Lexicons as Ideas

In his 1967 novel Fahrenheit 451-the temperature at which books burn--Ray Bradbury imagines a dystopian society in which books are forbidden. His sources of inspi- ration are manifold. Emperor Shih Huang Ti, responsible for building the Chinese Wall, ordered the burning of all books in the kingdom. Tomás de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office in Spain (and a converso), also ordered the destruction of books. The list of dictators, old and new, following a similar pattern of devastation, is too long to mention. (Plus, the ignominy these tyrants deserve should include anonymity, In return for the favor, their names should be erased from memory) But I wonder: Did any of these tyrants ever order the destruction of lexicons?

Even if they did, the memory would live on. Diderot Once said: "On ne tue pas de coups de fusil aux idées" One might kill people but one cannot kill ideas. Lexicons are a record of our ideas as we catalogue them in the form of words.

I came across the above excerpt in Dictionary Days by Ilan Stavans, an engaging little book by a true dictionary-lover that's full of captivating thoughts like the above on words and dictionaries and how and where they intersect with everyday life.

Somehow, I never realized that, as Stavans so clearly presents here, dictionaries--lexicons--are not just collections of words in alphabetical order, they are a record of our (i.e., humanity's) ideas about the world, language, and how we conceive of and investigate it. They offer insights into what we know and what we don't, what we value and what we reject, what we find beautiful and what we eschew, and most interesting of all perhaps, how we think of language and words and how they actually work.

This got me thinking. Is this notion of a lexicon being a record of ideas captured in the word's definition? To find out, I looked it up. Here's what I found:  

Donohue's Standard New Century Dictionary (1914), the oldest dictionary in the Butter Lamb Reference Library's collection (I guess the "new century" in the title refers to the previous one) defines lexicon as "A word book; a dictionary; a vocabulary containing an alphabetical arrangement of words in a language with the definition of each."

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (which is still a pretty hefty book) defines lexicon as  "A word-book or dictionary; chiefly a dictionary of Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, or Arabic. A special vocabulary. A list of words or names."

Both Merriam-Webster's online dictionary and the 11th edition of its Collegiate dictionary) define lexicon as "1. A book containing an alphabetical arrangement of the words in a language and their definitions : dictionary. 2a. The vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject. b. The total stock of morphemes in a language." (Note: a morpheme is an indivisible basic unit of language.)

Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines lexicon as, "1. A dictionary, especially of an ancient language. 2. A special vocabulary, as of an author, science, etc. 3. In linguistics, the total stock of morphemes in a language."

Finally, I consulted the Dictionary of Lexicography. I thought that if any book in my possession would incorporate this idea into its definition of lexicon, it'd be this forward-thinking text. Did it? Here's what I found between its covers:

1. The totality of a language's vocabulary, seen either as a list or as a structured whole. The view of vocabulary as a list of words has led to the development of glossaries, dictionaries, and other works of reference, while the structural view has encouraged such linguistic disciplines as grammar, lexicology, and semantics. 

 2. A type of reference work in which the words of a language, language variety, speaker, or text are listed and explained, either in alphabetical or in thematic order. In English, this term is associated not with the general dictionary, but with more specialized works of a classical, literary, or technical orientation. In the Renaissance, lexicon was one of several competing titles for (often multilingual) specialized dictionaries.
3. The mental vocabulary stored in the (native) speaker 's mind. Some issues studied include: how and where words are stored, in what order they are learned and remembered whether bilinguals have separate or joint lexicons, etc.

I guess "the mental vocabulary stored in the native speaker's mind" comes pretty close. Circle gets the square. Goodnight everybody!

Challenging Word of the Week (April 24)

Greetings word lovers! If it's Monday, then that means it's time for another Challenging Word of the Week!

This week's word is jactation. If you're not already familiar with it, take a guess as to its definition. Does jactation mean:

A) To brag or boast    

B) To tell a grandiose lie

C) To compliment another to the point of embarrassment

Before I reveal the meaning of this week's word, I'd like to take a brief pause and remind you that these challenging words come to you from the Butter Lamb Reference Library and the book, 2000 Most Challenging and Obscure Words, by Norman W. Schur. 

