Free Rice Words and Others XXII
Bill Long 8/26/08
Ten Words Beginning with "S"
There are probably more words beginning with "s" than any other letter of our alphabet. Thus, in order to learn "all the words," we really need patience, a lot of humor and a desire to learn. These words derive from almost completely different spheres of human or animal activity: from Australian birds (sittella) to rhetorical devices (synchysis). Here are the ten I will touch on here: swigger, skelf, serenoa, stamnos, sittella, shufti, spontoon, shamba, shikari and synchysis. Let's begin...
1. Skelf is a Scottish word for a splinter, usually of wood, and especially one lodged in the skin. Jamieson defined it in 1808 as "thin slice, lamina." A lamina is a thin plate, scale or layer of something. Something laminable is "capable fo being formed into thin plates." We are all familiar with "laminated ID cards," though few know that the lamina refers to the "thin layer" of material. Back, then, to skelf. The word was used well into the 20th century. From 1926: "He shows the wounds he has received from a dragoon in O'Connell Street, and a skelf from a bobby's baton at a Labour meeting in Phoenix Park." Clear, clear, clear.
2. Synchysis, the rhetorical term, is just the opposite--a sentence so confused as to have lost meaning. To use other rhetorical terms in a definition, it is hyperbaton gone crazy. Hyperbaton is a figure of speech where the customary order of words is inverted, though the meaning is preserved and emphasis is provided. From the Scriptures we have, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:25), a hyperbaton for the "normal," "Diana of the Ephesians is great." An example of synchysis is "And be free Not Heaven it self from thy Impiety." Is even heaven imbibing impiety? Probably, but the meaning is hard to come by...
3. Serenoa is the genus name (repens is the species) of the saw palmetto palm, an extract used principally to treat symptoms associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (or "BPH" in the urological trade). Here is an article and a picture. There is some truth or virtue in Plato's statement in the Republic that he would like to have physicians in his kallipolis be sickly people, so that they truly would be able to understand the nature of human illness. My "version" of Plato is that it is not bad to be a sickly person, because this way you will learn dozens of new Latin words and pharmacological terms which you otherwise would have no reason to master.
4. Shikari is an Urdu word, derived ultimately from Persian, to denote a "hunter or sportsman." Generally, in the older quotations (1830s), it is associated with a native guide who accompanies Europeans on the hunt in India. From the 1881 Britannica: "Rewards are given by government to native shikaris for the heads of tigers."
5. A shamba is a small farm in East Africa. The word is derived from the Swahili. African explorer Henry Stanley was the first to use the term in an English-language publication in 1878: "But the highest ambition of a Mgwana [freeman of Zanzibar] is to have a house and shamba or garden of his own." I found this interesting web page on the SHAMBA foundation. It explains: "The Swahili word 'shamba' means 'farm,' and the concept for the SHAMBA foundation is to mobilize business networks in an urban setting creating a kind of 'urban farm,' where many hands make light work." The foundation has a SHAMBA Space, a 2,500 sq. foot rooftop terrace designed for "fantastic events" that raise money for "great causes." As I have often said--every word in the world is trivially simple and clear to someone-usually a whole host of "someones." Find the "angle," and the word becomes a piece of cake.
6. A stamnos is simply an ancient Greek vessel or vase, resembling a hydria or amphora, but with a shorter neck. Here is a good picture of an Attic Greek black-figured stamnos, with short neck and rather short body. But way leads to way, not only in life but also in words. The scholar interviewed on that page talked about the different sizes and functions of Greek vases in antiquity.
"For instance a kyathos is a small ladle, an oinchoe (sic) is a wine jug, a kylix is a shallow footed drinking cup, a hydria is a three-handled water pitcher, olive oil would be stored in a small suspending alabastron, a pyxis is a lidded toilet-box, a krater is a large bowl used to mix water and wine. The water would be stored in a hydria and the wine in an amphora."
So, we have new terms: kyathos (ladle), oenochoe (wine jug), kylix (drinking cup), hydria (water pitcher), alabastron (storage for olive oil), pyxis (to mix water and wine) and amphora. There is also a krater. You learn these words and you are well on your way to becoming a Greek archaeologist. All the professions really aren't that tough. Just learn a few words, a few techniques, a few people from the field and know how to work in an office environment--and then you have it.
7. At first I was nonplussed by swigger until I realized it was derived from swig. But I thought a swig was a little sip of wine; in fact, a swig is "a deep or copious draught of a beverage, esp. of intoxicating liquor; a 'pull.'" Just as I thought that livid once meant "red" instead of "blue," so I thought a swig was a sip rather than a "copious draught." Thus, a swigger is "a habitual drinker, esp. of alcholic liquor."
8. A spontoon has nothing to do with pontoons or spittoons. It is, in fact, a "species of half-pike or halberd carried by infantry officers from about 1740." Here is a picture, with order information (only $85, which is a sale price). Last year, I just started buying plants at local nursuries and bringing them home to observe how they grew on my kitchen table. I will never forget how to spell kinnikinnick now. Well, if you buy a spontoon and have it in your bedroom or living room, you probably will never forget what one is...
9. Shufti is an Arabic word derived from the verb "to see," and meaning, in Arabic, "have you seen?" Its English meaning as a noun (it is also a verb) is a glance or a look. British soldiers who were stationed before and during WWII in the Middle East were said to have "taken a shufti" or "to have a shufti." From 1947: "She took another good shufti at us." I think the word is sort of dying out, the further away we are becoming from WWII...
10. Finally, a sittella is a very small Australasian family of birds composed of only two species: a New Guinea bird and one Australian species, the Varied Sittella. Here are some stunning pictures of the little fellow. The one shown in the picture has a black cap, signifying it is a male. As with swords or Attic vessels, you can go on and on with Australiasian birds. So, I think I will stop, take a deep breath and be thankful that we have had yet another day to probe these words a little more closely, to coax them into giving up their secrets to us...