Word Wednesday.



1: biting and caustic in thought, manner, or style: incisive.

2: acting as a mordant.

3: burning, pungent.

-mordantly, adverb.

[Origin: Middle French, present participle of mordre to bite, from Latin mordēre; perhaps akin to Sanskrit m dnāti he presses, rubs.]

(15th Century)

Mordant, noun:

1: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound.

2: a corroding substance used in etching.


Mordant, transitive verb: to treat with a mordant.


“Neither of us was pleased to leave Bancroft behind. There was always a chance that he might decide he’d recovered sufficiently to be interviewed while our backs were turned. Maitland, of course, didn’t have an evening with Maeve as consolation, and he was mordant company all the way back to the nick.” – The Reckoning, Jane Casey.

The Medieval Method of Cooking Octopus.

Grilled octopus – photo by Alpha / Flickr.

Grilled octopus – photo by Alpha / Flickr.

“This is a vile fish of no value; therefore cook it the way you want.” ~ Liber de Coquina, a 14th century cookbook.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m a fan of octopuses, when they are alive. I don’t care for them in the least when dead, regardless of the cooking method.

Platina’s Right Pleasure and Good Health, a 15th-century work from Italy, offers these thoughts:

On octopus – The polypus has been named because it has many feet. It uses its gills as feet and hands, and its tail, which is two-pronged and is pointed, while mating. They are very pleased with smell, and they eat the flesh of shellfish. They carry everything into their house and then separate the shells from the red meat. It hunts the small fish which are swimming near the shells. You season a cooked octopus with pepper and asafetida.

Platina also has this to add: Whatever way you cook it, you will say it is bad. Doesn’t seem to much point with such a conclusion.

Meanwhile, The Book of Sent Sovi, a 14th-century Catalan text, gives this recipe:

To Stuff Octopus – If you want to stuff octopus or squid, take the octopus and wash it well, boil it, cut off the arms, and take out what is inside. Chop the arms all together with parsley, mint, marjoram and other good herbs. You can chop another kind of fish if the tentacles are not enough. Put in the best spices that you can find. Make sure that the octopus is cleaned well. Put in the stuffing, and put in raisins and scalded garlic and fried onion. Then make almond milk with the broth that has boiled the fish, and put it in a bowl or a casserole together with the octopus; in the milk you can put a little verjuice and good spices, the best you might have, and oil. You can cook it in the oven or on iron trivet with live coals beneath.

If you’re just dying for medieval cooked octopus, that sounds like an interesting recipe to work out.

Via Medievalists.

In exciting news, the Newberry has opened up access to 1.7 million historical images!

The Newberry has announced a major revision to its policy regarding the re-use of collection images: images derived from collection items are now available to anyone for any lawful purpose, whether commercial or non-commercial, without licensing or permission fees to the library.

You can read much more here.

Medieval Courses Online.

There is now a unique range of medieval and Tudor courses which can be downloaded or followed online, complete with the full text from www.medievalcourses.com – once registered students have unlimited access to study at their own pace, and can complete online quizzes at the end of each module. The courses are professionally produced in thirty minute lessons and include up to 11 hours of teaching, plus bonus materials, reading lists and links to other resources. The tutors are all established experts in their field.

The courses are all very reasonably priced. You can read much more, including a summary of the offered courses here.

Word Wednesday.

Penumbra / Brio / Multifarious / Inexorable

Penumbra, noun. Plural -brae.

1 a: a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light. b: a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot.

2: a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree: fringe.

3: a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution.

4: something that covers, surrounds, or obscures: shroud.

-Penumbral, adjective.

[Origin: New Latin, from Latin paene almost + umbra shadow.]


The allure and glamour of radical surgery overshadowed crucial developments in less radical surgical procedures for cancer that were evolving in its penumbra.

Brio, noun.

1: enthusiastic vigor: vivacity, verve.

[Origin: Italian.]


Yet, even lacking such targets, Frei and Freireich had cured leukemia in some children. Even generic cellular poisons, dosed with adequate brio, could thus eventually obliterate cancer.

Multifarious, adjective.

1: having or occurring in great variety: diverse.

-multifariousness, noun.

[Origin: Medieval Latin multifarius, from Latin multifariam in many places.]


