Nope, not a super-relaxed epic Greek poem (and the award for the most obscure joke ever goes to…). A chiliad is a noun for a group of a thousand things. You can also use it for years – so it’s a somewhat poncy alternative to ‘millennium’ (and also works in that Robbie Williams song, if you sing it slowly). ‘Chiliad’ is actually older than ‘millennium’, and first appeared in the late 1500s, whereas the m-one (I have trouble spelling it, so I’m not typing it again) didn’t turn up in written English until the following century. Unsurprisingly, both words come from other words for ‘thousand’ – ‘chiliad’ from the Greek word ‘chilioi’, and ‘millennium’ (I copied and pasted it that time) from the Latin ‘mille’.

There’s also a thing called ‘chiliasm’, which is nothing to do with orgasms, sorry – it’s a religious belief that before the final judgement, we’ll get a paradise or golden age on Earth (it’s safe to say that doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon). And if you’re one of those religious people, then you’re ‘chiliastic’.

Sadly, chiliad is actually pronounced with a hard ‘c’ – think ‘cat’ or ‘Cillian Murphy’ (because it’s always nice to think about Cillian Murphy). This obviously makes it less fun, as it no longer sounds like it’s related to ‘chillax’, which is why I’ve left it til the end to tell you that.


A catafalque’s a raised box or platform used to support a coffin, casket or dead body at a Christian funeral or memorial service. If someone super-famous dies and then gets to lie in state (so people can pay their respects/check out their dead bod), the thing the body is on is called a catafalque.

Sources can’t seem to agree where the word itself comes from. It might be from ‘catafalco’ which is an Italian word for ‘scaffolding’, although that seems a little bit disrespectful to the deados. The OED basically says it doesn’t know (which is useful). I presume the ‘cat’ bit probably shares its origins with ‘catacombs’. This comes from the Latin word ‘catacumbas’, the name of an underground cemetery near Rome.

Believe it or not, there are a couple of quite famous catafalques. You can even go and see one of them – the Lincoln catafalque, which was built in 1865 for Abraham Lincoln’s casket. This is described on Wikipedia as ‘hastily constructed’. If it’s anything like any of the flatpacked furniture I’ve put together over the years, this doesn’t bode well for it supporting the weight of anybody’s body. But whoever built it apparently had access to more tools than just a free B&Q Allen key, as it’s still standing. Over the years it’s played host to several ex-prezs, including JFK, both Hoovers, Eisenhower and Reagan. There’s more on the Lincoln catafalque here.

Interesting fact alert: generally speaking, you can only lie in state in a government building. If you’re displayed anywhere else, then you’re ‘lying in repose’.

I realise I might have misused the word ‘interesting’ there, sorry.


Right, confession time – when I was younger I thought ‘hubris’ was a good thing. I was a bit vague on what that was, but I was under the impression that it was positive. It was only in the fairly recent past that I realised it’s not (see also: ‘acrimonious’ – for ages I thought all those people going through ‘acrimonious’ divorces were having lovely, civilised break-ups. WRONG).

Anyway, as I’m sure you’re much cleverer than me dear reader, you probably already know that hubris describes the quality of extreme pride or over confidence. It’s often applied to people who are so full of their own self-importance that they’ve lost touch with reality. (There are so many world leaders, both past and present, I could use as examples here. Instead I’ll just leave it to you to fill in the blank.)

The word ‘hubris’ comes to us from Greek. It meant something different originally – it referred to someone getting pleasure from carrying out a crime or similar action that humiliated their victim. Due to a linguistic mix-up, some Greek poets, possibly Aeschylus or Hesiod, changed its meaning to refer to pride so great it offended the gods (apologies for being a bit vague here, but it’s quite a long boring explanation which you won’t care about – trust me).

Here are some famous examples of hubris in literature.

