nepenthe, n

nepenthe, n. A potion supposed to make persons forget their sorrows; any draught or drug capable of removing pain or care.

Is it just a coincidence that every time I come across this elegant word I can’t remember its meaning?
Yet each time I look it up, I realise we’ve met before. And it wasn’t on sad occasions – as far as I can recall.
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hippopotamus, n.

hippopotamus, n. one of the largest existing African quadrupeds, of aquatic habits, having a very thick skin, short legs, and a large head and muzzle.

It’s well known that the hippopotamus’ name means river-horse (or rather horse of the river). The word, as a matter of course, wound its way into English via Latin; horse from the Greek hippos, river from the Greek potamus.

But considering how little a hippopotamus and a horse have in common, I never understood why this is its name. And I’ve always thought it a poor naming decision, etymologically. That all changed this week.

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aliquant, adj.

aliquant, adj. An aliquant part of a number is one that will not divide it without a remainder, thus 5 is an aliquant part of 12.

In math, the aliquant part of a number makes for a messy division.
The aliquot part will keep division tidy and round.

Confusion hazard aside, seeing the balance and grace of these two together is a bit like ballet on a page. Maybe there’s a lovely metaphor to be made with their definitions but I’m just here for the toe-dancing.

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humpy, n

humpy, n. 1. a temporary bush shelter traditionally used by Aboriginal people. 2. any rude or temporary dwelling; a bush hut

Noun. 1

As a kid The Humpy was what my Dad, a Danish migrant, called the tiny workshop he’d created inside a built-in cupboard in the spare room. Because we weren’t meant to go into The Humpy, it was the best hideout for my siblings and I – when Dad wasn’t home.
Growing up, we often used humpy to refer to any cubby house we “built” inside the house or out. We were quite close to using it correctly in some of those instances. Continue reading “humpy, n”

vagrom, adj.

vagrom, adj. a perverted spelling and pronunciation of vagrant 

Considered an archaic word by most dictionaries, I was happy to stumble upon vagrom in David Bellos’ 2003 translation (from French) of Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas.

Originally a malaprop (or Dogberryism) from the Dogberry character in Much Ado About Nothing (1598), its use carried through to the 19th Century. Continue reading “vagrom, adj.”