A phrase with jam on it.

Phrase: “To have jam on it” ~ Dictionary of Nautical Terms (1962)

A few years ago I worked with a guy who regularly said “that’s my jam” in reference to his favourite music, and even his non-musical interests and activities. The jam he spoke of was likely an expansion of the musical jam, a noun that also became a verb.  First recorded in 1929 as jazz lingo, it referred to a short improvised piece of music by a band.

One theory explains that 1920s musicians would often gather to play a different style of jazz, after their paid gigs with larger ensemble bands. Continue reading “A phrase with jam on it.”

foolery, n.

foolery, n. 3. fools as a class.

Foolery! This is where I ended up when the word history of fond took me back to foolish and then to fools (the good and the true). And then to the realisation that there is a whole swathe of foolery to consider.

Does it come from Latin’s follis (windbag, empty headed person) in the idiot sense?
Or folles (“puffed cheeks” of the buffoon) for shades of jester?
Or is the question moot because folles, here, is a secondary meaning of the plural of follis?

And don’t get me started on moot. Yet.

æsc, n. æ

æsc, n. æ

Æ is one of my favourite graphemes. We all have our favourites right?
My partiality for æ is partly for its aesthetic form (especially in lowercase) but mostly for its modern name, ash.
Why ash? When æ was incorporated into the Old English Latin alphabet, the letter was called æsc (ash tree) after the Anglo-Saxon futhorc rune it transliterated:

Originally a short vowel between ‘a’ and ‘e’ = the ‘a’ in fan, æ was replaced by ‘e’ or ‘ee’ in the 13th century. Three centuries later it was reintroduced into English, for words taken from Latin with the diphthong ae, and Greek’s ai.
It has the full status of a letter in some alphabets including Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese. Lucky languages that they are, ae?


mephistophelian, adj.


Usually I like dogear-free pages but today I’m adjusting that rule. This secondhand “Concise Macquarie Dictionary” from 1982 has just a single folded down page in its entire body. And it is no dainty fold.

On closer examination it doesn’t mark just the page, it also directs readers’ attention to a particular word: Continue reading “mephistophelian, adj.”

nonillion, n. and adj.

nonillion, n. and adj. From the Latin nonus (ninth) + French -illion (in million)

This Shorter English Oxford Dictionary is showing her age.

Nonillion exemplifies the post-million divergence of numerical terms on the scales once referred to as British (long scale) and American (short scale) systems.
Giving in to the growing local use of the American system, the UK officially adopted the short scale terms in 1974.
I don’t recall learning this in school but must admit that is a long while ago now and my memory is also on a short scale when it comes to numbers and math.

So, how to remember the difference for future reference? Continue reading “nonillion, n. and adj.”

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.

Continue reading “hippopotamus, n.”

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.

Continue reading “aliquant, adj.”