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Julie Steiner 12-09-2020 12:43 AM

Blatherskite's Lexicon
In this thread, post interesting words in any language, and/or brief poems that they inspire you to write.


Entry #1:

(also bletherskate)


I ran across the following Spanish word in an article about a sonnet by Quevedo. The sonnet in question is full of nonsense words, lampooning the tendency of Quevedo's rival (Góngora) to include highfalutin new coinages in his poems.

Entry #2:



(My translation of the DAE entry):

1. feminine noun. Text lacking sense, whose esthetic value is based on sonority and on the evocative power of the words, real or invented, that comprise it.

From jitanjáfora, the last word of the third verse of a poem full of vocalizations without meaning, but with great sonority, which the Cuban poet M. Brull composed in 1929, and of which the Mexican humanist A. Reyes (1889-1959) took advantage to designate this type of utterance.
A quick search turned up the poem in question:


Filiflama alabe cundre
Ala olalúnea alífera
Alveolea jitanjáfora
Liris salumba salífera.
Olivia oleo olorife
Alalai cánfora sandra
Milingítara girófora
Zumbra ulalindre calandra

Mariano Brull
That seems closer to glossolalia than to amphigory. Which could be entries #3 and #4 in Blatherskite's Lexicon, I suppose.


And glossolalia puts me in mind of bondieuserie, which makes Entry #5.

Someone else's turn now!

Roger Slater 12-09-2020 06:19 AM

I incorporated a bunch of "real" words that are likely to be unfamiliar to anyone these days when I translated a poem by Baltasar de Alcázar. The original Spanish did a riff on ancient and obsolete words in Spanish (and these were obsolete already back in 1600), and so I chose in my translation to dig up an old dictionary of ancient and obsolete words in English as well. Some of these are so obsolete they are no longer in dictionaries from the past century. In either the Spanish or the English, the words are "real" but not meant to be understood by the reader. Here's the relevant piece of the poem:

You see, the fact that I’m advanced
in years means often I
write prose in ancient words I learned
in days and times gone by.

Words like eftsoons, whoreson, lief,
cocklebread, piscarius,
fuxol, cockloft, cockmate, cronge,
peever, vaginarius.

Diffibulate or galantine,
quister, drenge, rotarious,
brightsmith, brownsmith, burgonmaster,
currydow, pannarius.

Hostler, mayhap, emerods,
swoopstake, usward, thole,
hawker, maugre, hatcheler,
fletcher, rantipole.

(The rest of my translation is here).

Roger Slater 12-09-2020 06:23 AM

It also seems apropos to mention here that the current contest in the Washington Post Sytle Invitational asks for short poems employing various new words that were included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year. The rules, how to enter, and a list of the words can be found here. The deadline is December 14th.

Julie Steiner 12-09-2020 01:38 PM

end eftsoons.

See, I'm inspired already! Thank you, Roger! And thanks for reminding me of your delightful translation, too--I needed a smile today.


If anyone needs a very small unit of measurement, I propose, from the Swabian dialect of German:


(My son-in-law spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Germany, and came back speaking fluent German...but with such a strong Swabian accent that German-speakers can't help laughing out loud in astonishment. Fortunately he's a good-natured soul.)

Jayne Osborn 12-09-2020 04:12 PM

Julie and Bob,

You're both very entertaining! :)

In this thread, post interesting words in any language, and/or brief poems that they inspire you to write.

Another German word I love is funkelnagelneu, which is our equivalent of 'brand new', but which in translation is more like 'shiny nail new'.

(I can't say that 'funkelnagelneu' has inspired me to write a poem, though! :D)


Ann Drysdale 12-10-2020 12:22 AM

This one was published in Snakeskin. Not wholly compliant with the rubric, but I'll toss it in for now while I work on a new one.


A silly word, a surreptitious joke
between old ladies. From a French description
of a Napoleonic prison ship:
méchant odeur, tainting the onshore wind.

Why do the young suppose the old don’t know
that vintage craft give off an emanation
that hints at obsolescence and demands
an instant, arbitrary change of purpose?

Tant pis. Let’s downgrade slowly, you and I,
equip ourselves for further voyaging,
test our unshivered timbers while we may
on seas that still invite us into action.

