Awesome words: orogeny


I am a sucker for a good geological term. I don’t know what it is about rocks, but I find them fascinating. I love that they are the relics of the vast history of this planet. And that you can read that history on a continental scale, or at the most minute, microscopic level. Fossils fascinate me; caves entrance me; I marvel at the way you can tell where a glacier has been by the shapes it leaves carved in mountains; and I love the weird silhouettes left by the bones of volcanoes after the original mountain has been worn away.

Orogeny is the making of mountains through continental upheaval. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, the collective word for the array of geological processes that go into all this continental crumpling is orogenesis. (That gives me word shivers.)

I know orogeny is something purely mechanical, but in my mind the word conjures images of some fiery and arcane art practiced by ancient gods over eons. The kind of gods that created the land to the sound of grinding stone and the slow shattering of layers of rock; and when they care to turn the Earth over and make it up anew, they’ll do it without a care for the creeping cataclysm they’ll cause for the mayfly humans eking out a life on its shifting skin.


Awesome words: glair



Glair is the white of an egg, or a substance like the white of an egg. It can also refer to a kind of adhesive (presumably made from egg white) traditionally used in book binding and gilding.


I love this word because it sounds to me like the kind of sound someone might make while swallowing the white of an egg.

Apparently it comes from a 12th Century Old French word, glaire, meaning the white of an egg, slime or mucus. This in turn comes from the Latin clarus, meaning clear (and also bright and illustrious.)

I don’t know. I still think it sounds like a combination of “gulp” and “bleagh”.

Awesome words: fart

Canons fire from a tower down onto a group of men in 18th century military regalia below. The men are crawling on their hands and knees, buttocks bared, farting back at the canons. A ship can be seen in the distance.
British cartoon mocking the failed French & Spanish siege of Gibralter, 1782

In keeping with the theme of Wednesday’s post, here’s an extract from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, available through the Gutenberg Project.

FART. He has let a brewer’s fart, grains and all; said of
one who has bewrayed his breeches.

      Piss and fart.
Sound at heart.
Mingere cum bumbis,
Res saluberrima est lumbis.

  I dare not trust my a-se with a fart: said by a person troubled
with a looseness.

FART CATCHER. A valet or footman from his walking
behind his master or mistress.


FARTLEBERRIES. Excrement hanging about the anus.


Awesome words – Graceless

I love this word. It has so much story at its heart! At a basic level it means clumsy or awkward, but because it is a word that defines itself by the absence of a characteristic, it becomes so much more. It’s almost accusatory.

And “grace” is such a complex word, too. It doesn’t just mean “elegance” (of form, motion and manner), but can also refer to being in a state of favour or having been extended mercy. So to be “graceless” is not just to be awkward, but there are also overtones of having fallen into disfavour and being denied clemency. Pitiable indeed!

Furthermore, there are also some nice ecclesiastical overtones from “being in a state of grace”, which call up echos of a deeper fall into ignominy.

Favourite use of the word “graceless”… In the inimitable Florence & the Machine’s Shake It Out.

And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back

So shake him off.

And I am done with my graceless heart

So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.

Awesome words: Nocturne

Here’s a good word for an insomniac. It’s a term for a piece of art, most often music, that evokes evening or night, or, alternatively, a dreamy, pensive mood.

I like it because it sounds musical. It sounds haunting. For me it conjures up purple twilights, glimmering stars and crickets chirping.

Artworks at top: Nocturne Landscape, Jon Molvig; Nocturne: Forest Spires, Tom Thomson; Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, James Abbot McNeill Whistler; The Falling Rocket (detail)

Awesome words – elytra

Cetonidae: Eudicella Gralli Orientalis, by Mike Libby

Elytra is the plural of elytron, a word that refers to the hardened forewings of some insects, such as beetles, which cover the transparent hindwings, which are the ones used for flying. In the sculpture above the elytra are striped green and orange.

Why is it an awesome word? Just is. Beetle wings are awesome. And elytra sounds utterly mystical. I didn’t know they were forewings. I didn’t know they were wings at all. If you’d asked me what that bit of the beetle was, I would have said “carapace” or “shell”. I only encountered the word for the first time today in this article about a new art pavilion being built at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Robots are weaving a moving canopy for the Elytra Pavilion, based on the “fibrous structures found in the hardened forewings of flying beetles”.

Speaking of art and elytra, check out the incredibly beautiful and just plain cool sculptures from artist Mike Libby. I’ve seen his steampunked insects around on Pinterest for a while now, but the crab “Ludlow” is… well… I mean he has interchangeable claws. Holy hell. I’m itching from wanting.


Awesome words: unquiet

No doubt about it. This is a creepy word.

It’s interesting, because unquiet is not the opposite of the word quiet in its most usual meaning. It doesn’t mean noisy or loud. Unquiet relates to restlessness, turbulence and anxiety.

The word unquiet is most usually paired with is “spirits”.

There's even a suitably creepy looking font with this name!
There’s even a suitably creepy looking font with this name!

Other words I found it paired with, doing a quick and dirty Google search, were: “dead”, “graves”, “ghost”, “dreams”, “past”, “mind” and “earth”. So it definitely has overtones of the spiritual, emotional and the macabre.

I like this word because the very fact of it being an un- word implies the most desirable state of whatever is being described is one of quiet. The fact that it has become unquiet is ominous, even unnatural.

Unquiet is a lovely word, just dripping with story.

I hope you had a great Halloween.

Awesome words: rapscallion

Rapscallion: a mischievous person.

This is one of those words that conjures up a whole array of other, equally awesome words: rogue, knave, scoundrel, varlet, slumgullion.

This word seems to have first appeared in the late 17th century, and is closely associated with the word rascallion, which was an earlier elaboration of rascal.  gives it a specifically feminine parallel in the word rampallion, which is yet another awesome word and came from the Middle English word ramp, meaning a rude or boisterous girl or woman.

Now, I love a good, rude, boisterous woman, so I found this quite fascinating in itself. In Middle English the word ramp also referred to an animal climbing or standing on its hind legs (such as in rampant, used in heraldry to indicate a beast depicted rearing up). Ramp, as a perjorative term for a woman then later became romp in the 18th century, defined in Johnson’s Dictionary in 1755 as “a rude, awkward, boisterous,untaught girl.”

Here. Have a nice sea-dog rampant.
Here. Have a nice sea-dog rampant.