Samples of the gems which glitter and await the reader inside Bill Casselman’s Word Stash:
Ever helpful, I offer readers handy tips not just about words but about living. In a chapter on avoiding tired weather words, I write “Likewise disdained in weather response is understatement. When a small child is blown away down the block towards an operating hay-baling machine, don’t say, “Looks like the breeze has freshened.” On the contrary, scream and run madly to retrieve the aerial infant.
But, during weather commentaries, overstatement may also be scorned. At the onset of a thunder-clap which sends a pet dachshund under grandmother’s shawl, do not leap on the barbeque canopy and shout, “Action stations!”
What was my aim in writing this collection of short essays about language? In each chapter I tried to select one word not merely rare, but a choice vocable that is in fact le mot recherché, a term uncommon to the point of pretentiousness. Email response reveals that readers of my work want to expand their vocabularies. So why else am I here, if not to foist upon innocent readers the most obscure word-mosses scraped from oblivion’s grotto?
With that modest caution then, I invite readers to press onward, toward the broad, sunlit uplands of enlightenment, where new words dwell.
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Moxibustion, effleurage, lomi lomi, petrissage, tapotement & other massage terms
I had the jittery heebie-jeebies. In a state of tremulous discomfiture did I enter Madame Bijou's Parlour of Flesh Rearrangement. Although the saucy name in neon "FLESH!" promised nubile nymphets (aka jailbait) dancing to "Santeria" while clad in skimpy thongs and carnal indulgence unknown since Belshazzar's Feast, all I sought was surcease from pain between my shoulder blades.
As at the famous Babylonian orgy, ominously there suddenly appeared "the writing on the wall." It was a spa sign that warned: "Persons touching the masseuse in any way deemed inappropriate shall have the offending hand amputated by the scimitar of Abdullah, our staff eunuch." I murmured a compliant eek! and with unmanly haste locked my iron chastity jockstrap.
No, I told a friend, my upper back pain is not due to a Bowie knife embedded in a medioscapular locus by a co-worker — in other words, no shiv in my back. Several other co-workers had sworn up and down, nay averred, that several of Madame Bijou's clientele had risen from her massage table able to walk and — yes! — still capable of extracting one-hundred dollar bills from their wallets.
Forthwith a blizzard of massage terms utterly new to me perplexed my ears. Procedures like effleurage, lomi lomi, moxibustion, petrissage and tui na entered my habitually paranoid consciousness. It was as if someone had said Tomas de Torquemada, founder of the Spanish Inquisition, is dropping by the house tonight to correct a few minor office errors.
True, most massage terms are in plain English and easily understood: the Swedish Skull-Hammer Cure, the Aztec Brain Cleaner (involves a live condor and nitric acid) and VTIT or Viking Testicular Interchange Therapy. Those did not worry me. After the unfamiliar massage terms were explained, I thought it only kind to share them with any badly kneaded readers. For no more benevolent hermeneut exists than I. Chief of interpreters, that's me.
In Swedish massage, tapotement is quick rhythmic tapping with the edge of the hand, a cupped hand or the tips of the fingers. It is sometimes called finger percussion, but that always sounds to me like a misadventure which might befall one while strapped to the iron bed of that ancient Greek thug blacksmith, Procrustes.
There are several types of tapotement including Beating, Hacking, Tapping (use just fingertips) and Cupping. Tapotement serves to awaken a somnolent nervous system, for example: releasing lymphatic build up in the back by gently tapping the shoulder of the client. Even in traditional medical procedures, tapotement is used on the chest wall of patients with bronchitis to help loosen the mucus in their air passages. In relaxation and maintenance massage, tapotement improves the tissue tone and vasodilates capillaries, thus improving blood flow to remotest cells.
The name of the stroke is taken from the French abstract noun drawn from the common verb tapoter 'to drum the fingers rapidly, to tap.'
This is a gliding, stroking movement in massage, mostly over the spine and back, often to warm up muscles before deeper massage techniques are employed, usually at the start and at the end of facial or body massage. Fingertip effleurage of the abdomen is a technique used in the Lamaze method of natural childbirth. Effleurage is also a common mode of spreading oil on bodies to be massaged. Glides are in the direction of the heart which helps push the flow of blood and lymph. Effleurage was developed to affect the skin and superficial muscles.
The French verb effleurer in its prime meaning is to 'remove the flower of something,' from French la fleur 'the flower.' But, quite early, a developed sense arose, namely 'to skim the surface' hence to stroke the skin lightly, gently.
This is kneading body muscles as if one were making dough. The masseur or masseuse rolls, squeezes and presses the muscles to improve deep circulation. Petrissage acts by forcing venous blood onward and bringing freshly oxygenated blood to depleted tissues. Toxins lingering in neural and muscle tissue may be partially eliminated too.
