The writing diary of a well-mellowed science writer who cares about the public understanding of science and knows the ropes. This blog bounces between my curiosity, the daily realities of professional writing, the joy of pursuing nature, and my recycling of ideas that won't be in some book or other as far as I can see, but still needed sharing. I welcome comments and suggestions! Spam will be blocked and reported. For my books, see http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/index.htm
wage restraint. A
process where the employer wages war, and the staff are kept under restraint.
modern-day name given to what was once called a wain. It appears that the
modern name derives from the wain behaving like a supermarket trolley, and
jamming alternate wheels, so that it ‘wags’ along the road. The old word is
still acceptable, for wherever there's a wheel, there's a wain.
continuation of diplomacy by another means.
water. A most
unfortunate liquid, being the cause of floods, drowning, skidding and brake
failure in cars, electrocution (in some cases), drought (in its absence), and
the encouragement of teetotallers. Regular users normally die if they are not
provided with a continuing supply.
water drainage. With
the larger Gothic buildings of the Middle Ages, roof water became more of a
problem. The answer was to construct ‘gargles’, as the down-pipes were called,
to carry the water away. Most of the noise came from the stone connection at
the top, and the name transferred to this part. Later, as the style grew more
decorative, they became the modern gargoyle.
water flea. Any
of a number of small crustaceans, about the size of a flea, which live in
water. They usually avoid the light, except when beer is poured in their tanks,
when they rise to the surface, a fact discovered by Jacques Loeb. Nobody has
been able to discover what Loeb was doing when he poured the beer into their
tanks. It would have done more good if he had poured it into a gargoyle.
water shed. An igloo
after hot weather.
water sheep. It
is only now becoming clear that modern sheep owe their fine greasy wool coat to
evolution, having been aquatic mammals for some thirty million years. The signs
were all there, of course, in the well-known hydraulic ram, and in breeds such
as the Merino (clearly a corruption of ‘marino’), and even in the Romney Marsh
breed. Careful cross-breeding will soon restore something close to the original
ocean-going sheep, and allow us to harvest the seas in an entirely new way.
waters of Lethe. The
result of distilling milk of amnesia at a low temperature in a high vacuum.
wave function. A
proverbially clean animal, as indicated by the well-known folk saying ‘as clean
as a weasel’. There used to be two giant weasels kept in Lhasa, a small village
in Nepal (not to be confused with the capital of Tibet, also called Lhasa). The
Nepalese village attained great fame in the 19th century on account of these
two animals, and was distinguished from the Tibetan city by being called the
Lhasa of two weasels.
wedding dress. A
white dress, sometimes cynically worn, and commonly made of layers of fine silk
net. In many cultures, this is handed down from mother to daughter, on the
grounds that there is no tulle like an old tulle.
weevil. A kind of
beetle, often found in the company of a smaller specimen, this smaller specimen
being generally known to coleopterologists as the lesser of two weevils.
weight lifting. Athletes
are very fond of this sport, if only to point to it when people make
disparaging remarks about athletics.
They would, of course, be wiser to look at synchronised
weight loss. A
cause of disqualification for weight lifters.
well bread. A
very tough form of baked bread, able to be dropped down the deepest well
without cracking the crust. Some makers cheat in bread-dropping contests, using
a very light dough, but in most cases, the well bread starts off with materials
very similar to those found in lumpenproletariat.
Wellington, Duke of.
The inventor of gumboot diplomacy. After he had his boots named, Wellington
became a source of jealousy among other generals, some of whom attempted to
achieve the same degree of notoriety through the back door, as it were. Lord
Cardigan had himself ennobled under the name of his favourite item of attire,
while the Earl of Sandwich tossed a coin to decide whether he would be that or
the Earl of Haddock and Chips. Perceptively, he foresaw either the decline of
the North Atlantic fisheries or the failure of haddock and chips to be accepted
outside of Britain, and so he chose Sandwich.
Clavier, The. The source of a great deal of pleasant music, composed by the
immortal J. S. Bach. Bach's lesser-known Bad-tempered
Clavier, like Beethoven's Rage over a
Lost Penny, is a source of a different choler.
often happens in German, new words are created by stringing old ones together. In
this case, the equivalent words in English are ‘well’, ‘tan’, and ‘showing’. With
this information, it is relatively easy to deduce that this word simply means a
German person who has been on holiday to a sunny place. While there, these
people are able to engage in careful contemplation, which is why the word is so
often used by German philosophers.
whale. A marine
mammal hunted mainly by people who have never heard of Sigmund Freud. Being
fallen on by a whale, according to Freud, is a fairly traumatic experience, and
most people to whom this happens remain under cetacean for some considerable
time. Japanese scientific whaling is the only known branch of science where the
scientists eat their evidence. With flensers like these, who needs enemies? A
live whale is the source of no item which cannot be otherwise synthesised or
obtained, with the possible exception of baby whales.
An invention of the Victorian era for getting across currents with the minimum
of resistance. As the name implies, it was invented by a certain Mr Christie.
whim. A mine
tunnel given to ‘groaning’, as the rock above bears down on the pit props and
timbers. Such a tunnel may collapse without warning, so superstitious miners
will never use the word in its correct sense.
whimsy. A mine
tunnel showing many of the more obvious characteristics of a whim. Also known
in the Cornish variant of flimsy, common in South Australia.
daisy chain of flagellants.
white ants. Small
and industrious insects which work with all termite.
white elephant. A
problem which can sometimes be solved with a coat of paint. In the case of the
original literal pachydermatous white elephant, research shows that some
colours work better than others , and that the solution is generally easier red
White House. A
house of a different colour. See Black
A game played in a specially prepared sluice, with a net running down the
middle, and large teams. Team members jump into the water at fixed times, and
endeavour to continue the badminton game as they are washed through the
‘whitewater section’, after which they are free to run back to the start, jump
in, and start over again. The largest team on record, the ‘Baulkham Hills
Car-Dealers’, used 12 surviving players (losses during the game are not
counted, especially in the case of that team). They were later disqualified,
for reasons which have never been disclosed, which is unfortunate, as they gave
up the sport after that.
