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Monday word: cantrip

cantrip (kăn′trĭp)
1. A magic spell.
2. A mischevious trick; a sham.
(of an effect) produced by black magic.

Etymology: Scottish, but exact origin unknown.

Not to be confused with caltrop, a device with four spikes which is sometimes used as a hazardm to puncture tires.

Gamers might be familiar with this word, in reference to a self-replacing spell or card.
In Magic: The Gathering, it's a spell that allows you to draw another card as part of its effect.
I play Dominion, which uses the term in reference to action cards that allow one to draw another card and play another action.

(Late) Friday word: Flavescent

Flavescent, adj.

turning yellow; yellowish.


A few flavescent leaves, shed during delivery, fell to weaving the carpet that would be finished by nightfall. Patrick Chamoiseau, Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows, translated by Linda Coverdale, 1999

He followed the line of grouting that was flavescent with age and neglect. Gillian Slovo, Red Dust, 2000


Flavescent entered English in the mid-1800s. Its immediate source is the Latin present participial stem flāvescent- “becoming golden yellow, yellow” from the verb flāvescere “to become golden yellow, yellow.” The verb derives from the adjective flāvus “golden yellow, yellow.”

 (from dictionary.com word of the day)

Thursday word: marlinspike

marlinspike or marlinespike or marlingspike (MAHR-lin-spaik) - n., (Nautical) a pointed metal spike used to manipulate the strands of rope or cable when knotting and splicing.

A marlinspike with a lanyard (thanks, Wikimedia Commons)

Originally, a spike used while marling a cable, that is, wrapping twine (the marline) around a larger ropes to form protective whippings. Also used to separate strands of laid rope when splicing or forming eyes, to loosen tight knots, and as a handle for hauling small ropes (which get attached using a, wait for it, marlinspike hitch).

Thus, also, Marlinspike Hall in the Tintin books (in the English translations, anyway).

First recorded in the 1570s, and like a lot of nautical terminology from that time, it comes from Dutch. Well, the spike part doesn't (from Old Norse spīkr, nail, or other Germanic cognates), but the marling part does: Middle Dutch marlijn, small cord, from marlen, to fasten/secure (a sail), probably a frequentative of Middle Dutch maren, to tie/moor.

The attack came so suddenly that only a few sailors had gotten their cutlasses, and the rest had to make do with belaying pins and marlinspikes.



Monday word: etiolate

etiolate (ē′tē-ə-lāt′) verb

1. To cause a plant to develop without chlorophyll by preventing exposure to sunlight.
2. To cause to become pale and weak, as from malnutrition; to drain of color or vigor.

Etymology:  French etiolier, to make pale.

Belgian endive (witloof chicory) is etiolated.


Sunday Word: Firkin

fir·kin [ˈfɜːkɪn]:
origin: [1400's] Middle Dutch; vierde= fourth + kin meaning 1/4 of a unit.

Quality-checking a firkin of butter.

1. You know what sounds better than a barrel of beer? A firkin of beer. Well, if you're a word geek anyway. You may have firkins of various liquids though, and butter, and fish!

2. A specific measurement, John 2:6; clay vase (an Amphora) = measurement for approx. 8 7/8 gallons of liquid; the measurement for a Hebrew bath.

Hobson's choice - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In other words, one may "take it or leave it."

The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest the door or taking none at all.

Morton's fork

A Morton's fork is a specious piece of reasoning in which contradictory observations lead to the same conclusion. It is said to have originated with the collecting of taxes by John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the late fifteenth century, who held that a someone living modestly must be saving money and therefore, could afford taxes, whereas those living extravagantly obviously were rich and could afford them as well.

In some instances, such as Morton's original use of the fallacy, it may be that one of the two observations is likely valid, but the other is pure sophistry: evidence of possessing wealth may be genuinely relevant to having a source of taxable income.

In other cases, it may be that neither observation may be relied upon to support the conclusion properly. For example, asserting that a person suspected of a crime who is acting nervously must have something to feel guilty about, while a person who acts calmly and confidently must be practiced or skilled at hiding guilt. Either observation therefore has little, if any, probative value, as equally, each could be evidence of the inverse situation.

"Morton's fork coup" is a maneuver in the game of bridge that uses the principle of Morton's Fork.[3][4]

An episode of the television series Fargo is entitled "Morton's Fork", after the dilemma.

(also from Wikipedia)

Thursday word: convulsion

Over on my journal, I've been running a theme week of words that are prefix + -vulsion, all of which stem from the Latin verb vellere, meaning to pluck/pull violently. Here's another of that family:

convulsion (kon-VUHL-shuhn) - n., an intense, involuntary contraction of muscles; an uncontrolled fit (as of laughter), a paroxysm; a violent upheaval, disturbance, or agitation, esp. a social one.

The meaning, when it introduced around 1547, was a cramp or spasm, which makes sense given the prefix con-, a variant of com- in front of some consonants (related to cum, with), means together -- so a sudden pulling together, which intensified is a paroxysm.

Earthquakes and other convulsions of nature shake Earth on a regular basis.



Monday word: fasciation

fasciation  (făs′ē-ā′shən, făsh′ē-) noun

1. The act of binding up or bandaging.
2. The manner in which something is bound up.
3. (Botany) An abnormal flattening or coalescence of plant parts, such as stems.

Etymology:  from Latin root fascia, band.

The picture is from Wikipedia.

I first learned this word while investigating a variety of cherry tomato in my garden that had a tendency to produce double-wide fruit.
Apparently, plant breeders choosing for such a tendency created the beefsteak tomatoes we see today.
Standard tomatoes have an apical meristem (um...a tip where stuff like leaves and flowers can grow...any actual botanists, feel free to correct me), concentrated around a point, to produce a single, roughly cylindrical seed cavity.
Fasciation elongates or contorts the apical meristem, and over time this can result in the contorted, meaty interior of a beefsteak.
This NPR article explains it better ("if not for the control of one gene, the world might be overrun by giant tomatoes").

Friday word: Paean

paean, n. \ˈpē-ən\

any song of praise, joy, or triumph.
a hymn of invocation or thanksgiving to Apollo or some other ancient Greek deity.


The sunlight was flooding in at the open lattice and, as if borne upon this shaft of glory, came the mingled fragrance of herb and flower and ripening fruit with the blithe carolling of birds, a very paean of thanksgiving ... Jeffery Farnol, The Amateur Gentleman, 1913

"I am ten thousand cathedrals rolled into one," waxed poet Alfred Bryan in a 1921 paean to the Grand Canyon. And indeed, this place has a singular ability to awe and inspire. Steve Howe, "Adventure Guide: Grand Canyon," Backpacker, December 2004



Paean entered English in the 1500s by way of Latin from Greek Paián, Paiṓn, which in classical antiquity was an appellation of Apollo, to whom hymns of victory or thanksgiving were addressed.

Thursday word: squinch

squinch (SKWINCH) - n., a small arch, corbeling, or the like built diagonally across the interior angle between two walls.

Such as used to cut the corners of a square tower to support a circular or octagonal dome on top. This is the early, straight-line form of a pendative. It looks to have originally been developed in ancient Persia, and used in Middle Eastern, Byzantine, and especially Islamic architecture. The word is an alteration from around 1500 of earlier scunch or scuncheon, from Middle English sconchon, from Middle French escoinson, esconchon, from es-, out of (from Latin ex-) + coin, angle/wedge (modern quoin). No squinching your eyes shut at this one.

The 12th-century church of San Cataldo, Palermo, has three domes, each supported by four doubled squinches.



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