Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jambole by Eddy Kenzo

I'm traveling for a few days, and though you probably won't even notice, I won't be posting a new post for a few days. Meanwhile, my friend Cassandra sent me a link to this vibrant bit of dance and I thought it would make a great placeholder. No, I don't know what Jambole means, and I don't even know if that's the right title for what you're watching anyway. Enjoy.

Here's the link as I'm not sure he wants to share on other sites.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I learned a new word today. Actually an old word, but I don't recall ever seeing it before. I happened to discover that I could download a free copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel on Kindle, and as I was passing the time at the Laundromat, I did just that. (Funny, Google just capitalized Laundromat, and that was something I didn't know to do either. Further research may be required.) Anyway, waiting for the clothes to dry, and already done with the book I'd brought, I decided to try out the opening pages. And it starts out pretty well. All the aristocrats, or "aristos" in Baroness Orczy's terms, are trying to flee the city limits of Paris and make it to England in order to escape the guillotine, and the guards at the gate are having a cat and mouse sort of game with them.

"Men in women's clothes, women in male attire, children disguised in beggars' rags: there were some of all sorts: ci-devant counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse foreign feelings against the glorious Revolution, or to raise an army in order to liberate the wretched prisoners in the Temple, who had once called themselves sovereigns of France."

Sometimes when you encounter a strange word on Kindle, the little look-up function is not so good--try reading a Northern Irish crime novel sometime--but ci-devant seems to be well within its capacity. In French:

ci: here; devant: before, in other words heretofore. And in other, other words the ci-devant aristos are those who were previously aristos, but no longer.

The Baroness herself.

It's funny, perhaps, that the word has fallen out of use when so much French came over the Channel and stuck. But maybe it's because there is a plethora of such words in English. Plethora in its sense of overabundance, of too muchness. Because we not only have "heretofore", but I also thought of "erstwhile", and just now, the word "hitherto". Apparently, ci--devant is really only best when you are trying to capture  the turmoil of the French Revolution.

Monday, July 14, 2014


So I was under the impression that I vaguely knew what mufti was. But after watching Endeavor last night on PBS I fear I may have it at least slightly wrong.I had thought mufti was the more casual uniforms worn in the military, and not the full regalia. But on Endeavor, at a certain point, the police dress up in mufti, which in this case means they disguise their true role by wearing civilian clothing.

As you can see, this will bear some looking into...


Source: The weekly press, 29 April 1926, page 28

(The caption reads "Returned soldiers in mufti and wearing medals marching past the Cathedral, Christchurch")

Well, I was wrong. To be in mufti does just mean to be in clothing other than one's uniform, whatever that may be. I think it is probably not very commonly used in the  U.S., as I realized that our own equivalent is perhaps "civvies", as in civilian clothing. Apparently in England and elsewhere in the British sway, they even now have something called Mufti Day, which is something like our casual wear day or some equivalent--it's not that unified here. In my former place of work, which didn't go in for formal work clothes in the first place, we were not as likely to have a dress down kind of day as we were some sort of dress up day.

"Mufti" actually comes from the Islamic world. In English, it stems back to the British Raj, and its intermingling with Muslim culture during colonization. A mufti was and presumably still is a judge. Rather chillingly for Westerners, one dictionary defines a mufti as 'one who gives a fatwa'. The most famous fatwa for most Westerners is the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for having the temerity to write The Satanic Verses. (It's a brilliant book, by the way, and I am perhaps in a minority position by liking it better than Midnight's Children.)

But a fatwa, in less inflammatory moments, is simply a judicial decision, rendered by a scholar of Islamic law. So don't get down on all muftis just yet.

So now we get to the second part of the question--how does "mufti" come to be a term for civilian clothing? Well, it's unclear. Although this strategy would be anathema to Anatoly Liberman, I will pass along the speculation that it comes from the 19th century theater and a rather stereotypical portrayal of Arabs there. Whether it was because they were portrayed exotically and colorfully, or because they were wearing robes and slippers is not clear. But I will say that this was not the kind of garb being worn by the British coppers on last night's Inspector Morse prequel.

The new guy is good, but we still miss you, Mr. Thaw.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I seem to have been using this word--or rather 'gallivanting'--a lot recently, though sadly, not because I've really been doing much of it of my own. No, but many people in my sphere seem to be traveling hither and yon, and gallivanting has seemed appropriate to their activities. Then I heard one of the characters on Last Tango in Halifax (a quite delightful show if you haven't caught on to it yet) use it the other night and thought I may as well track it down.

Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid in Last Tango in Halifax

I am going to guess that the English stole it from the French, but I'm going to alternatively guess that it is actually some sort of made up word that mimics French. What do you think?