So, without further delay, here is the answer to this week's challenging word: A) to brag or boast. However, this week's word was kind of tricky as, according to Mr. Schur, it has "two distinct meanings." Here's the 411 from the author.

Jactation (ak TAY shun )n. Jactation has two totally distinct meanings. It is bragging boasting, like braggadocio, fanfaronade, gasconade, rodomontade, and thrasonical bchavior in general, There would seem to be no end of words for this human weakness. Jactation comes from Latin jactatio (boasting. ostentation ), related to jactatus, past participle of jactare (to boast). 

But jactate and its Latin sources all wear another hat: In pathology, jactation is nervous, restless tossing about, convulsive body movements, because Latin jactare also means "nervous, restless tossing about," and only by transference to "broadcast" words, to fling them about, and thus, to "boast." 

To complicate matters, there is a confusingly similar term, jactitation (jak tih TAY shun), which is a legal term for a false boast or claim that causes harm to another and can lead to a lawsuit;, and this word, too, has a distinct meaning identical with that second meaning of jactation: "tossing about." Here the source is Middle Latin jactitatio (tossing), related to jactitatus, past participle of jactitare (to keep tossing about). To sum up: jactation and jactitation are identical in the terminology of pathology: to "toss about"; otherwise, jactation is boasting, pure and simple, while jactitation is the false and harmful variety. Apart from the medical symptoms jactate all you want, if you're silly enough to brag: but stop short of jactitating or you may land in court.

Well, there you have it. Come back in about seven days for another challenging word of week! Or, maybe comeback sooner for more exciting content from the Butter Lamb Resource Library!

Live & Learn - Issue #1

I. Nonvampiric Man Learns He is Allergic to the Sun (while Vacationing in Florida)

This is what the rash from a sun allergy looks like.
I took precautions, I swear. In fact, it was the first thing I did when I went outside. I sprayed myself with some (apparently) shitty sunscreen and rubbed it all over my extremities. I covered my arms, my legs, my neck, my forehead, and even the tops of my ears. Then I walked from the sea-side condo my in-laws rent to downtown Venice, Florida. It took about 20 minutes to walk from A to B, and when I got there, it wasn’t even noon. Nevertheless, I got sunburn on my arms, legs, and neck. It wasn’t a big deal, or so I thought. Every summer, I manage to get a sunburn, and then my skin tans and I stop thinking about it because I no longer get burned. This time, something else happened. When I went outside the next day – the wife and I went kayaking on a river shockingly devoid of water -- I got even more sunburned even though I applied more sunscreen. I figured my skin would calm down as the day turned to evening and the sun was no longer so intense. Instead, the red, irritated areas on my arms, legs, and neck took on the appearance of a rash and I began to feel itchy all over. It was so uncomfortable, I wanted to tear my skin off.

Puzzled as to what the fuck might be happening to me, I went online and began hunting for information with search terms like “sun rash” and “itchy sunburn.” That’s when I learned there is something called a “sun allergy.” I thought only vampires and those bitten by them had problems being out in the sun, but it turns out us mortals may have to stay indoors during daylight hours too. The Mayo Clinic explains it this way. 

Sun allergy is a broad term. It describes several conditions that cause an itchy rash to form on the skin after being in sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Polymorphous light eruption is the most common form of sun allergy.

Some people have a hereditary type of sun allergy. Others develop symptoms only when triggered by another factor — such as taking medication or touching certain plants. Other types of sun-related reactions occur for reasons that are unclear.

Mild sun allergy may clear up without treatment. Severe rashes may be treated with steroid creams or pills.

In case you’re wondering, the phrase polymorphous light eruption means a rash on the skin (or mucous membrane) caused by light (probably intense) that appears in various forms or styles. (Yes, I looked that up, and yes, Polymorphous Light Eruption is the name of my new metal band.) This was good information and it helped ease my mind. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening. I’m regularly out in the sun and I’ve been to Florida many times. Why had I developed a sun allergy now?

