Sometimes a word comes your way which makes you realise that there’s a whole different world of activity out there that you never dreamed of.
One advantage of solving crosswords that you may have discovered is expanding your vocabulary. I know many of you keep a notebook of new words you come across, so that you can remember them next time they appear in a crossword.
People think that because I create crosswords I must know all the words – the truth is very far from that. I come across unknown words all the time, and usually try to make a note of them, to look up later.
I encountered the word tribology recently and made a note for future research. It looks like the perfect word for the study of tribes, but that is far from its meaning.Tribology (pronounced try-bolla-jee) is the study of friction, wear, lubrication and the design of bearings; the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion. In other words, how things rub along with each other. This is the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary but more than that, the Sometimes a word comes your way which makes you realise that there’s a whole different world of activity out there that you never dreamed of.word was actually invented by the lexicographers at OED.
In 1965, a group of lubrication engineers decided they needed a name for what they did and contacted the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary for help. Out of this came the word tribology, from the Greek tribos ‘rubbing’.
Isn’t it comforting to know that there are teams of scientists out there studying how skates behave on ice or how tyres adapt to different road conditions, improving our safety and efficiency in so many ways?
Another strange word I had to look up recently is sabaton. A weapon used by a saboteur maybe? No, it’s the footwear that goes with a knight’s armour. The sabaton, also known as a solleret, is a pointy shoe made of – wait for it – riveted iron plates. And I thought my stilettos were uncomfortable. Imagine walking on iron plates!
Up until the 15C, they ended in a tapered point well past the toes but then they were made to end at the tip of the toes – probably got fed up with being trodden on. In fact, the length of the sabaton was a class-conscious issue. Only princes and dukes were allowed to have toes 2.5 feet long, lords 2 feet long and gentry only 1-foot long.
So watch out – I might add these words to a crossword any time soon. Remember you read it here first.
Something very interesting about ancient architecture is the way animal shapes and monsters were sculpted into buildings, often very weird and ugly-looking creatures designed to fill you with dread.
If you have visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris you may have noticed the evil-looking demons made of stone perched high on a ledge looking down at you.
They are called gargoyles and were used as water spouts, with the water spouting from their mouths. Gargoyle comes from the French gargouille meaning ‘throat’.
There is a legend that 7th century bishop St Romain killed a monster known as La Gargouille that was terrorising boatmen in the Seine river. The beast’s head was mounted on the wall of a new church, to protect the people by scaring away evil spirits, and this was the start of the custom of having scary stone creatures on church walls.
But before this, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used animal-shaped waterspouts, especially lions. When the purpose of the sculpture is to direct rainwater from roofs it is known as a gargoyle, but a merely decorative sculpture is known as a grotesque (refer image at right).
The word grotesque means ‘repulsively ugly’. It comes from the Italian grottesco ‘from a cave’ and was first used to describe paintings found on the walls of basements of Roman ruins, as in pittura grottesca – ‘cave paintings’.
Apparently the fanciful images discovered in the caves described as grotesque at first meant strange and different, and the meaning eventually morphed into the ‘distorted’ meaning. Meanings often change over the years, but the other meaning of grotesque is a noun – a comically ugly face made of stone, not a water spout, just an ornamentation.
You may come across this clue in one of the crosswords in this magazine, so now you know!
Puzzler Janette Embrey recently sent me an interesting extract from Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, listing the longest word in the English language. I can’t print it here because it has 1913 letters in it. It is a chemical term, although it’s a word unlikely to have ever actually been used by a chemist.
Theoretically, there is no limit to the length of a chemical term. If a DNA molecule was written out in full, it could consist of over a million letters.
So, if we ruled out technical terms and place names, what is the longest word in the English language?
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis is the longest word that appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English, defined as ‘an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. It was invented in 1935 by Everett M Smith, the president of the National Puzzlers’ League for the sole purpose of serving as the longest English word to appear in an English language dictionary. I’m sure many of you will agree that the authenticity of this word is questionable.
