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.