Still fighting, still avoiding tell-tale talc
and anything suggesting lavender;
taking on board the Oeillet Mignardise,
Rive Gauche, Chanel,
and white camellias.

After a last quick check for rogue whiskers
one of us asks the all-important question:
"Meshantador, darling?" "Nah, you’re OK."
and two fine ships set sail into the street.

RCL 12-10-2020 04:35 PM

Struck by the artful British dodge of calling an ass an arse, I sunk to the low netherlands of this:

Arse Poetica

Epics chart a culture’s mind
in sprawls of history and wit—
their sweaty redolence warm wind.

The lyrics are much smaller songs
leaking just a little wind
perfuming feelings as they’re sung.

Dramatic verse can be perverse,
befoul the major players’ wind,
their offal smells a gagging curse.

An Arse Poetica, of course,
releases scents of artful will
as contrails of a flying horse,

Symbol of a poem’s source:
Pegasus of course, of course.

Coleman Glenn 01-01-2021 12:59 PM

No luck for me in the WaPo Style Invitational (for reasons that will shortly be apparent), but maybe this thread is a good home for my single entry.

Z o n k e y

I’ve figured out the difference twixt
a zedonk and a zonkey,
though both of them are squarely mixed
part zebra and part donkey:

While zebra front and donkey rear
is how a zonkey’s got ‘em,
a zedonk has (alert Shakespeare!)
a donkey’s head on bottom.

Julie Steiner 01-05-2021 11:37 AM


How had I not known this word's etymology until 20 minutes ago? I find it fascinating.

From M.D. Usher, "Classics and Complexity in Walden's 'Spring'," Arion 27:1 (Sping/Summer 2019), p. 122. The first quotation below is Thoreau's, and the second is Usher's discussion of it.


It is a truly grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated in bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves; destined perhaps, under some circumstances, to become a puzzle to future geologists. The whole cut impressed me as if it were a cave with its stalactites laid open to the light.

a truly grotesque vegetation: The word “grotesque” also has two senses. In Thoreau’s time, as today, it primarily meant “ugly” and connoted “disgusting” (in the way that excrement is disgusting). But its original meaning, from Italian grottesco, is “of or pertaining to a cave.” The word was coined by artists and writers of the Italian Renaissance in conjunction with the accidental discovery—by then buried underground—of the emperor Nero’s notorious Domus Aurea, or “Golden House.” Painters like Raphael and Michelangelo, eager for inspiration from the past and armed with torches, were lowered down by ropes into cavities in the ground (across the street from where the Colosseum stands today) that contained colorful wall paintings with ornate vegetal borders and decorations. These “cavities,” in fact, were actually rooms in the Domus Aurea, which had been buried long before (and intentionally so), first by Trajan, and then also by centuries of further destruction and construction above ground. That Thoreau has in mind the arthistorical sense of grotesque is clear from his appeal to the “forms and color we see imitated in bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves.” Today one can see the earliest and most influential adaptations of Nero’s grotesques in Raphael’s painted Loggias in the Vatican. However, this kind of decoration also appears on Corinthian columns and on other architectural elements the world over. Eventually the style made its way across centuries from the palaces and temples of the great onto everyday household furniture.

RCL 01-05-2021 12:34 PM

If you love etymologies, you have to adore Thoreau’s works. Rarely a page goes by in Walden, for instance, without a handful of etymological puns. One of my early research projects, working title The Depths of Walden Pun, fished out hundreds, some grotesque, adding an extra reason to laugh or smile at the surface word-play. Two of my favorites, which I’ve written about in several ways, are in Walden’s “Conclusion”: Exaggeration and Extravagance.

Thoreau’s Extravagance

"I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander. . . .without bounds. . . . I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression." Walden, Conclusion”

He’s radical with etymologies,
extravagantly leaps linguistic fences,
heaps the roots in punning histories,
exaggerates beyond the common senses.

He says our parlor parlance is absurd,
too distanced from its sources, mere parlaver,
its far-fetched figures, tropes and symbols blurred
in parables. But his are rooted, clever.

Out on the pond, he turns his tropes to pun
upon a trickster loon, his moonstruck double,
whose loony antics keep him on the run.
Two lunatics, they’ve turned into a couple.

Extravagantly thorough in this game,
he puns outlandishly on his own name.

From Ghost Trees

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