Thursday, December 08, 2016

Word of the day: buckra

The word of the day is buckra:

noun Southern U.S. (chiefly South Atlantic States) .

  1. Usually Disparaging and Offensive. a term used to refer to a white man.
disparaging term among U.S. blacks for "white person," especially a poor one, 1790, apparently from an African language; cf. mbakara "master" in Efik, a language of the Ibibio people of southern Nigeria.


"Marginalized and without demand for their labor, poor whites bore up under rude epithets—crackers, white trash, po buckra."

 - Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Monday, December 05, 2016

Word of the day: apparat

The word of the day is apparat:

an organization or existing power structure, especially a political one

"administrative machinery of the Communist Party in Russia," 1950, from Rus., from Ger. apparat "apparatus, instrument," from L. apparatus (see apparatus).


"Fox News Business Network commentator Lou Dobbs commented in 2011 that 'as it's being run now, [the EPA] could be part of the apparat of the Soviet Union.'"

 - Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Word of the day: menshevik

The word of the day is menshevik:

  1. a member of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party in opposition to the Bolsheviks: advocated gradual development of full socialism through parliamentary government and cooperation with bourgeois parties; absorbed into the Communist party formed in 1918.
1917, from Rus. men'shevik, from men'she "lesser" (comp. of malo "little," from PIE base *men- "to lessen, diminish") + -evik "one that is." So called by Lenin because they were a minority in the party. Earlier used in ref. to the minority faction of the Social-Democratic Party, when it split in 1903. Russian pl. mensheviki occasionally was used in Eng.


"Maybe this was the main reason Mike was later to tell me, in reference to the 2016 presidential election and only half jokingly, that he could never bring himself to vote for the menshevik (Hillary Clinton) or the bolshevik (Bernie Sanders)."

 - Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Word of the day: tupelo

The word of the day is tupelo:

  1. any of several trees of the genus Nyssa, having ovate leaves, clusters of minute flowers, and purple, berrylike fruit, especially N. aquatica, of swampy regions of the eastern, southern, and midwestern U.S.
black gum tree, 1730, apparently from Cree (Algonquian) ito opilwa "swamp tree."


"The neat, modest homes faced Crawfish Stew Street on one side and a canal on the other, leading to the bayou and extraordinary vistas of wide-winged water birds swooping gracefully from water to tupelo and cypress."

 - Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Monday, November 28, 2016

Word of the day: pirogue

The word of the day is pirogue:

  1. canoe made by hollowing out tree trunk.
  2. a native boat, especially an American dugout.

"Harold's father built fishing boats out of cypress, some flat-bottomed dugout pirogues traditional to Cajun culture.  He would bring logs to a nearby mill, saw them in his shop, and build them into boats, which he rented to fishermen."

 - Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Word of the day: prat

The word of the day is prat:

  1. the buttocks.


"The last phrase was turned in that special voice which people use for humorous self-parody, in the mistaken hope that it will make them sound less like a prat."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Phrase of the day: bunch of fives

The phrase of the day is bunch of fives:

uk old-fashioned slang

If you give someone a bunch of fives, you hit them hard with your hand closed.


"Or a little car runs into the back of yours and you rush out to show a bunch of fives to the driver who, it becomes apparent as he goes on unfolding more body like some horrible conjuring trick, must have been sitting on the back seat."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: slipstream

The word of the day is slipstream:

  1. Aeronautics. the airstream pushed back by a revolving aircraft propeller. Compare backwash (def 2), wash (def 31).
  2. the airstream generating reduced air pressure and forward suction directly behind a rapidly moving vehicle.

"In fact Rincewind was already half a mile out over the dark sea, squatting on the carpet like an angry buddha, his mind a soup of rage, humiliation and fury, with a side order of outrage...

"He reached up and touched his hat for reassurance, even as it lost its last few sequins in the slipstream."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: caddisfly

The word of the day is caddisfly:

  1. any of numerous aquatic insects constituting the order Trichoptera, having two pairs of membranous, often hairy wings and superficially resembling moths.

