Concupiscent

June 15, 2018

adj. lustful or filled with sexual desire.


Widdershins

May 28, 2018

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A delightful Scottish word that means counter-clockwise, or the direction against the rising of the sun.  Because it was considered lucky or wise to follow the path of the sun, to travel widdershins was considered unlucky.  The Scots seem to use it in place of counter-clockwise, but it comes up often in pagan witchcraft for the use of dark or harmful magic.

The word comes from old German, literally meaning “against the way.” It’s Scottish opposite is “deisul.”

I came across the word in the British writer M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge. 


Cyclopean

April 23, 2017

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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.