We all know that abracadabra! is the cry of magicians and conjurers, as old fashioned as it may be. Hiccius doccius, however, belongs to jugglers.
Its usage is very similar: the juggler says hiccius doccius as they perform their feat or trick. The origin of hiccius doccius is not clear. It could be a modification of the Latin phrase hicce est doctus, which means ‘this or here is the learned man’ (Oxford English Dictionary), or it could simply be nonsense that imitates Latin. It has been in use since at least the late 17th century.
“In sadness, I think they are both jugglers: here is nothing, and here is nothing; and then hiccius doccius, and they are both here again.”
– John Dryden, Amphitryon, 1690
Here’s a word that probably should be used more often. It tends to pop up in philosophical texts, but I think most people have experienced velleity. It certainly strikes a chord with me…
A velleity is a “wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action” (Oxford Dictionaries). It means to will or desire without actually making an effort to act on that will or desire.
It stems from the Latin word velle, which means ‘to wish’. Use of velleity appears to have been fairly common in the 17th century, and the OED gives its first recorded usage as in 1624 (although it was spelled velleitie). This usage is a little more modern:
“I am finding that I have more and more velleities these days, and one of them is the velleity to travel, a hopeless longing to just peregrinate off somewhere.”
– Sam Savage, Glass, 2011
Do you enjoy going for a stroll at night-time? I do; there’s nothing quite like taking a walk under a starry sky on a quiet evening.
This week’s interesting word is an easier way of saying ‘to walk at night’: noctambulate. It hasn’t fallen completely out of use in the English language but it is fairly rare.
Noctambulate can also be used to refer to sleep walking. Nocti- means ‘of, at or relating to night’ and ambulate means ‘to walk’ or ‘to move about’.
The OED records the first usage as in 1955. However, the words noctambulation and noctambulist are much older (both early 18th century). Noctambulation means the action of walking at night, while a noctambulist is a person who walks at night.
“I rarely did this, but now and then I would noctambulate through the city, where the lights were going off, or had long since gone…”
– Howard Spring, These Lovers Fled Away, 1955
Have you ever felt in low spirits and struggled to find an appropriate word to describe how you feel? I would like to suggest mubblefubbles as an option. It is considered to be obsolete but I think it’s a suitably expressive word for a difficult to verbalise feeling.
Mubblefubbles means a state of depression, melancholy or despondency. It’s quite often used in the form of to be in (or out of) one’s mubblefubbles.
The OED’s first recorded usage is from 1589 but the word’s origins are unclear. It could be imitative and I suspect the alternative form mumblefubbles may support this idea.
“‘I never used to be so full of the mubblefubbles,’ he told me wryly. ‘So fearful, so bitter—but the days when I was—when I was myself—seem so long ago that I can hardly remember them.'”
– Nancy Springer, The Golden Swan, 2014
Have you ever wished there was a simpler way to say ‘the day after tomorrow’? Well, I’m here to provide you with the ideal word: overmorrow.
It is probably modelled on the German word übermorgen (über meaning ‘over’ and morgen meaning ‘morning’ or ‘tomorrow’). The German language has retained the use of übermorgen, but sadly overmorrow has become obsolete in English. I think that’s a shame – overmorrow expresses a useful concept concisely and without confusion.
The OED gives the first recorded use of overmorrow as in 1535, but I’m disappointed to report that I haven’t been able to find many examples. I’m slightly surprised as I had thought it might be popular in contemporary fantasy or historical fiction; it would certainly fit in nicely.
“‘Eh, no good. We’ll change that,’ she said. ‘You’ll start overmorrow.'”
– Greer Macallister, The Magician’s Lie, 2015
For the topic of this blog post, I’ve picked a word that has a very limited use. But it does allow me to use a picture of an adorable-looking donkey.
Proot is a word said to donkeys (or mules) to encourage them to move faster. Its origin is unknown. It could be related to the word proo, which is used to call cows and command horses. My understanding is that proo is imitative of a sound the animals naturally respond to.
The first recorded use is found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of his solo hiking trip through part of France. Modestine was the donkey who carried Stevenson’s belongings.
“‘Proot!’ seemed to have lost its virtue. I prooted like a lion, I prooted mellifluously like a sucking-dove; but Modestine would be neither softened nor intimidated.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, 1879.
Here’s a word for the next time you spill your hot or cold beverage of choice: jirble.
Jirble means ‘to spill by shaking or unsteady movement of the container’ or ‘to pour out unsteadily’ – usually due to carelessness. It is a Scottish word that is supposed to be imitative of the sound that is often made when liquids are jirbled.
“I jirbled the milk while I was speaking.”
The first use that the OED lists is from 1760 and the latest example given is from 1827. It would be a real shame if jirble didn’t make it into a few pieces of contemporary writing…
- Dictionary of the Scots Language Online
- Oxford English Dictionary Online
- Pixabay (image)
Rebarbative is a borrowing from French. I’ve decided to add it to my vocabulary because one can never have too many synonyms for ‘objectionable’, ‘repellent’ or ‘fearsome’.
The French word rébarbatif means ‘repellent’ or ‘disagreeable’, and it is derived from the Middle French word rebarber. Rebarber means ‘to oppose’ and itself derives from the Old French words re (meaning ‘back’ or ‘again’) and barbe (meaning ‘beard’). It is therefore thought to have the literal meaning of ‘to stand beard to beard against’.
The OED’s first listed usage is from 1892 but I like this example:
“Still, everyone appeared to be extremely nice, except that that Dr. Greenfield man was a trifle rebarbative. (This was a word which Toby had recently learnt at school and could not now conceive of doing without.)”
– Iris Murdoch, The Bell, 1958
This week the world marked 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. He has been one of my favourite authors since I was very young, and I would highly recommend his autobiographies if you haven’t yet read them.
This week’s interesting word is one that is famously associated with Dahl. And it has relevance for me because it is my birthday soon and my sister always treats me to an afternoon tea that can only be described as scrumdiddlyumptious.
Scrumdiddlyumptious means ‘delicious’ or ‘extremely tasty’. It can also be used to describe an attractive person.
I had always assumed that scrumdiddlyumptious was coined by Dahl, but it actually originated as US slang in the 1940s. It is a humorous alteration of scrumptious (of which there were many but not all made it into widespread usage). The OED has the first recorded usage as in 1942, but this is the usage most Roald Dahl fans will be familiar with:
“Every human bean is diddly and different. Some is scrumdiddlyumptious and some is uckyslush.”
– Roald Dahl, The BFG, 1982
Roald Dahl was a magnificent human bean, and his books helped to shape who I am today. I will always delight in reading his stories, and I know I am not alone in that.
- Oxford Dictionaries Online
- Oxford English Dictionary Online
- Shutterstock (image)
This week’s interesting word is porraceous. I will buy an imaginary drink for anyone who knows what it means without looking it up – and a bonus imaginary packet of crisps if you have used it in everyday conversation.
Porraceous means ‘resembling a leek’. It is typically used to mean that something is leek-green in colour. (In many cases the something is vomit.)
It is early 17th century in origin, and stems from the Latin word porrāceus (itself from porrum meaning ‘leek’ and āceus meaning ‘of the nature of’).
“Martians, according to general sci-fi ethnobotany, are always small, hydrocephalic, intelligent, and seem a sort of porraceous green.”
– Alexander Theroux, The Secondary Colors, 1996
Isn’t the English language brilliant?