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Words at Play

When "Thingamajig" & "Thingamabob" Won't Do

Words For Things You Didn't Know Have Names, Vol. 2


Definition:

the part of the bowling alley from which the bowler delivers the ball

Example Sentence:

After you bowl a strike, it is unprofessional - but generally acceptable - to do a little dance on the approach.

About the Word:

Approach names both the section of the bowling alley (by regulation, at least 15 feet long) and the steps the bowler takes there ("that bowler has an awkward approach").

Definition:

a movable pin in a buckle that passes through a hole in the strap to be secured

Example Sentence:

He knew he'd put on weight when the buckle's tongue found comfort in a hole closer to the tip of his belt.

About the Word:

The object got its name from its resemblance to an animal tongue - elongated and fastened at one end only.

Definition:

reflection of light from the inner surface of an eye through the pupil so that the eye has a luminous appearance (as in a cat)

Example Sentence:

At the edge of the road, the eyeshine of deer flashed in our headlights.

About the Word:

It's easy to see how eyeshine got that name, but how does it work? Eyeshine is an effect of the tapetum lucidum ("bright tapestry," in Latin), a layer of tissue found immediately behind or sometimes within the retina. It's this tissue that reflects visible light back through the retina. Despite what horror movies may suggest, humans do not have eyeshine.

Definition:

a protective or ornamental plate around a keyhole

Example Sentence:

The supervising housekeeper reminded new employees to polish the escutcheons each week.

About the Word:

This word comes from the Latin scutum, meaning "shield." The original escutcheon was a shield (or something that resembled a shield) that bore a coat of arms; escutcheon also refers to the part of a ship's stern where the name is displayed.

Definition:

a low wheeled platform that people lie on when working under cars

Example Sentence:

The mechanic slid out from beneath my car on his creeper, and gave me a sympathetic shake of his head.

About the Word:

One of the earliest patents for the "automobile repair-creeper" was issued in 1916 to a fellow with the apt name Axel Peterson.

Definition:

the curve of a road's surface that allows water to drain off to the sides

Example Sentence:

A road with a severe camber can be awkward for joggers.

About the Word:

Camber comes from the Middle French word cambre, meaning "curved." The highest point of the road is the crown.

Definition:

a crowning ornament or detail (such as a decorative knob)

Example Sentence:

Attempting to impress the decorator, she made a show of inspecting the lamp finials.

About the Word:

Finial developed from final. That makes sense, since the finial is usually the final, crowning piece added to an object.

Definition:

a vestigial digit not reaching to the ground on the foot of a mammal, or a claw or hoof terminating such a digit

Example Sentence:

Because our puppy's dewclaws were loose and often got snagged on things, the vet suggested we have them removed.

About the Word:

This word's origin is unknown, but one theory has it that a dewclaw touches only the dew, and not the grassy ground it rests on.

Definition:

a paragraph mark

Example Sentence:

In the word processing program, click the button with the pilcrow icon to reveal your paragraph breaks.

About the Word:

Its root is far more obvious than what the word became. Pilcrow apparently traces back to the Latin paragraphus, meaning "sign used to make a new section of writing." That Latin word was modified in Middle English to pylcrafte, which developed into pilcrow in the 16th century.

Vamp
Up Next
top-10-user-submitted-words-vol-4-sanctimommy

What Makes Someone a "Sanctimommy"?

Definition:

the part of a shoe or boot that covers the front of the foot

Example Sentence:

I had my shoe repaired because the vamp was coming unstitched from the toe.

About the Word:

It comes from the Old French avanpié (from avant-, meaning "fore," + pié, meaning "foot").

An old sense of vamp meant "to piece a new vamp onto a shoe"; that "patch together" sense led to the more recent (but uncommon) verb vamp: "to invent or fabricate something," or "to improvise or extemporize."




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