anno 2002
anno 2003
anno 2004
collective nouns
phrase etymology
yiddish dictionary
style guide


© Daniel Reisel


January 28, 2004

"In the chamber the education secretary had gone from cajoling and plucking into march-of-history mode."

January 27, 2004 

to preach to the choir

January 23, 2004  

A thickening or hardening of a body part, as of an artery, especially from excessive formation of fibrous interstitial tissue.
A disease characterized by this thickening or hardening.
Botany The hardening of cells by the formation of a secondary wall and the deposition of lignin.

January 19, 2004  

to put paid to
To put paid to something is to finish it; to make it over and done with. The background is that of counting houses; when accounts were settled and closed the word Paid was written at the bottom. They were over and done with; finished.

to curry favour
The phrase was originally 'to curry favel' ('to groom the fallow horse'), the latter word being related to French fauve and English 'fallow' itself. The fallow horse was used in mideaval allegories as a symbol of cunning, fraud or deceit, perhaps because of its indefinite colour. Since 'feval' was a word not familiar to English speakers, it was altered to a more meaningful 'favour', so that the expression came to refer specifically to ingratiation with a superior.

January 16, 2004

prelapsarian bliss

January 8, 2004

beam me up, scotty.

February 17, 2004 

Examples of Good Writing:

Jon Pareles, NYT music critic, whose use of adjectives in his concert reviews is resourceful, invigorating, and fine:

"[Ted Hawkins's] voice was woolly and pensive."

"[Thelonious Monk's] touch was blunt and unpretty, and his solos were droll and suspenseful."

" ... a groan that's jaded, long-suffering, cranky, and shrewd." On Walter Becker's voice.

"[Aretha Franklin's] voice was creamy, loving, humble, sassy, and indomitable."

"Frenetic and offhand, deranged and savvy, funny and brutal, crisp and wayward, the Pixies brought their calmly schizophrenic, firmly dislocated rock to the Ritz on Friday night."

Adjective difficulties often come when writers want to say "good" or "bad" in a forceful or stylish way, but haven't thought enough about which word to choose.

Kenneth Tynan's Oxford tutor wrote on one of Tynan's papers: "Keep a strict eye on eulogistic & dislogic adjectives -- They shd diagnose (not merely blame) & distinguish (not merely praise.)" The tutor was C.S. Lewis.


Here are some nice uses of unfamiliar adjectives:

"In those trusses I saw a reminder of a country-fairgrounds grandstand, or perhaps the penumbrous bones of the Polo Grounds roof." Roger Angell on the gridwork at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

"She shook her head, and a smell of alembicated summer touched his nostrils." Sylvia Townsend Warner.

"The Sunday's events repeated themselves in his mind, bending like nacreous flakes around a central infrangible irritant." John Updike.

"He had the surface involvement -- style -- while I had the deep-structural, immobilizing synovial ballooning of a superior mind." Nicholson Baker on Updike.

"The great out-sticking ears that frame his face like cartilaginous quotation marks. ..." The late Michael Kelly on Ross Perot.

"Churchill is morally irrefragable in American discourse, and can be quoted even more safely than Lincoln." Christopher Hitchens.

" ... the chordal quality of a man who is simultaneously overbearing and winning." Stanley Kauffman.

Some other nifty uncommon adjectives include: mordant, capacious, sedulous, fustian, supernal, phatic, liminal, nugatory, tensile, cumbrous, bibulous, gormless, shambolic, panoptic, oneiric, bumptious, demotic, pertinacious, and ludic.

March 31, 2004

From Middle English adel, rotten, from Old English adel, pool of excrement.
v. ad·dled, ad·dling, ad·dles
v. tr.
To muddle; confuse: "My brain is a bit addled by whiskey" (Eugene O'Neill). See Synonyms at confuse.
v. intr.
To become confused.
To become rotten, as an egg.

