Monthly Archives: February 2019


This word looks like an elephant – or maybe several large birds – tumbling down a flight of stairs. It has no fewer than four k’s and five syllables. It is, as the currently popular term puts it, really extra. Oh, and if you want even more, it can also be spelled koekemakranka.

Or you can call it by its Linnaean name, gethyllis.

Such a pair, gethyllis and kukumakranka. Like some sweet little kid and a rowdy noisy bird from an animated feature. Whatever this thing is should be partly demure and partly dominating.

Which, in fact, it is. Continue reading


Have you ever been at a party where there’s someone on one side of the room holding forth volubly and vapidly, and the crowd around them gradually rarefies while it gets more and more crowded on the other side of the room? You’ve just seen an important fact in fluid dynamics. Continue reading


So. You know scoundrel and wastrel and custrel (well, maybe you don’t know that one) and kestrel and even doggerel. There’s this –rel suffix that English got from French–ereau and –erelle, and we use it for diminutive derivatives, especially pejorative ones. It sounds sort of like throat-hawking in another room, or a car peeling out on a gravel road nearby, or the faint echo of someone having been thrown in a well.

But pynt? What is that? Well, it’s an old spelling for paint or pint or pained or point. But which is it here?

Yes. Continue reading


These are the bines that twine:

There is bine, a woody vine that binds, and by binding gains its name, mutatis mutandis.

There is bearbine, two kinds of convolvulus, winding woody spirals with white trumpets, and also the Polygonum convolvulus, a black buckwheat weed which you may have eaten.

There is berbine, vervain, verbena, name mutated; holy herb and devil’s bane, tears of Isis, Hera’s tears, herbal tea of iron-herb, altar flower for Jupiter.

There is bulbine, which Pliny named, but no one knows what it is. Continue reading

Boxcar Social (Boulton Avenue)


Here’s the beer

Listen to the audio for free on Patreon

It’s beer o’clock in Hipster City. Even better, it’s Tuesday, which means this hi-test myrrh-smoked gose before me cost me only $5 plus tax (and tip – always tip). I’ve been planted in this high-ceilinged room for three hours now and have gone through a “large” drip coffee (which is a small with a refill) and a gluten-free cookie while seated on a decently padded stool at one of the five dark wood-plank four-spot high-tops, copyediting a Darien Gap of academic prose with my editorial machete. The music has lately shifted from anodyne jazz to techno-club, and the joint is jumping as the laptop-bound cyberserfs are joined by the thirstier crowds done work for the day. Continue reading


In my last word tasting I sampled brae, a name I’ve known on some neighbourhoods that I have heard of but seldom visited and never lived in. It’s one of the loose allsorts of suburb-name morphemes that float above the involuted streets on maps of the sprawling suburbs in the Great White North: wood, cliff, cedar, side, bine, land, thorn, lea, crestvale, ridge, maple, oak, glenbank, fairfield, gate, ville, dale, park, mead, view, bay, greenhurst, may, mount, summer, sunny, land, spring, spruce, hill, valley, grove (I forgot those last five last time)… Pick two, almost any two, and you get a subdivision somewhere (or at the very least a street): Cedarlea, Woodvale, Oakmead, Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Glencrest, Mapleview, Fairmount, Valleyvale… Is Valleyvale redundant? Well, so is Hillhurst. Continue reading


I tend to think of this word as one of the bits sliding about in the widget drawer from which developers pull pieces for names of neighbourhoods. It’s jumbled in with wood and cliff and cedar and side and bine and land and thorn and lea and crest and vale and ridge and maple and oak and glen and bank and fair and field and gate and ville and dale and hill and park and mead and view and bay and green and hurst and may and mount and summer and sunny and land… Every time you’re building a new neighbourhood, if you don’t want to go ahead and name it after whatever you bulldozed to build it, just reach into that drawer and grab two pieces. If you want to make it extra chi-chi, grab a third piece – or just tack heights on. Continue reading

Jimmy’s (McCaul Street)


Thank heavens it’s not called George’s or Donald’s

Listen to the audio of this on Patreon, complete with background sound.

If you like seeing the world come and go, traffic pass, and dumbass drivers at a simple intersection nearly kill bicyclists, pedestrians, and each other, and occasionally a car or truck drive straight into what your brain tells you should be the business next door but is actually an alley that continues Elm Street, grab one of the four stools at the window counter of Jimmy’s on McCaul, if you can get one. Be aware that on a bright day you may get eyestrain if you work on your computer there. Continue reading


We all have our pet peeves. Some of us have many and some have few; some of us have bigger ones and some have smaller ones. Some people have pet peeves like leashed Rottweilers that precede them in all situations (the worst grammar grumblers can be like this), but for most of us, they are more like purse dogs, easy enough to carry around and produce as needed – almost cute, even, though they might make a mess on your wallet. For many of us, though, they’re not even pets so much as little flags we take out and wave at certain moments, kind of like sports fans. Continue reading


Listen to the audio of this if you prefer! I make audio versions of all my articles; they’re available for $2-a-month subscribers on Patreon. But this one is here free for everyone:

A few days ago, Julie Nathanson (@Julie_Nathanson) – who I knew back when I was at Tufts University and now follow on Twitter – tweeted, “What’s the word for finally speaking with one of your heroes for the first time and then transmogrifying into floaty, glowing vapor?” Continue reading