Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thesaurus Thursday: KIBBLE

Happy Thursday!

I picked out all my words for the week last Saturday when I started the themed days. I should have written down the chain of words that led me to pick the word kibble for today. I'm not sure if it was a completely random selection from the actual thesaurus or if researching another possible word led me to it.

Either way, I decided it was perfect, because I had wondered off and on how the stuff I feed my dogs had acquired its name. And now I know.

The older form of kibble that dates back to the 18th century is a verb that means to grind or break something down into bits. The exact etymology is not known, according to Collins and the other online dictionaries I checked, but the word comes out of the mining areas of England.

The noun form of kibble describes the bits left from the process of kibbling. Obviously, dry pet food acquired the name because of the similarities to kibble formed of rocks or earth.

Now I am left with a new question--other words with a similar construction to kibble include dribble, quibble, and nibble, all of which also contain suggestions of something small and possibly insignificant. I'm wondering if there is something about the -ibble construction that has that meaning or if it is all a big coincidence. Still researching this question!

Not much to say about kibble in terms of Scrabble, except that it's a good word to have in your pocket as it would allow you to play a 5-point letter and two 4-point letters. Kibbles, kibbled, and kibbling are also playable words.

While we are on the subject of -ibble words, my poking around for similar words gave me two I hadn't been familiar with before: fribble and dibble.

Fribble means something unimportant and maybe a little silly -- probably with the same root somewhere as words like frivolous and frippery. A dibble is a hand tool used in farming or gardening that makes holes for planting seeds. I think both still contain implications of smallness, but I may be stretching it.

I have another project I'm going to be working on all day tomorrow, so there won't be an entry here. I will make sure I do an extra one over the weekend to stay caught up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Weird Word Wednesday: CRWTH

Welcome to the first Weird Word Wednesday! I love weird words so this may become my favorite day of the week! Only time for a quick entry today, but it's a fun one.

Today's word is a great one for when you find yourself with a crazy set of Scrabble tiles and no vowels in sight. It's also awesome if you get a chance to play it across the two double word scores in WWF, as you will seriously rack up the numbers with a C, W, and H in the word.

So what is a crwth? The word comes from the Welsh, and is the name of an ancient musical instrument played in Wales and other Celtic places. It looks like a cross between a harp, a lute and a violin.

Crwth is pronounced as if it were spelled "crewth" -- the word "crew" with a -th sound added. It rhymes with "truth." How do we get that sound? Do you remember rattling off the vowels in grade school (a-e-i-o-u-and-sometimes-y-and-w)? Well this is one of those sometimes-w times. They are very infrequent (and often associated with Welsh words).

Back to the instrument, here is a picture of a crwth player from the 9th century:

Britannica Crowd 9th Century Crwth

There are very few players of the crwth in modern day, but there are a few! You can see above that the player is playing it as you would a guitar, by fingering chords with one hand and plucking the strings with the other. Modern players play it more like a violin, with a bow. Here is a video of a modern player named Benjamin:

He holds it something like a cello; there are other players who hold it as you would a violin.

Sorry to run off so quickly today, but I'll be back tomorrow with another the meantime, here's another video with a bit more history of the crwth, and some lovely playing by Cass Meurig:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2 or 3 Letter Tuesday: AA

Let's start 2 or 3 Letter Tuesday at the very first word in all Scrabble lists: AA. Most Scrabble players know it because they've played it or seen it played. But what is it?

Let's start with pronunciation. It's something like AAH that stops short rather than trailing off. It's not ay-ay or ah-ah (which is what I thought all this time til I hit the pronunciation button on the Collins' entry just now.

As for what it is, it comes from the Hawaiian language and describes a kind of language (kind of like people of cold climates having words for types of snow, Hawaiians have words for different types of lava).

Aa is a slow-moving lava, and the surface of it therefore keeps cooling and then breaking up again as the lava keeps moving. It moves as a noisy tumble of hot rocks rather than a smooth flow. When it cools entirely, it forms very jagged, sharp rocky surface. You don't want to walk across a field of aa lava, even long after it is cooled, because the rocks are often loose and it's all too easy to take a tumble -- and it that happens, you will get cut up because the rocks are so sharp. It's no fun.

Here's a video showing flowing aa:

Since there isn't much more to say about aa, I'll just quickly mention another good Hawaiian word to have in your vocabulary: pahoehoe. This is the other kind of lava most often seen in Hawaiian volcano eruptions, and is a smooth, faster flowing lava. In fact, when the camera in the above video pans to the left, you can see that the current aa flow is covering an old hardened flow of pahoehoe.

