2. Open to arguments, ideas, or change; approachable.
[From Latin pervius : per-, through + via, way.]
"There is some sense in this: architecture is more pervious to consensual
norms than any other area of human endeavour - which is why it is much
easier to date a building than a page of prose."
Meades, Jonathan, From Po-Mo to so-so, New Statesman, 20 Dec 1996.
gemutlich (guh-MOOT-lik, -MUT-likh) adjective
Warm and congenial; pleasant or friendly.
[German, from Middle High German gemuetlich, from gemuete, spirit, feelings,
from Old High German gimuoti, from muot, mind, spirit, joy.]
"The Juilliard was the first string quartet to really explore the neurotic
side of Schubert. It found the raw nerve underneath those soft plump,
gemutlich surface melodies years before musicologists started uncovering
the composer's tormented inner life."
Mark Swed, Reconfigured Juilliard Quartet a Bit Less Edgy,
Los Angeles Times, Jan 23, 1998.
trichotillomania (trik-uh-til-uh-MAY-nee-uh) noun
A compulsion to pull out one's hair.
[Tricho- hair + Greek till(ein) to pluck, pull out + -o- + -mania.]
"In this morning's `Healthy Woman,' we're going to look at a disorder that
you've probably never heard of. I hadn't. It is one that afflicts millions
of Americans. It is called trichotillomania. It is an uncontrollable urge
to pull out one's hair."
Charles Gibson, Healthy Woman, ABC Good Morning America, May 27, 1999.
Concentration of emotional energy on an object or idea.
[Greek kathexis, holding, retention, from katekhein, to hold fast : kat-,
kata-, intensive prefix + ekhein, to hold.]
"I'd been to 20 N. Moore Street and watched the throngs of `mourners'
making instant cathexis for the cameras, `identifying' with the young
`victims' as avatars of Camelot cut down in their prime, a perfect couple
who embodied our hopes and dreams, symbols of America's longing for
Guy Trebay, Eyes Wide Shut, The Village Voice, Aug 3, 1999.
arctophile (ARK-tuh-fyl) noun
A person who is very fond of and is usually a collector of teddy bears.
[Greek arkto-, combining form of arktos bear + -phile.]
"Teddy bears are more than just an occasional squeeze for Alison Hawkins--
they're her life, and she owns more than 5000 of them. Ms Hawkins, who
lives in the coastal community of Haumoana, southeast of Napier, is an
arctophile--a collector of teddy bears."
Mary Longmore, Still Crazy About Bears After All These Years,
The Dominion, May 6, 1998.
amusia (ay-MYOO-zee-uh) noun
The inability to produce or comprehend music or musical sounds.
[New Latin, from Greek amousia state of being without the Muses, especially
"Like other patients suffering from the clinical condition known
as amusia, she can easily identify environmental sound - a chicken
clucking, a cock crowing, a baby crying. But no melody in the
world - not even `Happy Birthday' - triggers so much as a wisp of
James Shreeve, Music of the hemispheres, Discover, Oct 1996.
1. The period of or the movement for the liberation and unification of
2. risorgimento. Any period or instance of rebirth or renewed activity;
[Italian, from risorgere, to rise again, from Latin resurgere.]
"Interestingly, Saba believed that his poetry would be understood only
when a new Risorgimento took place, that is when `Petrarchan values
(which are related to death) ... once again give way to Dantean values
(which are those of life).'"
John Taylor, Songbook: Selected Poems, Poetry, Jun 1999.
aggiornamento (a-jor-nuh-MEN-toh) noun
The process of bringing an institution or organization up to date;
[Italian, from aggiornare, to update : a-, to (from Latin ad-) + giorno,
day, from Latin diurnus, daily.]
"He (Jay Josen) terms journalism a hidebound profession to which he is
offering an aggiornamento, to engender a `healthier public climate.'"
E.F. Porter, Rosen's civic journalism counter to good journalism,
St. Louis Journalism Review, Dec 1999.
