Wednesday, October 28, 2020

word of the day: poltroons

 word of the day: poltroons

Miss Bianca, leader of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society, has come to The Orient (an unnamed country that may be India) to rescue a poor lad who has been condemned to be trampled by elephants. In the course of her mission Miss Bianca has befriended two attendants to the queen, and has asked their help getting to the elephant quarters. 


She says it will only take them a few minutes to ferry her there in a pocket. Realizing who she is dealing with Miss Bianca adds this exhortation: 


‘Only be brave —‘


‘Only we aren’t!’ cried Vanilla desperately. ‘We just aren’t brave — are we, Muslin?’


There was no need for Muslin’s affirmative nod. If Vanilla was shuddering again, Muslin’s teeth were now positively chattering. Never had Miss Bianca encountered such a brace of poltroons!


definition (Merriam-Webster): a spiritless coward 


brace is “a pair of something, typically of birds,” and poltroon comes from poultry. So Miss Bianca is calling her friends a couple of chickens.


source:

Miss Bianca in the Orient

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Erik Blegved

1970. Little, Brown, & Co., New York

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

word of the day: bibelot

word of the day: bibelot


context: Miss Bianca of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society has come to The Orient (presumably Indian) to rescue a boy condemned to be trampled by elephants. In order to gather information and plot a strategy for the rescue Miss Bianca must first get in with the queen (or ranee). When Miss Bianca is presented to Her Majesty, the genteel mouse sees something that will help charm her new acquaintance.


[Miss Bianca’s] eye had been most fortunately caught by a little bibelot in the shape of a miniature harp standing on a low mother-of-pearl table beside the Ranee’s sofa-throne. Miss Bianca instantly ran up and struck a few chords. The strings, though of gold wire, responded sweetly to her touch: even though each pedal was a pearl, and thus dreadfully slippery, she managed to control them. First she played ‘Greensleeves’ …


definition (Merriam-Webster): a small household ornament or decorative object


source:

Miss Bianca in the Orient

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Erik Blegved

1970. Little, Brown, & Co., New York

Monday, October 26, 2020

word of the day: amour-propre

word of the day: amour-propre


The Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society is on a mission to “The Orient” to rescue a boy sentenced to be trampled by elephants for offending a haughty queen. The Orient reads as India, more or less, though a specific country is never named. 


Undercover Miss Bianca and Bernard have been brought before the queen (or ranee) as potential entertainment. The queen perks ups a bit, eager for novelty in her pampered yet tedious existence.


‘I suppose they can do something [asked] the Ranee — already impatient! ‘They can dance or sing or something?’


‘You can jolly well suppose again!’ muttered Bernard furiously. ‘The lady I have the honor to escort —‘


‘Hush!’ adjured Miss Bianca. ‘Is this a time for amour-propre? Impersonate a wandering minstrel!’


definition (Cambridge Dictionary): a belief and confidence in your own ability and value


Cleary Bernard doesn’t think the genteel Miss Bianca ought to lower herself to the status of a mere musician for hire, but should be accorded the respect due to a lady. Miss Bianca is more practical, and more chary of the Ranee’s moods. 


source:

Miss Bianca in the Orient

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Erik Blegved

1970. Little, Brown, & Co., New York

Thursday, October 22, 2020

word of the day: boss

word of the day: boss


Miss Bianca and Bernard, two representatives of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society have entered the salt mines in hopes of rescuing Teddy-Age-Eight (all they know of the boy is his name and age). Among the other features of the mine is a lake.


'[W]hat beauty!' murmured Miss Bianca. 'Oh, Bernard, observe the lake.'

The lake actually terminated their field of vision. Unrippled by any breath of air it gleamed like a silver shield, a low island in the center for boss. Round the edge, crusted salt formed elegant curlicues more delicate than the work of any jeweler.


definition (Merriam-Webster): a raised ornamentation (as on a belt or shield) : STUD


source:

Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines

by Margery Sharp

with illustrations by Garth Williams

1966. Little, Brown and Co., New York

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

word of the day: chilblains

word of the day: chilblains


Miss Bianca is trying to convince the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society to attempt the rescue of a prisoner from the salt mines. Very little is known about the person to be rescued, and that raises some objections. Miss Bianca insists, however, that —


'The sole relevant fact [is] that a salt mine is no place for a child! — How or why Teddy-Age-Eight got there, where he comes from, why the Education Authorities haven’t found him, I frankly confess I haven’t the slightest idea. Nor do I even speculate! He may be the heir to a fortune, or a waif and a stray; the victim of mistaken identity, or loss of memory; he may possess a thousand virtues, or a thousand faults; none of that concerns us. The sole relevant fact is that salt mines are no place for children — because just to begin with, they’d get chilblains.’

Miss Bianca was always wonderfully skillful in introducing the common touch. Every member of the Ladies’ Guild was on her side at once; they had to dress chilblains all winter, whenever a sink-pipe burst and their families rushed out skating without gloves.


definition (Mayo Clinic): Chilblains (CHILL-blayns) are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but not freezing air. Also known as pernio, chilblains can cause itching, red patches, swelling and blistering on your hands and feet.