Here's what active pahoehoe looks like:

Pahoehoe is also a legal Scrabble word, by the way!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mundane Monday: KILL

For a mundane word, kill actually packs in a lot of drama. First, there's the obvious meaning: to cause the death of someone or something. Can't get much more dramatic than that.

But then there are the many other meanings that draw from this primary one. For example, you can "kill" a piece of legislation, a running engine, a newspaper story, or a bottle of liquor.

Then there is the dramatic hyperboles -- a standup comedian "kills" when he does really well. The world of online marketing is full of advertisements for programs, software, and secret formulas that let you "kill it" in internet sales.

On the home front, a parent may tell a whining child, "You're killing me!" -- and days later the child tells the parent the same thing when she is told to take a bath. Of course, neither person literally thinks that they are going to die from whining or bathing.

Kill has a specific meaning in sports as well. In tennis or volleyball (or, I think, pretty much any sport that involves hitting a ball (or other object like a birdie) back and forth) a "kill" is when one player hits the ball (or other object) so hard that the opponent has no chance of returning it.

As a noun, "kill" can be both single and plural: a single deer or shot-down plane is a "kill", but so is the total number of (usually) animals hunted or destroyed by pollution - a fish kill, the overall deer kill in a hunting season.

Kill comes from Middle English kullen or killen, which in turn comes from Old English cyllan. Cyllan, in turn, comes from the older word cwellan, which also gives us the English word "quell". Interestingly, quell takes us right back to the meanings of kill that imply stopping -- killing legislation or an engine. Language is so cool!

Even cooler, there is an entirely different and unrelated meaning for kill as a noun -- a stream or inlet, which comes from the Dutch word kil, which also means inlet. You see it most often as part of place names in the areas of the northeastern United States where the Dutch settled--Peekskill, Catskill, Schuykill. These names all have to do with the geography and nothing at all to do with death and violence.

As a Scrabble word (I'm just going to stop saying "Scrabble or Words With Friends" all the time, okay? Just assume I mean both when I say Scrabble) KILL isn't all that exciting. It does have the usual set of extensions like KILLS, KILLER, KILLING, etc. There is even the adjective KILLABLE.

But when you dig into the other unrelated words that begin with KILL, you find some useful "secret weapon" words to have in your game vocabulary, such as:
  • KILLDEE or
  • KILLDEER (a type of bird)
  • KILLICK or
  • KILLOCK (a small anchor)
  • KILLIE (a type of fish)
not to mention the delightful KILLJOY which is a 7-letter word (bingo!) and which can really rack up the points if played across high-scoring board squares, as it includes both a 10-point and 5-point letter.

Any of these lesser known extensions can be added to an opponent's use of KILL; moreover "kil" or "kill" can be added to the front of commonly played words like DEE, DEER, LICK, LOCK, LIE, and JOY.

Truly a killer word to have in your arsenal!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

7-Letter Sunday: BHANGRA

Why 7-letter Sunday and not six letters or 13 letters? Because in Scrabble and Words With Friends, a rack of tiles is 7 letters. If you can make and play a word using up all your letters, you get a bonus (50 points in Scrabble, 35 in WWF). If you can play one of these words (Scrabblers call it a "bingo") over double or triple word scores, you can really rack up the points!

So 7-letter words are of particular interest to word game players. Plus, there's the whole alliteration thing with seven and Sunday!

Today's word is bhangra. It is an Indian word that has been adopted into English to describe a style of music and dance that comes from the Punjab region in India. The music tends to be lively and bouncy and in recent years has come to embrace everything from traditional Punjabi folk music to combinations with Western style pop, dance and hip hop music.

Bhangra dancing is also very lively and has become popular all over the world through Bollywood movies, dance competitions and exhibitions in the Indian diaspora communities around the globe, and most recently, in combination with exercise in workout classes and videos!

This video is for a Punjabi pop song and showcases bhangra music as well as bhangra dancing:

Thanks to Netflix, I've become more and more of a Bollywood fan in the last few years and particularly enjoy the fluffier romance and comedy movies that almost always feature multiple song and dance numbers. Bhangra music is energizing and fun to listen to, and just as hip hop has infiltrated the bhangra sound, I'm also tickled to recognize bhangra beats and samples in Western hip hop and dance music as well.

I didn't know about the bhangra dance competitions before researching this post, but I will definitely be watching for any that happen locally -- here in the Atlanta area we have a very large Indian community so I'm sure there are performances and competitions happening locally. Now I know to watch for them!

