Daphne's Word Blog

Hi, I'm Daphne. I'm thirteen and I love words. Every week I'll be writing about cool words, so make sure you keep checking back and adding your own comments and questions. Also follow me, and avoid my cousin Ivan's math blog (http://ivansnumberblog.com), so together we can prove to Ivan that words are better than numbers!

Share a cool word with me!  

Can you read this?

Can you raed tihs?  You mhigt be sprurised to see taht you can.  Senticsits hvae fnuod taht as lnog as the fsirt and lsat lteerts of a wrod are creorct, ppoele can ulaulsy raed the wrod, eevn if all the oehtr lreetts are mxied up in the wonrg oedrr. Tat’hs bucaese we see the wohel wrod at one tmie, insaetd of raednig lteter by lteter.

I tnihk it mhgit be hrad for soomene who is dylsixec, thugoh.


The fifth essence

I don’t know if you noticed, but Ivan’s last post used the word “quintessence.”  That’s cheating, as if I wrote a post about logarithms, whatever they are.  I had to reassure myself about what that word meant. 

"Quint," I thought.  "Like quintuplets.  Maybe it means five."

Essence means the fundamental substance of something, the real stuff it’s made of, as in, “A dedication to truth is the essence of justice,” or “Fluffiness is the essence of an alpaca.”  Strangely, it also means scent or smell, as in, “Whenever she walked by, an essence of green apples lingered in the air.”

"Essence" came pretty unchanged from Latin.  Esse is the verb “to be” in Latin. So this word what something is deep down inside.

"Quint" means fifth.  In the Middle Ages, people believed there were four elements on earth, which I guess you could call essences: wood, air, fire, and water.  Then they made up a fifth essence, the quintessence.  That was supposed to be the element that made up the heavenly bodies like the moon and stars.

So you might think “quintessence” means somebody’s heavenly essence, their good side or I guess you could say their soul.  But in fact it means the same thing as “essence” only more so.  The dictionary says it means the concentrated essence of a substance, like what’s left after you evaporate the water out of it.  It can also mean the most pure and perfect embodiment of something’s nature.

So when Ivan’s poet says mathematics is the “quintessence of Truth,” he’s saying math is truth in its purest form.  Do you think that’s fair?  What if math tells you that you have a 50% chance of flipping heads, but you flip tails five times in a row?  Was that 50% the “quintessence of truth?”  How about, “If you have two apples and give me five, you’ll have negative three apples.”  Does that sound TRUE?  To me it just sounds completely impractical.


Anonymous said: Do you know the word,"omphaloskepsis"? It's a contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation.

Omphaloskepsis.  Wow, what a word.  Okay, I looked it up.  You’re right about what it means.  Omphalo means umbilicus or belly-button or navel.  Want to know something funny?  An outie belly-button is an omphalocele. That means skepsis is looking.  Hmm.  A skeptic is someone who doubts things and can’t easily be fooled into believing everything she’s told.  The word comes from the idea of thoughtfully reflecting on what you see.  That’s because a skeptic looks hard at ideas before reaching a conclusion.

I wonder whether a skeptic would believe that omphaloskepsis leads to wisdom.

Here’s the book cover for Lost in Lexicon’s first edition.  The second edition, with a new cover, is coming soon.  Check out the book website for games and more about the book. That’s me on the right and my cousin Ivan with the algebraic compass. The animal is… well, read the book to find out.

Here’s the book cover for Lost in Lexicon’s first edition.  The second edition, with a new cover, is coming soon.  Check out the book website for games and more about the book. That’s me on the right and my cousin Ivan with the algebraic compass. The animal is… well, read the book to find out.


Surd and absurd

My cousin Ivan asked me to do these two words. Before today I’d never heard of surd, but it’s a word. In fact, it’s a nerd word.  It means an irrational number—you know, one that can’t be made into an exact fraction.  Another way to say it is that a surd is a decimal that goes on and on without ever falling into a pattern of repeating digits. Surds always have a square root sign in them somewhere.

Yep, that’s Ivan for you, tricking me into writing about math.

But wait! There’s another meaning.  A surd is also a “voiceless consonant”, which apparently is a consonant you make without vibrating your vocal cords.  A “p” sound is a surd, but a “b” sound is not, because you say the “b” but you just kind of pop the “p”. “K” is a surd, but “g” is not.  

The Latin root for surd is surdus, which means “voiceless,” which seems to make sense for the second meaning but not the first.  But then I read that the famous Arab mathematician Al-Khawarizmi called rational and irrational numbers “audible” and “inaudible.”  That is, he talked as if you could hear rational numbers but not irrational ones…which connects the voiceless surdus with the idea of irrational numbers.

Okay, now on to absurd.  Absurd means preposterous, ridiculous, making no sense, and utterly opposed to reason.  The origin of the word is the Latin absurdus, meaning foolish or out of tune.  Hmm, so did the Romans think people who sing or play out of tune are foolish?  Did you hear that, Ivan?  (Ivan is, no offense, completely tone deaf.)  

And here’s another connection.  Another word that comes from the Latin surdus is the French sourde, which means deaf. So maybe there is a connection after all. Surdus=voiceless or deaf, which connects to having a really bad voice or being tone-deaf like Ivan, which makes him sound foolish or absurd, maybe because he spends too much time thinking about surds, which are irrational, just the way absurd people are.

There.  Next time Ivan will probably look up his own words.


