Bill Long 10/5/08
Just No Seeming Order to Them..
I don't suppose that this will become my most famous essay--for here I just "clean up" a number of terms that probably are good to know, on the theory that more knowledge is good, but which aren't going to appear in the great world epic I will write...
1. Electret, for example, is a word going back to 1885 to describe a "permanently polarized piece of dielectric material, the electric counterpart of the permanent magnet," but now is normally used to designate a type of microphone in which an electret with a permanent electric polarization is used in place of the capacitor of an ordinary condensor microphone. This article goes into the several types of microphones...
2. A spruit, related to the English word sprout, is a small stream or water-course, usually dry except in the wet season. Sort of like a Middle-Eastern wadi. From 1863: "I scraped my finger-nails off in making large holes in the dry spruits, but not one drop came." Or, in this sentence, "we are looking for a real river, and not some capricious spruit."
3. A syce (or sais) is, esp. in India, a servant who attends to horses; a groom. The Arabic word behind it is sus, "to tend a horse." The Century lists its preferred spelling as sice. The word maintains some popularity today, especially in tales of South Asia.
4. A cadeau is the French word for present or gift, and has been taken up infrequently into English. "Some little present as a New Year's Cadeau" (ka DOUGH). I wonder if little children antipating the joys of Christmas might be said to be "waiting for cadeau." Oh, and part of the joy of words is to make unexpected discoveries. Like the fact that Dayana Cadeau (b. 1966) is the most successful Canadian bodybuilder in the world. Here is some information and a picture of this finely muscled beauty.
5. Swage (derived from swedge) is a tool for bending cold metal (sometimes hot) to the required shape; also a die or stamp for shaping metal on an anvil or press. Swaging is the process of so shaping the metal, using a swage. All you ever want to know about swaging, unless you are in the field, is contained here. And, here is an article that talks about the "mystery" of the swage block, an article which is says goes back 3,000 years. A swage block is not an anvil, but has been called "hollow anvil" due to the holes or depressions in it. Thus, you have the tool, the block and the process--all of which are swages or swaging. The noun swedge is the same as swage, but the verb swedge not only suggests the molding that happens through the swedging machine but has an intransitive meaning to "go off or depart without paying." Kipling used the term in this way, "Seems kinder unneighbourly to let 'em swedge off like this.." Or, in current America, it is known as "dining and dashing." Distinguish all of this from swag, which is, in NZ and Australia, the bundle of personal belongings carried by a traveller in the bush. Thus, a swagman, the leading character in "Waltzing Matilda," is simply a tramp.
6. A bricole, from the Italian briccola and the French bricole, is "an ancient military engine or catapult for throwing stones or bolts." Thus, it is another word for trebuchet. This picture calls it a pierriere, the ancient form of the bricole. Here are tons of pictures of this medieval fighting "engine," as it was called. The term is also used in tennis (17th century tennis?) to describe a stroke against a wall. Well, this is a different kind of tennis that I have played..
7. Mitis is the Latin word for "mild", and it has been used, since the late 19th century, to describe a method of production or casting of iron, as well as the pure iron made fluid enough for casting by the addition of a very small quantity of aluminum. Thus, we have "Mitis casting." From 1886: "In the United States and Sweden, Mitis Metal has already established itself as an article of commerce." Or, with respect to the process, from 1888: "The 1/20th part of 1 per cent of aluminum, when added to molten wrought iron will render it extremely fluid, and thus enable wrought iron (or what are comercially known as "Mitis'-castings of the most intricate character) to be produced." This 1888 book talks about a certain Swede, named Ostberg, who has "lately devised an ingenious process of making castings..." called "mitis castings."
8. A historical term (i.e. no one uses it in "polite" or even "impolite" company anymore) for the pelt of a beaver is plew. Since the term arose in Canada, the OED says that it apparently was derived from the French pelu, the pelt of a beaver. From 1995 (showing the historic nature of the term): "A popular commodity-currency with the North West Company was the prime beaver pelt, sometimes referred to as a 'plew,' from French-Canadian pelu, pelt."
9. Swad has seven definitions in the OED, but only a few are worth mentioning. The freerice.com usage was a "thick mass, clumb, or bunch." Hence, it is a great quantity. It first appeared in this way in Webster's 1828 dictionary: "In New England, a lump, mass or bunch..." Then, from a few years later, "There was a swod of fine folks." One could have a "swad of grass," the "almighty swad of manufactured plunder" or even a "swad of words." Other meanings include "a country bumpkin; a loutish fellow" or even a fish basket. I will associate it with bunch, I think, and see if there is a chance to use it.
10. Finally, let's get to touse. Actually, I grew up being warned not to tousle my hair, and I probably should have figured out that to touse can mean a variety of things, all the way from disordering or disheveling, to rumpling, to pulling roughly about; to handle roughly or even to tear at and worry. Thus, it is a multi-meaninged word to describe the process of handling something roughly. Thomas Hardy wrote in 1898: "When she used to sing and piroutte/ And touse the tambourine." Thus, a touse is a commotion or din. Someone could "make such a touse..." or make an "eternal touse about something."
Ten words here, ten words there; pretty soon you have a real vocabulary..