8.21.2010

Words I love that I never have the occasion to use

Many definitions unapologetically stolen from Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, and elsewhere.

anthropophagy: Eating human flesh. Cannibals practice anthropophagy, but so do man-eating lions and mosquitos. Not species specific.

cruciverbalist: Crossword puzzle designer.

HeLa: A human (cancer) cell from an immortal cell line used in scientific research. Named after originator, patient Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951. Not just human immortality; has the nasty habit of corrupting other cultures in the lab, like a microbial zombie.

Grausamkeitsspäße: "funny cruelties", German, obviously.

Mary Sue: A character in a written work that serves as a ridiculously obvious proxy for the authors ego, magnifying all of the authors strengths and ignoring any of their flaws.

shibboleth: A motto or manner of speech typical to a certain group of people.

Archigram: Avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s -- futurist, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects.

paraprosdokian: A figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Raison d'être: A phrase borrowed from French where it means "reason for being"; in English use, it also comes to suggest an intense emotional attraction to a course of action, such as "Not money, but love of sport, is his raison d'être to be an athlete."

Chindōgu: The Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that, on the face of it, seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem. However, chindōgu has a distinctive feature: anyone actually attempting to use one of these inventions would find that it causes so many new problems, or such significant social embarrassment, that effectively it has no utility whatsoever. Thus, chindōgu are sometimes described as "unuseless" – that is, they cannot be regarded as 'useless' in an absolute sense, since they do actually solve a problem; however, in practical terms, they cannot positively be called "useful."

Bildungsroman: A novel of all-around self-development. Used generally, it encompasses a few similar genres: the Entwicklungsroman, a story of general growth rather than self-culture; the Erziehungsroman, which focuses on training and formal education; and the Kunstlerroman, about the development of an artist.

melisma: In song, giving one syllable many notes. "And Iiii-eee-iiii-eee-iiiii will always love you..."

cephalophore: A saint depicted in art carrying his own head.

bromide: A figure of speech referring to a phrase or person who uses such phrases that has been used and repeated so many times as to become either insincere in its meaning, or seem like an attempt at trying to explain the obvious. It can also mean the unnecessary insertion of an (often irrelevant) cliché into a conversation, designed to make the speaker sound more authoritative.

mondegreen: The mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase.

Soramimi kashi: Lyrics of a song that sound like the original in one language, but produce a different meaning when interpreted in another language.

The Trachtenberg System: a system of rapid mental calculation, somewhat similar to Vedic mathematics. It was developed by the Ukrainian engineer Jakow Trachtenberg in order to keep his mind occupied while being held in a Nazi concentration camp.

Rumspringa: Amish kids around the age of 16 are sent out into the "modern" world with a crap load of money and given free reign to indulge in everything they were previously forbidden. At the end they can decide to rejoin their sect as adults, or stay out in the rest of the world, although they will be effectively excommunicated. Not all Amish people practice this.

flehmen response: A particular type of curling of the upper lip in ungulates, felids, and many other mammals, which facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ, also called the Jacobson's Organ.

not to be confused with

Duchenne smile: A laughing smile with teeth showing, mouth open, and crinkling around the eyes. A "real" smile that is difficult to fake, since most people cannot voluntarily contract the outer portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle.

sabrage: A technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber, used for ceremonial occasions.

clerihew: A whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. Example:
Sir Christopher Wren
Went to dine with some men
He said, "If anyone calls,
Say I'm designing Saint Paul's."

Charles Bonnet syndrome: Disease causing otherwise sane people to have strong visual hallucinations, but without the delusions of believing what they are seeing is real. Often goes unreported because the subject is afraid they will be labeled insane.

ostranenie: The artistic technique of forcing the audience to see common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar.

ziggurat: A terraced pyramid of successively receding stories or levels.

moribund: Not growing or changing; without force or vitality.

Stendhal syndrome: A psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly 'beautiful' or a large amount of art is in a single place.

And I cannot for the life of me keep the following two straight:

détournement: When an artist reuses elements of well-known media to create a new work with a different message, often one opposed to the original.

denouement: A final scene or character that explains mysteries and straightens out misunderstandings between characters and the author and reader.

antagonym: A single word that has meanings that contradict each other. Example: cleave: To adhere tightly vs. To cut apart.

propinquity: One of the main factors leading to interpersonal attraction. It refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. Two people living on the same floor of a building, for example, have a higher propinquity than those living on different floors. Propinquity can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things.

protologism: A newly coined word or phrase defined in the hope that it will become accepted into the language; a recently created term possibly in narrow use.

hagiography: Biography of saints or venerated persons. Or: idealizing or idolizing biography.

Fitts' law: A model of human movement, predicting the time required to rapidly move from a starting position to a final target area, as a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target. Used in the ergonomics of computer input systems (mice, tablets, gestures, etc.).

oubliette: A form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling.

Baader-Meinhof phenomenon: When a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it.

3 comments:

Tysen said...

I managed to include raison d’être in a powerpoint presentation for work.

minard said...

The wikipedia page for cephalophore is pretty good. I thought this was pretty funny: "Handling the halo in this circumstance offers a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have the saint carrying the halo along with the head."

Rich Nelmes said...

Great list! This is the best use of moribund - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ktcwup503I .