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Friday word: Zoosemiotics

A z-word for you ;)
zoosemiotics, n.: (zoh-uh-see-mee-ot-iks)

the study of the sounds and signals used in animal communication, as song in birds or tail-wagging in dogs.


The basic assumption of zoosemiotics is that, in the last analysis, all animals are social beings, each species with a characteristic set of communication problems to solve. Thomas A. Sebeok, Perspectives in Zoosemiotics, 1972

Perhaps, if Thomas Sebeok is right, the lizard is simply poor in zoosemiotics. To be sure, we may never know. John Mowitt, "Facing the Radio," Radio: Essays in Bad Reception, 2011


Zoosemiotics entered English in the 1960s. Its first element, zoo-, stems from the Greek zôion meaning "animal"; semiotics can be traced to the Greek sēmeîon meaning "sign."

(Source: Dictionary.com word of the day for 7/16/2016)

Thursday word: ossifrage

ossifrage (OS-uh-frij) - n., the lammergeier or bearded vulture; (arch.) the osprey.

The name comes from Latin ossifraga, vulture, feminine of ossifragus, bone-breaker, from os, bone + frangere, to break. The Romans used this for the lammergeier (lit. "lamb-vulture" in German), a large Old World vulture that swallows and digests bones and was believed to break them by dropping them from aloft to get at the marrow. For unknown reasons, in France and England, the word was initially transferred to the osprey, possibly because of the sound, but this is now obsolete usage. So which one does the King James Bible mean in the list of non-kosher birds in Lev 11:13-19 (and the nearly identical passage in Deu 14:12-19):
And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, and the vulture, and the kite after his kind; every raven after his kind; and the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, and the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
-- the vulture, given osprey is separately listed.

(Note that a contemporary Jewish translation of this passage starts "the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; the kite, falcons of every variety ... ")



Tuesday Word: Mercaptan

mer·cap·tan [mər-kāp'tān']:
origin: (1834) mɛθeɪnˈθaɪɒl; Medieval Latin; later German; mercurium = mercury + capere = to seize.

You know how sometimes you may pull up to refill gas in your car, or if there is a leak in your home, and you'd be prone to state, "I smell gas"...

Well, you don't, you smell mercaptan, which is pronounced like a mermaid sea-captain, but is actually the substance used in the process of replacing the oxygen of an alcohol with sulfur = thereby imparting it with a distinct odor, described as rotten eggs, garlic, cabbage, or smelly socks. Also known as thiol & methanethiol.

Gas actually has no smell to the human nose.

You'd easily suffocate to death and be none the wiser.

However, it's also an organic substance (organosulfur), which means that it can be found even in the human body. You'd have experienced this via flatulence, bad breath, and peeing after eating asparagus!

Less than one part per million is all it takes to make a person go, "Ew."

Unless you have a rare mutation in your genes, making you immune to the odor, as testified to here by a Mr. Niels Hoven: Specific anosmia, or why I can’t smell farts.

Monday word: wonky, wonkish, wonk

wonky (wŏng′kē), adj.
1. Shaky or unsteady.
2. Out of alignment.
3. Not functioning properly; unreliable.

4. Excessively interested in minor details; wonkish.

As far as I recall, I didn't hear "wonky" used in that 4th sense until very recently.  But now I hear it all the time in WPR news stories.  Have others heard it used in that 4th sense?  Where/when?
According to this site, "wonky" in that 4th sense dates from the late 20th century, and is related to the more common term 'wonk'  (someone excessively interested in minor details, especially political details).  It looks like the origin of 'wonk' is unknown.

The unsteady/unreliable meaning of "wonky" is from the early 20th century, possibly from Middle English wankel, unsteady.  (And no, there is no obvious etymological link between this term and 'wanker'.)

I have (infrequently) heard the term "wonkish" in reference to someone interested in details.  That article discussed "wonkish" as well, which appears to be a recently-coined American variant used for the 4th sense of "wonky".