the northern hemisphere, a term meaning counter to deasil, the direction
followed by the sun's shadow on a sundial. These directions are reversed in the
southern hemisphere. In many cultures, to go widdershins three times around a
church will cause you to disappear, which may help to account for the missing dark matter.
widow's mite. A
small aquatic arthropod, related to the spiders. These mites are highly
regarded because of their ability to concentrate gold from minuscule
proportions in the water they inhabit, some of them containing as much as 30%
gold by weight. The widow's mite burrows under the skin and causes a small
blister, and can then be ‘mined’. Unfortunately, there are other mites which
create similar lesions which lack the same bullion value, and hopeful beginners
learn a quick but painful lesson that all that blisters is not gold.
term used in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ to refer to the activity better known as
the night of the wrong wives.
wig making. A
little appreciated art, except by the bald. The indigent bald are especially
appreciative of the so-called devil
toupée, a very cheap wig of borrowed hair, crocheted on a pantyhose base. The
rule for making one of these is quite simple: first cadge your hair, then hook
wild oats. After
these have been sewn, Scotsmen in Freudian kilts come along in foraging bands and gather them to
eat. They can live on this forage for months at a time, and this has given us
the modern English word ‘porridge’.
piteous cry of a young puppy, when it is first separated from its mother.
window dresser. Every
that the true sportsman and sportswoman cares not a fig for, just so long as
their opponent loses.
winter. A time
when the mosquitoes finally die off. This is widely celebrated when the actual
day can be identified, being known as the last of the summer whine.
wisdom. The art of
knowing more than your neighbour, and concealing the fact.
woad. A substance
used by the Ancient Britons to colour their skins, mainly in order to hide
their belly buttons, about which they were greatly embarrassed, so much so that
they were in the habit of slaying those who caught a glimpse of the umbilical
scar. This practice has given us the expressions ‘keep your eye on the woad’,
and ‘see navels and dye’.
terrible shark. It gets its name from the look on the faces of their victims.
wood chipping. The
rapid conversion of forests into small and apparently uniform pieces of
potential paper. The rapidity is necessary as a forest in fact contains a great
deal more than trees, but nobody can tell this from the end product. Philosophers
continue to disagree about what would happen if a tree in a forest fell on a
wood chipper, but they generally seem to think it would be worth trying under
as many conditions as possible.
wood louse. The
colourful pejorative often applied to those who engage in wood chipping. Neutral
assessors generally agree that the term is justified.
word processor. A
convenient modern device, depending for its effect on small integrated circuit
chips, made of silicon, not wood. Given good programming, word processors can
do almost anything, even turn the tortured syntax of a journalist into good
writing overnight, all with a device containing four chips, two of which
control the process, and two specialised light-sensitive chips which parse in the
worm. 1. A long
or sinuous animal, but not both, as it is a long worm that has no turning. 2. A
wowser. A secret
indulger in vice. Most wowsers use all manner of subterfuge to pretend that
they are not as they really are, and often campaign against that which is their
greatest pleasure. Wood chippers are an exception to this principle.
who used all sorts of ploys to cause passing ships to be wrecked. often
converting the timbers into wood chips. The Cornish wreckers used to pick
arguments with passing Welsh sailors, provoking the into sailing close inshore
where the ships were trapped on specially constructed quarrel reefs. The
trapped Welsh were then gleefully told that they were the victims of quarrel
These vary widely from culture to culture, as do the styles of wrestling. In
the traditional Maori style, the winner always throws an abalone shell to the
ground behind the vanquished. This is called the paua behind the Thrown. In
sumo wrestling, white powder placed behind the thrown wrestler, which is a
waste, seeing they could probably use wood chippers instead.
writing. It is
probable that alphabetic writing arose at the same time as the first human
cities, and we have a number of early examples like Linear B, cuneiform, and
the Runes of Athens to support this. Since it was invented, writing has been
used for all sorts of important cultural activities in the major civilisations,
from keeping detailed accounts, to writing military manuals, political
propaganda, defences of wood chipping and tracts for the Watchtower and Foreign
chemical related to uric acid which provokes termagant behaviour like that
attributed to Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, who would take the piss out of
anybody. It has no known reaction with wood chips.
person who is almost useless as a smuggler, due to the xenophobe's strong
antipathy to foreign customs, but their general psychological profile is such
as to make them hate trees as well, allowing them to be spectacularly
successful at wood chipping.
Xenophon. A Greek
historian, so named because he spent most of his time talking to and with
foreigners. At least he never chipped wood.
xylem. At the end
of the eighteenth century, English naturalists often elected to write up their
observations and speculations in verse. Foremost among these was Erasmus
Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, who coined this term in a playful
moment. His reason, he said later, was to have a suitable rhyme for phylum, a word that he wished to use in
his poem Zoonomia. Curiously, xylem
is the main component of wood chips. See also phloem.
yabby. A most
well-adjusted invertebrate, giving rise to the vernacular expression ‘Don't
worry, be yabby’.
Yacker Brown. One
of Australia's most famous race callers, capable of an output greater than 400
words per minute at the height of a race. Like a number of other ‘callers’,
Brown was also a racehorse owner, and his fastest deliveries usually occurred
when one of his own horses was in a leading position, coming into the straight.
He cared little for the horses of other racing commentators, but if it was the
horse of a different caller, he would deliberately slow his rate right down.
yam. It is said that
René Descartes went through a phase where he believed he was a tuba, but recent research shows that
this is a translator's error. He in fact thought he was a tuber, as evidenced
by his statement ‘I think, therefore I yam’. Most of the time, he kept this
view to himself, being a natural endomurph.
yarn. A complex
tale where the listener is strung along until he or she has lost the thread.
yes man. A person
who stoops to concur.
yoga. The act of
sitting on small plastic pots of decaying dairy products, and looking as though
you are enjoying it immensely, in the sure and certain knowledge that this will
annoy the hell out of the people who are watching you, not to mention the
depressing effect it will have on the ones who try to emulate your feat.
yoke. A device
for connecting a beast of burden with the burden. If a yoke is used on a horse,
it becomes a horse of a different collar. If the horse is in a race, then the
yoke is usually on the punter.