Most caddisfly larvae live in cases they build out of sand, rock, twigs, leaf pieces, and any other kind of underwater debris. Some even generate their own cases out of silk. There is tremendous variation in case style and also in the way the larvae manage their cases: whether they replace it as they grow or renovate their old one, and whether they carry it around or fix it to an object.


"'Wizards always used to build a tower around themselves, like those...what do you call those things you find at the bottom of rivers?'
"'Unsuccessful gangsters.'
"'Caddis flies is what I meant,' said Rincewind."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Word of the day: crenelated

The word of the day is crenelated:

  1. furnished with crenelations, as a parapet or molding, in the manner of a battlement.
early 14c., from Fr. créneler, from crénelé (12c.); see crenel. Sometimes also crenellate; the double -l- seems to be from a presumed L. *crenella, dim. of crena.


"Rincewind was used to the dressy ways of wizards, but this one was really impressive, his robe so padded and crenellated and buttressed in fantastic folds and creases that it had probably been designed by an architect."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: geas

The word of the day is geas:

(in Irish folklore) an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person.


"'It's a sort of quest.'
"Nijel's eyes gleamed.
"'You mean a geas?'"

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: wadi

The word of the day is wadi:

  1. the channel of a watercourse that is dry except during periods of rainfall.
  2. such a stream or watercourse itself.
  3. a valley.
"watercourse," 1839, from Arabic wadi "seasonal watercourse," prop. part. of wada "it flowed."


"As has already been indicated, the Luggage seldom shows any sign of emotion, or at least any emotion less extreme than blind rage and hatred, and therefore it is hard to gauge its feelings when it woke up, a few miles outside Al Khali, on its lid in a dried-up wadi with its legs in the air."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: gantry

The word of the day is gantry:

  1. a framework spanning a railroad track or tracks for displaying signals.
  2. any of various spanning frameworks, as a bridgelike portion of certain cranes.
  3. Rocketry. a frame consisting of scaffolds on various levels used to erect vertically launched rockets and spacecraft.
  4. a framelike stand for supporting a barrel or cask.
1574, originally, "four-footed stand for a barrel," probably from O.N.Fr. gantier, from O.Fr. chantier, from L. cantherius "rafter, frame," from Gk. kanthelios "pack ass," so called from the framework placed on its back, from kanthelion "rafter," of unknown origin.


"For example, the weird dream about a lead doughnut on a mile-high gantry, which in the right mind would have been the catalyst for the invention of repressed-gravitational electricity generation (a cheap and inexhaustible and totally non-polluting form of power which the world in question had been seeking for centuries, and for the lack of which it was plunged into a terrible and pointless war) was in fact had by a small and bewildered duck."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: rill

The word of the day is rill:
  1. a small rivulet or brook.
"small brook, rivulet," 1538, from Du. ril, Low Ger. rille "groove, furrow, running stream," probably from P.Gmc. *riðele (cf. O.E. rið, riþe "brook, stream," which survives only in obscure Eng. dialects), a diminutive form from PIE base *reie- "to run, flow" (see Rhine).


"My landscape gardeners incorporated all the essential features, I believe.  They spent simply ages getting the rills sufficiently sinuous."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: kedgeree

The word of the day is kedgeree:
  1. East Indian Cookery. a cooked dish consisting of rice, lentils, and spices.
  2. a cooked dish of rice, fish, hard-boiled eggs, butter, cream, and seasonings.

"Sheer pressure of thaumaturgical inflow was even affecting the food.  What was a forkful of kedgeree when you lifted it off the plate might well have turned into something else by the time it entered your mouth."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Monday, November 21, 2016

Word of the day: bedder

The word of the day is bedder:
  1. bedmaker (def 1).

