APOTROPAIC [app-oh-TROH-pay-ick] - perceived as having the power to ward off evil influences or bad luck. [From Greek apotropaios ‘averting evil’, from apotrepein ‘turn away or from’ + -ic.] Jennifer Egan in Manhattan Beach describes wedding rings (on conference weekends) as apotropaic.
RÜCKENFIGUR [ROO-ken-fig-uh] - compositional device in painting, graphic art and film where a person is seen from behind in the foreground of the image, contemplating the view before them. [German - back-figure] The rückenfigur can highlight the beyond as well as deepen the depicted viewer's own mystery.
ANEMOTROPISM [aah-NEE-moh-trop-iz-uhm] - change in the growth or shape of an organism due to the wind's influence. [From Greek anemo - wind, plus tropism, a variant of tropos, or turn.] Anemotropism is in ample evidence along the ridges of gust-prone peaks.
TUSSENVOEGSEL [tuhs-en-FERG-zel] - the intermediary name in Dutch that lies between a person's first name and surname, such as the von in Vincent Van Gogh, or the van in Martin van Buren. [From Dutch, literally, between-grout.] Often the tussenvoegsel enters sharp focus in English when debate surrounds capitalisation.
XEROSTOMIA [zeer-oh-STO-mee-ah] - excessive dryness of the mouth [From Greek - xero (dry) + new Latin - stomia (of the mouth)] Poor salivary function, due to ageing, disease or hangovers, will result in xerostomia.
PARABLEPSIS [par-ah-BLEP-sis] - sample of a ill-copied piece of transcript, where the scribe has misread the original text, skipping a word or line. [From Greek - paraleipsis, to look askance at, literally beside-sight.] While recording this definition from a lexical source, I took pains to avoid a parablepsis.
JENNY HANIVER [jair-NEE HAN-uh-vuh] - any mummified stingray or skate that's been manipulated to mimic a demon or dragon. [Possibly a corruption of 'jeune d'Anvers' - or 'youth of Antwerp' - by Cockney sailors during the 1500s.] The macabre Jenny Haniver is part of the broader scrimshaw tradition.
BARATHRUM [BAH-ah-THRUM] - abyss; hell; glutton - one with a bottomless stomach. [From Latin barathrum, from Greek barathron; akin to Greek bibroskein to devour] Any winner of a hotdog-scoffing marathon is a card-carrying barathrum.
AGELAST [adj-AR-luhst] - one who doesn't laugh; serious or overearnest soul. [From Greek agélastos - “not laughing, grave, gloomy"] Going by the arid prose of Hegel, the German philosopher was liable to be an agelast.
ENANTIODROMIA [ee-NANT-ee-oh-DROMA-ee-uh] - the tendency for things to become their opposites; the concept that an abundance of any force can cause an opposite reaction. [From Greek, literally ‘running in opposite ways’.] Carl Jung coined enantiodromia, identifying how one mental state is as likely to suggest or manifest the other.
ZAIBATSU [tsai-BAT-soo] - any large Japanese business conglomerate [Japanese zai ‘wealth’ + batsu ‘clique’] The traditional zaibatsu existed prior to WW2, with colossal wealth owned by familial monopolies.
CULF [rhymes with 'gulf'] - loose feathers that fill a cushion of mattress. [Cornish dialect, etymology unknown.] Slapstick movies depends on custard pies, banana skins and culf-packed pillows.
AUSTRINGER [oss-TRIN-jah] - keeper of hawks; a falconer who uses hawks and other raptors for hunting; also ASTRINGER [From late Middle English, ostringer, derivative of Middle French ostour, hawk.] It will be hard to resist TREASURING when devising a clue for AUSTRINGER.
WHOOP-DE-DO - [woop-dee-DOOH] a hump of earth, usually one in a series forming an obstacle on a BMX track; similar obstacle in an off-road car race. [Onomatopoeia of a kind, based on rider's reaction.] No life is spared a few chicanes and hazards, and the occasional whoop-de-do.
MUMBLETY-PEG - [also MUMBL(E)Y-PEG] - early US game in which players take turns to toss a knife or pointed stick from a series of positions, continuing until it fails to stick in the ground. [From the phrase 'mumble the peg' as the losing player was once required to pull a peg from the earth with their teeth.] To see the cowboy caper of mumblety-peg clarified, go here.
SPRINGERLE [SHPRING-uh-lah] - anise-flavoured Christmas biscuit of Germany, boasting an embossed design made with a special rolling pin. [From German dialect, Springerle, literally ‘little jumping horses’.] This December, add a tray of springerle/s to your Yuletide buffet.
POSOLOGY [poh-SOLL-uh-gee] - branch of pharmacology dealing with the determination of dosage. [Greek poso(s) how much + -logy] Knowing which drug to prescribe is different from knowing the posology.
CARMAGNOLE [CAR-mun-yole] - up-tempo song popular during the first French Revolution; meandering street dance to such a song [French version of NW Italian town of Carmagnola.] Rather than trying to describe a carmagnole, hear it here.
ROBORANT [ROH-bur-unt] - strength tonic; restorative elixir [From Latin roboro - I strengthen.] Protein shakes belong in the roborant category.
I came. I emailed. I waited, and waited - but no answer from the wordsmith. What's going on?
In short, an IT glitch recently beset the site's email page, convincing senders that their emails had been sent, yet the message failed to reach my inbox. After 3 weeks of silence I'd suspected a snag and the problem has now been repaired.
Apologies if you'd been trying to drop a line during June. The issue has now been resolved and please feel free to use the email function - or resend your original message.
Cheers - DA