02 July 2012


Wikipedia gives us:

A shibboleth (/ˈʃɪbəlɛθ/[1] or /ˈʃɪbələθ/)[2] is a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.

"... a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group."

Wikipedia's section Notable Shibboleths is nothing less than chilling. It gives several references of words that, when incorrectly pronounced, not only marked the speaker as a member or not a member of a group, but resulted in their summary execution.

This page describes a shibboleth as "a kind of linguistic password."

From the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, King James Bible:

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

Thanks to http://www.biblegateway.com/ for the above passage.


The Free Dictionary defines apocope as a noun, meaning the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word. They give the example of the modern English word sing being derived from Middle English singen. (Hoping to make a weak joke, I looked up dancen, to no avail. I did find that tappen  is a Middle English word, which has suffered apocope in its present form, tap.)

I like the sound of this word more than anything. Apocope, apostrophe, apocalypse, apoplexy, apotheosis... hippopotamus.


Dictionary.com asks, "did you mean 'unsapient?'" Well, no.

A search of many online dictionaries yields nothing, so far. For sapient, Google says:  Adjective: Wise, or attempting to appear wise. Noun: A human of the species homo sapiens.

So, why did I make a note of this word? Sometimes I wish my habits were better as regards such things. I didn't include the source, just the word, all by itself. It was printed somewhere, part of something, meant for a very specific purpose by some writer who, whether skillfully or not, intended to impart a meaning. 

Based on a search using the Fweet tool, it's not one of the words in Finnegans Wake.

It's interesting, anyway.

17 November 2010


This word came up on Twitter today:
@socratic I chuckle every time I see the word "cyber" in a promotion or advertisement. Welcome to 1999!
I remember it from science fiction that I read in my teenage years, but I'm not sure where I saw it first. 
n : (biology) the field of science concerned with processes of
communication and control (especially the comparison of
these processes in biological and artificial systems)

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0
This reference dates the word to 1948:

The term was first proposed by Norbert Wiener in the book referenced below. Originally, cybernetics drew upon electrical engineering, mathematics, biology, neurophysiology, anthropology, and psychology to study and describe actions,feedback, and response in systems of all kinds. It aims to understand the similarities and differences in internal workings of organic and machine processes and, by formulating abstract concepts common to all systems, to understand their behaviour.

Modern "second-order cybernetics" places emphasis on how the process of constructing models of the systems is influenced by those very systems, hence an elegant definition - "applied epistemology".

Related recent developments (often referred to as sciences of complexity) are distinguished as separate disciplines are artificial intelligence, networks}, systems theory, chaos theory, the boundaries between those and cybernetics proper are not precise.

["Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine", N. Wiener, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1948]


-- From The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (27 SEP 03)

Norbert Weiner published his book in 1948. Wikipedia says that "Weiner is regarded as the originator of cybernetics..." Wikipedia also gives the following definition of the word:

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary[1] approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Cybernetics is relevant to the study of mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. Cybernetics is only applicable when the system being analysed is involved in a closed signal loop; that is, where action by the system causes some change in its environment and that change is fed to the system via information (feedback) that enables the system to change its behavior. This "circular causal" relationship is necessary and sufficient for a cybernetic perspective.

The reader is encouraged to read the entire page.

One may suspect that many a modern English-speaker would define cybernetic as "of or relating to computers." In 1948, while computers did exist, they were neither as ubiquitous nor powerful as they are today. The very word "systems" implies "computer" in current parlance. A "Systems Administrator" is a computer network administrator. "Information Systems" are assumed to be computer networks.

What do you suppose comes to mind when someone says "social systems" in 2012?

12 May 2010


This is a word that has been lurking at the far back edge of my consciousness for several years. I had always thought of a "lozenge" as being a flat disc impregnated with medicine, as in "throat lozenge," usually rather starchy in nature, with a strong medicinal flavor.

One interesting thing about this word is that I believed it to be amongst the collection of words that certain Americans have perversely modified, such as "escape" (pronounced ek-scape), "frustration" (flustration), "automatic" (automagic), and "sarcasm" (sourcasm). I have heard the pronounciation lah-zen-jur, and was today reminded of this when I overheard someone pronounce it lah-sen-jur.

And so, when I looked in my dictionary, imagine my surprise to discover its cousin "losenger."


