of armes for to yelpe,
Ne I ne axe nat tomorwe to have victorie,
Ne renoun in this cas, ne veyne glorie
Of pris of armes blowen up and doun;
But I wolde have fully possessioun
Of Emelye, and dye in thy servyse.
Fynd thow the manere hou and in what wyse:
I recche nat but it may bettre be
To have victorie of hem, or they of me,
So that I have my lady in myne armes
("The Knightes Tale", Geoffrey Chaucer, ~1386)

"I care not to boast of arms
Nor do I ask to have victory tomorrow,
Nor renown in the event, nor vain glory
Of praise of arms proclaimed up and down;
But I would fully have possession
Of Emelye, and die in thy service.
Find thou the manner how and in what way:
I reck not if it may better be
To have victory over them, or they over me,
Just that I have my lady in my arms."
("The Knight's Tale", Geoffrey Chaucer, ~1386)

(Sogno del cavaliere, Raffaello Sanzio, ~1504)

You'll notice that I included a little "translation" from the Middle English in case there are any babies out there who don't want to read it. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


pullulate [ˈpʌlyəˌleɪt] v.i.

1.) To put forth sprouts or buds; germinate.
2.) To breed rapidly or abundantly.
3.) To teem; swarm (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: from Latin pullulāt-, participle stem of pullulāre, to sprout out, spring forth, spread, grow, increase, from pullulus, diminutive of pullus, young of any animal, chick.

"I do not want to describe it; a chaos of heterogeneous words, the body of a tiger or a bull in which teeth, organs and heads monstrously pullulate in mutual conjunction and hatred can (perhaps) be approximate images" ("The Immortal" by Jorge Luis Borges in Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings, Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (ed.), 1964).

(Hercule et l'Hydre de Lerne, Gustave Moreau, 1876)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


sclerotic [sklɪˈrɒtɪk] a.

1.) Of or pertaining to, or connected with the sclerotic coat of the eye.
2.) Of medicines: Adapted to harden the tissues.
3.) Pathology. Of or pertaining to sclerosis; affected with sclerosis.
4.) Botany. Hardened, stony in texture.
5.) fig. Unmoving, unchanging, rigid (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adopted from medieval and modern Latin sclērōticus (feminine form sclerotica), an adoption of late Greek σκληρωτικός, having the property of hardening, pertaining to sclerosis or hardening, from σκληροῦν, to harden, from σκληρός, hard.

"On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace" ("The Conservative Mind", David Brooks, 2012).

(Quinto Fabio Massimo davanti al senato di Cartagine, Giambattista Tiepolo, ~1729)

Monday, February 11, 2013


roue [ruˈeɪ] n. also roué

1.) One devoted to a life of sensual pleasure; a debauchee; a rake (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary).

Etymology: French roué, past participle. of rouer, to break on the wheel. The name was first given to the profligate companions of the Duke of Orleans (~1720), to suggest that they deserved this punishment.

"The couple were thus revealed to me clearly: both removed their cloaks, and there was 'the Varens,' shining in satin and jewels,—my gifts of course,—and there was her companion in an officer’s uniform; and I knew him for a young roué of a vicomte—a brainless and vicious youth whom I had sometimes met in society, and had never thought of hating because I despised him so absolutely" (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847).

(Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, Édouard Manet, 1863)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rhetoric - symploce

symploce [ˈsɪmploʊsi] n.

1.) The repetition of one word at the beginning and of another at the end of two successive clauses. Symploce combines anaphora and epistrophe (Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd Edition).

Etymology: Late Latin symplocē, an adoption of Greek συµπλοκή, an interweaving, from σύν, together, similarly, alike, + πλέκειν, to twine, plait, weave. Cf. French symploque.

"All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me
      I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me."
("Song of the Open Road", Walt Whitman, 1856).

(Frau vor untergehender Sonne, Caspar David Friedrich, ~1818)

Friday, February 8, 2013


contumely [ˈkɒntʊməli] n.

1.) Insolent reproach or abuse; insulting or offensively contemptuous language or treatment; despite; scornful rudeness; now, especially such contemptuous treatment as tends to inflict dishonour and humiliation.
2.) An instance of contumely; an insult, an insolent reproach, a piece of scornful or contemptuous insolence.
3.) Contemptuous insult as it affects the sufferer: disgrace, reproach, humiliation (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: from Middle English contumelie, from Old French, from Latin contumelia; akin to contumax, insolent, in which the stem part tum- is of disputed etymology.

