V is for…


Holy moly! Can you believe it’s nearly June? Wasn’t I complaining about the snow and the cold not that long ago? Well, I’m not complaining now. My garden is in full swing and I’m off to Toronto next week to attend the annual Editors’ Association of Canada conference.

Today, I’d like to bring you the next instalment of my Vocabulary Series. I’m going to visit upon you a veritable variety of vexing and vainglorious vocabulary beginning with the letter V.

This first word is a fabulous verb that conjures visions of indecisive sea anemones. It kind of sounds like the action it describes, don’t you think?

Vacillate (verb)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1590s, meaning to sway unsteadily. Comes from the Latin word vacillatus, which is the past participle of vacillare, meaning to sway to and fro or to hesitate. Its more modern meaning to describe an inability to make up one’s mind was first documented in the 1620s.

Definition:    To waver between two different opinions, options, or actions; to be indecisive; to sway unsteadily.

Example:   Viktor vacillated; he didn’t know if he should pursue the voluptuous blonde running down the hill or her vainglorious lover, who was heading for the forest. He flipped a coin.


This next word is one of my favourite adjectives, in part because it’s so much fun to say. But it also makes a great insult!

Vacuous (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1640s, meaning empty. Comes from the Latin word vacuus, meaning empty, void, or free, which is related to the word vacare, meaning to be empty. Vacare likely comes from a translation of the Greek word kenon, which means that which is empty. Its more modern meaning to describe a person was first seen in the 1840s.

Definition:   Unintelligent or expressionless; lacking substance or content; empty.

Example:   With a disappointed sigh, Viktor cornered his dinner. The young man’s vacuous gaze meant Viktor was in for an especially bland meal.


Seeing as we’re at the letter V, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about the origins of the words that describes one of my favourite monsters. Careful—the bonus word this week wants to suck your blood!

Vampire (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1700s, referring to a spectral being in a human body who leaves the grave at night to drink the blood of the living while they sleep. Comes from the French word vampire, or the German Vampir, which is seen in 1732 in an account regarding Hungarian vampires. The French and German words come from the Hungarian vampir, which comes from the Old Church Slavonic word opiri. Similar words can be seen in the Bulgarian vapir and Ukranian uper. Franc Miklošič, an expert on Slavic languages, believed that the origins of vampire can be traced to the Kazan Tatar word, ubyr, meaning witch. However, Max Vasmer, who was an expert in the etymology of Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, and Turkic languages, disagreed.

The meaning that describes a person who preys on others—especially emotionally or psychologically—was first recorded in 1741.

Definition:   A reanimated corpse that leaves its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with abnormally long and pointed canine teeth; a person who preys ruthlessly on others.

Example:   As the sun began to rise, Viktor wished he wasn’t a vampire. He really missed eating pesto and sleeping in a bed.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Linking up with this weekend’s moonshine
grid, over at yeah write.

Hey, if you’ve got a blog post that’s burning
a hole in your virtual pocket, you should
link up too!

Image credit: Depsycho @ deviantART

The Many Faces of Snow


Well, it’s December, dear readers. And for me, that marks the beginning of about six months of winter. As I write this, there is already a foot of snow in my backyard.

This got me thinking about that thing people say about the incredible number of words Inuit people have to describe snow. And I wondered how many words we have in English. It turns out that we have a lot. In fact, depending on how you define words that describe snow, English actually has more words than the Inuit languages.

So, today, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the English words for snow and tell you a bit about what they mean and where they come from.

Blizzard:  A severe, sustained snowstorm with high winds. The origins are unknown, but blizzard first appeared in American English in the early 1800s.

Firn: Crystalline or granular snow, particularly the kind you find on the upper parts of glaciers, where it hasn’t been compressed into ice yet. Firn comes the German word meaning last year’s snow, which can be traced back to the Old English fyrn and the Gothic fairns, both meaning of last year.

Frazil (rhymes with hazel): Soft, slushy ice formed by an accumulation of ice crystals in water that is too turbulent to freeze over. Frazil appeared in the late 1800s, coming from the Canadian French word frasil, which means snow floating in the water.

Graupel: Small particles of snow with a light crust of ice; soft hail. Graupel appeared in the late 1800s and comes from the German word graupeln, meaning hailing with soft hailstones.

Piste: A ski run made of compacted snow. Piste first appears in the early 1700s, coming directly from the French word, which means racetrack. The French piste comes from the Latin word pistus, meaning to pound or stamp.

Sastrugi: Parallel wave-like ridges formed by wind blowing across the surface of hard snow. Sastrugi first appears in the mid-1800s and comes from the Russian word zastrugi, meaning small ridges.

Slush: Partially melted snow or ice. The origins are uncertain, but slush first appears in the mid-1600s. It’s generally thought that the word is simply imitative of the sound you make when walking through slush. (Making it a great choice for onomatopoeia.)

Verglas: A thin coating of ice on an exposed surface. First appearing in the early 1800s, verglas comes from the French words verre, meaning glass, and glas/glace, meaning ice.

And there you have it. Eight English words to describe snow. There are plenty more, but I thought this was a nice sample. I don’t know about you, but I certainly learned some new words today. I’m not sure if it will make winter more bearable, but at least we’ll be able to identify exactly what kind of snow we’re looking at!

If you’d like to learn more about English words for snow—or see a comparison between Inuit and English—check out the following links:


Thought I’d link up with the Moonshine gang this weekend.


Image credit: Olga Lyubkin / PhotoXpress.com