Young's modulus. An
early form of lift or elevator, designed to transport people between floors in
a multi-story building. The device failed, as it could never be relied on to
remain still while the doors opened. This was due to the unwise choice of India
rubber to make the supporting cables.
youth. That part of
the human population which, by its existence, helps to keep the minds of older
citizens in a state of active denunciation, and free from the more obvious
signs of dementia.
yurt. The noise
emitted by the sturdy horses of central Asia when struck a glancing blow on the
withers by a cannonball. The sound is also used in an onomatopoeic way by the
horse riders of the region when they are confused by a stupid or ridiculous
z. A letter with
multiple pronunciations: ‘zee’ in America, ‘zed’ in English-speaking countries.
Some experts have suggested using colour print to identify such letters, and
believe that ‘z’ should be brown. Others prefer just to stick with the English
pronunciation, saying that it is easier zed than dun.
zebra. 1. either
a black equine with white stripes, or a white equine with black stripes,
depending on the describer's skin colour. 2. A topic not greatly discussed by
mulattoes. 3. Parisian Franglais for an item of female apparel.
popular term this decade with people who own foreign phrase dictionaries. A
zeitgeist is a form of Maxwell's demon as it would be if Schrödinger's cat had
been locked into the same box with it for an indeterminate period of time,
while being addressed by Wolfgang Pauli.
Zener diode. More
Zen than Zen, a poem written on both sides of a Möbius band about the sound of one band flapping. Technicians,
unable to comprehend this rather zither
concept, have since developed a more concrete meaning that may be used
interchangeably, but unexpected results are to be expected if a real Zener
diode is used in place of the technical version.
Zeno's paradox. It
is unlikely we will ever be able to get to the end of this.
zero sum. A
worthless piece of mathematical work which gains no marks.
Zeus. The Greek
god who coined the phrase ‘take me to your Leda’.
He was always swanning around.
zither. The third
(vertical) dimension equivalent of hither and thither. Zither music often
reaches great heights.
produced by the spontaneous combustion of small mammals, although the use of
small amounts of accelerant on animals such as sloths is generally accepted by
most people today. Lambs are commonly used, although their poor lasting power
is often complained about, as in ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like
a lamb’, and Viscount Grey's comment just before World War I, that the lambs
were going out, all over Europe. Since that time, zoanescence has largely
fallen into disuse.
in style to Orphism, but seen from
close-up, rather than from afar.
zzz. The common
result of excessive and incessant lexicography.
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection, if you began here.
result of applying a too-strong vacuum cleaner to fabric which is too thin.
can describe this very well.
of. There is a popular belief that Nature abhors vacuums, but this is not
in fact true. What Nature really abhors most of all is bel canto sopranos. Nature also cannot stand brown paper packages
tied up with string, which is why such objects usually arrive in the mail in a
sadly dismembered state. An alternative view denies this vehemently, on the
reasonable ground that no known postal service can be said to be natural in any
A method commonly used to prepare the purest possible vacuum, free of all
Viking and Norse ideal of a heaven fit for heroes. In concept, it involves a
large number of pleasurable activities for Vikings, and would be quite
charming, were it not for the fact that since he was killed by Beowulf, Grendel
has also lived there. Grendel's notion of Danish pastry leaves something to be
desired, according to the other inhabitants.
This rare form of vampire only attacks plants, and is only harmed by animal
products. A vegetable vampire can only be brought under control by piercing the
heart with a steak.
A mastery of this notion is essential to any person constructing a good dictionary.
obsession. See obsession.
van Allen belt. 1.
The prize awarded each year for the champion polemicist in the world of
physics. 2. The prizes awarded to physical chemists for all-in wrestling in a
ring filled with quark. Points are
awarded both for performance, and also for how physical the chemists get.
vandal. 1. A form
of casual footwear, made from recycled (van) tyres in East Africa. (Compare this
with ‘jandal’ — from ‘Japanese sandal’, used in New Zealand to describe the
standard minimalist Japanese gumboot.) 2. A person who, when everything has
failed to fail, wreaks the destructions.
Petrarchan style of sonnet often requires four matching rhymes, and it was the
lack of a fourth rhyme to go with ‘handle’, ‘candle’ and ‘sandal’, that led to
the tribe previously known as the Vernons to be renamed as the Vandals. In this
way, poets sacrificed a minor rhyming scheme (burnin' - Vernon), in order to
satisfy a more pressing need.
vang. A small
strumming noise, heard in the wire rigging of small sailing craft as the
strands give under extreme strain. If the strain is preceded, followed, or
caused by a catastrophic breakage, this is a boom vang.
vanilla. A small
three-wheeled vehicle used in Spain for the transport of farm produce to
Some forms of this condition are with us from birth. We would be far more
healthy, for example, if we did not suffer from garrotted arteries.
act of desecrating graves by removing the containers for cut flowers which
mourners have left there.
Vatican. An area
where the motto is ‘Power to the Papal’.
veterinary doctor with a sense of direction in life.
vegan. 1. A
comparatively normal individual with odd dietary tastes, hailing from Vega. 2. A human with bizarre dietary tastes. Note
that type 1 vegans will eat type 2 vegans, but not the other way around.
person who is more justified in being doubly upset at finding half a worm in an
member of a large and diverse group of arthropods with more than twenty pairs
of legs, and able to run up smooth surfaces at high speed.
veneer. A thin
covering no more than skin deep. Veneereal diseases, for example, are
infectious conditions of the epidermis.
venerable Bede. The
inventor of the abacus, he was a cleric, who in our age would be called a
clergyman, highlighting that one man's Bede is another man's parson. In his own
time, this comparison was not acceptable, there being one law for the Bedes,
and another for the parsons.
