April 2018

dimorphous

The word of the week this week was going to be another one inspired by ‘The Chase’ (other daytime quiz shows are available). But unfortunately I spelled it wrong when I wrote it down, and now I can’t find it. I know it had something to do with animals that can mimic human speech. After several hours of internet research on parrots (apparently the African Grey is the number one talking bird), I still couldn’t find it. So I went with dimorphous instead, which came up a lot during said ill-fated parrot research.

Despite sounding like a super-villain from a Marvel comic, dimorphous is when something comes in two distinct forms. It’s mainly used in biology to describe species where the male and female look very different. Think ducks, lions and those weird fish where the female is 50 times bigger than the male. Ewww. Here’s a picture of the dimorphous eclectus parrot (the green one is male and the red one is female).

Oh, and if anyone saw that episode of ‘The Chase’ and knows what the word is (it definitely maybe started with ‘anthro’), please let me know.

Still, at least I’ve learned a lot about parrots today.

tubercle

Sometimes the word of the week is something topical, or something with interesting etymology. And sometimes, it’s just because it’s nice to say. That’s what I’ve gone with this week.

I heard tubercle on ‘The Chase’ the other day (for those of you who work 9 to 5, ’The Chase’ is an afternoon quiz show hosted by the super-giggly Bradley Walsh). A tubercle is basically a knobbly thing on a plant or animal. Specifically, that’s a protuberance at the top of a rib; various sticky-out things in the central nervous system, organs or on the skin; and finally, a lesion caused by tuberculosis. Well, I said it sounded nice, I didn’t say it meant something nice…

If you’re still reading, here are some videos of Bradley Walsh completely losing it on ‘The Chase’.

bugbear

When I was doing the word of the week last week, I used the word ‘bugbear’. And then I realised that I don’t actually know where the word ‘bugbear’ comes from. You know what it means: it’s a thing that’s annoying (although having looked it up in the dictionary, it actually means a thing that causes obsessive anxiety – so a thing that’s REALLY annoying). But the etymology itself is interesting (not an oxymoron).

A bugbear’s a mythological type of hobgoblin used by parents to frighten naughty children. The name comes from the Middle English word ‘bugge’ which means a frightening thing (there are also similar words in old Welsh and Scottish – ‘bwg’ and ‘bogill’), and it’s probably where the more well-known term ‘bogeyman’ comes from. In a 1565 Italian play called ‘The Buggbear’, it was a bear that lurked in the forest to frighten those poor kiddies again. Scary.

whence

Okay, so this one stems from a bugbear of mine (I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I have one or two of these. By which I mean hundreds). If you’ve ever watched a fantasy film or TV show, you’ve probably heard a Gandalf-esque character yell something about sending some monster back ‘from whence it came’. But ‘whence’ actually means ‘from which’ or ‘from where’ – so they’re saying they’re going to send said monster back ‘from from where it came’. Which is just stupid.

Even bloody Elrond in Lord of the Rings gets it wrong at the unimaginatively named Council of Elrond – ‘[The ring] must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came’. For shame Elrond. It’s the olde-worlde equivalent of saying ‘pin number’.