Le petrissage is the noun from the older French verb petrir. It first appears in thirteenth-century documents as Old French pestrir 'to knead dough in baking,' borrowed from Late Latin pistrire, itself based on Latin pinsere 'to pulverize, to grind grain.' Among cognates of the Latin verb are Greek ptissein 'to crush spices or drugs with a pestle in a mortar.' Classical Latin borrowed ptisana 'barley with the outer covering pounded off, pearl barley, barley water.' Indo-European cognates include Sanskrit pinasti 'he crushes' and Avestan pixati 'it bumps into, it bangs.'
(Chinese, literally 'Push-Pull')
This Chinese massage technique follows the theory of qi (chi), life energy flowing through tendons and meridians of the body and able to be redirected therapeutically.
Lomi lomi is an ancient Hawaiian healing massage during which kukui nut, macadamia nut and coconut oils are used as lubricants and nutritional moisturizers. The hands-on manipulations are similar to Japanese shiatsu. Before a procedure begins, the client is allowed one phone call home to a loved one or to a lawyer empowered to draw up a last will and testament.
Like many Polynesian forms, Hawaiian lomi-lomi is a noun formed by a doubled verb stem, in this case a reduplication of lomi 'to rub with the hand,' so that its prime sense is frequentative, 'a great deal of hand-rubbing.' The ancient Polynesian etymon is lima 'hand.' My masseuse of choice would be Uma Thurman and my cry would be "Uma. Uma. Uma. Come to my rooma, rooma, rooma."
(Chinese pinyin: ji U or Japanese Moxa)
In this little skin roast, a glowing moxa stick is used to warm certain acupoints before they are massaged. Moxa is a dried preparation of the herb mugwort, long used in oriental medicine for a variety of menstrual problems. It claims to stimulate blood circulation and speed recovery of many bodily ills.
Now, with that subluxation of my third interior chakra safely returned to my chief spiritual center, namely my kneecap, I feel I can hobble forth to meet anew a brutal world.
A reader emails me to ask if I truly believe in these procedures. Let me put it this way: if you are one who, of a night, leaves out on your bed stand a thimble full of petunia nectar for the tooth fairy, then by all means avail thy cramped musculature of these massage benefits.
Spa: it's Etymology
Spa is a town in Belgium in the province of Liege, famed for centuries because of the curative delights of its mineral springs. European and middle-eastern peoples have known for millennia the benefits of soaking in hot mineral waters. The place name Spa was taken from the Walloon word for fountain or spring, espa.
Walloon is a dialect of the language of the people of Wallonia in southern Belgium. Perhaps even the Romans heard the correct Walloon word or an early equivalent, because ancient Rome knew the place as a location to "take the waters." The Latin place name of Spa was Aquae Spadanae. As for the practice of therapeutic bathing, even the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE) wrote about the curative properties of thermal springs and the effects of hot and cold baths on the human body.
At first The Spa was specific to the Belgian place, then any medicinal spring came to be called a spa. Soon spa named a place or building where balneotherapy was practised (Latin balneum 'bath'). Balneotherapy often involves hot and cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation and muscular stimulation. If that sounds like sex, you had a deprived adolescence.
Mineral waters abound at spas with their underground springs rich in such ingredients as silica, sulfur and selenium. In some bubbling thermal springs dense particulates predominate to produce warm clay and mud. Healing through mud baths is known as fangotherapy, from Italian il fango 'mud, dirt.'
Spa's Newest Meaning
In the United States, the sense of the word became generalized. A U. S. commercial establishment offering health and beauty treatment through steam baths, exercise equipment and exotic massages may not even have spring waters but still advertises itself as a spa.
Scientists now state that having sex twice-a-week improves your immune system's ability to fight infections. As I told my doctor, I have one problem with that. I can't get rid of this runny nose.
Odd Laughter Words
I spend the summer mostly at the sea. Perhaps a more forthright confession might be: I spend the summer mostly at sea. For it is during the estival season of the rolling year that I read my neglected, confusing or incomprehensible email and am often found giggling in helpless merriment beside a decanter of port placed on my computer desk by Medea, the new maid we've hired to look after the children.
Estival, by the way, is a fancy word meaning 'occurring during the summer.' It rhymes with festival. To hibernate is to pass the winter in a state of torpor. But there are some creatures, including some humans, who pass the entire summer in a state of torpor and they are said to estivate.
But giggling does not seem a manly mode of laughter. Needing to find more bounteous laughing words, nouns and verbs roistering in a guffaw-flung orbit of buoyant exuberance, I set forth among my foxed tomes and leathered volumes in search of synonyms for jollity and mirth. In obedience to my gentle nature, I was not seeking phrases forecasting splanchnic rupture as in "I busted a gut, laughing."
Splanchnic (SPLANK-nick) is a neat medical word referring to the internal organs of the abdomen.
Down through glum eons of word-making, stern coiners of English, the sad, bearded compilers of dictionaries, have had, in general, little use for laughter or its synonyms. Not really British, don't you know?
No jesting Pilate I, to ask Jesus, "What is truth?" I'm just a laugher, not a philosopher. Although the pickings were leaner than bacon bits after a hungry pork-eating convention, I did uncover a few delights and herewith present them in my usual, becoming stoop of modesty.