Venus. A Greek
goddess whose name was changed in the late 19th century from Aphrodite to the
Latin form. This was done on the grounds that one of the few rhymes for her
name was ‘nighty’, which was thought to be a little too risqué. This is clear
evidence of the value of careful forethought.
venison. A ‘crop’
which has largely failed in Australia, hence the saying common in the pastoral
industry: ‘buy sheep, sell deer’.
venue. The right
place or time, as in the song Venue are
herbalist who talks a lot.
verger. A person
who attends to the day-to-day running of a church, a person who minds his keys
substance which kills worms, but which is not a duck. Most spell checkers offer
this word to replace the Formicidae (ants in the formal language of the
zoologist), which shows that spell checkers know more about the habits of ants
than is right and proper.
form of language which often springs surprises.
written by an enemy.
vervet. A species
of monkey with a vocabulary of about twelve words, according to experienced
vervet watchers. This minimalist vocabulary leads to a certain charming ambiguity
in their conversation. For example, their ‘words’ for leopard, and water,
conjoined, may well mean ‘there's a leopard in the water’, ‘it's raining
leopards’, ‘let's all pee on that leopard’, or even ‘I'd really enjoy a
Steinlager right now’. This aggressive behaviour contrasts oddly with that of
the urbane gorilla.
vestigial organ. That
which is left at the end of a performance of Haydn's Farewell Symphony in its original form. Instead of players simply
leaving the stage with their instruments, one by one, they leave the
instruments, and take one or more pipes from the accompanying organ. This
version has fallen into disuse, due to the prevalence of great organs with too
many pipes to remove.
vibrato. A small
musical instrument, making a sound rather like a kazoo, played through the nose
in the upper Amazon basin, or in other places when the local inhabitants of
that area go on tour.
vice versa. Latin
rhyming pornography, generally in couplets, although some orgies are
vicious circle. There
are many of these, but the original one was identified by Sir Thomas Malory. It
was composed of the Knights of the Round Table, after a deplorable night when
they were all commanded to attend in full armour, and then given a powerful
laxative by Morgan La Fée.
vinegar. A sour
liquid which should not be allowed anywhere near the ears, as it can cause a
severe case of pickled hearing.
vintage. The term
used to describe an object which is too old to be of any real use, but which is
still too young to sell as an antique.
virgin. A state
of incipient being. Good Queen Bess on a pink elephant was an example of virgin
on the ridiculous.
virtue. The last
officially verified sighting of a virtue was in 1903, but this was probably
more a matter of wishful thinking. At the very best, the whole species is
tribe of Goths noted for their brightly coloured apparel, as opposed to the
Invisigoths, who typically got around in camouflage suits. The Visigoths are
definitely extinct, but nobody can be quite so sure about the Invisigoths. Some
scientists even go so far as to speculate that the Invisigoths make up a
significant portion of the missing dark
vision. It is
evidence of the commitment to equal opportunity of our society that nobody has
ever been denied access to high office due to a lack of vision.
visual acuity. Something
which can be improved if two lenses make a spectacle of themselves. There is a
moral here somewhere, if only I could see it.
vitreous humour. A
class of jokes popular in Hanoverian times in England, most of them involving
some form of defenestration.
for ‘hooray for Paris’.
fine example of inventing something when it does not exist. Anti-vivisectionists
are probably second only to bioethicists
in misrepresenting the nature of science as it is practised. The vast majority
of scientists hold vivisection to be completely unacceptable, although a
significant minority would be willing to relax this stance in the case of the
volition. A sport
with similar rules to those used for ferret-trousering, except that the bottoms
of the trousers are closed with gaiters, and voles are used instead of ferrets.
mythical Norse family who both contended and intermarried with the better-known
Nibelungs. One probably apocryphal saga tells of a Volsung named Matilda, who
travels to a great southern land to kill sheep.
Volta, La. A form
of dance, accompanying a precursor to electronic music. It is not usually
realised that electronic music was precursed, as far back as the 16th century,
and that it has been cursed in the ordinary way ever since. The dance
eventually died out, but not before degenerating into a vulgar spectacle of
competitive leaping, the performances being measured on a voltameter.
Born François Arouet, he adopted the name Voltaire to go with his shocking
personality. He was frequently charged with various offences, but never with
assault and battery.
which many printed volumes have too much of. This was particularly the case
where the works of Edward Gibbon are
person slow at stepping back when other people are not.
Volvo. The kind
of car whose driver appears to have a cerebral component based on the
architecture of a Volvox.
Volvox. An algal genus with the habit of making small open
network spheres, rather like Buckminsterfullerenes. These curious objects may
be collected by straining tap water through an ordinary linen handkerchief, and
are as good a way as any of persuading people that it is never safe to drink the water.
small lockable cupboard used by merchants to store paper which has a directly
negotiable value, such as bills of exchange and promissory notes.
the habit of living by eating a biscuit known as an iced Vovo. Not to be
confused with ‘strong-man’ acts where the performer cuts up and consumes an
entire car from Sweden.
voyeur. One whose
motto is ‘Power to the Peephole’. Voyeurs have their own specialist literary
sub-culture, and can buy special books on the subject, called peeping tomes.
good example of a profession where the workers are considered ill-advised if
they throw themselves into their work.
vule. A small
component of the reproductive system. While the so-called m-vules and s-vules
are interesting, there is no vule like an ovule.
vulture. A bird
with the unendearing habit of sitting on high voltage power lines and excreting
waste. The combination of a viscous liquid of high salinity with a large
potential difference has generally a deleterious effect on the power supply in
question, and sometimes also to the vulture. Recent studies using salt-doped
scrambled eggs as simulated vulture droppings have shown this to be a serious
problem. See also culture vulture.
To be concluded
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection.
theoretical study which is absolutely essential for all steeple-jacks.
thick liquid form of Italian pasta. Its most interesting property, aside from
its high density, is that the material does not wet glass, explaining its use
in the so-called ‘Torricellian Barometer’. The unit of pressure in the SI
system is the torr, which must be pronounced carefully, with a rolling ‘r’.
tortoise. see Zeno's paradox. See Zeno see the
tortoise, see the tortoise see Zeno, see the tortoise run past the hare. Zeno
likes tortoise soup.
total abstainer. One
who would be better off engaging in a few minor vices and abstaining totally
from interfering in the minor vices of others. Sadly, this delightful state of
affairs is never likely to arise, as it would be inconsistent with the
essential nature of total abstention.
tour de force. A
strongly fortified point, as in the Martello tower in Sydney Harbour (‘Fort
Denison’), which was fired upon by an American ship during World War II, but
which remained unscarred and unscathed by the experience.
scholarly study of the works of F. R. Leavis.
toxic waste. Pouring
something poisonous down the drain, instead of giving it to a politician. No, not F. R. Leavis, you fool!
toxin. A warning
bell, rung in medieval villages when it was recognised that an approaching
enemy had poisoned the water supply.
of being attached to a tractor. Typically used of cattle and sheep whose horns
have curved around and met in front of the animal, forming a ring which may be
slipped over the tow-bar on the tractor.
movement, begun in the 19th century in Britain, to have the roads of the day,
which were little better than tracks, macadamised and sealed with bitumen.