"One or two wizards, stately men who had hitherto done nothing more blameworthy than eat a live oyster, turned themselves invisible and chased the maids and bedders through the corridors."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Word of the day: grapnel

The word of the day is grapnel:
  1. a device consisting essentially of one or more hooks or clamps, for grasping or holding something; grapple; grappling iron.
  2. a small anchor with three or more flukes, used for grappling or dragging or for anchoring a small boat, as a skiff.
1373, Anglo-Fr. dim. of O.Fr. grapil "hook," from grape "hook" (see grape).


"Further along the University wall there was a faint clink as a grapnel caught the spikes that lined its top."

 - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

Friday, November 18, 2016

Word of the day: chaparral

The word of the day is chaparral:
  1. a dense growth of shrubs or small trees.
1850, Amer.Eng., from Sp. chaparro "evergreen oak," perhaps from Basque txapar.


"In a remote corner of Northern California, on a steep slope of knotty oaks, sulfur and steam rise in plumes from Wilbur Hot Springs...

"The view's nice; the chaparral smells great."

 - Rinku Patel, "Bugged", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Word of the day: hap

The word of the day is hap:
  1. one's luck or lot.
  2. an occurrence, happening, or accident.

c.1200, "chance, luck," from O.N. happ "chance, good luck," from P.Gmc. *khapan (source of O.E. gehæp "convenient, fit"). Meaning "good fortune" is from early 13c.


"Of course the moose did not choose his yes any more than Respighi chose his.  It is his hap to be born—to come out of the mama onto the Earth—his hap to be rejected by the mama novel a littler moose comes out, his hap to bear a staggering affirmation on his brow."

 - Amy Leach, "The Modern Moose", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Word of the day: flak

The word of the day is flak:
  1. antiaircraft fire, especially as experienced by the crews of combat airplanes at which the fire is directed.
  2. criticism; hostile reaction; abuse
1938, from Ger. Flak, acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanone "airplane defense cannon." Sense of "anti-aircraft fire" is 1940; metaphoric sense of "criticism" is c.1963 in Amer.Eng.


"Hamburg knew the bombs were coming, and so the prisoners of war and forced laborers had just half a year to build the giant flak bunker."

 - Robert Kunzig, "The Will to Change", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Word of the day: cavalcade

The word of the day is cavalcade:
  1. a procession of persons riding on horses, in horsedrawn carriages, in cars, etc.
  2. any procession.
  3. any noteworthy series, as of events or activities.
1591, via M.Fr., from It. cavalcata, from cavalcare "to ride on horseback," from V.L. *caballicare, from L. caballus (see cavalier). Literally, "a procession on horseback," in 20c. -cade came to be regarded as a suffix and taken to form motorcade (1913), etc.


"At first I had wanted to say that it was hideous, sinister even, but the pit's engineered tiers, industrialized terra-cotta complexion, and crimson water have a hard-won refinement, like western art scenes of dusty cavalcades and buffalo runs."

 - Kea Krause, "What's Left Behind", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Word of the day: oblate

The word of the day is oblate:

  1. a person offered to the service of and living in a monastery, but not under monastic vows or full monastic rule.
  2. a lay member of any of various Roman Catholic societies devoted to special religious work.
"person devoted to religious work," 1756, from M.L. oblatus, noun use of L. oblatus, variant pp. of L. offerre "to offer, to bring before" (latus "carried, borne" used as suppletive pp. of ferre "to bear"), from *tlatos, from PIE base *tel-, *tol- "to bear, carry" (see extol).

"My first night in the convent, I had a quick dinner of scrambled eggs and bagels with the nuns and oblates in the cafeteria."

 - Alexandra Kleeman, "The Bed-Rest Hoax", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Word of the day: benthos

The word of the day is benthos:
  1. the biogeographic region that includes the bottom of a lake, sea, or ocean, and the littoral and supralittoral zones of the shore.