To swing indecisively from one course of action or opinion to another. See Synonyms at hesitate.
[Latin vacillre, vacillt-, to waver.]
omerta (o-MER-tah) noun
Secrecy sworn to by oath; code of silence.
"Roth wrote that Congress should take further steps to make sure IRS
employees aren't held to a mafia-like omerta, code of silence, so they
can `share information necessary for appropriate oversight and reform.'"
Senator: IRS targeting whistle-blowers, Las Vegas Review - Journal,
Mar 23, 1999.
imbroglio (im-BROL-yoh) noun
1. A difficult or intricate situation; an entanglement. A confused or
2. A confused heap; a tangle.
[Italian, from Old Italian, from imbrogliare, to tangle, confuse : in- +
brogliare, to mix, stir, probably from Old French brooiller, brouiller.]
"Leasing would have helped Serbs and ethnic Albanians out of the Kosovo
imbroglio. Both sides demanded exclusive control over the province, and
Western negotiators could convince neither to back down."
James Ron and Alexander Cooley, Suppose Israel Leased the Jordan Valley
From the Palestinians, International Herald Tribune, Jul 8, 2000.
didactic (dy-DAK-tik) also didactical (-ti-kal) adjective
1. Intended to instruct.
2. Morally instructive.
3. Inclined to teach or moralize excessively.
4. didactics, (used with a singular verb) the art or science of teaching.
[Greek didaktikos, skillful in teaching, from didaktos, taught, from
didaskein, didak-, to teach, educate.]
"Tt might be argued that literature has only very rarely represented
character. Even the greatest novelists, such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy,
resort to stock caricature, didactic speaking over characters, repetitive
leitmotifs, and so on. The truly unhostaged writer, such as Chekhov, is
James Wood, Human, all too inhuman, New Republic, Jul 24, 2000.
GIGO (GI-goh) noun
1. `Garbage In, Garbage Out' -- usually said in response to lusers who
complain that a program didn't "do the right thing" when given
imperfect input or otherwise mistreated in some way. Also commonly
used to describe failures in human decision making due to faulty,
incomplete, or imprecise data.
2. `Garbage In, Gospel Out': this more recent expansion is a sardonic
comment on the tendency human beings have to put excessive trust in
"The good part about the Web is that it makes everyone a publisher. The
bad part is that it makes everyone a publisher. It is amazingly easy to
put absolute drivel on display for the gullible. GIGO (Garbage In -
Garbage Out) still holds true, even if the Garbage Out is done up in
HTML with nifty graphics."
Tim Green, Check out the teeth on that Web, Database Magazine,
kludge (klooj) noun
1. Incorrect (though regrettably common) spelling of kluge (US). These two
words have been confused in American usage since the early 1960s, and
widely confounded in Great Britain since the end of World War II.
2. A crock that works. (A long-ago "Datamation" article by Jackson
Granholme similarly said: "An ill-assorted collection of poorly
matching parts, forming a distressing whole.")
3. To use a kludge to get around a problem. "I've kludged around it for
now, but I'll fix it up properly later."
[This word appears to have derived from Scots `kludge' or `kludgie' for a
common toilet, via British military slang. It apparently became confused
with U.S. kluge during or after World War II; some Britons from that era use
both words in definably different ways, but kluge is now uncommon in Great
Britain. `Kludge' in Commonwealth hackish differs in meaning from `kluge' in
that it lacks the positive senses; a kludge is something no Commonwealth
hacker wants to be associated too closely with. Also, `kludge' is more
widely known in British mainstream slang than `kluge' is in the U.S.]
"Sega may be in the most difficult position of all. Although it has the
advantage of having exclusive access to the games it develops for its
huge arcade business, many gamers dismiss the machine as a kludge."
Leslie Helm, Game Giants Are Scoring on the Rebound, Los Angeles Times,
Dec 9, 1996.
An interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the
interpreter's own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning
of the text.
[From Greek eisegesis, equivalent to eis- into + (h)ege- (stem of hegeisthai
to lead) + -sis.]
"It should be noted that the Tenth Amendment does not say that powers not
explicitly delegated to the United States are reserved to the states, even
though the Supreme Court, in a startling example of eisegesis, once read
the word explicitly into the text of the Tenth Amendment.
John A. Rohr, Public administration and comparative constitutionalism,
Public Administration Review, Jul 8, 1997.
moxie (MOK-see) noun
1. The ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage.
2. Aggressive energy; initiative.
3. Skill; know-how.
[From Moxie, trademark for a soft drink.]
"So no one can dispute that Glaser's (founder of RealNetworks) moxie has
helped make Real the gold standard of the industry.
Amy Kover, Is Rob Glaser For Real?, Fortune, Nov 4, 2000.
abjure (ab-JOOR) verb tr.
1. To renounce under oath; forswear.
2. To recant solemnly; repudiate.
3. To give up (an action or practice, for example); abstain from.
[Middle English abjuren, from Old French abjurer, from Latin abiurare : ab-,
away + iurare, to swear.]
"I abjured meat out of the purity of my desire not to lie to my parents,
but I didn't abjure the company of my friend."
M.K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, 1927.
actuate (AK-choo-ayt) verb tr.
1. To put into motion or action.
2. To move to action.
[Medieval Latin actuare, actuat-, from Latin actus, act, from agere, act-,
to drive, do.]
"That was the last friendly tussle we had. It did not affect our relations
in the least. I could see and appreciate the love by which all my friend's
efforts were actuated, and my respect for him was all the greater on
accounts of our difference in thought and action."
M.K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, 1927.
charnel (CHAR-nel) noun
A repository for the bones or bodies of the dead; a charnel house.
Resembling, suggesting, or suitable for receiving the dead.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin carnale, from neuter of
Latin carnalis, of the flesh, from caro, carn-, flesh.]
"This ending does not follow Hugo's novel, in which Esmeralda is hanged,
and her body taken to the charnel house of Montfaucon, where Quasimodo
enters the vault and stays with her, embracing her body until he dies of
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Magill's Survey of Cinema, Jun 15, 1995.
diablerie (dee-AH-ble-ree, -ab-luh-) noun
1. Sorcery; witchcraft.
2. Representation of devils or demons, as in paintings or fiction.
TIP: An "atheist" disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods. An
"agnostic" does not deny the existence of God, but holds that the existence
of God cannot be proven. The term agnostic was coined by the 19th-century
scientist Thomas Huxley. He believed that only material phenomena could be
objects of exact knowledge. "Agnostic" was made up from the prefix "a-"
(meaning "without, not") and the noun "gnostic." Gnostic comes from a Greek
word meaning knowledge and was used by early Christian writers to refer to a
higher, spiritual knowledge.
"Joel declined my invitation to say a prayer, because he is an agnostic."
"Bill was agnostic in his views; he believed no one could know whether or not
there is a God."
"Many agnostics convert to religion later in life."
OTHER FORM(S): agnostic (adj), agnostically (adv), agnosticism (noun)
PRONUNCIATION: (FOR ay; FAWR ay)
DEFINITION: 1) a sudden raid or attack 2) an initial attempt or venture
ANTONYMS: evidence, expose, manifest, reveal, show
TIP: Do not confuse dissemble with disassemble, which means to take apart.
"Hubert successfully dissembled his involvement until we found proof that he
had disassembled the alarm."
"When asked by their girlfriends if they look fat, wise boyfriends will
"Helena successfully dissembled her hatred for her boss; she misled everyone
into believing that she admired and revered him."
"In a difficult situation, all but the strictly honest will dissemble."