I never really found out for sure, but I’m guessing my coming down with the rash had something to do with another phrase in the Mayo Clinic’s information: “touching certain plants.” See, while we were kayaking on the river short on water, I came in contact with a wide variety of plants I was surely allergic to, for previous medical tests have proven that I am allergic to just about everything that exists, including dust, dogs, cats, mold, plants (including weeds and grasses), horses, dragons, mermaids, and assorted snuffleupaghi. Alas, if I was this allergic to food, I’d be a much thinner man.

Obligatory pic of gator in the wild.
Interestingly, this whole ordeal into the world of light-induced rashes prompted me to look up the etymology of the word allergy. (I didn’t have to look up the meaning due to my extensive familiarity with the concept.) As it so happens, the three books I consulted were the Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, and the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories (ODWH). All three agreed that this 20th century medical term pertains to the notion of there being something “alien” present in the concept and that this otherness harkens back to it’s older German cousin allergie, which is rooted in the Greek work allos, meaning “other.” But that’s only half the story. According to the ODWH, our modern allergy is also said to be “patterned” on the German word for energy, energie, which suggests that this mysterious other has an energy all its own or is acting in some way. The Chamber’s etymological dictionary says something similar, but it traces this element of energy or action back to the Greek word eregon, meaning “action.”

Live and learn. Or in my case, exist and itch.


II. New Words and Phrases (or words and phrases new to me)

Brain Rot

The word is in from PC World and it is not good: all that doom scrolling you’re doing at night before you go to bed is giving you brain rot. No, I’m not making this up. According to an article published April 14, 2023, on the PC World website, doom scrolling—the act of endlessly scrolling through social media feeds and news websites in search of negative or distressing information—may be giving you “brain rot.”

Doom scrolling is not a new term, although I was unaware that some would confine it to social media (my doom scrolling takes place on Google News). Brain rot, however, took my by surprise. But wait, before you run to your medical dictionary of choice, you should be aware that, at least according to this article, brain rot “is not a medical or scientific term.”

 “Brain rot” … [is] a slang term that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the context of the situation. In a more general sense, brain rot refers to the feeling of mental fog or confusion after prolonged drug use or lack of sleep, or a feeling of mental or emotional decline or decay, often associated with stress, anxiety, or depression. These conditions can affect brain function and structure, causing symptoms like cognitive impairment and reduced creativity and productivity.

So how does doom scrolling lead to brain rot? Well, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out ... or maybe you do. In essence, doom scrolling tickles the brain’s “reward system,” which is invigorated by the act and anticipation of getting new information, even if that information is ultimately negative. Over time, the brain gets accustomed to these negative messages wrapped in positive stimuli’s clothing, which is precisely the kind of information that the algorithms directing content to your social media and news feeds run on, and the result of all that toxicity and ugliness can “harm mental health by boosting anxiety, stress, hopelessness, and depression,” which in turn can “disrupt sleep patterns and lead to emotional exhaustion.” Brain rot—that mental fog or confusion after prolonged drug use or lack of sleep, or that feeling of mental or emotional decline or decay--is an outgrowth of these conditions. 

And how does one avoid this all too modern condition? Naturally, the good people at PC World have some ideas but, not surprisingly, they just can seem to tell you put down your phone or get away from social media. Thus, let me be the one to propose such remedies.

Ambient Gaslighting

There’s a high probability you’re familiar with the term gaslighting, which refers to the practice of trying to make someone else question his or her reality. (in fact, as I noted in issue #4 of The Butter Lamb News, gaslighting was Merriam-Webster’s 2022 word of the year.

Well, now there’s ambient gaslighting, which according to an article from USA Today, refers to “the subtle undercurrents of mistreatment or disrespect that we experience in small doses and may not realize are a form of gaslighting.”

