When You Find Out Who You Are

You might have noticed my fascination with images of rust, peeling paint, weathered stonework and so forth. Well, today I discovered I’m a zymoglyphile, according to the definition posted by the splendid Zymoglyphic Museum, edited to refer to a noun.

zy’-mo-glyph, n. [Gr. zyme leaven + Gr. glyphecarving]
1. Image of fermentation, specifically the solid residue of creative fermentation on natural objects.
2. Object, primarily either natural or weathered by natural forces, imbued with artistic or poetic connotations.

I’m chuffed pink to have found the proper name for my condition. It has a ring to it, don’t you think? Here are The Incredible String Band, to help celebrate at least finding the answer to what. Who is a little more complicated.

Word of the Week: Southern necessities


Southern necessities (n): A pair of gentleman’s trousers. I am indebted to Horrible Histories for this delightful High Victorian euphemism. HH is a BBC show for children, aimed at teaching them real history through sketches, songs, gory details, and lots of poo. I heartily recommend it. For a taster, here’s a compilation of the best songs from series 3.

Euphemisms are great fun and offer a revealing glimpse into their coiners’ minds. Southern, for instance. Southern, as opposed to the northern clothescapes of shirt, waistcoat, jacket, obviously, but what did it really mean for respectable Victorians? Could it be the hot, fruiting landscape of rampant Mediterranean lust, so “very different from the home life of our own dear Queen,” as an audience member observed on seeing Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Cleopatra.

Hence the necessities, to prevent the Victorian gentleman from running amok at the sight of an exposed ankle – another very rude word. Or possibly to allow the expression without incurring censorious public gaze. Either way, it doesn’t say much for the perceived self control of these self appointed guardians of morality.

Word of the Week: Discombobulate


Discombobulate (v): To throw into a state of confusion. Another of those delightful 19th century American words from a time when a new nation created fanciful new variations on Old World English. The energy and heft in the syllables suggests an almost physical tossing of the unfortunate subject into a tangible state of confusion. It’s not nice to do any of these other things, either…especially to bears.

Word of the Week: Cackiavellian


Cackiavellian (adj): Acting in a Machiavellian manner, while being so cack-handed about it that everybody sees through your deception. The worse of both worlds – transparent dishonesty. Usually applied to politicians, as befits a neologism coined for that class. The etymology is brand spanking new, since it comes from the splendid Marina Hyde’s column in today’s Guardian, Rupert Murdoch may be a monster but David Cameron and co are far worse. She is, of course, referring to our “political elite” – an oxymoron if ever I heard one.

Word of the Week: Absquatulate


Absquatulate (v): To leave one’s present location. Or, as suggested by the word itself, go and squat somewhere else. It’s one of those delightful American words that combines Latinate learning with playful inventiveness. I can’t do better than copy the gloss from The Free Dictionary, which explains it beautifully.

In the 19th century, the vibrant energy of American English appeared in the use of Latin affixes to create jocular pseudo-Latin “learned” words. There is a precedent for this in the language of Shakespeare, whose plays contain scores of made-up Latinate words. Midwestern and Western U.S. Absquatulate has a prefix ab-, “away from,” and a suffix ate, “to act upon in a specified manner,” affixed to a nonexistent base form -squatul-, probably suggested by squat. Hence the whimsical absquatulate, “to squat away from.”

Thus, Elvis has absquatulated the building.

Word of the Week: Doolally


Doolally (adj/n): Eccentric, mad, unhinged, insane. A shortened form of doolally tap, referring to a transit camp in India during the the days of the British Raj, from 1858-1947. Deolali housed time-expired British soldiers waiting for passage home, and the boredom is said to have driven some soldiers into odd behaviour. Tap connotes a fever. So the long phrase means something like “cabin fever.” I love this word. Used in the short form, as is common today, it becomes a noun. The line manager at the M&M’s factory went doolally when she found out an employee had been rejecting all the W&W’s.

Word of the Week: Creflo

Creflo (v): To extract money from the gullible. The word is the first name of an American evangelist preacher, who tells his flock that God wants them to be rich. Needless to say, he relentlessly hits them up for donations and sells them a lot of inspirational products. Well, it makes him rich anyway. You can read more about this gentlemen in Blasphemy for the Day: Religion and Political Belief. All I want to add here is that his full name is Creflo A. Dollar – how could I resist the neologism?