Lozenge Loz"enge (l[o^]z"[e^]nj), n. [F. lozange, losange;
perh. the same as OF. losengef flattery, praise, the heraldic
sense being the oldest (cf. E. hatchment, blazon). Cf.
Losenger, Laudable.]
1. (Her.)
(a) A diamond-shaped figure usually with the upper and
lower angles slightly acute, borne upon a shield or
escutcheon. Cf. Fusil.
(b) A form of the escutcheon used by women instead of the
shield which is used by men.
[1913 Webster]

2. A figure with four equal sides, having two acute and two
obtuse angles; a rhomb.
[1913 Webster]

3. Anything in the form of lozenge.
[1913 Webster]

4. Specifically: A small cake of sugar and starch, flavored,
and often medicated. -- originally in the form of a
[1913 Webster]

Lozenge coach, coach of a dowager, having her coat of
arms painted on a lozenge. [Obs.] --Walpole.

Lozenge-molding (Arch.), a kind of molding, used in Norman
architecture, characterized by lozenge-shaped ornaments.
[1913 Webster] Lozenged

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

Tablet Ta"blet, n. [F. tablette, dim. of table. See Table.]
1. A small table or flat surface.
[1913 Webster]

2. A flat piece of any material on which to write, paint,
draw, or engrave; also, such a piece containing an
inscription or a picture.
[1913 Webster]

3. Hence, a small picture; a miniature. [Obs.]
[1913 Webster]

4. pl. A kind of pocket memorandum book.
[1913 Webster]

5. A flattish cake or piece; as, tablets of arsenic were
formerly worn as a preservative against the plague.
[1913 Webster]

6. (Pharm.) A solid kind of electuary or confection, commonly
made of dry ingredients with sugar, and usually formed
into little flat squares; -- called also lozenge, and
troche, especially when of a round or rounded form.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

n 1: a small aromatic or medicated candy
2: a dose of medicine in the form of a small pellet [syn: pill,
tablet, tab]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0

107 Moby Thesaurus words for "lozenge":
achievement, alerion, animal charge, annulet, argent,
armorial bearings, armory, arms, azure, bandeau, bar, bar sinister,
baton, bearings, bend, bend sinister, billet, blazon, blazonry,
bolus, bordure, broad arrow, cadency mark, canton, capsule,
chaplet, charge, chevron, chief, coat of arms, cockatrice, coronet,
crescent, crest, cross, cross moline, crown, device, difference,
differencing, eagle, ermine, ermines, erminites, erminois,
escutcheon, falcon, fess, fess point, field, file, flanch,
fleur-de-lis, fret, fur, fusil, garland, griffin, gules, gyron,
hatchment, helmet, heraldic device, honor point, impalement,
impaling, inescutcheon, label, lion, mantling, marshaling, martlet,
mascle, metal, motto, mullet, nombril point, octofoil, or,
ordinary, orle, pale, paly, pean, pheon, pill, purpure, quarter,
quartering, rose, sable, saltire, scutcheon, shield, spread eagle,
subordinary, tablet, tenne, tincture, torse, tressure, troche,
unicorn, vair, vert, wreath, yale

-- From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0

Losenger Los"en*ger, n. [OF. losengier, losengeor, fr.
losengier to deceive, flatter, losenge, flattery, Pr.
lauzenga, fr. L. laus praise. Cf. Lozenge.]
A flatterer; a deceiver; a cozener. [Obs.] --Chaucer.
[1913 Webster]

To a fair pair of gallows, there to end their lives
with shame, as a number of such other losengers had
done. --Holinshed.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

13 February 2010


This word comes courtesy of a Merle Regal crossword puzzle in the 7 February 2010 Seattle Times. It was one of those words that was nearly all filled in save one letter, and it just doesn't look like anything (OPS_MATH) and has one holding his head in despair. I grabbed my old broken down Webster Collegiate off the dining room table and - nothing. Look at the puzzle again. Damn. Google to the rescue: there it is. The first really useful hit other than Wikipedia was from alphadictionary.com, and I will provide the link here to their entry for this most contemporary of words.

I suppose an opsimath is what I am, having gone to school at the age of 49. I hope I will continue to learn new things for the rest of my life. Study is not the drudgery I thought it was in my youth -- but then today I get to pick the subject.