"For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?"
(Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1604)

(Tarquinio e Lucrezia, Tiziano Vecellio, ~1515)

Thursday, February 7, 2013


ludic [ˈludɪk] a.

1.) Of or relating to play or playfulness (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Etymology: French ludique, from Latin ludus, play.

"Who am I? Who are you?—The question of identity, the Sphinx's question, is at once the tragic and the ludic question par excellence, that of tragedies and that of societies' games; this does not prevent the two levels from occasionally coinciding: in the Maxims (derived from parlor games), in the Truth Game, etc." (The Fashion System by Roland Barthes, Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (trans.), 1983).

(Œdipe et le Sphinx, Gustave Moreau, 1864)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

homo homini lupus

homo homini lupus [ˈhəʊməʊ ˈhɒmɪnɪ ˈlupəs] int.

1.) The contention that humans are by their nature aggressive and hostile towards each other (Dictionary of Foreign Words, Adrian Room, 2000)

Etymology: Latin, literally man is a wolf to man, from homo, man + homini, dative singular of homo + lupus, wolf. The phrase ultimately derives from Titus Maccius Plautus's Asinaria: Lupus est homo homini, non homo ('A man is a wolf rather than a man to another man').

"This logic also allows us to see what is wrong in the Hobbesian vision of the Monarch as the One who brutally but necessarily imposes peaceful coexistence upon the multitude of individuals who, left to themelves [sic], would descend into a state where homo homini lupus" (Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, Slavoj Zizek, 2012).

(Kindermoord van Bethlehem, Peter Paul Rubens, ~1611)

Thanks again to the amazing and talented Bibi for the Latin pronunciation!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


punctilio [pʌŋkˈtɪliˌoʊ] n.

1.) A minute detail of action or conduct; a nice point of behaviour, ceremony, or honour; a small or petty formality. Formerly sometimes, A fine-drawn or fastidious objection, a scruple.
2.) (without pl.) Strict observance of or insistence upon minutiæ of action or conduct; petty formality in behaviour; punctiliousness (O.E.D. 2nd Ed.).

Etymology: adoption of Italian puntiglio and Spanish puntillo, diminutive of punto, point, from Latin punctum, from neuter past participle of pungere, to prick.

"Eumenes had designed to engage in the plains of Lydia, near Sardis, both because his chief strength lay in horse, and to let Cleopatra see how powerful he was. But at her particular request, for she was afraid to give any umbrage to Antipater, he marched into the upper Phrygia, and wintered in Celaenae; when Alcetas, Polemon, and Docimus disputing with him who should command in chief, 'You know,' said he, 'the old saying: That destruction regards no punctilios'" (Plutarch's Lives Translated From the Greek by Several Hands, John Dryden (trans.), 1683).

(Teatime, Georges Croegaert, ~1900)

Monday, February 4, 2013


topos [ˈtɒpɒs] n. Plural topoi.

1.) A traditional motif or theme (in a literary composition); a rhetorical commonplace, a literary convention or formula (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adoption of Greek τόπος, place. The use of τόπος for a class of considerations which would serve as a "place" in which a rhetorician might look for suggestions in treating his theme, goes back to Isocrates. By Aristotle, τόπος was especially appropriated to classes of considerations of a general character, common to many kinds of subjects, the use of which was open to any one dealing with his subject as a rhetorician or dialectician, not with special knowledge, with a view to scientific demonstration. Such were more fully described as κοινοὶ τόποι, loci communes, commonplaces.

"I am sorry. I have such respect for this woman that I just cannot show her to you in the light he shadow deserves. I am lovesick, and ungrown, and know no trope or toponymic topoi, no image worthy. I have to play the supplicant here; ask you simply to eat some raw bare propositions I can't prepare or flavor enough to engage your real imagination" ("Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way", David Foster Wallace, 1989).

(Autoritratto come allegoria della Pittura, Artemisia Gentileschi, ~1639)

Friday, February 1, 2013


glozing [ˈgləʊzɪŋ] vbl. n.