OTHER FORM(S): dissembling (adv), dissembler (noun)
gadfly (GAD-fly) noun
1. One who persistently annoys.
2. Any of the various types of flies that bite livestock.
[From gad (a goad for cattle), from Middle English, from Old Norse gaddr.]
"Despite his stern image, (Jean) Drapeau loved gossip and bawdy, sometimes
silly jokes. Because of that he became close friends with a vocal critic,
opposition councillor and gadfly Nick Auf der Maur."
Anthony Wilson-Smith, The Monumental Mayor, Maclean's (Toronto),
Aug 23, 1999.
waspish (WOS-pish) adjective
1. Like a wasp, in behavior (stinging) or in form (slender build).
2. Easily annoyed; irascible; petulant.
[From wasp, from Middle English waspe, from Old English waesp, from waeps.]
"His occasionally waspish sense of humour always derided pomposity and
Sue Harper, Obituary: Robert Gray: He Unravelled the Links Between Class
and Language, The Guardian (London), Apr 26, 2001.
PRONUNCIATION: (WIN oh)
DEFINITION: 1) to blow (chaff) away or off 2) to separate the desirable part
from the worthless 2) to fan
TIP: Winnow can also be a noun meaning a device used for winnowing or the act
of winnowing. "Please get the winnow out of the barn, it is time to
separate the wheat from the chaff."
"To winnow the grain, toss it into the air and allow the wind to blow away
the dirt and lighter chaff."
"Whitelaw spent the afternoon winnowing his response letters, trying to find
the most promising 'Dream Date.'"
"The judge had to winnow the false statements from the truth."
"The breeze was winnowing the fall leaves."
OTHER FORM(S): winnower (noun), winnow (noun)
debridement (di-BREED-ment, day-) noun
Surgical removal of dead, infected tissue or foreign matter from a wound.
[From French debridement, from debrider (to unbridle), from Middle French
desbrider (de- + brider).]
"Voluminous clinical studies also indicate that hypnosis can reduce the
acute pain experienced by patients undergoing burn-wound debridement,
children enduring bone marrow aspirations and women in labor."
Michael R Nash, The Truth And the Hype of Hypnosis, Scientific American
(New York), Jul 2001.
Here is a pop-quiz: how many light-years does it take for an astronomer to
change a light bulb? Answer, of course, is none. She knows a light-year is
a unit of distance, not time. The red-herring word `year' in this term tries
to mislead us. This week brings together words whose meaning is not the first
thing that comes to mind. -Anu
Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big,
worthwhile things. It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out - it's
the grain of sand in your shoe. -Robert Service, writer (1874-1958)
escheat (es-CHEET) noun
1. The reversion of property to the state or crown in case of no legal
2. Property that has reverted to the state or crown.
verb tr. and intr.
To revert or cause to revert property.
[From Middle English eschete, from Old French eschete, from Vulgar Latin
excadere, from Latin ex- + cadere (to fall).]
"New York escheats most dormant assets after five years, which is about
average. Some states, such as Iowa, take most assets after three years;
others, such as Pennsylvania, wait seven."
Drew Fetherston, It's a Treat to Beat Escheat, Newsday (New York),
Jul 25, 1994.
sexcentenary (seks-sen-TEN-uh-ree) adjective
Relating to the number 600 or a period of 600 years.
A 600th anniversary.
[From Latin sex (six) + centenary (a period of 100 year), from centenarius.]
"These essays from a Cambridge conference held on the sexcentenary of the
Lollard Twelve Conclusions (1395) explore questions that have arisen ...."
William B Robison, Lollardy And the Gentry in the Later Middle Ages,
Historian, a Journal of History (Allentown), Fall 1999.
One who wields unofficial power, often secretly, through someone else.
[From French éminence grise, literally gray eminence.]
"Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru's former spy chief, was arrested in Venezuela
and deported to Lima to face charges of arms- and drug-dealing,
embezzlement, directing death-squads and money-laundering. Mr Montesinos
was the eminence grise behind President Alberto Fujimori, who was forced
to resign last year."
