zeolite [n. ZEE-uh-lyt]
A zeolite is a natural mineral or a synthetic compound that contains
a certain proportion (2:1) of silicate and aluminate ions. Zeolites
form complex crystals that have unusual properties, making them
useful in various chemical processes
One of the unusual properties of many zeolites is that their crystals
are able to contain a large amount of water or other liquids, held in
spaces within the crystal structure. Such a crystal swells up and
then boils when subjected to heat, a behavior that led to the name of
this mineral group.
The Swedish mineralogist who named the group called it zeolit, from
the Greek zein (to boil). Another word from zein is eczema, the name
of a skin inflammation that sometimes results in boils (lesions that
release fluid). It's from Greek ek- (out of) and zein.
wedlock [n. WED-lok]
Wedlock is the state of being married. If someone is born to parents
who are not married, that person was born out of wedlock. Near
synonyms include marriage, matrimony and a wonderful obsolete word,
At first glance, it may seem that wedlock means "locked into
marriage." Actually, the second syllable of the word comes from the
Old English suffix -lac, meaning an action, or "what is carried out."
The Old English root wedlac was originally from prehistoric German
wathjam (pledge), which led to German wetten (to wager) as well as
English wed, wedding, engage, wage, and wager, all of which have
something to do with commitment and fulfillment of promises.
vocable [n., adj. VOE-kuh-bul]
If you look at a word as a sequence of sounds or syllables, without
considering its meaning, then you are seeing that word as a vocable.
Also, a word that is vocable is one that can be spoken. Example:
"The vocable 'mama' seems like a natural sound for a baby's first
Language has been a part of human culture for many millennia, and the
words we use to describe words are very old. From the ancient root
wek- came the Latin vox (voice) and vocare (to call). Those roots
gave us a family of modern words having to do with voices, words, and
More "language" words from vox and vocare:
vocal: relating to the voice
voice: sound produced by the vocal cords
vocation: a regular occupation or calling
vocabulary: all the words known; all the words of a language
vociferous: prone to noisy vocal outbreaks
vocoder: device for producing artificial speech
transgenic [adj. trans-JEN-ik]
A transgenic life form is one that has somehow received some genetic
material (DNA) from a different species. In nature, this can happen
between some kinds of bacteria, but now scientists can swap genes
between life forms as unrelated as crop plants, bacteria, insects,
and even humans.
The prefix trans- is from the Latin trans (across, beyond, through).
The suffix -genic is based on Greek genos (race, offspring), which
is also the source of gene, genome, genetic, genealogy, and
Here are more "across" words:
* transit: to pass across or through
* transvase [v. trans-VASE]: to pour from one container into another
* translate: to "bring across" sentences from one language to another
* transpicuous [adj. tran-SPIK-you-us]: easily seen through or
* transpontine [adj. tran-SPON-teen]: on the other side of a bridge
* transuranic [adj. trans-you-RAN-ik]: heavier than uranium (of an
tautochrone [n. TOT-uh-krone]
A tautochrone is a curve, shaped so that an object falling along it
under the influence of gravity will reach the bottom after the same
amount of time, no matter where it starts from. It's a U-shaped
curve, with the ends higher than the center.
An inverted tautochrone is a cycloid, which is the curve traced by a
point on the outside of a wheel as it rolls along the ground.
The word comes from Greek tauto- (the same) and chronos (time).
Here are more "sameness" words from tauto-:
tautology [n. tot-AW-luh-gee]: redundant explanation; meaningless
proof that is true whether or not its component statements are true
tautegorical [adj. tot-uh-GOR-ih-kul]: saying the same thing with
different words (opposite of allegorical)
tautoousious [adj. tot-oh-OW-see-us]: absolutely identical
tamper [v. TAM-pur]
This word is almost always followed by "with." To tamper with
something is to interfere in a harmful way, or to meddle in a rash or
foolish way. Example: "On examination of the hatch, it was obvious
that someone had tampered with the locking mechanism."
