Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

Words I did not know

Each day I spend an hour or more hunting for words that have yet to be recorded in mainstream dictionaries. As I’ve written here before, I keep lists: besides the words I record on my site, Double-Tongued, I keep a list of words to consider for inclusion in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, a list of words to be suggested for inclusion in the New Oxford American Dictionary, a list of words with which to beef up my writing vocabulary, and besides a few other lists, a list of words I do not know although they already appear in the big dictionaries.

Here’s a version of that latter list. It only contains words from the last week or two. I’ve used a variety of reliable dictionaries to define the terms, so the definitions given here will vary from what is provided in the linked definitions.

Arte Povera: an Italian term meaning “poor art” used to label a movement from the 1960s in which common scrap or waste materials were used to make (mostly) sculpture. Bonus: the Arte Povera limerick from OEDILF.

bine: a long, flexible stem of a climbing plant

cadastre: a public register showing the details of ownership and value of land; made for the purpose of taxation.

Chinese wall: an insurmountable barrier, especially to the passage of information. This seemed obvious once I looked it up.

contemn: to look down on with disdain. More or less the verb form of contempt.

enrobe: to provide with a coating. This can describe coating candy or nuts with chocolate.

intarsia: 1. an elaborate form of marquetry using inlays in wood, esp. as practiced in 15th-century Italy. 2. method of knitting with a number of colors, in which a separate length or ball of yarn is used for each area of color (as opposed to different yarns being carried at the back of the work).

macarism: (In Theology) beatitude; (generally, rare) joy in another’s happiness. This seems like the antonym to schadenfreude.

moose pasture: Not available in free dictionaries. Defined by OED as “Canadian colloquial, (a) a mining claim of little or no value; (b) land which is overgrown or swampy (and hence useful only to moose).”

pollard: to cut off the top and branches of (a tree) to encourage new growth. I probably could have puzzled this out, given its similarity to to poll, to cut the horns off of an animal. In fact, the noun form of pollard is an animal whose horns have fallen or been cut off, as well as a tree which has been topped.

spallation: a nuclear reaction in which a bombarded nucleus breaks up into many particles; separation of fragments from the surface of a rock, esp. by interaction with a compression wave. Could easily be generalized to mean “the breaking up of an object under pressure into smaller parts.”

tocsin: an alarm bell; the sound of an alarm (bell). NOAD says: ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Old French toquassen, from Provençal tocasenh, from tocar ‘to touch’ + senh ‘signal bell.’

velouté: a rich white sauce made with chicken, veal, pork, or fish stock, thickened with cream and egg yolks. French for “velvety, soft, tender” I knew, but I wasn’t sure in what way this was describing food.

author avatar
Grant Barrett