An opsimath can refer to a person who begins, or continues, to study or learn late in life.[1] The word is derived from the Greek οψε (opse), meaning 'late' and μανθανω (manthano), meaning 'learn'.[2]

Opsimathy was once frowned upon, used as a put down with implications of laziness,[3] and considered less effective by educators than early learning.[4] However, the opsimath population is increasing in the USA,[5] and the emergence of "opsimath clubs"[6] proves that opsimathy is no longer looked down upon,[7] but is in fact desirable.[8]

Notable opsimaths include Joseph Henry Blackburne, the leading English chess player in the late 19th Century, who didn't learn the chess moves until the comparatively late age of 19.[9]

[Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opsimath.]

09 January 2010

ephemeris, ephemera, ephemeral

Trying to better understand a poem ("Chapter Sixty-Three," by Fred Longworth of San Diego), I looked up ephemeris and was delighted to discover a three-way definition, in short, a fascinating word lurking in the mists of this endlessly frustrating language. Ephemeris may be a star chart, a diary, or a magazine.

A star chart is, after all, a kind of time reference, which is, after all, what a journal or diary is, and "journal," after all, is a synonym for "magazine."

An ephemeral thing, on the other hand, is a thing that lasts only a day—as do certain plants or animals. Ephemeral may mean "likely to disappear," "ghostly," (that's my idea, maybe defective) or "transitory."


Ephemeris E*phem"e*ris, n.; pl. Ephemerides. [L., a diary,
Gr. ?, also, a calendar, fr. ?. See Ephemera.]
1. A diary; a journal. --Johnson.
[1913 Webster]

2. (Anat.)
(a) A publication giving the computed places of the
heavenly bodies for each day of the year, with other
numerical data, for the use of the astronomer and
navigator; an astronomical almanac; as, the "American
Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac."
(b) Any tabular statement of the assigned places of a
heavenly body, as a planet or comet, on several
successive days.
[1913 Webster]

3. (Literature) A collective name for reviews, magazines, and
all kinds of periodical literature. --Brande & C.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

n : an annual publication containing astronomical tables that
give the positions of the celestial bodies throughout the
year; "today computers calculate the ephemerides"
[also: ephemerides (pl)]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0


Ephemera E*phem"e*ra, n. [NL., fr. Gr. ? a day fly, fr. ?
daily, lasting but a day; ? over + ? day.]
1. (Med.) A fever of one day's continuance only.
[1913 Webster]

2. (Zo["o]l.) A genus of insects including the day flies, or
ephemeral flies. See Ephemeral fly, Ephemeral.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

Ephemeron E*phem"e*ron, n.; pl. Ephemera. [NL. See
Ephemera.] (Zo["o]l.)
One of the ephemeral flies.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

See ephemeron
[also: ephemerae (pl)]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0

n 1: something transitory; lasting a day
2: an insect that lives only for a day in its winged form [syn:
[also: ephemerae (pl)]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0

n : an insect that lives only for a day in its winged form [syn:
[also: ephemera (pl)]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0


Ephemeral E*phem"er*al, a.
1. Beginning and ending in a day; existing only, or no longer
than, a day; diurnal; as, an ephemeral flower.
[1913 Webster]

2. Short-lived; existing or continuing for a short time only.
"Ephemeral popularity." --V. Knox.
[1913 Webster]

Sentences not of ephemeral, but of eternal,
efficacy. --Sir J.
[1913 Webster]

Ephemeral fly one of a group of neuropterous
insects, belonging to the genus Ephemera and many allied
genera, which live in the adult or winged state only for a
short time. The larv[ae] are aquatic; -- called also day
fly May fly.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

Ephemeral E*phem"er*al, n.
Anything lasting but a day, or a brief time; an ephemeral
plant, insect, etc.
[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

adj : enduring a very short time; "the ephemeral joys of
childhood"; "a passing fancy"; "youth's transient
beauty"; "love is transitory but at is eternal";
"fugacious blossoms" [syn: passing, short-lived, transient,
transitory, fugacious]

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0

47 Moby Thesaurus words for "ephemeral":
brief, brittle, capricious, changeable, corruptible, deciduous,
dying, episodic, evanescent, evergreen, fading, fickle, fleeting,
flitting, fly-by-night, flying, fragile, frail, fugacious,
fugitive, half-hardy, hardy, impermanent, impetuous, impulsive,
inconstant, insubstantial, momentary, mortal, mutable, nondurable,
nonpermanent, passing, perennial, perishable, short, short-lived,
subject to death, temporal, temporary, transient, transitive,
transitory, undurable, unenduring, unstable, volatile

-- From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0