The Words of November 2011

Fourteen “Words of the Day” from the last month.

Part 1 — (Date of First Known Use in English Taken from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, except where noted)

11/2: Metempirical [met-em-PIR-i-kuhl] (adjective) beyond or outside the field of experience. Origin: Metempirical derives from the Greek words met- meaning “beyond or before” and empirical meaning “experience.” First Known Use: 1874 (

11/3: Obscurantism [uhb-SKYOORr-uhn-tiz-uhm] (noun) opposition to the increase and spread of knowledge. Origin: Obscurantism originally comes from the Latin root obscur meaning “dark” and the suffix -ant which turned a verb into a noun (as in the word servant), so the word literally meant “one that makes dark.” First Known Use: 1834

11/7: Canny [KAN-ee] (adjective) careful; cautious; prudent. Origin: Canny is derived from the Middle English word ken meaning “knowledge or understanding.” It is related to the verb kennen meaning “to see, know, or make known.” First Known Use: 1596

11/12: Rankle [RANG-kuhl] (verb) to cause keen irritation or bitter resentment in. Origin: Rankle has a complex history. It derives from the Middle English word rancler meaning “to fester” which is a derivative of draoncle, late Latin for “a sore” which itself comes from the Latin draco meaning “a serpent.” First Known Use: 1606

11/17: Bibliophage [BIB-lee-uh-feyj] (noun) an ardent reader; a bookworm. Origin: Bibliophage derives from the Latin biblio meaning “books” and phage meaning “a thing that devours.” First Known Use: Not found

11/25: Dipsomania [dip-suh-MEY-nee-uh] (noun) an irresistible, typically periodic craving for alcoholic drink. Origin: Dipsomania literally means “crazy thirst” from the Greek dips (thirst) and mania (crazy). First Known Use: c. 1844

11/29: Serry [SER-ee] (verb) to crowd closely together. Origin: Serry is from the Middle French serré which was the past participle of serrer meaning “to press tightly together.” First Known Use: 1581

Metempirical seems to be one of those tricky philosophical terms that only a philosopher could love, denoting something that can apparently be thought about but never known or experienced. It is also, apparently, the secular alternative to the more religious term “supernatural.” In describing metempirical I just used the word “seems” once and the word “apparently” twice because, what more can you say?

Obscurantism is a suitably ominous word for what it means. Its second definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a style (as in literature or art) characterized by deliberate vagueness or abstruseness.” So a person can engage in obscurantism either by suppressing information or by being solipsistic in that person’s own writings. Either way, it’s clearly a destructive action and should be opposed.

Canny, in addition to meaning “careful,” “cautious” and “prudent,” can also mean “shrewd,” “restrained” or “quiet.” Perhaps “wise” is the best synonym, then, but in any case canny is a wonderful word. However, it’s also less common than “uncanny,” which raises the question: are these two words opposites? Not exactly, but the Word Detective shows that “uncanny” probably originated as a negation for what canny meant at the time. Today “uncanny” means “supernatural” or “mysterious.” Since canny derives from ken, meaning “knowledge,” the difference boils down to what’s known and what’s unknown. I would definitely suggest that canny should be used more often than it is, and if its use brings up the canny/uncanny question, that’s a good thing.

Rankle is a fairly common word. It’s a great example of how language can evolve from the concrete and specific to the abstract. The word grew out of the name for a snake, developed into a term for the result of a snakebite, called to mind the irritation that comes with such a sore, and today is used to describe any general irritation that is left to “fester.” One needn’t understand its origin to derive pleasure from how great the word sounds, but I love this stuff. It connects us with ancient times and how people thought then. Besides, this goes to show how good a word has to be to survive for four hundred years in common use.

It’s irresistible to transition from rankle to bibliophage by claiming that the latter term went the opposite route — from abstract to concrete. I’m not sure, though. Bibliophage is a very uncommon word, and it’s difficult to find information on it. It sounds like a clever variation on the well-known term “bookworm,” and this is probably what it is. Frustratingly, though, I also had difficulty ascertaining the origins of “bookworm.” Google searches of “bookworm” and “word origins,” “etymology,” or “history,” mostly brought up results discussing other words, written by people who describe themselves as bookworms. I find it hard to believe that no one has considered this question before, when the Online Etymology Dictionary states that the word “bookworm” was used in reference to people long before it was used in reference to insects. That implies the word started as a metaphor and then became literal, unless there were cases of people actually eating books, which I doubt. More serious study is needed. Anyway, bibliophage is a clever word, but “bookworm” actually does just fine. Still, if one wishes to avoid the connotation of pedantry that comes with the word “bookworm,” then “bibliophile” is a good alternative. Obviously, though, I side with the bibliophages in their war with obscurantists.

I get a kick out of the words “typically periodic” in the dipsomania definition. Clearly, as this term has been replaced by “alcoholism,” we have become more tolerant of those suffering from alcohol addiction since the mid-nineteenth century. Dipsomania retains its evocative power, so I’m not saying it can never be used. But I would ask readers to remember that alcoholism is indeed an addiction, and people trapped by it need help, not scorn. On the other hand, there are terms out there that are far more derogatory than this one.

