10 words (part 2)

Ok, it’s Wednesday and I’m handing over to Rambler5319 while I swan off to a fruit-preserving course on a farm in the countryside! I shall report back.

It’s not really a second part; it’s more just another 10. These are all different to the first lot (19.12.12) but they’re still all from my words book which I write in when I don’t know what a word means. One reader (Camparigirl) of the first 10 wanted me to do another one in this vein so here it is. I think these are a touch more obscure so will be interested to see how many you know.

1. CHTHONIAN – (From page 72 in Feb 2013 edition of a magazine called The Oldie)

It means: Relating to the earth or the Underworld and the deities inhabiting it. Also ghostly.

And here’s how it’s used (speaking of the beginning of building work on a site for a house to be built in Thailand for an expat who’d moved there):

“At first they seemed intent on discovering a lost civilisation, some elusive chthonian beings or a short-cut to Australia.”

I’m sure you’re wondering how a word like that came about. Why would you begin a word with “chth” when its pronounciation is “thonian” according to the dictionary? (There are only 2 word begininning with “chth” in the English language.) Well it’s its Greek origin which is to blame: the root is Greek word khthonios. So now you know.

I challenge you to work that word into a conversation over the next week!!

2. SISYPHEAN – (This is from page 6 in a book called Hymns To The Silence by Peter Mills. He is speaking about Van Morrison’s cover of the Leadbelly track, John Henry).

It means: Relating to Sisyphus, King of Corinth, condemned to roll a huge stone up a hill which then fell down every time he got near the top. Life can seem a bit like that can’t it?

And here’s how it’s used:

“There is something both radical and rooted in these songs for Morrison, which allowed him to both shake off his torpor and also force a way forward – just listen to the Sisyphean shriek at the climax of John Henry.”

3. ANAGLYPTOGRAPHY – (This is from the book Blindness: A Novel by Jose Saramago. It’s a great story about what happens in the world when lots of people suddenly go blind; literally one minute they can see and the next they can’t. An example is when a driver pulls up at a red light and before it goes green he loses his sight and just gets out of the car and walks away. For me it was one of those can’t put down books and I raced through it. Give it a try if you don’t mind some difficult scenes on what happens to human nature when there are no controls on its behaviour. I can’t give you page details as I read this one on my Kindle). And how about taking a quick moment to think about how you would handle that situation; red light you can see but no green light because your eyes stopped working. What is the first thing you would try and do? Just think about it. Do you try and call someone but you can’t see your mobile screen? Do you shout out of the window “Help”? What happens if everyone is in the same position? Not something you can (or would) even plan for, is it?

Anyway the word means: The art of copying works in relief or of engraving to give the subject a raised or embossed appearance.

And here’s how it’s used:

“..it was only after some minutes that the doctor began to hear the unmistakeable sound of punching paper which he immediately identified. There nearby was someone writing in the Braille alphabet, also known as anaglyptography. The sound could be heard, at once quiet and clear, of the pointer as it punched the thick paper and hit the metallic plate.”

4. DENDROCHRONOLOGY– (This is from p.2 of The Keys To Avalon by Steve Blake & Scott Lloyd. This is a well researched book which basically shows that the traditional interpretation of where the famous, some say mythical, 5th/6th century King Arthur reigned, lived & fought battles is mistaken. It shows convincingly why we should re-assess the locations which have been used for many years as there is actually no supporting evidence for them. By going back to the original Welsh source documents used by the earliest writers on King Arthur these guys demonstrate where his actual kingdom is more likely to have been located.)

It means: The fixing of dates in the past by comparative study of the annual growth rings in timber and ancient trees.

And here’s how it’s used:

“Winchester boasts a prestigious ‘Arthurian’ relic in its oak Round Table. However scientific techniques such as dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating and examination of its construction suggest that in fact the table dates from no earlier than the reign of Edward III.” (reigned 1327-77)

Just out of interest Avalon finds its way into a number of songs though not particularly about King Arthur: there are ones by Roxy Music, Natalie Cole & others. There is of course the Van Morrison song Avalon of the Heart (Track 4 on his album Enlightenment) which does have Arthurian allusions.

5. AGITPROP – (This is from p.156 in a book called On The Map by Simon Garfield. He also wrote the very interesting book Just My Type about fonts which I’ve also read. Anyway the map book is very well done and lots of illustrations; it’s chunky at 450 pages but a great read.)

It means: Agitation and political propanganda especially of a pro-communist nature.

And here’s how it’s used:

“The maps help to turn agitprop into witty graphic art with spreads entitled, ‘This Little Piggy’ (to denote workers who toil unproductively) and ‘Dirt’s Cheap’ (to denote polluted air).”

6. FOMITES – (This is from p.224 in a book called On The Map by Simon Garfield.)

It means: Any inanimate object/substance capable of carrying infectious organisms (germs or parasites) and hence of transferring them between people.

And here’s how it’s used:

“Snow’s study of the disease, in his 1849 pamphlet On The Mode of Communication of Cholera dismissed the idea that there was just something in the air. He suggested cholera was caused either by the human consumption of contaminated food or water, or by fomites, which usually meant infested bed clothes or linen.”