Another dubious long word that is listed in Oxford is floccinaucinihilipilification, meaning ‘the action or habit of estimating something as worthless’. The word is said to have been invented in the eighteenth century when somebody picked up an Eton College grammar book, found a set of Latin words in it (flocci, nauci, nihili and pili) all of which meant ‘of little or no value’, and decided to join them together and add fication to the end of it for a bit of fun!
Mary Poppins introduced us to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It is made up of 34 letters and you’re more likely to sing it loudly than to say it, even though it means ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.So, that brings us to the longest non-technical, authentic word that can be found in all major dictionaries – antidisestablishmentarianism. It means ‘opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England’. According to Oxford, it is very occasionally found in genuine use.
Rest assured, you won’t find any of these words in our puzzles. The longest word you’re likely to come across in a Lovatts crossword is poluphloisboiotatotic, and of course we all know what that means!
P.S Just joking, didn’t really expect you to know that one! It’s not in the dictionary. It means very loud roaring. It was invented by William Makepeace Thackeray in his Irish Sketchbook of 1834.
Sports shoes nowadays are frequently worn as everyday foot attire as well as for physical exercise, because they’re more comfortable and they’ve become acceptable fashion-wise. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Before the 80s, only athletes in training wore running shoes. Luckily we don’t have to be athletes anymore to wear our trainers or joggers, yet the most successful sports shoe manufacturers were established much earlier than you might think.
Back in 1890 in a small village in the United Kingdom called Holcombe Brook, shoemaker Joseph Foster created a novelty spiked running shoe. Five years later he and his sons founded J.W. Foster and Sons, a business that made shoes by hand for top runners. In 1958 two of Joseph’s grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, started a companion company called Reebok, naming it after a fast-running antelope. Joe Foster found the name in a dictionary he had won in a race as a boy.
In the 1920s shoe designer Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf, a salesman, started a small shoemaking company in Herzogenaurach, Germany. The two brothers disagreed on everything, and finally in the mid 1940s Rudolf left and set up a rival shop across the river, calling his new company Puma. Adolf renamed the company he and his brother had founded Adidas – from Adi (Adolf) and Das (Dassler).
Nike, an American sports clothing company originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded by athlete Philip Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in 1964. They launched the Nike brand shoe in 1972, naming it after the Greek goddess of victory. In 1978 the company was renamed Nike, Inc.
Today, Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma all remain big players in the running shoe industry.
And when it comes to running, I like this quote by runner and author Christopher McDougall: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
When crosswording you may come across clues such as ugly elf, nasty sprite or evil little creature. Just as well a goblin is fictitious or he’d be suing us for defamation.
The word goblin probably comes from the Old French gobelin. In medieval Latin the name Gobelinus is the name of a mischievous spirit said to haunt Évreux in Northern France in the 12th century.
The Collins dictionary describes the goblin as ‘a small grotesque supernatural creature in folklore, regarded as malevolent towards humans’. The Oxford is not much kinder with ‘a mischievous ugly dwarf-like creature’. The goblin definitely doesn’t have good looks on his side.
The name may be connected with the German kobold. In German mythology a kobold is a spirit who haunts houses and lives underground in caves or mines.
The miners who worked in the silver mines in the Harz Mountains of Northern Germany found that the silver ore was laced with a metallic element containing arsenic and sulphur which made them ill. They attributed it to the troublesome creature living in the mine, which they called kobold. By 1730, this metallic element was identified and named cobalt after the kobold.
It seems that nowadays, the goblin is known best by his image in The Lord Of The Rings tales, where he gets a very poor rap, as a cruel, wicked and destructive mini-Orc.
The author JRR Tolkein also wrote The Hobbit in which he described hobgoblins as larger and stronger than goblins but later said that he had made a mistake – hobgoblins should really be smaller than goblins.
