Category Archives: word tasting notes

enfarce

There are always rules, of course – rules about how to do things and rules within rules and rules about making rules. A common and important question is “Who enforces the rules?” But another question, not common but also valid – for different reasons – is “Who enfarces the rules?”

You don’t know this word enfarce? Of course you don’t; don’t pretend you do – no one uses it anymore. Until now, that is, because I, with my remarkable lexical activation power, say they shall. 

You can make a guess about what enfarce means. You’ll probably be wrong, but make a guess anyway.

Did you guess that it means ‘make a farce [out of them]’? As in take the piss, make a mockery, do the reductio ad absurdum? Good guess! It’s wrong, but it’s a good guess, because you’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, this farce is the same farce that is the source of the farce that means ‘a ludicrous piece of theatre’, and it happens that farces are called farces because they, too, were at first enfarced.

If you know French, you may be guessing where this is going. French for ‘stuffed’ (as in stuffed turkey) is farci, from the verb farcir, and the related noun for ‘stuffing’ is farce. It all comes from Latin farcio ‘I stuff’. The theatre pieces called farces got the name, as far as we know, because they were originally comic interludes, stuffed into performances of greater import (have you ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance? think of their clowns).

So enfarcement is stuffing something in – into a turkey or a sausage, or less literally into whatever else (as when, for instance, a novelist enfarces an ideological monologue into a story). And when we talk about enfarcing rules, we can mean either of two things: (1) stuffing a rule in where it doesn’t really belong; (2) padding rules with extraneous material. Both of these things are quite common with rules. 

For (1), anyone who deals with legislation and contracts knows that extraneous details get attached as a way of accomplishing extra things with less effort. (I’m put in mind of how, when we made the offer on the place we now live in, I added a request that the microwave oven be included, because even though they’re inexpensive, I knew we might never get around to getting one otherwise.)

For (2), the typical jargon of rules lends itself to padded phrasing such as “The act of walking upon the lawns of these premises is expressly prohibited” where “Don’t walk on this lawn” would suffice. But also, often enough, sets of rules that could be simple and straightforward gain extra rules; for example, an office dress code that starts out as a single sentence prescribing “businesslike attire” gradually, in response to specific complaints, gains provisions specifying that bare knees are not to be visible; that no part of any toe is to be visible; that non-religious and non-medically-necessary headwear is not to be worn within the office space, excepting plain hair bands and barrettes; that bare elbows are not to be visible; that no sleeve shall have a hole in it other than the standard holes at top and bottom to allow the arm to pass through it eventuating in the hand; and so forth. 

All rules need to be enforced, of course, or they’re not really rules, and you need to know whose job it is to enforce them. Rules do not, on the other hand, need to be enfarced. But they will be. And when they are, it’s worth knowing who’s doing it.

chrysalis

Chrysalis, the disc said. 

It was a shiny, silvery, crystalline, seven-inch platter of clear vinyl. The word was on the bottom half of a paper circle in the middle of the disc, in white on a blue background that faded up to a white background on the top half. And the top half said “HEART OF GLASS.” There were other words as well, and above and to the left of “Chrysalis” was a butterfly.

I was on the stage of a dark gym/auditorium of the school in Exshaw, Alberta, Canada. It was a junior high dance, circa 1980. I wasn’t officially the deejay, but I was up there helping spin the records because it was something to do. There was zero chance I was going to be dancing. Not that I didn’t want to. But no. Rejects don’t get to dance. Instead, I was busying myself with the music and with developing a resilient shell to protect myself from the myriad insults and injuries of adolescence, a shell within which I could, at length and leisure, eat myself alive and cling to a world of imagination fed by paper and discs, all while still shining at my schoolwork in my pupil role. But hey, we’re all growing, and every cloud has a silver lining, right?

It was the first time I had seen the word chrysalis. Which, since it looked like crystal and was on a crystalline single of “Heart of Glass” (by Blondie), clearly impressed itself on me as having something to do with translucent, shiny things – and music.

Butterflies? What would they have to do with chrysalis? Butterflies start as caterpillars, then go into cocoons and come out all pretty and girly, right?

Butterflies do not emerge from cocoons. Moths do. Butterflies come from chrysalises – or, if you want to be shiny and perfect about that plural, chrysalides.