  • Icarus – Daedalus, Icarus’ dad, designed and built the Cretan labyrinth for King Minos, who then imprisoned them in it (which seems a bit out of order, Minos). They escaped using wings made of wax that Daedalus invented. Despite being able to build a FREAKING LABYRINTH, Daed apparently didn’t think to tell his son that wax melts in the heat, only not to go too high. Icarus didn’t take any notice of his pa (because, hubris) and flew too close to the sun. And you know the rest.

  • Oedipus – he tried to defy a prophecy from the gods that said he’d kill his dad and boff his mum. Even though it seems a bit mean, this apparently counts as hubris (the prophecy defying, not the patricide and incest – the gods actively encouraged that). He was punished for this by accidentally doing both those things anyway. Ouch.

  • Lucifer – the whole ‘I’m-better-than-you-dad’ thing didn’t end well for Lucifer (assuming being king of hell counts as a punishment which depends on your point of view, and which TV shows you’ve watched – I’m looking at you ‘Lucifer Morningstar’).

  • Dr Strange – portrayed by Benedict Cucumberpatch in the Marvel movie, Steven Strange thinks he’s the best neurosurgeon in the world. His arrogance leads him to have an accident which ruins his hands and means he can’t operate any more. To be fair, he then *SPOILER ALERT* goes on to become an all-powerful wizard who can manipulate time and space, so it’s not all bad.

  • Victor Frankenstein – god knows we’ve all wanted to build a man at one point or another, but this hubristic idea never ends well, as Vic can attest to after his monster murders most of his friends and family. This also applies to Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He may have been a sweet transvestite, but ‘making a man, with blond hair and a tan’ also proved to be his downfall.

Oh, I almost forgot – the word ‘hubris’ itself might have come from the name of a minor Greek goddess called Hybris, who was the deity of insolence, violence and outrageous behaviour. I bet she’d be a riot at a party.



Widdershins means ‘anticlockwise’. It dates back to the early 1500s when it first turned up in written form in a translation of ‘The Aenied’. It comes from an old German word ‘weddersinnes’, which literally translates as ‘against the way’. That’s because when you go round something anticlockwise, you’re going the opposite way to the sun, which was an important part of lots of pre-Christian religions. Hence the ‘against’.

You might well have come across ‘widdershins’ if you’ve ever read any fiction with a witch in it – they’re always running round stuff widdershins when they’re doing spells. Or if you’ve read any of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series – it’s one of the four basic directions (the others being hubwards, rimwards and turnwise).

Doing anything widdershins – i.e. to the left – was generally seen as wrong or bad luck. Here in Blighty, it was thought to be unlucky to go widdershins round a church – see the fairy tale ‘Childe Rowland’, where Rowland and his sister are whisked off to Elfland after she does just that.

The left has long been associated with bad luck and even evil. The Latin word for left is ‘sinistra’, which is where we get ‘sinister’ from. Left-handed people were often considered ‘touched by the devil’ (with apologies to my left-handed mum and any left-handed pals), I presume only because they were in the minority. The left was also often associated with femininity (for example by the ancient Celts who treated it as sacred), which might be another reason that people later became suspicious of it. I KNEW IT WOULD BE THE PATRIARCHY’S FAULT. There’s an interesting article about all that here.

I’m going to go and run round a church the wrong way now in search of Legolas.


You know what this means (cos you is well clever): to boycott something is to refuse to use or buy it because you don’t approve of it. I’ve chosen the word because the etymology is really interesting.

The word boycott is named for one Captain Charles Boycott. Here’s his story.

It’s 1880. The Irish Land War is in full swing (the details of which I won’t go into – basically Irish farmers were cross about stuff). Charles Boycott was the land agent of a landowner called Lord Erne. Harvests had been a bit rubbish that year, so Lord E told his tenants he’d knock 10 per cent off their rents. The tenants wanted a 25 per cent reduction, which he said no to. Boycott then tried to evict 11 of these tenants. Charles Stewart Parnell, an Irish nationalist politician, did a speech where he said that people should shun any new tenants who took farms where other tenants had been booted out. Even though Parnell’s speech didn’t actually say anything about land agents or landlords, Boycott’s tenants decided to use this tactic as a protest against the evictions. So they stopped working in the fields and in his house, and stopped trading with him – apparently the local postman even refused to bring him his post. So he couldn’t order anything from Amazon, poor man.

