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1. Weepy, readily shedding tears; mournful.
2. Causing tears.

Latin lacrima, meaning "tear," is the ultimate source of this word. It's also the root of lachrymal, an adjective describing tears or the state of being teary. (These are also etymological relatives of the wine known as Lachryma Christi -- literally "tear of Christ.")

"He had received a lachrymose letter from his friend Faddle, at Aberdeen, in which the unfortunate youth had told him that he was destined to remain in that wretched northern city for the rest of his natural life." -- Ayala's Angel, by Anthony Trollope.






Terse; concise; characterized by extreme brevity of speech.

The ancient Spartans, who lived the region of Greece known as Laconia, were famous not only for their spartan discipline, but also for their terse manner of speaking. Just how laconic were the inhabitants of Laconia? When a messenger dispatched by an enemy army announced, "If we enter Laconia, we will raze it to the ground!," the laconic response the Laconians sent back was simply: "If."

"Those Darlin' boys are nothing if not laconic."






A gap or empty space.

Often referring to a blank or missing space in a manuscript, this word is from Latin lacus, which means "lake," (and is thus a relative of the name of that shallow body of water, lagoon). The plural is lacunas or lacunae (luh-KYEW-nee).

"He wants us to believe that his gut instincts and moral framework can carry him over the lacunae in his knowledge of geopolitics." - New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, commenting on presidential candidate George W. Bush






(lan-YAP, LAN-yap)

1. A small gift presented by a storeowner in addition to a customer's purchase.

2. A surprise gift or bonus.

You hear this word mostly in southern Louisiana, where it describes a little extra something that a merchant tosses in to keep customers coming back. Lagniappe has been traced, via a similar-sounding word in American Spanish, all the way back to the Quechua language of the Inca Empire, where the word yapay meant "to give more."

"All these years I've been shopping at Victoria's Secret, and do you know, they never once have given me a lagniappe!"








1. (noun) A satire attacking a person, group, or institution.

2. (verb) To ridicule or satirize in or as if in a lampoon.

In many French drinking songs, the most important part is the imperative in the refrain, "Lampons!" or "Let's drink!" Many etymologists suspect that this boozy exhortation may have inspired this word for poking fun at someone or something.

"Saying 'there ought to be limits to freedom,' Gov. George W. Bush has filed a legal complaint against the owners of a Web site that lampoons his White House bid."
-- Wayne Slater in the Dallas Morning News.







1. A sweetheart.

2. An illicit lover, especially a mistress.

This archaic term derives from Middle English leofman, a combination of leof, which means "dear," and "man." (The leof that gave us leman is a linguistic relative of both love and the archaic English word lief, which means "beloved.")

"His philosophy might be summed up as: 'If life hands you lemans, then . . . enjoy!"







The long tail of a hood in the costume of a medieval academic.

During the Middle Ages, academics wore a ceremonial hood with a long, hanging peak that called a liripoop (or more often, a liripipe.)

In fact, search the Internet and you'll find that even today some universities still call their graduates¹ ceremonial sashes liripipes, and charge students a liripipe fee to rent them. (It's unclear where the names liripoop and liripipe originated, beyond the fact that they're from Medieval Latin liripipium.

"As the graduation speaker droned on and on, Lisa commenced fidgeting and idly fingering her liripoop."




lobster Newburg

(LOB-sturr NEW-burg)

A rich dish of lobster in a cream sauce with sherry, egg yolks, cayenne, and other seasonings.

Here's one of my all-time favorite stories about how a food name came to be: A wealthy shipping magnate named Benjamin Wenburg once encouraged the chef at New York's famous Delmonico's restaurant to create this savory dish.

The cholesterol-choked dish result was an instant hit, and the chef returned the favor by dubbing the dish Lobster Wenburg. Things ended badly, though: Wenburg allegedly found himself in a drunken brawl in the restaurant's posh dining room. The management retaliated by switching around the letters in the name of its popular entree from Wenburg to Newburg.

"After yet another blind date gone bad -- and quickly -- Marvin proceeded to consume the plate of lobster Newburg she'd left behind, along with the bottle of Chianti, and was soon feeling much better about everything."







Sluggish; lethargic; lacking in mental or physical energy.

This word first showed up in English in the mid-19th century. It's unclear where it came from, although it may be related to the Dutch word log which means "heavy" or "dull."

"Logy from too little sleep, and rubbing the gound from our eyes, we shuffled into the kitchen to find that our thoughtful hosts had already made a piping hot pot of coffee."






A way out; an ambiguity or omission in a law or contract that allows someone to avoid complying.

Medieval architecture may not be what first springs to mind when you think of a loophole, but that's the source of this word. The narrow, vertical window in a castle wall was originally called a loop, from Middle Dutch lupen meaning "to lie in wait, to peer." These windows were wider at the outside of the wall than on the inside, which let archers shoot arrows through them with little risk.

Today's loopholes offer a different sort of "window" -- one that's similarly sneaky.

"You could drive an armored personnel carrier through the loopholes in that law."






Shady; disreputable; suspicious.

English speakers borrowed this evocative word directly from French, where it's used in the same sense.

However, the French also use louche to mean "cross-eyed" or "squint-eyed," a sense that reflects this word's linguistic roots. Louche derives from Latin luscus, meaning "blind in one eye."

"There had seemed to be something a little louche in the way she had suddenly found herself alone with Ivor." --
from Aldous Huxley's first novel, Crome Yellow.







Characterized by playfulness.

Ludic comes from Latin ludus, meaning "play," which makes it a relative of such playful words as ludicrous. This same family of words produced allude, which in its most literal sense means "to play with." Writer David Rakoff made good use of this word in Salon magazine recently, in his amusing take-off of self-important writers writing self-importantly (and floridly) about their self-important writing lives:

"Autumn's end is signaled by the grackles, those cacophonous weird sisters, those ludic brigands, their greasy black pin feathers brilliantined in the sunlight like the multi-hued spumy plume upon an oily puddle, laying waste to the damson plum in the yard."






(luh-GOO-bree-uss, luh-GYOO-bree-uss)

Mournful, dismal gloomy -- especially to an affected or exaggerated degree.

It's from Latin lugere, meaning "to mourn."

"Ever notice how that basset hound over there and his owner have the very same lugubrious look?"


(c) 1999-2006     Martha Barnette