October 26, 2011

Holmesian Words Wednesday

It's time for another installment of amazing words, and this week, all my words came from the Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Nobody beats Holmes for a delicious turn of phrase, and no genre can defeat the Victorian mystery when it comes to delectable words that have fallen into disuse, and are ripe for reviving.  Let's see if we can bring a few of them back from the dead (although I'm more than happy to let the racist ones remain forgotten).

-retort--Yeah, I know; you already know this one in both verb and noun forms.  But do you know it as that thing in the picture?! Clearly, the word retort leads a whole double life that many people these days know nothing about unless they're chemists.  (Sorry, it was just WAY simpler to show you the picture than to try to verbally concoct some kind of image of this in your minds.)

-carboy--Also known as a demijohn, the carboy is that bottle you've sometimes seen in old movies that seems to have a butt made of wicker.  The basketry into which the carboy is permanently nestled helps keep the corrosive liquid in the bottle from escaping.  (Don't ask me how; for something considered "corrosive," I'd prefer a couple of inches of good, solid steel, but what do I know.)

-lath--According to Wikipedia, this is "a thin, narrow strip of wood...or...metal."  It's used inside the walls of houses as a building material.

-slatternly--Good old English.  Why have only ONE word when you can also give that word five synonyms?  Slatternly is slovenly by any other name.

-wharfinger--"[A]rchaic term for a person who is the keeper or owner of a wharf," (again so sayeth Wikipedia).  Makes sense.  Sort of.

-Feringhee--OKAY, Star Trek fans, shall we all say this together, or pretend we don't notice?  "Feringhee?!  Ferengi!!"  Personally, I find it impossible that this could be just a coincidence, but either way, long before Gene Roddenberry was born, the Hindi word for "foreigner" was Feringhee, probably a derivative originally referring to the French.

-sepoy--An indigenous soldier who served under British officers--or the officers of some other imperialist power--in an Indian regiment.  Apparently, it comes from the Persian word for "army".

That's my bundle of useless information for the day.  Happy word spelunking!

Photo by Dave Bunnell


  1. AHA! That's too funny. I have Ferengi today! I didn't know the Hindi derivation though. I only recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles, and made a great WW post from it of course. I'd completely forgotten about the chemistry sort of retort- all those years in high school and at uni. I think slatternly has even more of a sexual connotation, than just slovenly.

  2. Oh my gosh, someone else has Ferengi up today, but it's the Star Trek word. Either way, it's new to me. I find retort very fascinating - who knew it had a whole other meaning?

  3. Ha! I totally thought to myself, "Is that pronounced like . . . naaaah . . . stop being a geek, Satia, and just read."

    You made me smile.

  4. a lot of new words today, interesting.

  5. Those are great words! I knew most of them (an old Sherlock Holmes fan here), but it's a great selection.


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