I don’t think I ever got chilblains. My hands are sensitive to the cold, but I haven’t lived in a place that gets very cold. OK, yes, I did live in Anchorage, Alaska for my first three years, and I may have gotten chilblains then, but I don’t remember it. There have been times my hands got itchy after being exposed to cold. But swelling? Or blisters? I can’t recall such. 


Chilblains is one of those words I recognize from reading, but until now never looked up. It does mean more or less what I thought it meant. 


source:

Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines

by Margery Sharp

with illustrations by Garth Williams

1966. Little, Brown and Co., New York

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Oz in poetry

If you use Oz in a poem, I will take note.

from “Heroin with an E” by Benjamin Garcia


… dull halo of dust

where the kitchen TV was // where you were once

entranced by Technicolor // Emerald City Oz

you were just a girl and couldn’t help but fall // asleep

before Dorothy even reached // the nodding flowers

dusk fielding the sepia window …


*


I preserved the line breaks. The double slashes are the poet’s. 


The passage captures a mood, doesn’t it?


source:

Thrown in the Throat

by Benjamin Garcia

2020. Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis MN

Friday, October 16, 2020

word of the day: cantle

word of the day: cantle

context:


Miss Bianca and Shaun of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society are riding a race horse in a rescue attempt.


[The race horse’s] tail streamed like a comet, the plaits of his mane like candle flames; from his nostrils (at least so one pedestrian asserted) flashed sparks of fire! Miss Bianca’s silvery fur blew about like snowflakes; Shaun, even in the lee of the cantle, had to hold his whiskers on …


definition (Merriam-Webster): the upward projecting rear part of a saddle


This makes eleven Word of the Day posts for one children’s book. I did four for the second book in The Rescuers series. I did three for the first. Margery Sharp doesn’t want dumb readers.


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Thursday, October 15, 2020

word of the day: coadjutator

word of the day: coadjutator

context:


Miss Bianca, the leader of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society, is trying to get a race horse to join her in the rescue mission. When she introduces herself, Miss Bianca is surprised to find the horse has heard of her: “Miss Bianca’s distinguished services to humanity have made her famous indeed!” the horse says.


‘My own family tree boasts a famous lady also,’ said he, ‘though but collaterally. Her name was — Rosinante.’


‘The coadjutator of Don Quixote?’ supplied Miss Bianca swiftly.


‘Perhaps you have seen her portrait?’ said [the horse] with a smile. ‘Dear me, she’d hardly have won a Selling Plate! But it is the spirit that counts, even more than the bone; and it seems she had great magnanimity.’


“Coadjutator” seems to be a variant spelling of “coadjutor.”


coadjutor definition (Merriam-Webster): one who works together with another


Full understanding of this passage requires some sense of who Don Quixote is, what a Selling Plate is, and the meanings of the words coadjutator, collaterally, and magnanimity. A Selling Plate is, according to Wiktionary, “a horse race after which the winning horse is auctioned off.” I’d assumed it was a collector’s plate, or something more like a trophy or souvenir. Challenging for a child reader!


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

word of the day: distrait

word of the day: distrait


context:


Miss Bianca is preocuppied with her thoughts. She is running over plans for the prisoner rescue in her head, but she doesn’t want to discuss any of them aloud, even with her old friend Bernard. Because Bernard has already said he doesn’t approve.


When Bernard anxiously remarked on her distrait air, she told him she was correcting proofs — always a very trying occupation.


‘Your slim volume of verse?’ said Bernard respectfully. ‘Put me down for six copies.’


definition (Merriam-Webster): apprehensively divided or withdrawn in attention ; distracted


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

word of the day: pusillanimous

word of the day: pusillanimous

“Pusillanimous” is one of those words I’ve looked up more than once. The definition doesn’t stick. I think it’s because I find the word unattractive, so don’t ever use it. Like “pulchritude,” which supposedly means “beautiful” but is ugly. In the case of “pusillanimous,” however, it’s no compliment to use it. If you were to call someone “pusillanimous,” would it be an advantage that they probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about?


context:


Bernard, the secretary of the Mouse Prisoner’s Aid Society is explaining to Miss Bianca how difficult it’s been handling her replacement. In this case a mouse comes to give a report on the latest at the police station, but doesn’t get heard.


‘Our new Madame Chairwoman can’t stand the sight of [that mouse]. Every report [that] poor old [mouse] brings in she simply won’t let him stay to read — and then as soon as he’s gone just tears up. I can see you think me pusillanimous,’ added Bernard unhappily, ‘for not making a flaming row about it; but with attendances dropping off as they are, I feel that a united front on the platform must at all costs be preserved.’


definition (Merriam-Webster): lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity


I suppose one could introduce a new character to the land of the Oz, the Pusillanimous Puma. 