The Online Etymology Dictionary describes “serried,” the past participle of serry, as “a military term.” Merriam-Webster defines serry as “to press together especially in ranks,” labeling that definition as archaic. So, if one should ask — why is “to serry” needed when “to crowd” works fine? — the answer is that serry, at least when it was first used, specifically referred to soldiers crowding together to defend each other. (Precision, my friends.) Now, as to whether or not the word should be used today, a decent rule of thumb would be that if you are writing something as good as Paradise Lost [Book I, line 548], then by all means go for it.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary

11/2: Bachelor sip (noun) to drink water directly from the faucet. Definition contributed in 2011

11/3: Damn nature you scary (sentence) expression of fear and awe at the wonderment of the animal kingdom. Definition contributed in 2009

11/7: Ring rage (noun) that feeling you get when your iPhone rings from someone actually “calling” you. Definition contributed in 2011

11/12: Identiphobia (noun) the fear of looking like someone else, who you know or someone else on the street. The fear of being identical in some way to someone. Definition contributed in 2011

11/17: Hunger pack (noun) a six pack that is only visible when you are very hungry. Definition contributed in 2011

11/25: Thanksgiving hangover (noun) the result of eating too much on Thanksgiving, and feeling like s*** the next morning. Definition contributed in 2010

11/29: Recyclopath (noun) a person who militantly engages in recycling and is so hostile to simply throwing away garbage, it borders on mental illness. Definition contributed in 2009

In my opinion, the best combination of word/phrase and definition of these seven is the first, bachelor sip. That is absolutely the best name for that action. This entry showcases the best of Urban Dictionary with its humor, catchiness and, yes, insight into human behavior. From my own experience, I took many bachelor sips in my dorm in college. In fact, I continue to do so today after rinsing out Listerine every night. I’m a barbarian.

Damn nature you scary — I label this a “sentence” for lack of anything else to call it. In the strictest sense of the term, it’s an improper sentence, but that’s what we expect from Urban Dictionary. The use of “damn” in this construction is one of many current examples of how that word has softened. Here, it’s nothing more than a light interjection. It would probably be overstating the case to cite this as an example of the godlessness of twenty-first century Americans. The person using the word in this context may have even forgotten what the word “damn” originally meant. That’s why I’m here. It is a word for “condemnation” and “judgment,” stated in the strongest possible way. The taboo attached to the word derives from the Third Commandment, against taking God’s name in vain. Someone with the temerity to “damn” something would be taking a role that belongs to God alone, or else essentially telling God what to do. Furthermore, using the word against a person would be tantamount to sentencing that person to hell. Christians, and all people, are commanded to love, not condemn. So use of the word was restricted to discussions of what God, by the authority of His holiness, does. But of course, censorship often backfires, and the result is that varied, clever, and even humorous ways of using the word “damn” came about. The word hasn’t lost all its force or offensiveness, but a construction like damn nature you scary would be unthinkable a hundred years ago. Now back to the statement itself. It is true enough; nature can be scary. A simple Google Images search of damn nature you scary goes a long way to illustrate the point. I thoroughly recommend it.

I haven’t felt ring rage myself, and part of me has trouble believing that it could actually exist. But it’s clear that using a mobile phone primarily for making and receiving calls is no longer in fashion. It may never be again. This wouldn’t bother me very much. As to ring rage, I can understand how in certain situations getting a phone call from someone would be annoying, such as when 1) I am not in a position to answer the phone, and 2) a text message could adequately convey the same information. Also, possibly, 3) the information isn’t important to me at the moment — but that wouldn’t exactly be righteous indignation, unless all three criteria are met and the person at the other end knows this. But back to the specific definition: Urban Dictionary lists an example which clarifies things somewhat. It points out that ring rage may strike because the person is doing something else with the iPhone when it rings (such as using the internet), and so that other thing gets interrupted. This is a little bit of a current-day twist, but there’s nothing fundamentally different about it. Phones have always served to interrupt things. Only now one might smile ironically at the thought that, without warning, the phone started acting like a phone.

We discussed phobias briefly in last month’s post, so it should come as no surprise that I have doubts about identiphobia. Yes, I myself have felt some level of discomfort when seeing another person wearing the same shirt I’m wearing. But I do not begin each day worrying that it might happen, and I think it would be necessary to feel that way for it to be classified as a phobia. This particular fear could possibly exist, but of course we’ll need more authoritative diagnoses. As it stands, my suspicion is that this is a flippant use of the suffix. In any case, I don’t think identiphobia is the best name for it. That sounds like fear of one’s own identity, or perhaps reputation.

Hunger pack is a nice, succinct term for the purpose of deflating ego. But the two words taken in isolation make no sense. If there was a synonym for “hunger” that rhymed with “six”…

Thanksgiving hangover makes good use of the increasingly well-known idea of a hangover. Of course, the results of overeating are not the same as the results of getting drunk, but the idea is that both activities feel great at the time but lead to regret the next day. In the case of Thanksgiving, though, I’m not sure it would necessarily take a day for the hangover effects to set in.

Recyclopath is an aesthetically pleasing term. It’s the kind of blending of two words that makes slang so wonderful. I would love to see this term get some circulation. Recycling is a good thing, but everyone who takes good things too far should be open to ridicule.

The canny bibliophage had dipsomania, identiphobia and a Thanksgiving hangover, so his recyclopath friend steered clear lest he be charged with obscurantism, a charge that would rankle him to the point where only a long, deep bachelor sip could cool him down.

2 responses to “The Words of November 2011

  1. Pingback: The Words of June 2012 « infinitecrescendo·

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