New Free Rice Words X
Bill Long 2/8/08
More Words whose Meanings Look, But Aren't, Obvious
The eleven words comprising this and the next essay are: (1) cultrate; (2) mullein; (3) marcel; (4) quarrion; (5) congee; (6) schmelze; (7) oreide; (8) aposteme; (9) fumet; (10) antimere and (11) smoothbore. I picked them because there are words we will naturally turn to in order to try to define them but, in almost all cases, we will be wrong.
Let's begin with cultrate. What do you see there? Possibly culture or cultivation. Derived from the Latin word meaning to "till" or "take care of," cultivate has spawned many English words. But cultrate is not one of them. Here our root is culter, cultr- and means a knife. The closest English word derived from this is coulter, the iron blade fixed in front of the share in a plough. It makes a vertical cut in the soil, which is then sliced horizontally by the share. Thus, something cultrate is formed or shaped like a knife. But we can go further. The OED lists cultrated, cultriform, cultrirostral and cultrivorous--all also derived from the same root. I only need to say a word about the last two. Cultrirostral (a rostrum, in Latin, is a beak) is "having a bill shaped like a knife" such as the heron or stork. I also think it might be useful to describe some large-beaked humans I have run into.... But cultrivorous is even more interesting: it literally means "eating knives," but the OED defines it as "swallowing or pretending to swallow knives." All of a sudden we have a good word that helps us describe some circus performers. Thus, we have a good word here--cultrate.
I confused mullein with mullion--the bars dividing the lights in a window, especially in Gothic architecture. Mullions are vertical elements, while transoms are the corresponding horizontal elements. But mullein is "any of various plants of the genus Verbascum.." There are tons of pictures online, with this one being one. I can scarcely wait until the flowers start blooming again in Oregon (the big plant and garden show is the 20th-23rd)--not so that I can plant a garden but so I can get visual demonstrations or ocular proof of various plants. I will, of course, learn the Latin as I go...
I think the first thought I had when I saw the word marcel was to think of a nearby word I knew--marceline, which is a light taffeta-silk fabric. I also thought about Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died recently and was the most famous mime of the 20th century. But the marcel wave is/was a deep artificial wave in the hair produced by heated curling tongs. Named after the French hairdresser, Francois Marcel Grateau (1852-1936), the marcel wave can be seen here. The web site goes on to tell you how you can create Marcel waves--a different kind of wave than most people want to create in life.
When you see the word quarrion, you immediatly think of some kind of rock quarry, don't you? Indeed, we have quarriable, quarried, quarrier, and quarry as a noun and a verb, etc. But quarrion is none of these. It is derived from an Australian Aboriginal language of New South Wales (I am particularly weak on these...) and means "the cockatiel," or Nymphicus hollandicus. I was delighted to find this web site devoted to cockatiels. The photos are remarkably clear and show the distinctive head and wing features of this common cockatoo parrakeet.
I have already described the word congee, and stopped when I defined it as a passport. But the correct definition given for a congee in Free Rice is a "bow" or "kowtow." How do we get from a passport to a bow, if at all? To review, the OED tells us that it ultimately derives from the Latin commeatus, which means "passage," or "leave to pass," and thus can include the concepts of absence or furlough. Often someone needed a form or licence to depart, and thus we see how a congee could be a passport or other authoritative identifying document. This usage goes back to the 15th century in English. By the 17th century, however, congee could mean "ceremonious dismissal and leave-taking," emphasizing the action of leaving and not the permission slip, so to speak, to leave. From 1797, "When the dear man made his congee, he took with him the better half of the widow's soul." Well, what do you do when you depart from someone in a ceremonious way? You bow. Thus, by the early 17th century a congee could also be a bow, originally at taking one's leave but, afterwards, also in salutation. From Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621): "Kiss it, and with a low congy deliver it unto me." Or, from one of the delightful books of my youth, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, "As they came upon him, he [Mr. By-ends] made them a very low Conje (later editions have "Congee") and they also gave him a Complement."
One of my biggest fears is again realized--that I need one more essay to "finish" these "obvious" words.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long