Free Rice Words, Even More
Bill Long 10/4/08
From Agley to Arnica to Bemegride and Others
If you try to learn all the words in one day, you will feel like you do after you have sampled every dish in a smorgasbord in one meal--you appreciate none of the food yet feel miserable. The key is to take a few items and savor them. So it is with words.
1. Let's begin with agley, also spelled aglee (ah GLEE). It is a Scottish word meaning "awry" or "off the right line." The OED defines it also as "asquint," itself a word not much used. Asquint, for example, can refer to various mental attitudes, of which the averted, oblique, sidelong or furtive glances are the outward expression. One might "look asquint upon the Duke's Prosperity." Or, from 1605: "Men will impartially, and not asquint, look toward the Office and Function of a Poet." So, agley means the same thing--askew, awry. From 1929: "These are they who built my house and neer a stone of it laid agley." Or, from Robert Burns' To a Mouse On turning her up in her nest, with the plough (1785; words and audio here) we have: "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." We often just repeat the first few words of that aphoristic statement; now we know the rest.
2. A swingletree, sometimes known as a singletree or whippletree, is a crossbar, pivoted at the middle, in a carriage or plow, to which the traces are fastened (traces are lashes that tie to the horse), giving freedom of movement to the horse or other draught-animal. A picture of it is here.
3. While on British-sounding words, let's pause on stile. It is "an arrangement of steps, rungs or the like, contrived to allow passage over or through a fence to one person at a time, while forming a barrier to the passage of sheep or cattle." The word is trivially simple to many. Here is a picture of a happy woman who has not won her first lottery but has built her first stile. We see precisely what a stile is. Our word turnstile is a development of the word, emphasizing that the "arrangement" of something prohibiting cattle escape or allowing human entrance is sometihng that "turns."
4. We can dispense with bandobust quickly, even though it doesn't appear in the OED or the Century. It is a term from the British developed in India; it is "protection arranged and provided by police and other security personnel." So, it is simply a security arrangement. "Heavy police bandobust was conspicuous all over the Bobbili..." Or, "the police administration has chalked out an elaborate 'bandobust' plan to beef up security..."
5. When we see Pam, we immediately think of a girl's name, but it is a word, now obsolete, drawn from the world of card games. Derived possibly from the French pamphile, the name of a card game, the Pam is the jack of clubs, esp. in certain versions of five-card loo in which this card is always the highest trump. Thus, in broader application, a Pam is an "all-powerful or desirable person or thing." Herman Melville used the word in 1876: "Moses' God is no mere Pam With painted clubs." Very nicely put.
6. When we come to arnica we are in the realm of plants and remedies for strains and sprains. Arnica is the genus name of about 30 perennial herbaceous species belonging to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). A picture of Arnica chamissonis is here. The Arnica montana contains the toxin helenalin and the roots contain derivates of thymol, which are used as fungicides and preservatives and may have some anti-inflammatory properies. So, we use it as a linament and ointment today. Probably is better than the "atomic balm" I slathered on my sore shoulders 40 years ago..
7. and 8. Rinforzando and stretto are two of the less familiar Italian-derived words from the world of music. The verb lying behind the first means "to strengthen," so rinforzando is a "sudden stress or crescendo made on a short phrase." "Rinforzando is only akin to sforzando but is often treated as a subito (sudden) by conductors. The term rinforzando is not found in many modern scores." Stretto is a direction to perform a passage, esp. a final passage, in quicker time. In this sense it is opposed to largo. We see this device especially in a fugue. From 1869: "In a fugue the stretto is an artifice by which the subject and answer are, as it were, bound closer together, by being made to overlap."
9. Then there is the rather rare term sterigma. The Greek word underlying it means "a prop" or "a support," and so, in botany, a sterigma is a "stalk or support of some kind." It is especially prominent in the stalk-like branch of the basidium which bears a spore. It is always best to understand a word like this from a picture. So, here we have one. The diagrams show the formation of basidiospores from the beginnins to the end product. We see that the sterigma are four small outgrowths that begin to form at the top of the "hypal compartment and the tip of each sterigma begins to inflate." How wondrously complex and unique is the operation of nature, don't you think?
10. Let's close with trapunto, a word that looks as if it is also derived from Italian music but is, in fact, a term from quilting. It is "a kind of quilting in which the design alone is padded." Well, a 1967 quotation has it: "In the case of Trapunto, areas of the design are padded where required by splitting the backing and inserting wadding, after which the backing is sewn up again." Or, more simply, trapunto is a "whole cloth quilting technique which produces a raised surface on the quilt," such as vines, leaves, grapes, cherries, etc. Here is an image which shall assure that you never forget the term...
Enough for one more day...and still a few words left for tomorrow!