Some more stuff happened (I know, I’m a regular David Starkey – if you’re really interested, google it) and in the 19th-century equivalent of putting a cat in a bin, Boycott's name was everywhere. It wasn’t long before it became synonymous with leaving something all on its own – in 1880, 'The Times' first used the word ‘boycott’ to mean organised isolation: ‘The people of New Pallas have resolved to “boycott” them and refused to supply them with food or drink.”

Charles Boycott went on to move to my neck of the woods (that’s Suffolk for anyone who doesn’t know), and apparently continued to go back to Ireland on holiday. So all the furore doesn’t seem to have done him any damage. His story has since been immortalised in several books and was even made into a film starring Stewart Granger in 1947 (called, unimaginatively, ‘Captain Boycott’).

(Even though it technically has nothing to do with the patriarchy, the word ‘girlcott’ also sort-of exists – it was coined in 1968 by American track star Lacey O'Neal during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. She actually used it to tell women competitors not to ‘girlcott’ the Olympics – because female athletes needed to focus on being recognised, not disappearing completely.)


Adumbrate is a verb which has four meanings (greedy). They are:

  1. To represent in outline. As in ‘I adumbrated the idea of how to make the perfect gin and tonic.’

  2. To indicate faintly. As in ‘the kitchen was only adumbrated by the light from the fridge as I poured my gin and tonic’.

  3. To overshadow. As in ‘Emma’s plans to vacuum her flat were adumbrated by her need for a gin and tonic’.

  4. To foreshadow a future event. As in… well, I can’t think of a gin and tonic-related example of this, so I’ll just give you the one on the OED page: ‘tenors solemnly adumbrate the fate of the convicted sinner’. Ooer. You might need a gin after that.

Now, I know all my readers are super clever, so you’ve probably already clocked some of the etymology here. The ‘umbrate’ bit comes from ‘umbra’, which is Latin for shadow. Other words we get from ‘umbra’ include: ‘umbrella’ (obvs – because it gives shade); umbrageous (future word of the week) which means (spoiler alert!) ‘affording shade’; and ‘umbrage’ as in ‘Professor’ and ‘to take offence’. In the past (vague, sorry) ‘umbrage’ was also a synonym for ‘shadow’. For an example of this see a poem (which doesn’t seem to have a name) by one William Drummond of Hawthornden:

‘About her flow’d a gowne as pure as light; Deare amber lockes gave umbrage to her face.’



Nope, not the small furry things (although I do love a small furry lemur – the smallest one is called Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, which is a freaking awesome name. Sorry, I digress). I’m talking about lemures, which are spirits of the restless dead (nasty ones), in Roman mythology. So they’re angry ghosts, basically, often of people who didn’t get a proper burial or funeral rites. On 3, 11 and 13 May, the head of a Roman household would get up in the middle of the night and throw black beans over his (presumably) shoulder. This was apparently enough to placate the lemures for another year. Which doesn’t make them seem very frightening. Apparently you could also scare them off by banging a couple of brass pans together. Not exactly ‘The Exorcist’ is it?

Lemures were also called larvae, but again this isn’t anything to do with the animal (or rather insect) kingdom. It’s from the Latin ‘larva’ for ‘mask’ – presumably because they had scary-ass faces.

When I was young I had a book called ‘The Changeover’ by Margaret Mahy (I still have it actually – I re-read it every now and again when I’m feeling nostalgic). The villain in this is a lemur (again, not furry), who slowly sucks the life out of the heroine’s younger brother after stamping his image on the little boy’s hand. If you have a young person in your life I thoroughly recommend giving them a copy. (Netflix have also just released a film version of it which I was very excited about – obviously it’s nowhere near as good as the book, but worth a watch.)

