New to Me

Indicates that I was previously unaware of the existence of this word.


Created by request. Attributed to items created for a customer’s specifications or requirements, usually describing suits of clothing cut to a customer’s measurements.

A friend on Facebook recently asked why anyone would use bespoke when custom is a perfectly good word. The post sparked a flurry of responses about the faddish use of bespoke and its use to put on airs. I was reminded me that I looked up bespoke in the dictionary less than a year ago. My too-infrequently followed rule here is to write an entry when I look a word up in the dictionary, so I am responding here.

I looked it up after hearing the word in the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. I was pleased to learn it, having hoped that such a word existed.


Greed, gluttony. Chambers says it’s archaic.

Another word found in Go Set a Watchman. It usually says good things about a novel when I have to look up multiple words in one sitting. Not always; sometimes it seems like the obscure words don’t add value. I have mixed feelings about the use of gulosity here. If I were asked to edit this I might not insist it get replaced but I’d want to have a conversation about why it was important. Perhaps it’s archaic, but remained in use in the South for some time? Or perhaps there is a nuance of usage I’m missing.

Now I really wish I still had my OED.


Literally, cannibalistic. «Cannibalize» might mean to take mechanical parts from a device in order to repair others, the way that «scavenge» describes the use of backpressure to reclaim unspent fuel in a four-stroke internal combustion motor. Anthropophagous, anthropophagy, anthropophaginian, anthropophagite, and anthropophagi all seem only used to describe humans eating the flesh of other humans.

Found in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I don’t want to go in to the context here, but I was almost sorry I looked this one up.


Condition or fitness. Can be thought of as an analogue to mettle, but regarding functional rather than material qualities. Fettle is how something is made in contrast with mettle being what something is made from.

Found in the 25 January 2014 edition of The Economist.


To dissipate or distill by percolation.

Mr Lanier strikes again.

When I came across the sentence, «The strangeness is being leached away by the mush-making process» in You Are Not A Gadget I thought at first that I’d stumbled across a typo that had escaped the editor’s eye. I expected that he meant leeched as in, sucked away as though by a parasite. While this would have made enough sense, Lanier’s choice indeed seems more appropriate.


To become objectified or depersonalized.

Found in Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget. I haven’t read enough of the book to tell much about it, but it should be clear from the title that reification is the kind of word one would likely find in its pages.


Servility; from the usage of footman referring to servants whose duty it was to open carriage doors for their employers.

I stumbled across a passage from Moby-Dick which tickled my fancy today. In there was a word I can generally discern from context, but of which I was unfamiliar. Footmanism itself isn’t found in my Shorter Oxford or Chambers Dictionaries, but footman refers generally to one who goes on foot but more specifically to one whose occupation it is to run next to a coach or horse in order to attend to the needs of the passenger or rider. Such a person’s job would be to open the door or help the employer down from the horse.


A woman who habitually pretends to be something or to be part of something she is not.

I don’t normally include words here that come from Word of the Day sites as it seems a bit like plagiarism, but today’s OED Word of the Day is poseuse, which tickled my fancy. It had not occurred to me that there might be a feminine counterpart to poseur. Though gender-specific names for roles and professions are increasingly seen as distasteful, somehow, doing so in French doesn’t seem so bad. Not that there is any real difference between adding -ess and adding -euse, but being less common in English it seems perhaps a bit old-fashioned rather than just unenlightened.


Government by the execrable.

The word kakistocracy popped up in Johnson, the Economist's language blog. Normally I don't include words unless I have to look them up for some reason other than idle curiosity or seeing them on a word of the day site or the like. In the specific case of word of the day sites, it would feel a little like plagiarism to every day post the word I'd «looked up» by seeing it as the word of the day.


Describes an organism which sustains itself on complex organic substances, eg other organisms.

She: I've got to get up and get lunch. I'm like an amoeba today.

Me: Heterotrophic?

In the age of text messaging, one can use Wikipedia and a dictionary for one's snappy responses.


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