KWANZA \KWAHN.zuh\ n. the basic monetary unit of Angola, pl. -S
WAMPUM \WOM.pum\ n. beads made from shells and used as a trading currency with natives in some parts of colonial North America
Wampum consisted of two types of beads, one colored white and the other purple. The white beads were made from WHELK shells, while the rarer and more valuable purple beads were made from QUAHOG (also QUAHAUG, QUOHOG or COHOG) clam shells.
In colonial New York, for example, one Dutch STUIVER (also STIVER) was valued at either 8 white wampums or 4 purple wampums.
ARIARY \ar.ee.AR.ee\ n. the basic monetary unit of Madagascar
The Malagasy (that’s what you call anything relating to Madagascar) currency is one of only two non-decimal currencies in use world wide. Do you remember the other one?
The ariary is divided into five iraimbilanja. I haven’t put that one in upper case because it turns out not to be allowed in Scrabble. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at one…
It seems a shame for such a Scrabbly looking word to be illegal, but let’s be honest, you never would have got to play it anyway.
Do you know what the horned fellow on both of the pictures above is called? He’s a ZEBU, which is a domesticated ox that is common in Madagascar. In fact, many Malagasy banknotes celebrate the endemic flora and fauna for which Madagascar is famous.
The 1000 ariary note depicts a cactus-like plant called a SISAL…
while the 2000 ariary note shows off the BAOBAB, famous for the fact that of its 8 known species, 6 can only be found in Madagascar…
One more Malagasy note I liked was the 5000 ariary, on which you’ll find a calming picture of a DHOW floating on the tranquil waters off Madagascar’s coastline…
THALER n. /TAH.lur/ an old coin with variants used throughout Europe for several centuries
Let’s start our little story with Jáchymov, a town in the Czech Republic, in a valley near its border with Germany. The town used to be called Sankt Joachimsthal, which translates literally as ‘Saint Joachim’s Valley’ (in Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, among some others, Saint Joachim is considered to be the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus).
When silver was discovered in this town in the 1500s, a mint was set up and used to create silver coins, which they called Joachimsthalers. Eventually, the ‘Joachims’ bit was chopped off, and thaler was born. Apparently, a German spelling reform centuries later led to the variant TALER, although us English types ignored this mandate.
The thaler was so widely disseminated and popular that its name influenced that of many subsequent currencies, including the TOLAR (/TOLL.ar/), a Slovenian currency from 1991 until (like so many other Scrabbly coins) it was replaced by the Euro in 2007. The tolar was divided into a smaller unit called the STOTIN (with 100 stotins to the tolar). If you have five or more of these fellows, I bet you can’t guess what you call them…
Yup, that’s right. TOLARJEV. That will be one million points thanks grandma!
Now, the more observant among you may have twigged onto something interesting: tolar sounds a bit like dollar. And that’s because they both originate from today’s word! Linguists call pairs like tolar and dollar COGNATES. But that’s another story altogether.
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.
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).
WEAKON n. a type of particle responsible for mediating the so-called weak interaction in particle physics
I wrote a bit of background on these particles recently here.
Anagram of AWAKEN
ALGOID adj. relating to or resembling algae
Example: “Standing with our backs to the flow, and hooking the heels of our wellies over the upstream edge of the concrete to avoid being swept away, we would slowly shuffle sideways across the weir, on our insteps, inches at a time, whilst trying desperately not to slip on the slimy algoid surface, and ignoring the splashes that made it inside our boots.”
Anagram of DIALOG
CORBAN /KOR.ban/ n. an offering to God in fulfillment of a vow
The picture above shows the Hebrew word corban etched into stone along with drawings of two pigeons which were presumably used as a biblical sacrifice.
Example: “After this he (Pilate) raised another disturbance, by expending that sacred treasure, which is called corban, upon aqueducts, whereby he brought water from the distance of four hundred furlongs”
Anagram of CARBON