Oh, and the furry lemurs are named after these bad boys, but not because they’re scary soul-sucking phantoms – apparently it’s only because they tend to be nocturnal. Which seems a bit mean.



I saw this in a legal book I’m proofreading and totally thought it was a typo (Microsoft Word agreed with me and gave it an angry red underline) or, failing that, an obscure Harry Potter spell, neither of which belong in a book on medical negligence. After looking it up I now know that equiparate is a verb that means ‘to compare’ (turns out that neither MS Word or I know all the words).

The reason Word and I didn’t recognise might be because it’s fallen out of fashion – the dictionary has it marked as ‘obsolete’. Just think though – if language had gone down a slightly different path, we might all have been getting annoyed with the fat opera man singing ‘go equiparate, go equiparate’ (I bet you’re doing that now, aren’t you?).

Okay, technically speaking, its meaning is actually closer to ‘equate’ than ‘compare’. But that didn’t work with my joke, so I hope you’ll forgive me.


Erinaceous means hedgehog like. So if you want to say that someone looks like a hedgehog without them knowing (something I’m sure we’ve all experienced), this is the word for you.

Now, you’d think the origins of the word ‘hedgehog’ would be simple – it’s got a hog-like nose, and it lives in hedges. And for the most part, the various dictionaries and etymology sites I looked at agree with this. But there’s one person who’s convinced that this is a fallacy (and is also a bit cross about it). According to this article, the word for hedgehog in other languages is too similar for it to have come about this way. I quote:

‘So we’re looking at a situation where … English suddenly independently invented a word that happens to sound almost exactly like the Slavic words for the same animal, as well as the shared Proto-Indo-European root to boot … The odds of that are insane.’

I enjoy the phrase ‘root to boot’.

The collective noun for a group of hedgehogs is an array. But this is basically pointless as, apart from when it’s time for a bit of how’s-your-father, hedgehogs spend most of their time on their own. Just in case that’s made you sad, here’s a video of some hedgehogs being ridiculously cute.

In the interests of balance, because hedgehogs are wild animals and we should be looking after them better, here’s some info on what you can do to help them.

In 2009, a comedian called Dan Antopolski won the prize for the funniest joke at that year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a hedgehog-related one-liner. He beat comedy gods like Sarah Millican, Jack Whitehall, Adam Hills and Rhod Gilbert. So it must be good, right?

Wait for it...

‘Hedgehogs. Why can’t they just share the hedge?’



Stop it, it’s not rude. I’m a British person, and there’s one national stereotype which I don’t mind admitting is true – we do love to talk about the weather (but we don’t all have bad teeth *shakes fist at world*). With snow falling/forecast for lots of us this week, I thought I’d have a look at some wintry words. So, let’s get on with it, shall we? ‘Frigorific’ is an adjective which means to make something cold. So a fridge is frigorific. And my basement flat is also frigorific (I’m wearing fingerless gloves as I type this).

Frigorific first appeared in the 1600s, and shares its etymological roots with ‘refrigerate’ – they both come from the Latin ‘frigus’ for cold. If you like your words with even more syllables, you’ll be pleased to hear that an alternative form of frigorific is ‘frigorifical’.

So next time you’re speaking to a random stranger in the gym/shop/office about the weather, instead of saying it’s freezing, you can tell them it’s frigorific today. They might run away from you though.

(Bonus word: I know, I spoil you. While I was investigating winter words, I also came across ‘sitzmark’. This is the name of the indentation a skier makes in the snow when they fall over backwards. With their arse. In case that wasn’t obvious.)


Yep, I went there. Even though I’m concerned that writing about the etymology of the word etymology might rip a hole in the space time continuum and plunge us all, screaming, into a black abyss…

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. So, I’m sure you know what this means. It’s the study of the origin and history of words, as well as how their meaning has changed over time. So the etymology of a word (something I bang on about all the time in these posts) means the origin of a particular word.

The word etymology comes from the Greek word ‘etumología’. This comes from ‘étumon’, which means ‘true sense’ or ‘truth’, and ‘-logia’ which means ‘the study of’. So the literal translation of it is ‘the study of truth’. Which is nice.

