Contretemps

May 29, 2011

An unexpected event which throws everything into confusion.

The word has been adopted into common usage, originally it was a fencing term meaning an ill timed pass or attack. It’s notable how the words original meaning suggests something happening in the act of attacking, whereas the modern meaning implies an event that is outwith the control of the subject. It shifted from a active-verb to a noun.

 

To me this word falls into a category of words that cannot be used in regular conversation without an explanation preceding/succeeding it’s use. It’s sounds nice which is why I like it, it seems to me to be the opposite of a word like kismet. It’s interesting to look at how uncommon words which mean a sudden downturn in fortunes are, are how rife the opposite of these words are.

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Teratology

May 18, 2011

The study of abnormalities of physiological development, birth defects being the most common.

A word I first came across in ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace and one that has stuck with me so that I’m pretty sure I can quote the phrase from the book verbatim: “the city seemed indistinct seen through the low, teratogenic cloud.”

I like the way it sounds.

Methusaleh

May 17, 2011

The oldest man mentioned in the bible. Apparently lived to the age of 969, which is still considered to be a literal age of a real life by…well, Christians I suppose. An impossibly long time for a human to have lived, if you take the story literally and a confusing story with very little allegorical meaning, if you read it symbolically.

Incidentally according to wikiwiki (albeit un-cited):  ‘God delayed the Flood specifically because of the seven days of mourning in honor of the righteous Methuselah’  which seems like a ridiculous thing for anyone to have known..like, the rescheduling of the flood.

Has come to be used (in the true tradition of biblical words) to describe the unusual attributes ascribed to the character: to describe someone/something with a relatively long life.

A good phrase to use if your hungover: “Yo, I feel like I’m making Methusaleh look good.” ie. I look/feel like shit. Also handy if you see somebody trying to get on with an older chick: “Ayyyy, leave Methusaleh alone, kid. She tired!!”

Crepuscular

May 14, 2011

The word means ‘of, resembling, or relating to twilight’. It comes from the latin crepusculum meaning twilight, and is used primarily to describe animals active at this time of day.

It has also come to be used to describe a certain effect of atmospheric rays (which some may know by other names like sunburst or Jacob’s Ladder) due to the propensity of these rays to appear in the twilight or early dawn.

I like it because it is quite a disgusting word, but what it describes is pretty awesome (not in the teenage skateboarder meaning of the word). I also like using words like ‘propensity’ to describe inanimate things, as it implies that they have a choice (or a preference).