hokum · /HOH-kəm/ · /ˈhəʊkəm/. noun. Nonsense. Rubbish. Originally theater slang for bombastic, melodramatic, sentimental or sensationalized dialogue done for applause. Most likely a combination of hocus-pocus + buncombe (AKA bunkum). See also: claptrap, piffle, poppycock, cobblers, tripe, twaddle, etc.[Read more…]
hippocampus /HIP-oh-CAMP-əs/. noun. A mythological sea creature with the forelegs of a horse and a fish or dolphin tail. A fish of the genus Hippocampus, AKA a sea horse. An area of the cerebral cortex that forms a ridge on the floor of the lateral ventricle of the brain (so named because its shape, in cross section, looks like a sea horse. This part of the brain plays an important part of consolidating short-term memory to long-term memory and in spatial memory. From Latin hippocampus, from Greek hippokampus, from hippos (horse) + kampus (sea monster).
hierophant /HIY-ər-ə-fant/. noun. In Ancient Greece, a high priest and revealer/teacher of mysteries/duties. Now, a chief advocate or spokesperson. From Greek hiero- (sacred) + phainein (to reveal).
humble pie. noun. Metaphorically, the dish we eat when we have to admit we were wrong or retract a statement in humiliating fashion. I assumed the origin was humble as in not proud or of low origin, but it’s not! In fact, the humble in humble pie comes from umble pie, with umbles being the innards of an animal, usually a deer. In other words, a low-class food, allowing the punny humble pie to emerge. Umbles itself comes from the Middle English numbles (offal).
hyperthymesia /HIY-pər-thiy-MEE-zhə/. noun. The condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory, sort of a photographic memory for life experiences. From Greek hyper(excessive) + thymesis (remembering).
humstrum /HUM-STRUM/. noun. A musical instrument of crude or primitive construction. A hurdy-gurdy. Sometimes, music played equally badly. Obviously a portmanteau of hum + strum, favored for the pleasing repetition of sound even describing something displeasing.
“Bonnell Thornton had just published a burlesque Ode on St. Cecilia’s day, adapted to the ancient British musick, viz. the salt-box, the Jew’s-harp, the marrow-bones and cleaver, the humstrum or hurdy-gurdy, &c. Johnson praised its humour, and seemed much diverted with it.” (James Boswell)
“A musical instrument made of a mopstick, a bladder, and some packthread, thence also called a bladder and string, and hurdy gurdy; it is played on like a violin, which is sometimes ludicrously called a humstrum…” (Francis Grose)
“I went the other evening to the concert, and spent the time there much to my heart’s content in cursing Mr. Hague, who played on the violin most piggishly, and a Miss (I forget her name)—Miss Humstrum, who sung most sowishly.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
“They are the Fipple-Flute, a word
Suggestive of seraphic screeches;
The Poliphant comes next, and third
The Humstrum — aren’t they perfect peaches?”
(Punch, or the London Charivari, 1920)
(h)aruspex /(h)ə-RU-speks/. noun. Ancient Roman soothsayers who made predictions based on an inspection of the entrails of sacrificial animals. Plural: haruspices. See also haruspical/haruspicate (belonging to, or having the function of, a haruspex). From Sanskrit hirâ(entrails) + Latin spic (beholding, inspecting).
“‘Am I to be frightened’, he said, in answer to some report of the haruspices, ‘because a sheep is without a heart?’” (J.A. Froude)
“He sat with his stricken gaze still turned to the window and the day’s bright tumult outside. I looked at our plates, haruspicating the leavings of our lunch. They did not bode well, as how should they?” (John Banville)
“Never forget that you can put your clothes back on and leave the institution before the doctor arrives to read your future in your organs, the modern haruspicy that exorbitant insurance barely covers.” (Ben Lerner)
“I part you like a crossroads and fear the god of eloquence and thieves. When you kissed me, my heart was in my mouth, you tore it out to read it, haruspex you.” (Jeanette Winterson)
“To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm”
“Except newspapers you know get in, and with them the idiotic haruspicating and scrying going on in My country, warwards. How can grownup men make such fools of themselves? But on every level.” (William Gaddis)
hapax legomenon /ha-PAKS lə-GAW-mə-nawn/. noun. A word that occurs only once in a text, oeuvre or a body of literature (aka a corpus). Often abbreviated as just hapax. Surprisingly, 40–60% of large collections of text are made of hapaxes. Read more: Wikipedia. See also: hapaxanthic (a plant that fruits and flowers only once). Borrowed from Greek hapax legomenon ([a thing] said only once).
“This is the Age of Complete Interconnection. No wires can hang loose; otherwise we all short-circuit. Yet, it is undeniable that life without individuality is not worth living. Every man must be a hapax legomenon…” (Philip Jose Farmer)
“The term for a word that only appears once in a text is hapax legomenon, which sounds like a character from an Asterix story, or a Scandinavian death metal band, and in this text appears only once.” (Alex Bellos)
“…where would their practice be or where the human race itself were the Pythagorean sesquipedalia of the panepistemion, however apically Volapucky, grunted and gromwelled, ichabod, habakuk, opanoff, uggamyg, hapaxle, gomenon, ppppfff, over country stiles, behind slated dwellinghouses, down blind lanes, or, when all fruit fails, under some sacking left on a coarse cart?” (James Joyce)
“…toad: I have followed Bottéro here. Other scholars have translated this hapax legomenon as ‘dwarf’, ‘mole,’ ‘spider’, or ‘scarecrow’.” (Stephen Mitchell)
“This reflects directly a period of experimentation (quite a lot of the relevant forms are hapax legomena, and we often find whole sets of formations with no apparent difference in meaning…)” (Geoffrey Horrocks)
“The old dictionary was ‘rather liberally sprinkled with hapax legomena,’ said Gove, referring to words that appeared but once in the history of the language. ‘Some of Shakespeare’s surcharged figures result in senses that never but for him would have been isolated for dictionary definition.’” (David Skinner)