Butterflies and moths both start as caterpillars and have a pupal stage. And I’m oversimplifying things a bit here – there’s quite a lot of variety in these flashy little bugs – but whereas the pupa of a moth is protected by a papery cocoon it has spun, the butterfly’s pupa molts its last caterpillar skin to reveal a hard, shiny shell it has developed inside: the chrysalis. Within that chrysalis, it eats itself – quite literally: it digests nearly all of its body, leaving just a few imaginal discs, which are the framework on which its adult body is gradually formed from the ooze the rest of it has become (providing nothing disturbs or damages it). Ultimately, like a post-adolescent learning (usually painfully) to come out of the self-protective shell, the butterfly breaks through the chrysalis and comes out into the world.

Of course, a butterfly only has to do it once and for good. Humans do it gradually, over and over and over. (We seldom get eaten by frogs, though.)

But why chrysalis? Is it because the shell is crystalline? Because it is like glass with a heart?

No. It is not a crystal, nor is it a silver lining. In fact, it’s a gold lining. The Greek original of this word, χρῡσαλλίς, comes from χρῡσός, khrusos, ‘gold’ – passed through Latin, hence the spelling. You see this chrys– root in words such as chrysanthemum. Some chrysalides are golden in colour, hence the name. It’s not related to crystal.

So, now, I hope that is clear. And do butterflies have a heart of glass? Probably not; that seems more of a human thing. But as our hair gets more silver and our years progress towards golden, we may have to shell out a lot, but at least we get to dance from time to time.

hux-word

What do you call a bad word when it’s not a “bad” bad word? I don’t mean a word that you dislike for aesthetic reasons (e.g., moist, onus); I mean the kind of word that your parents told you not to use, but not a swearword. You know, like poopy-head, or jackanapes, or nitwit: a word intended to mock, scorn, and deride. (And I don’t mean a word that is used that way only sometimes – for instance, while “OK, Boomer” is meant to convey that the addressee is ancient, smug, and irrelevant, members of the Baby Boom generation have happily owned Boomer for decades without any issue except, now, in that one context.)

We could say that these words are insults, and so they are, but insult is a broad term; it can include anything from a wordless gesture or act to an extended peroration. Is there no equivalent to swearword for these?

Of course there is, and you knew there would be as soon as I asked the question, because that’s why we’re here. And you undoubtedly have a good idea of what that word might be: the title of this word tasting – hux-word. Or, I suppose, huxword, though my one source for it (the Oxford English Dictionary) keeps the hyphen in, as it is wont to do.

It seems rather like a hex-word, doesn’t it? Which is not bad: a hex is a curse, and a hex-word is a word uttered in malediction, not unlike a hux-word. But hux comes from Old English, originally husc (those /ks/ and /sk/ sounds tend to swap around from time to time; acs became ask and, in some varieties of English, is now back to ax), and husc came from Old High German hosc, and all of them meant ‘mockery, scorn, derision’.

Meant? Past tense? Well… yeah, hux hasn’t really been in use for, um, several centuries. But what the hex. I mean what the heck. Blow the dust off it. Hux-word and its earlier spellings (e.g., huscword) was in use at the time to mean exactly what you’d think it would mean and exactly what we need it to mean.

And if someone hucks a huxword at you, what do you do? You could say “Aw, shucks.” Or you could just tell them to hux off.

toruntila

I hate getting a toruntila. It’s like wanting an Oreo and getting an Oregardingo, like ordering a sausage and getting a saCanadage. The disappointment cannot be overprovinciald: you have been the victim of a reckless replacement; the filling you expected is not there and instead you have something… out of place and perhaps weirdly starchy. You look at your plate, wave over the waiter, and say “I’m not leaving till I get a tortilla” – but even as you speak your words are changed to “I’m not leaving until I get a toruntila.” Oh, the hupersonity!

Yes, toruntila may look like tarantula, but while it can be hairy and can have a nasty bite, it’s really what a tortilla becomes when someone decides that till needs to be replaced with until throughout the document (by the way, while preferring until to till is defensible as a matter of taste, till is by no means an error – in fact, until was originally formed from till, not the other way around). And, more broadly, just as a mondegreen is a misheard lyric (often containing a nonexistent word – classiomatic is an automatic classic of the type), and a Cupertino is an erroneous spellchecker replacement (because Word ’97 would suggest Cupertino in place of cooperation), a toruntila is a reckless-replacement sandwich.

