Tag Archives: word tasting notes


I was just flipping through my paperback abridgement of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, as one does on a leisurely Sunday evening, and I happened on this stub of a word: sprunt.

Well, now. What could it was? It starts with the spr that we see in spring and sprinkle and spruce and sprain and sprawl, and it ends with the unt that we see in hunt and shunt and bunt and punt and runt. The word as a whole looks like an irregular past participle of sprint – as in I sprint, I sprant, I have sprunt. There are several ways it could go. Or, of course, the meaning could be entirely unrelated to what it sounds like it means, although with two sound clusters that have vivid associations, that’s not so likely; even if it started out unrelated, the sense would tend to drift towards what people think it should mean. Continue reading


We use words to spin many a yarn. But a word, in turn, spins yarns around it: all the uses and places and users and senses it’s had, wound or twisted or balled up and ready to be ravelled for revelry or pulled piecemeal for prose. Even the way it’s balled up can be different from time to time, not always telling a true tale of where it came from, and the same word for the same meaning and function can have different shapes over time, some plain for function, some fancy for curiosity or to show ingenuity and splendour. A word is in this way a yarringle, and yarringle is such a word. Continue reading


“My name is Legion, for I am many.”

I first read that when I was a child. I wondered how it could make sense. For one thing, in the little town I lived in, there was only one Legion. Continue reading

ballicatter, frore

As one does on a cold evening in early winter, I have slid my copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, second edition, off the shelf, looking for some nice words from a worse climate to warm me up.

It has not disappointed. Look at this lovely sentence it adduces for a citation:

I wasn’t frost-burned. My mitts were frore onto my hands. My face was frore, my collars was frore an’ everything was ballicattered.

Continue reading

snizy and snod words

Snow is snowing in this snizy season, even when you are out visiting. Be the house and the company ever so snod, and the room ever so filled with snapperdols, you will sooner or later have to snabble your snacks and slip out into the snivy snizeler, and soon enough you will snuist and snite a snevit until at last you can sneak into your own snug, snaste the candle, snerdle with your snugglebunny, and snouse… and hopefully not snuzzle. Continue reading


It’s all a matter of how you see it. In what context you see it. From what distance. And how much it contrasts with what’s around it.

This is the word of my life: focal. More than almost any other word.

No, wait. These are the words of my life: focal and focal.

Focal, in English (and French and Spanish and Portuguese), means ‘of or relating to focus’. It comes from Latin focalis.

Focal, in Irish, means ‘word’. Is é focal an focal i gcóir focail. (‘Word is the word for a word.’) It looks like it could come from Latin vocalis (source of English vocal), but it doesn’t – although it is distantly related. It comes from a Proto-Celtic word that traces back to a Proto-Indo-European root for ‘voice’, wṓkʷs. Along with the Latin vox set, that root also led to the Irish word fuaim, ‘sound, noise’, and to many words in many other Indo-European languages, such as German erwähnen ‘mention’ and Dutch gewagen ‘report’. Continue reading


Dublin. Dubh linn.

Dubh, say it to rhyme with “groove,” means ‘dark’ or ‘black’.

Linn, almost rhymes with “sing” but is really like a slice out of “well in your soul,” means ‘pool’.

Linn, said no differently, also means ‘a span of time’. Also means ‘with us’. And so can mean ‘belonging to us’. Continue reading