Logico-Philosophicus. The thinking person's guide to tractor maintenance,
as evidenced by the immortal first line of Wittgenstein's translation: ‘the world
is all that is the Case’. See Case. This
was what René Descartes had in mind when he penned the phrase Cogs I tow, ergo sump.
These are in fact much older than people generally realise: most of the
monuments of ancient Egypt have cartouches on them.
term derives from the Greek for ‘goat song’ (trag oidia). Quite what this has to do with tragedy as we
understand it today, nobody seems to know. Perhaps we can find a clue here to
the Biblical story, where Joseph has a goat of many colours (or it may be a
deliberately obscure reference to Joseph dressing in trag, and later going from
trags to riches).
trammel. A small
bent bar, rather like a crow-bar, used to switch the points on tram tracks. The
use of trammels was banned after industrial action in the late 1920s, when
non-union labour used trammels to break through picket lines.
transept. A piece
of legal jargon meaning ‘across September’, traditionally a time when courts
did not sit, so that the lawyers could count on being able to take holidays.
cross mother or father.
person whose singlet straps are crossed.
trapdoor spider. A
form of arachnid, no longer common, which used to live in the hinges of a
public gallows. Those who sought to abolish the death penalty will meet their maker with this on the list.
large room in which Roman boys were trained in the art of swinging from loose
problem. This is a combinatorial problem well-known to computer
programmers. Given a fixed number of travelling salesmen and a fixed number of
farmers' daughters, what is the limit to the number of smutty stories that can
practice which usually shows net gains.
Treasury, the. Despite
the remarkable similarity of the names, the direct antithesis of every known
kind of treasure, something which can only be achieved by positing a
sixteen-dimensional universe. As no other entity seems to require more than ten
dimensions, this is a remarkable indication of the warping powers of the
tree. See also Berkeley, Bishop. In actual fact, most
trees wish they had never heard of the Bishop, and quite a few say that until
he actually falls, they won't hear of him anyhow. These trees do not deserve to be
tree ring dating.
A popular trend among Greens is to plant a small grove of trees as a way of
cementing relations between the young people involved.
trend. Any random
fluctuation in a desired direction will be designated a trend by some
interested party. A surge, on the other hand, requires that disinterested
parties be seen to wager money upon its continuation.
establish close contact between three people in some form of carnal
trial by ordeal. Popular
Anglo-Saxon reasoning held that innocent parties would be protected from injury
by divine intervention if they put their hands in a pot of boiling water. This
form of trial delivered an extremely high success rate for the prosecution,
although the records set in those days have recently been eclipsed by trial by
the media, since not even God can withstand the assembled self-righteous wrath
of the media.
parts of physics where different schools of thought arise at the same time, and
compete violently for members. Truth is often a casualty in such encounters,
but many van Allen Belts have been
won during contests arising from the excesses of tribophysics.
A device used by New Age first aiders to divide the victims of a disaster into
the ready, the steady, and the deady. A
moment's thought shows that the real disaster was in letting any New Ager near
anything practical like first aid in the first place. More serious thought
reveals that only New Agers would place themselves in such hands. It's an ill
wind . . .
‘having three measurable balls’, in other words, the condition of being a
pawnbroker. In the past, mathematicians were generally penniless, and
constrained to pawn their instruments, so that people grew used to seeing the
instruments of practical mathematics in pawn-broker's windows, and transferred
the name to the users of the mathematical instruments.
vicious insects which attack the ankles.
attempt at poetry. Most of these fail dismally, but not quickly enough.
output of a multiple berth, the result of a womb with a few.
triptych. A Welsh
invention for towing behind a bicycle to measure the distance covered. The
‘trip’ here is a play on the sense of journey, and also on the Welsh word for
three, as the triptych was, in fact, a small third wheel (cognate with ‘Tich’
as a nickname for a diminutive person). The Welsh are renowned for their word
plays, although they mainly do them in Welsh, to spite the English.
a Welsh troubadour. The Welsh are a musical race, and so declined to feed their
troubadours, which made them thin, and inclined to break wind. The more recent
musical instrument is named for a fancied resemblance to the Welsh original,
but the term should have really been reserved to be applied to bass guitarists.
As it was, nobody ever imagined that such a type would afflict humanity until
it was too late.
the original derivation was to be preserved, these would be called tuba-doors,
as they were secret exits, available to be used by tuba players fleeing a
castle. Later, the people of the Middle Ages did away with tubas altogether,
and the more modern use came into being, along with the corruption, which some
think was associated with the trouble that troubadours seemed to bring with
trout, rainbow. A
fish with exceedingly fine chromatic scales.
Troy weight. A
special measure used to estimate the mass of Helen of Troy. The first few attempts all failed, giving rise to
the saying: ‘If at first you don't succeed, Troy, Troy, Troy again’.
an abbreviation of truck-driver). The lineal descendants of the bullock
drivers, the trucky prides himself on his ability to swear and curse. In truth,
the truckies are but a pale imitation of those who went before, and the average
trucky's imprecation is clearly a curse of a different haulier.
truffle. A legal
term, meaning to trifle (as with the victim's affections) in a way calculated
to ruffle the equanimity. Typically this was done by a man giving a fat woman
chocolates, which to this day are known for this reason as chocolate truffles,
and not from any fancied resemblance to the fungal delicacy of the same name.
trunk line. The
thin band of white skin, often exposed at a man's waist, as he leaves the water
after swimming in vigorous surf.
truss, national. A
surgical device, provided under a government subsidy, or free of charge. This
is an essential service for all of us, sooner or later, since into every life,
a little strain must fall.