Chortling I Shall Go
Among the scant but merry verbs and happy nouns, chortling has a pleasing sonic rotundity. It was invented by a famous writer. The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) coined the verb to chortle as a blend of chuckle and snort. There is no dampening, namby-pamby snigger in a chortle. It's the explosive way a bold stud might laugh.
The Rev. was better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, who came up with the happy mixture in one of his greatest nonsense poems "Jabberwocky," found in the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, namely in Through the Looking-Glass. Carroll is notable as a dexterous wizard of word play.
Some early dandy philologists decided to call such terms "portmanteau words," because, like the Victorian suitcase of yore used to transport greatcoats and over-garments, they "ported" several "manteaux" of different words. Har-dee-har-har. This overly cute label has mercifully declined in use.
Boffo may mean 'a hearty laugh,' although its use in showbiz was first as an adjective. A boffo sight gag in vaudeville was one that brought a good laugh from a live audience. From Italian buffo 'comical, burlesque' a boffo is still an unrestrained laugh of boisterous uproar. It is likely the Italian adjective chuckled into English from opera, where one of the modes of operatic composition is still referred to as opera buffa 'comic opera.' The word's extension boffola may also be used as an adjective and a noun.
"Place one exceedingly rare word in each chapter" is a request of many of my readers. So here it is, this one a medical adjective. A hypothalamic hamartoma is a rare benign tumor located at the base of the brain in an area called the hypothalamus. One of the tumour's symptoms in young people may be various forms of epilepsy. One of these is gelastic seizure, during which inappropriate laughter results. Gelastic 'causing laughter, serving the function of laughter' was borrowed from Greek gelastikos 'pertaining to laughter' from Greek gelan 'to laugh.' English derivatives are not common but the root was active in classical Greek. Consider the standard ancient Greek word for clown gelotopoiós literally 'laughter-maker' as used by a writer like the Attic historian Xenophon (circa 430–354 BC).
Howls of horselaughs, even volleyed peals of snorts by yockmeisters and yucksters, are macho too. But titters and sniggers are not, teeny chirpings with a hand held over the offending mouth. It must be covered due to its guilty crime of expressing human enjoyment.
The sour-jowled shushers of laughter always remind me of H.L Mencken's excellent definition of a puritan, either religious or secular. The sage of Baltimore wrote that "a puritan is someone with the haunting fear that somebody else, somewhere, might be enjoying themselves."
When a person states, "This is no laughing matter," look into their constipated fist of a face and you will determine that very little in their burdensome passage here on earth has brought forth mirth. These doleful, bovine drones have instead endured most of life chewing the bitter cud of rancour. Then let them! May frowns rot their brows; may interior fury consume their innards; may their twisted faces make children scream. May they gag on bile.
Of a summer evening I shall be sitting on the back porch with friends, sipping some pleasant, unpretentious French picnic wine, say a Pouilly-Fuisse, and laughing with the laughers, in the bliss of a mirthquake.
"Bad Child!" Synonyms and Phrases
English speakers may no longer use negative words to describe the odious spawn of bad parents. Children must never be labelled as bad. Politically correct language cops have decreed it shall be so. For all children, angelic vessels of earthly purity and moral innocence, are saintly in speech and manner. There are no ankle-biters, guttersnipes, enfants terribles, rascals, scamps or imps. And jackanapes is a long retired insult to unruly rug rats.
But what a lie! Childhood abounds in nasty little whippersnappers.
Yet a fascist onslaught of educational facilitators, child experts and gooey-brained teachers have banished to invisibility's cloakroom any blunt put-down of an unsaintly child. Barbs, slurs, taunts, zings and jibes are now anathema, barred from speech or print. How flabby corrective invective has become, withering away, smothered under the pillow of school-marmish apprehensiveness by "child experts."
To remedy this namby-pamby, tit-suck reluctance to name, indeed to brand bad children, I now and then unearth an apt imprecation, a fitting malediction about wee ones, necessary to be revived in this age of cradled infants telling adults to "screw off." True story! This one exists on a hard disk somewhere: a pleasant woman reporter gently parts the swaddling clothes of one little "Jesus" in his crib, only to be met by the little cherub's lips exploding in a bombardment of f-bombs.
This column is merely to pass on to readers a recent gem which appeared in an article about cursing on the rise among youngsters. I love this sentence about not recognizing little ones who swear and from whom f-bombs burst like moist, glistery mushrooms after a tepid rain: "And if everyone swears, why teach a child that it's forbidden? But you can't exactly just high-five the sailor-mouthed tot and send her back to kindergarten, either." The author is Josh Lambert, in a book review he wrote for The New York Times September 26, 2016. Josh Lambert is academic director of the Yiddish Book Center and the author of Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture.
Thus ever to potty-mouths!
Excerpted from "Word Stash"
Copyright © 2017 William Gordon Casselman.
Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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