Cyclopean

April 23, 2017

cyclopean

Built from or relating to an ancient masonry made up of no mortar and giant irregular blocks.

According to Webster’s, the name comes from the architecture in ancient sites like Troy and Mycenae where the design was so puzzling that it was suggested that only a race of Cyclops could have such strength to build this.

The word features prominently to describe the architecture of the fictional city of R’lyeh, resting place of Cthulhu.  The angles of the city were said to make no sense.


Opsimath

April 19, 2017

A person who begins to learn or study late in life, from the Greek opsé for late.

Just a great word I picked up from the great podcast A Way With Words.


Witness Mark

March 31, 2017

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The opening of the new podcast S Town begins with the description of clockmakers trying to repair clocks without knowledge of their service history.  The clockmaker must look to clues in the material, dings, screw holes, small pieces of evidence to show what work has been done.  These are witness marks.  Trace physical evidence that signifies past work or how things fit together.

These marks can be intentional — used in surveying to indicate boundaries, or trailblazing to indicate a path.  In engineering and construction, witness marks tell a person how pieces are meant to fit together (think the notches in IKEA furniture).  Obviously, witness marks are the stuff of criminal forensics.

I like to think of this phrase more metaphorically.  What are the witness marks we all have in our lives, be they physical scars on our body or emotional marks that tell of our past. To paraphrase Wallace Stegner, this word is too pretty for just metal.


The Negro Motorist Green Book

March 28, 2017

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A travel guide published from 1936 to 1966 by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green. Later called the Negro Travelers Green Book, or just the Green Book, it was designed to help Blacks travel safely during the Jim Crow era.


Derek Bentley

January 22, 2017

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Derek Bentley was a 19-year old British man hanged for the murder of a policemen during a robbery in 1953.  The case was noteworthy because it was Bentley’s partner, Christopher Craig, who shot the officer after Bentley, who had been detained, said “Let him have it, Craig.” There was some debate if Bentley was telling Craig to shoot or turn over his gun.

Ironically, Craig, who was sixteen, was ineligible for the death penalty while it was mandated for Bentley.

The unique situation, and further questions about Bentley’s mental ability, led to a 45-year campaign to pardon Bentley.  In 1998, the Court of Appeals rescinded the conviction.

I had only known the case from Elvis Costello’s 1989 “Let Him Dangle,” but only recognized it was a real story after hearing it mentioned again in Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen.


Codex Gigas

January 19, 2017

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An illuminated bible, and the largest existing medieval manuscript in the world.  It is infamous for a unique and giant picture of the devil.  The manuscript is believed to be from the early 12 century by the work of single monk over 5-12 years named Hermann the Recluse.

The legend of the codex was featured in the Black Tapes.  The story tells of a monk, so despicable that his fellow monks had sentenced him to death by bricking him up in a wall.  The monk begged for his freedom by promising to illustrate a bible that would cement the monastery’s fame.  He promised to do this in one night.  Either way, it was a ridiculous promise, but because he was such a talented illuminator, the monks took the bargain.

When the time came for the manuscript to be due, the monk was woefully behind, so he made a deal with Lucifer to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul.  Hence, it forever became known as the Devil’s Bible.

A more reliable telling of the story can be found here.


Naglfar

January 10, 2017
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Real-life Naglfar made by the artist Mike Libby

Norse for Nailship.

In mythology, it is a boat made entirely from the untrimmed fingernails and the toenails of the dead.  Nordic eddas have it that Loki and Hrym will pilot this ship full of the souls of Hel to Asgard to destroy the God.  This will be part of Ragnarök.

But, the process can be slowed.  If you trim the nails of the dead, then evil has less material to build from and the ship’s construction will be slowed.

Thanks to Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men for first pointing out this story to me.