Decades ago, when I read Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Pastoral, I was amazed at the details about gloves and glove making included in the story. I’d never before considered that the different parts of a glove had names, such as the palm, the fourchettes (the slender pieces of leather that form the sides of the fingers), and the quirks (diamond-shaped pieces inserted at the bottom between the fingers). To me a glove was a glove was a glove, and if the stitching came undone it was a glove with a hole in it.
At that time I began thinking about what other items existed in my everyday life that had names, such as the little piece of plastic wrapped around the end of a shoelace to keep it from fraying. Certainly someone who worked in a shoelace factory would know that word. (It’s called an aglet.)
It ends up there are a lot of things I know of but not the names to. Such as glabella. That’s the space between the eyebrows. My glabella is graced with my eleven. You know, the two parallel creases running vertically in my glabella. I earned every millimeter of my glabella frown lines and I’ve named the creases after the two people who caused them. I’ll end the story there.
• When you sit with one leg tucked underneath you and then you straighten it out because it starts to feel like pins and needles are crawling all over it, that tingling sensation is called paresthesia. We often say our foot has “fallen asleep.” People understand that. They will look at you funny and then turn and run if you say you have paresthesia.
• Illegible handwriting is called griffonage. Studies show penmanship is declining as we type more and write less, making griffonage more common in the 21st century. However, A.I. may eventually write in cursive for us, eliminating our illegible scribbles altogether.
• A palindrome is a word spelled the same forward and backward, such as level and kinnikinnik. We know that. A less familiar word is semordnilaps, which is a word that means one thing forward and another backward. Examples include stressed and desserts, diaper and repaid, parts and strap. Semordnilap itself read backward spells palindrome.
• Silent letters, as in knight, fight, or Django, are aphthongs. This might be something you already know. (Read that last sentence carefully…)
• When you mow the lawn and you don’t get one row lined up close enough to the next, you end up with a thin strip of longer, unmown grass. Yes, there’s a name for that strip. It’s called a lawn mullet and it’s as ugly now as it was in the’80s.
• Have you ever had someone say, “You look just like someone I know,” or, “You remind me so much of my cousin Casey”? Someone who looks like your twin but isn’t even related to you is your doppelgänger. The person with your same name who shows up when you Google yourself is your Googlegänger. It’s amazing how many of you there are out there.
• The bit at the end of the pencil that holds the eraser in place is a ferrule. Chew on that for awhile.
• That thing you use to dot a lower case i is called a tittle. The curvy swoosh sometimes above the letter n is called a tilde, and the mark made by two dots above some vowels, such as above the a in doppelgänger, is called an umlaut.
• Kummerspeck is the excess weight you gain from overeating due to unhappiness, depression, or grief. Its literal translation is grief bacon. Too much of it and you won’t have your doppelgänger anymore.
• The uncomfortable feeling you get from over-imbibing is called crapulous. It may have been thought up by the guy who spent a night hanging his head over the porcelain throne—or crapper—back in the 1500s when the word was invented.
• The string of symbols comic strips use for profanity is called a grawlix. You often see it when someone is *#%* hung over.
• The five dot pattern found on dice is a quincunx (rhymes with swim trunks). Thomas Edison had the five dots tattooed on his left forearm. Only history knows why and she ain’t tellin’.
• The indent on the bottom of a wine bottle is called a punt. This definition was dreamed up during a football game. It was the fourth down with 20 yards to go, which made it just the right time to get a big bottle of wine and kick it—I mean drink it.
• The cardboard sleeve around your coffee is a zarf. I always remove mine and give it back to the barista so it can be reused. This is not so easy to do with an agraffe.
• An agraffe is the wire cage that keeps a cork in a bottle of champagne. If anyone can think of a way to repurpose the agraffe once the cork has been popped, please let me know.
• The warmth of the sun on a cold day is apricity. It’s a tingly word for a pleasant sensation.
• A person known by one name is mononymous. Adele. Prince. Voltaire, Madonna, Cher. Some people (well, one person) call me Thunk. Does that count?
(Thanks to MentalFloss.com for helping me out with this column.)
You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2023 Sarah Donohoe
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.