One more note on a Scrabble/WWF perspective -- players love to have words in their vocabulary that contain smaller, more common words within them so that you can add on letters to make a longer word, possibly reaching a high-scoring square on the board in the process. Bhangra has the word "hang" in the middle of it. Your opponent may expect a word like "hangs" or "hanger" -- but turning "hang" into "bhangra" will be a mind-blower!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Short Word Saturday: SHIRK

Having a lazy snow day Saturday (hey, some snow did fall in Atlanta, and that's enough for all of us to stay home), so I have done some planning for this blog, but am writing this post later in the day than I would like.

Appropriately enough, the word I picked for today is shirk. Shirk can be a noun or a verb. Someone who shirks is avoiding his responsibilities, and the word has a connotation of laziness or sneakiness about it. A shirk (a person who shirks) can be someone who just blows off his work all together and disappears...

...or someone who gives the appearance of working while letting others do most of the labor. This person can also be known as a shirker.

Shirk has a somewhat mysterious etymology. On one hand, Collins says that it "probably" comes from the German Schurke, meaning rogue or scoundrel. On the other hand, Collins and other sources suggest that it is derived from shark via an archaic 17th-century definition of shirk as being a con-man or conniver (as in "loan shark").

Also of interest is a completely separate definition of the word. Shirk has a particular meaning in Islam, where it describes the sin of believing anything to be equal to or above Allah or, more generally, any sinful belief. The Islamic definition also has a completely separate etymology, coming from the Arabic word for association.

And this is how this blog helps me learn things--I was familiar with the usual usage of "shirk" when I started this entry, but the second definition from Arabic is completely new to me. Neat!

Finally, a housekeeping note...

You may have noticed the title of "Short Word Saturday". To help me come up with words to write about (or actually, to narrow down my choices on any given day, so I don't spend too much time figuring out which word to write about), I'm going to experiment with topic themes for each day of the week:
  • Short Word Saturday (words of 5 letters or less)
  • Seven Letter Sunday (words with 7 letters)
  • Mundane Monday (looking at very common, seemingly boring words for interesting or archaic meanings, fascinating etymology, or good uses in word games)
  • Two/Three Letter Tuesday (does what it says on the tin; my plan is to work through the list of 2- and 3-letter words that any serious Scrabble player eventually memorizes)
  • Weird Word Wednesday (wild and crazy words, often dealing with the J/Q/X/Z words beloved of word game players
  • Thesaurus Thursday (using thesaurus to randomly find words to write about -- this one may be replaced, I don't know if I'm crazy about this idea)
  • Free Form Friday (anything goes)
I will try these themed days for a while and see how it goes with helping me narrow down daily topics. I may keep some or all of them;  I may not. If you have any thoughts on this schedule, or suggestions for words to feature, please leave a comment!

Friday, January 22, 2016


Today's word is the embodiment of the reason I started this blog.

See, I fired up Google this morning and there was a Google doodle for the 151st birthday of Wilbur Scoville, the man who created the scale used to rank hotness of peppers (thus units of hotness are Scoville units).

That led me to ponder whether words like poblano and jalapeno were proper nouns or common nouns and thus useable as Scrabble/WWF words. (Spoiler: they are.) So I ended up on a web page listing peppers by hotness in Scoville units and looking up "ancho" and "chipotle" in my Scrabble dictionary. (Spoiler: also legal game words).

Then I saw a pepper type I'd never heard of: a cascabel. Hey, I thought, if that is not a proper noun, it would make a good word of the day!

(The cascabel pepper is the rightmost one above)

Off to Collins, and my Scrabble dictionary, to discover that cascabel is a common noun, and is also a legal Scrabble word.

But wait, there's more!

In the dictionary, I found that the main definition for cascabel has nothing to do with the peppers. Cascabel is also the name of a part of a cannon, at least cannons as they existed before the 19th century.

You know that little knob on the back of a cannon? That's the cascabel. The word comes from Spanish, and means little bell or rattle. I guess the cannon cascabel was named for its shape, since in some of the fancier cannon designs it does look like a little bell.

Fort George Cannon by amandabhslater, on Flickr
"Fort George Cannon" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  amandabhslater 

That naturally led me to my next question: what is that knob for, anyway? A little more Googling, and I learned that the cascabel provides an anchor points for ropes that control the cannon's recoil when firing. (If you have ever seen the movie Master and Commander, you know how disastrous it can be if a cannon gets loose when recoiling and starts careening around the firing area!).

So now I've learned a new word, a new type of pepper that I hadn't heard of before, and the name for something I never knew had a name. For a word nerd like me, that's a great day!