Middle English ranclen, from Old French rancler, alteration of draoncler, from draoncle, festering sore, from Latin dracunculus, diminutive of drac, dracn-, serpent ; see dragon.
v. ran·kled, ran·kling, ran·kles
v. intr.
To cause persistent irritation or resentment.
To become sore or inflamed; fester.
v. tr.
To embitter; irritate.

Word History: A persistent resentment, a festering sore, and a little snake are all coiled together in the history of the word rankle. "A little snake" is the sense of the Latin word dracunculus to which rankle can be traced, dracunculus being a diminutive of drac, "snake." The Latin word passed into Old French, as draoncle, having probably already developed the sense "festering sore," because some of these sores resembled little snakes in their shape or bite. The verb draoncler, "to fester," was then formed in Old French. The noun and verb developed alternate forms without the d-, and both were borrowed into Middle English, the noun rancle being recorded in a work written around 1190, the verb ranclen, in a work probably composed about 1300. Both words had literal senses having to do with festering sores. The noun is not recorded after the 16th century, but the verb went on to develop the figurative senses having to do with resentment and bitterness with which we are all too familiar.

the man from del monte says yes.

April 27, 2004

I have no brief with that.

RACHEL f English, Jewish, French, German, Biblical
Pronounced: RAY-chel (English), ra-SHEL (French)
Means "ewe" in Hebrew. She was the favourite wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin in the Old Testament.

RIVKA f Jewish
Hebrew form of REBECCA

REBECCA f English, Italian, Biblical
Pronounced: re-BEK-a
From the Hebrew name Ribqah, possibly meaning "a snare" in Hebrew, or perhaps derived from an Aramaic name. This was the name of the wife of Isaac and the mother of Esau and Jacob in the Old Testament

RAFIQ m Arabic
Means either "friend" or "gentle" in Arabic.

German : wandern, to wander (from Middle High German) + Lust, desire (from Middle High German, from Old High German; see las- in Indo-European roots).
A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.

April 18, 2004

A homeless person, especially a forsaken or orphaned child.
An abandoned young animal.
Something found and unclaimed, as an object cast up by the sea.

French, probably ultimately from Latin Orcus, god of the underworld.
A giant or monster in legends and fairy tales that eats humans.
A person who is felt to be particularly cruel, brutish, or hideous.

April 14, 2004  

minatory, adv.
Menacing, threatening

April 8, 2004

Being an imitation or a substitute, usually an inferior one; artificial: ersatz coffee made mostly of chicory.

Assistance in time of distress; relief.
One that affords assistance or relief.

tr.v. suc·cored, suc·cor·ing, suc·cors
To give assistance to in time of want, difficulty, or distress.

May 16, 2004

French débâcle, from débâcler, to unbar, from Old French desbacler : des-, de- + bacler, to bar (from Vulgar Latin *bacculre, from Latin baculum, rod; see bak- in Indo-European roots).

A sudden, disastrous collapse, downfall, or defeat; a rout.
A total, often ludicrous failure.
The breaking up of ice in a river.
A violent flood.

May 11, 2004

From Late Latin sartor, tailor.
Of or relating to a tailor, tailoring, or tailored clothing: sartorial elegance.

May 7, 2004

ha·be·as corpus
Medieval Latin habes corpus, produce the body (from the opening words of the writ) : Latin habes, second person sing. present subjunctive of habre, to have + Latin corpus, body.
One of a variety of writs that may be issued to bring a party before a court or judge, having as its function the release of the party from unlawful restraint.

The right of a citizen to obtain such a writ.

June 22, 2004

In 1896, two German brothers, John and Anton Kliegl, launched the Kliegl Brothers Universal Electric Stage Lighting Company in New York. They were responsible for many innovative scenic effects for the stage and for the new motion picture industry. Of their designs, the one that had the greatest impact on the cinematic world was a bright carbon arc lamp that allowed directors to make night appear to be day, and to make every day sufficiently bright. The light was called a Kliegl light, and later a klieg light.

