Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Yacht (n) - A fancy, BFB (big fucking boat) for the idle rich. Appropriately, the word is a shortening of the German word jachtschip which a half-dozen centuries ago meant "fast pirate vessel."
The yacht Pelorus (above), owned by a Russian billionaire, has an anti-missile defense system.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Soiled Dove

There may be more words in the English language for prostitute than there are for sex. There's courtesan (from Italian for "woman of the court"), daughter of joy (from the French fille de joie), harlot (from French for tramp), hooker (not from the army of women who followed Civil War general Joe Hooker's troops, but from the habit of whores to grab at men on the street), loose woman, painted woman, scarlet woman, streetwalker, strumpet (either from the Latin for dishonor or the Dutch for stalker), tart (from a term of endearment, sweetheart), whore (the original Old English word for the profession), working woman (which explains why to this day men hit on secretaries and nurses just trying to get their jobs done) and many others.

My favorite all time is the Old West term Soiled Dove. It's sort of a sweet term that brings up the image of an innocent bird befouled by others. While Hollywood makes the Western whore an image of beauty, like Megan Fox over to the right, most Western prostitutes were successful for their availability, not their looks.
For example, Alice Abbot of El Paso (left).

For most, the job was a horrible existence that led to an early death. In San Francisco the service charge was 25 cents for a Mexican woman and $1 for an American, more for redheads.
A woman what hustles
Never keeps nuthin
For all her hustlin.
Somebody always gets
What she goes on the street for. ~
Harrison Street Court

All night she offers passers-by what they will
Of her beauty wasted, body faded,
claims gone,
And no takers.
~ Trafficker

Let us be honest; the lady was not a
harlot until she married a corporation
Lawyer who picked her from a Ziegfeld chorus.
~ Soiled Dove (all by Carl Sandburg)
Additional links: The whorehouses of Austin, Texas
a man who has made a career writing about Western Soiled Doves

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hoi Polloi

I try to get into a little hoi polloi from time to time. ~ Quentin Tarantino
One can be a successful Hollywood director, a person who uses words for his living, and still screw the pooch on his phraseology.

Hoi Polloi (n) - The People. A direct import from a common Greek phrase, The Many. First appeared in print in English in the mid-19th century, probably in a work by James Fenimore Cooper. Also a Three Stooges short from 1935, Tarantino should like that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The consensus of the people I know who have lived her for decades is that Southern California is getting hotter year by year.

Scorcher (n) - An extremely hot day. First appears in English in 1874. From the verb to scorch, meaning to burn on the surface. The origin is not certain. Some say it comes from the Old Norse word skorpna meaning to shrivel up. Others content the source word is the Latin word excorticare, meaning to flay.

Note: If you ever want to see pictures of lots of naked women, try Googling "scorching hot summer."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Line In the Sand

The origin of idioms is always problematic. To draw a line is the sand, meaning this far and no farther, probably comes from a story out of the Roman Empire.

A Syrian king was intent on waging war against Egypt, then a Roman protectorate. A Roman envoy, Gaius Popillius Laenas, confronted the king and told him to withdraw or face war with Rome. When the king hesitated, Laenas drew a line around the king and told him to order a retreat before stepping out of the circle. The king withdrew.

There is another story that line in the sand refers to William Travis at the Alamo drawing a line with his sword and asked those willing to stay and defend the Alamo to step across. However, that is unlikely as Travis's act does not fit the definition of the idiom.
A line in the sand is also an important part of the rules to the Over The Line tournament being played in San Diego this weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


In honor of the latest Harry Potter film (the Dementors) as well as Republican Catherine Crabill, who is simply demented (pictured, I think).

Demented (a) - insane. The adjectival form of the obsolete verb to dement meaning to drive mad. Still earlier, from the Latin dementare, (de+ment = away from mind). One no longer says, "Listening to Sarah Palin speak dements me." Although it is certainly true.

Art by

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I've done Vacation. I also did Dog Days over at A Little Reality. Summer is from an Old English word sumor meaning summer.


Art is Summertime by Mary Cassatt.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

City, Town, Village

One of the many things that bothers me is they keep calling Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin was once mayor, a city. Wasilla is so tiny in Southern California it wouldn't even qualify as a neighborhood. So, as my muse, Marina Orlova, would say, Word of the Day must investigate.

City - From the Latin civitas, meaning community of citizens. The Latin word for city was urbs. In England a city has the specific definition of a town large enough to contain a bishopric see.

Town - Smaller than a city. From the Old English tun, meaning a walled village. The English definition is a community large enough to support a permanent market but too small to require a bishop.

