Free Rice Words and Others II
Bill Long 9/20/08
Let's knock out a few more words beginning with "s" before returning to leisurely examination of the dictionary. Shichimi is a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients: mandarin orange peel, sesame seed, poppy seed, hemp seed, nori, red chili pepper and ground sansho. The word isn't yet in the OED, which actually means little...
Simous is a word derived from the Greek simos, meaning "flat-nosed" or "snub-nosed." It can also mean "concave." But even though it normally refers to a nose, the first use of the term in English, in 1634, had to do with the liver: "This Gate-vein coming out of the simous part of the Liver, is divided into two branches." In this regard, simous is the opposite of gibbous; the latter means "bunching outward" and the former means "bending inwards."
A scrag is a depreciatory term to describe a lean person or animal. We have the term "scraggly" to characterize such a person. A slang use of the verb to scrag means "to hang" on the gallows or to wring the neck of/to garotte. From 1883: "I wish to heaven his mother had scragged him when he was a baby!"
Shoji is a Japanese term that has made it into English, indeed as long ago as 1880. It is an architectural word and describes a sliding outer or inner door made of latticed screen usually covered with white paper. Here is a fine picture of shoji doors and tatami flooring. By the way, I didn't know that tatami, the familiar floor-covering in Japan, comes in a 'standard unit' of approx. 6' X 3'. The Century Dictionary Supplement, from 1909, said that it is 6 shaku in length by 3 shaku in width. The shaku is a measure of length equivlanet to 11.9 inches or 30.3 centimeters. Actually, the word shaku is more complicated than this, implicating another unit of length approx. 14.9 inches, for measuring cloth. These traditional measurements have now been discontinued, but it never hurts to learn what something formerly was....
Sinigrin is not simply a glucosinolate found in such plants as brussels sprouts and broccoli, but is also a musical group, with a video here. The active ingredient in sinigrin may even work on some cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in the colon to persuade them to "commit suicide" (apoptosis is the technical word). The word sinigrin comes from the two Latin words for "black mustard." By the way, I don't believe I will become a regular aficionado of the band Sinigrin. Why do they call their group Sinigrin? Well, it has "a unique sensory experience and is good for your insides."
The suricate is an animal of the genus Suricata, which is a "viverrine burrowing carnivore of Cape Province; the meerkat or zenick." Here are a few excellent pictures of these mongooses. Sometimes they are found in open territory in the dry savannah of South Africa and in the Kalahari. They live in underground tunnels in groups of 10-20. The one on the right looks like the photographer has just interrupted him and he is quite offended by the picture. I hadn't heard the word zenick previously, but it is one of the species of the meerkat: Suricata zenik or Suricata tetradactyla.
I have waited quite a while to get to one of my favorite terms: saccadic/saccade. It refers to a jerky movement, specifically of the eye, but more broadly of anything. Underlying the adjective is saccade, a French-derived term meaning "a jerky movement." Chambers' Ccylopedia first used the word in English in the mid-18th century: "Saccade, in the manage (manege, today) a jerk or violent check which the rider gives his horse, by drawing both the reins very suddenly." But this 18th century usage was supplemented by a meaning introduced only in the early 1950s: "a brief rapid movement of the eye from one position of rest to another." From 1953: "These [types of eye movement] include relatively large slow waves, saccades, and slow drifts of fixation." In discussing the physiology of reading, an author could write: "The eye does not move continuously along a line of print in reading, but executes a regular alternation of rapid jumps, called saccades, and fixational pauses." When we introduce the adjective, however, we are in the general realm of something jerky or discontinous. From 1937: "Marxists are disposed to charge Christians..with failure to appreciate the saccadic movement of history." Has the Times Literary Supplement hit the nail on the head with this 1980 quotation: "From these things--parties, cafes, trips, gigs--a saccadic inconsequential life is made." Yet, who is to judge? Perhaps not everyone is made for the smooth regularity of the office and eight-hour workday...
I was planning to get out of the "s's" here, but I don't think I will be able to. Why? Well, words like sniggle and spivvery still invite consideration. A sniggle is two things: a baited hook or other device used in "sniggling" for eels (i.e., putting a bait in the holes in which they conceal themselves) and a snicker or snigger. Harriet Beecher Stowe used it in the latter sense: "Marks patronised his joke by a quiet introductory sniggle."
Let's continue with spivvery which, if you know that spiv is probably derived from spiff, you can easily get to the essence of spivvery. The word spiv only entered our speech in 1929 to describe a man "who lives by his wits and has no regular employment." Also, a spiv is one who engages in petty blackmarket dealings and frequently is characterized by flashy dress. From a 1934 book called School for Scoundrels (what degree do you get when graduating? A BAD?): "Spiv, petty crook who will turn his hand to anything so long as it does not involve honest work." Thus, there are three significantions of the word: dishonesty, flashy dressing, unwillingness to do "honest" work. "He has no time for spivvery within or without the law."
Let's conclude with a regional verb/noun: squiz. It originated in Australia/NZ and meant "a brief glance." It might be a portmanteau word, consisting of squint and quiz, though the latter word, though having many meanings (such as a witticism or joke) doesn't seem to be connected. Yet, there is one definition of quiz, now obsolete, which I want to share with you. It is a sort of toy, like a yo-yo, which is cast down and, because of a spring, comes up on the thrower. The original name for such a toy was a bandalore. Here is a picture of a woman playing with a bandalore, from a 1791 French fashion journal. Here is a page on the history of the yo-yo. After reading it, you surely see how it has had its ups and downs.
I think I will quit on that note...