"life forms of the deep ocean and sea floor," 1891, coined by Haeckel from Gk. benthos "depth of the sea," related to bathos "depth," bathys "deep." Adjective benthic is attested from 1902.


"Last June I talked to Dr. Paul Montagna, a marine ecologist at Texas A&M University who studies benthic organisms.  He had found significant declines in a range of species that live on the Gulf seafloor."

 - Antonia Juhasz, "Thirty Million Gallons Under the Sea", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Word of the day: distemper

The word of the day is distemper:

Veterinary Pathology.
  1. Also called canine distemper. an infectious disease chiefly of young dogs, caused by an unidentified virus and characterized by lethargy, fever, catarrh, photophobia, and vomiting.

"Steve and Poul talked about four channels of warm seawater at the base of Petermann Glacier that allowed more ice islands to calve, and the 68-mile-wide calving front of the Humboldt Glacier, where Jens and I, plus seven other hunters, had tried to go one spring but were stopped when the dogs fell ill with distemper and died."

 - Gretel Ehrlich, "Rotten Ice", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Word of the day: savasana

The word of the day is savasana:

Corpse Pose, also sometimes called Final Relaxation Pose (yoga)

Its Sanskrit name, “Savasana” (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh), comes from two words. The first is “Sava” (meaning “corpse”), and the second is “asana” (meaning “pose”).  (

"The anthropologists are studying two things: how the Texas sun turns a body into a rusted mummy feeding switchgrass, and how vultures scavenge those bodies.  To learn about the former, the donated cadavers are laid under metal mesh cages.  To understand the latter, they are left exposed, tagged wrists crossed, or open, as in savasana — the corpse pose."

 - Chelsea Biondolillo, "Back to the Land", The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Word of the day: précis

The word of the day is précis:
  1. a concise summary.

"He achieved the unintrusive effect—and sombre tone—he wanted, but, in seeking to correct what he perhaps considered the bossiness of his previous novel, 'Concluding' (1948), which used interior monologue and précis, he overlooked the innovations of his earlier works, which had found their own ways of avoiding authorial omniscience."

 - Leo Robson, "Doings and Undoings:?How great was the novelist Henry Green?", 17 October 2016 The New Yorker

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Word of the Day: unheimlich

The word of the day is unheimlich:

Uncanny; weird.


"In making the case for Jackson as a herald of Friedan and others, Franklin doesn't say much about Jackson's humor—which is a pity, because one of her most distinctive and appealing characteristics is a tendency to interleave unheimlich atmospheres and dark portraits of psychological breakdown with bursts of spry drawing-room comedy, droll Mitfordian dialogue, and the odd joke about eating children."

 - Zoe Heller, "Haunted Houses: What frightened Shirley Jackson?", 17 October 2016 The New Yorker (

Monday, October 10, 2016

Word of the day: quoits

The word of the day is quoits:

a game in which rings of rope or flattened metal are thrown at an upright peg, the object being to encircle it or come as close to it as possible

1388, "curling stone," perhaps from O.Fr. coite "flat stone" (with which the game was originally played), lit. "cushion," variant of coilte (see quilt). Quoits were among the games prohibited by Edward III and Richard II to encourage archery. In ref. to a heavy flat iron ring (and the tossing game played with it) it is recorded from c.1440.


"She refuses the swimming pool, the quoits, the badminton, the endless, pointless games."

 - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Word of the Day: spate

The word of the day is spate:

  1. a sudden, almost overwhelming, outpouring: a spate of angry words.
  2. British.
    1. a flood or inundation.
    2. a river flooding its banks.
    3. a sudden or heavy rainstorm.
early 15c., originally Scottish and northern English, "a sudden flood, especially one caused by heavy rains or a snowmelt," of unknown origin. Perhaps from O.Fr. espoit "flood," from Du. spuiten "to flow, spout;" related to spout. Figurative sense of "unusual quantity" is attested from 1610s.


"The Louveteau River was in spate; bushes and trees torn up by the roots eddied and snagged."

 - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Word of the day: harmonium

The word of the day is harmonium:

  1. an organlike keyboard instrument with small metal reeds and a pair of bellows operated by the player's feet.

"We found the attic, with boxes of old books and stored quilts and three empty trunks, and a broken harmonium, and Grandmother Adelia's headless dress form, a pallid, musty torso."

 - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Word of the day: aborning

The word of the day is aborning:


  1. in birth; before being carried out: The scheme died aborning.


  1. being born; coming into being, fruition, realization, etc.: A new era of architecture is aborning.

"The democratic society that Alexis de Tocqueville described in the 1830s was still aborning in the 1780s."

 - Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Word of the day: bagatelle

The word of the day is bagatelle:
  1. something of little value or importance; a trifle.
  2. a game played on a board having holes at one end into which balls are to be struck with a cue.
  3. pinball.
  4. a short and light musical composition, typically for the piano.
1630s, "a trifle," from Fr. bagatelle "knicknack, bauble, trinket" (16c.), from It. bagatella "a trifle," dim. of L. baca "berry." As "a piece of light music," it is attested from 1827.


"Until we solve the world's desperate socio-economic problems, we can't waste our time on bagatelles like obscure Native American languages."

 - Jared Diamond quoting a hypothetical counterargument in The World Until Yesterday

Word of the day: tsuris

The word of the day is tsuris:
  1. trouble; woe.

"Really, why go through the trouble of leaving home, battling T.S.A. lines, enduring delayed flights, and all the other travel tsuris when you can just stay where all the tourists want to be anyway, in N.Y.C.?"

 - Bob Mankoff, "The Cartoon Lounge: No Place Like Home", 27 July 2016 (

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Word of the day: regnant

The word of the day is regnant:
  1. reigning; ruling (usually used following the noun it modifies)
  2. exercising authority, rule, or influence.
  3. prevalent; widespread.

"Though the term is only used three times in the full body of his work, the invisible hand has become the regnant image of Smith’s philosophy."

 - John Paul Rollert, "Of Morals and Markets", Spring 2016 The University of Chicago Magazine (

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Word of the day: nuncio

The word of the day is nuncio:
  1. a diplomatic representative of the pope at a foreign court or capital: equal in status to an ambassador.
papal envoy, 1528, from It. nuncio (now nunzio), from L. nuntius "messenger," from PIE base *neu- "to shout" (cf. Gk. neuo "to nod, beckon," O.Ir. noid "make known").


"When an American general arrived to confer with the papal nuncio, the U.S. Army blared music from loudspeakers to prevent journalists from eavesdropping."

 - Alex Ross, "The sound of hate", 4 July 2016 The New Yorker (

Word of the day: inveigh

The word of the day is inveigh:

to protest strongly or attack vehemently with words; rail (usually followed by against)

1486, "to introduce," from L. invehi "to attack with words," originally "carry oneself against," from passive inf. of invehere "bring in, carry in," from in- "against" + vehere "to carry" (see vehicle). Meaning "to give vent to violent denunciation" is from 1529.


"Most important, if Bush’s faith gave him certainties that became overweening and dangerous during his Presidency, why did they not so manifest themselves while he was on the road to Damascus fifteen years earlier, or when he was inveighing against nation-building in 2000?"

 - Thomas Mallon, "W is for why", 4 July The New Yorker (

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Word of the day: mentation

The word of the day is mentation:
  1. mental activity.
1850, from L. ment- "mind" (see mental) + -ation.


"Unlike Foster's emphasis on the mentation of his beasts, Thwaites is focused on achieving the physicality of the goat."

 - Carolyn Ristau, "Wild Things", 17 June 2016 Science (

Friday, July 01, 2016

Word of the day: sclerosed

The word of the day is sclerosed:
  1. hardened or indurated, as by sclerosis.

