Saturday, July 21, 2012


Selcouth \SEL-kooth\ , adjective;
1. Strange; uncommon

This word is considered obsolete, but it caught my eye because it is similar to uncouth, a word which I know nothing about (other than the definition, I guess).

Selcouth is first attested in 888 and is a combination of Old English seld-an + cuð ("seldom" + "known"). Cuð became couth, which is also obsolete except as a back-formation from uncouth. The original meaning of couth was "well-known, familiar," so uncouth was "unknown." This evolved into "awkward, clumsy; strange," which led to a 'new' couth which means "cultured, well-mannered."

Friday, July 13, 2012


Streetology \street-OL-uh-jee\ , noun;
1. The science or knowledge of the streets of a town or city
2. The skills and knowledge necessary for dealing with modern urban life

So, this sounds like something you study at the school of hard knocks, no?

Today this word is more a synonym or street smarts than the knowledge required to be a good taxi driver, but it can technically mean both things. It was first attested in 1837 as the title of a book about London. It is, of course, based on street which derives from Old English stret and stræt ("street, high road"), both of which come from an early Western Germanic borrowing of Late Latin strata. Strata is the feminine past participle of sternere ("lay down, spread out, pave") and was used in the phrase via strata ("paved road"). Sternere derives from Proto-Indo-European *stre-to- ("to stretch, extend") from *stere- ("to spread, extend, stretch out"), which is also the forebear of structure. From the very beginning, street has been distinctive from road or way as a paved or 'made' path, as opposed to just a way people go.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Oubliette \oo-blee-ET\ , noun;
1. A secret dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling, as in certain old castles

It dates to 1777 from French oubliette, taken from oublier ("to forget").  Oublier is from Old French oblider, which is the Vulgar Latin derivative of Latin oblivisci ("forget").

Spooky, right? A dungeon with one way in a no way out. Just drop someone in the hole and forget about them. Yikes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Whom \hoom\ , pronoun;
1. The objective case of who
2. The dative case of who

First, the proper way to use who and whom:Both words are pronouns, but who is a subject and whom is an object. So, if your answer is he or she the question word is who. If your answer is him or her use who. That's confusing, so here's an example:
     Who invited Jerry? He invited Jerry.
     Jerry was invited by whom? Jerry was invited by her.

Got it? If not, don't worry about it. It's not really important anymore unless you are a hard-core grammar type, or if someone grading your papers is. This sort of thing (like shall) is a grammar technicality that comes up in the prescriptive v. descriptive debate. Prescriptive grammar is what you are taught in school: 'proper English'. You know, don't split infinitives, don't start sentences with and, etc. Descriptive grammar is the way people really speak. Elisions like gonna and wanna sprinkle oral English, along with abominations like, "Where are you going? I wanna come with." (The error is ending a sentence with a preposition, but you already knew that). Generally speaking, linguists are more concerned with descriptive language because that's the most common way that language is used. Writers, editors, and English teachers are more concerned with prescriptive grammar because 'proper English' is the lingua franca of written language.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Shall \shal\ , auxiliary verb;
1. Plan to, intend to, or expect to

Shall is the present tense of should, though it is quickly falling into the archaic category, along with whom and probably others.

It comes from Old English sceal ("I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must), which is conjugated from the infinitive sculan, and derives from Proto-Germanic *skal- or *skul-. The past tense of sculan was sceolde, which gave rise to should.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Oology \oh-OL-uh-jee\ , noun;
1. The branch of ornithology that studies birds' eggs

So, the only reason I'm writing about this word is because it reminds me of that line in Zoolander where he talks about how good of a eugoogoolizer he is, you know a person who speaks at funerals.

Oology is first attested in 1831. Oo- means "of or related to eggs or ova" and comes from Greek won ("egg, ovum"). The Greek word, like English egg, ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *owyo/*oyyo- ("egg").

Eulogy dates to the mid-15th century from Latin eulogium, which was borrowed form Greek eulogia ("praise; good or fine language"). Eulogia is a combination of eu + -logia ("well" + "speaking").