1.) The action of glossing or commenting; exposition, interpretation. Also a gloss, a comment.
2.) The action of glossing or explaining away; extenuation, palliation.
3.) Flattery, cajolery, deceitful blandishment, specious talk or representation.

glozing [ˈgləʊzɪŋ] ppl. a.

1.) That glozes; flattering, coaxing, cajoling (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: from French glose, an adaptation of Medieval Latin glōsa, Latin glōssa, a word needing explanation, hence later the explanation itself, an adoption of Greek γλῶσσα, originally tongue, hence language, foreign language, a foreign or obscure word.

"...And now
Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
Not far off Heav'n in the precincts of light
Directly towards the new created world
And Man there placed, with purpose to assay
If him by force he can destroy or worse
By some false guile pervert. And shall pervert,
For Man will hearken to his glozing lies
And easily transgress the sole command,
Sole pledge of his obedience."
(Paradise Lost, John Milton, 1667)

(Eva, die Schlange, und der Tod, Hans Baldung, ~1511)

Can anyone guess what I'm reading at the moment?

Parthian shot

Parthian shot [ˈpɑrθiən ʃɒt] n.

1.) A final hostile remark or gesture made while leaving (Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary).

Etymology: The Parthian horsemen were accustomed to baffle the enemy by their rapid manœuvres, and to discharge their missiles backward while in real or pretended flight: hence used allusively in Parthian fight, Parthian shaft, Parthian shot, Parthian glance, etc. (O.E.D. 2nd Ed.).'

"The climactic piece of dental-dramatic advice is the Old Man's Parthian shot: 'The next time, floss!' Indeed flossiness is all, and if you enjoy two and a half hours of smart-ass chatter and campy subversion—e.g., the honeymoon lament 'It's a real busman's holiday with you around: you could f--- up a wet dream!'—this may be your cup of…whatever ("Bodying Forth", John Simon, 1990).

(Defaite de Crassus, Augustyn Mirys, ~1750)

Thursday, January 31, 2013


empyreal [ɛmˈpɪriəl] a.

1.) Of or pertaining to the empyrean or highest heaven. Also figurative.
2.) Of or pertaining to the sky or visible heaven; celestial.
3.) Sublime, elevated, superior, rare.
4.) In etymological sense: Fiery; composed of or resembling the pure element of fire. Also figurative (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Middle English emperiall, from Medieval Latin empyreus, from Late Latin empyrius, fiery, from Greek ἐµπύρος, fiery.

"That glory never shall His wrath or might
Extort from me: to bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify His pow'r
Who from the terror of this arm so late
Doubted His empire! That were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall, since by fate the strength of gods
And this empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event,
In arms not worse, in foresight much advanced,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal War
Irreconcilable, to our grand Foe
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heav'n."
(Paradise Lost, John Milton, 1667)

(San Michele sconfigge gli angeli ribelli, Luca Giordano, ~1666)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


lambent [ˈlæmbənt] a.

1.) Of a flame (fire, light): Playing lightly upon or gliding over a surface without burning it, like a ‘tongue of fire’; shining with a soft clear light and without fierce heat. Also figurative.
2.) By extension, of eyes, the sky, etc.: Emitting, or suffused with, a soft clear light; softly radiant.
3.) Of wit, style, etc.: Playing lightly and brilliantly over its subjects; gracefully sportive.
4.) In etymological sense: Licking, that licks (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: Latin lambens, present participle of lambere, to lick.

"Yet more, when fair Lavinia fed the fire
Before the gods, and stood beside her sire,
(Strange to relate!) the flames, involv'd in smoke
Of incense, from the sacred altar broke,
Caught her dishevel'd hair and rich attire;
Her crown and jewels crackled in the fire:
From thence the fuming trail began to spread
And lambent glories danc'd about her head."
(The Aeneid by Virgil, John Dryden (trans.), 1697)

(Lavinia all'ara, Mirabello Cavalori, ~1565)

Monday, January 28, 2013


recherche [rəʃɛərˈʃeɪ] a.

1.) Sought out with care; choice. Hence: of rare quality, elegance, or attractiveness; peculiar and refined in kind (GNU Collaborative International Dictionary of English).

Etymology: French, past participle of rechercher, from re- + chercher to seek, search.

"As for visual arts, the current Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern is a perfect opportunity to see what becomes of an artificer whose impulse towards difficult subject matter was unsupported by any capacity for hard cogitation or challenging artistry. The early works – the stuffed animals and fly-bedizened carcasses – retain a certain – albeit recherché – shock value, while the subsequent ones degenerate steadily to the condition of knocked-off merchandise, making the barrier between the gift shop and the exhibition space evaporate in a puff of consumerism" ("In Defense of Obscure Words", Will Self, 2012).

(Der Jungbrunnen, Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1546)


gelid [ˈdʒɛlɪd] a.

1.) Extremely cold, cold as ice, icy, frosty. Also figurative.
2.) In a weaker sense: Cold, chill. Often of water, etc.: Refreshingly cold (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adaptation of Latin gelidus, icy cold, from gelum (gelus, gelu) frost, intense cold.

"I prithee, Pru, abuse me enough, that's use me
As thou think'st fit; any coarse way, to humble me,
Or bring me home again, or Lovel on:
Thou dost not know my sufferings, what I feel,
My fires and fears are met: I burn and freeze,
My liver's one great coal, my heart shrunk up
With all the fibres, and the mass of blood
Within me is a standing lake of fire,
Curled with the cold wind of my gelid sighs,
That drive a drift of sleet through all my body,
And shoot a February through my veins."
(The New Inn, Ben Jonson, 1631)

(東海道五十三次, 歌川 広重, 1834)

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Brobdingnag [ˈbrɒbdɪŋˌnæg] n. Often incorrectly Brobdignag.

1.) The name given by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels to an imaginary country where everything is on a gigantic scale. Hence used attributively as: Of, or pertaining to, that country; of huge dimensions; immense; gigantic (O.E.D. 2nd Ed.).

"Huge untutored Brobdignag genius,—needing only to be tamed down; into Shakspeares, Dantes, Goethes! It is all gone now, that old Norse work,—Thor the Thunder-god changed into Jack the Giant-killer: but the mind that made it is here yet" (On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Thomas Carlyle, 1841).

(Tors strid med jättarna, Mårten Eskil Winge, 1872)


contretemps [ˈkɒntrəˌtɑ̃] n.

1.) An inopportune occurrence; an untoward accident; an unexpected mishap or hitch.
2.) A disagreement or argument; a dispute.
3.) Dancing. A step danced on the unaccented portion of the beat; especially in ballet (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: French: contre-, against (from Latin contra-) + temps, time (from Latin tempus).

"Next, his delight led him gracefully to execute a hop in ballet fashion, so that the wardrobe trembled and a bottle of eau-de-Cologne came crashing to the floor. Yet even this contretemps did not upset him; he merely called the offending bottle a fool, and then debated whom first he should visit in his attractive guise" (Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, D. J. Hogarth (trans.), 1842).

(La Salle de ballet de l’Opéra, rue Le Pelletier, Edgar Degas, 1872)

Friday, January 25, 2013


groundbass [graʊnd beɪs] n.

1.) Mus. A bass-passage of four or eight bars in length, constantly repeated with a varied melody and harmony.
2.) Fig. An undercurrent (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: ground, from Middle English, from Old English grund + bass, from Middle English bas, base, now spelled bass after Italian basso, but still pronounced as base. (Alexander Pope rimed base and ass.)

"An intelligent director can and should ensure that the on-stage audience demonstrates some awareness of the groundbass of mortality sounding underneath the hilarity generated by Bottom's performance, that a line like Lysander's "he is dead, he is nothing" (V.i.308-9) is not lost in the merriment" ("General Introduction" to The Riverside Shakespeare, Anne Barton, 1974).

(The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton, 1847)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


four-flusher [ˈfɔrˌflʌʃər] n.

1.) A pretender, braggart, humbug (O.E.D. 2nd Ed.).

Etymology: In poker, a four flush (also bob-tail flush) is a flush containing only four (instead of five) cards, and hence almost worthless. Thus four-flush as adjective, meaning 'lacking in genuineness', and as intransitive verb, meaning 'to act in a bluffing or fraudulent manner'.

"'Couldn't it have been a suicide?" I asked. With Tim Noonan getting a last-minute bright idea to stick it on Max?'
'That four-flusher shoot himself? Not a chance'" (Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett, 1929).

(The Abduction of Parolles, Francis Wheatley, 1792)