Learn a New Word
A pale green or white mineral, usually used as a gemstone.
Spaniards who chanced upon this stone in Mexico and Peru in the 16th century believed that it had the power to cure kidney problems. So they called it piedra de ijada, which translates as "loin stone" or "flank stone." The French shortened this to l'ejade, and later le jade, which eventually found its way into English as jade.
(So why do we say that someone who's world-weary is jaded? Check out the next entry.)
"Although things didn't work out with the urologist, Vanessa would cherish the gift he'd given her -- a pendant with a polished piece of jade in the shape of a kidney."
1. Worn-out, wearied.
2. Cynically or pretentiously unfeeling.
The "jade" in this word has nothing to do with the beautiful stone. (See above.)
This other type of "jade" arose from an entirely different source: an old word jade that means "a worn-out horse." (No one's sure how this jade found its way into English, although this word may derive from an Old Norse term for "mare.")
In any case, to jade -- that is, "to exhaust by driving hard" -- originally applied to horses, but soon applied to people as well.
"These days, some of the country's more enterprising -- if not simply jaded and bored -- home chefs are preparing meals with all sorts of household appliances never dreamed of for cooking." -- Eileen Daspin, in a very funny Wall Street Journal article about the small but growing number of people who acknowledge that they "use their major appliances in 'weird' ways." (Examples of this so-called "machine cuisine" include: cooking foil-wrapped fish in the dishwasher, heating quesadillas on the ironing board, tumble-drying pillowcases full of freshly washed spinach.)
The first month of the year.
In Roman myth, Janus was the god of gates, doorways, and all new beginnings. So naturally, the "gateway" to the new year is named in his honor. Janus must have been easy to pick out in a crowd, considering that he had one face on the front of his head and another on the back. This gave him the handy ability to gaze into the past and the future simultaneously. Because he presided over doorways, Janus inspired another familiar English word: janitor, which in its earliest sense meant "doorkeeper": (In 1686, for example, a writer referred to St. Peter as "the Janitor of heaven.")
"Ah, January, when the color of the sky so often matches the pavement."
Those ubiquitous, durable pants.
Jeans were first made out of jean, a strong cotton fabric. Before this particular fabric came along, people often wore a similar one called fustian, whose name is of uncertain origin. Later, a type of Italian fustian produced in Genoa caught on in popularity. Speakers of Middle English variously referred to Genoa as Jene or Gene, so they were soon calling this type of fabric jene fustian -- a name later shortened to jean.
"There were doubletakes all around when Vanessa walked past in what she liked to think of as her Lee press-on jeans."
A bitter lamentation, tirade, or dire prophecy of doom.
Jeremiad was inspired by the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, best known for his prophecies of doom and long, woe-filled protests against the sins of his countrymen.
"So, what do you make of that long jeremiad from Sun Microsystem's co-founder called 'Why the Future Doesn't Need Us'?"
A long, tedious rebuke or harangue.
The English verb jobe, meaning "to rebuke or reprimand in a long harangue," is now obsolete, but its noun form, jobation, remains with us. Both words allude to the scriptural story of Job, the good man to whom bad things happened.
(His friends weren't much help, either. A Job's comforter is someone who offers solace in a way that only increases the pain--especially by self-righteously suggesting that the recipient has brought all these troubles upon himself.)
"If you're finished with your jobation, may I be excused now?"
1. A belief, institution, or practice that elicits blind devotion and self-sacrifice.
2. An overwhelming, inexorable force that crushes everything in its path.
In India, a 12th-century Hindu temple in the town of Puri houses a huge wooden statue of the god Jagannatha (a title of Krishna, that literally means "lord of the world").
Each year during Puri's famous "Chariot Festival," the statue is placed in a massive wooden cart and dragged more than a mile through deep sand, to another location. Thousands of pilgrims participate in the journey, which takes several days. European travelers recounting this event told tales of worshippers being crushed in the chariot's path. Such stories were likely exaggerated, but accidents are reportedly common and occasionally pilgrims seized with religious frenzy may try to hurl themselves beneath the wagon's wheels.
Anyway, the annual journey of Jagannatha's huge chariot inspired our own word juggernaut. Joe Klein used it in The New Yorker to describe a weary George W. Bush in an unguarded moment on a plane after the Iowa caucuses:
"But his hair was slightly mussed, and his eyes were moist and rheumy; he appeared vulnerable, for once--too palpably human to be considered a political juggernaut."
A cocktail of bourbon, sugar, and mint.
Around the fifteenth century, julep referred to a syrupy drink added to medicine in order to make the nasty stuff easier to swallow. The ancient source of this sweet word is Persian gulab, which means "rosewater." Centuries later, julep came to apply to another sweet beverage made from sugar, bourbon, crushed ice, and mint -- a potent drink most often associated with the Kentucky Derby, which, coincidentally, is known as the "Run for the Roses."
"As my grandfather always said, 'Never insult a decent woman, never bring a horse in the house, and never crush the mint in a julep.'"
A pleasure trip, particularly one made by government officials at public expense.
Junket has traveled quite a ways since the 1400s, when it meant "a small reed basket" into which a dessert of sweetened, curdled milk was set to drain. This woven container's name derives from the Latin juncus, meaning "reed" -- a linguistic relative of those reedy plants known as jonquils. Soon the name of the container applied to the creamy dessert itself, and then later to revelries at which such delicacies were served. Still later, the sense of revelries stretched even further to include any kind of jaunt for which others get stuck with the bill.
"His constituents were willing to put up with his local peccadilloes, but that so-called 'fact-finding' junket to the Bahamas nearly cost him his seat."
(c) 1999-2006 Martha Barnette
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