ANOA /uh.NOH.uh/ n. a small water buffalo found primarily in Indonesia
There are two species of anoa, a lowland and a mountain variety, but you’ll have to pull out your hiking gear to catch a sight of either of them. The most likely place to look is in Sulawesi, a large Indonesian island, formerly known as Celebes.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, because yesterday I put together a little map to help you plan your expedition…
But don’t get your hopes up, as both species are now endangered.
There doesn’t even seem to be much footage of this little creature in its natural habitat. I had to settle for this cute-but-somewhat-sad crowd-pleaser taken in an L.A. zoo…
If you really want to track down the anoa, the best place is probably still towards the back page of your local newspaper…
RIATA /ree.AH.tuh/ n. a long rope of hemp or leather used to tether, or with a noose to catch, livestock
Today’s word comes to us from the days of early Spanish colonization. This can be seen in the original Spanish la reata (literally, the retying) which has morphed into REATA and LARIAT, in addition to today’s word. Even the much more common synonym, LASSO, comes from the Spanish lazo (a noose).
To emphasize its Hispanic origins, crossword constructors will often clue today’s word using another of similar cultural origin. Popular examples include GAUCHO (a cowboy of the South American pampas, often of mixed Spanish and native descent), VAQUERO (a cowboy or herdsman, especially in parts of Texas), HACIENDA (a large estate, in Spanish-speaking countries), and ESTANCIA (a cattle ranch, especially in Latin America).
Here is the image that will probably be conjured up for me when I next come across this word in a word game…
And speaking of word games, if you ever have these letters on your rack, remember you can also play TIARA (a jeweled headpiece), RAITA (an Indian vegetable dish), or ATRIA (pl. of ATRIUM, a courtyard area)
P.S. Collins/CSW/SOWPODS players also get to play the high-scoring LAZO (which is the original Spanish verb from which lasso derives) and another pair of anagrams of riata: AARTI (a ritual practiced on the Ganges) and TAIRA (a type of weasel found in South America).
ATTAR /AT.are or AT.uh/ n. a fragrant essential oil, typically made from rose petals, and often used to make perfume
Also called OTTO or OTTAR, today’s word is usually used in phrases like attar of rose or rose otto (but don’t confuse it with an Italian dish!).
The two species of rose from which attar is usually extracted are the cabbage rose (Rosa centifolia) and the DAMASK rose (Rosa damascena). Here are some damask roses in their natural habitat…
Bulgarian Damascena Rose from Rose Valley
As you can see from the caption, the roses in this picture are growing in a place called Rose Valley in Bulgaria. This little speck on the globe single-handedly churns out well over half of the world’s attar of rose, and has done for centuries!
If you’re anything like me, after watching this charming video of Bulgaria’s famous rose-growing region, you’ll want to hop on a plane and visit…
And now is a good time to visit too, since picking season starts in May, and the annual Festival of Roses kicks off in June ;-)
There is a long and intimidating list of chemicals in attar of rose, but you should at least familiarize yourself with the ones that are most likely to garner you 50 bonus points in a game of Scrabble: EUGENOL, FARNESOL, GERANIOL, and LINALOOL (also LINALOL).
But getting back to this month’s theme, today’s word was brought to you by the following clues…
Essence of roses
Rosa damascena product
P.S. Here’s a basic thing I didn’t realize until composing this word of the day. I’ve often wondered why essential oils are called ‘essential’. Essential for what? I don’t know why it never occurred to me, but essential doesn’t only mean ‘necessary’, it is also the adjectival form of ‘essence’. To say that an oil is essential simply means that it is the essence of something (rose for example!). If it was spelled ‘essencial’, I might have twigged onto this a long time ago.
Anyway, I just thought I’d throw this tidbit out there in case I’m not the only silly person in the room.
OLLA /OL.uh or AW.lyah/ n. a ceramic pot used for cooking stews, storing and cooling food, and irrigation, especially in the American Southwest
Having been introduced into the American Southwest by the Spanish, clues for the olla will often play on this pedigree with Hispanic preceders like PUEBLO (a communal village), CASA (a house or mansion), or CANTINA (a bar).
Perhaps most frequently, clues will reference the stews and soup dishes for which this pot is widely used. The most important culinary dish to recognize is a Spanish meat and bean stew called olla podrida…
but you’ll also find references to other elements of Spanish cuisine, including PAELLA (a saffron-flavored seafood, chicken, and rice dish) and FRIJOLE (a large family of beans, including the PINTO bean, used in Mexican cookery).
Speaking of frijole, here’s a short video that not only shows you how to make an authentic Frijoles de la Olla, but also tells you how to pronounce it properly…
Let’s finish off with some practice. Find a four letter word that answers to each of the following clues…
See how kind this month’s Crosswordese theme has been to your morning solve?