July 30, 2004

latch-key lovers, n. pl. (problem)

July 24, 2004

i don't know him from a bar of soap
the cat's miaou
he's about as sharp as a matza ball and about twice as greasy 

July 21, 2004

heebie-jeebies pl.n. slang
A feeling of uneasiness or nervousness; the jitters.
Invented about 1923 by the American cartoonist Billy De Beck. Its first appearance was in one of his Barney Google cartoons in the New York American on 26 October 1923, though there it was spelled heeby-jeeby. Where it came from, apart from his fevered imagination, is open to question. There was a dance at about the same time, and a song in 1926, both said to have originated from Native American witch-doctor chants before human sacrifices.

would you mind awfully?
pleased as pie

July 20, 2004

Did you know they took gullible out of the dictionary?

July 13, 2004

^ (caret)

I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs. Shakespeare, Othello (I,i)

July 8, 2004

don't mind if i do
much obliged

July 7, 2004

brit slang

arse-over-head, arse-over-elbow, arse-over-tit v. tripping, going head over heels, falling in an embarrasing way cf. ass-over-tea-kettle.

it all went tit-up.

Promised me the known world he did. Life of Brian

Bad Language (or rather sloppy thinking):
The point is...
You know what I mean...
Really, the whole thing boils down to...


July 5, 2004

"Houston, we've had a problem." (200,000 miles from earth, April 13, 1970)

On April 13, 1970, James Lovell, Jr., John Swigert, Jr., and Fred Haise, Jr., were en route to the moon aboard the third manned U.S. lunar landing mission, Apollo 13, when disaster struck 200,000 miles from earth. Two days into the mission, liquid oxygen tank No. 2 exploded, disabling the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light, and water. A moment later Swigert reported to NASA mission control: "Houston, we've had a problem." The lunar landing was subsequently aborted, and mission control turned its efforts to saving the lives of the three astronauts. The crippled spacecraft continued to the moon, circled it, and began a long, cold journey back to earth. The astronauts and mission control were faced with enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the spacecraft and its oxygen supply and providing enough energy to the damaged fuel cells to allow successful reentry into the earth's atmosphere. On April 17, with the world anxiously watching, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.

August 29, 2004

per·fi·dy n.
Latin perfidia, from perfidus, treacherous : per-, to destruction; see per- + fids, faith.
Deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery.
The act or an instance of treachery.

August 28, 2004

I should think so
Isn't it just
antipodean champagne

August 27, 2004

elide, n.
from Latin: ldere, to strike out : -, ex-, ex- + laedere, to strike.
To omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in pronunciation.
To strike out (something written).
To eliminate or leave out of consideration.
To cut short; abridge.

August 18, 2004

sycophant \SIK-uh-fuhnt\, n.
Servile flatterer.
From Greek sukophantes, "an accuser (especially a false accuser) or rogue,"
from sukon, "fig" + phantes, "one who shows," from phainein, "to show."


Trompe d'oeil: fool the eye

August 4, 2004

so she plays for manchester city, does she?
by gum

August 3, 2004

idee fixe (Berlioz), forerunner to leitmotif (Wagner)

sub rosa, confidential.

The allusion goes back to classical times. The Romans adopted the Egyptian sun-god Horus as part of a cult of Isis and Serapis that reached them through Greece. The Greeks had taken him over as Horus the child (whose name in Egyptian was her-pa-khrad), Greeking his name to Harpocrates. The Egyptian hieroglyph for a child was a seated boy sucking his finger; the Greeks thought this showed him with his finger to his lips and so made him the god of silence and secrecy.

He became popular among Romans once the cult had been officially sanctioned during the reign of Caligula in the first century AD. There’s a famous story from those times in which Cupid—the Roman god of love—was said to have given a rose to Harpocrates as a little thank-you bribe for not letting on what his mother Venus, the goddess of sensual love, was up to (very filial, that).

So the rose became the symbol of confidentiality in the classical Roman world. The ceilings of Roman dining rooms were decorated with roses to remind guests that what was said there under the influence of wine (sub vino) was also sub rosa, under the rose, privileged and not to be made public.

