words are sexy

sandhog

sandhog (SAND-hog, SAND-hawg) - n., a person employed to dig underground or underwater, such as excavating tunnels or bridge foundations (in caissons).


This is a colorful end-of-the-19th century Americanism, dating to just before 1900. Also called a sandhogger. It seems to have originated in New York, or possibly was popularized there because of the many construction projects there. Origin is unknown, but clearly the image of digging through sand (as in a river bottom) is intended.

---L.
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mopery

mopery (MOH-puh-ree) - (US) n., a violation of an imaginary or trivial law.


An excuse for police to rowst citizens they wish to hassle or move along. The original sense of mope was to wander aimlessly (the sense of to be bored or depressed came later), and some jurisdictions actually put misdemeanor laws on the books that criminalize what is in effect "loitering while walking." (Yeah, normally a condition of loitering is not actually moving, so IDK.) Despite there being actual an legal definition, this is marked by many dictionaries as slang, or at least informal, and specifically US slang. As for mope itself, it's Tudor slang from the 16th century of unknown origin.

---L.
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legendarium

legendarium (leh-jen-DER-ee-uhm) - n., (Church) a collection of lives or legends of the saints; (lit.) a body or system of myths, legends, and stories concerning a particular fictional world.


In that latter sense, esp. the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien about the Middle-earth of The Lord of the Rings -- such as were first published (assuming you don't count the appendices) in The Silmarillion and continued in the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. All the background material. The original sense, which is highly specialized Church jargon, was tentatively adopted in the 19th century.

I should have run this yesterday, which was Tolkien Reading Day, but I didn't realize it till after I'd already posted yesterday's word.

---L.
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prevaricate

prevaricate (pri-VAR-i-kayt) - v., to speak or write evasively or misleadingly, equivocate; (UK) to behave in an indecisive manner, procrastinate.


That second main sense is acceptable in British usage but is generally considered unacceptable in American usage. The original sense (dating to the mid-16th century) was to deviate or digress in a physical way, as from a path, but that is pretty much obsolete, replaced by this metaphoric extension. The original Latin root, praevāricārī, meant both to walk crookedly and, by extension, to play a false or double part, from prae-, alternate form of pre-, before + vāricāre, to straddle, from vārus, bent outwards/deviating.

---L.
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dysphemism

dysphemism (DIS-fuh-miz-uhm) - n., the substitution of a harsh, derogatory, or vulgar expression for a more neutral one; an expression so used.


Such as cancer-stick for cigarette, boneyard for cemetery, shitstorm for chaotic situation, or dead tree edition for book printed on paper. The direct opposite of, euphemism, which is the more common word but roughly as common in practice. The word was coined in the late 19th century (first appearing in English in 1884) by replacing the eu-, good of euphemism with dys-, bad, but it's disputed whether this was done in French first or in English.

---L.
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prothalamion

prothalamion (proh-thuh-LAY-mee-on) - n., a song or poem in celebration of a wedding.


A complete and exact synonym for epithalamion, which is the original Ancient Greek word for a "song for a wedding" (literal meaning). However, comma, when Edmund Spenser wrote one in 1596 for the double-marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worcester, he had the problem that he had already published a major "Epithalamion" two years before, for his own marriage. So he snipped off the epi- and stuck on another Greek prefix with nearly the same meaning and viola! -- a new name for the genre.

(For several centuries, critical opinion was that his "Prothalamion" was the the better poem, a valuation I find inexplicable, and one test I apply to poetry anthologies is which the editor prefers -- if it isn't "Epithalamion," it is clearly an inferior collection.)

---L.
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exordium

exordium (ik-SAWR-dee-uhm, ig-ZAWR-dee-uhm) - n., a beginning or introductory part, especially of a speech or treatise.


Preface, introduction, preamble, prologue, prelude, or even proem (which latter is not, despite the rhyme, restricted to the start to a poem). The term is from classical rhetoric, in contrast to the final part of a speech, the peroratio, and in English comes across as a very formal if not stuffy term. Not surprisingly, it's direct from Latin (adopted in the late Middle Ages), from exōrdior, to begin/commence, from ex-, in the sense of going/setting out + ōrdior, to begin.

---L.
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oological

oological or oölogical (oh-uh-LOJ-i-kuhl) - adj., of or pertaining to the collection and study of bird eggs.


Said collection is now illegal in many places, to avoid endangering wildlife -- especially since it's the already rare species that would be most prized. Thus, oology now is more the study of eggs, and itself is not an especially important branch of ornithology, having been thoroughly practiced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Coined from Ancient Greek roots oion, egg + -olog(y), study of + -cal, adjectival ending. And just for all that, some eggs:

Four shorebird eggs, waiting to be collected, er hatched totally leave them there to be hatched
Thanks, WikiMedia!

---L.
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ambit

ambit (AM-bit) - n., (arch.) an external boundary, a circuit; (mod.) sphere of operation, action, or expression, scope.


The first sense is the original literal sense, taken from Latin ambitus, circuit/circumference/perimeter, related to ambīre, to go around/encircle, essentially a verb form of the prefix ambi-, on both sides. The modern meaning, which is pretty much the only sense you're likely to encounter, is a metaphoric extension that has taken over.

---L.
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skedaddle

skedaddle (ski-DAD-l) - v., to run away hurriedly, flee, scram.


Vamoose, even. There can be a connotation of a panic, but not necessarily -- a sense of hurry is almost always there, though. This is another colorful 19th century Americanism, this one dating to 1859. One suggested origin is probably an alteration of British dialect scaddle, to run off in a fright, from scaddle, wild/timid/skittish, from Middle English scathel/skadylle, harmful/fierce/wild, of Scandinavian origin akin to Old Norse skathi, harm, from whence we got a modern cognate scathe. Another suggestion, however, connects it to Scots (and N. England) skedaddle, to spill/scatter, and related word skiddle, to move away quickly.

But that's enough etymology -- time to skedaddle back to work!

---L.
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