A word I just learned…

… reading Roy Peter Clark’s The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing:


On more than one level the act of writing is, to use a fancy word, ludic. It’s a game. A game of language, connection, and meaning. Have some fun, for goodness’ sake.

And may I add that any book that references the Swingin’ Medallions and T.S. Eliot on the same page (p. 5, in this case) is all right by me.

Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love): The Love Song of J. Alfred Fratrock?

A word I just learned…

… reading a review by Christian Wiman in the New York Times Book Review:


Nietzsche believed that if only a Dostoyevsky had been among the apostles who followed Jesus, someone who understood the environment in which “the scum of society, nervous maladies and ‘childish’ idiocy keep a tryst,” we might have been spared centuries of ovine idiocy.

Shaun the Sheep: Not one to follow the ovine crowd.

After Several Fails, Should We Trust Election Polls?

It’s a key question, given the swarm of public opinion reports on the horizon.
By Tom Barrett

One academic cautions that election polls tend to underestimate support for the incumbent party. Photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Bonhomme by pmwebphotos Flickr.
One academic cautions that election polls tend to underestimate support for the incumbent party. Photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Bonhomme by pmwebphotos Flickr.

In recent weeks, pollsters have asked us questions about UFOs, cyberscams, the coming federal election and Metro Vancouver’s transit plebiscite. But there’s one question many of us are asking the pollsters: Why should we believe you?

The 2013 B.C. election fail did for the polling industry what the Hindenburg did for the dirigible as the last word in air safety. Since then, pollsters have been struggling to find ways to better measure what we’re thinking.

For pollsters, there’s no money in asking questions about elections and releasing the numbers to the media. They do it as a marketing tool to attract clients who want to know what people think about, say, shampoo.

Because the numbers in marketing surveys are difficult to verify, calling elections correctly is one of the few ways pollsters can show they know their stuff. Calling elections correctly, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. And bum results don’t attract clients.

University of British Columbia political science professor Richard Johnston said he understands their plight. “If I were in the firms I would almost ask myself, ‘Is it worth it to be in the prediction business?'” he said.

But if pollsters quit doing public polls, voters are left with less information, said Johnston. Voters have a valid interest in knowing how their fellow citizens are going to vote because it allows them to decide how to vote most effectively, he said. “If you can’t make sense of the polling information, then what do you do?” Continue reading

A word I just learned…

… from my wife, who was doing the New York Times Magazine acrostic.


Another wonderful archaic word. I have to agree with Michael Quinion‘s theory that this word echoes the sound of the huntsman’s horn. You can just hear Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia hollering “Tantivy!” as she rides over the fields with the Quorn.


A word I just learned…

… reading an article by Rachel Cooke  in The Week.  (Feb. 7, 2015, pp. 56-57. Originally published in The Observer.)


In a memoir of his 1930s Potteries childhood, The Vanished Landscape, historian Paul Johnson describes his father taking him to see the Sytch in Burslem, an immense stretch of ground composed of clay, black water, mud, industrial detritus and ‘fumigerous furnaces belching forth fire, ashes and smoke.’

I have a fondness for words that are obscure and euphonious, but this one takes the gateau. It’s meaning is clear from the context, but it doesn’t show up in a search of the online OED. And Google returns only a handful of hits – most of them either the Paul Johnson quotation above or this one, from the same memoir:

You went down a steep track to get into Tunstall Station, a cavernous place under a bridge, of smoke-stained dingy brick, dark and fumigerous.

Searching Google Books turns up the Johnson memoir and four other books. Before that search I was beginning to suspect Johnson had invented the word; instead, I’ll give him full credit for keeping it alive.

A word I just learned…

… reading The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1 – Tune In by Mark Lewisohn


Chapter 7 of this remarkable book contains this marvellous description of the Liverpool slang spoken by the future fab four:

“…something good or great was ‘gear’ and stupid was ‘soft,’ and out of fashion was ‘down the nick’ and when taunting or teasing someone you’d shout ‘Chickaferdy!’; and if someone was spineless they were ‘nesh’; and you said ‘Come ’ead!’ (‘come ahead’ for ‘come on’); and ‘Eh oop!’ had many uses, from ‘hello’ to ‘let’s go,’ and ‘lad’ was ‘la’; and an interesting person was a ‘skin’ – so ‘Eh la!’ and ‘Eh oop, la!’ and ‘ ’E’s a good skin’; and where (though swearing was muted on the street because people got upset if they overheard it) ‘stupid get’ (‘stupid git’) or ‘yer daft get’ were OK … and then you said good-bye to your mates with a wacker’s ‘Tarrah well!’”

(“Wacker” being a word for working-class Liverpool males.)

A word I just learned…

… reading an AFP story:


“Locals in the village of Brugairolles in the foothills of the Pyrenees were so appalled by the immurement, they rose up to rescue the elderly couple, tearing down a wall from the front of the house and ripping open windows and doors that had been nailed shut.”

From the Latin murus, or wall, which shows up in English words like mural.



A word I just learned…

… reading a review by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times Book Review:


“She [Clare Boothe Luce] ensorcelled the married Lieut. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., in command of the Fifth Army in Italy.”

A wonderful word, with echoes of ensnarement, sorcery and snorkels. It comes from an Old French root that indeed relates to the English word “sorcerer.”

My wife, who never ceases to ensorcell me, points out that Daniel Bélanger has a song titled Ensorcelée.