"The swift's minute filoplumes would convey essential information on feather orientation to its brain; Foster's body hair ruffles empathetically.  The urban fox engenders his deep respect: choosing to hunt, even though it could survive on pizza scraps.  In contrast, humans seem 'sclerosed superspecialists.'"

 - Carolyn Ristau, "Wild Things", 17 June 2016 Science (

No, I don't get it.  In those examples, aren't the swifts and foxes specialized?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Word of the day: blue-sky

The word of the day is blue-sky:

Not limited by conventional notions of what is practical or feasible; imaginative or visionary


"Although Europe funds ancient DNA work as basic research, it is beginning to pay medical and technological dividends.  For example, by sequencing the Neandertal genome—a blue skies project if there ever was one—researchers have discovered a host of Neandertal immune and other genes in living people that profoundly affect risks of disease (Science, 12 February, p. 648)."

 - Ann Gibbons, "Ancient DNA Divide", 17 June 2016 Science

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Word of the day: egest

The word of the day is egest:
  1. to discharge, as from the body; void (opposed to ingest ).

"By the end of the movie, Refn has toyed with cannibalism, lesbian necrophilia, the egestion of an eyeball, and other minor sports, all of them filmed in lavish taste."

 - Anthony Lane, "Pet Peeves", 27 June 2016 The New Yorker (

Word of the day: solecism

The word of the day is solecism:

  1. a nonstandard or ungrammatical usage, as unflammable and they was.
  2. a breach of good manners or etiquette.
  3. any error, impropriety, or inconsistency.
1577, from M.Fr. solécisme, from L. soloecismus "mistake in speaking or writing," from Gk. soloikismos "to speak (Greek) incorrectly," from soloikos "ungrammatical utterance," prop. "a speaking like the people of Soloi," from Soloi, Athenian colony in Cilicia, whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous.


"The waitresses seemed harassed and incompetent, teen-age girls with untidy hair.  'Enjoy,' one of them said.

“'An expression I deplore for its being a grammatical goofball,' Floyd said.  And to Jonty, 'A solecism, as you might put it.'”

 - Paul Theroux, "Upside-Down Cake", 27 June 2016 The New Yorker (

Word of the day: thewy

The word of the day is thewy:
  1. Usually, thews. muscle or sinew.
  2. thews, physical strength.

“'My favorite was the al-dente pasta,' Rose said. 'With the Bolo sauce.'

“'Both were thewy and farinaceous,' Floyd said, tearing at a piece of bread. 'And what was that witches’ brew we had on Saturday nights, with the crunchy undercooked onion? And the fatty meat—that was the best part!'”

 - Paul Theroux, "Upside-Down Cake", 27 June 2016 The New Yorker (

Word of the day: blesbok

The word of the day is blesbok:
  1. a large antelope, Damaliscus albifrons, of southern Africa, having a blaze on the face.


"The high veldt rolled away, in shades of coffee and wheat.  We passed blesbok, oryx, wildebeest."

 - Paige Williams, "Digging for glory", 27 June 2016 The New Yorker (

Word of the day: calcrete

The word of the day is calcrete:

calcretealso called Hardpancalcium-rich duricrust, a hardened layer in or on a soil. It is formed on calcareous materials as a result of climatic fluctuations in arid and semiarid regions. Calcite is dissolved in groundwater and, under drying conditions, is precipitated as the water evaporates at the surface. Rainwater saturated with carbon dioxide acts as an acid and also dissolves calcite and then redeposits it as a precipitate on the surfaces of the soil particles; as the interstitial soil spaces are filled, an impermeable crust is formed.


"The bones may be more than ten thousand years old, the scientists decide; a prominent brow ridge on one skull compounds the sense that the creature had an 'almost freakish' appearance.

"The brow bone, however, turns out to be a calcrete deposit often found in caves."

