Wednesday, May 30, 2012

FIVE WORDS AND A PHRASE

MOIL

Moil means pretty much the same as toil, which is nice because these words rhyme.  Except that moil isn't used very often nowadays, and it can mean some other things that toil doesn't mean.  So anyway, the first meaning of moil is hard work or drudgery.  And it can also be a whirling, churning, or eddying.  An archaic meaning of moil is to wet or smear.

You can also use moil to mean confusion, turmoil, or trouble.  In glassmaking, a moil is a little extra piece of glass that shows up while the glass is being blown.  When the glass is being finished, the moil is taken off.

Miners use moils to break or pry out rock.  In this case, a moil is a short hand tool with a polygonal point.

The word moil started being used in Middle English between 1350 and 1400.  Back then, the word was moillen, and it meant to work hard in wet, muddy conditions.  The ME word came from the Latin word mollis, which means soft.




CHILBLAINS

I thought chilblains was an old-fashioned word for some kind of disease that is now called something else, but I was wrong.  It turns out you can still get chilblains even today.  And the only other words for the condition are pernio and perniosis.  What chilblains are is red, itchy ulcers that show up on places such as your hands or feet or ears after you have been out in the cold.

The way you get chilblains is when you are someplace really cold, and the tiny little blood vessels in your skin shrink and get damaged.  Then when they warm up again -- and especially if they warm up really fast -- they expand and break and leak blood.  This makes you end up with red patches that itch and burn and get swollen.

Most people don't get chilblains, but there are a few people who do get them because they have a family history of chilblains, or they have poor circulation, or maybe they have a condition such as lupus.  Also, young children and the elderly are more likely to get chilblains than other people are.  And women get them more often than men do.

You can treat chilblains by putting some topical stuff on them, and usually they will heal up in a couple of weeks.  But if you don't treat them, you might end up with skin ulcers, cracked skin, or infections.




DOUGHTY

Mom and I thought that this word meant somebody who was all frumpy and wore clothes that were out of style.  But we were shocked to find out that doughty actually describes a person who is brave, fearless, hardy, bold, intrepid, and resolute.  Doughty comes from the Old English word dohtig, which is related to the Old High German toht, meaning worth, and the Middle Dutch word duchtich for strong.  And all of these words go back to tukhe, the Greek word for luck.

Anyway, Mom and I were wondering how we could have possibly have been so wrong about this word, and then Mom finally remembered that the word we were thinking of was:



DOWDY

So when we looked this word up, sure enough, it was all about somebody who wears clothes that are shabby or lacking in stylishness.  A dowdy person can also be old-fashioned or drab.   This word comes from the Middle English word doude, which means immoral, unattractive, or shabbily dressed.











CRWTH

This is one of those crazy Welsh words where nobody remembered to put in a vowel!  Except that I guess the "w" is supposed to be a vowel.  Anyway, it's pronounced krüth.  Or you can just use the English word crowd instead.

A crwth is a musical instrument with 6 strings made of gut.  The main part of it is sort of like a box, and the fingerboard doesn't have any frets.  You play the crwth by using a bow, sort of like you would play a violin.

There are pictures from the 11th century that show instruments that look somewhat like crwths, so we know that this instrument has been around a long time.  A person who plays the crwth is called a crythor in Welsh.  Crwth comes from the Proto-Celtic noun krotto, which means a round object.  The bulging shape of the instrument is probably why people called it "round."

In English, as I mentioned before, the instrument is called a crowd.  So a player of the crowd was called a Crowder or Crowther, and that is where those surnames came from.  In Scotland, a crowd player was called MacWhirter or MacWhorter.




PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

I always thought this was a goofy phrase because as a dog, I think envelopes should be eaten and not pushed.  Mom didn't understand why anybody would talk about pushing an envelope around either, so I did some research on the phrase.  And what I learned was that pushing the envelope wasn't about paper envelopes at all.  It's really about flying airplanes!

Anyway, the envelope for a plane is made up of stuff like how high and fast it can fly and still be safe.  So if you dive the plane at a really high speed, you are flying "outside the envelope," and it's pretty dangerous because you might end up doing the crash-and-burn thing.

Nowadays, people are talking about pushing the envelope in lots of other fields such as business, advertising, TV, and movies.  For example, if a TV show has a lot of violence or sex, it may be pushing the envelope to see how much it can get away with before the censors crack down and the advertisers back out.

And right now, when I am writing this late at night, I am pushing the envelope to see if I can stay awake until I finish writing!



3 comments:

  1. I get chilblains! Apparently, it's common for young women to get them for no apparent reason - me! They are not pleasant. They're stingy and troublesome.

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    1. Dear Tegan,
      I am sorry that you get chilblains. They do not sound like fun! Be sure to wear your warm clothes when you go out in cold weather, or better yet, stay inside. That's what I do!
      Your friend, Piper

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