New Free Rice Words XIII
Bill Long 5/22/98
Real Fun with Real Words
I look at words as building blocks, like bricks you might work into a towering structure that you are building. Each one might not be that impressive on its own (though sometimes it is), but when combined they can result in a striking, stunning and breathaking edifice. Gradually, as you study words, you begin to bring them into your conversation and writing. Just this morning, while summarizing a Supreme Court case, I was about to use the word "tizzy," but then I recalled that a synonym, which I just learned, is swivet. So, swivet it was. Let's see if there are some from this list that might be helpful for you...
1 and 2. Tombola and tombolo. I never knew there were two such closely-related words. A tombola is a word used to describe an old-time gambling device that we would today call a Lotto. Fancy articles were offered for prizes; a card containing several numbers in given to each person, and all the numbers on the card must be drawn in order to secure a prize. Maybe the word isn't really needed anymore, but there it is. Tombolo, on the other hand, is a word derived from the Italian word for "sand dune," is a "bar joining an island to the mainland." The word goes back in English to 1899; from 1960 we have: "In the British Isles a fine example of a tombolo is provided by Chesil Beach, an eighteen-mile-long ridge connecting the Isle of Portland to the mainland." A tombolo is thus more like a causeway than a spit, which is a narrow tongue of land jutting out into the sea but not connecting anything out there to the mainland.
3. One of the definitions of the Dutch-derived word stive, in the OED, is "dust; esp. the floating dust of flour during the operation of grinding." From 1907: "The filtering medium, whatever it was, speedily got choked by the stive or dust." Useful? 4. Well, how about the Afrikaans word spruit? A spruit is a small or water-course, usually almost or altogether dry except in the wet season. "We came to a real river, not a capricious spruit.." The Arabic synonym for this, also a word in English, is wadi.
5. I love the word tantalus, derived of course from the mythological figure who stood in Tartarus up to his chin in water, water which constantly receded as he stooped to drink. Late in the 19th century another usage emerged--to describe a stand usually containing three cut-glass decanters which, though apparently free, could not be withdrawn until the grooved bar which engages the stoppers is raised. Here is a picture of one. Why the name? Well, the linked web-site says that the tantalus was first used in many of England's grand homes. It allowed homeowners to lock away pricey brandy and other spirits from the attention of their butlers, who might tend to help themselves to a tipple after the master retired to bed. Such a device would "tantalize" all concerned.
6. Posey is an adjective meaning "affected" or "pretentious." Eugene O'Neill first used the term in 1933: "He is alternately plain simple boy and a posey actor solemly playing a role." Thus, a posey is someone who "poses," someone who strikes a "pose" in order to catch attention.
7. The word snool is a contraction of snivel. As a noun, a snool is one who "meanly subjects himself to the authority of another." We have the modern word "kiss ass" or "brown noser," but I like snool best of all. Thomas Carlyle used the word in 1822: "You or any one of us will never be a snool; we have not the blood of snools in our bodies."
8. A laystall is "a place where refuse and dung is laid." Since a "stall" was a standing-place for horses or cattle, a laystall could also be a place in a barn where the manure was kept. Since we have so much "crap" that we endure in life, some of which is of our own making, perhaps it would be good to reintroduce the term in our vocabulary. "You can put that comment on the laystall where it belongs." Other words we have are "dungheap" or "junkyard," but laystall is, at first blush, seemingly so much more elegant a term. Yet, it isn't. Thus, the most useful place for it might actually be in semi-polite conversation where you want to "trash" or "diss" your interlocutor with them not being fully being aware of it.
9-11. The words brickle, brockle and bruckle all mean about the same thing: something that is fragile, brittle or easily broken. As early as 1534 Thomas More could write: "As a brickell earthen pot in pieces al to frush them." One could have brickle vessels or bricks or clay. Whereas brittle gives us a clear meaning, the word brickle gives us a sound--we can hear the icile begin to crackle when pressure is applied to it.
Let that suffice for today, as we continue our journey into words that are useful and that might better be cast on the laystall.