Monthly Archives: August 2020


I’ve been biking quite a bit this summer, and running too, and while this is unlikely to make a kallipyg of me, one can but hope. My wife, like pretty much all lifelong high-level figure skaters, is a noteworthy kallipyg. One need not be athletic to be a kallipyg, but it seldom hurts.

It is not always easy to judge whether a person is a kallipyg. It depends on the clothing they’re wearing, but more particularly it depends on the angle you see them from. If you can see their face, for instance, you are probably not in a position to judge whether they are a kallipyg.

Does this word look like somehow it’s been cut off? It has not. Does it make you think of a pygmy? It has nothing to do with pygmies (except for inasmuch as any among them may be kallipygs, which some probably are, but not because they are pygmies). Perhaps a calliope? No, though a kallipyg may be music to the eyes of some. And the connection between kalli and calli is well made: they both come from Ancient Greek κάλλος kallos, ‘beauty’.

Some of you will see the meaning of this word coming by now. But all of you have seen it going. The pyg, you see, is from Greek πυγή pugé, ‘buttocks’. I think many of you know the word callipygian, which means ‘having beautiful buttocks’. It comes from an epithet for Aphrodite: καλλίπυγος, an adjective meaning ‘callipygian’ which, as a substantive used as an epithet, could be rendered as “sweetcheeks” or “the one with the nice bum.” (“You know, Aphrodite, the one with the buns.”)

Well, kallipyg is a rather less common word, but it comes from the same source, and it’s a noun for a callipygian person. If you want to say it out loud, the stress is on the beginning – although we could say the weight is on the end.


There’s a link between rocks, looking, and Dutch cookies. I expect you’ll be skeptical, but it’s not just speculation: the path from one to another is scopulous, but the view in the end is spectacular.

Let’s start with the cookies. You may know speculaas; they are those spicy brown cinnamon ginger cookies, also called “windmill cookies,” that are typically shaped like animals or edifices, especially windmills. The Belgian version are called speculoos, and so are the crumbs made from them that are used for various purposes, sort of like delicious food gravel.

There are arguments about exactly why the cookies are named speculaas, but it is known that the spec is the same as in Latin speculum and speculator, which trace farther back to specula, Latin for ‘watchtower’ or ‘lookout’, which comes from the same root as scopulus, ‘crag’ or ‘rock’. Which is the origin of scopulous, meaning ‘rocky’. Promontories and crags are rocky, you see. It’s true that a pebble in your shoe can impede you from getting to the point of one, but if you can scamper up the escarpment you will find that much larger rocks can give much bolder outlooks. One way or another, it’s scopulous all the way.

Is it mere coincidence, or perhaps merging, that brings the spec of looking and the scop also of looking together with this scop as in rock? Nope, it really is that the rock, the headland, gets its name from the eyes in the head, or anyway from what they’re doing. The Latin scopulus came from Greek σκόπελος skopelos, ‘watchtower’ or ‘rock’ or ‘promontory’ or ‘crag’, which most likely came from σκοπέω skopeo, ‘I look’, ‘I contemplate’, ‘I consider’. It comes from the Indo-European *sḱep- root, which is a metathesis of the *speḱ- root. Apparently neither the Proto-Indo-Europeans nor the Ancient Greeks could mind their p’s and k’s. Anyway, an amazing number of words in many languages, including quite a few in English, trace back to these roots, all coming by one path or another from looking: spectrum, spectacle, species, specimen, expect, skeptic, scopophilia, telescope, and so many others.

And if you follow the crumbs to climb the scopulous path to the spectacular promontory from which you can trace your trail back with a telescope, do you get a cookie? I expect you may, if you bring one, but you’ll have to look out for yourself.


Marry gup! This is fishy indeed.

What, sir, what is fishy? What say you, ha?

This… hodge-podge of hucksters and mountebanks, this hippo-crate of hypocrites, this convention of worms and weeds and watersnakes, this whited seppuku, this monstrous erection of eructations and vice versa, this pond of piranhas, this immoral morass of morays… Gup! ’Tis an ill thing indeed.