DACHA /DAH.cha/ n. a Russian holiday house or cottage, often far from luxurious
Also spelled DATCHA, it should be easy to pick in the grid with clues like..
Country house for summering
Russian country home
Black Sea bungalow
Cottage for Putin
The dacha has played an important and robust role in the cultural history of Russia. Over the course of several centuries it transformed from its medieval FEUDAL origins as a ‘manor’, into its slightly snooty-nosed BOURGEOIS phase as a ‘summer house’, on through the turbulent BOLSHEVIK regime and the corresponding rise of the KOLKHOZ (a communal farm), and into modern times, where its cultural place is eloquently described by the School of Russian and Asian Studies…
But for many Russians, the dacha is still a simple home-away-from-home. Every weekend, many don large rubber boots (резиновые сапоги) and weed and care for their vegetable patches. They eat shashlik (a kind of barbeque on skewers), play outdoor games, go for walks and just relax. At night, they retire to what usually amounts to a simple wooden shack, often lacking running water and electricity. To many, this is a “return to the soil,” to their roots and the ways of their forefathers. Although some scoff at this ramshackle Russian tradition, both supporters and scoffers alike will agree that the dacha is an important part of народность (Russianness).
And there you go. You even learned SHASHLIK (also SHASHLICK or SHASLIK) to boot!
Let’s finish off with an interesting little episode of Moscow Out that will summarize some of the things you’ve just read and also give you a better feel for the modern dacha…
I just love the history of Russia, and one day I’m going to talk to you about it for an entire month! Whether you like it or not ;-)
APSE /aps/ n. a large recess in a church that is usually semicircular in shape and often covered with a highly decorated half-dome
As always, you can learn a few more things about a word by thinking about the clues that are often given for it, and then doing a little bit of research…
Part of St. Paul’s
Altar spot, perhaps
I also got a chuckle out of a clue I once encountered for this word: [Area under a semidome]. I wondered how on earth the editor could possibly expect the average crossword solver to be familiar with calculus ;-)
Architectural structures which resemble an apse in some way are often described as APSIDAL. A good example of an apsidal structure is an EX(H)EDRA (pl. EX(H)EDRAE or EX(H)EDRAS), which is a semicircular seating area usually set into an external face of a building.
Some churches have a small secondary apse on either side of the main apse. Such an apse is called an APSIDIOLE. Here’s a picture of a mummy apse with her two baby apsidioles…
Confusingly, today’s word is sometimes also used interchangeably with the word APSIS (pl. APSIDES), which is an astronomical term referring to a point of either closest or furthest approach of an orbiting body. These points, which are known as the PERIHELION and APHELION respectively, are often connected by an imaginary line called the line of apsides, which I just thought I’d mention in passing.
P.S. An architectural structure with three apses, like the one I showed you above, can be described by Collins/CSW/SOWPODS players as TRIAPSIDAL, or TRIAPSAL. North American Scrabblers however, must refer to such a thing as ‘an architectural structure with three apses’.
AGORA /uh.GOR.uh or AG.er.uh/ n. an open marketplace or assembly area for public gatherings in Ancient Greece pl. -E or -S
Nothing too tricky in the clues you’re likely to see for this one, although you might learn something new from the last clue in the list…
Ancient assembly area
Forum : Rome :: ____ : Athens
Although I have long been familiar with the word agora, it didn’t occur to me until today that it is the source of the word AGORAPHOBIA, which can be read off literally as a fear of open public places. It’s obvious when you think about it, but perhaps I never have.
Today’s word has another meaning too: an Israeli monetary unit equal to one hundredth of a SHEKEL. This meaning gives rise to the less familiar plurals AGOROT and AGOROTH.
If you don’t believe me, just read the fine print…
And if you thought I was going off on a bit of a tangent there, I bet you can’t guess how I’m going to weave this little fellow into the conversation…
This eerie looking plant is commonly known as a MANDRAKE, but its formal name is the MANDRAGORA. Get it?
LIEN /LEE.un or LEEN/ n. a right to keep a person’s property until a debt owed by that person has been paid
A property capable of being subject to a lien is said to be LIENABLE.
LIENAL is also a perfectly good word, however the bank manager may look at you strangely if you use it while discussing your mortgage. That’s because in this form, lien most likely means ‘spleen’, and your lienal contract may have just secured yours against a loan!
If you’re after a four letter word satisfying any of the following clues, today’s word is most likely it…
Legal claim on property
There may be one on your car
Here’s a very clear introduction to the concept of a lien that goes a little beyond today’s definition…
In addition to the basic types of lien discussed in that video, there are lots of specific types of lien relating to particular contractual contexts.
For example, a DEMURRAGE lien refers to a carrier’s lien on a charterer’s goods for any unpaid charges incurred through delays in unloading the carrier’s vessel. Another example is an INCHOATE lien, which is one that may be revoked in a court of law (or something like that — I’m not particularly fluent in legalese).
