I don’t think I ever say this word to human beings – I reserve it for when my cat is being particularly obstructive. It sounds nicer than ‘get a sodding move on’.
Quicksticks means ‘quickly’ or ‘without delay’. It is apparently shortened from the phrase in quick sticks. The meaning of quick here is ‘living or animate’ rather than ‘fast’.
It has been suggested that the stick referred to is a type of walking stick, but it might be more useful to compare it to stick as a nautical term for a mast or yard. That’s the sort of stick referenced in the phrase up sticks, meaning ‘to prepare to move’, ‘to pack up and go’, or ‘to remove oneself’.
I especially like this early usage from 1867:
“This is a bad business, Bob: if that ‘ere doctor ain’t here pretty quick-sticks,..it’s all over with this chap.” Example Better than Precept, M. A. Mackarness.
Quicksticks has a modern usage as a type of hockey, played to introduce children to the sport. It has 4 players on each side and uses a large, light ball.
Adumbrate is a formal word for giving a general idea or description of something without any details.
It has the following meanings:
- to outline
- to give a faint indication
- to foreshadow
- to overshadow or obscure
Adumbrate is a verb but there are other forms available to you: the noun is adumbration, the adjective is adumbrative and the adverb is adumbratively.
The OED lists the first recorded usage of adumbrate as occurring in 1537:
“You as fore runners, dydde adumbrate Christis passion.” Erasmus’ Comparation Vyrgin & Martyr, Thomas Paynell (translator).
I picked it as this week’s interesting word primarily because of its Latin origins. The Latin adumbrat- means ‘shaded’, and is from the verb adumbrare. Ad- means ‘to’ and umbrare means ‘cast a shadow’.
Luculent is rarely used, but I think it deserves to be revived. It would be a lovely way to describe someone’s writing, if you were so inclined.
Luculent means ‘clear in expression’ or ‘brightly shining’.
Its origin is thought to be 15th century; in Middle English it meant ‘shiny’. The word stems from the Latin word luculentus meaning ‘full of light’.
A taradiddle is a petty lie or fib. It can also mean ‘pretentious nonsense’.
The first recorded use is thought to be late 18th century. The origin of the word appears to be unknown, but it could be related to diddle meaning ‘to cheat or falsify’.
There is an apparent myth that taradiddle came into usage because of the town of Taradiddle in Ireland. There is no such place, and the myth is therefore a taradiddle itself. I believe there is a Taradiddle Lane in Cornwall, Connecticut, but it’s a bit hard to see on Google Maps.
Potterheads might recognise a variation of the word. Cornelius Fudge says it when he dismisses Harry’s story of a Dementor attack:
“We haven’t got time to listen to more tarradiddles, I’m afraid, Dumbledore.” Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling.
Floccinaucinihilipilification is rarely used. I don’t think I need to explain why.
It means ‘the action or habit of believing something to have no value’.
Its origin is thought to be mid 18th century, and stems from the Latin words flocci, nauci, nihili, pili (all of their meanings have the sense of little value) with the suffix –fication.
The use of floccinaucinihilipilification is so unusual that it made the news in 2012 when a British MP spoke the word in the House of Commons. It became the longest word in Hansard (the official report of proceedings).
You can listen to the British English pronunciation here if you fancy trying it out yourself.
Polysemous is a term for words that have more than one meaning. Most words in general use are polysemous.
The word is thought to be early 20th century in origin. It comes from the prefix poly-, meaning ‘many’, and the Greek word sēma, meaning ‘sign’.
Words with a single meaning are monosemous.
Googleganger is a fairly new word; it has an equally interesting synonym in doppelgoogler.
A googleganger is a person who has the same name as you and is discovered when you search for yourself using an internet search engine.
The origin of both googleganger and doppelgoogler is the originally German word doppelgänger, meaning ‘a double of a living person’.
Googleganger has been named the Macquarie Dictionary word of the year (2010) and was nominated (in the form Googlegänger) for word of the year (2007) by the American Dialect Society.
No, I have not misspelled Gallifrey.
Gallimaufry is an old-fashioned word and I think it deserves to be used more than it is.
It means ‘a confused jumble’, and it is a synonym of the equally glorious hodgepodge.
Gallimaufry originally meant ragout (the stew). It first appeared in the mid 16th century, having developed from the archaic French word galimafrée meaning ‘unappetizing dish’.
It is thought to combine the Old French galer ‘to have a good time’ with the dialect mafrer ‘to eat a lot’.
If you sing or listen to carols, this word is probably very familiar. It is to me – some of my best childhood memories are of singing carols with a choir at Christmas.
Noel is often used as a refrain in carols and on Christmas cards. It means ‘Christmas’. A noel is a Christmas carol.
Its origin is early 19th century, from the French Noël. Noël is based on the Latin word natalis meaning ‘birthday’.
Joyeux Noel is sometimes used by English speakers to wish others a happy or merry Christmas. If you are writing to a French speaker, remember to use Noël.
You may have seen the spelling Nowell or Nowel. Nowell is the Middle English spelling of Noel. It’s now regarded as archaic and is rarely used. However, it is common for the carol ‘The First Nowell’ to be spelt using the original form (you can read more on why here).
If you use Spotify, here’s the carol with its famous refrain:
This is my last post for a week or so. I’ll still be contactable should you have any proofreading-related emergencies.
I wish you a very merry Christmas.
Xmas gets a bad rap. It is often seen as a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas and is accused of ‘removing Christ from Christmas’.
Given the history of the word, that interpretation seems unfair. I don’t think it is as elegant as Christmas but it is an abbreviation that stays true to its meaning.
The use of Xmas is not a recent phenomenon. Fowler’s states it was first recorded in the 18th century; it appeared in a slightly different form even earlier.
The X represents the first letter (chi) of the Greek word for Christ – Χριστóς (Khristos, meaning ‘the anointed one’).
The use of X and XP to represent Christ has a long religious history. (You might recognise XP from the Chi-Rho monogram or symbol.) It’s worth reading about, particularly in regard to the influence of the Roman emperor Constantine I.
In spoken English, Xmas is usually (or should be) pronounced as ‘Christmas’ rather than as ‘ex-mass’.