The biological characteristics of tumors were described as so multifarious as to defy any credible organization. There seemed to be no organizing rules.

Inexorable, adjective.

1: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped: relentless.

-inexorability, noun.

-inexorableness, noun.

-inexorably, adverb.

[Origin: Latin inexorabilis, from in– + exorabilis pliant, from exorare to prevail upon, from ex– + orare to speak.]


For an oncologist in training, too, leukemia represents a special incarnation of cancer. Its pace, its acuity, its breathtaking, inexorable arc of growth forces rapid, often drastic decisions; it is terrifying to experience, terrifying to observe, and terrifying to treat.

All quotations from The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Word Wednesday.

Miscreant / Concatenation / Onomastic

Miscreant, adjective:

1: Unbelieving, heretical.

2: Depraved, villainous.

²Miscreant, noun:

1: Infidel, Heretic.

2: One who behaves criminally or viciously.

[Origin: Middle English miscreaunt, from Anglo-French mescreant, present participle of mescreire to disbelieve, from mes + creire to believe, from Latin credere.]

(14th Century)

Concatenate, adjective: linked together.

Transitive verb -nated; -nating: to link together in a series or chain.

-Concatenation, noun.

[Origin: Middle English, from Late Latin concatenatus, past participle of concatenare to link together, from Latin con- + catena chain.]

(15th Century)

Onomastic, adjective: of, relating to, or consisting of a name or names.

-onomastically, adverb.

[Origin: Greek onomastikos, from onomazein to name, from onoma name.]


Miscreant & Concatenation:

“It hadn’t surprised him one bit. Joss had always known that objects large and small have secret, vicious lives of their own. He could perhaps make an exception for pieces of fishing tackle that had never taken him on in the living memory of the Brittany fleet; but otherwise the world of things was manifestly focused on making man’s life sheer misery. The merest slip of a hand can give a supposedly inanimate object enough freedom of movement to set off a chain of catastrophes which may peak at any point on the Murphy Scale, from “Damn Nuisance” to “Bloody Tragedy.” Corks provide a simple illustration of the basic pattern, viz. a wine cork dropped from the table never rolls back to nestle at the boot of whoever let it slip. Oh no, its evil mind always elects to reside behind the stove, like a spider looking for inaccessible sanctuary. The errant cork thus plunges its hereditary hunter, Humankind, into a trial of strength. He has to move the stove and the gas connection out of the wall; he bends down to seize the miscreant bung and a pot falls off the hob and scalds his head. But this morning’s case arose from a more complex concatenation. It had begun with the tiniest error in Joss’s calculation of the trajectory required to toss a used coffee filter paper into the trash. It landed just off target; the flip-top lurched sideways then swung back and scattered wet coffee grounds all around the kitchen floor. Thus do Things transform justified resentment of their human slavemasters into outright revolt; thus do they force men, women and children, in brief but acutely significant bursts, to squirm and scamper like dogs.” – Have Mercy On Us All, Fred Vargas.

[I have suffered the morning wet coffee grounds splat. It’s a bad day.]


“The call to lunch took the form of Bertin’s fist hitting a large brass plate hanging over the counter. Bertin banged his gong twice a day, for lunch and for dinner, and the effect of the thunder-roll was to make all the pigeons in the square flap their wings and take off all at once, while the hungry, in a parallel but inverse movement, flocked into the Viking. Bertin’s gesture effectively reminded people that it was time to eat, but it was also an allusion to his own fearful ascendancy, which was supposed to be common knowledge. For Bertin’s mother’s maiden name was Toutin, which made the barman, by onomastic filiation, a direct descendant of Thor.” – Have Mercy On Us All, Fred Vargas.

Word Wednesday.


Adjective, chiefly British.

Drab, Dusky.

[Origin: Latin subfuscus brownish, dusky, from sub– + fuscus dark brown.]


“Phelan straightened in the pew, then relaxed his spine against the seat’s backrest. He noticed that the church was growing darker around him, the shadows more subfusc. – The Ghosts of Sleath, James Herbert.

Word Wednesday.



1: overtaken by darkness or night.

2: existing in a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness: unenlightened.

-benightedly, adverb.

-benightedness, noun.

(15th Century).

