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2017-09-20 07:53 am


aconite (AK-uh-nait) - n., any of about 250 plants, many of them poisonous, belonging to the genus Aconitum (in the buttercup family) having irregular flowers usually in loose clusters; any of around eight closely related plants of the genus Eranthis, more usually called winter aconite.

Also called monkshood, wolfsbane, leopardsbane, mousebane, women's bane, devil's helmet, queen of poisons, and blue rocket. Monkshood is especially applied to A. napellus, which was cultivated for medicinal purposes (and used very carefully because poisonous. Winter aconite is among the first flowers of spring where they grow. The word is from French aconit, from Latin aconītum, from Greek akonīton, the name of the plant, of uncertain origin.

Winter Aconite Fairy

Deep in the earth
I woke, I stirred.
I said: “Was that the Spring I heard?
For something called!”
“No, no,” they said;
“Go back to sleep. Go back to bed.

Up, up, I climbed,
“You’re far too soon;
The world’s too cold
For you, so small.” So I was told.
But how could I
Go back to sleep?
I could not wait; I had to peep!

And here am I.
How wide the earth! How great the sky!
O wintry world,
See me, awake!
Spring calls, and comes; ’tis no mistake.
—Cicely Mary Barker

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2017-09-19 07:49 am


gaillardia (GAY-lahr-dee-uh) - n., any of several American composite flowers of the genus Gaillardia widely cultivated for their large red, yellow, or bicolored flower heads.

Also called blanket flower, possibly because of colors that look like Native American blankets. Named in the 1880s for Gaillard de Charentonneau, an 18th-century French amateur botanist and patron of botany.

Gaillardia Fairy

There once was a child in a garden,
Who loved all my colours of flame,
The crimson and scarlet and yellow—
But what was my name?

For Gaillardia’s hard to remember!
She looked at my yellow and red,
And thought of the gold and the glory
When the sun goes to bed;

And she troubled no more to remember,
But gave me a splendid new name;
She spoke of my flowers as Sunsets—
Then you do the same!
—Cicely Mary Barker

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2017-09-18 07:47 am


Theme week: flower fairies.

fumitory (FYOO-mi-tawr-ee, FYOO-mi-tohr-ee) - n., any of various Eurasian annual plants (genus Fumaria, esp. F. officinalis) having small, grey-green leaves and small, spurred, purplish flowers.

Also called fumewart and earthsmoke, the latter being a translation of the Latin-via-French name, fūmus, smoke + terrae, of the earth, apparently named after the color of the leaves.

Fumitory Fairy

Given me hundreds of years ago,
My name has a meaning you shall know:
It means, in the speech of the bygone folk,
“Smoke of the Earth”—a soft green smoke!

A wonderful plant to them I seemed;
Strange indeed were the dreams they dreamed,
Partly fancy and partly true,
About “Fumiter” and the way it grew.

Where men have ploughed or have dug the ground,
Still, with my rosy flowers, I’m found;
Known and prized by the bygone folk
As “Smoke of the Earth”—a soft green smoke!
—Cicely Mary Barker

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2017-09-15 07:38 am


russet (RUHS-it) - n., dark reddish-brown.

Also, a coarse homespun cloth of this color (dyed with woad and madder), clothes of this cloth, apples with a rough skin with this color, and potatoes with skin of this color. This one goes back to Anglo-Norman, from Old French rousset/rosset, used for both the color and the cloth, from rus/rous, reddish brown (and red hair) + diminutive ending, from Latin russus, akin to Latin ruber, red.

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2017-09-13 07:50 am


serotinal (si-ROT-n-l, ser-uh-TAYN-l) - adj., of, pertaining to, or occurring in late summer.

Which describes the season here, right now -- we're still breaking 40°C, but with early morning signs of cooling to come. Coined around 1900 -- the ultimate root is Latin sērus, late, with two separate adjectival endings tacked on, one in Latin itself, the other in English.

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2017-09-12 07:45 am


xiphoid (ZIF-oid) - adj., sword-shaped; of or pertaining to the xiphisternum.

So short I sound in the first syllable, to my surprise. Synonyms include gladiate and ensiform. The xiphisternum, also called the xiphoid process, is the lowest part of the sternum, extending below the connection to the lowest ribs -- it's the anchor for several muscles, including the diaphragm. The word itself is from Greek xiphoeidḗs, like a sword, from xíphos, sword.

