Metheglin

Metheglin

Metheglin is ‘a spiced or medicated kind of mead’, apparently a Welsh specialty.  John Drury mentions a letter from George Herbert (1593-1633) to Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, to thank her for a gift of it. See also John Donne’s comment on the...
Forerunner

Forerunner

‘Forerunner’ originally meant those who ran ahead of a royal progress to mark with white chalk the doors of houses to be requisitioned for the royal entourage.  In his poem ‘The Forerunners’, George Herbert (1593-1633) uses this meaning as a...
Quiddity

Quiddity

A pleasing quickfire sprightliness to this word. It means, among other things, the essential or defining nature or characteristic of something, its particularities.  It can also mean a clever or nuanced argument or the capacity to deal in such niceties. It is the...
Behither

Behither

An old word for ‘barring’ or ‘short of’ or ‘save’, used in George Herbert’s poem ‘Holy Baptism (II)’: ‘Let me be soft and supple to thy will, / Small to my self, to others mild, / Behither ill.’  ...
Joy’s handsell

Joy’s handsell

This rare word refers to ‘a new year’s present to wish good luck’, or a foretaste, as used in George Herbert’s poem ‘The Holy Scriptures I’: ‘Thou art joy’s handsell: heav’n lies flat in thee / Subject to...
Steampunk

Steampunk

I came across this curious term in an article about 19th century or related ‘industrial’ style fonts.As I have barely read science fiction, I had to look it up, and found it a wonderful way to describe a genre centred on steam-powered and other 19th...
A prodigality of marvels

A prodigality of marvels

A perfect collective noun for a mass of marvels.  There are good reasons the first of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s duo of travel books is entitled A Time of Gifts.One of the most beautifully wrought recollections of a youthful stride across Europe, also capturing...
A doctrine of doctors

A doctrine of doctors

So now, when you are reporting from a medical conference, you know the correct term to package all those medics together.  They are huddling and expostulating as a ‘doctrine’.  Perhaps the collective noun refers, however, as much or more to doctors of the...
Portable, durable bread

Portable, durable bread

This twice-baked Greek bread is known for its durability, keeping for months.  The trick seems to be to know how much to soften it with water when you want to use it. Here is one recipe, and there are others of a sweet version, many of which have a strong resemblance...
Blackavized Maniots

Blackavized Maniots

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s beautifully wrought account of his travels in Mani in Greece provides a vivid portrayal of the Maniots, including the rare and almost Shakespearean word, ‘blackavized’.  That echo of a ‘visor’ conveys something of a...
A drunkenship of cobblers

A drunkenship of cobblers

What did cobblers do to be nailed with such a bad reputation?  When did you ever see a drunken cobbler? Surely they should cobble together a class action, and hobble such aspersions on their profession, particularly given the favourable light cast on any gathering of...
A temperance of cooks

A temperance of cooks

Having recently revelled in the bursting descriptions of a quaffing, boozing, drunken chef in Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, I was surprised to see the collective noun for the profession of cook being ‘temperance’.  Perhaps Swelter is the exception...
Endzweck

Endzweck

I came across this German word in a documentary about Bach narrated by the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, author of the door-stopper Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.  He translated it as ‘ultimate’ or ‘artistic goal’, something of an...

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