 - Paige Williams, "Digging for glory", 27 June 2016 The New Yorker (

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Word of the day: styptic

The word of the day is styptic:
  1. serving to contract organic tissue; astringent; binding.
  2. serving to check hemorrhage or bleeding, as a drug; hemostatic.

c.1400, from O.Fr. stiptique, from L. stypticus "astringent," from Gk. styptikos, from styphein "to constrict, draw together." Spelling influenced by L. and Gk. words.


"The main medicinal use of alum was, as it still is today, as an astringent to improve wound healing. The modern styptic used to close up razor nicks occurring after wet shaving is alum-based."

 - David Rickard, "The Many Faces of Fool's Gold", May-June 2016 American Scientist (

Word of the day: alum

The word of the day is alum:
  1. Also called potash alumpotassium alum. crystalline solid, aluminum potassium sulfate, SO ⋅Al (SO )⋅24H O, used in medicine as an astringent and styptic, in dyeing and tanning, and in many technical processes.
  2. one of class of double sulfates analogous to the potassium alumas aluminum ammonium sulfate, having the general formula SO ⋅X (SO 4⋅24H O, where is univalent alkali metal or ammonium, and one of number of trivalent metals.
  3. (not in technical use) aluminum sulfate.
early 14c., "whitish mineral salt used as an astringent, dye, etc.," from O.Fr. alum, from L. alumen "alum," lit. "bitter salt," cognate with Gk. aludoimos "bitter" and Eng. ale.


"The production of one mordant, pure alum, from pyrite has been described as the point of origin of the modern chemical industry, because the process required not only the manufacture of a chemical substance but also its purification."

 - David Rickard, "The Many Faces of Fool's Gold", May-June 2016 American Scientist (

Word of the day: mordant

The word of the day is mordant:
  1. a substance used in dyeing to fix the coloring matter, especially a metallic compound, as an oxide or hydroxide, that combines with the organic dye and forms an insoluble colored compound or lake in the fiber.
late 15c., "caustic" (of words, speech), from M.Fr. mordant, lit. "biting," prp. of mordre "to bite," from L. mordere "to bite or sting" (see smart (v.)). Related: Mordantly. The noun sense in dyeing is first recorded 1791; the adj. in this sense is from 1902.


"Sulfuric acid is a relatively recent manufactured chemical.  Prior to this, the important analogous chemical substances were the sulfate salts of iron, copper, and aluminum, known to the ancients as the vitriols...  They were used as mordants in the dyeing industry. In order for natural dyes to be fixed in the cloth—and not be washed out during the next rainy day—it is necessary to treat the cloth with a mordant. The mordants widely used in dyeing were solutions of the vitriols."

 - David Rickard, "The Many Faces of Fool's Gold", May-June 2016 American Scientist (

Word of the day: invidious

The word of the day is invidious:
  1. calculated to create ill will or resentment or give offense; hateful
  2. offensively or unfairly discriminating; injurious
  3. causing or tending to cause animosity, resentment, or envy
  4. Obsoleteenvious.
c.1600, from L. invidiosus "envious," from invidia "ill will" (see envy).


"When the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires that the yellow change interval be determined by application of 'engineering practices,' such practices necessarily include using engineering judgment, which may not be quantifiable but is certainly not invidious."

 - Henry Petroski, "Traffic Signals, Dilemma Zones, and Red-Light Cameras", May-June 2016 American Scientist (

Monday, June 20, 2016

Word of the day: tholin

The word of the day is tholin:

an abiotic complex organic solid that formed by chemistry from energy input into simple, cosmically relevant gases or solids. Shorter still, “abiotic complex organic gunk” works for me.

‘tholins’ (Gk ϴὸλος, muddy; but also ϴoλòς, vault or dome), although we were tempted by the phrase ‘star-tar’.


"Spectral analysis indicated water-ice highlands, coated with red tholins, organics formed by the solar irradiation of molecules such as methane or ethane."

 - "Year One of our New View of Pluto", May-June 2016 The American Scientist (