The article goes on to explain: 

It could be as simple as a passive-aggressive communication style you encounter frequently from someone in your life, or it could look like a boss who employs a leadership style that makes your team fearful to speak up. It could even refer to imbalanced news or deceiving advertising we encounter when we scroll on our phones.

Got that? Good, now please explain it to me ….

But seriously, if I understand this correctly, gaslighting is when someone says something to you directly that makes you question your reality (or at the very least, the legitimacy of your feelings). Ambient gaslighting, then, is gaslighting that occurs indirectly.

I’m not sure I’m on-board. But then, maybe that’s okay. As noted in the article (and I find this somewhat surprising) ambient gaslighting isn’t really a thing. The person quoted in the article, “Physician psychiatrist Dr. Grant Brenner,” is identified as the person who’s “trying to coin the term.”

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say USA Today is trying to gaslight me into believing ambient gaslighting is a thing.

Juice Jacking

In addition to COVID-19, ticks, phishing, ChatGPT stealing your job, and inflation, the new thing we’re supposed to be afraid of, at least according to National Public Radio (and several news outlets) is “juice jacking.” What the fuck is juice jacking, you may be asking? Well, it’s not orange juice spiked with steroids. No ma’am. Juice Jacking is “a portable charger or a charger [left] in public that will charge your phone or mobile device, but also install malware on or steal your data.”

According to cybersecurity expert Jim Stickley who is quoted in the NPR story, “building fake charging stations is pretty easy” and the practice “is becoming more prevalent, possibly due to the increase in travel now that the COVID-19 restrictions have mostly been lifted.” 

Are you fucking kidding me? Is this really a problem? Is this really something we need to be worried about? Is this really something that needs to take up space in our brains?

Before I answer that, I shouldn’t be so hard on NPR. After all, they’re just reporting the news. The primary source of this is the Denver office of the FBI, which issued an advisory on April 6 that told people to:

“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.”

Okay, so how much of a “threat” is juice jacking? Well, I don’t know enough about it to tell you to avoid the FBI’s warning. What I can tell you is that, according to Snopes.com, juice jacking may not be the worry NPR makes it out to be. As reported on the website krebsonsecurity.com:

An FCC spokesperson told Snopes that the commission wanted to make sure that their advisory on “juice-jacking,” first issued in 2019 and later updated in 2021, was up-to-date so as to ensure ‘the consumers have the most up-to-date information.’ The official, who requested anonymity, added that they had not seen any rise in instances of consumer complaints about juice-jacking.

Ticks, on the other hand, are definitely something to worry about.


III. Art of the Dictionary

Yeah, dictionaries are all about words and meanings and etymologies and synonyms, but believe me when I say that some of the books in the Butter Lamb Reference Library collection contain some wonderful art. This section aims to highlight some of it and spread the idea that dictionaries and references can be treasure-troves of wonderful graphics and images too.

As a case in point, I submit to you the following drawing of a Phouka from A Dictionary of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katherine Briggs (1976). 

According to this captivating text, the Irish word Phouka (sometimes Pouk, or Puck) is a kind of bogy or bogey-beast, something like the Picktree brag of the North of England, who takes various forms, most usually a horse, but also an eagle or a bat, and is responsible for people falling as well. Many a wild ride has been suffered on the Phouka's back.


IV. From the Butter Lamb Reference Library's Collection:

The Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics

I hate math. I’m not good at it, it makes me feel stupid, and thus I’m intimidated by it. Even having this book in my collection makes me uncomfortable. Yet, this is the only mathematics reference I’ve come across in my (not so) far-flung travels, so when my eyes saw it on the shelves of my favorite used bookstore, I knew I had to become part of the BLRL’s collection. Those feelings only grew when O cracked the cover and read the Publisher’s Note on page 9.