But “gup,” sir? Is this like “welp,” sir? or “gulp”? Or is it of a guppy?

Like “welp”? Or a little fish named in 1866 after one R.J. Lechmere Guppy and not to be gulped by bumptious youths? Mary and gup, you whelp! “Gup” is a word one says to express surprise, dismay, derision – or to chide a recalcitrant horse. It comes from “go up”; it has on occasion arrived by some oblique process to be said or written “quep”; it is frequently prefaced with “marry,” which is to say “Mary,” which is to say an invocation of the mother of Our Lord.

Ah, I see. So “gup” is more readily pronounced than if the g were replaced with w, the u with t, and the with f? And otherwise is used to much the same effect?

Indeed, just as “marry” is better said than “Mary,” which is better said than the name of her Son.

And people still say this, do they? Today, in our times?

I’ faith they do, so long as ’tis understood that “our times” are mainly before the year 1700, when many a fine author (such as Messrs. Heywood, Middleton, and Fletcher) had recourse to it. Later than that… not so much. But I find that what goeth around cometh around. And a brief but not censorable exclamation is often needed in many a time.



Because yet again an article talking about different generations skipped straight from the Baby Boomers to the Millennials as if Generation X didn’t even exist, I decided to read, at last, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. I picked up a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition, because kill me now, how was my youth a quarter century ago. And on page 25 I saw a word that really caught my attention.


Actually, I saw a derived form of derf, but I’ll get to that.

Don’t mistake derf for derp. The word derp (suggesting stupidity) is much more recent – really only current since after the turn of the millennium. Derf has nothing to do with it. It also has nothing to do with dearth (which is from dear+th like width is from wide+th and sloth is from slow+th) or deaf.

Derf is not much used anymore as such, but it shows up in Oxford in two basic versions, with several derivative forms.

Derf the noun is (per Oxford) “trouble, tribulation, hurt.” It comes from deorfan “labour.”

Derf the adjective and adverb is either “bold, daring, courageous, brave” or “in a bad sense: bold, audacious, daringly wicked.” It can also mean “strong, sturdy, stout” or “vigorous, forcible, violent” or “painful, grievous; terrible, dreadful; cruel” or “troublesome, hard, difficult” or “grievously, terribly.” It apparently comes from Old Norse djarfr “bold, daring, audacious, impudent.”

So. Imagine the sound a superhero or supervillain makes when punching through a superobstacle or hitting the turf: DERF! That should make it stick in the mind. To put it another way, why say “This is tough” when you can really be forceful and say “This is derf!”

From derf and derf we get a few other words, and they are too good not to include.

There’s derfful, which looks wonderful but is quite the opposite – “troublous, hurtful” (yes, Oxford uses “troublous” in the derfinition).

There’s derfly, which Word insists should be deerfly though I think it’s more like the end of alderfly. It comes in adjective and adverb flavours. The adjective means “grievous, terrible, dreadful” and the adverb means “boldly; fiercely” or “forcibly, violently” or “quickly, promptly” or “grievously, terribly.” In other words, derfly is used in all the places we used wicked when I was in high school.

There’s derfness, which is not as in “Your Derfness” and also has nothing to do with deafness; it means “trouble, hardship” and “boldness, audacity.”

There’s derfship, which means “audacity.”

And there’s also a verb derve, derived not from derf but from the same deorfian that gave us the noun derf; it means “labour” or “trouble, grieve, hurt, afflict, molest.” (But who has deserved to be derved?)

There are also other derivatives not listed in Oxford that we can form, of course. For instance, just as I can say I’m hatted or jacketed or even re-beered, or for that matter puced or happied, without implying the existence of hat, jacket, beer, puce, or happy as verbs because -ed can be used to form adjectives from nouns and other adjectives, I can be derfed. Which means I can be endowed or afflicted with boldness, force, courage, audacity, trouble, or any of those other qualities that the adjective or noun derf implies. Or I can be described as having those, just as I might be puced if someone says “Whoa, dude, you look puce.” I could also be said to be bepuced, I suppose, and if no one has said I look puce, then I am un-puced.