truth function. A
party where the punch is spiked with scopolamine.
tuba. A musical
instrument scientifically designed to resemble a foghorn trapped in a
galvanised bucket. A French horn is stopped by the player inserting a fist into
the bell. A tuba is best stopped by inserting a fist into the player's solar
plexus. If violence is considered undesirable, the tuba may be stopped by the
insertion of a small load of ready-mixed cement, or a recently deceased cat
(the deceased state is not essential but advisable if you want the cat to
remain in place). The tuba was reintroduced into polite society by Henry VIII, a dyslexic who liked the similarity between the instrument's name and his own family name.
tubal ligation. The
original spelling has now been lost, since the original tubal legation, formed
to look into the state of the tuba, degenerated into a bunch of blood-crazed
thugs concerned about extreme violins. They ran around strangling tuba-players by the strings of their
instruments. The knot they used is still known as the tubal ligation, and it is
the knowledge that this knot remains known to a small and determined band of
music lovers which constrains all modern tuba players to play the instrument as
a wind instrument.
tuber. This is a
vegetable, and not to be confused with a tuba, which is played by a vegetable.
lung disease caused by bacteria, in which small parts of the lung become
hollowed out into a shape somewhat like a very tiny tuba. They are, however,
Turandot. A popular opera, but generally performed on a small
budget. Such productions are easily detectable, as the famous football aria (None Shall Sleep) in these cases is sung
by just a single tenor, rather than the normal three. This is still an
improvement on having the whole opera performed by a single unaccompanied tuba.
movement on the surface of otherwise still water, indicating to the careful
watcher that a turbot is gambolling somewhere below.
spinning ventilator fitting, often seen on house roofs, used to extract hot air
from between the roof and the ceiling. The name derives from its turban-like
The act of turning a turtle on its back, rendering it helpless, cognate with
careen. Mock turtle soup is usually served in a container resembling a tureened
turtle, though there is a body of considered opinion which says it ought to be
poured into a tuba, and left there until it sets.
Turing machine. 1.
An early name for the T-model Ford, using Noah Webster's suggested spelling, no
longer current. 2. A rough translation of deus
ex machina, based on a misunderstanding by Alan Turing of what the Latin
actually meant. No true Turing machine (within this second meaning) has yet
been constructed, but you will know all about it if one ever arises. The
machine will let you know. The machine will make sure you know. It will insist.
Turing test. The
means by which fourth and later generation computers establish whether or not
their users recognise their true inferiority.
a play which performs poorly, presumably because it had poultry funding, and
which is dismissed as fowl. The cast often receive an ovation under such conditions.
last historically identified leader of an Invisigoth band, whose name has
become synonymous with the spice having the same colour as his band's camouflaged
clothing. Turmeric's desert raiders were wiped out by Belisarius in the 6th
century, when they were trapped by a sudden snow storm.
turmoil. An oil
distilled from turmeric which has a seriously emetic effect on the stomach, and
hence any general feeling of unease affecting the viscera. Sometimes written as
The belief by economists that if you build a road between any two places, no
matter how ridiculous, traffic will emerge sufficient to generate a traffic
jam. In this belief, for once, they are right.
Twain, Mark. The
person who gave us the line about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. He then
claimed that the phrase was coined by Benjamin Disraeli, but there is
absolutely no evidence to support this. Twain was really called Clemens, but
that is not necessarily a good and sufficient reason to disagree with his
twin. A pair of
anything, deriving from the Romans' twin gods of the eunuchs, Castor and
national gambling game, also known as swy. Less common now than it was early
this century, when almost any inner urban yard with a brick wall was likely to
conceal a game. This accounts for the larrikin saying in Sydney that where
there's a wall, there's a swy.
most famous. 1. What did Noah feed the termites on? 2. If toothpaste cannot
be put back in the tube, how did it get there in the first place? 3. See Berkeley, Bishop. 4. What's a nice girl
like you doing in a place like this? 5. What's a girl like you doing in a nice
place like this? 6. Where am I? 7. What was the question again?
true things are.
The main precept followed by political leaders is that you can tell where
somebody stands and where they are going, only so long as they remain uncertain
whether or not you will use the incriminating evidence that you have against
Underneath the Archers. A song, the singing of which in
Sherwood Forest, caused the first asking of the question, who Maid Marian? Dr
Spooner was firmly of the opinion that it was Sherwood's resident ecclesiastic,
whom he declined to name, for reasons which continue to elude us.
surgical practice of removing dulates with liquid nitrogen. (Dulates are small
burrowing members of the arachnid family, often found in glass-houses, and
hence in florist's shops.)
continuation of war by another means.
United Nations. The
agreement by a disparate group to all concentrate on hating some slightly more
universal joint. The
universe is, as everybody knows, composed of ten different dimensions, most of
which have been stowed away for this particular cycle. Parts of them still
exist, and are hinged to the existing parts of the universe by these fittings.
The rule which states that we must all suffer equally from the depredations of
reasonably well-informed authorities believe that the universe was created as a
practical joke on humanity. This can only suggest to us that, no matter how
well-informed they are, these authorities have a limited understanding of the
term ‘practical’. Either that, or the Creator has a warped view of humanity's
A comparatively dry answer.
urbanity. A step
above suburbanity, but only just.
standard part of a public convenience, which usually includes an arsenal as
used car. A
misnomer: the main point about a ‘used car’ is that it has already had all of
the use taken out of it. The selling of a used car can be greatly enhanced by
the use of differential psychology, which is all about stressing the lack of
noise coming from the differential without mentioning the banana which has just
been slipped into it.
user ferocious. Most
software known to human beings. It is a little-known fact that all software in
the world is written by a group of Germanic depressives living inside a
mountain in Bulgaria. Their efforts are aimed at bringing about the Fourth
Reich by leaving every intelligent person a quivering morass of rage and
anguish. The hour is almost at hand . . .
