February 10, 2007


sub·fusc: adj. | sub-fusk |
2 : having little of brightness or appeal : DRAB, DINGY

"the moment when the word Austerity was to take to itself a new subfusc and squalid twist of meaning" -- Osbert Sitwell
"that gray, impoverished, subfusc community" -- Marguerite Steen

Etymology of subfusc: Latin subfuscus brownish, dusky, from sub- near, almost + fuscus dark brown, blackish

• If you are interested in first understanding the chromatic nuances of fuscous so that you can then delve deeper into the darker sub-shades of meaning surrounding subfuscous, see if the following uber-rigorous definition of fuscous sheds any light on your needs. (Don't say I didn't warn you. B'n J'n):
"fus·cous: of any of several colors averaging a brownish gray which is lighter than taupe, lighter and less strong than average chocolate, and less strong and slightly redder than mouse gray" [Got that? Does your mind's eye create a gestalt of this "averaging" of shades? I got lost after "lighter and less strong than average chocolate."]
--Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Feb. 2007).



protean: adj. Usage: sometimes capitalized

• Etymology: Proteus, legendary sea god in the service of Neptune who had the power of assuming different shapes (from Latin, from Greek Promacrteus) + English -an

1 : characteristic of or resembling Proteus : capable of change : exceedingly variable

2 : readily assuming different shapes or forms

3 : capable of acting many different roles

4 : displaying great diversity : possessed of infinite variety

Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Feb. 2007).

A Summary of the Confrontation Between
Proteus and Agamemnon in Homer's The Odyssey

Menelaus had almost as much trouble getting home from Troy as Odysseus did. Menelaus was king of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of that Helen whose elopement with Paris of Troy led to the Trojan War. His wanderings on the way back to Sparta lasted eight years. Once, detained for twenty days by want of wind on the island of Pharos, and running short of provisions, he was advised by a nymph that the sea-god Proteus, if forced, could tell him how to reach home. Menelaus found the god asleep, seized him, and held on despite Proteus's successive transformations into a lion, a serpent, a leopard, a boar, water, and a tree. (I would like to know how he managed to hold on to the water.) Proteus eventually provided the necessary instructions. Anything exceedingly variable or readily assuming many shapes--an amobea, for instance, or, in a different sense, an actor--is protean (41).
--Espy, Willard R. O Thou Improper, Thou Uncommon Noun: An Etymology of Words That Once were Names. New York: Clarkson N. Potter 1978.

February 9, 2007


peripatetic n. /per ri pu TET' ik/ 1 travelling from place to place.
2 working or based in a succession of places.
— DERIVATIVES peripatetically adverb.
— ORIGIN Greek peripatetikos ‘walking up and down’.
--Compact Oxford English Dictionary

"A Peripatetic President," runs one headline in the January 25, 1989 New York Times: "Election Over, He Runs." What the accompanying article, a searching piece of journalism, describes is President George Bush's now famous decision to take an afternoon jog, reporters and photographers in tow, mere days after assuming office. This whimsical event was taken to characterize the man: according to reporter Maureen Dowd, Bush "has seemed in perpetual motion since the election.
"In perpetual motion" is a good equivalent of what we mean by "peripatetic," which ultimately derives from the Greek by peripatos, a courtyard for walking about, and more directly from peripatetikos "given to walking about" (not "given to jogging about"). This unwieldy and somewhat pretentious adjective would never have entered the Language but for one very famous peripatetic philosopher: Aristole. As the story goes, Aristotle was fond of pacing about in the peripatos at his Lyceum [lecture hall], a habit he passed on to later deep thinkers. His system of thought came to be named after this practice, and thus was born the Peripatetic School of philosophy.
All the early uses of "peripatetic" in English refter to Aristotle's teachings, but its potential as a humorous metaphor became obvious by the late sixteenth century. John Moore applied the term with gusto in 1617: "The devil is a Peripatetic . . . always walking and going about, seeking whom he may ensnare" (103).
--Macrone, Michael. It's Greek to Me: Brush up Your Classics. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.


February 8, 2007


quidnunc: \ QWID'-nunk \ n. [Latin quid nunc what now?] (1709): a person who seeks to know all the latest news or gossip; busybody--Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (2003).