The symbol of the rose was well-known throughout the post-classical period and is recorded in particular in old German writings, which is how it may have got into English. The first use of the English translation of the phrase occurs in the State Papers of Henry VIII in 1546 (though the writer had to explain what it meant). The rose was used in medieval times and later much as the Romans did, and at one time appeared as a symbol in the confessional. The tag in Latin or English is still to be heard, especially among people who prize confidentiality.

settee n.
Perhaps alteration of settle, bench.
A long wooden bench with a back.
A small or medium-sized sofa.

promethean (defiance)

August 2, 2004

takes the biscuit

August 1, 2004

not in a month of sundays
for my sins
a woman after my own heart
need to debrief
go you huskies

September 30, 2004

beggar, n., v.
Middle English, from Old French begart, ultimately from Middle Dutch beggaert, one who rattles off prayers.
One who solicits alms for a living.
An impoverished person; a pauper.
To make a beggar of; impoverish.
To exceed the limits, resources, or capabilities of: beauty that beggars description.

September 27, 2004

A shameless impudent scheming woman.
Wife of Ahab who was king of Israel; according to the Old Testament she was a cruel immoral queen who fostered the worship of Baal and tried to kill Elijah and other prophets of Israel (9th century BC).

chiaroscuro, n.
Light-dark (Italian)
The arrangement of light and dark parts in a work of art, such as a drawing or painting, whether in monochrome or in color. A monochrome picture made by using several different shades of the same color

September 26, 2004

Urim and Tummim
Mythol. The inscription of the Name of G-d, which was placed into the folds of the High Priest's breastplate, by means of which it would light up and make its words clear.

Jusqu'à ce que les vaches viennent à la maison. Voltaire

September 24, 2004

that's a lot of chocolate tish-tosh

September 22, 2004

Greek courtier to Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse, who according to legend was forced to sit at a banquet table under a sword suspended by a single hair to demonstrate the precariousness of a king's fortunes; to demonstrate to him that being a king was not the happy state Damocles had said it was (4th century BC).

Pierian Spring
From Latin Perius, sacred to the Muses, from Greek Peri a region of Macedonia; see pei- in Indo-European roots. Greek Mythology A spring in Macedonia, sacred to the Muses.
A source of inspiration.

dubiety, n.
Late Latin dubiets, from Latin dubius, doubtful ; see dubious.
A feeling of doubt that often results in wavering. See Synonyms at uncertainty.
A matter of doubt.

September 19, 2004

cloak and daggers

September 18, 2004

bodega, n.
Spanish, from Latin apothca, storehouse ; see apothecary.
A small grocery store, sometimes combined with a wineshop, in certain Hispanic communities.
A warehouse for the storage of wine.

From Latin apothca, storehouse, from Greek apothk : apo-, away ; see apo- + thk, receptacle; see dh- in Indo-European roots.
One that prepares and sells drugs and other medicines; a pharmacist.

September 16, 2004

like nobody's business

like shit through a goose

September 12, 2004

coy adj.
Middle English, from Old French quei, coi, quiet, still, from Vulgar Latin *qutus, from Latin quitus, past participle of quiscere, to rest. See kwei- in Indo-European Roots.
Tending to avoid people and social situations; reserved.
Affectedly and usually flirtatiously shy or modest. See Synonyms at shy1.
Annoyingly unwilling to make a commitment.

listless adj.
Middle English listles : probably from liste, desire (from listen, to desire. See list5) + -les, -lesse, -less.
Lacking energy or disinclined to exert effort; lethargic: reacted to the latest crisis with listless resignation.

September 10, 2004

wistful, a.
Perhaps influenced by wistly, which is probably corrupted from OE. wisly certainly (from Icel. viss certain, akin to E. wit.

1. Longing; wishful; desirous.
2. Full of thought; eagerly attentive; meditative; musing; pensive; contemplative.

"Lifting up one of my sashes, I cast many a wistful, melancholy look towards the sea." Swift.

slap and tickle

to make a pig's ear out of something

October 23, 2004

Mawkish, a.
Orig., maggoty. from Dan. maddik, an earthworm.
Apt to cause satiety or loathing; nauseous; disgusting.
Easily disgusted; squeamish; sentimentally fastidious.

