February 23, 2007


compendious means "abridged, succinct," not "voluminous," as writers often mistakenly believe--e.g.: "In an archive at Harvard he found a comendious [read bulky?], multivolume, handwritten journal entitled 'Amos Webber Thermometer Record and Diary'" (Wash. Post).

compendium forms either of two plurals: compendiums or compendia. The native grown plural is slightly preferable--e.g.: "One of the chief shortcomings of compendiums like this is finding what you want quickly" (Seattle Times).
--Garner, Brian A. The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. New York: Oxford U.,2000.

compendious: adj. adjective formal presenting the essential facts in a comprehensive but concise way.

• DERIVATIVES compendiously adverb.

• ORIGIN Latin compendiosus ‘advantageous, brief’.

--Compact Oxford English Dictionary http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/compendious.

Bloggin' John Illustrates (sort of):



February 22, 2007

ab ovo, ad unguem, arrectis auribus

Dear Reader,
From time to time I will post a trio of foreign terms that seem worthy of occasional use--humorous or otherwise.--B'n'J' Herewith, from the Latin:

ab ovo: [L.], from the egg; from the beginning.

ad unguem: [L.], to a fingernail; to a nicety; to a T; highly finished (an expression borrowed from sculptors, who tested the smoothness of their work with the fingernail). ad unguem factus homo, "a man polished to the nail"; "a man of men, accomplished and refined": Horace (tr. by Conington).

arrectis auribus: [L.], with ears pricked up: Vergil.

--Mawson, C. O. Sylvester. Revised and Updated by Berlitz, Charles. Dictionary of Foreign Terms, Second Edition. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Bloggin' John Comments:
•What makes these expressions memorable for me is how their inventive images substitute for qualities: [egg = a beginning], [fingernail = refined touch], [pricked-up ear = attentive listening].

• As a former teacher of English (not of Latin) I can imagine assuming a pseudo-pompous pose, for fun, at the beginning of a day's class and in oroutund tones propound . . .

All right! Arrectis auribus! Listen up! Way back, ab ovo, I promised you that if you did your homework each night and did it well, you'd always be ready for the next day's class. You would never lay an egg, so to speak. The yolk would never be on you!

Now, a few moments ago I spoke a pair of everyday sound bits. I said, "all right." Let's make sure we know the correct spelling . . . of what? That word? Or is it of those two words?

Ms. Jones, what did last night's reading tell us is the standard spelling, ad unguem, we might say, of the word in question? Is it "a-l-r-i-g-h-t"? Or is it "a-l-l [space] r-i-g-h-t"?

Ms. Jones:
"The correct spelling of all right is 'a-l-l [space] r-i-g-h-t,' following the mnemonic, "2 WORDS and 2 L's make all right all right!

Ita est! [It is so!] Benedicite! [Bless you!]



ug·some: adj, [UG'-sum]
Etymology: Middle English, from uggen to fear, inspire fear, from Old Norse ugga to fear--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Bloggin' John Comments:
I agree with J. N. Hook that ugsome is "an archaic word worth reviving.
It means horrid, loathsome, filling with dread, uglier than ugly: 'a scowling, ugsome man, with scar from cheek to jaw'" (65).--The Grand Panjandrum. New York: Collier, 1991.

The concinnity of sounds in ugsome--with the low, gutteral vowel of "ugh," repeated with a quick report in the syllable "some," intensifies the presence of (the effect of) the word's presence, trumping (or "out-trumpeting") the sweet "e" sound trailing "ugh" in ugly.

"Ugsome" is also a welcome, long-absent completion of the apt antithetical pair of "ugsome" v. "handsome." "Ugly" does not have a fitting sonic antithesis: there is no such word as "handly." With "handsome" in wide, active play, it is surprising that the desire for order within the mind has not noted the absence of handsome's fitting opposite and embraced, so to speak, the orphan ugsome.


February 20, 2007


Cassandra: n.
1. Greek Mythology: A daughter of Priam, the king of Troy, endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated by Apollo never to be believed.
2. One that utters unheeded prophecies.
ETYMOLOGY: Latin, from Greek Kassandra. [ca-SAN’-dra]
--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.