“Yes, she did sing,” he said, “but only as a stand-in, an understudy, a second-best, and she couldn’t bear it, she needed her big break. She was mortally jealous of Sophia. So she pushed her luck, she got her poor benighted brother to attack Sophia, so that she would be able to take her place on stage, a simple idea.” – The Three Evangelists, Fred Vargas.

Word Wednesday.



A woman who is a sutler.*

[Origin: French, feminine of vivandier sutler, from Old French, hospitable man, alteration of viandier, from viande, viaunde item of food.]


*Sutler, noun: a civilian provisioner to an army post often with a shop on the post.

[Origin: obsolete Dutch soeteler, from Low German suteler sloppy worker, camp cook.]


“Agnes turned to the gray-haired woman who was limping toward her. Despite her fifty years, and her slightly stooped gait, Mother Barbara still cut an impressive figure. Her eyes were bright as those of a girl of twenty, and she combed her ample, should-length hair every morning. She had once been the most beautiful whore in the baggage train, but then an intoxicated landsknecht had broken both her legs in a fight, and now she earned her living as a vivandière.” The Castle of Kings, Oliver Pötzsch.

¹ You can read more about vivandières and Cantinières here, and it’s fascinating reading.

Word Wednesday.

Vixen / Gambol / Blithe

Vixen, noun.

1: a shrewish ill-tempered woman.

2: a female fox.

3: a sexually attractive woman.

-vixenish, adjective.

[Origin: Middle English (Southern dialect) *vixen, alteration of Middle English fixen, from Old English fyxe, feminine of fox.]


“The Fox was just that, a monstrous fox: five hundredweight or more of tense power, quick as an arrow, straight as a javelin, bright as a new-polished sword-blade, and female as Eve; Hob could see immediately that it was a vixen. Tall and deadly and graceful: the Goddess of the Foxes.”

Gambol, intransitive verb -boled or -bolled; -boling or -bolling. To skip about in play, to frisk, frolic.

Gambol, noun: a skipping or leaping about in play.

[Origin: modification of Middle French gambade spring of a horse, gambol, probably from Old Occitan camba leg, from Late Latin.]


“Through Hob’s frozen terror a thought came faintly to him: it was gamboling, it was playing at slaughter.”

Blithe, adjective.

1: of a happy lighthearted character or disposition.

2: lacking due thought or consideration: casual, heedless: blithe unconcern.

-blithely, adverb.

[Origin: Middle English, from Old English blīthe; akin to Old High German Blīdi joyous.]

(Before 12th Century)

“The Fox sprang from place to place, blithe as a new lamb, and each leap left a mortally wounded man behind. Now and again it would pause to survey its accomplishments, and then the crimson tongue would loll out over serried teeth, and Hob felt that it was laughing.”

All from Something Red, by Douglas Nicholas.

Word Wednesday.

Scapegrace / Lucubrations / Odium

Scapegrace, noun: an incorrigible rascal; a habitually unscrupulous person; a complete rogue.


“In 1890 and 1891, the scapegrace Walter James Chadwick lived in Hulme, Manchester.”

Lucubration, noun: laborious or intensive study; also: the product of such study, usually used in the plural.

[Origin: Latin lucubration-, lucubratio study by night, work produced at night, from lucubrare to work by lamplight; akin to Latin luc-, lux.]

“There were some initial police lucubrations that it might not be a case of murder at all, since the drunk Annie Yates might have slipped and struck her head against the furniture; when she wanted to bandage her wound with the towel, she had passed out, and been suffocated by the towel slipping over her nose and mouth.”


Odium, noun.

1: the state or fact of being subjected to hatred and contempt as a result of a despicable act or blameworthy circumstance.

2: hatred and condemnation accompanied by loathing or contempt: detestation.

3: disrepute or infamy attached to something: opprobrium.

[Origin: Latin, hatred, from odisse to hate; akin to Old English atol terrible, Greek odyssasthai to be angry.]


“Two professional translators were employed to prepare French and German versions of the police placard, for insertion in the main newspapers of those countries; there was odium when the German version was found to contain a long list of linguistic lapses, and Dr. Althschul, the professional translator, had to submit a ten-page memorandum in his defence, saying that it was all just jealousy from colleagues who envied his position.”

All from Rivals of the Ripper: Unsolved Murders of Women in Late Victorian London, Jan Bondeson.

