More Free Rice Words V
Bill Long 8/17/08
Beginning with Lappa
Whenever I learn a new word that is a tangible object, I try to find a picture of it online, link the picture to my essay, study it and then internalize the word with the picture in my mind. In this way the various birds, trees, fabrics and other objects, from all over the world, become part of my working vocabulary. I did this especially today with the word lappa. The OED informs us that it is a Hausa word (West Africa) denoting a woman's shawl or skirt. The word only made it into English in 1954: "Gloriously decked out form the waist down in a bright new golden wrap-around lappa." Chinua Achebe, West Africa's most famous writer of the last generation, could write in 1966: "She rubbed her eyes with a corner of her lappa and blew her nose into it." Not very elegant, but it does create an indelible picture.
I managed to find a picture of a lappa online. Here is Mrs. Gjersted, the wife of a missionary pastor in Liberia, wearing one made for her by some locals. In this case the lappa is the entire dress, which is cut rather low both in the front and the back. I think it is an attractive dress. Mrs. Gjersted keeps a rather long and diffuse blog about their ministry in Liberia. I have always had a secret admiration for those who would go to the ends of the earth for their beliefs, sacrificing the comforts and safety of the USA, even if I might not share their theology. But what made me chuckle this time was part of her post about the lappa. She wanted to issue a "disclaimer" about it. Why? Well, apparently she felt it was cut too low to be modest. She writes:
"I did not specify how the neck should be on it and that was a mistake. Everything here is open backed even the old ladies wear their dresses with their backs exposed. My lace church dress had to go back over and over til finally it would stay up on my shoulders where it is supposed to."
Clearly the lappa's low cut feature in the back made her uncomfortable, even if no one of the native people who saw her in it was uncomfortable. As one person says, "this is Africa(n)!" Well, now I know what a lappa is.
On the way to my next word, I tripped up on lappaceous, which I had never seen. It is a botanical term, "of, pertaining to, or resembling a bur." The Latin word lappa means "bur." Well, what is a bur? Well, another definition of lappidaceous helps: "resembling the capitulum of burdock; covered with forked points." Burdock is any of a group of biennial thistles with prickly heads which easily catch onto clothing. Here is a picture of the head, or capitulum, of burdock. Thus, something lappaceous is sharp, prickly and rounded as bur. I wonder if we could inject a figurative meaning to the word--by talking about a lappaceous personality or a lappaceous situation from which we might have difficulty extricating self. As I have often said on this site, why leave all the good word to botanists/scientists when the rest of us could use them just as well? That's enough on this.
A Few Silks
Two I want to mention first are kincob and sendal. Kincob is "a rich Indian stuff, embroidered with gold or silver." Here is a picture of kincob, which is spelled kinkhab on the web site. The site says:
"Silk fabrics with raised patterns are called brocades. Gold or silver cloth, i.e., silk woven with gold or silver thread are known in India by the name of kinkhab (kincob).."
Sendal is a "thin rich silken material; also, a covering or garment of this material." Whereas kincob is a rather recent entry into English, sendal goes back well before Chaucer in the late 14th century. A 1599 quotation takes us further:
"Sendale...was a thynne stuff lyke sarcenette (It is usually spelled sarcenet today, though the Century has it as sarsenet. Oops! the Collegiate spells it both ways--hence it can't be used in our national spelling bee. Very, very bad...), and of a rawe kynde of sylke or sarcenett, but courser and narrower, then the Sarcenett now ys."
As Mark Twain may have said on one occasion, he really admired people who could spell the same word in more than one way--as our 1599 author. Because fabrics like this are only really understood when you feel them, why don't you go to a fabric store and see if they have these?
Finishing with Slipstream
Though we can understand the meaning of slipstream once we are told it, we might have difficulty guessing what it is. It is "the current of air or water driven backward by a propeller or downward by a rotor." The first usage was in 1913: "Each blade deflects air backwards as it moves; the combined effect of both blades operating always in the same region when the machine is standing still produces a concentrated flow of air, which becomes a very pronounce draught. Technically, this draught is called the slip stream. The word is actually hyphenated in the OED. "The slipstream from the propeller cast bits of mud and ice into the air during take-off." Or, from 1973: "The snow leapt up at me, and I was there, in one pice, with the slip-stream of the helicopter hammering at me."
All this thinking about propellers reminded me of a joke I heard about 30 years ago. What happened when the young woman backed into the moving propeller? Dis-assed-her. Really funny, I know. Oh, a related word is aproctous, which means "without an anus." So, the woman backing into the propeller is "dis-assed," but she doesn't become aproctous. As an 1870 quotation says tersely, "No vertebrate animal is aproctous." But it surely gives one rather wide berth to imagine what if Mr. X or Ms. X was actually aproctous. As you can see, my utility is just about at an end today, so I will bid you a cheery good-night.