Say, for instance, you tell your find-and-replace to change “re” to “regarding” throughout, and you neglect to check “Whole Word Only”; say you tell it to replace “USA” with “Canada” and neglect to uncheck “Ignore Case”; or say you equally recklessly replace “state” with “provincial” or “man” with “person” (or with “human”)… there you are with your Oregardingo and saCanadage and underprovinciald and hupersonity (or huhumanity). And if you run a second reckless replacement to make son into child, you may get huperchildity, which is a second-level toruntila.

Do you doubt that these things happen? Editors know that they do. But why take my word for it? You can easily Google toruntila and see for yourself. It’s not a word that exists in this world for any other reason than the reckless replacement, and every context you see it in clearly needs tortilla instead. As Jonathon Owen has pointed out on finding this particular gaffe in several books, “It takes multiple independent screw-ups to make something like this happen.” And yet happen it does. (And more easily on websites that have less rigorous editorial processes.)

So now you have a word for it. Every disuntilery, every unforreceivetable or forbecoming, every discomRobertulation, every denaTorinog, every schildmark, every dash of cardamother or kernel of fathercorn… they are all toruntilas, with an unexpected filling that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

aprine

Oh, it’s the time – the time of April wine and spring rain, the time of aperture and Aphrodite. Have an apéritif; April is here, ripe as an apricot, and it seems a prime time to be aprine.

What is aprine? Has it to do with rapine? No more than with rapini. Or with pannier or nappier? Not even as mixed-up doubles. No, it is the adjective formed from aper.

Is that as in aperture? Something will open up, perhaps, but no. As in apéritif? For the same reason, no, but you may want one Aperol – ahem, after all. As in ‘one who apes’? It’s not the ape you need to watch out for. As in apricot? Neither in apricity nor in precocity. As in Aphrodite in April? Oh, I hope not. It’s not that it would be a crashing bore. But it would be a crashing boar.

Yes, though April is a singular time of the year, this word is about the sanglier time of the year: in Latin, aper is a boar (it even traces back to the same Proto-Indo-European root as boar). And it’s said like “opper” – and aprine is likewise said with a short a. But while you should answer when opportunity knocks, it would be inopportune and, frankly, importantly importunate to open the door for apertunity.

Still, it’s spring. Get out of your rut and rut. Go whole hog. Don’t go overboard, but don’t be overbored; just be a boar, and pig out on April.

oikolect

As I was cooking today, I was thankful that the spatch I was using was silicon so it was like a… hmm, a spatula. Sorry, I mean the spatula was like a rubber scraper. Oh… I guess I mean the turner, or pancake flipper, or something, was like a rubber scraper. Apparently the use of spatula (spatch for short) I grew up with, to refer to any of a wide variety of kitchen implements with a broad flat part and a handle, is nonstandard, and officially only some specific kind of thing is a spatula. Well, it’s my kitchen, and you can’t stop me… as long as I’m not writing a cookbook or something like that.

We all have usages that are particular to our families, and we may not even know that some of them are idiosyncratic. There are particular uses of specific words (or even entire words that other people don’t use), preferred words for things (I have learned to call a remote control a clicker to assimilate to my wife’s terminology), ways of saying things (my typical vowel slur to my wife, /jɐ̃iʔɘʔ/, meaning “you gonna eat that?”), and also certain expected locutionary turns: for instance, in my childhood, as the car pulled into our driveway after a family trip, my brother and I would typically sing (to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”) “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…”

You should not be surprised that there is a word for this kind of thing.

You know, of course, that a particular variety of a language as spoken by everyone in a particular region (or similar cultural division) is a dialect; you may or may not know that the equivalent as spoken by people in a specific social set (for example the factory workers in a particular small town, or the British upper class) is a sociolect; you might have heard that the particular speech patterns and vocabulary preferences of an individual are that person’s idiolect. All of these have -lect in common, which is from Greek λεκτος, derived from λέγω (legó), ‘I speak’. So what is the variety spoken by a family or within a particular household? 

It’s an oikolect.