There’s a lovely quote about etymology from author Robert Macfarlane in his book ‘Landmarks’ [note from me: I realise this is also at the top of this page. Sorry. But it’s really nice.] (about the relationship between words and landscapes):

‘Etymology illuminates – a mundane word is suddenly starlit.’


(Bonus word: if you’re talking about the origin of a place name – as I’m sure you often do – and you fancy being a bit pretentious, you can tell whoever you’re with that you’re discussing its ‘toponymy’. Ooh, get you.)


You probably already know what this means – mycology is the study of fungi. I’ve chosen it as the WOTW (as no one calls it) in honour of my sister, who’s a little bit of an amateur mycologist herself. Also because mushrooms are super interesting (no, really), and I want to blow your mind with some fungi-facts.

So, etymology-wise, ‘mycology’ is pretty straightforward – ‘mukēs’ is Greek for ‘fungus’ and ‘-logia’ means ‘study’. But for many years mycology was treated as a branch of botany, when fungi are actually evolutionarily more closely related to animals than plants. In fact, on a cellular level, they’re more similar to humans than plants (WTF?! And what does this mean for the vegans?).

Here are some more mush-facts.

  • Forget the blue whale – the largest organism on earth is the honey mushroom. There’s one in Oregon that measures more than TWO MILES across (you can find out more about this parasitic beast here.

  • There’s a mushroom in Hawaii that apparently causes instant orgasms in woman. You just have to smell it. *books ticket to Hawaii*

  • According to one article I read, we’re all pronouncing ‘fungi’ wrong – scientists actually prefer ‘fun-juy’ (although I don’t really understand how to pronounce ‘juy’, but hey ho). I think this is just because the mycologists are fed up with being called ‘fun guys’ all the time by the other science people. 

  • Mushrooms might well save the world one day. They’re a great food source – they grow really fast on pretty much anything, and don’t need sunlight (if you’ve ever lived anywhere with damp, you’ve probably seen this firsthand). And they can even absorb oil spills, which they turn into a type of fungal sugar.

The photo below shows my sister’s first mushroom crop. She took these pictures over the space of four days which shows how fast they grow (I was genuinely concerned that she might get smothered in her sleep by them).



Okay, cards on the table. I’m not entirely sure this is a real word. It turned up in the book I’m reading with my book group, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine’ by Gail Honeyman. The full quote is:

‘I’d cleaned the bathroom and washed the kitchen floor, taken out the recycling and arranged all the tins in the cupboard so that the labels were facing forwards in zetabetical order.’

I can’t find anything on this in Wikipedia (gasp!) and Word has given it a red underline (although I don’t trust that anyway). But, I’m forging ahead with it as the word of the week anyway, because I want it to be true. So, let’s pretend it is.

Presumably to arrange something in zetabetical order means alphabetising backwards, i.e. from ‘z’. This would make sense for the heroine of the book – she’s not one for doing things the ‘normal’ way.

It also makes sense when you consider that zeta is the ancestor of zed, the name of the Latin letter ‘Z’ in English. But, anyone with a little bit of knowledge of the Greek alphabet (this is the most poncey thing I’ve ever written) will know that zeta is the sixth letter, not the last. So what does this mean for the order of Eleanor’s tins? But that way etymological madness lies, so I'm going to leave it there.


A galanthophile is someone who collects, or just really, really likes, snowdrops. It comes from the Greek name for the flower which is ‘galanthus’, and translates to ‘milk flower’. Which isn’t as nice as ‘snowdrop’, but I guess there’s probably more milk than snow in Greece.

Snowdrops aren’t native to the UK, but no one knows when or where they came here. It was probably around 1770-something, although it could have been a few hundred years earlier. So that’s not a very useful snowdrop-fact, sorry. Here’s a better one – there are more than 2,500 varieties of snowdrop and some of them can grow up to 30cm high. The Victorians thought they signified death and it was seen as bad luck to have them in the house (that got dark fast, didn’t it?). This might have something to do with the fact that the bulbs are really poisonous if you eat them (though why the hell they were eating snowdrop bulbs is anyone’s guess).