Dongle: a computer connector thingy

Here’s a word I bet you don’t know: dongle.  The dictionary has a really long complicated definition.  The guy who hooks computers together at our school told me yesterday that it’s the connector you use to connect a Mac computer to a projector, but actually it’s a bit more complicated than that.   

From what I can figure out, it’s some kind of device you plug into your computer to let you run certain kinds of software.  It somehow checks with the computer to make sure you’re really allowed to run that software and didn’t steal it.  But it’s also used for any kind of external plug-in thingy that lets you run a program.  Apparently they’re more common for Macs.

It’s a made-up word, invented in the 1980’s, which is pretty cool.  One advertisement said it was named after its inventor, a man named Don Gall, but most people think that isn’t true.  Probably it came from “dangle” because it dangles from the place it’s plugged into.

I’m still really not sure how to use this word in a technically correct manner, but I think it could be useful to make you sound less dumb.  Instead of saying, “I’m looking for the computer connector thingy,” you can say, “Now, where’s that dongle?” and people might think you know what you’re talking about.



Back in third grade or so, when kids in my class wanted to brag about how quickly they could do something, they would chant, “Easy-peasy, Japanese-y!”  Now that I think about it, that was kind of weird.  From what I hear now, Japanese is pretty hard!

Anyway, today’s words are a collection of easies.  Here they are:





So what do you think?  Do they look and sound like what they mean?  To me they do. First there’s easy, which moseys off the tongue.  (Mosey: there’s a good word, meaning to saunter or stroll.) No effort, no problem, easy.

Then there’s queasy. At first you think it’s going to be easy, too, but there’s that funny forced little twist at the beginning that starts you off wrong. There’s something not quite right about queasy.  Think of your stomach twisting and then kind of releasing and rolling.  Yep, queasy means nauseated, kind of sick to the stomach. Or it can also mean having that same sort of uneasy feeling about something you’ve done.  If you stole and ate a bag of cookies, both your conscience and your stomach might feel queasy.

Now it gets still worse: sleazy.  A slimy, slithery word, one so sneaky it slips in a z where for the other words a plain honest s was good enough.  Sleazy means low, sordid, bad in reputation, as in “I would never take a job as a waitress in a sleazy joint like this, with stains on the curtains and cockroaches in the kitchen.”

Speaking of kitchens, we come to greasy.  Strangely, though it’s spelled like easy or queasy, now you hiss the s. You slide and plow through the s like a dishcloth sliding and plowing through congealed bacon grease on a frying pan. The s sticks around in your mind like the way the grease sticks to the cloth. The word comes from French words meaning “fat”, all the way back to a Latin word crassus, meaning “thick, solid, fat.” And greasy can refer to a person, not just a frying pan: a greasy person is slick and oily in manner, as if they’re trying to slide something past you.  

It’s not easy to like a greasy person, because they seem so sleazy they make you queasy.


Horrendously late

Oh, wow, I didn’t realize it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted.  I will resolve to do better.

I am horrified by how horribly late I am. I’m full of horror.  It’s horrendous.

So I guess that means the ending “endous” means “really really.”  Or maybe it means “causing”—in this case, “causing horror.”

Hmm, let’s try another example.  How about tremendous?  Could tremendous mean “causing tremor?”  So astounding or wonderful it makes you shake in your shoes?

And then there’s stupendous.  Maybe something stupendous is really really stupid.  Or maybe it causes stupor, which is a state of being really really out of it, as in almost comatose.  Maybe something stupendous stuns you.

Okay, time to hit the dictionary.

Wow!  It turns out -endus is a gerund ending in Latin.  I had to look that up.  A gerund is the -ing form of a word.  So tremendous is related to shaking, horrendous is related to horrifying, and stupendous is actually related to stunning.

I’m stunned.


Weepy words

I ran across this word: lachrymose.  I looked it up.  It’s pronounced LACK-ruh-mose, and it means tearful, sorrowful, mournful, given to weeping.  A lacrima is a Latin tear.

Another synonym is dolorous, which means grievous or mournful, causing or affected by misery or grief.  You could say, “Cease that dolorous howling!” and the howling could either be full of misery or be causing you misery or both.  Now dolorous comes from the Latin word dolor, meaning pain.

This is such a cheerful subject (not) that I thought I’d look for some poetic reference.  Here’s one from a poet named Swinburne:

There lived a singer in France of old

By the tideless dolorous midland sea.

In a land of sand and ruin and gold

There shone one woman, and none but she.

Can’t you just imagine that sea, gray and flat under a lowering sky?  Causing grief and pain?  I wonder what kinds of mournful song that one shining woman sang?  Was it enough to make people stop feeling lachrymose?


Gawp, gawk, and gape

Here’s a funny collection: three words that mean almost exactly the same thing.  The words are gawp, gawk, and gape.  All three of them mean to stare stupidly with your mouth hanging open.  There are slight differences, in my opinion.  To me, gawp definitely sounds the stupidest. You can’t really expect a snappy reply from someone who gawps at what you say. 

Gawk sound the most like something a crow would say.  But then you have gawkers, like people slowing way down to look at an accident as they pass.  I would say gawking has a hint of staring at something that is really none of your business.

Gape, to me, sounds slightly more proper than the other two.  I feel as if an author would be more likely to write gape than gawp, at least in a book for grownups.  Also, things that don’t have mouths can gape, as in, “The canyon gaped in front of them,” or, “The car trunk gaped open, and the secret briefcase was gone.”