Originally, to tamper and to temper were the same thing. After the
lineage split, to tamper clay was to mix it with water, making it
suitable for use. Somehow, the idea of mixing changed to
interfering, and by the end of the sixteenth century to tamper with
anything was to interfere with it.
The original root of both tamper and temper was the Latin temperare
(to temper), from tempus (time, season), root of other modern words
including tempera, temperament, temperate, and temperature.
symbiosis [n. sim-bee-OH-sis]
Symbiosis is a close relationship between two unrelated species of
life that is prolonged over many generations. Such a relationship is
symbiotic [adj. sim-bee-AW-tik] and a life form in a symbiotic
relationship is called a symbiont [n. SIM-bee-ont] or a symbiote [n.
Most symbiotic relationships benefit both symbionts. An example is
the relationship between bees and flowers, in which the bees receive
food (nectar and pollen) and the flowers are fertilized. Another
example is the relationship between humans and the bacteria in our
intestines, which help us digest our food.
The word comes from the Latin sumbiosis (companionship) derived from
sumbios (living together), which is a compound of syn- (together) and
sugar [n. SHU-gur]
Sugar is a white crystalline or powdered substance, usually extracted
from plants. It is one of the most important substances in the
living world, used as an energy source by all life forms. There are
actually many slightly different compounds called sugars. The most
common one (table sugar) is chemically known as sucrose.
The most ancient known root was Sanskrit sarkara (gravel, grit,
sugar). From Sanskrit, the word evolved into Persian shakar, then
Arabic sukkar, Old Italian zucchero, and Medieval Latin succarum.
The lineage split at this point, and one branch led to the modern
English saccharine (sweet-tasting; excessively sentimental).
Meanwhile, Old French had sukere, and Middle English had sugre,
leading to English sugar. Other modern languages inherited similar
words along the way, including Spanish azucar, French sucre, Italian
zuccero, and German Zucker.
sublimate [v. SUB-luh-mayt]
To sublimate is to change from a solid to a gas without passing
through a liquid stage, or the reverse process. Iodine, moth balls,
and ice are all able to sublimate under the right conditions. In
psychology, to sublimate an impulse is to change its expression to a
socially acceptable form.
When a solid sublimates, its molecules are lifted up, and they drift
away. The root of the word is the Latin sublimare (to elevate), from
sublimis (uplifted), which is also the source of sublime (noble,
majestic, supreme, unexcelled).
The Latin root sublimis is a compound of sub- (under) and limen
(threshold, lintel). From the same two roots we also have subliminal
(below the threshold of conscious awareness).
smithereens [n. smith-ur-EENZ]
If something is in smithereens, then it has been smashed into many
tiny fragments. Example: "I was horrified to discover that my blue
ming vase had been smashed to smithereens in the earthquake."
This word is almost never seen in the singular form, although one
might expect that one fragment would be a smithereen. The origin is
Irish smidirin (little fragment), which is the diminutive of smiodar
Several other Irish diminutives have made it into English, including
the names Colleen, from Cailin (little girl) and Kathleen, from
Caitlin. There is also poteen (illegally distilled Irish whiskey),
from poitin (small pot).
slake [v. SLAYK]
To slake is to lessen or abate. You can slake your thirst by
drinking, or slake someone's fear by reassuring them. To slake can
also be to cool or refresh by wetting or moistening, and to slake
lime (calcium oxide) is to change it into calcium hydroxide (slaked
lime) by combining it with water.
Of all these meanings, the oldest is the first one. The word is from
Middle English slaken (to abate), from Old English slacean, derived
from slaec (sluggish). This root was also the source of Modern
English slack, slacken, and slacker.
From the idea of slaking thirst by drinking came slaking by adding
water to cool or refresh. That usage led to slaking as a name for
the chemical alteration of lime by adding water. Unlike slaking to
cool, slaking lime causes the release of heat.
shiver my timbers
This expression was first known from nautical tales in the 1800s, and
popularized by Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver in "Treasure
Island". It's an emphatic interjection. Example (to be spoken with a
rough, growly voice): "These scurvy scupper-dogs will be drowned
before we reach port, shiver my timbers if they're not!"