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2017-09-11 07:47 am


phenology (fi-NOL-uh-jee) - n., the study of periodic biological phenomena (such as flowering, breeding, and migration) and how these are influenced by seasonal and yearly climate variations.

Which is a mouthful, to be sure, but I can't really make it any shorter and still do it justice, as both parts are integral to what's being studied. This was originally a very Victorian thing to do, noting down when recurring events happen along with the weather, but with climate change continuing apace, it has taken on new life. And yes, just about every annual biological phenomenon has been affected already. Borrowed in 1881 from German, originally coined in 1849 by Belgian botanist Charles Morren as a contraction of phenomenology.

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2017-09-08 08:02 am


jobation (joh-BAY-shuhn) - n., an extensive rebuke, a long reproof.

Often with the connotation of tedious. Chiefly British usage, and yes there's a verb form: to jobe, which is fully archaic. Comes from the long lectures that Job received from his friends in the eponymous Biblical book. (At least, I don't *think* God's response counts as one ... )

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2017-09-06 07:51 am


interdigitate (in-ter-DIJ-i-tayt) - n., to become folded or interlaced together like the fingers of clasped hands; to intermingle, to alternately present items from one group and then another.

Things can be interdigitated by someone or can interdigitate themselves -- though that figurative extension seems to be used more as a transitive verb. Coined around 1850 from Latin roots inter-, between/in the midst of + digitus, finger.

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2017-09-05 07:39 am


surrebuttal (suhr-ri-BUT-l) - n., a reply to a rebuttal.

Or the rebuttal of a rebuttal. In legal contexts, which is the most common use, includes introducing evidence or even witnesses that counter the other party's rebuttal. Coined from rebuttal with the prefix sur-, a shortened form of super- in the sense of over/upon/again.

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2017-09-01 07:47 am


honda (HON-dah) - n., (west. US) a metal, spliced, or knotted eyelet at one end of a lariat, through which the other end is passed to form a lasso (running noose).

This is an Americanism first attested in 1887, of debated origin. Most commonly, it's suggested it's from Spanish honda, sling, (from Latin funda, which might be either adopted from or a cognate of Greek sphendonē); the alternative is from Spanish hondón, eye of a needle, (from hondo, bottom/deep/profound, from Latin fundus, bottom/lowest part). Either way, you need a good honda if you want to rope that calf.

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2017-08-30 07:36 am


agouti (uh-GOO-tee) - n., any of several short-haired, short-eared, rabbitlike rodents (genus Dasyprocta) of South + Central America and the West Indies with a grizzled dark-brown to orange coat; grizzled fur in various animals produced by alternate bands of light and dark color on each hair shaft; an animal with fur of this pattern.

The fur type being named after the rodent. Adopted around 1720 from French, from Spanish agutí, from a Tupi language (possibly Guaraní) agutí/acutí, the local name for the beastie.

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons.

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2017-08-29 07:47 am


With my employment situation finally settling out, I should be back to posting regularly. Kicking this off:

frugivore (FROO-juh-vawr) - n., an animal that eats primarily or exclusively fruit.

Fruit bats being one obvious example, chimpanzees a less obvious one, and a fruititarian probably also counts. Frugivores are, of course, important mechanisms for seed dispersal, and plants make fruit good to eat in part to make this likely. Coined in the early 1970s from frugivorous, itself coined around 1710 from Latin roots frūx, fruit, in its combining form of frūgi- + -vorous, eating.

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2017-08-04 10:06 am


duende (DWEN-de, doo-EN-dey) - n., (folklore) a small a mischievous household spirit of Iberia; any small, mischievous or evil spirit; the ability to attract others through personal magnetism and charm.

The original Spanish critter is roughly equivalent to the English hobgoblin or brownie. The original form of the word, in Old Spanish, was duen de casa, master/lord of a house (the first part being from Latin dominus), and apparently was originally conceived of as a ghost-like spirit that possessed a house.

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2017-07-28 07:52 am


jow (JOW) - (chiefly Scot.) n., the ringing, tolling, or sound of a bell. v.t., to ring or toll (a bell); to hit or strike (esp. the head).

Also, an obsolete Indian unit of length equal to about a quarter of an inch/two-thirds of a centimeter, but that's not important right now. I found this by way of Words With Friends, which accepted it as a valid play so I had to look it up. Dates back to 1515 as a variant of joll, the noun form of jollen, to strike/knock, before which the trail apparently gets cold.

Admin note: Posting may be irregular over the next couple weeks due to other obligations.