Category Archives: word tasting notes


Perhaps because she was too savvy for the bovver of chivvying me with a bevvy, my friend Julie just straight-up asked if I would blog about words with double v’s. Naturally, the suggestion revved my mind up like a flivver. Continue reading


Pogonotrophy is growing a beard. Pogonotomy is cutting a beard (or shaving it off altogether). Pogonology is writing about beards. And so pogonosophy is knowledge about beards – or perhaps wisdom signified (or conferred?) by a beard. Continue reading

avid, flavid, gravid, nimravid, pavid

What can take a person from avid to pavid in an instant – and not just pavid, but flavid?

I’ll back up for a moment. Avid you know, of course; it comes originally from Latin aveo ‘I crave’ (yes, that’s also the origin of avarice). But add a simple and you go from being full of piss and vinegar to peeing yourself: pavid means ‘fearful’; it comes from Latin paveo ‘I fear’ (not ‘I hit the pavement’, though that might be a consequence), which is the source of modern Italian pauro and French peur, both nouns meaning ‘fear’. Puff and flutter that in flusteration and you get flavid, which means ‘yellow’ and comes from Latin flavus (not to be confused with flavius, which means ‘yellower’ or ‘goldener’ and was apparently a good thing in Rome, as it shows up in names of numerous important people, including some emperors).

OK, so what – aside from a wanton – could take a person from avid to pavid? And what – aside from wayward pee – could make them flavid? Well, how about a gravid nimravid? Continue reading


For some reason I have an open, barely used box of Javex2 (“Bleach for Unbleachables”) sitting with the other toxic household chemicals. I vaguely recall needing it a few years ago to get something clean. I guess a bit of lemon juice wouldn’t do for whatever it was.

The origin of the name Javex is pretty clear if you turn to the French side of the box (if you’re not from Canada, that may not make sense until I tell you that all packaging in Canada is in English and French, and boxes usually have an English side and a French side). There it says “Javellisant pour non-Javellisables.” French for ‘bleach’ is javellisant, or eau de Javel, or just plain old javel.

Javel! Isn’t that the villain from Les Misérables? No, no it is not, and how dare you fling mud at this fine word.

Well, you wouldn’t be the only one to fling mud at it or besmirch its character. You see, there is an English word javel that is not related to the French javel and it is not sparkling clean. Continue reading


You can carpe diem, or you can carp all day long.

Yes, I know my use of carpe diem as infinitive complement was grammatically incoherent, since it’s an imperative. It’s also a piece of a different language, so don’t be captious.

Which leads to an obviously important question: is carp as in ‘complain’ related to carpe diem and/or to captious? And do fish come into this? The etymology of all this turns out to be about as interwoven as a carpet, and it has threads of many words, but I’ll try to keep focused on an excerpt. Continue reading


How is antimony even an element? Or the name for one? Of all the names on the periodic table, antimony has long seemed to me to be the one that most looked like it wandered into the wrong party.

And I don’t just mean because the chemical symbol for antimony, Sb, has nothing in common with the word. Ha! That’s run-of-the-mill. Gold is Au. Lead is Pb. Mercury is Hg. Antimony’s nextdoor neighbour, tin, is Sn. We all eventually learn that these come from the Latin names for the elements, which are often entirely different: aurum, plumbum, hydrargyrum, stannum. In the case of antimony it’s stibium. But, um, gold and lead and tin don’t look anything like Latin or Greek (mercury does, but then hydrargyrum is obviously running over from Greek). Antimony kind of… does? So why does it need another Latin name? Continue reading


A couple of days ago, Dr. Eugenia Cheng, @DrEugeniaCheng, who is always worth reading, tweeted something that really made me stop and look again:

Omg I occasionally click on the “recommended” articles on my firefox homepage despite my best intentions, and they are universally terrible. I have finally got up the ertia to work out how to stop them appearing.

Ertia! I was, needless to say, plussed. Gruntled, in fact, and entirely combobulated, though a bit chalant. Such a sensical and ept word – and quite feckful and ruly, too. You would expect it to be more inlandish. But it is just not in regular use. Continue reading