News Summaries: Politics This Week, The Economist (London), Jun 30, 2001.
Clothes Make the Man. So goes an old saying. While we know it is what is
inside that really counts, there is a grain of truth in the statement. And
in many cases, it is the distinctive clothes that turn out to be defining
marks of some. We all are familiar with redcoats (British soldiers) and
blue stockings (women with intellectual interests). Today's term provides
another example where clothes are used as a symbol for a particular type
Francois Leclerc du Tremblay, aka Pére Joseph (1577-1638) was a French monk
and secretary of Cardinal Richelieu. However, the monk was more than just
a secretary. He was the Cardinal's confidant who governed the diplomatic
negotiations on his behalf and encouraged French participation against
Protestant forces in the Thirty Years' War. The Cardinal wore a red habit
and was known as Eminence Rouge. The monk, on the other hand, went with a
gray shade, and accordingly, his title became synonymous with people
exercising unofficial influence.
It is easy to find people in many organizations who would precisely fit
today's term. Can you think of someone from modern times who would qualify
for this epithet? Hint: think of top political figures in the US. And
meanwhile in this week's AWAD enjoy other words to describe people. -Anu
neophyte (NEE-uh-fyt) noun
1. A beginner; novice.
2. A new convert to a belief.
[From Middle English, from Late Latin neophytus, from Greek neophytos (newly
planted), from phyein (to plant).]
"The work of published writers and neophytes alike can be found at the
Dimsum site, in part because it attracts people with such a wide range
Maureen Pao, Virtual Workshop, Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong),
Dec 30, 1999.
[From French, alteration of fait-nient (literally, does nothing), by
folk etymology from faignant, present participle of faindre (to feign).]
"Moved in equal parts by ambition, restlessness, and an impulse to do
good, he has filled any and all roles abdicated by the faineant previous
Jim Mora, Away With All This Bavardage, Sunday Star-Times (Auckland,
New Zealand), Oct 11, 1998.
shirty (SHUHR-tee) adjective
[From the expression "to get someone's shirt out" to annoy or to lose
"We can appreciate why Lukie Muhlemann is a little agitated and shirty,
but he should remember that CSFB is essentially a law unto itself."
Ian Kerr, A Week in the Markets, Euroweek (London), Jan 26, 2001.
TIP: Profligate can also be a noun, meaning a degenerate or spendthrift. I
refuse to let my daughter marry that profligate.
"No decent human being should have anything to do with that profligate
"My mother insists that staying out past midnight changes moral, decent
children into profligate hoodlums."
"Your profligate spending has forced this company into bankruptcy."
OTHER FORM(S): profligately (adv), profligate (n), profligateness (n)
osculate (OS-kyuh-layt) verb tr.
1. To kiss.
2. Mathematics: (For a curve) to touch another curve in such a way that
they have same tangent and curvature at the common point.
To touch or to bring together.
[From Latin osculatus, the past participle of osculari, from osculum (kiss;
literally, little mouth), diminutive form of os (mouth).]
"So, the next time you do some osculating, remember a kiss is not just a
kiss, it's some kind of psychological compulsion. A sigh, however, is
just a sigh."
A Kiss is Never Just a Kiss, Morning Edition, National Public Radio,
Jan 26, 1993.
"... Julia sets, basins of attraction ..., osculating systems. There is
such an amazing amount of creation from just some numbers, some lines,
Math and Science for Girls, Contemporary Women's Issues Database,
Jan 1, 1993.
What do the shape of a sea shell, Mozart's sonatas, arrangement of seeds in
a sunflower, and paintings by the masters have in common? It is a little
fraction with the value 1.61803..., known as the golden mean. Who said math
(or, as many subscribers know it, maths) was only for mathematicians, and
who claimed math was dry? This week's selection features five words from the
vocabulary of math where numbers can be irrational, transcendental, surreal,
imaginary, and every other shade in between. -Anu