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1 August 2015

Latrinalia A newspaper report in July 2015 about the reopening of long abandoned and forgotten Second World War tunnels in the white cliffs of Dover mentioned the latrinalia that had been found there. We may ...
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Charon Widespread broadcast coverage of the flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft led to criticism of the pronunciation of the name of the planet’s largest and innermost moon, Charon. Officially, it’s from ...
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True blue There are connections between the two usages, but Australian English has much modified the usual British English sense. In Britain (as it has for the past two centuries), the term means a staunch supporter ...
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Nakation My daily newspaper doesn’t often feature naked bodies — it’s not that kind of journal — so on opening it a few days ago I was mildly surprised to be faced, if that’s the right word, with a large photo of a naked guy’s ...
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Hands off? A contributor to another language mailing list mentioned an announcement from Subaru about the failure of a device designed to stop the car if a frontal collision was imminent. In the light of this defect, Subaru ...
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4 July 2015

Who coined forecast? A sentence in a book review in the Guardian on 13 June sent me to the Oxford English Dictionary: “FitzRoy was not the first European to establish a storm-warning system, but he coined the ...
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Vigintillion Reader David Hutchinson asked me about this word, which he had encountered in a well-known story by H P Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, which appeared in Weird Tales in February 1928: “After vigintillions of ...
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Hingle Hingle, an English dialect word that I suspect is now hardly known, appeared recently in a book by a father-and-son pair of poachers. In the language of their occupation, a hingle is a snare with which to catch ...
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Bookaneer A review of The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl produced a word new to me, one with an intriguing history. His title term refers to literary thieves of the nineteenth century who exploited the lack of international ...
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Pig sick The sense is as you describe it. The slang term pig sick refers not to a real physical sickness or illness but to an acute state of mind — annoyed, saddened, displeased, discontented or indignant about something ...
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The complete newsletter for 4 July 2015 is here.

30 May 2015

Adimpleate Ralph Maus sent me on an intriguing search, courtesy of Jan Karon, who wrote in her most recent book, Somewhere Safe With Someone Nice, of 2014: “She smiled a little; he saw the light in her eyes. ‘You ...
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Deodand In 1336, a drunken sailor climbed the mast of his ship at anchor in the Thames by means of a rope, presumably part of the rigging. When he tried to descend the same way he fell and died. A coroner’s jury decided ...
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24 May 2015

Break a leg [UPDATED] Of all theatrical superstitions, this attempt to ward off the forces of darkness by wishing one’s fellow performers the opposite of good luck is the one that’s perhaps best known outside ...
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25 April 2015

Ilk I stray into a minuscule no-man’s-land of disputed territory here. On the one hand is a tiny group of language pundits who consider that ilk still ought to mean exactly what it used to mean centuries ago in another ...
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Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Fourth Edition A new edition of this venerable guide always repays close study. The previous revisions of W H Fowler’s magisterial work of 1926 — by Sir Ernest Gowers in 1965 ...
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Skint This is a very well-known, originally British English slang term that’s also known throughout the Commonwealth, though to a lesser extent (I think) in Canada. It’s fairly rare in the US, though not unknown: knowledge ...
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4 April 2015

Galoot I’m not at all sure one can have a small galoot. The image is usually of a man who is variously worthless, uneducated, simple-minded or stupid. He may be clumsy and large, but not necessarily, though big galoot is ...
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Crizzling The last issue contained a reference to Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks, which details the results of his long search for the language of landscape and natural phenomena. Crizzling is one member of his ...
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Vellichor Amogh Simha alerted me to this word, which has been widely mentioned on social media in the past year but which is unknown to the non-digital world. All the references to it quote the same definition ...
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Caparisoned Don’t be confused by the first syllable: this English word doesn’t imply a head covering, though it can be used for clothing. But there is a historical link, as some experts believe that caparisoned ultimately ...
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7 March 2015

Trove The Guardian was a minor treasure-trove in early March 2015 for enquirers into matters of English language. An item in the Corrections and Clarifications column on Monday 2 March reported that grammar ...
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Smithereens It’s an excellent word to describe the action of pummelling something forcibly, with that sm sound at the start that also appears in words such as smack, smite and smash. When an object has become ...
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Volleyballene Scientists have a puckish sense of humour.Last week, I encountered a substance called volleyballene. It’s a hollow sphere of 60 carbon atoms and 20 atoms of scandium. This produces a shape made ...
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14 February 2015

Worry wart It’s been about a month since you asked this question, so I hope you’ve not been kept awake at night worrying about the origins and spelling of this curious expression. In case you have, I hasten ...
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Punch list I’ve no personal experience of this term — it seems to be restricted to the civil engineering and building industries in the US and has never been used in Britain. Searching around, it turns out that ...
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Verbigeration The American actor, musician, and author John Lithgow remarked in a recent newspaper interview that verbigeration was his current favourite word. Though it describes the use of words, the concern ...
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31 January 2015

Heliotrope In early 1880, newspaper articles throughout much of the English-speaking world, usually headed “for the ladies”, reported that the Paris spring fashions featured a new colour ...
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Ditty bag Ditty bag comes from the days of sailing ships: “On each side of the berth-deck, termed “the wings,” are racks for the accommodation of canvass bags; each man has one in which he keeps his clothes, and ...
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10 January 2015

Eellogofusciouhipoppokunurious This appears quite often in modern collections of exotic and unfamiliar words. It’s certainly both. It’s monstrous, 30 letters long (to save electrons and my typing fingers, let’s call it E30 ...
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Old fogey An old fogey is a person of advanced years — or seems to be so to the person doing the describing — who holds on to attitudes that they learned when they were young and rejects new things, so appearing old-fashioned ...
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18 December 2014

Ampersand [UPDATED] This name for the character & is surprisingly recent, not being known before the late eighteenth century, though the character itself was in use long before printing was invented. It started ...
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13 December 2014

Phizzog In his blog The Oxford Etymologist, Professor Anatoly Liberman recently mentioned coming across phizzog in Slabs of the Sunburnt West, a book of 1922 by the American poet Carl Sandburg. He found that ...
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Horse creature This is an intriguing usage, hardly recorded in dictionaries, even the biggest, and which hasn’t been noticed or discussed by any writer on language I’ve been able to identify. I’ve found some ...
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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Last updated 1 August 2015.

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996– All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm
Last modified: 1 August 2015.