Of course, since no one (except Gen Xers and Douglas Coupland, who is actually a late Boomer) talks about Generation X practically at all, and when they ever have it’s always about how we’re the “meh” generation (because that’s our reaction to the self-derfed Boomers) and “slackers” (because we don’t want to be the red shirts in their Enterprise expeditions), we are chronically un-derfed.

Which is the word I saw in Generation X.

The quote from Generation X is (ironically?) from a description of a Boomer character: “like an underfed Chihuahua baring its teeny fangs and waiting to have its face kicked in.”



You think it’s under-fed?


This book is the song of my generation and I will be so derf as to read it however I want.


Imagine if someone were to show you a map of diseases. Every disease, splayed out across the globe, signified by colour and shaded for concentration. All the ways of getting sick, and the ways and places they’re spreading. You look at it and you react, trying to grasp it: “Ch—… Th—… O no no… so…”

All the ways to zero in on sickness. All the repeats, and the confusion, and the things you’re not sure you can say. The down-and-dirty, down in the dirt and spread out over the earth. Here’s your chance to geek out… or Greek out. Every map of a pandemic, an epidemic, or an academic exercise in the glory of sickness transiting the monde, it’s all chthononosology.

Just look at those letters: c g h h l n n o o o o o s t y. So many o’s (five of them, like the number of zeros in ten myriads). Doubled h, then (with the chimneys cut off) doubled n. And ending, logically, with the logy of words and science.

It’s all from Greek, of course: χθών khthón ‘earth’ (as in the surface of the planet, or the dirt that makes it) and νόσος nosos ‘disease’ and λόγος logos ‘word, discourse’. Talking about the diseases of the surface of the earth, which means all over the world. We know these roots: every -logy, logically; a few nos- words such as nosocomial (which refers to diseases that have been acquired in a hospital – the kind that make hospitals bright hot spots on disease maps); and chthonic, having to do with the ground, the earth, the dirt, the surface of the planet or something burrowed beneath it… perhaps something deep and dark and dirty and evil…

This word was put together as such by someone probably in England in the later 1800s. It shows up in the New Sydenham Society’s Lexicon of Medicine and the Allied Sciences of 1881. Honestly, it probably could have been geonosology or nosogeography, but it wasn’t and that’s just the way it is. And fair enough: disease calls for something more deep, dark, dirty, and hard to say; even a map of diseases looks like the tracings of an ancient earth spirit, and experiencing an actual affliction may lead to an unusual increase in utterances of “ch” (the hard kind) and “th” and especially “ooooo.” And now, when someone shows you yet another map of worldly unwellness, you have a word to characterize it.


It is an event as yet periodic, though not infrequent, that the weather turns… theriodic. There is a tempest to suit the temperature of the times and tides. It may be Hobbesian – nasty, brutish, and short – and it may be scenic, but it is vicious while it lasts.

This afternoon, for example, I was seated working at a table under an expansive overhang, several metres from the edge, and when the foretold rain began I was not disturbed. And then there was a bit of breeze from behind, causing a minor mist onto my screen, so I closed the computer and put it away in my backpack for the time being and resolved to wait out the weather. And then, within a span of seconds, the patio became a scene from a sea storm: the wind increased to a gale force, hosing down the environs, blowing folding metal chairs and signs and nearly tipping heavy tables, and chasing me and my backpack inside, where I watched with moistened amusement. Ten minutes later it abated, but there was no dry place left to sit. It was as though a herd of water buffalo – by which I mean buffalo made of water – had stampeded through.

Meanwhile, in Death Valley, temperatures hit a record high. But at least it was dry. Nonetheless, that weather too is, in its way, theriodic.

Theriodic is not a word exclusively or even mainly for weather, though it certainly serves the turn. It’s more often medical in use when it’s used at all, and in that context it means ‘malignant’ or, I suppose, ‘fulminating’. The root gives you the clue: theriodic is taken from Greek θηριωδία theriodia, which means ‘brutality’ or ‘savagery’ and in turn comes from θηρίον therion ‘wild beast’ (though it has nothing to do with the lion nor, on the other hand, with Charlize Theron). That same ther- shows up here and there, like in theriomorph and anoplothere.

