word #16: “mytacism” (n.)


  1. using the letter M incorrectly or to an extreme.

This has nothing to do with alliterative tongue-twisters, like reciting “A missing mixture measure” over and over. The OED offers the necessary context for such an obscure word:

In Latin prose composition: the pronunciation of a final m before a word beginning with a vowel, regarded as a fault by grammarians. Also: the placing of a word with a final m before a word with an initial m.

Interesting fact about Latin grammarians: the profession is not some continuation of Ancient Rome; they only came to exist after the civilization’s collapse. Thus, there is no actual authority on how to pronounce the language, only reasonable arguments that are hashed-out ad infinitum . Think about it: from California to Bangalore people read and write grammatically near-exact English, yet the spectrum of pronunciation and orality is as diverse as Kew Gardens. No one can see the word “Ladder” and figure folks in Chicago say “Lehteh” or that the correct way to say “water” in Philadelphia is “wüdder.”

This is why some words die.

word #15: “Ozymandias Melancholia” (n.)

noun; term coined by Woody Allen:

In Stardust Memories I used the term ‘Ozymandias Melancholia’. That’s a symptom I’ve invented that describes that phenomenon specifically, the realization that your works of art will not save you and will mean nothing down the line. Eventually, there won’t be any universe, so even all the works of Shakespeare and all the works of Beethoven will be gone.

word #14: “feudal bourgeois” (n.)

noun (and oxymoron; overall though, really more of a term than a word).

From Franz Neumann’s Behemoth: the Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944:

[A]ll the conceit of the old feudal lord, with few of his virtues, [and] little of his regard for loyalty or culture. He represented a coalition of the army, the bureaucracy, and the owners of the large estates and factories for the joint exploitation of the state.

This portraiture by the Frankfort School-expat writing for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (what became / was subsumed by the C.I.A.) reminds me of what the Victorian fabulist George MacDonald wrote about clever people (in a passage called “An Old Garden” eerily reminiscent of Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There):

[…] We do not half appreciate the benefits to the race that spring from honest dullness. The clever people are the ruin of everything.

As citizens we should want the State to be dull, but as 21st century consumers and perpetual audience members we want our State to be clever. Against this algebra however, how do we account for Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil,” or David Foster Wallace’s notion that corruption can hide in the great wide open under the t-shirt and shorts of dry, opaque tedium?



word #13: “chalazophulakes” (n.)


  1. hail-guards

From Seneca:

[…] people who watched out for hail coming. When they had given a signal that hail was imminent, what do you suppose? That people ran for their cloaks or their waterproofs? No, they all performed their own sacrifices, one person with a lamb, another with a chicken. Instantly those clouds turned away, once they had tasted a bit of blood. That makes you laugh? Listen to what will make you laugh even more. If anyone had neither a lamb nor a chicken, as an inexpensive alternative he turned on himself, and, so that you do not think clouds are greedy or cruel, he pricked his finger with a really sharp stylus and performed a sacrifice with the blood. The hail turned away from his tiny farm no less than from those where it had been appeased with larger victims.

Gives some cultural/historical context to the “Chicken Little” tale.

Word #10: “glottochronology” (n.)

n. [Linguistics]

  1. The application of statistics to vocabulary to determine the degree of relationship between two or more languages and the chronology of their splitting off from a common ancestor.

Or, as its conceiver Morris Swadesh hypothesized, “[i]f we can show by means of comparative linguistics that various people spoke similar languages sometime in the past, we can infer the identities of those predecessor languages, and thus even more intimate connections between all human cultures … arriving eventually at an original tongue” (quoted in About a Mountain, 126)