Category Archives: word tasting notes


“The cabal of the versute gens de condition resorting to social evils necessitates some sui generis safeguards to be inherent in social laws to make up for the nether social position of the wronged person and checkmate the malengine and pravity of the powerful.” Continue reading


Yesterday evening, not too long before sunset, we left the beach. We balled up our towels, collapsed our fancy beach chairs, took up and shook out the big beach blanket, trudged across the sand, and took the boardwalk to the main road. Once we were off the beach and into the greenery, the air was full of the scent of a humid country summer evening, plus a bit of marijuana smoke from someone nearby. As we walked the road between the trees, we could see to the right a lagoon with a quay and several boats tied up to it; to the left, just on the other side of a tall chain fence, the airport with its turboprop planes; and ahead, above the trees, tall buildings and the CN Tower, just across the harbour. And then we got to the ferry dock and waited.

No other city I’ve ever been to has such a sylvan, bucolic retreat just across water from the heart of town. Toronto Island (and its associated smaller islands) is a gem of parkland, carefree and car-free; within a half hour from downtown, with no driving involved, you can be swimming a great lake in cottage-country surroundings. And what makes it so are the ferries.


Boats that pass in the day

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I saw a scraggy little white dog today, and I said to Aina, “That dog used to be an opossum.”

OK, that was maybe just a teeny bit inaccurate. The dog had actual fur on its tail. It had a face like a dog, or at least more like a dog than an opossum. But dogs and opossums are not opposites. They’re just… like bats and birds. Morphologically superficially similar, phylogenetically distinct, and differing – starkly, on average – on the cuteness scale.

It’s amusing to see descriptions of opossums by early English invaders of North America. In 1612, John Smith wrote, “An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat.” This is basically accurate, except for “an head like a Swine.” I don’t know what kind of swine he had, but in my world a possum is a sketchy rat-looking beast from front to back. I think if I had to describe an opossum it would be “Like a big grizzled old rat that just ran a marathon and is trying to decide whether to die or kill someone.” Continue reading


Tamale makes me think of missing the boat. And discovering something.

When I was a kid, there was a candy I liked, bullet-shaped jellybean-type things flavoured strongly with cinnamon. They were branded as Hot Tamales. (They still exist.) I associate them especially with one summer when my family spent a week (I guess it was a week; everything seems like an eternity and an eyeblink when you’re under 10) at a rustic place on a lake in North Dakota where families stayed in cabins and the adults did… I don’t know, probably Bible or language stuff, given my parents. Kids did things that kids did at such places. Anyway, Hot Tamales were my favourite comestible then and there. They were available and my mom would give me money to buy them. That’s one of only two things I remember about that place. Continue reading


There is dry and then there is thirsty dry. There are days when it doesn’t rain and there are days when the ground almost beckons the water from your glass, when a spilled drop is sucked into the soil, when your eyes threaten to pop like Orville Redenbacher’s kernels. And your mouth is like parchment, and the only reason you spill any water is that you drink it so quickly because the dusty spidery fingers of the earth are reaching to tear it from you.

When it’s so dry it’s ridiculous, it’s siticulous.

If your throat is that dry, it’s gotten past sticky or tickling to where it feels there is a stick sticking into it. If your hands are that dry, they may seem suitable for shaking but your grip is so low-friction you can’t uncap a simple jam jar. If your wit is that dry, a joke may pass unnoticed for a fortnight or two. When the weather is that dry, plants and roots gasp open-mouthed like baby birds awaiting a worm. A leaf in such unwatering times is dusty dry. And a word unmoistened for centuries by the speech of moving tongues is siticulous.

Is siticulous. This word siticulous was never much in use and has not been recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary since 1620. It has siblings, sitient meaning ‘thirsty’ and sitiate a verb meaning ‘thirst’; they are all equally dusty. But they’re simple derivations from Latin: the verb sitire ‘thirst’ and the noun sitis also ‘thirst’. Our siticulous needs nothing more meticulous in research; it came from sitis via siticulosus. If you are a stickler you may pick a sense of ‘a bit thirsty’, but Oxford tells us it’s ‘very dry’.

Now go pour yourself a glass of something cold and refreshing. And then say this word. It needs it too.


A summer of young childhood is an entire life preserved in a magical crystal that you can look back into. You hold up different facets and see moments, places, stories. To a child everything seems timeless and famous and momentous and legendary, and that’s because it is. Adults walk in a faded blue world where all the strings are connected at the ends, a world that is endless sums of numbers that always add up the same and if they don’t you know you’re missing something, a world where even the most foreign places are on the same surface as you and can be reached by taking an ordinary trip in a well-known vehicle with everyday dirt on it. For a young child, even a door to the next room may be a portal to the golden kingdom you were sent from as an infant; nothing needs to be the same twice, and logic is just the cleverest trick. When your adult self looks back into the crystal, it all glows transparent gold, and you are famous to yourself, a glittering dragonfly darting and hovering.

I spent a few of my youngest years in Exshaw, a village at the mouth of the mountains in Alberta. Across the valley was a mountain with a large heart on the top, and another mountain that looked like the grade four teacher’s nose. On our side was Exshaw Mountain, gradually being blasted flat by the cement plant, and Cougar Mountain, a big bristly hump that of course we were afraid to go too far up because of cougars. On a summer day my brother and I, and perhaps another kid such as Tommy Lewis or Ricky Korzeniewski (both friends of my brother), might go exploring. We could visit the Candy Man: just one of us, never me, would go up and knock on the door of a small old house at the end of a street as it gave up against Cougar Mountain, and he would hand over a candy bar for each of us. My brother once offered to give me five bucks if I would hop on his back and let him throw me off, and, after I had let him toss me five times as from a horse, he informed me that I had just gotten five bucks. (He bucked me five times, if that needs explanation.) And sometimes we would go to Dragonfly. Continue reading


Have you ever heard of someone being in low dudgeon?

When someone’s in a dudgeon, when they leave a party or premises in a towering snit, when their dignity has been endangered and they will hold more grudge than an ordinary curmudgeon, if the altitude of their derangement is mentioned – and it often will be – it is always high. Continue reading