Of course, if you’re a Scrabble or Words With Friends fan, you’ll mainly be interested in the fact that lien is the only anagram of the more mundane line, and has the rather handy front hook of ALIEN.
SOL /soul/ n. a syllable used to denote the fifth note in the diatonic musical scale
The practice of using syllables to represent musical notes is a long-established teaching device known as SOLMIZATION.
The DIATONIC (literally “through tones”) musical scale is a tone-based sequence of seven notes, which has become the Western standard.
A singing exercise that uses solmization in the diatonic scale is called SOLFEGGIO (/sol.FEJ.ee.oh/), in Italian, SOLFEGE (/sol.FEJ or SOL.fej/), in French, or SOL-FA, in English.
These names derive from the traditional syllables used in this technique, which are (in their most common spellings): DO, RE, MI, FA, SO(L), LA, TI
If, like me, you’re not familiar with the fundamentals of music theory, you might need to do just a little more research to recognize today’s word as the answer to the following New York Times crossword clues…
Diatonic scale tone
G, in the key of C
Step on the scale
I particularly like the last one! And that reminds me… A reader wrote to me recently saying that one of the crossword clues I had listed didn’t make sense. The reason was she was unfamiliar with the use of the question mark at the end of some crossword clues, which is a popular practice in American newspaper crossword puzzles. The question mark means that there is some ‘punny’ wordplay going on, so don’t take the clue too literally. [Beethoven's fifth?] is a perfect example ;-)
There is, of course, a great deal more to be said about this musical tradition, which has once again given me an idea for an entire monthly theme! In the meantime, I’ll just leave you with a catchy demonstration of today’s subject that doesn’t come from the The Sound Of Music…
ORIOLE /OH.ree.ole or OH.ree.el/ n. a tropical American songbird
The oriole, by which people usually mean the ‘New World’ oriole, is the common name for a large group of birds belonging to the genus Icterus. Interestingly (for some of us at least) ICTERUS is allowed in Scrabble because of its other medical meaning of ‘jaundice’. This fact is doubly interesting because apparently (i.e. don’t take my word for this) the oriole was so-named because, according to Pliny, the sight of one was capable of curing jaundice.
The oriole comes in about 25 flavors (well, species to the taxonomist, but I’m a bit peckish right now). The tasty specimen I’ve singled out in the picture above is called the TROUPIAL (or TROOPIAL if you don’t quite have the right letters), which is the national bird of Venezuela. (The troupial is renowned for being a ‘nest pirate’, but I won’t offend my Venezuelan fans by assuming that’s why they chose it.)
Other birds with fun names that are close cousins of the oriole include the BOBOLINK, the GRACKLE, the COWBIRD, and the high-scoring CACIQUE.
And while we’re talking about birds, now might be a good time to test yourself on some of my earlier avian offerings this month: ERNE,RHEA, and AERIE.
P.S. For Collins/CSW/SOWPODS players, you also get to enjoy playing ICTERID (a member of a family of birds encompassing the orioles) and LORIOT (the golden oriole).
LANAI /luh.NIE/ n. a living area, such as a roofed patio, porch or veranda, built onto the side of a house, especially in Hawaii
Today’s word should be pretty easy to spot in your favorite newspaper puzzle, with clues like…
Patio off the tiki room
Breezy room in Hawaii
That is assuming, of course, that you’re up to speed on Hawaiian geography (not Word Buff territory I’m sorry!), and in particular that you know the names of the main Hawaiian islands.
And speaking of Hawaiian islands, I should also mention in passing that Lanai (with a capital this time) actually is one!
This Lanai is often better known as The Pineapple Island.
You might also occasionally encounter a clue like [Florida room], and wonder what this has to do with Hawaii. Nothing. This clue relates to the fact that in some parts of southern US, especially Florida, a lanai refers to “a screened-in enclosure that is attached to the back of a house and very often includes a swimming pool”. Like this one…
But personally, I’d much prefer to chill out in the Hawaiian version.
RHEA /REE.uh/ n. a flightless, greyish-brown, three-toed bird, similar in appearance to an ostrich or emu, found in the South American grasslands
I’ve crafted the above definition of today’s word to cover you for just about any crossword clue I’ve encountered for this creature…
Earthbound South American bird
Three-toed bird of the pampas
Relative of an ostrich
Cousin of an emu
It’s always difficult in my Word of the Day to predict which words readers will find common and which they’ll find obscure. To some of you, the rhea might be a bird you see all the time, while you might never have seen, or even heard of, an emu. Being an Australian, for example, I see emus all the time, but I’m not at all familiar with the rhea.