February 7, 2007


penultimate: n. [pe-NUL'-tuh-mit] the next to the last member of a series; especially : the next to the last syllable of a word
Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (7 Feb. 2007).

penultimate (= next-to-last) is sometimes misused for ultimate: "The classic surfer movie, "The Endless Summer," caught a new wave this week in Superior Court here. . . . In the complaint, Nynson v. Brown, 694180, Hynson claims that August was set up with a new car, a tavern, and eventually a surfboard business by Brown, with proceeds from the penultimate surfer movie." Marty Graham, "'Endless Summer' Surfer Says He Never Was Paid." L.A. Daily J., 13 Nov. 1995, at [page] 32. Could any movie be dubbed the next-to-last surfing movie of all time?--Garner, Brian. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. New York: Oxford, 1998, page 487.


February 6, 2007


badinage (bad-n-azh') n. Light, playful banter. [French, from badin, joker, from Provencal badar, to gape, from Latin batare.]
--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.

I discovered badinage in a Spencer novel by Robert B. Parker. I don't recall which one, but it is not surprising to find the word there, for Parker novels are famous for clever badinage among characters--notably among Spencer, Hawk, and Susan Silverman.

From a review of the movie "The Wilby Conspiracy" (1975):
"[The Wilby Conspiracy] is more like Duel at Diablo than like Lilies of the Field. In "Duel," it was Poitier who did not want to be involved, in "Wilby" it is Michael Caine, though the sarcastic
badinage between Poitier and Caine is similar to that between Poitier and Garner-- and between Newman and Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," another movie with relentless pursuit."--Murray, Stephen. Movie Review of "The Wilby Conspiracy"

• From a review of a book about baseball player Owen Wilson, who was famous for hitting triples:
"([ Here is] an example of some wonderful badinage by Pittsburg Post correspondent Ed F. Balinger): "Wilson attempted to triple, but tapped the pellet a trifle too hard and it floated over the right field wall."--The Pittsburg Post, September 14, 1912 by Charles Therminy (Stevenson Ranch, CA)

[Note references to tennis and field hockey, sports that feature back & forth movements. Note also the origin of bandy-legged.]

bandy: 1577, "to strike back and forth," from M.Fr. bander, from root of band. The sense apparently evolved from "join together to oppose," to opposition itself, to "exchanging blows," then metaphorically, to volleying in tennis. Bandy was a 17c. Irish game, precursor of field hockey, played with curved sticks, hence bandy-legged (1688).
--Online Etymology Dictionary http://www.etymonline.com


February 5, 2007


ailurophilia n. a liking for cats, as by cat fanciers. (ay-LOOR-uh-file, eye-LOOr-) Also, aelurophilia.
--Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Famous ailurophiles include Albert Schweitzer who, although left-handed, would write with his right hand rather than distrub his cat who would sleep on his left arm, and the prophet Mohammed, who cut off his sleeve rather than wake a cat which was sleeping on it.
--Cat Lingo http://www.kinrossfolds.com/cattery/glossary.html

Q: Is there a vocabulary
ailurophiles use to describe cat personalities?
A: Yes, and it's called the Kinross Glossary of Terms:

Affectionate means a breed that is very demonstrative in its affection.
Reserved means a less demonstrative breed (but just as loving).
Active means an animal always on the go; the typical overgrown kitten.
Tranquil means a sedate and dignified animal.
Quiet means a non-talking breed.
Vocal means the cat won't shut up.


A local ailurophile of note is my sister Anne whose feline friends are named Molly and Milly.--B'n J'n'


February 4, 2007


in·e·luc·ta·ble (in.e.LUK'.ti.bl) adj. Not to be avoided or escaped; inevitable:

"Those war plans rested on a belief in the ineluctable superiority of the offense over the defense" (Jack Beatty).--The American Heritage Dictionary

One dictionary I consulted (allwords.com, as I recall) marked ineluctable as "especially literary, formal." I agree that the word is more likely to be read in a book than heard at a construction site.

But "ineluctably," especially spoken with energy and optimism, is so much fun: it invites hand jestures that register flowing forward movement:"She loves you. If you ask her to marry you, she will ineluctably say yes!" Furthermore, an echo of that magical word "lucky" rings within. I don't hesitate to promote ineluctable as a word worthy of comfortable place in the ambit of spoken American English.--B'n J'n