So, in other words, what is theriodic is like a wild animal – whether it be one that stalks you and abruptly craunches and devours you or one that by mischance has gotten trapped in a minivan and tears the interior to ribbons and bits – and when faced with theriodic weather or other affliction, it is best not to dither, lest the next threnody be for you (or your electronic devices).


Look at the large barge, sarge! Who’s in charge of the large barge? And what’s that sparged on its marge? Is that parge? Is it going to Canada Cement Lafarge?

Barges get a bad rep, but flat-bottomed boats make the world go ’round. Or anyway they make stuff go ’round the world. It’s known that to succeed in logistics you have to be a bit anal-retentive, but for many times and places (and sometimes still) you also have had to be canal-retentive. Many things are moved more smoothly over water than over land, especially because you can fit much bigger loads on a floating vessel than on anything that has to navigate road or rail. Take as example the construction materials and equipment I see cruising into the eastern entrance to Toronto Harbour nearly every early evening.


Should I say “barging into”? Well, it is a barge, being pushed by a… hmm, it’s not tugging, so it’s not a tugboat… well, a pusher boat, OK? But it’s where it’s supposed to be. Not like some personal sport watercraft ripping into the picture.

Does that seem fair? That if I’m taking a picture of a barge that I fully expected to be at that place at that time, and a Sea-Doo or whatever tears across in front of it, the interloper is said to be “barging in” while the barge is being all polite and invited? Why does a barjaun “barge on,” anyway?

Well, before there was barging in there was barging around and barging along and barging through, and barging into or barging against someone or something, and the sense was of bumping, of being big and heavy and inertious and unbrakeable just like a fully laden barge. Perhaps the kind of cad or bounder that a less bumptious person wouldn’t want to touch with a bargepole… which, by the way, is literally a pole used for keeping smaller canal barges from touching other barges or the shore or whatever (and occasionally for propelling barges, though really human musclepower is mostly not up to the task).

Where did this word barge come from? French, of course, like the other words ending in -arge, and French got all of them from Latin. But this ­-arge has a lot of cargo of many sorts from various origins: while large comes from Latin larga, and marge (as in margin) from margo, charge comes from carricare (cargo is descended from that too, but charge didn’t come by way of cargo), and sarge is short for sergeant, which French made from Latin servientem – that g just kinda… pushed its way in (it’s not the only time a “w” sound has been changed to or from a “g” sound). And while sparge comes from spargo, parge comes from French porjeter, from Latin porro plus jactare. There’s also litharge, via Latin lithargyrus from for ‘silver stone’, and targe from Latin targa, from a Germanic word – look them up if you’re curious. The name Marge takes us back to Latin Margarita, which in turn came from farther east. As for Lafarge, the name of a large cement company that does have a small facility in Toronto’s docklands, well, that’s a variant of La Forge, and forge traces to fabrica, because, well, why the heck not.

As to barge, it came by way of barga from late Latin barca (also the source of barque but not of bark), from earlier Latin baris, ultimately by way of Greek and Coptic from Egyptian (you can see the hieroglyphics on Wiktionary). All the way back, it’s all words for boats of various kinds. And there are still various kinds of vessels called barge, including ones that can be wind- or self-propelled, even big glamour boats for royalty rowed by peons. But mainly, these days, a barge is a big floating cargo platform. And regardless of where it comes from, when it’s loaded up, it goes where it’s going and will not be quickly diverted.


To bedog or not to bedog? Or to be a bedog?

Not to be doggèd about it, but this is a word that seems to shift to suit – you or it, we’re not sure. It’s sort of like a big dog that you can lie on – or that can lie on you. Or that can follow you, or you can follow it. Or maybe you are the dog, and the dog is you.