In nicer news, snowdrops contain a substance called ‘galantamine’ which is used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Snowdrop collectors are proper mental. No, really – bulbs are regularly stolen, and a single one can go for several hundred pounds on eBay (other online stores are available). Have a look at this article to find out more.

To finish off with some better words than those above, here’s a bit of Willie Wordsworth (as no one calls him) on snowdrops:

‘Lone flower, hemmed in with snows, and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day
Storms sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art though welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.’


This actually has a couple of meanings as an adjective:

  1. to drink lots and generally have a fun noisy time, or

  2. to go from house to house at Christmas singing carols.

I’m going to focus on the second one here. Wassailing was different to carol singing because the singers had a wassail bowl with them – basically a bowl of hot booze, often mulled wine or cider – the contents of which they dolled out to the people they were singing to (why has this died out!?).

There’s also the distinctly pagan-sounding practice of orchard-wassailing, which is when people serenade their apple trees to encourage a good harvest the next year (a custom I’m pleased to say is still alive and well today in rural England).

The word ‘wassail’ itself comes from an Anglo-Saxon greeting: ‘Wæs þu hæl’. This means ‘be thou hale’ and probably morphed into the toast we do to good health today when we’re cheersing (not a word but should be).

Wassailing wasn’t always a wholesome Christmas tradition. Both here and in Europe it was sometimes associated with rowdy yoofs barging into their well-off neighbours’ homes and demanding free food and drink. If the neighbour wouldn’t give it to them, they’d kick up a right old stink, possibly even vandalising their house (think trick or treating without the slutty outfits). This explains the slightly weird bit of ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’. You know, all the stuff about ‘figgy pudding’ and ‘good cheer’ (for which read, booze). The people in the song are refusing to go until they’ve had these (‘We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here’). The bastards.

You can find more Christmas words the English language has forgotten on my blog at http://bit.ly/2URhz6T.

Oh, and happy Christmas y’all.


This is because I’ve been binge watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ on Netflix (when I’m not working really hard of course). If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fictionalised retelling of when the Danes came over here and pillaged all our villages in the 9th century (Wessex being the titular last kingdom as it was the last major stronghold against them). There’s lots of mud, blood and bare bums. The main character is called Uhtred of Bebbanburg, although his bezzie Anglo-Saxon mate calls him (you’ve guessed it), arseling.

Sadly, an arseling isn’t a baby arse. Nor is it quite as insulting as it sounds – it means, simply, ‘backwards’. The original spelling was ‘earsling’ and first turned up in written form in 1050 in a manuscript called the ‘Paris Psalter’. The exact phrase was ‘Syn hi gecyrde on earsling’, which means ‘Let them be turned backwards’. And that’s it. It’s not found in any other writing until a poem from 1768 called ‘The Fortunate Shepherdess’ by Alexander Ross (nope, me neither). This means that the OED has pronounced it officially obsolete, although this might well change now, thanks to its resurgence in ‘The Last Kingdom’. Who says TV rots your brain?

Interesting (sorta) fact: According to one website I looked at, ‘arseling’ might have been coined by royalty. That’s because the psalm in question was translated by one Alfred the Great. Find out more here.


No, not Doctor Who’s home planet*. A gallimaufry is a mixed-up jumble of things. It’s similar to ‘hotchpotch’, in that you can use it for any mixture of stuff. So, I could say there is a gallimaufry of socks in my drawer.

Interestingly (maybe), ‘gallimaufry’ has culinary origins. A ‘galimafree’ was a 16th century French stew. Apparently it wasn’t a very nice stew, as the name actually means ‘unappetising dish’ in Old French. ‘Galimafrée’ itself comes from ‘galer’ for ‘have fun’ and the Picard** word ‘mafrer’, which means to ‘eat copious amounts’. I’m not sure how they got from fun overeating to horrible stew, but somehow they did. And that’s one of the reasons words are great.