Village - From the Latin word
villaticum, meaning large farmstead. The word villa has the same root. The English define a village as large enough to have its own church but too small to support a market.

Hamlet - A little ham (the Old French word for village), a little village. The English define a hamlet as a collection of homes large enough to have its own identity but too small even to have a church.

American English does not have such clear demarcations as the mother tongue. We do agree that a city is larger than a town which is larger than a village which is larger than a hamlet.

To me, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Anchorage are cities. Juneau is on the small side but a city nonetheless because of it importance, holding the state government is kind of like having a bishop. Wasilla, at under 10,000 population, is just not significant enough to qualify as a city. Sorry guys, Wasilla is only a town.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Inspired by that notorious Pennsylvania swim club.

Segregation (n) - From the Latin segregare composed of se- (apart) and grege (herd or flock). Segregation is to place apart from the flock. In use for forced religious separation from the 16th century. Became a euphemism for Jim Crow Laws in the 1940's.

Jim Crow (n) - A
derogatory term for an ubiquitous black man, like John Doe. From a black-face minstrel character and song that first appeared in print in 1828. Used to describe segregation laws from 1842.

An example:
In 1956, the Huntsville, Ala., City Council passed a resolution that made it unlawful for white and blacks to play cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, or track together. Also applied to swimming pools and beaches.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


There has been a cyber attack on federal websites.

Cybernetics - Cyber and its derivatives, cyberspace and cyborg, come from this word which is only 60 years old. Coined by Nobel Prize mathematician Norbert Wiener to describe a field of mathematical science he developed. Cybernetics is the study of the structure of regulatory communication in interdependent systems. Those systems can be electronic, social, biological, and neurological. In essence, it is the study of the mathematical process by which complex structures navigate via communication. (Trying to define this word is way beyond my paygrade.) The science of cybernetics is used, for example, to develop systems for a human nervous systems to communication a modern artificial limb.

Cybernetics was rooted in a Greek word, kubernetes, meaning steersman. Cybernetics has become the word used to describe Artificial Intelligence (i.e. robot brains) and the word Cyber has become synonymous with Internet.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


As in "Sarah Palin wants to profit from being a celebrity."

Celebrity (n) - A person of renown. From the Latin celibritatem, meaning fame. Eight hundred years ago, in English, celebrity meant a solemn celebration. By the 17th century the word had evolved into one of its current meaning, the condition of being famous. The useage of being a famous person dates to the 19th century.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint's infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either.~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Friday, July 3, 2009

Moulin Rouge

Because I watched the movie again last night. Moulin Rouge is, of course, French. It translates as Red Windmill and is the name of a Paris nightclub with a red windmill on its roof (surprise!). It is also proof that any name in a foreign language can sound exotic.
The Moulin Rouge was built 120 years ago. In the beginning it was little more than a bordello with dancing but as time passed the dancing became more popular than the sex. Toulouse-Lautrec famously did paintings and poster art of the Moulin Rouge and its environs in its heyday.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Fairy (n) - Tiny flying woodland humanoids of European folklore and about as far away from head drilling as I can get. The word in Old French, faerie, moved to English unchanged except for later simplified spelling. There is no relation to the word fair.

The origin of fairies depends upon which wizard you ask. The Gaelic believe that fairies are spirits of the dead. Alchemists and astrologers thought they were elementals, spirits of the air. Some describe them as fallen angels, others as demons. Celtic tradition says fairies are a separate race of people driven into hiding by the advent of man.

J. M. Berrie of Peter Pan fame said that
"…when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies."
In 1917, two English girls from Cottingley claimed to have photographed fairies in their garden. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle saw the photos a year later and immediately declared they proved the existence of fairies. The photos were fakes, although Doyle never figured that out. But the girls, while finally admitting the fakes in 1983, claimed to the end that they really did see fairies and that the photo shown here is, in fact, genuine. (More from the Museum of Hoaxes)

It's not hard to find people who continue to believe that fairies are real.

The art at the top is Midsummer Eve (1908) by Edward Hughes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


My mother used to say, "I need that like I need a hole in the head."
Trepan (v) - Surgery to drill a hole in your head. From the Greek trypan, to auger a hole.

Dating back to prehistory people have been drilling holes in heads. And, boy, was it common among cavemen. In one burial site in France dated to 6500 BCE, one-third of the 120 skulls showed trepanation surgery.

While there are a handful of legitimate medical reasons there are a whole lot of crackpots doing it. The ancient reason, to allow evil spirits to escape, is echoed by the claim that trepanation cures depression and allows spiritual enlightenment. There are even a few people who claim to have used electric drills to bore holes in their own heads.

It's body piercing gone berserk. Something less creepy next time, I promise.