SOM \sohm\ n. the basic monetary unit of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan
ECU \AY.kue or ay.KUE\ n. the name of an old French gold coin, adopted by several others since
Ecu has appeared in many American newspaper crossword puzzles, so it is definitely one the avid solver will need to remember. The sorts of clues you should now be able to quickly decode include…
- Antique French coin
- Calais coin of old
- Coin depicting Louis XVI
- French coin during the Renaissance
- Old coin worth five francs
I’m sure you get the idea.
By the way, if you do decide to go eBay shopping for an ecu, don’t get too excited by all the perfect shiny-looking specimens going for a few bucks. The label on those coins will almost certainly refer to the other ECU (European Currency Unit).
And if that tip saves you a few hundred bucks, I think you definitely owe me another beer!
Collins/CSW/SOWPODS players get to extend today’s word to form another old French coin: the CARDECU or CARDECUE
PYX /piks/ n. a wooden chest historically used to store sample coins from the UK’s Royal Mint while they awaited testing for integrity
Have you ever heard of the Trial of the Pyx? I hadn’t until today. Now it’s your turn…
The Trial of the Pyx is a tradition going back to medieval times that was put in place to keep the Royal Mint honest. The way it worked (and still does, albeit with a more ceremonial than useful purpose) was that throughout the year the mint would randomly select freshly minted coins and store them in wooden trunks, called pyxes, until the trial took place.
For many years these pyxes were stored in a room at Westminster Abbey, which became known as the Pyx Chamber. The picture above shows an old pyx in this chamber.
At the actual trial, which takes place at the hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, a jury of ASSAYERS (people who perform chemical tests on metals) is appointed to run a variety of tests to make sure the coins conform to a legal standard. To help them in their tests, a special Trial Plate is created having the precise composition expected of the coins…
Did you notice the use of the word COMMIX (to mix together) in this particular trial plate? Although its meaning is self-evident here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this word ‘in the wild’ before.
In addition to testing the coins in public circulation, the trial is also used to test ceremonial coins known as MAUNDY money. This refers to coins that are printed and distributed as part of a religious tradition known as Royal Maundy, but I think we’ll call that one homework.
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
- Fa-la filler
- Staff note
- G, in the key of C
- Step on the scale
- Beethoven’s fifth?
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…
- Piece of kabuki costumery
- Shizuoka sash
- Part of a “Mikado” costume
- Traditional keikogi accessory
- Sash worn in a ryokan inn
- Noh tie
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/).
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…
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!
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…
- Luau wear
- Wahine’s gift
- Muumuu accessory
- Pikake garland
- Hula hoop?
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…
It does, however, often pay to know that a bird of prey is sometimes referred to as a RAPTOR, as in [Raptor of the sea] or [Raptorial seabird].
By the way, while investigating this word I discovered a rather handsome Scrabbly extension you might enjoy: VELOCIRAPTOR, a fierce predatory dinosaur. Not bad huh?
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.
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.
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.
Actually, if you’re a fan of crossword puzzles, it’s a good idea to learn the entire Greek alphabet.
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…
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 ;-)