Archive for December, 2008

chanticleer (n.)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

English is a language with an incredibly large pool of other languages adding to its lexicon. Probably the more languages you speak the more obvious the etymological analogies become. If you speak French this week’s word will be no trouble for you to figure out. Henry David Thoreau writes in his Walden:

As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” H. D. Thoreau, Walden, and Civil Disobedience, New York et al. 1986, p. 128.


town (n.)

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Etymology is the study of the history of words. It is also one of the most interesting and most enlightening aspects of linguistics. The basic question of etymology is

Where does [word X] come from?


keen (adj.)

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Have you noticed that my posts for word of the week have something in common. Both times I have emphasized phonetic qualities. In the first case it was the sound of what the word described, and last week it was the spitting sound of the word itself.


spectre (n.)

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

I came upon this wonderful word while reading Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great over the autumn holidays. Literally it means ghost or phantom. But usually it signifies an event or object of terror, something that really has people scared. And often this object of fear is portrayed as looming just behind the horizon, an imminent danger ready to strike any moment.


blow-out (n.)

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

What I like so much about this word is its graphic quality. It describes the sudden escape of air from a punctured tire. But also a big party or a great feast with wonderful food prepared in large quantities. The connection between the two meanings, describing a lavish meal or party in terms of an explosion is what I find so appealing.