Friday word: Corybantic

The solution is exhaustive, to say the least, and corybantic, to say the most, and you certainly needn’t have worked out all its pieces to answer the problem correctly.
—Oliver Roeder, fivethirtyeight.com, 15 July 2016


'Jupiter Among the Corybantes' by Giuseppe Maria Crespi. 'Corybantic' means "wild and frenzied."

Corybantic (“being in the spirit or manner of a Corybant; especially; wild frenzied”) has been in use since the middle of the 17th century. The Corybants were attendants or priests of Cybele, a nature goddess of ancient Asia Minor, and were known for wildly emotional processions and rites.

Neither corybant and corybantic are in common use, but they are still far more common than the verb form of the word, corybantise, which appears to occur but a single time, in a 1605 work by Pierre le Loyer. Thankfully, this author provided a definition for the word in his text, and, what it lacks in semantic exactness, it more than makes up for in its phrasing.

To Corybantise, to make the leape parillous, to shake the hair or lockes, and (as the common speech is) to nodde or cast the head to the dogges.
—Pierre le Loyer, A Treatise of Specters or Straunge Sights, Visions and Apparitions Appearing Sensibly vnto Men, 1605

(currently featured on m.-w.com)

And, of course, my favorite example:

"Cage me, and I'd go frantic,
My life is so romantic,
Capricious and corybantic,
And I'm toujours gai, toujours gai"

(from the inimitable Song of Mehitabel, by Don Marquis)

Thursday word: saltigrade

Content warning: spiders.

saltigrade (SAL-ti-grayd) - adj., (of anumals) moving by leaps; (of legs) adapted for moving in a series of jumps; of or relating to the family Salticidae, the jumping spiders.

Jumping spiders are, of course, cyuuuuuuuute. The word was coined around 1830 from Latin roots saltāre, to jump + -grade, a combinatory form for manner of movement, which is from either gradus, step, or gradī, to walk.

Kangaroos are saltigrade marsupials.


Monday word: scrieve

scrieve (skrēv) verb

To move along swiftly and smoothly.

Etymology:  An archaic Scots term; some dictionaries say it is related to Old Norse skrefa, to stride.

Apparently the word has another meaning in relation to shipbuilding.  The "mould loft" in a shipyard was a covered large wooden floor, suitable for laying out ship details in full size.  When the lines of the ship were drawn full-size on this floor, it was known as a "scrieve board".  It seems that it is sometimes called a "scribe board"; I'm not sure which of those terms came first.
Any boat-builders out there with more information?

Sunday Word: Moe

mo·e [Moe-Eh]:
origin: Japanese; 萌え= budding, blooming, to sprout.

Japanese slang; think of a baby animal or something you find irresistibly adorable. Better yet, go look up a photo of one right now. Go ahead, I'll wait...........

........That feeling you have now, that bit of joy, an urge to hug maybe? That is what the Japanese term "moe"! It is joy derived from something being adorable. Hello Kitty is the grand diva of moe, perfecting her world dominating effect since 1976. In a world with more and more stress, speed, uncertainty, a sensation of simple joy becomes a novelty. So, the desire to create or embody a moe experience has become a cult-like obsession expressed through food, goods, people, and fiction. Unsurprisingly, it has become a sexual fetish for some (especially in cultures obsessed with cuteness, youth, and innocence).

Saturday Word: Munter

mun·ter [ˈmʌntə]:
origin: German; munter= cheerful, jolly, ‎blithely.

1. British slang; an unattractive person (most often used against women), although this particular insult implies a person whose specifically a mess due to an overuse of drugs and/or alcohol. Ex: A person whose make-up is sliding off their face, hair matted with sweat, heels covered in mud, as they puke against a tree.

I mean, if you're an immature party person, you don't want to see a giant visual reminder of what you may look like to another (or may become).

2. Munter (hitch) is a type of knot used by mountain climbers. In German, the fantastic word for it is: Halbmastwurfsicherung.

Friday word: Whipcat

Whipcat, n. (slang): a tailor
I thought another w-word would be fun...couldn't find any info re: etymology, etc., though, so if anyone has any to offer, I'd be interested :)

EDIT: see the comment from theidolhands for further info.

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