That’s not because your family are oiks (though they may be). It’s because Greek for “home’ or ‘hearth’ or similar is οἶκος (oikos) – which, when it passed through Latin, became the root œco-, which generally shows up in English as eco-, as in economy, ecology, et cetera. It turns out that the home – the oikos – can be more broadly defined than you might think. And also that home economics is, etymologically, redundant.

But oikolect is not extensible to everything covered by an economy or ecology. It’s just you and those weirdos who you grew up with and/or grew up with you – and, as the case may be, those weirdos who currently share your domestic space. It’s yet another way that the language you use helps define your affiliations and belongings.

paella

As I said in my tasting of chorizo, this week we’re having paella. Or is it? Does it qualify?

I don’t mean the absence of shellfish – that’s characteristic of a regional version of paella, but it’s not universal; this dish has many variations. But there’s one thing that doesn’t vary about this dish: the dish.

By which I mean the dish it’s made in. Or, in this case, the pan. You tell me if you can have a tuna casserole that’s not made in a casserole, or a beef skillet that’s not made on a skillet, or a chicken tajine that’s not served in a tajine, or pork skewers that aren’t cooked on skewers. But I made my paella in a nonstick electric pan, one shaped like a rounded square, and that is definitely not a paella.

Because, yes, a paella is a pan: a large shallow round metal pan with two handles. And when you cook the rice and all the other goodies in it, you don’t stir them after a certain point, so that the bottom develops a browned crust (which loosens up when you let it sit for several minutes after cooking); this does not happen in my nonstick pan. (But I couldn’t fit it all in my iron skillet.) 

So. I may have used exactly the right kind of rice (in fact, I did), and saffron, and various necessary vegetables, plus chicken, not to mention the chorizo, but would I call creamed tuna with noodles cooked in a saucepan on a stovetop a casserole? (On the other hand, there is “stovetop stuffing…”) Also, it wasn’t made in Spain by a Spanish person, but so it goes. 

We know paella as a Spanish word, which means that it’s said with the ll as like “y” – so “pa-eh-ya,” ish. But the word paella came into Spanish from Catalan, just as the culinary item made it in did, and in Catalan the ll is said sort of like in English million, or more like Italian voglio (if you don’t speak Italian, you won’t get it quite right, though). Catalan, in turn, got it from Old French paelle (which became modern French poêle, by the way), which in turn came from Latin patella.

Patella! What has this to do with kneecaps? Just that they’re shaped like a concave dish. Patella is in its turn a diminutive of patina, which is also a word for a broad, shallow dish or pan. (Patina refers in English to tarnish such as one may find on a metal pan, and it gained that sense by transference, rather as paella and casserole and all those other things came to name foods served in the dishes.) Patina in its turn descended to various words in various European languages, mostly for a pan-like dish.

One of those words, in fact, is probably pan. I say “probably” because the route from patina to pan is a windy and mysterious one by way of Old High German and Proto-Germanic. But the evidence is suggestive and the derivation is plausible. So pan is, in its way, the English for paella. And since the evidence is even more suggestive and the derivation even more plausible that what I made for suppers this week is based on Catalan paella, if a pan is, more or less, a paella, do I get away with it? Hmm…

Well, maybe next week I’ll make a casserole. If I do, I’ll probably use my slow cooker. …What?

chorizo

For this week’s suppers, I made a version of paella – though, since I used a nonstick electric pan, I suppose I should call it electric paella, or maybe something else, like electric barbarella. I make one dish on Sunday to last a few days, and don’t worry, I didn’t use any seafood in it (paella doesn’t have to have seafood). But I did use chorizo. Because of course I did.

There are two things no one seems to know about chorizo: what’s in it, and how to say it. I’m not going to get too far into the first – it has pork and paprika and usually garlic and lots of other good things, varying widely through the many places it’s made, but come on, it’s a sausage. But I will spend a moment on the second.

Let me start by saying that chorizo is not an Italian word. The ch is not said like “k,” and the z is by no means to be said as it would be in Italian. No, it’s a Spanish word. And the letter z in Spanish words offers multiple levels of opportunity for English speakers to be pretentious or at least self-conscious. First, in the Americas, we know – or should know – that in Latin American Spanish, z is said like “s” everywhere all the time. But second, those who know about European Spanish know that in the standard variety, z is said like “th” as in “thin” everywhere all the time. (There are stories about how this came to be, but I have the sense they’re about as reliable as the ingredient list on a package of sausages.) So you can say /t͡ʃoˈɾiso/ or you can say /t͡ʃoˈɾiθo/.