It is doubtful that the phrase actually originated at sea, and more
likely that it was invented for written works. But what does it
The word "shiver" has two senses. It can mean to tremble or shake,
as if from cold, but there is a less common meaning: to break or
shatter into thousands of splinters or fragments. This is from
Middle English shivere (splinter, shatter), which may stem from the
same roots as splinter and sliver. So to shiver the timbers might be
to run aground so forcefully that the timbers of the ship are
schlemiel [n. shluh-MEEL]
A schlemiel is someone who is a clumsy, unlucky bungler. Example:
"After losing my fifth golf ball into the water hazard, I felt like a
Schlemiel is one of a group of words beginning in sh- or sch- that
were imported from Yiddish. It's from shlemil, a word whose origin
is said to be in the Talmud, an ancient Jewish holy book. There, a
man named Shelumiel is described, who experiences difficult times and
never wins any battles.
Sometimes, along with schlemiel comes schlimazel, another word for an
unlucky dolt, from Yiddish shlimazl (bad luck). Here are more words
shlock: trash, cheap merchandise
schlep: carry, lug laboriously
schmooze: hang around talking and not working
schnook: someone who is easily fooled
schmuck: fool, heedless oaf
boondocks [n. BOON-doks]
If you are from the boondocks, then you come from a rural place, far away
from the big city. The boondocks can also be a wild, densely vegetated
place, like a jungle or thick forest. Such places can also be called the
boonies. Both words are slang, and they are always plural.
This word sounds like the name of one of America's wilderness folk heroes,
Daniel Boone. But its origin is in the South Pacific, far from Daniel
Boone's Kentucky home.
It entered English from Tagalog [tah-GAH-log], the language spoken in the
Philippines. American soldiers there heard locals referring to the
back-country as bundok (mountains), and dreaded being assigned to marches
out there. They brought the word back home with them, and it came to be
applied to any wild, remote area.
sandwich [n., v. SAND-wich]
A sandwich is a food item made from two or more slices of bread with
meat, cheese, or other filling between them. It can also be anything
that has similar alternating layers, and to sandwich something is to
enclose it between two layers.
This word's story goes back to the municipal borough of Sandwich, in
England near Dover. In the 1760s, the fourth Earl of Sandwich was
John Montague, a heavy gambler who liked to stay at the gaming tables
for many hours. To make this possible, he instructed his servant to
bring him pieces of meat and cheese between slices of bread. He
could eat these without making a mess, while still keeping one hand
free for rolling the dice.
Montague's requested snack was not a new invention, but his extended
gambling binges were well known. Soon his favorite bread and meat
combination was known as a sandwich.
revenant [n., adj. REV-uh-nunt]
A revenant is someone or something who returns after a lengthy
absence, or someone who returns after dying (a ghost, for example).
Something that is revenant is something that has returned after being
long forgotten. Example: "I was amazed at how the smell of library
paste triggered vivid, revenant memories of fourth grade."
The immediate origin of this word is French, from revenir (to
return). The original root is Latin revenire, from re- (again) and
venire (to come).
Here are more "coming" words from venire:
* venue: location for an event or action; gathering place
* convene: to come together; to assemble for an event
* convent: a religious community
* intervene: to come between two things
put on the dog
To put on the dog is to dress in a sharp, flashy way, in your very
best clothes. Example: "For Bob and Alice's wedding, I really put
on the dog, with a full tuxedo and an irridescent blue-green bow
Today, this expression has nothing to do with wearing your pet. Its
origin might have had something to do with an actual dog, but no one
knows for sure. Several explanations have been offered for this
According to one story, in medieval times the very best shoes were
made of dog skin. Since the expression was first recorded in America
in the 1870s, this is an unlikely origin. Another explanation refers
to the popularity of dressed-up ladies' lap dogs in the late 1800's
in the US, when putting on the dog might have had quite a literal
pundit [n. PUN-dit]
A pundit is someone who is highly learned, a scholar, critic, or
authority. The learned statements of a pundit may be called punditry
[n. PUN-dit-ree]. Example: "With the election too close to call and
the mud-slinging at a fever pitch, the pundits are having a field day
trying to predict the outcome."