Patrician, a.
Of, pertaining to, or appropriate to, a person of high birth; noble; not plebeian.
A person of refined upbringing and manners.

Plebeian, a.
L. plebeius, from plebs, plebis, the common people.
Of or pertaining to the Roman plebs, or common people.
Of or pertaining to the common people; vulgar; common.

Rom. Antiq. Of or pertaining to the Roman patres (fathers) or senators, or patricians. Originally, a member of any of the families constituting the populus Romanus, or body of Roman citizens, before the development of the plebeian order; later, one who, by right of birth or by special privilege conferred, belonged to the nobility. Patricians were the uppermost elite class of ancient Rome. They were largely consisting of families with famous or influential ancestors. In the early days of the Roman Republic intermarriages were forbidden between patricians and plebeians.

October 16, 2004

British school system tute

Prep School
A private primary (elementary) school, designed to prepare a student for Public School.

Public school
A school which is usually prestigious and historic, which charges fees, does not arbitrarily restrict admissions, and is financed by bodies other than the state, commonly as a private charitable trust. Often but not always they are boarding schools. Not all private schools are public schools. A government-run school (which would normally be called a 'public school') is called a state school. Many of the independent schools in the UK do not refer to themselves as public schools . Many choose to use the term independent school. In part this is due to a sense that some 'minor' public schools have many of the social associations and traditions of public schools but without the quality of teaching and extracurricular activities. The term 'public' (first adopted by Eton) historically refers to the fact that the school was open to the paying public, as opposed to, a religious school that was only open to members of a certain church, and in contrast to private education at home (usually only practical for the very wealthy who could afford tutors).

Finishing school
A private school for girls that emphasises cultural studies and prepares students especially for social activities. The name reflects that it follows ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one year program.

Grammar schools and Comprehensives
A secondary school attended by pupils aged 11 to 18 to which entry is controlled by means of an academically selective process consisting, largely or exclusively, of a written examination. In the period from 1960 to 1975, non-selective ("comprehensive") education was instituted by educational psychologist Cyril Burt. To understand grammar schools in the UK, some history is needed. After World War II , the government reorganised the secondary schools into two basic types. Secondary moderns were intended for children who would be going into a trade and concentrated on the basics plus practical skills; grammar schools were intended for children who would be going on to higher education and concentrated on the classics, science, etc. This system lasted until the 1960s, at which point changes in the political climate led to the general acceptance that this was a discriminatory system which was not getting the best out of all children. This was partly because some authorities tended to prioritise their budgets on the grammar schools, damaging the education prospects of children attending secondary moderns.

Primary school
Consist mainly of infant schools for children aged 4-5 to 7 and junior schools for those aged 7 to 11.

Middle school
Cover different age ranges between 8 and 14 and usually lead on to comprehensive upper schools.

Middle School, High School or Secondary School:
Year 7, old First Form, age 11 to 12
Year 8, old Second Form, age 12 to 13
Year 9, old Third Form, age 13 to 14 (Key Stage 3 National Curriculum Tests, known as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests))

Upper School or Secondary School
Year 10, old Fourth Form, age 14 to 15
Year 11, old Fifth Form, age 15 to 16 (old O Level examinations, modern GCSE examinations)

Upper School, Secondary School, or Sixth Form College
Year 12 or Lower Sixth, age 16 to 17 (AS-level examinations)
Year 13 or Upper Sixth, age 17 to 18 (A2-level examinations.)

October 15, 2004

shut it.

strumpet, n.
OE: strumpet, strompet; cf. OF. stupe debauchery, F. stupe, L. stuprare, stupratum, to debauch, stuprum debauchery, Gael. & Ir. striopach, a prostitute.
An adulteress, a loose woman, slut.

words fail.