Word Wednesday.

We have two words today, because they are both from the same book, and I did not wish to choose between them.

Salubrious / Obliquity

Salubrious, adjective: favourable to or promoting health or well-being.

-salubriously, adverb.

-salubriousness, noun.

-salubrity, noun.

[Origin: Latin salubris; akin to salvus safe, healthy.]


“Bloomsbury to the north and Soho to the west were far from salubrious parts of London, but St. Giles’s remained one of the worst blackspots on the London map until the 1890s.” – Rivals of the Ripper: Unsolved Murders of Women in Late Victorian London, Jan Bondeson.

Obliquity, noun, plural -ties.

1: deviation from moral rectitude or sound thinking.

2a: deviation from parallelism or perpendicularity; also: the amount of such a deviation. b: the angle between the planes of the earth’s equator and orbit having a value of about 23°27′.

3a: indirectness or deliberate obscurity of speech or conduct. b: an obscure or confusing statement.

[Origin: Middle French obliquité from Latin obliquitatem slanting direction, obliquity.]

(15th Century)

“The Era newspaper blamed the police for their hounding of Smith and insisted that ‘the mental obliquity and professional incapacity displayed by the police in getting up the case against Smith, for the Cannon Street murder, shows more than ever the absolute necessity that exists for the establishment of a public prosecutor’. – Rivals of the Ripper: Unsolved Murders of Women in Late Victorian London, Jan Bondeson.

These two words definitely do not belong together, but I love the way they sound together: Salubrious Obliquity.

Word Wednesday.



Marked by an impassive matter-of-fact manner, style, or expression.

-deadpan, adverb.

(C 1928)


1: a completely expressionless face.

2: a deadpan manner of behaviour or presentation.

(C 1930)

Transitive Verb.

To express in a deadpan manner.

-deadpanner, noun.

(C 1942)

“Cold enough,” Tristan hazarded, “to form a Bose-Einstein condensate?” “I love it when you talk dirty,” Oda said, so perfectly deadpan that I did a double take.” – The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland.

Word Wednesday.



1: contrary to or different from an acknowledged standard, a traditional form, or an established religion: Unorthodox, Unconventional <heterodox ideas>

2: holding unorthodox opinions or doctrines.

[Origin: Late Latin heterodoxus, from Greek heterodoxos, from heter– + doxa opinion.]


“A verifiable fallen academic (from the American University and Tufts, among others), Marston had a gift for dressing sensationally vulgar ideas in pseudo-intellectual jargon, and he exploited it for a few years in Hollywood, advising the studios on how to maneuver around the Hays Office censors and sneak sex in films through symbolism and coded language. Relocated to New York and the publishing industry, he hustled pseudoscience and heterodox titillation through comics and popular magazines (in bylined articles, interviews, and the advertisements for Gillette Razor Blades). – The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hadju.

Word Wednesday.



1 a: an outline, feature, or contour of a body or figure and especially of a face – usually used in plural. b: a linear topographic feature (as of the earth) that reveals a characteristic (as a fault or the subsurface structure).

2: a distinguishing or characteristic feature – usually used in plural.

– lineamental, adjective.

[Origin: Middle English, from Latin lineamentum, from lineare to draw a line, from linea.]

(15th C.)

“To open the female body was not just to embark upon a voyage of scientific discovery, but it was also to trace the lineaments of the rebellious nature of womankind. That rebellious nature could undermine the smooth transfer of material goods from one generation to the next, just as, in the garden of Eden, it had seemed to undermine the divine plan itself. Every female body which found its way into the anatomy theatre was, therefore, a potential second Eve, just as every male body was a potential second Adam. To be an Eve, however, was very different from being an Adam within the patriarchal structure of early-modern culture. If the Renaissance anatomy theatre, in its modes of ritual and representation, offered the suggestion of redemption to the male cadaver, what it offered to the female was the reverse: a demonstration of Eve’s sin, a reinforcement of those structures of patriarchal control which, so the argument ran, were necessary to avoid a repetition of that first act of rebellion in the garden of Paradise.” – The Body Emblazoned, Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture, Jonathan Sawday.

Note: This book is still available, and considerably less expensive than back when it was first published. Recommended, it’s a fascinating read all the way through.