The ancient Sanskrit adjective panditah (highly respected; learned)
may have come from an even more ancient Dravidian origin. In Hindi,
someone of great knowledge and wisdom was addressed with the title of
Pandit. In the 1600s, the word crossed over into English as a noun,
referring to a scholar or sage.
Today, the word's meaning has shifted slightly, so that a pundit may
be someone whose wisdom and knowledge are somewhat in doubt. To be
called a pundit today sometimes involves a small amount of sarcasm
about one's alleged authority.
pretzel [n. PRET-zul]
A pretzel is a baked edible biscuit made by twisting a thin strip
of dough into a kind of knot. Pretzels are often sprinkled with
salt. Some pretzels are small and hard, while others are large
Pretzels have been baked for many centuries. One popular story of
the origin of pretzels gives credit to an Italian monk in 610 AD,
who baked pretiolae (little gifts) and gave them to children as
rewards for saying their prayers correctly. That monk may have
lived in 610, and he may even have invented the pretzel, but the
word's origin is different.
The word came from German Brezel, from Old High German brezitella,
which was from Medieval Latin brachitellum (small arm, small
branch). Ultimately, the root was Greek brakhion (upper arm).
pistachio [n. pih-STASH-ee-oh]
A pistachio is a tree (Pistacia vera) that bears dry, nutlike fruits,
or it can be one of those fruits. Pistachio is also the flavor of
that nutlike fruit.
According to Moslem legend, the pistachio nut was one of the foods
brought to Earth by Adam when he came down from Heaven. Pistachio
trees and their nuts have been eaten by humans for at least 9000
years, and they have changed very little until the present century,
when many new varieties have been developed.
Like the trees and their fruit, the name has also come down the
centuries almost unchanged. The trees were originally native to the
middle east, where they were called pistaka in Persian. From
Persian, the name entered Greek as pistakion, passed into Latin as
pistacium, and into Italian as pistacchio.
persiflage [n. PUR-suh-flazh]
If you are just chatting idly with someone, passing the time with
light conversation, you are engaging in persiflage. It's friendly,
good natured banter.
Persiflage came from France, but the meaning of the word was
changed in the process. The parts of this compound word are the
prefix per- (thoroughly, completely), plus siffler (hiss or boo),
with the suffix -age (noun formation from a verb). So, to
experience persiflage in French is to be thoroughly mocked or
The Latin root of siffler was sifilare, a modification of sibilare
(to hiss or whistle). This word was probably an imitation of the
sound of hissing. It also led to our words sibilant (characterized
by a hissing sound) and sibilate (to hiss or speak with a hissing
pass the buck
To pass the buck is to shift responsibility or avoid blame by
assigning it to someone else. Example: "Accused of eating all the
cookies, Larry passed the buck to Joe, pointing out the crumbs on his
This expression originated in poker games in the American west. The
buck was a token, usually a silver dollar or dollar bill, that was
passed around to show whose turn it was. An alternate theory says
the token was a buckhorn knife.
How did a dollar come to be called a buck? The most widely accepted
theory is that the word originally referred to a buckskin, which was
used as a unit of barter between Native Americans and colonials. As
the name of an animal, buck goes back to Old English buc (male deer)
and bucca (male goat).
pabulum [n. PAB-yuh-lum]
Pabulum can be good, nourishing food or it can be insipidly non-
stimulating entertainment or other intellectual fare. Example: "This
season's Tuesday night comedies are little more than pabulum designed
to hypnotise millions of viewers."
When this word was first introduced into English in the 18th century,
it came from the Latin pabulum (food, nourishment, fodder), and
carried that meaning. Within 30 years, it added the sense of
stimulating intellectual nourishment.