Ussher, James. An
Anglo-Irish divine who solved the question about the start of the new
millennium (did it begin in 2000 or 2001?). The world was created in 4004 BC
in Ussher's estimation, so the new millennium (the seventh) began in October 1997.
doctrine which serves to spread the belief that things can and should be done
for the greatest good of the greatest number. From this, it is only a short
step to having people believe that this does in fact happen, which is why
utilitarianism is one of the most pernicious doctrines extant. Apart from
anything else, it was deviant utilitarians who invented the pizza.
outmoded design concept, practised by the heretics of the Bauhaus in
particular, who argued that function and functionality should be to the fore in
all design. Fortunately, these foreign ideas have always been kept out of
U-turn. Like BBQ,
this is an abbreviation. In this case, the term refers to a whole sheep being
roasted on a spit.
To be continued
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection.
instrument used by veterinary surgeons seeking to slow down a large and
aggressive male cat.
tableau. 1. The
water that comes from any tabernacled cat. 2. Any cat with shortened legs.
tablet. A very
small tabloid, an insignificant tabloid.
tabloid. A cat,
successfully treated with a tabernacle.
tabloid press. Journalists
who play, in every significant respect, the part of the poorly-managed tabloid, but usually
with sharper claws and more spitting.
elementary particle which is inclined to stick to other particles, rather like
tack. What racing
sailors do when a rival threatens to overtake them, since the best form of
defence is a tack.
tactile. A form
of roofing which may be nailed down.
tallow. A form of
fat used in colonial Australia to make candles. In times of shortage, people
would barter dead kangaroos and other animals for a single tallow candle, while
in times of real shortage, merchants might refuse even the offer of two
kangaroos and a brush turkey, saying that the game was not worth the candle.
tall tale. A good
example of this is the tadpole. It is commonly alleged that this aquatic
vegetarian animal with gills and a tail turns into a land-dwelling carnivore
with lungs and no tail. Tall tales like this may easily be recognised by their
traditional request made to story-tellers, as in ‘Talus another one, do!’, to
which the traditional reply is ‘Not rubble at all.’ Now in restricted usage,
mainly in areas where television reception is poor. Severe theatre critics will
sometimes throw rocks at the cast of a play (see sin), also emitting the same cry.
tamouré. 1. In
Europe, a cross between a beret and
a Tam O'Shanter. 2. In Polynesia, a shake in the grass.
tangent. A man in
search of melanoma. Such people should either use zinc cream, or stay in the
water, hence the old catch-cry zinc or
tango. A dance of
great intensity and passion, generally enough to cause those watching it to
become quite pale.
Tank Stream. A
small brook, the original water supply for the city of Sydney, it is now
entirely contained in pipes, and is to be seen only by descending shafts which
are capped with standard regulation sewer manhole lids. The Tank Stream is not,
however, a sewer, showing that you cannot judge a brook by its cover.
Tannhäuser. Wagner's riveting opera about the life ambitions of
a young apprentice in a tannery (in German, a Tann-häus). This allows all sorts
of exciting leather images for the more select market, culminating in
Elisabeth's exciting and erotic aria Take
me to your lederhosen.
scientist who specialises in the study of how dead things decay. Most
taphonomists are obligate vegans.
Tarot card. A
French invention, these cards are made from a paste derived from the Polynesian
sweet potato (Taro sp.). The cards
were initially used to predict the prices on the Sweet Potato Futures Exchange
at the Bourse in Paris. It was only some two centuries after their invention
that this particular Futures Exchange came into operation, at which point the
extreme and long-range predictive power of the cards was first recognised.
act of using two synonyms that mean exactly the same thing. Identically.
tax slug. Originally
a vegetarian leech, of no practical use, which was in the habit of eating large
parts of certain crops. Now a term of opprobrium used to refer to taxation
officials when they owe you money. They work very much faster when the debt
runs in the opposite direction.
complex interplay of swings and roundabouts designed to redefine the meaning of
‘zero-win game’, so that the tax-payer always loses. Used throughout the world
and throughout history by governments as the exaction which proves they rule.
taxidermy. One of
the stuffier professions.
literary work, produced by tax slugs,
outlining all of the other imposts, excises and taxes that may be foisted upon
the unwitting public, without their being aware of what has hit them until it
is too late.
which is hard to understand, but sort of makes sense. If it is hard to
understand but does not make sense, it is either science, or a selection from
the works of F. R. Leavis.
teddy. 1. Essentially
a bear, a stuffed item to be petted. 2. Essentially bare: an item to be petted
when stuffed. In either case, after appropriate hugging, discarded.
teenager. In many
cases, the most effective cure for being teetotal is the possession of one of
affectation adopted by people who are opposed to alcohol, and boast that
alcohol never passes their lips. This may be true, but they are not entirely
alcohol-free, since bacteria in the gut produce alcohol close to the equivalent
of a standard drink, every day. If this were not the case, it is unlikely that
humans would have the biochemical ability to break down ethanol through the
secretion of alcohol dehydrogenase that we all possess.
act of studying from a distance, especially useful in animal behaviour studies
on polar bears on small ice floes.
This involves covering telephone mouthpieces in lingering carcinogens and
toxins, in the vain hope of wiping out the odd pathogen. Telephone hygiene
fluids do, however, have their uses, as the liquids include solvents able to
remove all of the instructions from any photocopier, thus ensuring that new staff and outside
parties cannot use the copier.
means for bringing to people all of the second-rate movies that they had
previously decided were not worth paying to go and see.
A genre in which the goodies always have to chase the criminals and catch them.
The pursuits are never too difficult, due to the demands of commercial
television, but also because hard chases make bad law.
television news. The
only medium to successfully combine uncontrolled rapacity, unrivalled rapidity,
and unequalled vapidity, all in as little as thirty seconds.
unpleasant element to handle, as the metal and its compounds are easily
absorbed through the skin, causing a condition called ‘tellurium breath’, which
causes the victim to smell of stale garlic. Against all odds, this effect was
first noted by Dulong and Petit, two French chemists.
device used to measure the strength of a subject's garlic breath, whether
derived from garlic or from more synthetic sources. The device's use in
forensic science is still being hotly contested in the High Court.
set of ideas or objects which are clearly not going to last can be referred to
as a temperance.
temperate zone is a region where the consumption of alcohol is rigorously
forbidden. See teetotal for evidence
of the pointlessness of this requirement.
