Monthly Archives: January 2019


The ice giants have swept into town riding on their howling wind-wolves, and the air and ground are so iron-hard that if the cold kills you, no one can shovel; they will bury you in midair.

The ice giants want to kill you. The wolves want to bite you and the giants want to stab you in the face, over and over.

And they do. Even if the wolves do not manage to give you frostbite, the giants will give you blawdurk. The weather may seem almost tolerable, the air just ice-glass, crisp and clear, scratched here and there by small diamonds of frost, but then you will turn a corner and the breeze will put a dagger into your cheek, your brow, your eyelid, your eye. It is that boreal pain: no tropical denizen, however much they may be sun-broiled, will get from the weather a hard-iron agony within the span of three breaths. The ice giants test your mettle by testing their metal: daggers of icy gusts, blawdurk.

What is this word blawdurk, how has it been blown together? Check your Scots dictionary: blaw means ‘gust, blowing’, and similar things; durk means ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ – a small dagger formerly often carried, and not just by ice giants. When you turn that corner and the daggers of ice slam into your face, this is blawdurk.

Well, we needed a word for it, didn’t we? I decided we did after experiencing the good old Canadian face pain today. I took these two bits from Scots and froze them together to make a new old word. If you have a different term for it, well, that’s fine too.




This is where the magic happens

Listen to the audio version of this, with background sound from the coffice space, on Patreon, for free.

I’ve been sitting in Bicerin all afternoon working on an edit, and as of 4:40, it’s almost quiet in here. Almost. At last.

Bicerin is on Baldwin Street, a little street known for its restaurants. It’s also near the University of Toronto, and not too far from OCAD University either.

If you feel at home in a crowd that seems, for the most part, very much like the crowd you would find in a hip campus café, or maybe even in the lounge in a student residence, Bicerin will be a welcoming place for you. If you like lots of conversations and laughter around you – so much that you can generally ignore them if you want, though they can be pretty entertaining – then you will like Bicerin.

If you want peace and quiet, clean lines, and sturdy modern furniture and décor, don’t come.


But check out these murals

When I came in, I planted myself at one of the three long six-person tables, right near an outlet so my Macbook wouldn’t drain out before I was done. My chair was wicked wobbly. When the other guy at the table left, I switched to the other side of the table. My new chair was worse, partly because the foot was almost going through a hole between the floorboards that gives a view of the basement. I moved over and have been comfortable enough ever since.

There is also a counter at the window with two stools, and two square tables against the wall with little backless square seats. And there is a couch with a coffee table. Unsurprisingly, there were three university-aged people lounging on the couch having a riotously good time.


They were right there. I waited till they had left because PRIVACY

The décor is black walls at the back, creamy walls with murals at the front, stained wooden joists dividing them. The music is the kind of alt-new-wave-psycho-techno-disorientation stuff that I used to hear on CBC Radio 2 at 4 in the morning and wonder who would actually buy it to listen to it. Now I know, I guess. It just adds to the sonic wallpaper and the hip student vibe.

The coffee is good. If you like espresso and chocolate, try the eponymous house drink, an Italian specialty.

The bathrooms are down a steep set of old stairs that, by an optical illusion, at first appear to turn into a wall. If you have any trouble with stairs at all, you do not want to have to piss here.


I’m not joking.

The view out the window is right up Henry Street, which is lined with trees. People come and people go. If you want the feeling of being completely surrounded by people busily doing people things but don’t want to have to directly interact with them, this is a good place. And if you like East Asian food, oh boy, you are on the right block.


And to think that I saw it on Baldwin Street, at Henry Street


If this sounds like something someone from Scotland might say when having to do a lot of boring busywork for some pernickety pest, well, yes. But it’s not an expletive. It’s a word for the tedious trivial tasks themselves, or, as a verb, for busying oneself about them. Here’s a citation:

Yet after a’, wi’ this fyke-fack an’ that fyke-fack, this thing an’ the tither thing, it cost me tippence or thretty pennies by the time I got without the port.

Continue reading


January 26 is Australia Day.

If you’re fair dinkum, you knew that five minutes after you were born. If you’re anyone else, though, count it as fair warning. Continue reading

Pronunciation tip: Scotch whisky

Robbie Burns Day is almost upon us, and many people are going to be trying to say the names on their bottles of Scotch and not really knowing how. Me to the rescue! Here are 27 names you might run into and how to say them: Laphroaig, Islay, Lagavulin, anCnoc, Caol Ila, Strathisla, Chivas Regal, Cardhu, BenRiach, Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Bunnahabhain, Knockando, Glenfiddich, GlenDronach, Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie, Glenlivet, Glenrothes, Balvenie, Craigellachie, Oban, Aberlour, Edradour, Tomatin, Té Bheag, and Macallan.

Reading: lexemia

I’m making the audio version of my note on lexemia available to everyone… as an enticement to subscribe, of course. Stop by and listen to it there.


Protected: lexemia

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The other evening I saw a splendid production at Canadian Stage of one of the great plays of the French theatre: Tartuffe, by Molière. It was in an excellent modern English version and a staging that happily and effectively made the play as current to our eyes as it had been to the eyes of its original audience in 1664. Continue reading

Pronunciation tip: claret, Rothschild

It’s been too long since my last pronunciation tip video. Sit down with me now with a bottle of red Bordeaux (Mouton Cadet; I’m not rich) and let’s talk about how to say claret and Rothschild.

Yeet citationality: yippie-ki-yay!

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada

The voting is in, and the American Dialect Society’s Slang Word of the Year is… yeet.

Yeet is not so well known to oldsters, but it is in vogue among the youth. Its popularity demonstrates a central fact of how vocabulary spreads. It also leads us to Bugs Bunny, Clark Gable, and Judith Butler. Continue reading