WE believe this to be the first popular encyclopedia or reference book of mathematics of its kind, arranged in alphabetical order of subjects…. The ground covered is the mathematics from beginning High School, through College, but stopping short of a degree in mathematics. The book is therefore not addressed to the professional mathematician, but it will help the student to become one. It is intended for the Man in the Street, the harassed parent and the technical student; or for the scientist, engineer and accountant for whom mathematics has not lost its fascination.

The Man in the Street? I’m the man in the street! So, this reference was made with me in mind (I am also a harassed parent at times). Then again, it’s fair to say that whatever fascination I had with math left me long ago (assuming I ever had it in the first place). When I flip through the pages of this book, I am instantly transported back to the anxiety-ridden trigonometry class I took in high school and the nerve-wrecking pre-calculus class I took in college. Further, I can tell you with absolute certainty (i.e., 100 percent certainty) that I have never encountered anyone in the street, man or woman, speaking of things like “central symmetry in planes,” “Keplar’s star polyhedra,” or even “planimetry” (or plane geometry). Then again, I suppose the probability of encountering people who talk about such things is directly proportional to the streets on which one spends his or her time.

Then again, what I, a mathephobe, might have to say about this book amounts to zero. So, if you find yourself needing to define a mathematical term and the information you’re finding in other dictionaries just isn’t adding up, if you’re trying to remember a certain formula and your mind is nothing but an empty sphere, or if you need proof that a mathematical term means what you think it means because you want to be 100 percent correct, then you might want to subtract a copy of this book from your local library or used bookstore and add it to your collection at home.


V. From the Archives:
Yawn Isn't Boring at All

You’re in your car, stuck at a red light. The fellow driving the car next to yours tilts his head back, opens his maw, and emits a massive yawn. Try as you might to avert what’s coming, it’s no use. You follow suit and expel air out your pie hole because, as everyone knows, yawns are contagious.

Now, just why yawns spread so easily is a mystery. What isn't so hard to explain, however, is the word’s definition, etymology, and lore, all of which I will share with you now. I hope it doesn’t put you to sleep.

Definitions … and Synonyms

, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “something that yawns; a gaping opening or entrance” such as “a chasm or an abyss.” I know, that’s not really what we’re talking about, but you can see how it’s related to the other yawn, an “involuntary, prolonged inspiration with the mouth wide open and the lower jaw much depressed, as from drowsiness or fatigue.”

Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary offers a similar description for yawn, “to open the mouth widely,” and then adds “also called chasma.” But wait, there’s more! Blakiston’s goes on to define yawning as “a reflex stretching of the muscles accompanied by a deep inspiration, occurring during the drowsy state preceding the onset of sleep.” It goes on to say that a yawn is also known as a hiant.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary
offers similar fare. It defines yawn as “1) To open the mouth involuntarily, as in drowsiness or fatigue; 2) Involuntary act of gaping, accompanied by attempts at inspiration, excited by drowsiness.” Oddly, although in step with the aforementioned texts, Taber’s offers a separate (and somewhat unnecessary) definition for yawning: “Deep inspiration, gaping induced by drowsiness or fatigue,” and then offers yet another synonym: oscitation.

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary doesn’t offer any synonyms, but it does extend its definition of yawning — “a deep involuntary inspiration with the mouth open” — by including the phrase, “often accompanied by the act of stretching.” (See what I did there? Extend? Stretch? Ha!). It then suggests that readers compare yawning to pandiculation, or “the act of stretching and yawning.”

Somewhat notably, The Thinker’s Thesaurus goes beyond the association of pandiculation and yawning to listing the former as a synonym for the latter. Perhaps the authors of this text need to think a little more about this relationship, as pandiculation does not necessarily include yawning, at least according to Webster’s Third International Dictionary.


Okay, so now that we have a clear definition of yawn, let’s look into the word’s etymology and see if it’s just as exciting and varied.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories says yawn is of Germanic origin, but then adds “the Old English geonian is from an Indo-European root shared by Latin, hiare, [there’s your synonym hiant] and Greek khainein (meaning ‘gape’).” Early uses, says the ODWH, “included the sense [of having] the mouth wide open, gape,” while the senses of the current noun “date from the early 18th century.”

Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins puts it a little differently. It says, “Yawn goes back ultimately to the Indo-European base ghei (or ghi), which also produced Greek khaskein ‘gape’ and Latin hiare ‘gape’ and ‘yawn’ (source of English hiatus). Chambers Dictionary of Etymology offers essentially the same information, as does Partridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, which is likely the source material for all the above.

I Dream of Yawning

Okay, so there seems to be a good deal of consensus about where yawn comes from. There is less agreement, however, about what yawns symbolize in dreams.

Theresa Cheung’s Dream Dictionary from A to Z gets things rolling with the (rather dull) notion that, “just as in waking life, yawning is a sign of fatigue, but also boredom.” However, she kicks it up a notch, albeit with some mystery, when she notes, “It can also be a warning against hidden aggression within yourself or others.”

Why Cheung leaves it there I can’t say. Perhaps she was getting tired and just wanted the work of writing her dream dictionary to be over. Fortunately, others, such as the Watkins Dream Dictionary pick up the slack. In this text, yawning is said to be “indicative of weariness and involuntary communication.”

Yawning in a dream may be a sign of non-aggression (as with animals), or a sign that one wishes to ingest (oxygen, food, drink) or somaticize something (an emotional hurt, an already expelled scream, a trauma).

Somaticize is a psychiatric term meaning “to convert an anxiety into a physical symptom,” and it helps explain what Cheung was getting at when she associated dream yawns with hidden aggression. Tony Crisp’s Dream Dictionary takes a similar tack as it notes that, along with the boredom and fatigue, yawning in dreams may represent “the unconscious trying to say something,” as it belongs to a cast of movements associated with the self-regulation.

I Ain’t Superstitious (I’m Just Tired)

I don’t believe I’ve ever yawned in a dream. I do, however, cover my mouth when I yawn (at least in public). I thought this was just good manners. As it turns out, the impulse to cover one’s gaping maw is a holdover from more superstitious times. But hey, don’t take my word for it. As the Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions explains:

Most people are familiar with the rule of etiquette that a person should cover their mouth when yawning but may be unaware that this has its roots in medieval superstition, when it was thought that evil spirits could get inside a person’s body when their mouth was opened too wide, though making the sign of the cross prevented this happening.

The text goes on to say that, elsewhere in Europe, it was believed that “yawning too long allowed one’s soul to escape.” In still other cultures, “a yawn may be interrupted as a death omen, which was to be countered by snapping one’s fingers.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this research and writing has made me sleepy.

See you next time.



Challenging Word of the Week (April 17)

Greetings word nerds! To follow through on my earlier threat of featuring a "challenging" word each and every week on this blog, I offer you the following term: apothegm. However, rather than just bring the word to your attention and then tell you what it means, I thought it might be fun to present it to you in the form of a quiz, so here goes:

Q: What is an apothegm? Is it:

A) A type of vascular tissue found in the leaves of deciduous trees

B) An aphorism or pithy, yet instructive, saying

C) A mathematical term for a perpendicular line from the center of a regular polygon to one of its sides

Before I tell you the answer, I'll remind you that these challenging words come to you from the website of the Butter Lamb Reference Library. The BLRL, in turn, borrows them from the book, 2000 Most Challenging and Obscure Words, by Norman W. Schur. 

So what makes a word challenging? Well, Mr. Schur puts it this way. "The majority [of these challenging words] ... owe their origin in the main to classical Latin and Greek, but there are perfectly good English words that might lurk around any corner of literature, waiting to jump out and perhaps puzzle you, and therefore challenge you"

Now you know.