In a nice coincidence, the word ‘hotchpotch’ also has a foody background – as well as meaning a mixture of stuff, it’s a type of thick stew with mixed vegetables.

And now I’m hungry.

* I literally only chose this word so I could make this joke.
** Nope, not Jean-Luc – this means from Picardy, a region of France. Wow, the geeky references are coming thick and fast today, aren’t they?


You probably already know what it means – a ‘denizen’ is an inhabitant of somewhere, or someone who goes to a place frequently (which means I’m a denizen of the Mason’s Arms in Bury St Edmunds).

I’ve chosen this one because I’ve been watching a lot of horror films and TV series recently (healthy), and it comes up loads in those. One case in point is ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ on Netflix. (It’s excellent, although I kept getting distracted by the beautiful cast and missing the background ghosts. The book it’s based on by Shirley Jackson is also well worth checking out, although it’s completely different to the TV show.) In an interview the creator Mike Flanagan said of the ghosts: ‘They are the denizens of Hill House from years past that the house decided to keep for itself.’ So, I thought I’d look into the etymology of the word and try to work out why, these days, it’s so often applied to things to do with hell, darkness and other supernatural scary-ass things.

Let’s start at the beginning. ‘Denizen’ comes from the Middle English word ‘denisein’ which in turn comes from the Old French word ‘denzein’, from ‘deinz’ for ‘within’, and‎ ‘-ein’ from the Latin deintus or ‘from within’. (I think that makes it ‘within from within’. Useful.)

‘Denizen’ was also a British legal category between the 13th and 19th century, for a foreigner who has certain rights in their adopted country. ‘Denization’ has since been overtaken by ‘naturalisation’, maybe because of its infernal connotations…?

As to why it comes up so often in horror films and literature, well, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe because ‘denizen of hell’ sounds more sinister than ‘occupant of hell’?


If you bowdlerise text, you censor it by removing or changing anything you think is offensive or vulgar. The word’s named for an English doctor called Thomas Bowdler who was born in 1754. In 1818 he published a book called ‘The Family Shakspeare’ (not a typo – apparently no one knows how to spell Will’s name so it’s changed over time). This was basically the complete works of Shakespeare with all the fun stuff taken out, to make it suitable to be read to women and children. This makes him sound like a bit of a dick, but his expurgated version made Shakespeare accessible to young people. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said of Bowdler that: ‘…[n]o man ever did better service to Shakespeare than the man who made it possible to put him into the hands of intelligent and imaginative children.’ (No mention of the women, but c’est la vie.)

The inspiration for the book came from the fact that Thomas’ father used to read Shakespeare’s plays to him and his five siblings. But it wasn’t until he was grown up that he realised his dad had been taking all the rude bits out. I imagine that this realisation was like when I saw the unedited version of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ for the first time a few years ago, and realised there’s a whole scene of a guy snorting coke at a party that I’d never seen before. I’m still shocked about that.

Having said all that, Bowdler’s nephew wrote that the actual bowdlerising for ‘The Family Shakspeare’ was done by Thomas’ sister Harriet. In an ironic (I think – I’m never entirely sure I understand irony) twist, they probably had to publish under his name because a woman couldn’t publicly admit that (a) she was capable of this type of work, and (b) that she understood the racy stuff she was censoring.


This one’s kind of gross, but it’s been a while since I did anything disgusting so I think it’s time. A bolus is the big old ball of food and spit that forms in your mouth while you’re chewing, just before you swallow it. I bet you’re picturing that now, right? Ewww.

The word itself comes from the Latin for ‘ball’ and you can also use it for other round stuff, if you really want to. ‘Bolus’ has a couple of other meanings as well – in medicine, it’s a dose of a drug, and in veterinary medicine it’s a large pill.

Don’t confuse it with ‘bolas’, which is a type of throwing weapon made from weights on the end of two ropes. You wouldn’t want to try to swallow one of those.