Okay. The general sense of gallivant is to travel around for the sake of pleasure--you may define pleasure for yourself. Surprisingly, though, no one knows exactly what its origins are. There are guesses. "Perhaps from "gallant", some say. World Wide Words acknowledges the problem, but can't guarantee anything. They mention the phrase "gadding about" as having some influence. Anatoly Liberman who hasn't been cited here recently enough for my liking, had this fairly scathing though refreshing comment on such investigations over at the Oxford University Press blog:

"Gallivanting. All conjectures about the origin of this word resolve themselves into uninspiring guesswork. The suggestion that gallivant is a blend of gallant and levant (“decamp, steal away, bolt”) is not supported by any evidence. The OED has no citations of gallivanting that antedate the early twenties of the 19th century. A humorous (slangy) blend coined so late would probably have been documented better in the popular press and the culture of the music hall. The alternate spellings were gallavant and galavant. The Century Dictionary points to the dialectal synonym galligant. The origin of gallivanting will more likely be discovered in regional English. At this stage it is totally obscure. -"

So there you go. We don't know. Fortunately, the Online Etymology Dictionary has, in a manner new to me, brought us a little poem to show the words first words in print. It's a bit misogynist--okay a lot--but it was published in 1809, so I guess we must take that into consideration:

Young Lobski said to his ugly wife,
"I'm off till to-morrow to fish, my life;"
Says Mrs. Lobski, "I'm sure you a'nt",
But you brute you are going to gallivant."

What Mrs. Lobski said was right,
Gay Mr. Lobski was out all night.
He ne'er went to fish, 'tis known very well
But where he went I shall not tell.

["Songs from the Exile," in "Literary Panorama," London, 1809]

Speaking of gallivanting, Anne Reid may want to keep a bit of an eye on Jacobi. Later the very same night of PBS programming, Jacobi is featured with Ian McKellan on the farcical sitcom Vicious. 

Think La Cage aux Folles. Sort of.

He ne'er went to fish, 'tis known very well
But where he went I shall not tell.


Sunday, June 29, 2014


Do  you ever use a word correctly but then discover that you're still slightly wrong about it? Frankly, it happens to me more than I care to admit. Actually, I don't mind admitting it, because that's what this blog thrives on, but really I don't have the hours in a day which it would require.

So I happened to use the word 'adumbration' down in the blog comments recently. I meant it as an intimation of things to come, and it does mean an intimation of things to come. I even knew, thinking about it, that it must come from Latin, as all those other -tion words do. But when I think of adumbration, I hear some heavy reverberations, like thunderclaps, though I suppose thunderclaps are really the opposite of adumbrations, whatever that would be. Echoes?

Anyway, dum-duh-dum-dum. Like that.

As English speakers, we hear the dumb in the word, too. It's hard not to. But dumb or dum or doom for that matter aren't really part of it. The word is really ad-umbration. From  adumbrare: ad--either an intensifier or "toward" and umbrare "to cast in shadow". In other words, foreshadowing.

Unfortunately for those struggling to improve their vocabulary, adumbration doesn't just mean one thing, it means a lot of things. It can be a brief sketch or an outline. It can be shading. It can mean to reveal only partially. It can be the outline of a figure, like the tracing of a silhouette. It can even mean to overshadow. Attach it to anything shadowy, in fact, and chances are you will be right.

I don't know what the movie is, but there is an adumbration here for sure.

Confessions of ignorance always lead to the revelation of more ignorance, of course. That's the way of things. Looking up things about adumbrations led me to the Wordnik website. Along the side are listed many quotations that include the word in question, but the first one genuinely surprised me. You, gentle reader, are not so gullible and maybe even I am not as gullible about these things as I think I am but here's the quote:

"Apparently from the very first episode of "Work of Art," clues to the identity of the eventual winner were baked into the show -- a kind of adumbration that is in fact seeded throughout all reality shows by their canny, all-knowing producers."
                                                             -Emma Allen

The Huffington Post explains it all for you HERE.

Sure, other reality shows, but not The Amazing Race, right? Say it ain't so, Phil.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Enlisted"--and promote something

This is a kind of funny use of this blog for promotional purposes, because I'm not promoting myself or even one of my friends. But I just got done watching the last episode of Fox network's "Enlisted", and I really feel so sad that it was cancelled before it really found its audience that I decided to join in the general clamor to keep it going. There seems to be a chance that someone like Hulu or Netflix will pick it up. I'm not apprised of what the details are, but as I'm not on Facebook or even Twitter, this is my best shot at giving my thumbs up to a very engaging show.