7. VORONOI DIAGRAM – (This is from p.228 in a book called On The Map by Simon Garfield.)

It means: A way of dividing up a space into regions each with a seed point such that all points within that region are closer to that seed than any other.

Here’s a picture to give you the idea:


You can see where the dot is placed in each section. Any point you pick in a coloured section will be nearer to the dot in that section than any other dot in any other section. The sentence I’m quoting is about a doctor -Dr John Snow – who investigated the cholera outbreak in London in 1854; two previous outbreaks in 1831 & 1848 had killed tens of thousands. The dots in his case were the water pumps that people had to go to get their fresh water.

And here’s how it’s used:

“Next he placed a meandering dotted line over the area where the Broad Street pump would be closer for residents to visit than any other pump; this is now known as a Voronoi Diagram, and Snow’s version is the most famous early example.”

8. UXORIOUS – (this is from p.125 in a book called The Elizabethans by A.N. Wilson.)

It means: Excessively or submissively fond of a wife

And here’s how it’s used:

“Many a husband must have echoed Otter in Ben Johnson’s Epicoene: ‘Wife! There’s no such thing in nature. I confess, gentlemen I have a cook, a laundress, a house-drudge, that serves my necessary turns and goes under that title; but he’s an ass that would be so uxorious to tie his affections to one circle.’”

9. PROLEGOMENA – (this is from the Virginia Woolf book, To The Lighthouse. Read on Kindle so again no page ref.)

It means: An introductory study. An introduction especially to a treatise

And here’s how it’s used:

“They knew what he liked best – to be for ever walking up and down, up and down, with Mr Ramsay, and saying who had won this, who had won that, who was a “first rate man” at Latin verses, who was “brilliant but I think fundamentally unsound,” who was undoubtedly the “ablest fellow in Balliol,” who had buried his light temporarily at Bristol or Bedford, but was bound to be heard of later when his Prolegomena, of which Mr Tansley had the first pages in proof with him if Mr Ramsay would like to see them, to some branch of mathematics or philosophy saw the light of day.”

And yes, in case you didn’t notice it really is ONE continuous sentence!

10.ARMIGEROUS – (This is from p.137 in a book called The Elizabethans by A.N. Wilson.)

It means: Bearing or entitled to bear arms (as in coat of arms). If you belonged to the armigerous part of the population you could call yourself ‘Esquire’.

And here’s how it’s used:

The heralds at the College of Arms were always occupied in the Elizabethan age. In Lincolnshire between 1562 & 1634 seventy-eight new names were added to the armigerous gentry.”

You might remember that on my visit to London (on 6.3.13) I visited the College of Arms and explained some of the rules about using or being allowed to use a coat of arms.

So there you go, another 10 of the 800+ words in my book.

Why not let me know if you already knew any of these or, more challengingly, if you manage to use any of them over the next week or so?

And finally on a lighter note – can anyone tell me how it is possible to use the word “and” five times consecutively in a sentence. That means you have to write a sentence that will have “and and and and and” in it with no words in between. Answer next week folks – you didn’t think I was going to give it straight away. Have a think and see what you come up with.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alex Jones on March 20, 2013 at 09:34

    I like new words, they open doors to new ideas.


  2. I purchased a used copy of “Blindness: A Novel”.
    For the sentence, how about: He tried quoting the man who stuttered as he died, saying, “And, and, and, and, and,…”. Somewhat of a cheat, but it is grammatically viable.


    • Thanks fo rhaving a go. I suppose you could just about get away with that but the answer is actually just a normal sentence. Look out for next Weds blog and I’ll give it at the start but I’ll tell you now it’s one of those that when you see it you say, “Of course, it was easy after all”.


  3. I love this! am such a word freak and didn’t do badly – I knew the meaning of sisyphean, agitprop and uxorious. What do you say to that? I read Blindness a while ago. An importan book, a great writer but I slogged through it….


    • I’m definitely impressed. (Glad you enjoyed it.) These, I thought, were all quite tough but I don’t go looking for particularly obscure stuff it’s just how they come out of the books I’m reading at the time. If I have to stop and say “Do I understand this word”, then it goes in my notebook.
      I agree on “Blindness” in that there are passages that probably spend too long in one area but the whole concept of what happens to society (and subsequently its morals) when lots of people suddenly lose their sight and try to survive is interesting. I wonder did you ever think of the loss of sight equating to something more abstract? So instead of it being physical sight that’s lost perhaps it might be say “standards” of behaviour. What was considered wrong say 100 years ago is now accepted because people have stopped objecting to it or are scared of the consequences if they do. In other words the loss is not instantaneous but happens over a long time so that it’s hardly noticed. We can all think back to stuff that was a definite “no-no” when we were younger but which seems to be acceptable now. Where does that road end?
      Sorry for long reply but it’s just one of those that needs a bit of explaining.


    • I got agitprop too!


  4. […] First off remember how we finished last week: […]


  5. […] it’s roughly 3 months since I did my last 10 words post (and about 3 months before that the first one) so here goes with a third lot. But just before I get […]


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