‘White’ and ‘wight’

I’m jumping on the Halloween bandwagon with this week’s homophones: white and wight. I sometimes read people have been to the ‘Isle of White’ or would like to discuss the actions of the ‘Wight Walkers’ in Game of Thrones.

ghostsWhite

  • the colour (such as that of milk or snow)*
  • pale or light in colour
  • a person or people with pale or light-coloured skin
  • counter-revolutionary

Wight

  • a living being (in archaic usage)
  • a ghost, spirit or other supernatural being
  • a specific shipping forecast area covering part of the English Channel (‘Wight’)

My tip: a wight could be a ghost.

*I’m aware scientists may disagree with referring to white as a colour but it’s acceptable to do so in general usage.


Sources:

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Porraceous

LeeksThis 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?


Sources:

  • Oxford Dictionaries Online
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online

Anfractuous

RocksThis week’s interesting word is anfractuous. It is rare to see it in use, but I think it has a good sound and is fairly evocative.

Anfractuous means winding, sinuous, circuitous or spiral. It can also mean rugged or craggy and fractious or irritable.

Its origin is thought to be late 16th century, from the Latin word anfractus which means ‘a bending’. The meaning of rugged or craggy stems from the French word anfractueux.

“Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.”

– T. S. Eliot, Ara vos prec, 1920


Sources:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

McGuffin

This week’s interesting word is probably familiar to film fans, but you can find a McGuffin in all sorts of narrative works.

DiamondA McGuffin (or MacGuffin) is an object, device or event that has only one true purpose: to set the plot in motion. The audience is usually initially told that the object or thing is extremely important, but the McGuffin does not often have any real importance as the plot develops. The McGuffin is the soon-to-be-stolen diamond or the missing USB drive that serves to start and drive the story.

The precise definition of a McGuffin is widely debated, but the origin is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock. The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1939:

“In regard to the tune, we have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original.”

– Alfred Hitchcock, Lecture at Columbia University

Hitchcock suggests he took the surname MacGuffin from a humorous story involving a McGuffin-type incident. The choice of name is not thought to be related to the word guffin, meaning ‘a stupid or clumsy person’.


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Nycthemeron

This week’s interesting word is a borrowing from Greek. A nycthemeron is a period of twenty-four hours – one day and one night.

It can also be spelt nychthemeron. It is a term that seems to be used predominantly in academic texts, but I think it would fit in nicely in works of a more fantastical nature.

The OED gives the earliest recorded usage as follows:

“Onely the shadowy Vale of the Night will be cast over them once in a Nycthemeron.”

– Henry More, Two choice and useful treatises. 1682

I have taken this explanation of the origin directly from Oxford Dictionaries Online because Greek language is not my speciality:

“From Hellenistic Greek νυχθήμερον period of a day and a night, use as noun of neuter singular of νυχθήμερος lasting for a day and a night from ancient Greek νυκτ-, νύξ night + ἡμέρα day.” (You can view the entry here.)

Day and night

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Won’t

Old writingHave you ever wondered why the contraction of will not is won’t?

Do not becomes don’t, cannot becomes can’t, and shall not becomes shan’t. Won’t does not follow the same pattern.

That is because won’t is actually a contraction of woll not. Woll is an archaic form of will; many Germanic languages have or had a similar word with a similar meaning.

Won’t fought off competition from other forms including wonnot, woonnot and wo’nt to become the standard contraction we use today.

We may no longer use woll, but it is easy to see why English has retained won’t instead of using willn’t or even win’t.


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‘Faun’ and ‘fawn’

FawnThis post is an excuse to use a cute photo. The delightful creatures you see when walking your dog are fawns; the mythological creatures you read about are fauns.

Fawn

  • a deer aged under one year
  • (of a deer) to produce young
  • a pale brown colour
  • to give a display of insincere or exaggerated flattery
  • to try to please someone by a show of extreme friendliness or affection

Faun

  • a being that is part human and part goat (usually in Roman mythology)

Temerarious

Temerarious is a word that is only really at home in literary texts. It means ‘reckless’, ‘rash’ or ‘unreasonably adventurous’.

TigerIf you try to give a tiger a cuddle, you are being temerarious.

You may find in some historical texts that temerarious has been used to mean ‘haphazard’ or ‘happening at random’, but this usage is now obsolete.

The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1532. But I think this is a good example of temerarious used well:

“The King was one of the first that entred [the breach], choosing rather to be thought temerarious then timorous.”

– John Speed, The history of Great Britaine under the conquests of ye Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. 1611

The word comes from the Latin temerarius , where temere means ‘rashly’. (The word temerity, meaning ‘excessive confidence’ or ‘audacity’, also has its roots in temere.) The suffix -ous denotes ‘full of’ or ‘characterised by’. The noun is temerariousness.


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Noonlight

The weather where I live has been lovely this week. It has inspired me to choose noonlight as this week’s interesting word.

SunlightWords such as daylight, twilight and moonlight are common, but noonlight is fairly rare.

Noonlight is the light of the sun at noon. It is usually the brightest and clearest light of the day.

Noonlight’s origins are simple (‘noon’ plus ‘light’). The OED gives its first use as in 1598, but this usage resonated when I looked out of my window today:

“Through the blue dazzling distance of noon-light

– James Montgomery, Bolehill Trees in The West Indies, and other poems. 1810


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Rumbustious

CloudRumbustious means ‘boisterous’, ‘turbulent’ or ‘unruly’. It is thought to be late 18th century in origin, and it is probably an alteration of the word robustious. Robustious means ‘sturdy’, ‘boisterous’ or ‘rough or violent in manner’.

Rumbustious is typically used in British English. Rambunctious is a variation that originated in the United States and it is now slightly more common than the original (according to the OED).

I like this early usage of one of the many forms of rambunctious:

“Och, Misther McGeever, now..I niver heerd no man accuse you of bein’ anyway rambunkshus about yer nabor’s house.” Century Magazine, 1899