One of the reasons I write an anecdote or two about each word is to make sure that even if you’re disappointed with the head word on any given day, you’ll learn something new in the elaboration. Not always, I realize; but usually. So now let me try to keep that promise today…
The inability of the rhea to fly is due to the absence of a ridged, keel-like breastbone called a CARINA (plural CARINAE or CARINAS). The carina is adapted for the attachment of flight muscles, and a bird with this structure (i.e. a bird that can, in principle at least, fly) is often called a CARINATE.
A bird that lacks a carina (like the rhea, emu, or ostrich) is often called a RATITE. Most ratites have gone the way of the MOA (an extinct flightless bird, formerly found in New Zealand).
P.S. For Collins/CSW/SOWPODS Scrabblers, you might be interested to know that one species of rhea is known (in some parts of the world at least) as the NANDU, which is also occasionally spelled NHANDU or NANDOO.
AERIE /EH.ree or EYE.ree/ n. the nest of an eagle or other bird of prey, typically situated high up in a tree or cliff
Like our old friend etui, AERIE is one of those little gems that turns up time and time again in crossword puzzles, Scrabble games, and spelling bees. It’s just one of those words the serious word buff must know.
Here are some clues you’ll be able to decode at lightning speed now you know this word…
Nursery for eaglets
Do you remember what a raptor is, or do you need a a quick recap? And that [Cliff hangar?] clue is a bit cute, don’t you think?
Aerie has a couple of handy variant spellings too (both allowed in Scrabble): EYRIE and EYRY. Each of these words allows you to dump an awkward combination, while scoring well in the process!
Not surprisingly, today’s word got me reading a little about nests. A particularly fruitful word I thought you might like to know about is the word NIDUS, which actually means ‘nest or breeding place’.
I say it is fruitful because, in addition to its plurals NIDI and NIDUSES, we get the following derivatives…
NIDE – v. to nest NIDAL – adj. relating to a nest NIDATE – v. to nest NIDATION – n. the act of building a nest NIDICOLOUS – adj. staying for longer than average in the nest NIDIFY – v. to nest NIDIFICATION – n. the act of nesting NIDIFUGOUS – adj. leaving the nest soon after hatching
I challenge you to use at least one of these words today. If you have an older child still living under your roof, I thoroughly recommend nidicolous ;-)
P.S. If you’re a Collins/CSW/SOWPODS player, you can add NID, NIDIFICATE, and NIDULATION to your nidus list!
P.P.S. Yesterday I challenged you to find an anagram of PICTURES that contained the word ECRU, which was yesterday’s word of the day. The answer is … drumroll … PIECRUST.
ECRU /EH.kroo, AY.kroo, eh.KROO or ay.KROO/ n. an off-white color reminiscent of unbleached linen or silk
Example: “They have recently opened a new spinning department initially producing Aran and chunky yarns in both ecru and naturally coloured British wools, such as Black Welsh, Suffolk and Wensleydale.”
You’ll see plenty of giveaway synonyms in the crossword grid, including…
Light brown color
Napkin shade, maybe
If nothing else, today’s word will impress your Scrabble or Words With Friends opponent a tad more than its common anagram. And speaking of those games, here’s a puzzle closer for you…
What anagram of PICTURES contains the letters E-C-R-U in that order?
ELAND /EE.lund/ n. a type of large African antelope
Eland is actually the informal name for the genus Taurotragus. There are two species of eland within this genus: the common eland (that’s him above), and the giant eland (that’s one on a lunch break below)…
As you can see, the two species have a similar PELAGE (an animal’s coat of hair, fur or wool, pronounced /PEL.ij/), but the giant eland is easily distinguished by, among other things, its pendulous DEWLAP (that’s a loose fold of skin hanging from the neck, pronounced /DYOO.lap/ or /DOO.lap/).
And yes, both of these words could appear on your final exam!
The technical names of the common and giant elands are Taurotragus oryx and Taurotragus derbianus respectively. A slightly confusing thing about the first of these labels is that ORYX, when used on its own, actually refers to an entirely different genus, itself consisting of four antelope species!
I’ve never understood animal taxonomy.
Let’s finish off with some gorgeous footage of these creatures, along with some of their Scrabbly relatives, sharing a watering hole at dusk…
SLOE /slow/ n. another name for the blackthorn, or the fruit it bears
The proper scientific name for this tree is Prunus Spinosa, which I mention mainly to sneak in the perfectly good Scrabble word, PRUNUS.
The fruit of the sloe is a DRUPE (a word I just learned today describing any fleshy fruit with a stone inside) that looks a bit like a small purple plum.
Sloes (the fruit) are sometimes used to make jelly or jam (although sloe jam sounds more like a style of music than something you put on toast). Today’s fruit is, however, probably best known for bringing into the world a flavored liqueur called sloe gin.
Just for fun, I thought I’d find out how to make it…
And you know what? That’s already enough to solve most crossword clues you’ll see for this fellow…
Dark purple fruit
But I knew you would want more, so I came prepared…
Although the sloe is mostly used for its fruit, the wood of the tree also gets a good workout. Most interesting, for word gamers I mean, is the fact that the wood of the sloe tree is often used to make a traditional Irish walking stick, or club, called a … wait for it … SHILLELAGH (pronounced /shi.LAY.lee or shi.LAY.la/, in case you were wondering).
So there you go. You now have a word to describe that little stick thingy that leprechauns seem to carry around all the time. And on that note, I’m going to leave you with a funny t-shirt…
P.S. At a handsome 10 letters long, the Scrabble player is likely to require a shillelagh before playing one, but they might have some luck with the slightly more playable 9-letter variant, SHILLELAH.
P.P.S. Collins/CSW/SOWPODS Scrabble fans also get access to the following treats: SLOEBUSH, SLOETHORN, and SLOETREE. The last one is particularly important as it is a very high probability bingo!
OBI /OWE.bee/ n. in traditional Japanese dress, a sash or tie wrapped around the waist
Today’s word will often be clued in a very literal way, like [Kimono sash], [Japanese wraparound], or the slightly trickier [Geisha's tie]. But, as you can see from the sampling of previous newspaper clues below, to really foolproof yourself you’ll have to dip into the abyss of Japanese culture…
Piece of kabuki costumery
Part of a “Mikado” costume
Traditional keikogi accessory
Sash worn in a ryokan inn
I’ll let you do the research on those! If it helps motivate you, I’ll just mention in passing that KABUKI, MIKADO, RYOKAN, and NOH are all good in Scrabble ;-)
But here’s a bit of research I have done for you…
You’ve probably noticed that traditional Japanese garb is kind of lacking in the pocket department, right? So you may have wondered where they put things. Well, for small items at least, here’s a popular answer…
An INRO (pronounced exactly as it should be) is a crafted container hung from an obi by a pair of cords. Now the cords need to attach to the obi somehow, and this is achieved by a decorative button-like fastener called a NETSUKE (variously pronounced /NET.skee/, /NET.skay/, or /NET.suh.kee/). Finally, you need to be able to secure the inro, and this is achieved by cord-fastening beads which are usually referred to collectively as OJIME (/OWE.ji.may/).
AGHA or AGA /AH.guh/ n. a title, sometimes hereditary, used for a civil, military, or spiritual leader, especially in Turkey
For example, in the days of the Ottoman Empire when a member of the Turkish infantry was called a JANISSARY (also JANIZARY or JANISARY), the chief of the Sultan’s guards was referred to as the Janissary Agha. Hey look! Here comes one now…
Another example, this time in a religious context, is Aga Khan, which is the hereditary title of the leader (or more accurately, the IMAM) of the Shia Muslim Nizari Ismaili sect.
Usually, the crossword clues for this little fellow are rather pedestrian things like [Turkish title] or [Ottoman officer], although I did once get a chuckle out of the punny [Khan opener?].
As always, I learned a bunch of cool new words while researching this one.
One article described today’s word as an AULIC title. I suppose I should know the word aulic, but I don’t. At least I didn’t. It means ‘of or relating to a royal court’. That’s actually a handy vocabulary word, so I’m going to try to remember it. Don’t be surprised if I sneak it into one or two daily words just for practice. (This service isn’t just for *you*, by the way!)
Then, just for fun, I checked to see if the word agha had any Scrabbly extensions. That’s how I discovered YATAGHAN (also ATAGHAN or YATAGAN). Turns out a yataghan is an old Turkish dagger that is usually long and curved. And you know what?
If you look really closely at the guy on the horse, I reckon he is actually carrying one!
EMIR /eh.MEER or uh.MEER/ n. a title given to independent rulers in certain Islamic countries
The man in the picture, for example, is Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah, who was a very influential Kuwaiti emir until he died in 2006.
So long as your geography isn’t too bad, you probably won’t struggle with typical clues for this one: [Arab dignitary], [Dubai leader], or [Qatar bigwig].
The province or state over which an emir presides is often referred to as an EMIRATE. You’ve probably heard of the United Arab Emirates, for example. If you’ve been there, you may have even flown with the airline known as Emirates! (A native of an emirate is often referred to as an Emirati, but don’t expect to get away with that one on the Scrabble board.)
Today’s word has a bunch of variant spellings, including AMIR (which is actually closest to the original), followed by EMEER and AMEER. Furthermore, all variants allow the -ate extension, a symmetry not always respected by dictionaries. So you’re getting quite a few words for the price of one today ;-)
Actually, Islamic culture has always been a wonderful source of Scrabbly titles, with others you might want to investigate including the SHEIKH (pronounced /shake/, so always a goodie for spelling bees), CALIPH, MIRZA, VIZIER, IMAM, WAZIR, and (my favorite Y-dump) the SAYYID, along with the plethora of variant spellings the process of transliteration has bred.
