Tag Archives: Silas


This morning I was returning from my daily walk in the woods when I heard the distinct call of “Gardyloo” from the house. Naturally, I immediately took cover behind a tree and waited. It appears that Silas was merely tossing a hatful of ladybugs out the window towards the garden.

Gardyloo is an interjection meaning look out. It’s a warning cry that was specifically made popular by the Scottish in Edinburgh to warn pedestrians of slop water being thrown out of windows. If one was traversing the sidewalks of Edinburgh and heard from above “Gardyloo“, one would wisely move away from the potential trajectory of chamber pot refuse and what not raining down upon them.

It is believed that the word originates from the French garde à l’eau which means beware of water.

The word was still notably in use in the 1930s and 40s, when indoor plumbing was still not city-wide. Nowadays, gardyloo is often used as a general cry of warning, a “watch out” or “mind your head” type of holler.

In my house, it can mean so many things, so it behooves one to heed the cry and take cover. Today was ladybugs. Tomorrow could be something not nearly as sweet.

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Imagine my surprise this morning when I discovered that, once again, Mordecai has left mysteriously in the night.

That is sarcasm, oddlings. Mordecai is nothing if not consistent in his disappearances.

He and Charles have flown the coop and I can’t help but wonder what dastardly deed he perpetrated this time. He never leaves in the dead of night without good reason. There was the time he angered the minotaur my Uncle kept in the garden. There was the time he caused my Cousin Cate’s house to collapse into a sinkhole. So, naturally, I have not exhaled with relief, I am tiptoeing about the house wondering if it’s been lined with arcane explosives or if a poisonous strain of beetles is loose in the walls.

He did leave, perplexingly enough, a minikin mewling at the foot of the stairs. I’ve checked it’s teeth, and while they are sharp and numerous, they are also small. It is curled at my feet right now, in fact, snoring quietly as it naps in a boot.

A minikin is a small and dainty (and delicate) creature. Used as an adjective, minikin means diminutive or dainty. Some people will tell you that minikin also can mean a fine, mincing lass. Those people wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

The word comes from the Dutch minneken for darling, in turn from the Middle Dutch diminutive of minne for love. It is akin to the Old English word gemynd for mind, memory. Minneken is obsolete, and, some might argue, so is minikin.

The creature at my feet might be obsolete, but it is very real indeed. The day will be spent getting to know one another, I suppose, while Silas prepares pies for the Thanksgiving dinner we shall host tomorrow in the garden. I’m assuming this minikin will eat the food. I’m assuming it won’t become manic in the face of guests, a dinner table, or the garden. I’m assuming a lot today. I might break into that nice new bottle of Ruby Port sooner than Silas had hoped.

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Mordecai and I spent yesterday replacing some of the roof shingles above the Vivarium. We were so very lucky when it came to Superstorm Sandy – the house sustained very little damage and the grotto only collapsed a little bit. A number of shingles came disappeared in the storm, and I am relieved we repaired the roof before this new winter storm. Athena (a formidable winter storm name) has brought strong winds and snow to Brooklyn, and I am happy to be inside my dry house with a glass of port.

Mordecai whipped up a huge batch of his home-made super glue for the roof repairs. We can’t seem to find the nail guns, so we used our old hammers and hand-tooled nails from Silas’s stash. (Don’t ask why Silas has a stash of hand-tooled nails. It’s best you don’t know.) Mordecai’s glue contained, naturally, isinglass.

Isinglass (noun) is a transparent gelatin made from the bladder of certain fish (often sturgeon) and used to make glue or a clarifying agent. Isinglass can also refer to the thin, transparent sheets of mica used in wood- and coal-burning stove door windows.

Isinglass probably originates in the folk etymology. From the obsolete Dutch huizenblas, which is from the Middle Dutch huusblase, from huus for sturgeon plus blase for bladder.

The first known usage of the word was in 1535, and my family has been making Isinglass as far back as there are family journals. In fact, one of my great great great great grandfathers was named Isinglass. Rumor has it that he has a bit of a kleptomania problem, giving new meaning to the term “sticky fingers”.


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I woke this morning to a loud crunching in my bedroom. I opened first one eye and then the other, slowly and warily I must add, because in this house, you really never know what is behind a sound.

It was Bubo, naturally, snacking on a grasshopper. Where she got a grasshopper in Brooklyn I don’t know, but she was happily munching on the poor creature. To be honest, the sound made me hungry for extra crispy bacon, so Silas is cooking a large spread for the humans in the house.

Bubo’s morning snack brings me to today’s word.

A hopperdozer is a device for catching and destroying insects (specifically grasshoppers). It consists of a high-backed sheet of metal with an iron tray attached that is dragged (on sled runners or wheels) through grass and fields containing grasshoppers. The grasshoppers jump up and then hit the high back, then they fall into the tray which is filled with kerosene or a poison that kills them.

An agricultural term, hopperdozer most likely is derived from hopper for grasshopper and doze or dose for dosing the bugs with poison. This etymology is, of course, inexact. A largely obsolete tool, the hopperdozer no longer enjoys infamy in the fields.

It is incredibly fun to say, however. Unless you’re a grasshopper. Then it must be terrifying.

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