Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Meaning: Ammunition belt, although originally it meant anything worn across the shoulder 'scarfe wise'. This leaves the hands free, hence - presumably - the popularity with mountaineers and rifleers.

Ottoman Bandolier: I'd like one. 
Logofascination: 2. Etymologically it's 'little band*'; a word that has wandered through German, Italian, Spanish and into English via French (but sometimes straight from Spanish). Its meaning shifted to ammunition container quite quickly, perhaps not surprising in 17th century Europe.

In the wild: Hardly wild, but we're still in the Viennese museum of Arms and Armour. I discovered that the gorgeous bag I was coveting was, in fact, a bandolier and have been meaning to look up the etymology ever since.

Usefulness: 3. More useful is Cotgrave's bandouillier, one who wears anything 'scarfe wise'. I do this a lot.

*not related to bandit, which is someone who is banned. 

Monday, October 28, 2013


Meaning: a horse's head-armour, or as Cotgrave has it:
the front-stall, head-peece, or forehead-piece, of a barbed horse. 
Bonus word: a horse's armour is bard(ing), although no-one's quite sure why. This has since extended to the practice of wrapping bacon around poultry when roasting; good to see a useful word so deliciously recycled.

Logofascination: 2. Partly due to the 'there's a word for everything' factor, and partly because of the wide and wild variety of the spelling. I had it written down as chanfron, and Wikipedia has chanpron, but ngrams finds that chamfron is most popular (using the word popular quite loosely) and the OED only gives us chamfron or chamfrain.

In the wild: The Viennese museum of Arms and Armour, back in 2011. I told you I hoard words; I thought it was time to get onto my back-catalogue. It also turns up in Cotgrave, who I do recommend browsing.

Usefulness: 4, unless you're writing historical fiction, or touring an armoury museum.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hook turn

Meaning: a counter-intuitive driving manoeuvre in which you turn across oncoming traffic from what feels like the wrong side of the road; in effect you join the traffic stream perpendicular to yours. Video here.

Logofascination: 4. It's a turn that looks like a hook. This word was only saved from a really boring 5 rating by functioning as a semi-shibboleth for Melbournians, and the ANDC taking so long to add it.  It's not in the Australian National Dictionary yet, but we've had electric trams (why Melbourne needs hook turns) since 1908.

In the wild: An ANDC post on the just-released seventh edition of The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary mentions some new additions, and it turns out that 'hook turn' has entered those august pages (and that I have a first edition; for some reason most people didn't think that was as cool as I did).  I'm sure the ANDC have done a better job of defining it.

Usefulness: 2. Declaiming the simplicity of the hook turn is one of the signs of a local Melbournian. You can avoid hook turns by going the long way around the block (which I did for some time) but running late in heavy traffic helps overcome any hesitations. It feels like you're crossing the streams, but after the first time they're straightforward. (No, really...)

Friday, October 4, 2013


Meaning: self-sufficiency; the k is a subtle signal that this is in the economic sense, as there is also autarchy, or self-rule, which is from entirely different origins.

Logofascination: 1.  Greek origins, spiky consonants and the possibility of political or theological confusion; what's not to like? The OED citations include these gems:

  • 1635,   H. Valentine: "It may as well stand upon its bottome, and boast an Autarchie, and selfe sufficiencie."
  • 1957,   T. S. Eliot: "A general autarky in culture simply will not work: the hope of perpetuating the culture of any country lies in communication with others."

In the wild: A pretty boring post on the apparent withdrawal to nationalism (note to markets: it doesn't work). I'm interested in economics and the free market, and I still skimmed it; that chap needs an editor to send it back asking for more jokes.

Usefulness: 2. "Want a drink / dinner / lift home?" "Nah, I'm an autarky tonight, thanks." "If the various attempts at Communism - in which I include France - have taught us anything, it is that autarky does. not. work. You may have your decorative farms on rolling hillsides, but you pay the price in riots in the quais and queues in the patisseries."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Meaning: "turning as an ox in plowing"; writing which alternates left-to-right, right-to-left, left-to-right, right-to-left, etc, etc.

Logofascination: 1. Bous- is cow (which is why Bosphorus and Oxford are, etymologically, the same place), and -strophe is turning (which is why an apostrophe takes the place of something that has been turned away.)

In the wild: Antony Green is Australia's premier psephologist*, and it's the casual use of words like 'boustrophedon' that keep him that way. (Update: boustrophedon turned up in Stan Carey's review of Shady Characters.)

Usefulness: 2. My mother used to complain of us wandering about like Brown's cows; perhaps if she'd complained of our Boustrophedonitis we'd have paid more attention.

*one of the few good things about elections; political writers love dragging this word out. 

Monday, September 30, 2013


Meaning: "places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions." Wikipedia helpfully continues: "neither here nor there." It's not in the OED yet, probably because Foucalt is totes post-modern. We all know that's dead, but aren't quite sure what to call this bit yet, so best not take him too seriously*.

Logofascination: 2 (Other-place is not that interesting etymologically, but gets points for not being in the OED.  This word is not merely in books, it's in book titles, and they haven't noticed?)

In the wild: a piece on the romance and pragmatism of the under-appreciated jetbridge. If you're a travel tragic, you'll also want to read Geoff Lemon on airports (and jetbridges) as ritual magic, or maybe even an old piece of mine on airports as liminal spaces. Yes, I wish I'd come up with heterotopia and the idea of flying as sacrament too. 

Usefulness: 2 (Discuss: airports and shopping centres should have enough otherness to make you dissociate from realities like your bank balance, but not enough to induce psychosis.)

*in my spare room, a BA just disintegrated.

If there are any of you still playing along at home, I've dusted off the cobwebs and am intending to try out some new posting formats.

I consider my Six Degrees theorem well and truly proven, but I still horde words and would like to share them with you. I also horde links to long-form pieces, so there'll be a bit of that snuck in along the way. Finally, my secret goal (less secret now, I suppose) of compiling an Urquhartian concordance also still exists; I'd like to try and bring you a word a week. The promise of a blogger is worth its weight in posts, so we shall see how that goes. If any of you aren't robots, (or my mother) I really would like to know what you think. (Although mum's feedback is always good too.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Live from Cromarty

In the midst of the all the not-blogging I've been doing lately, there's been a bit of travel, and I've had the great joy of spending today in Cromarty.  I'm staying in Ardyne House; from my bedroom window I can see the Sutors (headlands), which feature in Sir Thomas' encomium of Cromarty and its Firth:
I have, or at least had, before I was sequestred, a certain harbour or bay, in goodness equal to the best in the world ... promontaries on each side, vulgarly called Souters ...  ten thousand ships together may within it ride in the greatest tempest that is as in a calm; 
The Souters from Ardyne House
Sir Thomas wasn't exaggerating (well, not as much as usual): Cromarty Firth is very large. Over time it has held various Navy ships, and still holds several oil-rigs in various states of (dis)repair. Cromarty has had several booms (hemp, herring, oil), but never quite reached what Sir Thomas claimed he could do:
By which means, the foresaid town of Cromarty, for so it is called, in a very short space, would have easily become the richest of any within threescore miles thereof; 
Here are a few photos from around the village (a lovely spot in its own right); I'll eventually put together a definitive guide for the Sir Thomas pilgrimage.
Ekskybalauron engraving at the Stables

Sir Thomas in the Cromarty timeline

Sir Thomas in the Urquhart family tree,
displayed in the East Church
Common on graves in Cromarty; experts say they're symbols of death
and nothing to do with pirates, but I have my doubts...