One Muslim title that entertained me this morning comes from the Persian word Amirzade, which refers to the male descendant of an amir (with the -zade part having to do with ‘birth’).
It turns out that when this word is spoken, the emphasis is on the bit I’ve bolded in Amirzadi. And this is where the lovely word MIRZA (a Muslim prince by blood) comes from. (Incidentally, I thought its anagram, ZIRAM, might belong in today’s story too, but alas, it is a type of chemical salt or something.)
DISCLAIMER: I am not, and have never (in any sober context at least ) claimed to be, an etymologist, linguist, lexicologist, or other professional associated with the scholarly study of words. In fact, if I’m to believe what my friends tell me, I’m not a professional at anything.
LEI /LAY.ee/ n. a decorative garland of flowers, usually in the form of a circular band worn around the neck, especially in Hawaii
Spellers need to be particularly on the lookout for that unstressed -ee in its pronunciation, often omitted by those of us outside Hawaii.
And speaking of Hawaii, the crossword enthusiast will need to be familiar with a tad more of its delightful argot in order to spot today’s word hiding behind clues like…
I was going to define all those words for you (and yes, they are all legal in Scrabble), but I realized I’ve got the makings of a whole monthly Word of the Day theme buried in this one!
Finally, it’s also worth keeping in the back of your mind that the word lei (this time pronounced /lay/) also refers to the plural of LEU (another spelling bee bullet, pronounced /LAY.oo/), a unit Romanian and Moldovan currency worth 100 BANI.
And that gives me an idea for another monthly theme…
EPEE /AY.pay or EP.ay/ n. a sword used for dueling and fencing
A few words you’re likely to see in the same crossword clues as the epee include the FOIL and SABER/SABRE (the other two common swords used in fencing), the RAPIER (a cousin of these swords used for thrusting attacks), and the PISTE (the strip of ground on which a fencing competition takes place; pronounced /peest/).
In rare situations you might even encounter the PASSADO (a forward thrust movement) or the FLEURET (an alternative name for the foil).
Although the epee will usually be clued in a straightforward way (once you’ve learned the above lingo of course), some of the more playful clues I’ve encountered include…
It serves a duel purpose
It may be waved at the Olympics
Of course, it always helps being told the answer in advance ;-)
If you see an epee on the board in a game of Scrabble or Words With Friends, don’t hesitate to capitalize on the front hook opportunity of TEPEE (a conical shaped Native American tent), which can also be spelled TEEPEE or TIPI.
And don’t forget that the person actually doing the fencing can garner you an easy 50 points too; the fencer is called an EPEEIST!
ALOE /AL.owe/ n. a genus of succulent flowering plants encompassing around 500 species
You’ve probably heard of aloe vera (literally ‘true aloe’), because of its medicinal uses, but you may not have known that this was a single species among several hundred.
Indeed, I suspect it is really this most common aloe that crossword constructors are cluing time and time again with [Natural balm], [Shampoo ingredient], and [Soothing succulent].
BTW… Quite often dictionaries list a plant genus as capitalized and you may wonder how it makes its way into the Scrabble dictionary.
The thing is, it is a common practice (reflected in dictionaries) to allow a genus name to be uncapitalized when it is being used to refer to a generic member of a genus (i.e. to a generic species).
Here’s an example that will teach you a high probably bingo word at the same time: An ALOETIC is a medicine made from several aloes.
See how the word aloes here is not referring to the genus itself, but rather to its members?
Funnily enough, today’s word has only one anagram, and that was a word you learned just yesterday: OLEA, the plural of OLEUM (an old Latin word for ‘oil’).
P.S. For Collins players, you also get the adjective ALOED, which you can use to indicate the presence of aloes. So when you see that one, don’t think it gives you permission to go around aloeing* yourself.
OLEO /OH.lee.owe or OWE.lee.owe/ n. a shortened colloquial form of oleomargarine preferred in the US (over margarine used in Britain and other parts of the world) which is a butter substitute made from vegetable oils
Here are a few crossword clues today’s word should help you solve…
Marg : Brits :: ___ : Americans
It’s not butter
Spread on the table
Promise, for one
And just in case you didn’t understand that last one…
Deriving from the Latin OLEUM (plural OLEA), meaning ‘oil’, today’s word has a few handy extensions. The most widely known of these are probably OLEOGRAPH (a picture produced in oils) and OLEORESIN (a mixture of oils and resin).
The reason I’m familiar with the latter is that my Scrabble program once responded to my opening play of OLE with the ever-so-slightly jaw-dropping…
Can you even begin to imagine finding that in a game?!
