Saturday, 7 January 2012

Words you didn't know you didn't know 2

Some new words for everyday things that you may not be aware of:

Barm – the yeasty froth on top of brewing beer. Used in the past to make barm cakes.

Bathycolpian – having a large bosom with deep cleavage.

Bittings - the pointed teeth and notches found on a key. A key is made up of two parts – the blade (where the bittings are found) and the bow (the bit you hold onto and twist).

Blind Nipple - a short piece of pipe or tube, closed at one end.

Dactylion – the tip of the middle finger.

Escutcheon – the metal surround for a keyhole, often with a stylised keyhole-shaped (clithridiate) hole in the centre.

Findings – the metal doohickeys that hold jewellery together; clasps, wires, bails etc.

Flink – collective noun for more than a dozen cows.*

Ginglyform – hinge-shaped.

Glabella – The space on your forehead between your eyebrows.

Kerf – the trench made by using a saw before the cut is complete.

Marraffino – the device inside toothpaste tubes that makes the paste stripey.

Muscae volitantes – the technical name for the threadlike or worm-like ‘floaters’ that you can sometimes see drifting across your eyeballs. Seeing them is called myodesopsia. They are nearly always harmless.

Natal Cleft – the crack between the buttocks that builders delight in displaying.

Onychophagia – the habit of biting your nails.

Phloem Bundles - the stringy parts of a banana.

Runcation – the act of weeding.

Spine – the straight part of the comb that the teeth attach to.

Toe – the very tip of the bristles on a paintbrush. The main body of the bristles is called the belly.

Whiffling – describes the action of a bird descending rapidly from a height once the decision to land has been made. It involves fast sideways drifting, first one way and then the other. Geese whiffle.

*Flink is a bit of a mystery. While it turns up in word lists and dictionaries all over the internet, the only 'official' flink is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a 19th century US rural dialect verb meaning, ‘to behave in a cowardly manner’; probably simply a variant of ‘flinch.’ The creators of the Word Detective website attempted to track it down and discovered that it seems to be a fanciful invention inspired by the ‘cow’ of that ‘cowardly’ definition in the OED and may therefore be mountweazel.

A mountweazel is a spurious entry deliberately included in a dictionary or encyclopedia in order to trap plagiarists. The name comes from a fictitious entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, supposedly a famous photographer of rural mailboxes, who was included in the 1975 edition of The Columbia Encyclopaedia. It seems entirely possible that ‘flink’ was invented as a mountweazel for a text, perhaps an online dictionary, which was then widely plagiarised. Of course, if flink is still popping up on the internet in a few years, it’ll be time to consider it as a 'real' word fit for dictionaries. That's what happened to the term flange as a collective noun for baboons. It was mentioned once in the 1980s BBC comedy series Not the Nine O'Clock News during the 'Gerald the Gorilla' sketch and was repeated so often thereafter that it now appears in proper dictionaries.

With pleasing symmetry, the producer for the show was the very same John Lloyd that I mentioned in the previous 'Words you didn't know you didn't know' post.

Thanks for word suggestions from Barney Ashworth, @GlamLovinKitty, Persephone, Julian Williams, @Beanobundle, Twittles and @Ariadnaquape.

As an aside, do have a read of the curious story of the Fox Terrier that unwittingly became a mountweazel on my old blog here. And I discuss the related subject of False Authority Syndrome - believing something to be real because it appears in a book/on a website/on TV etc. - here and, more recently, here.

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