October 13, 2004

être passionément alésé (to be passionately bored)
francois sagan

October 12, 2004

opshernish (opshorn, upshern)
A joyous community gathering in Orthodox Judaism, the 3 year old male child's first haircut. Often the time at which boys start to learn Torah.

October 8, 2004

pillion, n.
Probably from Scottish Gaelic pillean, diminutive of peall, rug, or Irish Gaelic pillín, diminutive of pell, rug, both from Old Irish pell, from Latin pellis, animal skin; see pel-3 in Indo-European roots.] A pad or cushion for an extra rider behind the saddle on a horse or motorcycle.
A bicycle or motorcycle saddle.

October 2, 2004

women you are the women here. explain.

to do the beast with one back

November 19, 2004

Arabic: kafara, conceal, be ungrateful.
One who does not believe in Allah,or in the content of the Qur'an, or in the prophetic status of Muhammad.

Denotation for the community of Muslims, that is, the totality of all Muslims.
The term comes from a word that simply means 'people'. But in the Holy Koran,
the word is used in several senses, but it always indicates a group of people
that are a part of a divine plan and salvation. There is even an example of the
word being used for an individual, Abraham (16,120).The root of "dhimmi" comes from the Arabic root "dh-m-m", where "dhimma" means "being in the care of".The term initially applied to "People of the Book" living in lands under Muslim rule, namely Jews and Christian, and was extended to Zoroastrians, Mandeans, Sikhs, and even Hindus.

A Dhimmi, or Zimmi, as defined in classical Islamic legal and
political literature, is a person living in a Muslim state who is a member of
an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion. The term literally
means "protected person." In the Middle Ages, the dhimmi concept was
comparatively tolerant by the standards of the time. Christians and Jews were
allowed to live in peace within the Muslim society, on the condition (also
required of Muslim subjects) of submission to their rulers. An example is the
Muslim state of Cordoba in Southern Spain where Christians and Jews prospered.
Maimonides, by some considered the greatest Jewish philosopher and Talmudic
sage, lived in Muslim Spain, North Africa and Egypt. As late as the 16th
century, religious tolerance in Europe was greatest within the Ottoman Empire.

November 18, 2004

the pot calling the kettle black

tu quoque - also known as: "You Too Fallacy"

Description of Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that a person's claim is false because 1) it is inconsistent with something else a person has said or 2) what a person says is inconsistent with her actions. This type of "argument" has the following form:

Person A makes claim X.
Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
Therefore X is false.

The fact that a person makes inconsistent claims does not make any particular claim he makes false (although of any pair of inconsistent claims only one can be true - but both can be false). Also, the fact that a person's claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is a hypocrite but this does not prove his claims are false.

November 16, 2004 must be the headless pizzaboy of the apocalypse.

your mission, should you choose to accept it..

I know which side my bread is buttered.

Gee - you good looking.

Not a sausage.

cobblers, n.
n 1: nonsense; "I think that is a load of cobblers" 2: a man's testicles (from Cockney rhyming slang: cobbler's awl rhymes with ball)

awl, n.
A pointed instrument for piercing small holes, as in leather or wood; used by shoemakers, saddlers, cabinetmakers, etc. The blade is differently shaped and pointed for different uses, as in the brad awl, saddler's awl, shoemaker's awl.

November 11, 2004

pettifogger, n.
A petty, unscrupulous lawyer; a shyster.
A person who quibbles over trivia.
Pettifogger is formed from the English words petty and fogger, of unknown
origin. It has been suggested that the obsolete word fogger was associated with
Fugger, surname of a 15th and 16th century German family of monopolistic
merchants. But the word pettifactor, which carries the same meaning of
pettifogger, seems to negate this explanation. In pettifactor, the factor
means "one who acts as an agent, deputy, or representative" (from Latin facere,
to make, to do).

November 9, 2004

all must have prizes

the closing of the american mind


sacrifice their passions for their interests

December 2, 2004

...notwithstanding the whingeing that comes, so often, from critics who have yet to present themselves at the anvil of peoples' maladies and fears.

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