Blog group 2


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

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.


This is of course in honour of Halloween. So, etymology. The word pumpkin comes from ‘pepon’, which is Greek for ‘large melon’. The French changed this to ‘pompon’, which we then changed to ‘pumpion’. Then at some point American colonists changed it to ‘pumpkin’.

The term ‘pumpkin’ doesn’t have an agreed botanical or scientific meaning. So it can refer to basically any kind of winter squash-type vegetable.

Some pumpkin facts for you (feel free to use these to bore any trick or treaters tonight).

  • The oldest pumpkin seeds were found in Mexico and are believed to date from between 7000 and 5500 BC.

  • According to, the record for the largest pumpkin is 2,624 pounds. It was grown in 2016 by a surprisingly attractive Belgian man called Mathias Willemijns, and weighed a whopping 300 pounds more than the previous winner.

  • Although you might think it’s an American tradition, carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named ‘Stingy Jack’. To cut a long legend short, Stingy Jack is a drunkard who attracts Satan’s attention because of all his drinking and general bad-deed-doing. Through various shenanigans and trickery Jack manages to get away from the devil, so much so that when he dies, he ends up wandering the world, doomed never to be able to enter heaven or hell. And the only thing that lights his way is an ember inside a hollowed-out turnip. At some point turnips were superseded by pumpkins, apparently for the only reason that they’re easier to carve.

  • Pumpkin chucking (also called punkin chunkin and pumpkin chunking), is the ‘sport’ of throwing pumpkins as far as possible using mechanical things including slingshots, catapults, trebuchets and pneumatic cannons (I don’t know what a ‘pneumatic canon’ is but I want one). The record is 5,545.43 feet (1,690.25 meters). Unfortunately the last event in 2017 ended in a lawsuit (someone got hit in the head), so the future of punkin chunkin is uncertain. Shame.


To scurryfunge is to rush around cleaning when you find out someone’s on their way over. Another definition I found has it as ‘a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbour and the time she knocks on the door’.

I’ve struggled a bit to find the etymology of this and it’s not entirely clear where it comes from. It’s described as Old English (which means it appeared any time from 450AD to the Norman Conquest) on a lot of sites, and it definitely sounds like that. But the earliest proper reference I can find to it is in the late 18th century, where its meaning is shown as ‘to beat or lash’, and later ‘to rub or scrub clean’. It then disappeared for a while before reappearing in the mid-19th century with the meaning mentioned above. It looks like this might have happened with some confusion around the word ‘scurry’ i.e. ‘to move in or as if in a brisk pace’ or ‘to move around in an agitated, confused or fluttering manner’.

Thanks to my friend Lorna for telling me about this word when she came round for tea at the weekend. I don’t know why she thought of it when she came to my house though.


So, I thought having the collywobbles was the same as having the heebie-jeebies i.e. being a bit scared of something (like spiders or lack of wi-fi coverage). And while that is one of its more common uses nowadays, it used to mean an upset stomach or, as I prefer to call it, the squiddly dits.

No one’s entirely sure where ‘collywobbles’ came from, but it might have some fairly dark origins. One is that the ‘colly’ bit comes from the Middle English word for ‘coal’. This refers to the dodgy stomach you get from breathing in coal dust down in the pits or up a chimney if you’re an urchin. Or it might be a corruption of the medical term for cholera, ‘cholera morbus’.

‘Collywobbles’ first turned up in a book called ‘A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ by Francis Grose which was published in 1785. It’s a compendium of slang that Samuel Johnson (he of dictionary-writing fame) decided was too rude or just not good enough for his book. Grose apparently compiled it by boozing with the hoi-polloi in less salubrious areas of London. Now that’s my kind of academic research.

You can find the whole of ‘A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ here. There’s also an excellent list of now-obsolete slang including ‘captain queernabs’ (a ‘shabby ill-dressed fellow’) and ‘chimping merry’ (to be ‘exhilarated with liquor’ – which I imagine Mr Grose was after all that ‘research’).


Nope, not a small urge.

*clears throat and puts on posh voice*

In the Platonic, Middle Platonic, Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean schools of philosophy, the demiurge is responsible for building and arranging the physical universe. He/she/it isn’t necessarily the same as ‘god’ though – depending on the belief system, they might be, but they might also have been created by some other all-powerful being to do all the hard work so they don’t have to.

The word itself comes from the Greek word dēmiourgos (via the Latin ‘demiurgus’). It was originally an everyday noun which meant ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan’. Gradually it came to mean ‘producer’, and then ‘creator’.

Having said all that, I also found a source where ‘dēmiourgos’ is translated as ‘public worker’. This is my favourite definition as (in my head at least) it has connotations of admin and paperwork. I like the idea of all-powerful beings still having to fill in spreadsheets and raise purchase orders.


A termagant is a shrewish woman. Because, patriarchy. Grrr.

Okay, sorry. Actually, termagant only started being applied to women around the 16th century. Before that it was a name given to a god which Christians believed Muslims worshipped (for various reasons which mainly involve Christians being confused about every other religion). By Shakespeare’s time a ‘termagant’ had become a theatrical archetype for a ranting, bullying type (see ‘Henry IV, Part I’ for an example: ‘that hot termagant Scot’). And probably because the termagant often wore long robes, and because all the parts were played by men anyway (grrr again) audiences starting thinking of them as female. By the late 17th century this was firmly entrenched – Thomas Shadwell's play ‘The Squire of Alsatia’ had a character called Mrs Termagant who’s described as a ‘furious, malicious, and revengeful woman’.

Termagant still gets used these days, and actually turned up fairly recently in an equal opportunity insult (yay!). In 2008, the Australian politician Kim Beazley called his opponent Tony Abbott a termagant.