Here’s what this is all about. The first time I can think of seeing the word bedog, it was in a sense that (I now know) is not at all the dictionary sense, and I can tell you it did not lie easy on me, or I on it. It was in Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel The Dosadi Experiment, wherein a bedog is a bed that’s a dog, or a dog that’s a bed. It’s a big furry critter than you can sleep on and that is docile and very happy with the arrangement:

McKie stretched his arms high over his head, twisted his blocky torso. The bedog rippled with pleasure at his movements. He whistled softly and suffered the kindling of morning light as the apartment’s window controls responded. A yawn stretched his mouth. He slid from the bedog and padded across to the window.


Jedrik moved softly with her own preparations, straightened the bedog and caressed its resilient surface.

Of course, this means that this bedog is pronounced like “bed dog” but with only one “d,” and I am not comfortable with that. Even if you degeminate the [dd] you should, in English orthography, write it as dd (which we would usually say as just “d” anyway) because otherwise the e becomes “long.”

Which, in the real-world version, it is. Because bedog is really the verb dog (formed from the noun dog, of course) plus the prefix be, as in befall, bemoan, benight, bewitch, bedaub, become, believe, behave (yes, of course behave is beplus have; it’s just travelled a long way since the joining), and many others. But that be can be many things, as it happens, as is evidenced by the different definitions of bedog. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the options as “To call ‘dog’” (so “I bedogged him” means ‘I called him a dog’) and “To follow about like a dog, to dog” (which also means that to bedog can be to be doggèd) with the addition of bedogged meaning “Become like a dog.” Wiktionary, for its parts, gives us “to refer to or treat like a dog; (by extension) to follow like a dog, harass, torment; bully” and “to become or behave as a dog.” And Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is succinct but in line with Oxford: “to call (a person) a dog” (meaning you can’t bedog a dog, because that dog do be a dog and if you do be dog you do not be bedogged) and “dog vt” (i.e., the transitive verb dog, as opposed to “dog, VT,” which is a dog in Vermont).

So. To debog this:  You can bedog someone else by calling them a dog or by dogging them (which means acting like a dog in their direction, generally), or, supposedly, you can bedog and just, you know, be a dog. (However, the quotations in Wiktionary in support of that latter sense do not support it: “That envy, malice, and hatred bedogged his steps” is clearly the first sense, and “So they went to sleep like a pair of chain gangers, and bedogged if during the night Rose didn’t get up and start for the bathroom, and down she went” is equally clearly using bedogged like doggone or any less canine and less polite turn of speech involving g with b and/or d.)

And can you be bedogged by a dog? Seems redundant, dunnit. But can you be bedogged by a dog star? Hmm, is that serious? Ha, it’s Sirius. We are in the dog days, and the heat is both canine and incandescent. So if you don’t want to be bedogged, beware of updog.


Where are you from?

What is the landscape of your childhood imagination, the place where you learned placeness, the paths and houses and landscapes that taught you the lines and limits of being somewhere and going somewhere? When you imagined other places, what is the mental modelling clay you used? What are your archetopes?

Now that you have grown, you have seen much more of the world, many places that are many different ways, but as you travelled, each new-to-you place had things about it that surprised you in how they differed from what you were used to. Piccadilly Circus was smaller than you expected, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was bigger, Manhattan was more homey, Tel Aviv was more modern, Quebec was older, San Francisco seemed so closed in, Mexico City seemed so vast, Ireland had endless stone walls, Boston had brick sidewalks, New Zealand had one-lane bridges; lanes didn’t go the way you thought they would, and buildings were used differently, and hills had odd shapes, and roads took odd routes up them, and houses welcomed you different ways and smelled different from the houses you knew when you were small. And these are all wonderful discoveries, and as you live you build your knowledge of somewhereness in the world – of ubiety – as surely as you build your understanding of people and things. Every mental ramification is exciting. But all those new branches are grown on the same roots, of where you learned what it was to be somewhere, to have a world around you with places to go and to be. They are all built on and with your archetopes.

I live in Toronto; I have lived here for nearly a quarter of a century now. I am at home, I know the geography, the shape of the city, the wheres and whats of it, and have seen more of it than many people who have lived nowhere else. But it’s not where I’m from. It’s not where I learned how places are connected, or what going away and coming home feels like. It’s not where I mapped my desires and hopes over hills and valleys, where I draped my dreams on peaks and plains. It’s not steeped in the mythos of my childhood.

If I go with my wife through the east side of Toronto, past certain intersections and into certain parks, we pass the places where her childhood and youth happened: this is where her track team ran, that is where she broke her arm, here is the arena she learned to skate in, there is the McDonald’s she worked in. For her it is blood, running in her veins; for me it is water, like a stream I am stepping into and can step out of. If we go to Alberta, to Calgary and Banff and the Bow Valley in between, it is the converse: though my family lived in many different houses, everything I see is where I imagined a million things, where I extrapolated the lands of books and movies and televisions shows from, where I ran and sat and read and sang and made things and broke things and imagined what I would be in fifty years. And for my wife it is scenery and a place to visit.

These are our archetopes, our original places. You know archetype, I’m sure; it is from Greek ἀρχή arkhé ‘beginning, origin’ and τῠ́πος tupos ‘type, sort, impression’. Archetope has the same arche, but in place of type is tope, as in biotope and chronotope: ‘place’, from Greek τόπος topos.

There is an important distinction to be made: whereas archetypes are, per Jung, stored deep in our collective unconscious – the operating-system software we are born with – and they shape stories and understandings in generally the same ways wherever there are humans, archetopes have a more individual quality. Certainly we may be born with ideas of shapes of places, and narratives of going through places, but each of us learns geography in a way that anchors certain places deep in our imaginations and helps shape even the world of our dreams. We develop our archetopes also by travelling as children, and if we live in many places in our early years we build our archetopes from all of them. But each of us has navigated the places of the world differently, has learned differently what to feel about certain houses and roads, has come to different encounters with the wild parts.

Have you seen or heard this word archetope before? Perhaps not. You may have if you’ve read the revisionist physics of one James Carter, but he uses it differently, to name an atom’s most “archetypal isotope.” But his models of physics are, shall we say, not widely adopted; I don’t mind ignoring him. This word is much more needed for a facet of lived being that I have always felt existed but never had a word for. And now I do, and so do you. Yes, it’s a new old word, but everything is new at some time or another.


This word seems so serene and tropical – and it is, in its way. It is from Classical Greek σελήνη seléné ‘moon’ (also the name of the moon goddess: Σελήνη) and τροπος tropos ‘turning’, and it means ‘turning to the moon’. It is used technically of plants that follow the cold mottled white orb of the night in its celestial transit, but all humans (and not just on tropical nights) – and especially all poets – do it too.

The noun from which selenotropic is derived, selenotropism, was confected by M.C. Musset in 1883 following an experiment (read his short summary) in which he raised plants in darkness and then exposed them to moonlight to see if they would follow it, and they did.

I’ve written a poem on this theme. While you read it, why not listen to Claude Débussy playing his own Clair de Lune, recorded on piano roll, inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name?

You can read Verlaine’s poem in the description on the video, if you click through to YouTube. Here is mine:


Did you turn to the moon?

After sprouting in shadow,
after you grew in darkness,
grew slender, long, sun-starved,
grew leaves and tendrils knowing
no warmth, no joy, no mist,
no riot of birds, no bee-kiss,
nothing to trample or eat you,
nothing to touch or greet you,

after one warm hand took you,
after your captor exposed you,
exposed you to glass, to sky,
exposed you to whispers, to watching
your stems, your terminal buds,
your eyes, your fingers of blood
wanting the sun, the rain,
wanting the wings, the pain,

did you pull at your roots,
did you lean to see
what this lover was,
what this almost-light—
not sun, not day, not bulb,
not flame, not lightning flash—
wanted, running and sinking,
wanted behind the mountain?

Did you, in all your paleness,
did you, in never-green,
in your concavities,
in your internal cause,
know then that you were seen,
know then that you were named,
and glow with unowned light,
and grow, and shine, and fade?

Did you turn to the moon?