Or you can be an English speaker speaking yet another word we’ve long since stolen from another language and say it like an English word, with the z sounding like “z”: /t͡ʃəˈɹi.zoʊ/. Yeah, yeah, we know the source of the word and it’s right there and we can try to honour that source, but have you stopped and taken a look at all the different places English words come from? Our language’s vocabulary is like if someone bought a full lunch from every establishment in a food court and dumped them all into the same big shopping bag. So if you say chorizo with the z as “z” there are other things to feel bad about (especially if you eat the whole shoppingbagfull). It’s better than trying to say it as though it were from a language it’s not even from, anyway.

Here, listen to my butcher say it (and several other things):

Speaking of where it’s from, though… Yeah, this is a Spanish word; it has a Portuguese cognate, chouriço, as well as equivalents in Catalan (xoriço), Galician (chourizo), and Basque (txorizo; yes, an unrelated language, but it’s right there). But since it’s present throughout Iberia, it must come from Latin… right?

Yeah, probably, in the same way as a chorizo comes from a pig. What I have in my paella doesn’t oink or have a curly tail, and the word chorizo doesn’t look a whole lot like salsicia, yet the package label (i.e., the etymologies in available sources) would have us believe that’s the source, um, probably. It may have come via a medial Portuguese souriço, though sources seem to insist that Portuguese chouriço comes from chorizo… hmm. But anyway, salsicia is also the source of Italian salsiccia (clearly), French saucisse, and English sausage. Every one a wiener. (Sorry, not true; couldn’t resist the joke, but it’s not the wurst that could happen either.) And salsicia comes from Latin salsus, which means ‘salted’; that in turn traces back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *séh₂ls-, which gives many languages many words for salt and some words for some other things as well. Salsus is also, for reasons of cookery, the source of both salsa and salad.

Which, if you look into your big shopping bag, should also be in there somewhere. How about you throw in some more rice and call it PIE-ella. As long as there’s chorizo, it will be delicious.

gowl

Margot had learned a word she liked from Haggard Hawks, and she had determined to use it in her fiction. She posted a draft of her latest short story to her Facebook writers’ group. Various members immediately seized on the passage containing the word, and by the time Margot got back to her computer there were several replies.

“Great story!” commented Talisa Curdy. “Loved the emotional truth of it. Noticed a typo: ‘She stood gowling in the rain,’ should be ‘glowing’ I think.”

Nan Jenkins replied to Talisa, “Like not perspiring but glowing? LOL”

Not responding to Talisa, Mark Tomlins gave a lengthy analysis of the story, including the comment, “I think you mean ‘howling’ in the rain, yes?”

Elver Kreek replied to Mark, “You sure that’s not ‘growling’? Made sense to me.”

Mark replied to Elver, “Why would anyone stand growling in the rain”

Elver replied, “Because she’s upset, because John just gave her cat away.”

Mark replied, “Is that a thing you would do, just growl? Just stand there and growl, in the rain, into the air?”

Elver replied, “Do you howl?”

Talisa Curdy replied in this thread, “It’s not glowing?”

Elver replied, “Why would she glow after he gave away her cat?”

Talisa replied, “Because she’s incandescent with rage, IDK, I would just want to absolutely kill the guy”

Nan Jenkins replied, “Not sweating then?”

Mark replied, “More like swearing maybe”

At this point Margot entered the discussion. She replied to Talisa’s short thread first. “Thanks! The word is actually gowling; I recently learned it and could not not use it.” She included a link: https://twitter.com/HaggardHawks/status/1370849151022419969?s=20

Then she replied to the thread started by Mark, after Mark’s last comment. “Hi, Mark! Thank you for all your analysis. I did in fact intend the word to be gowling, which, as Haggard Hawks mentioned, is ‘to weep with anger, not sadness’.” She included the same link.

Then she went to have dinner.

When she came back to Facebook, she found there had been some replies.

“I just checked this in Wiktionary,” Mark Tomlins wrote. “It says that in Scots English it means ‘to weep angrily; to howl,’ and that it’s obsolete. Maybe since your audience is modern and not in Scotland you could just make it ‘howl’?”