So, without further delay, here is the answer to this week's challenging word is B. Here's the skinny from Mr. Schur:

Apothegm (AP uh them) n. An apothegm is an aphorism, a terse, pithy saying along instructive lines; an adage, a maxim, usually expressing a universal truth. It is from the Greek apophthegma (thing uttered), based on apo- (forth, from) plus phthengesthai (to speak). Some universally known apothegms: Man proposes, God disposes. Art is long, life is short. A bird in the hand... A stitch in time... A penny saved ... A fool and his money... One good turn.... There are those who prefer the spelling apophthegm with the extra ph-, closer to the original Greek. You may add that ph- if you wish, but don't leave out the g, or you'll get apothem, (which is pronounced the same way but is a horse of quite a different color: a perpendicular line from the center of a regular polygon to one of its sides; from the Greck apothema, based on the same apo- plus thema (something laid down ). From such tiny omissions do great consequences flow. 

Interesting! What's even more interesting, from a historical perspective, is the following, additional information added by the good people at Merriam-Webster. This comes from MW's definition of aphorism, which you can find on the MW website.

Aphorism was originally used in the world of medicine. Credit Hippocrates, the Greek physician regarded as the father of modern medicine, with influencing our use of the word. He used aphorismos (a Greek ancestor of aphorism meaning "definition" or "aphorism") in titling a book outlining his principles on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. That volume offered many examples that helped to define aphorism, beginning with the statement that starts the book's introduction: "Life is short, Art long, Occasion sudden and dangerous, Experience deceitful, and Judgment difficult." English speakers originally used the term mainly in the realm of the physical sciences but eventually broadened its use to cover principles in other fields.

Well, there you have it. Come back in about seven days for another challenging word of week! (Note: Maybe come back sooner, as there will be new content coming your way by the end of the week!)

A Few Updates ...

Hello Friends of the Butter Lamb and happy Friday. I wanted to make you aware of some potential issues with the latest edition of The Butter Lamb News, give you about an update or two, and tell you about a slight change of plans.

Issues with The Butter Lamb News issue #4: 

Issue #4 of The Butter Lamb News has mailed. Since then, I have learned that a few folks have experienced some problems with it. First, there seems to be some garbled text on page 5, in the item about the Kripke Dictionary Collection. I am sorry about that. I must confess I am not sure why this is happening, as the text doesn't show up like this on my computer screen. I know it has something to do with the graphic above the text, so the lesson here is that I need to be more careful about where I place images. This hasn't happened in every issue, so you may not encounter this problem. Second, it's been reported by at least one reader that one of the pages is his copy of issue #4 was upside down. (How embarrassing!) I don't think this problem is widespread -- I thought I caught the pages I messed up during the production of this issue -- but one or two may have slipped by. Sorry about that too. These unacceptable errors are all due to the new printing process I've adopted and, clearly, I'm still working out the kinks. In any event, you should be aware that since The Butter Lamb News is free for the asking, if you ever receive an issue with problems, I'll gladly send you a revised copy. Just let me know!

PDFS of Issue #4

And speaking of issue #4, the PDF version of this issue is finally available. You can find it here.

Word of the Week and Other Stuff

Two weeks ago, I made the bold pronouncement that I'd be posting new stuff on this blog on a more regular basis. One of those new things was to be a "word of the week." Well, after posting the first one, I up and left town for vacation. In retrospect, I should have waited to start the word of the week when I got back. Live and learn. Bottom line: expect new stuff appearing more regularly beginning next week. And hey, speaking of "live and learn," one of the other new items will be a bi-weekly post/newsletter called Live and Learn. 

Joe3's Moments of Zen

Finally, I thought I'd let you know that if you ever need to take a break from all these words, you can chill with Joe3's Moments of Zen -- a YouTube channel featuring short videos of life at it's most relaxing. As of this typing, there are 40 videos on the channel, with the latest offering a brief glimpse from my trip down South.


Word of the Week: Soteriology

As I note in the latest issue (#4) of The Butter Lamb News, I really blew it in the "new additions to the Butter Lamb Reference Library" department over the past few months. It wasn't for a lack of trying, I just didn't come across anything that grabbed me. Well, over the past few days, I took some steps toward remedying that. Since April 1, I've acquired four new dictionaries for BLRL's collection, plus a few texts about the lexicography world.  