What is the difference between a goblin, a gnome and a troll you may ask? Well, I’ve run out of room here because I’ve added a special note to you below, but I will delve into the supernatural world and if I survive I will write more soon.
Opposable thumbs are what enable us humans to pick up objects with our hands. In the animal world, monkeys also have opposable thumbs, which is why they can pick up coconuts and throw them at us.
An opposable thumb is defined as a thumb that can be bent so that it can touch all the other digits on the hand.
However we humans have more flexibility in manipulating small objects, such as pens, cutlery and tools.
The word thumb comes from the Latin tumidus ‘swollen’ because it is usually thicker than the fingers. The medical term for a thumb is pollex.
To thumb a lift means to hitchhike, originally pointing the thumb in the direction one wished to travel.
Thumbs up is a gesture of approval, thumbs down is disapproval and to thumb your nose at someone is to show your contempt for them.
Rule of thumb is a broadly accurate guide based on practice rather than theory. A thumbtack is an American term for a drawing pin and a thumbnail sketch is a very small or concise description.
Tom Thumb was a fairy story character, a ploughman’s son who was only as tall as his father’s thumb.
To be all fingers and thumbs is to be clumsy, to twiddle your thumbs is to sit idly with nothing to do and to stick out like a sore thumb is to be very conspicuous.
To be under someone’s thumb is to be dominated by them.
A thumb index is a series of rounded notches cut into the edges of a book’s pages to enable the reader to easily find a reference.
To turn the pages of a book is to thumb through the pages.
Can something be very unique? Unique means one of a kind, so I think not. And yet it is a phrase that is often used, without us stopping to think of the actual meaning.
How about the honest truth? Can the truth ever be dishonest? A duplicate copy is another example of redundant phraseology, also known as tautology, or using different words to say the same thing. Tautology comes from the Greek tauto ‘the same’ and logos ‘word’.
A free gift is a gift, which is free anyway. When we say ATM machine we’re really saying Automatic Teller Machine machine. It’s the same with PIN number (Personal Identification Number number) and HIV virus (Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus).
There are many more examples where we should save our breath, instead of repeating the obvious. We say a bouquet of flowers as if there’s such thing as a bouquet of cats or dogs or rusty nails. Added bonus, first introduction, false pretence, future plans, past history – we hear them all the time. Then there are phrases like null and void, which both mean the same, as do bits and pieces and first and foremost.
Some more common tautological phrases: At the present time, pair of twins, sad misfortune, invited guests, end result and will and testament.
Sometimes these phrases are said for emphasis, or maybe an assumption that the reader won’t understand the meaning of one of the words, such as the sign Please Prepay In Advance. Most people know what ‘prepay’ means, thank you very much.
But usually we don’t realise we are needlessly repeating ourselves or stating the obvious. Here’s a limerick that emphasises the statement of the obvious:
There once was a fellow from Perth
Who was born on the day of his birth.
He got married, they say,
On his wife’s wedding day,
And he died when he quitted the earth.”
Tempting as it may be to give your computer a kick when it’s playing up, booting a computer means putting it into a state of readiness for operation. It comes from the verb bootstrap. ‘To bootstrap’ is to improve your position by your own efforts, as in “…the staff will have to do some serious bootstrapping to recover the company’s pre-recession position…”
A bootstrap is the loop at the back of a boot that enables the wearer to pull the boot on. It was thought that the term was inspired by the story of Baron Münchhausen who was supposed to have pulled himself out of a swamp by the straps on his boots. But in fact he pulled himself out of a swamp by his hair (his pigtail).
The phrase originated in the early 19th Century, as in “pull yourself over a fence by your bootstraps”, meaning to do a ridiculously impossible task.
In researching this word, I wanted to know more about that eccentric Baron Münchhausen. I discovered that Münchhausen was a real person, an 18th Century German nobleman and teller of tall tales. He fought against the Turks and returned from battle with outrageously far-fetched stories of his adventures.
