Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey Presto!

Ehrich Weiss, popularly known as Harry Houdini

Prestidigitation: For those of you who have seen the movie "The Prestige" this should be easy to remember. To be honest, I had never come across this word except for one obvious instance - but it seems not outlandishly obscure, at least not inside The New York Times.

Meaning: (n.) Sleight of hand, legerdemain, magic

Etymology: French, from prestidigitateur prestidigitator, from preste nimble, quick (from Italian presto) + Latin digitus finger
Indebted to the site for this.


"If "Prof." J. Richard Miller's skill were as wonderful as his grammar he would be the greatest living prestidigitateur. Unfortunately for prestidigitation this is an impossibility. "Prof." Miller is a gentleman who delights in gold braid, brass buttons, epaulets, and other military paraphernalia and who does a number of conventional tricks very cleverly at Dockstader's Theatre."
The New York Times, Sep. 28, 1889...for the full article click here.

"A professor and a librarian have performed the astonishing act of phenomenal prestidigitation, hitherto unimaginable, right before the very eyes of startled onlookers: they have made the works of the amazing Houdini reappear."
The New York Times, May 25, 1992...for the full article click here.

"In 1978, when Mr. O'Brien's third novel, ''Going After Cacciato,'' appeared, some critics said his tale of an American soldier who simply walked away from the Vietnam War had strong elements of the Latin American school of fiction called magic realism. In his new work the magic is in the storyteller's prestidigitation as the stories pass from character to character and voice to voice, and the realism seems Homeric."
The New York Times, April 3, 1990...for the full article click here.

"Even though the world of magic may have lost some luster in recent years -- as when David Blaine was pelted with eggs by unimpressed Londoners -- torches still burn here for the fading art of prestidigitation."
The New York Times, May 15, 2005...for the full article click here.

Here is my own...
Only a prodigious thaumaturgical propensity portends the precious preservation of "prestidigitation" in your psyche's platform.
Zemanta Pixie

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

High Hopes

Mr. Micawber from David Copperfield

Probably the only one word whose meaning I understood because I knew the the etymology first! Serendipitous that it may seem, must thank the education authorities for having inducted David Copperfield. Oh yes! thanks Mr. Dickens too!

Meaning: Eternal optimism almost to a fault...the feeling "something will turn up!"
(I defined that myself... yo! )

Etymology: (this is the interesting part...) derived from the classic character Mr. Wilkins Micawber from Charles Dickens' famous book David Coppefield. Mr. Micawber is an incorrigible optimist; hounded by debt and penury, he comes across as one of the "happiest" characters in a novel that in true Dickensian style is replete with Victorian squalor, tears, despondence and the ilk.
(He talks of buying stuff for his home when the last conversation he had was about his debts...on a first reading it seemed so surely-out-of-place I actually flipped back to see if I had missed any pages!)

Usage: "The children and their mother lived from hand to mouth; there is more than a touch of Micawberism in the way they got by -- high spirits in the midst of semipenury."
The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2001... for the full article click here

"Psychoanalysis recognises a tendency known as negative hallucination — normal hallucinations involve seeing things that aren’t there, negative hallucinations consist of not seeing things that are there. And so some people insist that nothing unnatural is happening to the climate, while others argue a kind of environmental Micawberism — something (usually technological) will definitely turn up; it always does."
The Times, Oct. 31, 2006... for the full article click here

"A word on the current wave of Micawberism, fed by misleading or mendacious reports that the surge is succeeding; the Iraqi government, police, and security forces could still improve; sectarian violence is declining; and so on. This illustrates how hopes derived from misplaced patriotism and nurtured by clever propaganda can survive unnumbered disappointments, broken promises, and wrong predictions."
The Times, Oct. 10, 2007... for the full article click here

"The prevailing orthodoxy in rich countries is a variant of Micawberism. It is the faith that something will turn up, that rapid economic development will produce a demographic transition in which the population problems of developing countries solve themselves."
The Guardian, Sept. 21, 1999 ... for the full article click here

Here is my own...
Pardon my sesquipedalian ramblings and self-indulgent rodomontade, I blog buoyed by the unbridled Micawberism that I shall not pique my readers and suffer defenestration at their hands - atleast I am not guilty of Dickensian tenebrosity!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shades of gray

Martyrdom of St. Philip, 1639, Prado, Madrid
By Jusepe de Ribera

Tenebrous: One of those words which to the uninitiated could mean anything. This word per se doesn't give away even an inkling of its meaning.

Meaning: Dark and gloomy

Etymology: "full of darkness," c.1420, from O.Fr. tenebreus (11c.), from L. tenebrosus, from tenebræ "darkness"
Deeply indebted to the site for the above

Another nice trivia associated with the etymology is the following taken from the wonderful book "All About Words" by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum:

"Tenerbism is a style of painting specifically associated with Caravaggio(1565-1609) and his followers, who hid most of the figures in shadow while strikingly illuminating others. In Italian these painters are referred to as Tenebrosi, " the somber ones.""

Usage: "Everyone bangs on, rightly enough, about global warming. So, in the best citizen-bullying ministerial way, the authorities compelled us to live in three-quarter light under tenebrous neon perversions instead of lightbulbs. But when it comes to the suffering endured by unprivileged people swept aside by floods, they are heroically inactive."
The Guardian Dec 26, 2007...for the full article click here

"An armoured knight rides through a deep, tenebrous German forest; he is miles from home, from the distant castle on a hill, and in the creeping shadows, nightmares attack him. Death, with snakes sprouting from his rancid face, holds up an hourglass; the devil, a nauseating monstrosity, walks behind."
The Guardian Nov. 30, 2002...for the full article click here

"McVicar's staging, in Tanya McCullin's single set, was suitably tenebrous, as if the mighty trees that towered over every scene had sucked out all the light."
The Guardian July 15, 2001...for the full article click here

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Linux or Windows?