Among the four dictionaries I picked up was a book called "2000 Most Challenging and Obscure Words." (No, I didn't miss an article there, there's no "the" in the title. Whatever ....) I have to say, I'm a sucker for books like this. I have a few already and I always seem to find room for more. There's something inside me that just has to know what these challenging and obscure words are! Apparently, I'm not alone ... and part of a long tradition.

Compilations of difficult words are nothing new. Philetas of Cos in ancient Greece (b.c. 320 B.C.) produced such a work, known in English as "Miscellaneous Difficult Words," consisting of a collection explaining rare words found in Homer and certain dialects, and technical terms. His pupil. Zenodotus of Ephesus (b.c. 325 BC), the first head of the celebrated Library of Alexandria, wrote a Homeric glossary, known in English as "Difficult Words." He was responsible for a great innovation: he listed his entries in alphabetical order! Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BC-- not to be confused with the earlier Aristophanes, c. 445-c. 385 BC, the foremost writer of Greek comedy) became head of the great library c. 194 B.C and followed up with an exhaustive compilation bearing the simple title "Words" that included, in addition to obscure terms from poetry, difficult words from prose writings as well. This book follows a tradition established a very long time ago.

So what makes up a challenging or obscure word, for as you and I well know, "challenging" is a subjective term. Mr. Schur puts it as follows, and to be fair, his take wasn't what I expected.

There are more than 400,000 words in today's unabridged dictionaries supplements appear from time to time. They include entries like you, me, it, is, to, how, why, etc.--words that are part of every English-speaking person's vocabulary--and others like abelmosk, benzopbenone, boloblastic, leptoprosopic, mylobyoideus, zingiberaceous, words that, a thousand to one, you'll never run into except perhaps in word games, and can live without. In between there is a third lot: words not in common use, but ones you may well run into.

Within this third lot, there are certain groupings: words based on the names of people, real (Lucullan, gerrymander, jeremiad, Roscian) or fictional (Gargantuan, Pantagruelian, rodomontade), or on place names, geographical (brummagem) or literary (Brobdingnagian, Lilliputian); others that have been taken over intact from foreign languages (a cappella, birouac, bravuru, chiaroscuro, legerdemain, louche, nous, tzigane, Zeitgeist) The majority by far, though they owe their origin in the main to classical Latin and Greek, are perfectly good English words that might lurk around any corner of literature, waiting to jump out and perhaps puzzle you, and therefore challenge you. Hence the title of this book.

Okay, fair enough. And where, you may be asking, did Mr. Schur find these challenging words? He tells us that too.

 My criteria in the selection of the 1,000 words have necessarily been subjective, They are, without exception, words that I have come across myself, words that have challenged me by giving me pause or somehow exciting my interest and inviting investigation. I have not resorted to plucking words out of dictionaries.

Wait, 1,000 words? Doesn't the title say 2,000? Whatever. The important thing is to know that, while lounging on the couch in the BLRL reading room (ha, ha), I was struck by the idea that I should share these challenging words with y'all in a Word-of-the-Day type format because, so far as I can tell, that's what dictionary-related websites do. Of course, a word of the day kinda thing might be too much for me (I'm only one man ....) So, I've settled on a Word of the Week. Here's the first one. Prepare to be challenged!

Soteriology (su teer ee OL uh jee) n. As a general term, soteriology is a discourse on health and hygiene, but in Christian theology, it is the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. In Greek, a soter is a delivery or savior, and soteria is safety, salvation, or deliverance. Soter, in Greek religion, was an epithet of Zeus, Poseidon, and other gods. Ptolemy I (c. 367-285 B.C, king of Egypt 323-285 BC.), known as Ptolemy Soter, was given that surname, meaning "Preserver," because he forced the Macedonian King Demetrius I (c. 337-283 BC) to raise the siege of Rhodes in 304 B.C Saint Sofer was pope from c. 166 to 175. Whether they know it or not, today's born-again Christians are practicing soteriology.