Monday, August 26, 2013



People used to think that miasmas caused horrible diseases such as cholera or the plague.  No one knew for sure where sickness came from, so they blamed this smelly, poisonous atmosphere that was like rotting plants in a swamp.

The word miasma came from ancient Greek, and it meant "pollution."  Other terms for miasma were "night air" or "bad air."  The miasma theory was accepted in many parts of the world such as Europe, India, and China.  It only went away in the 19th century, after germs were discovered.

Nowadays, people might use the word miasma to mean something like evironmental pollution or maybe something more symbolic, like a feeling of foreboding.

The Cholera Miasma

Aqua vitae

In the Middle Ages, people figured out that if they distilled wine several times, they could make stronger drinks such as brandy and whiskey.  These liquors were called aqua vitae, which was Latin for "water of vitality."

Another use of the term was in the Church, where it could mean the water of baptism.  I guess if you wanted a double dose of aqua vitae, you could get baptized with brandy, but people probably didn't do that.  I'm just sayin'.


This word looks like it has something to do with celery, but it doesn't.  What celerity means is speed or haste or going really fast.  For example, a greyhound runs with great celerity.

The word came from the Middle French word celerite, which came from the Latin word celeritas.


If you have surgery, and your veterinarian or doctor accidentally leaves a sponge inside you, that is a gossypiboma.  Another word for it is textiloma or a Retained Foreign Object (RFO).  The word gossiypiboma comes from the Latin word gossypium, which means "cotton wool" or "cotton".  The boma part is a Kiswahili word that means "place of concealment."

Of course, it is very bad to have a foreign object inside your body.  It's so bad that you can die from it.  The symptoms might not even show up for months or years.  Sometimes an infection develops around the object, or sometimes the body tries to make a tumor around it.

Anyway, surgeons and nurses are very careful about counting how many sponges they use and making sure they have every last one of them before they close up the incision.  Sometimes they also x-ray somebody to make sure there is nothing left inside them.

Photo:  Ali Aminian


The British use this term for anybody who likes to stand around by canals and watch what is going on there, especially on the locks as the boats go through them.  Probably the canal workers first used this term to make fun of idle spectators, but gongoozlers are now proud to call themselves by this word.  Not only that, but while they are gongoozling, some like to make artwork, such as paintings, photographs, and postcards.

You can also use the term gongoozler to refer to anybody who is just standing around watching an event without contributing to it in any way.
Foxton Locks
Original uploader:  Stephen Dawson


Sabrage means opening a champagne bottle with a saber, which seems like a strange way to do it, when you could just use a corkscrew.  Sabrage became popular back in the days of Napoleon because his troops were always drinking champagne.  Napoleon thought that if you won a battle, you should celebrate with champagne, and if you lost, you should drink champagne to cheer yourself up.

Anyway, you do sabrage by sliding the saber along the body of the bottle and breaking the whole neck off.  The cork just stays in the collar of the bottle.  You can see a slow-motion video on YouTube that shows you how to do it.  There are other videos about sabering champagne there, too, including one in Swedish.  If you want to know the physics of why this works, you can read about sabrage in Wikipedia.
Author:  Frank van Mierlo


  1. Very good words this week. My daddys did sabrage last time he was back east visiting his brother. So that was an important word to learn.

    I've had a busy life lately. I had to go to the basenji meeting Saturday. Since I'm Zest!, I had to show off all my tricks and play musical sit with the daddys. We came in 3rd because daddys isn't as well trained as I am, but he's still a good guy.

    Today I had to do some agility for breakfast (mom's crazy idea, making me work for breakfast) and then I had to do some obedience for dinner. (another of mom's crazy idea - working for dinner.) I also had to chase the bunnies out of the area that the daddys was mowing. So I've been very, very busy. I don't know what they'd do without me.

    --Zest! superstar and hard worker.

    1. Dear Zest!

      I can't believe your mom made you work for your breakfast and for your dinner. As a basenji, you should get all your meals served to you in a silver dish. At least that's my opinion.

      We have lots of squirrels in our yard right now because our oak tree is raining down acorns. Dorrie was standing under the oak tree yesterday, and suddenly something really big fell out of the tree. Mom was watching, and she thought it was the biggest acorn ever made, but then she saw that it was a squirrel! Dorrie was shocked, and so was the squirrel, but it managed to get up and go partway up the tree trunk to keep from being eaten by Dorrie. If the squirrel had landed on top of Dorrie, it probably would have squashed her like a bug!

      Your friend, Piper

  2. Oh, and mom pointed out that you cannot use a corkscrew to open champagne. (which ALWAYS comes from France, sparkling wine does not have to come from France, but champagne does. It must, it's a law or something.) Only wine (white or red) or port with a cork can be opened with a corkscrew. Don't try to open a screw cap bottle of wine with a corkscrew, or a box of wine. But you can use the corkscrew on synthetic corks.

    Just FYI.
    mom says clearly you don't drink enough at your house.


    1. Your mom is right. We don't drink much here, so I guess that's why we don't know about corks and corkscrews. My mom is really not much fun, but neither am I, so that makes us a good pair!