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Monday, October 12, 2020

word of the day: declension

word of the day: declension

context:


The mouse scouts are scaling the outer wall of the turret on behalf of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society. Hidden among the ivy scout leader Shaun makes an encounter:


Shaun had never seen a bat before, and the disconcerting physical resemblance to one of his own race, but with wings, so startled him, he almost followed his junior into the moat. — He slipped, he slid; only a particularly thick leaf cluster saved him. — while the scouts behind, alarmed at their leader’s sudden declension, began to run back down the ivy in near panic. 


definition (Merriam-Webster): a falling off or away

The synonym given for “falling off” is “deterioration,” which is not really what happens when someone slips while climbing a wall. But Margery Sharp likes to stretch her words. 


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Sunday, October 11, 2020

word of the day: patum peperium

word of the day: patum peperium

Another British cultural item. I don’t know if this is available in America. I’ve never heard of it. Maybe it’s in the import aisle. Like Vegemite. 


Miss Bianca, head of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society, is conferring with a boy, leader of the mouse scouts, about a little mission. Shaun is very proud to be seen as an equal by the famous Miss Bianca, even a bit cocky about it. 


context:


Miss Bianca, sensibly perceiving that the first thing necessary was to cut him down to size, at once pressed upon him a slice of toast so thickly spread with patum peperium as to bring tears to his eyes. After a couple more slices (which his pride forbade him to refuse), young Shaun sat looking much more respectful.


definition (wikipedia): Gentleman's Relish is a type of anchovy paste. It is also known as Patum Peperium (in the style of Latin). It was created in 1828 by an Englishman named John Osborn. It has a strong, very salty and slightly fishy taste, and contains anchovies (minimum 60%), butter, herbs and spices.


Challenging a boy to a test of manhood (chowing down difficult food), was a miscalculation on Miss Bianca’s part. Shaun realized he had something to prove. 


Patum peperium, by the way, is Latin, and according to GoogleTranslate it means “usurpation of birth.” 


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Saturday, October 10, 2020

word of the day: doss-house

word of the day: doss-house


Another Britishism. Not going to be using it in America, I guess. But it’s pretty easy to get from context.


Probably it had once been the guard-room, when the turret formed part of a legitimate defensive stronghold. Now it looked more like a doss-house. Dirty blankets cumbered a floor otherwise littered with empty tins, despite the summer heat a charcoal-burning brazier threw off fuggy fumes; while upon a horsehair sofa with the stuffing coming out lolled a figure of definitely trampish, non-military aspect.


definition (Merriam-Webster): cheap rooming house or hotel


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston

Friday, October 09, 2020

word of the day: Qui dort, dine

If you read literature you run across French. Occasionally you’ll get snippets of another non-English language in your literature written in English, but mostly it’s French. Typically, it's just dropped in untranslated. Any cultured person is supposed to know French. I didn’t do French in school. I did Spanish in high school. In college I did Portuguese, also American Sign Language. French is not completely opaque to me. English did incorporate French words when French was the official language of the English court so all English speakers have some familiarity with French words — all those -tion words, for example. But most French? Yeah. Most French I don’t get. And I certainly didn’t when I was a kid. You couldn’t just turn to a dictionary and look it up. Not that I did that much anyway. I was not one to spend a lot of time with the dictionary. Taking a breath from a story to look up a word seriously interferes with the flow. That is, if there’s even a dictionary handy. 

I occasionally read books on my iPad these days. And you can look a word up by just pressing on it. That would have been cool to have as a kid. But I did fine back then figuring out meanings from context. Just looking up a word in the dictionary is not a way to make it useful. You have to get used to it. You have to read things where that word appears again and again. That was something I figured out from looking up words in the dictionary. There are still words that I run onto that I know I’ve seen before, but which remain beyond reach. I turn to the dictionary and nod. “Yup, I’ve read this definition before.” And it still doesn’t stick. “Heuristic” is one of those. Something to do with — I forget. 


When I was reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer French became an obstacle — because there is a whole lot of it. I was otherwise enjoying the novel. And I didn’t want to have to stop every page or so to resort to Google translate. So I put in placemarks so I could revisit the mysterious French. I put in so many placemarks I decided to type up all the French. I put the list up as a blog post. The French in Tropic of Cancer is the most visited Dare I Read post. 


word of the day: Qui dort, dine


context: 


Miss Bianca, the leader of the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society, tells a prisoner he must keep watch all night. The prisoner groans, ‘I can’t.’


‘Nonsense,’ said Miss Bianca bracingly. ‘It is because … you are undernourished. “Qui dort, dine,” as they say in France! You must make one more effort.’


definition (wiktionary): Literally "[one] who sleeps, dines”. Proverb: sleep allows one to go without food


another definition (LingQ) as proverb: You snooze, you lose

 

“You snooze, you lose” sounds more like the meaning Miss Bianca wants than the one about being able to assuage hunger with sleep. The prisoner is malnourished. Miss Bianca is not encouraging him to skip meals. Rather, she wants him to keep watch — not miss out on information. 


I don’t think there was any dictionary I had access to as a kid that would have helped me out here. 


source:

The Turret

by Margery Sharp

illustrations by Garth Williams

1963. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston