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)