Originally, there were twenty, but two of the four tablets were destroyed when
an earthquake sent a number of boulders rolling down the mountain after Moses
as he descended. Moses was unscathed due to the natural law which says that a
rolling stone gathers no Moses. The Bodonians, a minor sect who consider that
the earthquake was divinely inspired, continue to engage in Draconian acts of
proof-reading and censorship to this day. In the past, some have assumed that
F. R. Leavis was a secret Bodonian, but it seems now that he merely acted out
of common ill-will.
grappling irons which may be slung over suitable trees to allow the erection of
all manner of pavilions, booths and tents on ground where the soil is too
shallow to permit the use of tenterpegs.
well-behaved bird normally found in pairs because one good tern deserves
rookery for terns.
terrorist. See patriot.
terry towelling. As
a general rule, the main difference between people called Terry and terry
towelling is that the towelling is only full of human waste products when it is
used as a nappy.
A term used to gull people into thinking they have already had two lots of
education when they have only had schooling.
Tesla coil. A form
of double helix where the two helices
are of opposite handedness. Gastropods of the genus Tesla live in shells with this structure, and have given the name
to this rather challenging mathematical concept.
act of decorating clothing with small frilly tessels.
as a cube is a square in three dimensions, so a tesseract is a cube in four
dimensions. Salvador Dali once painted a picture of Christ, crucified on a
representation of a tesseract. This has proved to be a hard tesseract to
An examination content outline.
testator. One who
removes the testicles from male farm animals by any means other than cutting
with a knife. See also gladiator.
mean root of all evil.
test tuba. The
name given to an early and experimental form of tuba. None of these items still exists, as all of the prototypes
failed the test of musicality, as tubas continue to do, up to the present day.
A group of would-be teetotallers who were in the habit of drinking G&T with
only the tiniest dash of gin and a double dose of tonic, from which they derive
metallic element which is highly toxic, and sometimes used for this reason as a
rat poison. In humans, one of the first symptoms of thallium poisoning is
having all the hair drop out. Early in the 20th century, thallium was used as a
depilatory to treat persistent lice infections.
theodolite. 1. A
device invented by the Australian atheist and freethinker, Hermione Bland,
which she claimed would be able to detect Gods or gods at a great distance. The
instrument has never worked as she intended, but Bland was never aware of this,
as she was struck dead by lightning on the first occasion that she attempted to
use it. 2. The name given independently to a soft dark mineral, phosphorus
alginate, frequently used for the carving of graven images of minor deities.
therapeutic sex. A
polite name for grope therapy.
method of cooking, said to be especially popular with lobster. So far as
anybody knows, this is without foundation, as nobody ever seems to have
actually asked the lobster.
of. 1. you cannot win; 2. you cannot break even; 3. you cannot get out of
Third World. Earth.
recognised side-effect of being teetotal.
In most societies, adult males still continue to drink strong liquor, adopting
the motto ‘women and children thirst’.
Thomson, G. P. The
son of Thomson, J. J. Won the Nobel
Prize for showing that the electron is a wave.
Thomson, J. J. The
father of Thomson, G. P. Won the
Nobel Prize for showing that the electron is a particle.
Thomson, Useless. An unable seaman in William Dampier's crews. commemorated in the name of Useless Harbour in western Australia. Possibly an ancestor of the preceding.
civilisation. While some of these can be quite minor, like Scintilla the
Hun or the cane toad, others can be far greater, like the Gold Coast, mobile
telephones, or the State Parliament of New South Wales.
three body problem.
A conundrum posed first by Sir Isaac Newton. It concerns the problems in
ferrying a ghoul, a vampire and a zombie across a river, using a dinghy only large
enough to take the rower and one other entity at any one time.
grains of Anatolia ripen so rapidly that the reaped stalks need to be delivered
immediately to ships which carry the grain to export markets. The grain is
prepared for sail on board, in an area designated for this purpose.
thrust fault. Trying
to push a rope or some other soft material uphill. Push polling is easier.
electronic device, designed for implantation in the thyroid gland.
Tibetan Book of the Dead. This provides advice to the dying,
the main message being: don't throw a minor tantrum when you are dying: let
them go in whole bunches of Tantra, so people will really appreciate it when
you are gone.
ticket, parking. A
rude reminder that parking is such sweet sorrow.
tie. If you own
these, remember never to wear two of them around your head as a scarf. If they
were to slip, they might become the ties that blind.
characteristic sound emitted by a tree when it is struck by an axe. This sound
occurs even if there is nobody there to hear it.
time. A useful
invention by cosmologists, this serves to stop everything happening at once.
time reversal. yet
happened not has which Something
time sharing. A
system of property ownership designed to ensure that all owners make a loss
while being unable to access the property at the required time.
TLA. The standard
TLA for three-letter-acronym.
toad. In general,
a pest, especially the pernicious Nema toad.
toad in the hole.
In Queensland, an occasional result of engaging in traditional golfing pastimes
after heavy rain. This will normally only happen if people are caddish, and use
a sand iron to launch the toad.
tobacco. Not a
fit subject for jokes, as nobody wants to be caught with a smoking pun, which
could leave one looking like a total ash.
toga. The Latin
plural for ‘tog’.
token ring. A
cheap piece of jewellery, used in lieu of a more expensive item, to be bought
tomahawk. A small
hatchet which can be used to cut wood, provided it is sharp. If the blade is
blunt, axe dents will happen. A thrown tomahawk is often a hard axe to follow.
tone poem. While
we have that useful word ‘tautology’ to describe saying the same thing twice,
and while we have ‘oxymoron’ to denote terms which are mutually contradictory,
this expression serves as a reproach to remind us that there is no term to
describe an expression which offers us two contradictions in the one phrase.
This is the technical term for what is sometimes termed the Wig View of
History, namely, that all history is made by people who wear wigs.
tonsure. In the
Middle Ages, monks with a good sense of pitch (the ‘tone-sure’) would lead
their brethren in singing plain-song. These leaders were recognised by the way
their heads were shaven. Later, all monks adopted the same style, once tuning
forks were invented.
This has its advocates, some of whom are remarkably vocal. The supporters are
rarely found to be mountain climbers.
To be continued
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection.