Category Archives: word tasting notes

bine

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

hurst

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

brae

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

vexeme

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

squeevaporate

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

fulculency

I’ve dipped into the Dictionary of Archaic Words again, sorted through its starchy heaps of lexical refuse, all those old words the language has left behind like so much dried paste. Some of them are quite quaint and charming. Some of them have a kind of…

Well, look at this one: fulculency. The definition given isn’t even a definition, it’s just a citation: “Dreggie refuse and fulculencie,” a quote that it cites to page 41 of Topsell’s Serpents, a reference I easily followed to Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, a classic work from 1658 that is, for your enjoyment, available online. Continue reading

fyke-fack

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