Example of the Cassandra in use:

Even Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who is chairman of the
Senate Budget Committee and the biggest Cassandra in Congress about the
perils of continued deficits, seemed to acknowledge that he had had trouble
convincing even fellow Democrats of the urgency of the long-term fiscal
problems.--WEISMAN, Steven R.
THE PRESIDENT'S BUDGET: NEWS ANALYSIS; Democrats Face Limits In Reshaping Bush BudgetThe New York Times, February 6, 2007

Bloggin' John Comments:
As in the example above, Penelope is almost always used as a noun in a figure of speech called periphrasis, the substitution of a descriptive word or phrase for a proper name or of [Nota bene:] a proper name for a quality associated with the name. [puh-RIF'-ru-sis]

Example of periphrasis:
"She may not have been a
Penelope, but she was not as unfaithful as the gossips made her out to be ."

[Penelope is the faithful wife of Odysseus in Homer's
The Odyssey. Thus, "a Penelope" = "a faithful wife."]
(443).--Corbett Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. New York: Oxford, 1965.

Penelope sometimes--though not often--shows up in adjectival form. There seem to be only two adjectival forms of Cassandra--Cassandran and Cassandra-like. Although I could not find these adjectival variants in any of my standard dictionaries or online, I was able to find them in two specialty word books, cited below.

• J. N. Hook, in The Grand Panjandrum, gives Cassandran, the more euphonic of the two forms. He notes that "Cassandra, daughter of Priam, king of Troy, was able to foretell unhappy events, but her direful prophecies were never believed. The adjective Cassandran came from her name.
"During the second Nixon administration, Cassandran journalists predicted the end of American democracy" (82).--New York: Macmillan, 1991.

• J. I. Rodale, in The Phrase Finder, offers an inelegant, patched-together
Cassandra-like. "Cassandra-like refers to Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, who had received from Apollo the gift of prophecy. Later Apollo, angry, ordained that her prophecies, which usually predict dire events, should never be believed. When she predicted the fall of Troy, she was declared crazed. Her name now is applied to any discredited prophet of calamity, and Cassandra-like indicates generally doleful predictions. "a prophet that, Cassandra-like, tells truth without belief" (409).--Emmaus, PA.: Rodale Press, 1954.


February 18, 2007


verbicide: the killing of a word--coined by C. S. Lewis
--Paul Dickson. Dickson's Word Treasury New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1982.

Coming Soon

Gantlet: Vulnerable to Verbicide?

I hope not!
Sursum corda!
May gantlet throw down its gauntlet
before the gathering gantlet
of verbicidists and prevail!

18 Feb 2007

Sursum corda: "Lift up your hearts!"


sui generis

sui generis: adj. Latin, "of its own kind": constituting a class alone : UNIQUE, PECULIAR
• "possesses certain sui generis qualities" -- John Mason Brown
-- usually used predicatively or postpositively:
• "the man is sui generis" -- John McCarten (predicatively--predicate object linked by is to man, the subject).
• "a history book sui generis" -- Max Wolff (postpositively--comes after [post] the word it modies, i.e, book)
--Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.
merriam-webster.com (18 Feb. 2007).

More examples of the word in use:

Meryl Streep was praised in this Wall Street Journal film review of The Devil Wears Prada: "Ms. Streep's pitch-perfect portrayal of Miranda is sui generis, with a dramatic existence of its own, as unique and memorable as, say, a Bette Davis character." (Hochswender, Woody, "Where Angels Fear to Tread", WSJ July 13, 2006, p. D10)

In July of 2006, NBC ran commercials praising John Madden as being sui generis and saying he cannot be confused with or compared to anyone else.

The Saturday, 16th September 2006 edition of the British newspaper The Guardian, contained a Comment article by Martin Kettle in which, speaking about hung parliaments, he said: "Each is sui generis, dependent on the particular parliamentary arithmetic, inter-party momentum and surrounding political circumstances."

December 23, 2006 Slate Magazine used the term in discussing the unique variations of French Rose Champagne "Grower Champagnes are wines made by small farmers in the Champagne region who, bucking convention, choose to craft their own wines rather than sell their grapes to the major Champagne houses. Typical of farmer fizzes, the grower rosés are utterly sui generis—in a few cases almost freakishly so."

The December 25, 2006 CNN Marquee Blog referred to James Brown stating "I can't even begin to talk about his importance. He was sui generis."
--Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Pagehttp://en.wikipedia.org

More on etymological & philosophical origins:
sui generis / SU'-we JAYN-er- is /
is a (post) Latin expression, literally meaning "of its own kind/genus or unique in its characteristics."

The expression was effectively created by scholastic philosophy to indicate an idea, an entity or a reality that cannot be included in a wider concept. In the structure "genus → species" a species that heads its own genus is sui generis.
-Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Pagehttp://en.wikipedia.org