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)