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.

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