July 2019

poppycock

Unless you’re a retired army colonel or elderly lord of a manor, you probably don’t use this word very much. But if you’re a native English speaker then you’ll know what it means – it’s a harmless, inoffensive way of calling bullshit. But my (as always, very in depth) research reveals that the word poppycock has some shady etymological origins.

Before you start, it’s nothing to do with cocks (stop it). Or, indeed, poppies. ‘Poppycock’ comes from a Dutch word ‘pappekak’. (This is where it gets a bit minging.) ‘pappe’ means ‘soft’ and ‘kak’ means, well, cack. Yep, if you tell someone they’re talking poppycock, you’re saying that ‘soft poop’ is coming out of their mouth. What a lovely image.

Read the other words of the week.

calescent

In case you’re reading this in the future, or you don’t live in the UK, it’s really hot at the moment. Like BASTARD hot (not in my freezing cold basement flat though. It’s just about comfortable in here which makes a change. Although I still need a cardi in the evenings). So I’ve gone for a clammy word of the week.

‘Calescent’ means growing warm, or increasing in heat. So you could say ‘sitting on a faux leather office chair is making me calescent’.

(Sorry it’s a bit short this week. But it’s really hot.)

Read the other words of the week.

Look, hot!

Look, hot!

puce

This is for my friend Jenny who got very cross last weekend when she discovered that the colour puce is not, as she thought, a pinky-red colour, but in fact a not-very-nice purply brown. (I thought it was a yellowy green colour, probably because it sounds a bit like ‘puke’, but let’s gloss over that.) So, in an attempt to make her feel a bit better about this, I thought I’d find out some more about it and word-of-the-week it. My apologies for using that as a verb.

Photo by  Cyril Mazarin  on  Unsplash

‘Puce’ is actually the French word (so I guess we’ll have to give it back after Brexit) for ‘flea’. It’s named after the bloody smudge you get when you squash a flea that’s full of someone’s blood. Gross, right? Having said that, fleas were actually considered quite romantic in ye olde times and turn up in a lot of saucy poems (i.e. porn). One of the most famous is by John Donne (I HATE John Donne – I’ve written many a boring essay on him in my time. Sorry Mr Donne). It’s called, you’ve guessed it, ‘The Flea’. Basically it’s an extended chat-up line about how a flea’s already bitten both the narrator and some poor woman he’s trying to boff. So their bodily fluids have already mingled and they might as well just have some sexy time as they’re already halfway there. *slaps forehead* Although I’ve heard worse chat-up lines to be fair.

If you feel so inclined, you can read the whole poem here.

The colour puce was very popular in late 18th-century France. So much so that when Marie-Antoinette wasn’t eating cake or getting her head cut off, she counted it as one of her favourite colours.

Read the other words of the week.

thagomizer

Last weekend I went to a wildlife park* which had, among other things, a dinosaur section (not real dinosaurs, obviously – don’t worry, Jurassic Park hasn’t quietly happened in Hertfordshire). And I saw this word on one of the information signs. A thagomizer is the spiky bit of a stegosaurus’s tail (other dinosaurs are available). Here’s one in animatronic glory:

Thagomiser.jpg

The term ‘thagomizer’ was invented in 1982 by a cartoonist called Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side, beloved of humorous birthday cards everywhere. The cartoon shows a caveman lecturer giving a slideshow with a picture of a stegosaurus’s tail. He’s saying: ‘Now this end is called the thagomizer ... after the late Thag Simmons.’

Before the cartoon was published, the arrangement of spikes wasn’t called anything at all. And because palaeontologists are a wacky lot (I’m assuming they’re all like Ross from Friends, right?), one called Ken Carpenter from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science adopted it when describing a fossil at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s AGM in 1993. It’s now widely used in respected scientific circles including at the Smithsonian, and in the BBC documentary series Planet Dinosaur.

You can see the actual cartoon here.

me dino stupid.JPG

*With my friend and her child. Not on my own. That would be weird.

omphaloskepsis

This is the official word for ‘navel gazing’. The etymology is pretty straightforward. It’s a combo of two Greek words: ‘omphalós’ which means ‘navel’ and ‘sképsis’ for ‘viewing’ or ‘examining’. So far, so good. It’s when you get to what it means that it gets a bit more complicated.

These days ‘navel gazing’ is an idiom for contemplating life, the universe and everything at the exclusion of everyone else. So basically being self-centred. But it also has another, more literal, meaning. Omphaloskepsis actually a mediation or contemplation aid in Eastern mysticism. In yoga, the manipura chakra is in the navel. When this chakra is in balance you’ll be filled with feelings of wisdom, self-confidence and wellbeing. So omphaloskepsis is literally staring at your belly button while meditating, in the hope of entering a mystical trance. (I think – on the rare occasions I’ve tried meditation or yoga I’ve just got hysterically giggly, so this is all a bit of a mystery to me. If you’d like to read something much more sensible about omphaloskepsis, including a how-to guide, have a look at this.)

PS I was going to cover ‘heteromaton’ this week, which is the opposite of ‘automaton’. So that means it’s something that has to be moved by someone or something else. Like a puppet. But I couldn’t think of any jokes to make that weren’t horrendously un-PC/downright rude. So I’ll leave it here as a footnote.

Two for the price of one? I know, I spoil you.

PPS If this has given you an urge for more idioms (and who wouldn’t want more idioms?), watch this space – I’ll soon be publishing a blog on weird English idioms and where they came from. Try to contain your excitement…