Tuesday, December 9, 2008



"Resembling or having the form of the buttocks.

"Ammon Shea mentions this word in his book Reading the OED, in which he records his experience of spending a year scanning the second edition of theOxford English Dictionary cover to cover, all 21,730 pages of it. He wrote that he was surprised to learn that it had never been used as an insult, so refuting the premise of an entry in Depraved and Insulting English, which he earlier wrote with Peter Novobatzky.

"This may be explained easily enough. The word never moved beyond a very limited medical circulation and so it never gained the instant recognition necessary for it to be applied insultingly. It derives from Latin nates, plural ofnatis, a buttock. It has never been used to refer to the buttocks themselves, instead always to some anatomical feature that contains a deep cleft. The OED marks it as obsolete, though natiform skull, bony nodules on the surface of the skull in infants with congenital syphilis (also called Parrot nodes), is in some current medical dictionaries."

World Wide Words.


The art or practice of fermentation.

Though a useful term, people’s interest in it outside winemaking and brewing focuses on its supposedly being the literal last word. The phrase from aardvark to zymurgy is sometimes used to mean everything, these supposedly being the first and last nouns in the dictionary.

However, a check on my big stack of single-volume dictionaries shows that — apart from the New Oxford American Dictionary — zymurgy is rarely the last word. Some have one of related sense, zythum, a beer that was made by the ancient Egyptians; others prefer to end with Zyrian, another name for the language now usually called Komi; the American Heritage Dictionary selectszyzzyva, a genus of tropical American weevils, which is also the last word inThe Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (an interesting choice since Scrabble has only one z in its tiles); you may feel The Bloomsbury English Dictionaryhas cheated by including zzz as its last word, “a representation of the sound made by somebody sleeping or snoring, often used in cartoons”.

When not the focus of wordsmiths’ musings and occasional wordplay, zymurgyis rather rare, though as you would expect it’s well known among brewers and winemakers. The journal of the American Homebrewers Association has that title and its readers may be called zymurgists. If you need a related adjective, there’s zymurgical. All these words come from Greek zume, meaning a leaven, typically a yeast, that’s added to make a substance ferment. It’s also the origin of enzyme.

The related word zymology (adjective zymologist), is the name for that part of chemistry dealing with the fermentation action of yeasts, especially relating to products intended for human consumption.

World Wide Words.


Produced with smacking of the lips.

You won’t see this in your local newspaper any day soon. It comes from the Latin poppysma, via the defunct French popisme. Romans used the original for a kind of lip-smacking, clucking noise that signified satisfaction and approval, especially during lovemaking. In French, it referred to the tongue-clicking tsk-tsk sound that riders use to encourage their mounts. The only writer in English known to have used our word was James Joyce, in a stage direction in Ulysses: “FLORRY WHISPERS TO HER. WHISPERING LOVEWORDS MURMUR, LIPLAPPING LOUDLY, POPPYSMIC PLOPSLOP.”

World Wide Words.

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