Fenestration: Okay that was a very ponderous joke (PJ) of a title. But, all the same, a nice way to remember this architectural jargon. I guess Mr. Gates would not appreciate this pun especially coming from a devout Windows user. Yes Windows! That is what it is all about. Albeit structural.

Meaning: The arrangement of windows in a building; another meaning refers to a surgical procedure to restore hearing.

Etymology: Derived from the Latin word fenestra meaning windows. (That was straightforward!)

Usage: "the Latin-rooted word for ''windows,'' one of the building blocks in the new language of architecture and design. The first question put to architects by savvy clients with knockout ''signature'' buildings in mind is ''What unique concept do you have for the fenestration?''"
New York Times, Dec. 1, 2002...for the full article click here

"The windows are in poor condition and appearance and are single glazed, painted steel with operable vents. The windows are not energy efficient; all caulking and weatherseals are deteriorating; the replacement Lexan glazing is discolored and unsightly; hardware is broken and malfunctioning; window screens were not provided. It is recommended that all fenestration be replaced."
Washington Post, March 26, 1997...for the full article click here

There is a curious word related to this: Defenestration - no it has nothing to with demolition of windows...ok hold your means throwing one out of the window (no not figuratively, it refers to the action of actually throwing somebody out of the window!!!)

The origins of Defenestration: A word invented for one incident: the "Defenestration of Prague," May 21, 1618, when two Catholic deputies to the Bohemian national assembly and a secretary were tossed out the window (into a moat) of the castle of Hradshin by Protestant radicals. It marked the start of the Thirty Years War.
Deeply indebted to the site

The original article on the first usage example of fenestration gives a vivid account of defenestration down the ages (oh yes! it has happened more than once...we earthlings are indeed a curious bunch)

And if there is a any truth in the statement (I garbled the original version) ... "Do not test the fenestration of opportunity afforded by your audience" - otherwise Defenestration awaits... better stop!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Let none accuse you of this!

Rodomontade: There are quite a few words which gives me the feeling of where it might have originated, no logic - just the feeling. This is one of them. Feels like it has got something to do with Renaissance. Italy it is! Smooth, stylish and free-flowing in pronunciation - it means something really bad.

Meaning: noun - Vain and empty boasting; braggadocio; bluster

Etymology: It was created from Rodomont, the name of the boastful Saracen king of Algiers, in two famous Italian romantic epics, Orlando Innamorato of 1485 by Count Matteo Boiardo, and the sequel of 1516, Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.
Deeply indebted to the beautiful site created by Michael Quinion.

There is an alternative spelling for this word: Rhodomontade

"I didn't know Roy Jenkins well, though I met him often enough, and relished his baroque choice of words. He could use "otiose", "rodomontade" and the French "pièce justificative" in conversation, as easily as we would say "unnecessary", "boasting" or "excuse"."
The Guardian, Jan. 11, 2003...for the full article click here

The word, with its alternative spelling (rhodomontade) is quoted in John Lukacs book "Five Days in London May 1940". Relating the tempestous days of Churchill's first weeks in office Lukacs quotes Alex Cadogan a bureaucrat with the Foreign Office, counselling Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax who was complaining that he could "no longer work with Winston" Cadogan said "Nonsense: his rhodomontades probably bore you as much as they do me, but don't do anything silly under the stress of that."
Thanks to old friend Google for this.

And oh yes! If you are a compulsive sesquipedalian, you might actually be accused of tread lightly!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Inception - all about the title

Sesquipedalian: I guess there are many words whose meanings tell a thing or two about themselves. One such is this.

Meaning: noun - a very long word, polysyllabic word
adjective - given to the overuse of long words;
long and ponderous, having many syllables

Etymology: "We owe this word to the Roman writer Horace, who wrote in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry): “Proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba” (“He throws aside his paint pots and his words that are a foot and a half long”). It comes from Latin sesqui–, one and a half, plus ped, a foot."
(Deeply indebted to the site created by Michael Quinion for the check it out!)

"Daniel Patrick Moynihan is a man of many accomplishments: scholar, urbanist, Presidential adviser, diplomat and, since 1977, a distinguished Senator from New York. He now aspires to fame also as a celebrated sesquipedalian, but in that ambition he is destined for defeat...The other day he told his colleagues he wanted to make a word of his coinage the longest word[floccinaucinihilipilification is the word and he wanted to create floccinaucinihilipilificationism] in the English dictionary."
The New York Times, June 26, 1991...for the full article click here

"The conservative man of letters known for his sesquipedalian style -- that is, his love of long fancy words -- will mark his 70th birthday..."
The New York Times, Sept. 3, 1995...for the full article click here

The chortling fondness for out-of-the-way polysyllables that sometimes burst out in Captain Corelli's Mandolin ("our sesquipedalian friend") is given frequent vent ("He hurled an inkpot at my head with serendipitous inaccuracy"). Outlandish and obsolete vocabulary peppers the prose: "immanitous", "abscondence", "perduring", "perseverant", "afflated", "disencrypt", "mommixity and foofaraw". At one moment, a cleaning lady offers to "perform an act of iatrosophia"..."
The Sunday Times, June 27, 2004...for the full article click here

I have assumed that anyone who must have read this far would not be suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia i.e. a fear of long more of that here.

Until I get down to the compiling business again, take care...Dear reader!


Why? Because I love words. Long words especially.
I feel the necessity to keep track.
And I feel the necessity to share what I am keeping track of.
Should it help anyone - ah!