Daily Archives: December 31, 2008


Good golly! Does this word cause you to make googly eyez? It’s like a face: l nose, olo eyes, golog ears, ygology hands on the sides of the face, and then there’s that z – like a lightning bolt, or maybe just a telephone (“Can I phone a friend for the answer?”). It’s a perfect palindrome plus a z. What’s up with that z? Perhaps it’s like how some people file things on their computer: if it’s of bottom importance, or personal, they put a z before it to sort it low. But what is this word we’re gazing at anyway? The z gives it a racy buzz, augmented by the y‘s. One may be tempted to put stress on the first and third syllables in a double trochee, but undazzle your eyes from the mirror pattern and you will see ology, and you know what that means. This word sounds like psychology but as zaid by zomeone vrom Zomerzet. And what is zyg? Is it zig-zags? Is it anti-abecedarianism? (Or wouldn’t that be zyxology?) Is this fuzzy geology? You may note a tone of zygote. And indeed it is the front of zygote that is here yoked. So has this to do with cells, embryos? Not so fast. Rather, fasten. Our zygo root comes from Greek zugon, “yoke” (a zygote is cells conjoined to form a body), and this word refers to the branch of technology focused on joining and fastening. And so the opening z is a zap of electricity fusing ygo and ogy at the l.


Oh no, it’s another x word. (Actually, it’s the first one beginning with x that I’ve done tasting notes on.) That opening cross-out: the letter of mystery, of the unknown; like eyes of unconscious cartoon characters, negating consciousness, as it negates whatever it is superimposed on; but also like a pucker, often standing in for a kiss, and normally having the sound of kiss… without the i. Not here, though; English doesn’t allow a stop to be followed by a fricative word initially. So here we get a [z] sound, a voiced fricative – the sound of another radical, rakish, edgy letter beloved of ad men. And after the [z]? Two [i] sounds separated by a nasal, and then a schwa and a liquid. And the tongue touches its tip three times on the same spot: the alveolar ridge. Like knocking softly three times on a door, waiting for your host to open up. This word is very close in sound to venial – and has something else in common with it, too: venial is a forgiving word that sounds too much like venal, a rather unforgiving word, and xenial might make one think first of xenophobic, likewise a word rather unfriendly in tone. But isn’t xenial related to xenophobic? Indeed it is. So xenial is “like a stranger,” no? No. Greek xenos means “guest,” not stranger. Xenial refers to the friendly relation between host and guest, personally or nationally. The person knocking on the door may be unknown, even mysterious, but you greet with a xenial kiss, not with denial and negation. Look: the e and a are like host and guest facing across a threshold, the n an open door, the i a torch carried by the a, and behind one the crossroads and the other a wall, or behind one a chair and the other a street. If the guest had been turned back, he would have lain ex – by ex we may assume “outside.” And is the role of host menial? No, it’s a joy. Let’s party!


If this word isn’t your bag, that’s no surprise – but its referent is somebody’s bag, or at least it looks like one. The word itself presents a possibly confusing form. Or, rather, everything before the form is confusing. We know it means “shaped like something,” but what? The hand of the mind rattles around in the toy-drawer of words: cult? ultra? beauty? u (not) plus tri? triffid? nutri, turi, ruti… argh, this isn’t Scrabble. The beginning u, especially with an immediately following t, is rather abrupt (like a but with its head cut off), and may be redolent of extremity (ultra, utmost) or uncertainty (unknown, uh-oh), especially if the pronunciation is unclear. If you think first of Utopia you at least have the sound. If you think of uterus you are closer still, for this comes from Latin uter, which means a leather bag or wineskin, and uterus is a related word. Come to think of it, udder may be said to be related, too, though Latin for udder is uber. The shapes of the letters now seem to taunt: the u, the o, perhaps even the uberous m… But never mind; one is unlikely to guess it, and unlikely to use it. Add it to your toy drawer: you now have a word for, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “having the shape of a leathern bottle.” Paisley lovers take note.