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

S is for…


Well, dear readers, April is finally here. Unfortunately, my backyard is still covered in snow. So, in an attempt to cheer myself up I thought I’d focus on my Vocabulary Series and bring you some of the best words beginning with the letter S.

I think this was the toughest choice yet. There are so many superb and scintillating choices. Words like scissors, snuggle, soap, slither, and squalid, just to name a few. After much agonizing, I managed to select three scrumptious words for you.

The first word I chose is a great adjective, in part because it’s so much fun to say. But it also sounds a lot like the behaviour it’s used to describe.

Salacious (adjective)

Etymology:  First appears in the 1660s. Comes from the Latin word salax (from the genitive form salacis), meaning lustful. Likely originated from the Latin salire, meaning to leap, as in a male animal leaping on a female in a sexual advance.

Definition:  Lustful or lecherous; having undue or indecent interest in sexual matters; tending to cause sexual desire.

Example:  Buffy stared at Angel, a salacious look in her eyes. As he moped about his vampire nature, she thought about getting him out of his shirt.


This next word I chose especially for one of my friends. You know who you are. This animal is disliked by some, but I love watching them frolic in my backyard and figure out new ways to get at my squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Squirrel (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in the early 1300s. Comes from the Anglo-French esquirel, which came from the Old French escurueil, meaning squirrel or squirrel fur. This, in turn, came from the Vulgar Latin scuriolus, which is a variant of the Latin scurius, both meaning squirrel. (Squirrels belong to the Family Sciuridae.) The Latin came from the Greek skiouros, which literally means “shadow-tailed” and is a combination of skia, meaning shadow, and oura, meaning tail. Oura comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ors, meaning buttocks or backside.

As a side note, the Old English word for squirrel was acweorna, which became aquerne in Middle English, before it was replaced with squirrel. Is it just me or does acweorna sound kind of like acorn?

Definition:  Any of a variety of slender, agile, arboreal or ground-dwelling rodent with a long bushy tail and furry coat, typically feeding on nuts and seeds.

Example:  Fortunately, the vampire squirrel was only interested in sucking the life out of acorns, and the occasional tomato.


The bonus word this week is something we couldn’t live without. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to say!

Synapse (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in English in 1899, from medical Latin. It was introduced by English physiologist Sir Michael Foster at the suggestion of the classical scholar, Arthur Woollgar Verral. Comes from the Greek synapsis, meaning conjunction, which comes from synaptein, meaning to join or bind together. Synaptein combines syn-, meaning together, and haptein, meaning to fasten.

Definition:  A junction between two nerve cells (neurons), consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass.

Example:  They waited for Igor’s synapses to start firing. It was a long wait.


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 the Moonshine grid over at yeah write.


Image credit: Joanna RedesiukPhotoxpress.com


R is for…

Coati by Adrian Ratter

Welcome back, dear readers, to the latest post in my Vocabulary Series. Today, I’m going to tackle the letter R, which is rife with regal renegades and raunchy representatives. In fact, there are so many fantastic words beginning with R, it was a serious challenge to narrow it down to three.

The first word I chose is one of my favourite adjectives. Just the sound of it can conjure up an image of the type of person it’s meant to describe.

Recalcitrant (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in English in 1823. Comes from the French word, récalcitrant, which means “kicking back” and is the past participle of recalcitrare, meaning to kick back or be inaccessible. It was formed by adding the French prefix re-, meaning back, to the Latin word calcitrare, meaning to kick. Calcitrare comes from the Latin calx, which means heel.

Definition:   Possessing an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline; difficult to manage.

Example:   Timmy couldn’t believe he’d drawn the short straw again; he was still recovering from the last time he’d had to ask the recalcitrant ogre to move.


This next word describes an animal native to North America. Often considered to be a pest, these animals are dextrous scavengers who sometimes wash their food before eating it, which is pretty cool.

Raccoon (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in English around 1600, sometimes as arocoun. Comes from the word arahkun, from the Powhatan subgroup of the Algonquian language. Arahkun came from the word arahkunem, meaning “he scratches with his hands.” Interestingly, in Norwegian, the word for raccoon is vaskebjørn, meaning wash-bear.

Definition:   A greyish-brown nocturnal North America mammal with a ringed tail and black mask-like markings around the eyes.

Genus is Procyon; family is Procyonidae (the raccoon family). There are two species, including the common raccoon (P. lotor), which is often seen in urban areas throughout North America. The raccoon family also includes the coati, kinkajou, cacomistle, and olingo.

Example:   Timmy watched the raccoon steal the sleeping ogre’s lunch then run up the nearest tree just as the ogre opened its eyes. Oh crap, thought Timmy.


The bonus word this week is something I would be absolutely thrilled to see at the moment.

Rain (noun)

Etymology:   Comes from the Old English word regn, meaning rain, which in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic regna– (which you can see in the Old Saxon regan, Old Frisian rein, Middle Dutch reghen, Dutch regen, German regen, Old Norse regn, Gothic rign). Early origins are uncertain, but regna– may come from the presumed Proto-Indo-European root reg-, meaning moist or wet, which might also be the source of the Latin word rigare, meaning to moisten or wet.

Definition:   Condensed moisture from the atmosphere falling visibly in separate drops.

Example:   Timmy breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the rain falling outside; the construction site shut down when it rained.


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.


Image credit: Baby Coati by Adrian Ratter

Their, there, they’re… Don’t be cry

scary castle in a stormWelcome, dear readers, to my first grammar-related post of 2014! I decided to start the year with three homophones that consistently confuse English users—both old and new. (By the way, if you don’t get the 30 Rock reference in the title, click here to be enlightened—or further confused!)

Okay, so an adjective, an adverb, and a contraction walk into a bar and the bartender says, “Oh my god, they’re everywhere!”

I know. It’s a bad joke. But the point is to explain that these three homophones represent three different parts of speech, which is why it’s important to use the right one in the right place. So let’s look at them.

This their is a possessive adjective (and a determiner), and is used to refer to something that belongs to the person or thing previously indicated.

  • The angry villagers wanted their children back.

It can also be used to refer to someone whose gender is unspecified or unknown.

  • Vlad heard a minion scratching in their coffin.

This there is an adverb that indicates whether something is in, at, or moving to a place or position.

  • “I’m not going in there,” the villager said. “That room is full of vampires!”

It can also be used as an exclamation, either to focus attention on something or to comfort someone.

  • There, there, it will all be over soon.

And this they’re is a contraction of the words they are, which are a pronoun and a verb. They is the plural form of he, she, and it. It’s generally used to refer to someone or something previously indicated. Are is the present form of the verb be. So if you use this form of they’re, you should be talking about more than one person doing something. For example:

  • The villagers! They’re inside the castle!

And there you have it! Let me know if there are any other homophones you’d like me to write about.


Image credit: fotola70 / Photoxpress.com