P.S. here are the answers to yesterday’s puzzle…
“____ thou and peace may meet”: Shelley
“We shun it ____ it comes”: Emily Dickinson
“____ fancy you consult, consult your purse”: Benjamin Franklin
“Maid of Athens, ____ We Part”: Byron
“____ upon my bed I lay me”: Longfellow
“Blood hath been shed ____ now”: Macbeth
“A little ____ the mightiest Julius fell”: Shak.
“I hope to see London once ____ I die”: “Henry IV, Part 2″
ERE /air/ adv. prep. conj. before, earlier, since etc.
In some cases, ERE has actually merged with the word it modifies to form a new compound word. The ones the Scrabble player will have to remember are…
ERELONG (before long or soon)
ERENOW (before this time)
EREWHILE (previously or some time ago)
Today’s word is encountered most often nowadays in literary and/or archaic works, and is especially popular in poetry.
Below are 10 ‘fill in the blank’ style clues from real New York Times crossword puzzles to show you the sorts of literary quotes you are expected to be familiar with during your breakfast solve.
However, now that I’ve already told you the answer to all of them, it’s not exactly a challenge worthy of our stature. So to make it a bit more interesting, I’ve mixed up the sources for each quotation, and your job is to rearrange them correctly…
“____ thou and peace may meet”: Shakespeare
“We shun it ____ it comes”: Byron
“____ fancy you consult, consult your purse”: Longfellow
“Maid of Athens, ____ We Part”: Emily Dickinson
“____ upon my bed I lay me”: Shelley
“Blood hath been shed ____ now”: Benjamin Franklin
“A little ____ the mightiest Julius fell”: Lowell
“I hope to see London once ____ I die”: Macbeth
“I kissed thee ____ I killed thee”: “Henry IV, Part 2″
“___ pales in Heaven the morning star”: Othello
How did you go? I’ll let you know the answers tomorrow!
P.S. For Scrabblers playing to Collins, you’ll be happy to ere that today’s word can also be used as a verb meaning ‘to plough’.
TIP — A fun way to frustrate your novice Collins opponent is to play ERING declaring it to mean ‘jewelry to ornament the ear’. Then watch your opponent’s facial expression transform from supreme confidence, to confusion, to utter disgust as the inevitable challenge plays out.
ETA /EE.tuh or AY.tuh/ n. the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet, often transliterated in English as the letter ‘e’
Astronomers sometimes use eta to label the 7th star in a constellation, as in Eta Carinae, a fact which has been used once or twice in the New York Times crossword puzzle, so look out for that one.
More often though, you’ll get clues like these: [Seventh letter, to Aristotle], [Zeta follower], [Third letter after delta], [Hellenic H], [Greek vowel]… which hopefully all make sense now.
I say that partly because many of the Greek letters get a good workout in the grid, but also because, as you can see above, the clues often expect you to know the order of each letter. But how can you know the order of each letter, without knowing the entire sequence?
I’m not sure if the following short video will help you out or not, because being a middle-aged prodigy I already knew the Greek alphabet before watching it. But at the very least, it’s a little bit fun…
Didn’t help you? Well, at least remember this today: eta is the 7th letter in the Greek alphabet.
TIP — Take a look at the symbol for lower case eta, η. See how it looks a wee-little bit like the number seven? If you mentally remove that first vertical stroke, maybe? Ok, it’s a bit of a useless tip. But sometimes useless tips are the most useful…
“[Seventh letter]. Hmmmmmm…. Hey, remember when Word Buff tried to tell us that η looks like a 7? What crap. It looks nothing like a seven. Hey wait! That’s it. ETA!”
Oops. Nearly forgot to throw the Scrabble players a morsel. Man this is a tough gig!
If you see ETA on the board, note that you can take advantage of the following hooks: BETA, FETA, GETA, META, SETA, and ZETA.
I’ll let you look them up. For now I’ll just mention in passing that if you took my advice earlier in this post you’d already know two of them!
P.S. Here’s an example of a Collins-only (read: Not allowed in North American Scrabble) footnote I warned you about the other day.
First… There are two obscure Collins-only hooks for ETA: KETA (a Pacific salmon) and WETA (a grasshopper).
Second… Did you notice I gave two possible pronunciations of today’s word? It turns out that these pronunciations have proper linguistic names. /AY.tuh/ is called the ETACISM and /EE.tuh/ is called the ITACISM.
I’m not sure how to use these words in a sentence, but I know how to lay them down on a Scrabble board and add 50 points to my total score. A Collins game, of course ;-)
EWER /YOO.ur/ n. a wide-mouthed jug traditionally used for carrying water, but now used more as an ornament
And here is a more famous one you might recognize…
I showed you that one for a reason. It is rather popular for crossword constructors to clue our word of the day as something like [America's Cup Trophy, e.g.] or the slightly less direct [Prize cup, maybe]
In years gone by, the ewer was a very popular object of paintings; especially of the so-called “Still Life” art form. That’s why you’ll also need to recognize it as a likely answer to clues like [Common still-life subject] or the slightly more demanding [Item in Cassatt's "Woman Bathing"].
