New Free Rice Words VIII
Bill Long 8/18/08
A Veritable International Harvest
Let's begin this essay with the Italian-derived word capriccio. We can see the words caprice and capricious in the word, but we would be wrong to think that capriccio meant 'guided by whim or fancy rather than judgment or settled purpose,' which is one of the definitions of capricious. In fact, capriccio means "a sudden sportive or fantastic motion; a prank, trick, caper." A secondary, but obsolete, meaning is "caprice" in our sense of whim. But think of capriccio as a sportive or jesting movement. It also denotes a musical composition in a free or irregular style. It was first applied to a quick-tempo fugue, but now is used much more broadly. Something capriccioso is in a "free, fantastic style."
The OED suggests that the origin is from the word capro (goat) and so is like "the skip or frisk of a goat." The frisk?? Ah, the modern American usage of the term frisk to mean a cursory body search is not the original meaning of the term. The word goes back to the 1520s and meant a "brisk and lively movement in horsemanship or dancing; a caracole or curvet." The word appears, of all places in Foxe's Book of Martrys: "He leapt, and set a frisk or twain, as men commonly do in dauncing."
Bogong is the much more frequent spelling of the name of this Australian moth (Agrostis infusa). The OED gives it a few other species names, and says that it is highly prized by Aborigines as an article of food. Here is an informative article on, with picture of, this pale to black moth. The bogong, like other moths, has four distinct wings, but this one has a distinctive darker arrow-shaped mark with a small spot in the middle of it on each of the wings. These breed in the flatland areas of Australia, but high-tail it to the mountain country to avoid the heat, a distance of about 1000 km. Some 20% of them die during the migration. They tend to fly near Canberra, the capital, when they migrate and often are blown off course. Thus, the capital can be infested/covered with these moths, which like to congregate in crevasses of buildings. They are called noctuid moths, which means that they travel by night. This web site says there is a carpet of dead moth bodies, 1.5 meters thick, on the floor of some Alpine caves, built up from thousands of generations. Now wouldn't that be quite a scene in an Indiana Jones movie?
This a native American term, actually a Canadian French word originally derived from the Algonquian. It is the "thongs or thread made of raw hide," especially for the webbing of the snowshoe. As the Saturday Evening Post said in 1948: "No screws or nails are used at the joints, but babiche instead--rawhide thongs." Make sure you distinguish this word from bobeche, which is a little candle surrounded by a paper or plastic lip, like those they hand out to the congregation at a Christmas Eve service.
When we enter the world of kalpaks we are in the realm of Kazakh and Kyrgyz traditional costumes. In fact a kalpak is a high-pointed cap with a divided turn-up. As this web site tells us, the hat is properly called the "Ak Kalpak" (white Kalpak). It is made from four panels of white felt with traditional patters stitched into them as decoration. Men of all ages wear it in Kyrgyzstan. It is the Kyrgyz "ball cap," but I much prefer it to a Mariners cap. In a region where hats give identity, the kalpak gives this identity. I was intrigued to learn that many male resident of the southern Kyrgyz enclave of Barak (in Uzbek territory) wear two hats; one is the kalpak, worn among their own people, but the other, worn when around the Uzbeks, is called a tjubiteka.
This article goes into more detail on the fantastically attractive hats of Central Asia. Whereas the kalpak is usually a sign of a higher-status person, another traditional men's headgear is the borik, a rounded warm cap, trimed with asktrakhan otter, marten or raccoon fur. In the winter, men also wear the tymak, a fur cap with three flaps. Well, the woman in the left photo of the linked article is wearing a saukele, the bridal headgear. Then, the article goes on to talk about the boots and garments; a veritable feast of words. Maybe next time I find myself in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan I will have to visit the national museums and have a ball.
Anyone watching the Kids Bee this year got a chuckle when the eventual winner got the word numnah and, at first, thought that the pronouncer was saying "numbnut" or something similar. By the way, a numnah is a saddlecloth or saddle-pad. But, upon further thought, the numdah is really an earlier word to describe the same thing. However, if you find online pictures, the numdah is portrayed as an Indian rug though the first attestation of it in English (1819) had it as a saddlecloth: "A Kattee throws a nunda on his mare." You see how these words could be spelled many ways. This site says that numdah rugs are made of unspun wool or wool and cotton pressed and felted in specific proportions.
And if we aren't "international" enough, the site goes on to say that the art of numdah originated in the Sinkiang region of Central Asia/China during the Silk Route trading days. It became an indigenous craft of Kashmir. More about these rugs is on the site. It is truly humbling to me patiently to wander through many regions of the world (Australia, India, Central Asia, Native America) and come back with something distinctively beautiful from those cultures. It invites us to go deeper, doesn't it? Maybe this life is only given us to get a taste or preliminary appetizer of the beatiful and marvelous complexity of the world. We just need longer, maybe eternity, to enjoy it all.