And now I have this blog so I can rattle on about these things here, instead of just tormenting my wife by spouting out these random factoids while she's trying to do other things.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


On this date in 1790, Dr. Joseph Guillotin proposed the use of a machine consisting of a blade between two upright wooden tracks as a means of humane execution of those condemned to death. The weighted blade is pulled up by a rope and pulley, then released to drop onto the neck of the condemned prisoner, beheading them and killing them almost instantly.

On this same date three years later, King Louis XVI was executed using the guillotine. France continued to use the guillotine to carry out the death penalty for many years afterward. The last public execution by guillotine in France was in 1939; the last execution of any kind by guillotine in France was in 1977. France abolished the death penalty in 1981.

Versions of this machine had existed before Dr. Guillotin made his proposal, and he did not invent or refine the machine that eventually bore his name. (See, for example, the "Halifax Gibbet" which was in use from the 16th century in Halifax, England.) Ironically, Dr. Guillotin himself opposed the death penalty, and his purpose was to make execution less horrific and painful.

However, it was the use of the machine in the bloody days of the French Revolution, when first the aristocracy and then the leaders of the Reign of Terror were publicly executed, that the guillotine became widely known.

The guillotine has been used to carry out death sentences in other countries through the years, including Sweden in the 19th century, Nazi Germany, and Algeria and South Vietnam in the 1960s. The guillotine shown in the above photo is in a museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Guillotine is most often used as a noun, but can be a verb as well, describing the use of the machine. ("The condemned prisoner was guillotined in the town square.")

Two other less common uses of the word guillotine are also notable. One describes a type of device used to cut objects by use of a blade, most often seen in paper trimmers:

The other is a type of parliamentary procedure used in British Parliament to limit (or cut off) debate on a certain topic. The same procedure is called cloture in the U.S. Congress.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Zaddik is a word I discovered from two different directions. First, I am fascinated by the Jewish religion and Jewish culture, and learned the word in my reading about and study of Judaism.

Zaddik comes from the Hebrew word tsadik, meaning wise and just. A zaddik is a holy man (not sure if the term is ever applied to women, but I've always seen it used to describe men) who is considered righteous and wise in the knowledge and practice of Judaism. He may or may not be a community leader or rabbi, but he is generally looked up to as an example for others to aspire to.

Within the Hasidic culture that began in the 18th century, zaddik came to mean the leader of a particular group or sect of Hasidic Jews, and it evolved into a hereditary title handed down within families.

The second way I learned this word is as a great word to have in one's Scrabble/Words With Friends arsenal. It uses two high-value letters, Z and K, and in some variant spellings can use up all the letters on your rack as well.

These variant spellings are all legal in Scrabble: ZADDIK, ZADDICK, TZADDIK and TSADDIK. In Hebrew, the ending -im is used to pluralize nouns, so ZADDIKIM, TZADDIKIM, and TSADDIKIM are also valid words (the plural of zaddick is also zaddikim).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016



India - Kolam chalk art - welcome by mckaysavage, on Flickr
New year--new blog project! (Okay I'm a little late getting started). This is a blog just-for-fun that will feature one word every day and a little something about that word.
The word featured will be chosen by me during my frequent ramblings through online dictionaries. My current favorite is the Collins English Dictionary, which is free online and allows a browse option.
Collins tells me this about my title word, "Welcome" -- it's a noun (a warm welcome), a verb (I welcome you warmly) and an exclamation letting you know I'm glad you are here (Welcome!).
My own brain associations makes me wonder if "welcome" is a mashed-together version of "Well come," a sort of archaic greeting along the lines of "Well met".
I can't find anything in Collins to confirm or deny this, but I can share that this word originates in Old English as wilcuma from willa (pleasure) and cuma (guest). So someone who is welcome is a pleasure-guest! Good example of a word that has pretty much kept its original meaning down through the centuries.
So that's today's Word of the Day. What can you expect going forward?
Basically, a short daily entry featuring a word of my choosing. Factors I use to pick my word of the day:
  • It's a brand new word to me.
  • It's a brand new word to the language.
  • It's a good word to use in Scrabble or Words With Friends (my addiction to word games is one reason I'm often poking around in dictionaries).
  • It amuses me.
  • It's a word I have Deep Thoughts about.
  • It's a word chosen at complete random.
  • It's a word someone has requested that I write about.
The other reason for this blog is to keep up (okay, begin on) my resolution to write every day. If I don't do anything else, I will do this simple little blog and keep it up at least through December 31, 2016.

I welcome comments, feedback, word suggestions, and your random thoughts on words!