The concept of the series is that three brothers find themselves on a kind of rear guard army base. They come from a military tradition. The older brother is a war hero who has been sent back home after war wounds, the two younger brothers have their separate and opposite reactions to that. There are a lot of odd misfit troops who are also at the base, and they are led by a commander who has lost a leg in combat.

The brothers, who I believe are based in some loose sense on the real brothers of the writer, are quite engaging in a way that I think is a little different in television. They are all attractive, but their appeal is in the affectionate sibling rivalry between them rather than on mere good looks.

In some ways it's standard sitcom fare, I guess, although that's not really a pejorative in my book. A strong ensemble seems to be the best way to create a long running series these days, given half a chance. This one seems to have started out strong and just gotten better as the cast got to know and work with each other.

The reason I'm making an appeal for it here is that I really hate when good creative projects are killed before they have half a chance. But also because I think that this is a good glimpse into the life of a military base for those of us who aren't all that connected to the military in any other way. There is this nice mix of lighthearted comedy and the reality that we are (still) a nation at war. It's  not M.A.S.H., but you get the military shows reflective of the times you live in...

The latest plan to save the show comes from the creators. They want fans to try to get Taylor Swift to endorse the show in a last ditch effort. As I'm pretty sure Taylor reads this blog with a maniacal devotion, I thought I'd give it a go. I mean, she was on the cover of Carmel Magazine this month. And I was there...

after it came out...

Is there something you'd like to promote? Including your own work? My old blogging friend Brian O'Rourke used to host a "promote yourself'" day on his blog, which I thought was pretty cool. His rules were to promote anything you wanted, except him. My rules are, the same, except spammers will be deleted. I don't think most spammers will have read down this far, though...

P.S. You can currently watch some of the episodes of the Enlisted on Fox HERE

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I was watching one of the news shows recently, probably some news on Iraq, unfortunately, when this word popped to the surface of consciousness. I've since looked into it a little, which isn't my typical way of proceeding here, but I can remember that I thought, possibly influenced by finding it in a sentence about the Middle East, that it would have some exotic Near Eastern origin. Perhaps I was making some unconscious link to words like scimitar and dervish.

I also really had no idea what a skirmish was other than knowing it was a kind of fight. So let's get that out of the way first.

The caption reads: A skirmish near Creen Creek, Queensland

A skirmish is a minor battle. I don't know that it is defined more specifically than that. It is either minor or brief or unpremeditated. In a non-military sense, it can be any sort of clash, and is a  synonym for fracas. I was going to say that a skirmish would not be between just two people, but I find that none other than Shakespeare does me in on that score. In Much Ado About Nothing, he has Leonato say:

"There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her [Beatrice]; they never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them."

Of course, both Benedick and Beatrice each have a whole army of wit in their heads, so maybe this doesn't prove me entirely wrong.

Sam Waterston--still my favorite Benedick

So where does it come from?

Well, let's get to the word that influenced it first. This is the Middle English skirmysshen, which means "to brandish a weapon". It comes from the French, the Old French eskirmiss-, which is the stem of the word eskimir, "to fence". I think you get the idea. Touche!

But let's get back to the first meaning, because I found this fascinating. Originally, it comes from the Old French escaramouche, which means, well, skirmish, and is taken from the Italian scaramuccia and further back from some sort of hypothesized German root. But Online Etymology Dictionary, you had me at escaramouche. Scaramouche! Okay, maybe I've never read the 1921 novel, but I know my dad did. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it. Sometimes Wikipedia is often a bit dry, but this is pretty good:

A romantic adventure, Scaramouche tells the story of a young lawyer during the French Revolution. In the course of his adventures he becomes an actor portraying "Scaramouche" (a roguish buffoon character in the commedia dell'arte). He also becomes a revolutionary, politician, and fencing-master, confounding his enemies with his powerful orations and swordsmanship. He is forced by circumstances to change sides several times. The book also depicts his transformation from cynic to idealist.

The three-part novel opens with the memorable line: "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." This line was to become Sabatini's epitaph, on his gravestone in Adelboden, Switzerland.

Okay, so the swashbuckling swordsman part of his persona makes sense. But in fact, his name doesn't come from that aspect of his many-sided personality. It comes from a set of stock characters of Italian
commedia dell'arte. He only becomes a swashbuckler later. Here's one way Scarramucia is traditionally represented:

But here is another:

photo from

 I know which version of Scarramucia I'd want to see appear under my window.

My dad knew Scaramouche through Sabatini. But generations of Brits  know of him in a different guise. Clearly a resilient individual, he leapt the English channel to find a new home in the puppet shows of Punch and Judy. Which is almost certainly where Freddy Mercury found him.

"Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?"

(At about three minutes in.)