A Free-Rice Word Interlude I
Bill Long 8/14/08
Four Words To Get Us Started
On this leisurely day in my home town, where the mercury has already reached 95.4 degrees (at 4:00 p.m.), I thought I would return to some freerice.com words which that site kindly provides for those of us with great desires to know "all the words." If you work at the site for a while, you can reach the hightest level "60" without too much difficulty; knowing the following words will help you get there much more quickly.
1. Taw. My friend Gil missed this word at a spelling bee a few years ago when the pronouncer read it as "toe." I actually am not sure how it is pronounced, especially if you use it as the 23rd letter of the Hebrew alphabet (tof; tov), but the more usual pronunciation is tuh, if I am interpreting the OED signs correctly. In any case, the chief meaning is a "large choice or fancy marble, often streaked or variegated, being that with which the player shoots." I just called this a "shooter" as a kid. Here is a picture for you. But the maddening thing is that the definition given for taw in the "Free Rice" game was "white leather." That is the first definition, called "obs. rare." by the OED. Now you have at least three meanings, even if we don't yet know how to pronounce it!
2. I stumbled on the word "jillaroo," not at first making the logical connection with its being the feminine version of a "jackaroo," whatever that might mean. I knew, of course, the jack comes before the jill in our society's linguistic evolution, and I discovered that a jackaroo is a "man newly arrived from England (to Australia) to gain experience in the bush. As this 1885 quotation says: "Before starting on their own account to work a station, they go into the bush to gain colonial experience, during which process they are known in the colony as 'jackaroos.' Now the term is used of a cadet or novice on a sheep or cattle-station. So, once jackaroo is clear, jillaroo falls right into place, as a "female station hand." I think it could also be used to describe a female novice at a task. This word wasn't coined, however, until 1945. Well, it took WWII to give us "Rosie the Riveter" in the US; Australian then got its jillaroos. I prefer the latter.
3. A sackbut is not a guy who gets fired by being thrown out on his can (butt), but is a medieval trombone-type instrument. Here is an article on the subject, with pictures. The German equivalent is posaune, which was a word in the 2008 Kids Spelling Bee. Two of the great movements in our day are the historical reconstruction of ancient/older gardens on old estates and the rediscovery and use of Renaissance musical instruments in concert. The sackbut has been (re)discovered in this process.
4. I knew the word philippic, but I hadn't put it in my list of classical words still used in English (see this essay), and so I include it here. It refers specifically to the "Philippics" or denunciatory speeches of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon (4th cent. BCE) and Cicero against Antony (1st cent. BCE), but the word became associated with the content of these speeches: "bitter attack, denunciation, invective." In 1707 John Toland could say: "A Phillippick oration to incite the English against the French." A lovely quotation from the London Times in 1998 excites the risibilities (or the gelastics) is here:
"The phillipic pith was couched...in an analogy about wives and prostitutes so convoluted as to leave even the smartest of structuralists crawling on all fours towards the nearest vodka."
I just went out of control on the next word--and devoted an entire essay to it. Oh, by the way, it is 97 degrees after I finshed these two essays. We really don't need air-conditioning in the Willamette Valley; only a few days a year this hot...