November 2018


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.