What? You haven’t heard of Cassatt’s “Woman Bathing”? Me neither…
You can also see from that painting why the ewer is often clued as [Washstand vessel], [Basin accompanier], or [Ablutionary vessel]. (Although Scrabblers will probably associate the word ABLUTION with ABUTILON, its floral anagram, rather than the act of washing).
And speaking of women bathing, how charming is this little excerpt from Don’t Cry Alone by Josephine Cox…
“In no time at all, the fire was blazing cheerfully, the curtains were drawn against the night, and Beth was pouring the water from the kettle into the bath; a spill of cold water from the ewer, then another drop from the kettle, and the water was just the right temperature, the warm steam rising nicely and filling the room with a comfortable warm smell.”
Now that’s not just defining a word; that’s experiencing it!
OGEE /OH.jee or oh.JEE/ n. an architectural molding having an S-shaped cross-section
At last you have a name for those funny bendy bits in arches…
and other fancy thingies…
Like most crosswordese, ogee is generally clued straightforwardly with hints like [S-shaped molding], [Arch type], or [Molding shape]. But you will occasionally encounter a nasty, like Brendan Emmett Quigley’s rather ambiguous [Distinctive profile].
While researching today’s word, I also stumbled upon another couple of pieces of armory for the word gamer’s arsenal.
First was OGIVE, which often refers to ‘a pointed or Gothic arch’ (adj. OGIVAL), and also shares a complex lineage with ogee that I won’t attempt to reproduce here.
Second was SIGMOID, which I finally got around to looking up today, and which is usually used to mean ‘S-shaped’.
Usually, crossword constructors give straightforward clues for answers that are a bit obscure. So for this one, the clue is likely to be something like [Mountain ridge] or [Craggy crest]. Marginally less ‘definitional’ clues you might find include [Alpine feature], [Appalachian feature], or [Rocky prominence]. A bit trickier, depending on your personal stock of knowledge of course, is the clue [Glacier National Park's Garden Wall, e.g.].
Another thing crossword constructors like to do, by the way, is use secondary, less expected, meanings of words. In this case, ARETE might also refer to an old Greek word that related to ‘virtue’ (‘knowledge’ being the ultimate), and was often bound up in the context of ‘achieving your very best’. That’s why you’ll occasionally see clues for this word like [Sum of one's virtues, to the Greek] or [Virtue to Aristotle].
It’s a trap for beginners, but it won’t snare you ;-)
Actually, in the Greek context, ARETE is pronounced differently to the ‘mountain ridge’. Puzzle makers don’t worry about pronunciations in their clues, though. Probably because that would take a lot of the fun out of it for them!
For the Scrabble players, today’s word makes a nice alternative play to the rather mundane EATER.
P.S. I might make an occasional habit of tucking away Collins- (CSW-) only words in a footnote so North American Scrabblers can safely avoid them. In today’s case, here’s the footnote…
Collins allows another obscure anagram of ARETE, namely REATE#, which is a type of plant often more casually referred to as the ‘Water-crowfoot’.
ETUI /ay.TWEE/ n. a little ornamental case for holding small jewellery or other useful items, especially those required for emergency sewing jobs
The word is occasionally spelled ETWEE, which is pronounced exactly the same way, but in my humble opinion lacks literary distinction ;-)
I kicked off April’s Crosswordese theme with this one for a very good reason. No crossword solver, Scrabble player, or spelling bee contender can escape this little gem.
You see, crossword constructors are always on the lookout for words with a high vowel to consonant ratio, because there just aren’t very many of them in the English language, and the grid always requires them. As a result, the ones that do exist in our lexicon occur with a much greater frequency than consonant-heavy words .
In Scrabble, players (well, the ones who know what they’re doing at least!) are always trying to ‘balance their racks’, which means unloading surplus vowels in moves known as ‘vowel dumps’. As a quick way to dump an E-U-I combo through an existing T on the board, ETUI is pretty cherished by this crowd.
And even in spelling bees, this charming little word gets a good workout. After all, if nobody told you how to pronounce this word, would you have worked it out? Probably not from its lineage: “French, from Old French estui, prison, from estuier, to guard, from Vulgar Latin estudiāre, from Latin stadium, study..” Sheesh!
Scott Firebaugh will certainly carry this one to his grave…
Scott is a multiple place-getter, and one-time winner, of the world’s largest senior Spelling Bee, run by the AARP association in Wyoming every year. Now trust me, this guy knows virtually every word in Merriam Webster.
But compare the word he spelled correctly to become the 2010 AARP National Spelling Bee Champion, to the one that relegated him to second place in 2009, and I think you’ll agree that you should never judge a word by its length ;-)