The stories he told were collected and published by various authors, translated into many languages and embellished along the way. Many of them were based on folk tales that were circulating long before Baron Münchhausen was born.
When he loses his horse, he makes a wolf pull his sledge. In another adventure, he dismounts in a snowstorm and ties his horse to a post. The next morning when the snow has melted, he finds that his horse is way up in the air, tied to a steepletop.
He rides a cannonball into battle and he saves the lives of two English spies with the identical sling which killed Goliath. What a man or rather – what an imagination!
Reader Steve Stevenson recently queried our clue ‘Iris’ for the answer fleur-de-lis. He felt it should be lily, not iris.
Both Oxford and Collins dictionaries, our main sources, have two definitions for fleur-de-lis – ’stylised lily as a French heraldic charge’ and ‘iris’.
Although fleur-de-lis translates as ‘flower of the lily’, it doesn’t refer to a flower but to the well-known symbol (right) which is widely thought to be a stylised version of the species Iris pseudacorus and when you look at this diagram of the iris you can see that the fleur-de-lis looks more like an iris than a lily.
In the days when the French, or Franks, lived around the Luts river in the Netherlands, they were surrounded by beautiful irises growing on the river banks. French naturalist Sauvages wrote that when the kings needed a suitable symbol for their coat-of-arms they chose the flower that was familiar to them. The original name was fleur-de-Luts after the river, ‘flower of the river of Luts’. This fits in with the archaic spelling fleur-de-luce formerly used in England.
However, the fleur-de-lis is also thought of as a lily, so in a Lovatts crossword you may see the clue ‘iris’ or ‘heraldry lily’. The fleur-de-lis is a very popular symbol on many European flags and coats-of-arms. It is sometimes used in the Christian religion to represent the Trinity. Interior designers and architects often use it as a repeated motif, in wall cutouts or on wallpaper. On a compass rose it is used to mark the north direction.
The plural is fleurs-de-lis and features prominently in the Crown Jewels and Sir Walter Scott mentions it in his poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel:
“The treasured fleur-de-luce he claims
To wreathe his shield, since royal James”.
The word mythology comes from the Greek mythos (story) + logy (study). Ancient mythology has given us many popular expressions as well as a plentiful supply of crossword clues.
By Jove! is an exclamation indicating surprise or agreement that first appeared in the late 16th century. Jove is an older Roman name for Jupiter, the Roman king of gods. Jupiter derives from the Latin Jovis pater, meaning ‘father Jove’.
To make a Herculean effort is to overcome an intense and difficult task.This comes from the famous Greek hero Hercules, son of Zeus and Alcmene. After conquering twelve almost impossible tasks set for him by King Eurystheus, Hercules was noted for his great strength and courage.
To have the knack of making money in every venture is to have the Midas touch. Midas, king of Phrygia was rewarded by Dionysus with one wish for showing kindness to one of his followers. Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Unfortunately for Midas, his food turned to gold when he touched it, and he bitterly regretted his choice.
Pandora’s box is a source of troubles to come. Zeus created Pandora, the first mortal woman, and sent her to Epimetheus with a box that was not to be opened. When curiosity got the better of her, Pandora opened the lid and afflictions were spread over the earth.
To be in love is to be struck by Cupid. Cupid, the Roman god of love and son of Venus, used his bow to shoot arrows of desire into the bosoms of both gods and human beings.
To have an Achilles’ heel is to have a weakness or vulnerable point. After being told her baby Achilles would die in battle from an arrow, his mother Thetis dipped Achilles into the River Styx, which was said to offer powers of invincibility. His heel, which she was holding him by, did not get wet. He survived many battles, but one day, was shot in this heel with a poisonous arrow and died instantly.
I’m sure you’ll find it won’t take a Herculean effort to complete the crossword competitions in this month’s Colossus (in stores now or available online).