New Free Rice XII
Bill Long 2/8/08
Finishing the "Obvious" then the "Combination" Words
The words from the new Free Rice levels 51-55 that interest me are those which are "combination" words, or words which consist of two smaller words, both of which may be familiar but, in combination, are anything but clear. The words that thus interest me are: (1) highbinder; (2) foulbrood; (3) kenspeckle; (4) boomslang; (5) pigeonwing; (6) pinchbeck; (7) cockalorum; (8) cockayne; and (9) pilliwinks. Let's begin by finishing the two words left hanging from the previous essay.
Schmelz(e) and Aposteme
Aposteme can be used in our spelling bees because this is how it appears in the Unabridged. But, as luck or the vagaries of English would have it, it can be spelled aposteme, apostume, or aposthume in the OED. It can also be spelled apostem. The Greek word apostema means a "separation," and I was looking for some definition in the Free Rice choices that pointed to that meaning, but there was none. In fact, it is a medical term in Greek, a term that specifically indicates the separation of purulent matter into an abscess. Indeed, our word abscess is derived from the Latin abscessus, a going away--the same general meaning as the Greek. So, an aposteme is an abscess or "a gathering of purulent matter in any part of the body." Holinshed used the term figuratively in 1577: "So is sedition...the apostume of the realme, which when it breaketh inwardlie, putteth the state in great danger of recoverie."
The Century has schmelze, the Unabridged has schmelze or schmelz and the OED only has schmelz. Put that as mundungus in your dudeen and smoke it. In any case, the German word behind it is schmelz, translated as "enamel," and means "any one of several varieties of decorative glass; spec. a variety colored red with a metallic salt." The Century, however, emphasizes that different authors use the word differently. I didn't find any pictures of it online, but we have this from the 1879 Britannica: "That peculiar kind of glass usually called schmelz, an imperfect imitation of chalcedony, was also made at Venice in the 15th century."
On to the Combination Words
There are a few from the list above which aren't strictly "combination" words, but I didn't want to miss them. Cockayne (also cockaigne, pronounced COCK ain) is the name of an imaginary country, the abode of luxury and idleness. At this late time of the day when I am writing, such a place seems alluring indeed. The first use of the term was in 1305--thus it originated in that period where there was much speculation about exotic far-away locales, probably engendered by Marco Polo's trips to China and the Crusades to the Muslim world. Hobbes knew of the term in 1677: "All the Contentments and ease which some pleasant Men have Related of the Land of Cocquany..." We have an additional item from an 1862 book: "Many things...could have been mended if it had been in that land of Cockaigne where everything is allowed to be done twice over..." Many of us would need that land.
Speaking of "cock" prefixes, let's look at cockalorum. The first syllable, cock, is an enormously complex word. The OED has nine separate entries for the noun alone, and the first entry itself has 21 or more usages. For example, did you know that the noun can figuratively be applied to one or arouses slumberers, a watchman or even ministers of religion? From 1871: "In the ages of ignorance the clergy frequently called themselves the Cocks of the Almighty." A cockalorum is a little strutter, like a common domestic fowl, who sees himself as an important person. I haven't seen a suitable explanation for the "orum" ending. Rather than being a diminutive, however, I would read it as a Latin genitive plural. Thus a cockalorum is "of those who crow" or something like this. From 1881: "Lord James Butler, the cockalorum of the Protestants."
Highbinder and Foulbrood
The word highbinder had two meanings at one time, but one of them is so unpolitically correct that the Free Rice folk could never have had it in mind. Let's begin with the useful one. A highbinder is a "bold, roystering rowdy; an insolent ruffian" or "one who commits outrages on persons or property for fun." The high part probably means "arrogant" or "overbearing" and binder is derived from bender, which means "one who goes on a sort of spree." The word originated in 1806. The NY Evening Post could say in that year, "A desperate association of lawless and unprincipled vagabonds, calling themselves 'High-binders'..during the last winter, produced several riots. The non-politically correct meaning of it is from the later 19th century--one of a secret society or gang said to exist among the Chinese especially in CA for the purpose of blackmailing and assassination. From 1892: "The Italian Mafia is a dangerous enemy to law and order, like the Chinese 'highbinders' of CA."
The word foulbrood is two words in the OED, is hyphenated in the Century and is one word in the Unabridged. So much for uniformity. It is a disease of larval bees. From 1896: "Foul brood or Bee pest is the most terrible scourge of apiculture. It...is caused by a rod-shaped micro-organism, called Bacillus alvei...Hives in which foul brood exists give forth a sickly and unpleasant smell." Another source calls its smell a "nauseating stench." I like the phrase "the scourge of apiculture." Go around intoning that and you will receive uncomprehending stares.
The Rest--Quickly Now
Boomslang is derived from two Afrikaans words meaning "tree snake" and is the tree-snake, Dispholidus typus. This picture of the ugly guy says it is among the most poisonous snakes in Southern Africa. The origin of kenspeckle is unclear, but the word means "clear," "conspicuous," or "recognizable." From 1855 we have, "As kenspac as a cock on a church broach." A church broach is the steeple or spire. The word is attested as recently as 1973: "There have been others...who, if not as kenspeckle and dynamic in the public eye, have given their time, talents and means."
Pigeonwing either has to do with hairdressing or dancing/skating. It was a hairstyle or type of wig fashionable with men towards the end of the 18th century, in which the hair is brushed or curled into a roll above the ear. From the classic Godey's Lady's Book of 1847: "A powdered toupee and pigeon-wing side-curls. It also is a move in skating or dance: "a dance step performed by jumping up and striking the legs together whilst in the air." Finally, let's conclude with pinchbeck, saving pilliwinks for the next essay.
Pinchbeck, named after a London watchmaker of the 18th century, has a meaning either as a noun or adjective. As the former, it is an alloy of three or four parts of copper with one of zinc, frequently used in cheap jewelry. It looks like gold, but it really isn't. "Many wore ear-hoops of pinchbeck, large as a dollar." A pinchbeck can be a miserly person or, if we wanted to use a biblical word, a nabalitic fellow. Figuratively, pinchbeck means something cheap or worthless. From 1847: "How would not such a romance by the great master have contrasted with Bulwer's pinchbeck and frippery."
Now, after all these words, let's take a detour to words of no more than three letters that appear in the new Free Rice words.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long