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It's a blessing to have a child at home. As a parent, I strive to answer my daughter Ananya's incessant questions about the moon and earthworms and clouds and trees and bears as truthfully as I can. Our investigations into these seemingly mundane matters often reveal insights that are learning experiences for both of us. But there are times when my thoughts are elsewhere and I simply answer the question "Why?" with, "Because that's how God made them." I didn't know the joke was on me until the evening I found the corner of our living room wall scribbled with bright shades of crayons. When questioned why we had that mural on the wall, she simply replied, "Because that's how God made it."
Well, if we were to ask why a crab moves crabwise or sideways, that'd be a pretty good answer: Because that's how God (or nature, depending on how your beliefs run) made crabs. Because that's how their legs bend. That's how their muscles flex. That's how they've adapted. That's how they survive as a species. And that's how we got a synonym for the word sideways in our dictionary. If we were to look up the term humanwise in a crab's dictionary, chances are it would mean sideways.
Here are a few words derived from animals (the only animal-based products we use aroundhere).
adjective 1. Sideways. 2. In a cautious or roundabout manner. From the sideways movement of crabs. Also see cancrine (chapter 31).
And then in a true action-film manner, the hero began moving crabwise along the wall while scanning the alley for the villain.
testudinate (te-STOOD-in-ayt), also testudinal or testudinarian
adjective 1. Slow-moving, like a turtle. 2. Curved like the carapace (shell) of a turtle; vaulted.
noun A turtle.
From Late Latin testudinatus, from Latin testudo (tortoise).
"I kinda find his slow pace and curved back alluring," the young fashion model fawned about the testudinate geriatric who just happened to be an oil magnate as well.
noun 1. One who persistently annoys or one who prods into action. 2. Any of the various types of flies that bite livestock.
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Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. -Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1889-1951)
From gad (a goad for cattle), from Middle English, from Old Norse gaddr.
The newspaper columnist saw himself as a public gadfly, keeping politicians honest and running critical articles about them when they weren't.
kangaroo court (kang-guh-ROO kort)
noun A mock court set up with disregard to proper procedure to deliver a judgment arrived at in advance.
From the Old West to the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem Witch Trials, kangaroo courts have made their appearances throughout history. While theories abound regarding the origin of this expression, lexicographers haven't found a convincing proof of one or another, and its derivation can be tagged with the succinct "origin unknown." But that doesn't stop us from speculating. Some believe it comes from the animal itself-a funny-looking creature that bounces around without appearing to achieve anything. Then some think it is so named because it jumps to conclusions. According to one line of thought, the British didn't respect the Australian penal colony enough to give them due process of law, and with that legacy we name it so. Or maybe it is because this setup describes courts whose opinions wander "all over the place"-opinions that change so much from case to case that the court precedent "bounces" like this member of the marsupial family. Others surmise that the term originated from the Gold Rush era involving the trial of some Aussie miners.
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Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. -Kahlil Gibran, mystic, poet, playwright, and artist (1883-1931)
adjective 1. Like a wasp, in behavior (stinging) or in form (slender build). 2. Easily annoyed; irascible; petulant. 3. Of or pertaining to a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant).
From wasp, from Middle English waspe, from Old English waesp, from waeps.
When she called him waspish in her most charming voice, the cranky, lean fellow didn't know what attribute of his she found so alluring.
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He is a hard man who is only just, and a sad one who is only wise. -Voltaire, philosopher (1694-1778)
Excerpted from A Word A Day by Anu Garg Suti Garg Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1. Animal Words.
2. Latin Terms.
3. Words to Describe People I.
4. Lesser-Known Counterparts of Everyday Words.
5. Words for Odds and Ends.
7. Discover the Theme I.
8. Gender-Specific Nouns.
10. Coined Words I.
13. Short Words.
14. Words That Make Spell-Checker Ineffective.
15. Names for Things.
16. Words Formed by Metathesis.
17. Words Not to Put On Your Resume.
18. A Verbal Zoo.
19. Words From Medicine.
21. Words With Color as Metaphor.
22. Words that Make One Say, "I Didn't Know there was a Word for That!"
23. Wordpix I.
24. Wordpix II.
25. Wordpix III.
26. Words with Offbeat Pluralizations.
27. Words about Relations.
28. Collective Nouns.
29. Positive Words.
30. Discover the Theme II.
31. Lesser-Known Synonyms of Everyday Words.
32. Words from Speeches.
33. Words That Contain the Vowels AEIOU Once and Only Once.
34. Coined Words II.
35. English as a Global Language.
37. Words about Words I.
38. Uncommon Words with Common Suffixes.
39. Words to Describe People II.
40. Ordinal Words.
41. Words for Odds and Ends.
42. Red-Herring Words.
43. Discover the Theme III.
44. Newer Words in the Oxford English Dictionary.
45. War of Words and Words of War.
46. Words for Physical Characteristics Used to Describe People Figuratively.
47. Words Evolved from Folk Etymologies.
48. Words about Words II.
49. Words Formed Using Combining Forms.
50. Words Formed Using Combining Forms.
51. Words for Body Parts That Are Used Metaphorically.
52. Red-Herring Words Revisited.
53. Words from Nature's Oeuvre.
54. Words about People Who Love Books.
55. Mondegreens and Other Linguistic Faux Pas.
57. Answers to the "Discover the Theme" Chapters.
Index of Words.
Posted December 8, 2008
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