Tag Archives: vocabulary


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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Cousin Cate arrived this morning in a whirl of clouds and wind. My family tends to arrive unannounced and always with gifts. Cate arrived with a basket of delicious cheeses and some fascinating creatures she found in the Netherlands. (Once they’ve been categorized and observed, they shall be viewable in the Vivarium.)

Silas put out a delicious spread, including the cheeses brought by Cate, and she regaled us with tales of her latest travels and why the citizens of The Hague not-so-subtly requested Cate to vacate their city. This brings us to today’s word.

Tyromancy (noun) is a form of divination based on the observation of cheeses, especially as it coagulates. It is derived from the Greek tūros for cheese and manteia for divination.

In the Middle Ages, the shape, number of holes, and patterns of mold were often used to foretell money, love, and death.

And, according to the website occultopedia.com, in some villages, young ladies would divine the names of their future husbands by writing the names of prospective suitors on pieces of cheese. The one whose piece of cheese grew mold first was deemed the true love match for the maiden.

Fool proof, right?

Cousin Cate has never hidden her divination talents, and it seems that many people in modern society find this upsetting. The Hague is not the first town she’s been run out of, and it won’t be the last.

And I don’t need a piece of cheese to know that.

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This morning’s hike up the mountain was glorious. Yesterday’s rain still dripped from the branches and the ground sucked at my boots as I trudged towards the summit. The ground heaved and shuddered, and it occurred to me that perhaps the notes in Uncle O. Underhill’s journals regarding the mountain were not experiments in metaphor. Perhaps this mountain truly is a living organism, and Underhill built his house on a remarkably craggy part of this creature. Perhaps a knee-cap, or an eyebrow.

Bubo loves our life here; while I have my moments of nostalgia for Brooklyn and our city home, my intrepid companion has fully embraced life in the country. Her feathers are more lustrous and she has quit cursing. (She has not given up her penchant for Schlock Horror Films. I was awoken from my nap with the tell-tale screeches of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.) Our morning constitutionals continue – whether we be city dwellers or country dwellers – and this morning held the promise of newness. Perhaps it was the coming of spring. Perhaps it was the enormous mug of coffee I begin each morning with. Whatever it was, I inhaled the scent of wet leaves deeply as I rested against a splintered oak and felt invigorated. Bubo soared majestically before dropping down for some late hunting. (Methinks her love of our new country life involves the fresh variety of snacks just outside our doorstep.)

What with my morning walk (before the sun came out and before the snow showered), I’m sure you can guess what today’s word is.

Umbrageous is an adjective meaning affording or forming shade; shady. Also: not easily perceived, as if from being darkened or shaded. So, you could say that the forest was filled with umbrageous trees and that my brother Mordecai lives an umbrageous life. The word can also mean easily offended; apt to take offense.

Umbrageous stems from the French ombrageux, which is from the Old French umbrageus, which, in turn, is from umbre for shade. All this from the Latin umbra.

Can you see the word umbrage in all of these? Another way to say that you take offense is that you take umbrage. Umbrage is a feeling of pique or resentment. It is also shade.

Now, pray do not take umbrage should I be silent for a few days. It appears in all my mucking about I aggravated my cough, and I am laid up with some version of a flu. I have taken to my chair in front of the fire, with a hot toddy and my plushest slippers.




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Tuesday was Town Meeting Day here in Vermont (granted, some towns met Monday night). We townspeople gathered in meeting halls, school auditoriums, and theatres to discuss our town budgets, town business, and whether or not to use funds for various items like new dump trucks. It was a long day for many of us (especially those of us not particularly gregarious or tolerant of fold-out chairs) but it is always nice to see your neighbors and enjoy a cup of coffee and a freshly baked maple cinnamon roll.

For many people, yesterday brought along Weltschmerz.

Weltschmerz is a noun that means world weariness; pessimism, mental depression, apathy, or sadness felt at the difference between physical reality and the ideal state. How often have you experienced Weltschmerz this year already, oddlings?

It hails from the German Welt for world plus Schmerz for pain. Literally, it means world pain.

Many consider this part of the oeuvre of true Gothic romantics and the likes of Lord Byron, Hermann Hesse, and Alfred de Musset.

It can also be in the oeuvre of a rather old man who has spent a feverish night making notes in his Laboratory Journal only to rise in the morning and discover that the heat is still not working in that wing of the house and the scones are too dry and the coffee is not strong enough.

Nothing a stiff drink and a brisk walk won’t cure, eh?

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