In the early 1930s, a new breakfast cereal for babies was patented.
Highly nutritious but also quite bland, it was called Pablum, after
the same Latin root. With the great success of Pablum, the similar
sounding pabulum came to refer not only to stimulating nourishment,
but also to anything bland and unstimulating.
meme [n. MEEM]
A meme is an idea that spreads itself from one mind to another,
competing with other ideas to be held by the minds within which it
lives. Memes are the basic building blocks of culture, just as genes
are the basic building blocks of organic life. The study of memes is
called memetics [n. meh-MEH-tiks].
This simple little word is so new it does not appear in most
dictionaries, yet memetics has quickly become an important field of
study. The basic idea of the meme (and the word) was introduced in
1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book "The Selfish Gene."
Dawkins argued that ideas follow some of the same evolutionary laws as
genes, competing for limited resources (minds) and passing themselves
on to subsequent generations, while evolving to be more fit for
The idea of memes is itself a meme, which may have just entered your
mind for the first time.
lollygag [v. LOL-ee-gag]; alternate spelling lallygag
To lollygag is to dawdle or waste time by aimlessly puttering around.
Example: "You kids stop lollygagging and get busy with your homework!"
People have been accused of lollygagging as early as the middle of
the nineteenth century. There has always been a negative judgment in
the accusations, but the meaning of the word has changed. In the
mid-1800s, the word referred to lascivious indulgence in kisses and
caresses, like the (then) scandalous actions of a lovestruck couple.
No one knows the origin of lollygag, but it has been suggested that
the root was the dialect word lolly (tongue), which makes sense
considering the original meaning of the word. If so, it is closely
related to lollipop, a word that originally referred to a kind of
lacustrine [adj. luh-KUS-trin]
Something that is lacustrine relates in some way to lakes.
Example: "We paddled the canoe into a thicket of bullrushes, reeds,
and other lacustrine vegetation."
This word is one of several that come from the Latin lacus (lake).
In this case, lacus entered French as lacustre, and added the
adjective -ine suffix (of or relating to), which came down through
Old French from the Latin -inus, and ultimately from Greek -inos.
Here are more words from lacus:
* lake: large inland body of water (from Old English lacu)
* lacuna [n. luh-KYOO-nuh]: empty space, missing part; gap; cavity in
* lacunar [n. luh-KYOO-nur]: ceiling constructed with recessed panels
* lagoon: [n. luh-GOON] shallow body of water near a larger body of
* lacuscular [adj. luh-KUS-kyoo-lur]: relating to small pools
kleptocracy [n. klep-TOK-ruh-see]
A kleptocracy is a government that is run by thieves, or
characterized by rampant greed and corruption.
The first part of the word is from Greek kleptein (to steal), which
also forms part of kleptomania (compulsive thievery). The suffix
-ocracy is from the French -cratie, originally from Greek kratos
(strength, power). Today, that suffix refers to any organization
that governs or rules.
Here are more forms of government:
* democracy: by the people, from Greek demos (people)
* meritocracy: by those deemed most deserving (meritorious)
* bureaucracy: composed of a hierarchy of non-elected officials
* autocracy: by one person who holds absolute power
* theocracy: by a religious institution or authority
* hagiocracy: by holy men or saints
kit and caboodle [n. KIT and kuh-BOO-dul]
If you have the whole kit and caboodle, then you have the complete
collection of things; all the parts are present. Example: "Jerry's
camping equipment included the whole kit and caboodle: a deluxe tent,
self-inflating air mattress, a fuel-cell generator, and even a
In Old Dutch a kit was a wooden drinking cup or tankard. Such an
item was frequently part of a soldier's equipment, and the word
eventually came to apply to the soldier's whole knapsack and its
Meanwhile, boodle could have come from Dutch boedel (property,
household possessions) or from Old English bottel (bunch; bundle).