Margot said to herself as she read this – but did not type it, as there was more to read – “It’s not howling. It’s not the same as howling. She would not stand in the street baying like a hound in heat. What is wrong with you? They can look it up as you did.” She read on.

Dirk Oldman – where did he come from? dammit – replied to Mark, “Wiktionary also says that in Ireland it means ‘An annoying person; an idiot; a dishonest person’ and also ‘Vulva’ and I think we all know a word that can be used for all of those.” Dirk had already been banned once but apparently he had been let back in, and he was treading a very thin line. As she read this, Margot’s skin temperature lowered so much the heating in the apartment kicked in.

Mark Tomlins replied again, “I just looked in the OED, and the closest it gets is ‘To howl, yell, cry bitterly or threateningly; also, to whine. Said of men and animals.’ Also it’s chiefly Scottish and northern dialect.”

Jess Long – oh, thank heavens, at last a well-balanced adult, only occasionally upsetting – commented, “Oxford also says it’s ‘The throat. Also, the front of the neck.’ I don’t think she was necking, though.”

Why. Why would Jess do that. Taunting Mark does not justify derailing this. “Can’t she just support me once,” Margot said to herself.

Elver Kreek replied to this, “It’s also a gummy secretion in the eye.” Who gave him access to the OED?

Nan Jenkins replied, “From crying with rage?”

Elver replied, “It’s also a verb meaning ‘To stop up with gowl,’ like ‘Her eyes were all gowled up.’”

Nan replied, “So maybe she was standing there crying and her eyes got snotty and closed up.”

Mark replied, “That wouldn’t work. For one thing, your eyes get snotty when you’re asleep. For another, the rain would wash it away.”

Talisa replied, “Maybe if your LOOKING UP but who would look up? Oh right, you look up EVERYTHING”

Mark replied, “*you’re”

Nan replied, “You guys, he gave away her cat. I’d be screaming.”

Mark replied, “Right, or howling. I think we can agree that she should be standing there howling. Also, when you howl, you often look up, so the rain would wash her eyes and flow down her cheeks. So you couldn’t tell whether she was weeping or not.”

At reading this, Margot slammed her laptop shut. Daryl, hearing the sound, walked into the room, saying “Everything alright?”

Margot turned to face him, tears of anger streaming down her face. “Do—” she sniffed— “I look—” sniff— “all right?”

Daryl paused for a moment. Then he said, “You look like you’re gowling. Let me get you a glass of wine.” And he disappeared again.

oisivity

Are we not now all as free as birds, or at least as cut-price as birds – birds in cages, at liberty to flap five times from bars to bars, before finding it otiose and retiring to indolence with a barely civil “Oi!”

Such is oisivity: idleness, lassitude, indolence, feckless mopishness, incessant siestatude. When you have nowhere to go and all day to get there… well, as Thomas Fersen says, “sorry, only got two feet” – though, lately, that means two feet of space.

A person might indulge verbal excess at great length, as a late 18th-century author in Fraser’s Magazine did, apparently under the influence of pipes and pints; here’s about one percent of the peroration:

The genius of Colburn is then bothered and confused by the diverse plagiarism, or the indolent and hallucinatory oisivity of Campbell. I shall indulge in none of these heteroclite and derogatory proceedings.

(Narrator’s voice: Oh, but he did.)

Well, words out the wazoo, or wha’s up? Who’s a oiseau? No, no, don’t have a bird – I mean, what would be the point anyway. This word oisivity looks like it’s related to the French word for ‘bird’, oiseau, but that word comes from a slurred version of Latin avicellus, ‘little bird’, from avis, ‘bird’, which is also the source of French oie, ‘goose’. The slurring in oisivity instead ultimately obnubilates otiosus, by way of oisive (and oisif). Yes, otiosus, the direct source of otiose, which means ‘futile, pointless, useless’. Like the t in the middle of otiose, I guess, for some people anyway. Oy.

But, since it’s an English word, oisivity is said like an English word. When it’s said at all, that is, which is generally never-ish. It has a sibling, ocivity, which is also never heard or written these days. What can I say – I guess, somehow, torpor notwithstanding, we just don’t have the time.