Kit and boodle came together in the eighteenth century, along with
similar phrases like "kit and biling" and "kit and tuck." The ca-
prefix of caboodle was probably added to make the whole kit and
caboodle roll off the tongue more easily.
karst [n. KARST]
Karst landscape forms when the bedrock is made of limestone or another
slightly soluble kind of rock and water percolates down through it,
slowly dissolving ever-larger chambers and passageways. Florida is
known for its karst regions, where sudden sinkholes can swallow up
cars, people, and even buildings. In karst areas, entire rivers can
drain into holes, running underground for miles before emerging again.
There are karst regions all around the world, but the one that gave
the landform its name is in southwestern Slovenia, near Trieste.
There, a limestone plateau is threaded with thousands of passages and
caves, and on the surface there are spectacular formations. This
area is known in Serbo-Croatian as Kras, which entered German as
harbinger [n. HAR-bin-jer]
Someone or something that indicates or foreshadows a future event is
a harbinger. Near synonyms include portent, precursor, herald, and
omen. Example: "We did not know it at the time, but that windy,
rainy storm was a harbinger of the devastating winter that was on its
In the twelfth century a harbinger was an innkeeper, someone who
provided overnight lodging. In the following century, the meaning
shifted, and the harbinger was the person who was sent ahead to seek
lodgings, often for a group of royal or military travellers. In the
1500s, the meaning shifted again, to the more abstract modern sense
of a forerunner of upcoming events.
The source of the word is Middle French herberge (lodging, hostelry),
from an ancient root which also gave us harbor, herald, and harness.
haliography [n. hal-ee-OG-ruh-fee]
A description of the sea is a haliography, and someone who writes
such a description is a haliographer [n. hal-ee-OG-ruh-fer].
Example: "I have always enjoyed the evocative haliographies of Conrad
The suffix -graphy refers to something that is written or represented
in some way. It's from the Greek graphein (to write). The prefix
halio- is a modification of halo-, a prefix from the Greek hals
Here are more "salty" words:
haloid [adj. HAL-oid]: salt-like
halimous [adj. HAL-ih-mus]: of or about salt; marine
halophyte [n. HALE-uh-fyt]: plant that lives in salty soil
halophile [n. HAL-uh-fyl]: life form that prefers a salty environment
halomancy [n. HAL-oh-man-see]: fortune telling with salt
halogen [n. HALE-uh-jen]: element that forms salts with metals
halocline [n. HALE-uh-klyn]: vertical gradient in ocean salinity
hale [adj. HAYL]
If you are hale, then you are free of illness, strong and healthy.
The word usually implies exceptional vigor and robustness, and is
often applied to older people. Example: "My dad is hale and hearty,
living his seventy-second year to its fullest."
This word is from Old English hal (healthy), whose ancient root was
prehistoric Germanic khailaz (undamaged). That root split into a
family of words, including hale and its close relative, whole, which
received its wh- beginning in the 16th century.
Other members of the family diverged more in meaning. They include
hail, heal, hallow, health, and holy. Also in the same family are
German heil (salute), Russian celyi (whole), and Welsh coel (good
evince [v. ih-VINS]
To evince is to show clearly, to constitute outward evidence of
something, or to reveal. Example: "This thin layer of dark red
sediment evinces the arrival of ash from a volcanic eruption 6,000
Near-synonyms for this word include manifest, demonstrate, and
indicate. The root was Latin evincere (to vanquish, to prove), which
came from ex- (out) and vincere (to conquer). In the 1600s, to
evince could be to convict of wrongdoing, or to subdue. Later, that
meaning was dropped, and to evince was to prove by argument as in a
court. The modern meaning emerged in the 1700s.
Another modern word that evolved from evincere is evict, which is to
put out or eject by legal process. For example, a tenant may be
evicted from an apartment. Also from vincere are vanquish, victor,
espionage [n. ES-pee-uh-nazh]
To engage in espionage is to spy secretly on another party who is an
enemy or a potential enemy. This other party can be a foreign
government or a company or other organization, but not usually an
In the distant past, the prehistoric root spek- (to observe) gave
rise to Germanic spehon (watcher). From that word, Old Italian had
spione (spy), which led to Old French espionner (to spy), the source
of English spy. Later, there was French espionnage, the immediate
ancestor of English espionage.
Other words also branched out from the ancient spek-, including Latin
specere (to look at), which gave rise to specimen, spectacle,
spectrum, aspect, despise, expect, inspect, perspective, prospect,
suspect, and many other words.
dunnage [n. DUN-ij]
Dunnage can be loose packing material that is used to fill and level
off a ship's hold before the cargo is added, or it can be your
personal baggage. It can also be the padding in a shipping container,
like styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap.
Some sources claim that the origin of this word is unknown, listing
various theories. One theory says the word comes from Low German
"dunne twige" (brushwood), since that was often the material used as
dunnage in ship's holds in the 1800s. Another theory is that it
comes from Dunlop, a town in Scotland.
However, the American Heritage Dictionary says the origin is Middle
English dennage, from Middle Dutch denne (flooring of a ship), which
makes sense to us.
The dunnage room of a ship is where the crew are bunked, and it used
to be where the dunnage was stored when not in use.
dasn't [aux. v. DAS-unt]
Dasn't is an auxiliary verb contraction, the same part of speech as
shouldn't, wouldn't, and couldn't. If you dasn't do something, then
you dare not do it, or there will be unfortunate consequences.
Example: "I told that boy, he dasn't go down by the docks alone, but
did he listen?"
This bit of curious slang is falling out of use, but in the nineteenth
century it could be heard throughout almost the entire United States,
especially in the deep south. Similar forms included daren't,
darsn't, and dassent.
Today, the word is mostly uttered by older people in the southern and
Appalachian states. Although it is obsolete slang, it is quite
expressive and there is no modern synonym. Is it due for a revival?
coriaceous [adj. kor-ee-AY-shus]
If something is coriaceous then it is leathery or has a tough,
leathery texture. Example: "The old man squinted out to sea, and a
frown creased his coriaceous forehead."
Nowadays, this word is seldom used in ordinary speech, but a web
search reveals hundreds of pages where the word is used as a
technical term describing plant leaves, fungi, or other natural
phenomena. Like many such technical terms, it's from Latin.
The root is corium (leather), which also gave us these words:
cuirass [n. kwih-RAS]: armor to protect the chest
currier [n. KUR-ee-ur]: one who prepares tanned hides for use
excoriate [v. ik-SKOR-ee-ayt]: tear or scrape off the skin; strongly
censure or denounce
cataract [n. Kat-uh-rakt]
A cataract can be a large or high waterfall or a great, gushing
deluge of water. It can also be a white or translucent obstruction
in the eye that impairs vision or causes blindness. How did these
two very different meanings evolve?
This word's history begins with the Greek kataraktes (that which
rushes or swoops down), from kata- (down) and rassein (to strike or
smash). Other words from kata- include catalogue, catalepsy, and
catapult. The first uses of cataract in English referred to
waterfalls, swooping birds, and the portcullis or gate of a castle,
which was lowered along vertical tracks.
No one knows exactly how the cloudy visual obstructions came to be
called cataracts, but one theory relates them to castle gates, which
may appear to come down within the eye, blocking out the light.
sangfroid [n. sahn-FWAH]
If you have sangfroid, then you are calm and collected, even when
things get difficult or stressful. Example: "We expected Pete to be
nervous and sweaty as he stepped up to the podium, but his sangfroid
In English, if you are "cold blooded" you are ruthless and unfeeling,
lacking compassion. In French, to have cold blood means to be calm
and collected, even under stress. Sangfroid is from the French sang-
froid (cold blood), originally from Latin sanguis (blood) and
Here are more "bloody" words:
sangria [n. sang-GREE-uh]: cold drink with wine and fruit juice
sanguicolous [adj. sang-GWIK-uh-lus]: living in the blood (as a
sanguine [adj. SANG-gwin]: blood colored; of cheerful, healthy temper
sanguinary [adj. SANG-gwin-air-ee]: accompanied by bloodshed;