mugwump

Definition: (noun) A person who acts independently or remains neutral, especially in politics.
Synonyms: fencesitter, independent.

Usage: The public relations firm believed that the key to victory was to capture the hearts and minds of the mugwumps who would otherwise remain passive.

…read more

aver

Definition: (verb) To assert formally as a fact.
Synonyms: allege, say.

Usage: For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.

…read more

wytai

wytai – noun –  a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.

…read more

retinue

retinue – (noun) – The group following and attending to some important person.
Synonyms: entourage, cortege, suite.

Usage: Guillaume Lejean…reached Karthoum by way of the Red Sea, and embarked upon the Nile with a retinue of twenty-one hired men and twenty soldiers.

…read more

pinnace

Definition: (noun) A light boat propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for merchant and war vessels.
Synonyms: ship’s boat, cutter, tender.

Usage: Seated upon the projection formed by the hull of the pinnace, I inhaled the salt breeze with delight.
…read more

Mechanical Puzzles

These puzzles are comprised of mechanically interlinked pieces that must be manipulated in a certain way in order for them to be assembled, disassembled, and otherwise solved. The oldest known example, from the 3rd century BCE, consists of a square divided into 14 parts that fit together to form other shapes. Mechanical puzzles have since taken on myriad forms, including dexterity and disentanglement puzzles, trick vessels, and impossible objects. What is the most well-known impossible object?
…read more

scathing

scathing – (adjective) – Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical.
Synonyms: vituperative.

Usage: This scathing remark caused the Prince to hide his face for shame, and Steve to erect his head in the proud consciousness that this shot was not meant for him.

…read more

High-Speed Photography

High-speed photography allows fast moving phenomena to be recorded with precision and clarity. While in 1948 high-speed photography was defined as a set of at least 3 photographs taken by a camera capable of recording a minimum of 128 frames per second, today’s equipment can shoot as many as 1 million frames per second.

High-speed photography was first put to practical use in 1878 to investigate whether or not a trotting horse ever has all 4 feet off the ground at once. What did the images show?
…read more

pestilence

Definition: (noun) A usually fatal epidemic disease, especially bubonic plague.
Synonyms: plague.
Usage: The place might have been desolated by a pestilence, so empty and so lifeless did it now appear. …read more

quixotic

Definition: (adjective) Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
Synonyms: wild-eyed, romantic.

Usage: She is ready prey to any man who knows how to play adroitly either on her affectionate ardor or her quixotic enthusiasm.

…read more

Night of the Radishes

Night of the Radishes is a festival dating from the 19th century that combines art, agriculture, and religion. It is held in the zócalo, or main square, in Oaxaca, Mexico. The radishes grow to yam-size here and are each uniquely shaped by growing through the rocky soil. Families harvest these vegetables, and combine and sculpt them into elaborate forms depicting biblical scenes, especially the nativity of Jesus. Historical and Aztec themes are also represented. After the awarding of cash prizes and ribbons, a fireworks display caps the night. Discuss
…read more

unexceptionable

unexceptionable – (adjective) Beyond any reasonable objection; irreproachable.
Synonyms: unimpeachable.
Usage: No person need think of applying for this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable references to character and abilities.

…read more

The Capgras Delusion

The Capgras Delusion is a rare disorder in which a person holds the delusional belief that an acquaintance—usually a spouse or other close family member—has been replaced by an identical impostor. Found in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, dementia, or those suffering from a brain injury, the disorder is named after Joseph Capgras, the French psychiatrist who first described it in 1923.

…read more

Molecular Machines

A molecular machine is a minute mechanism consisting of molecular components that perform mechanical-like movements in response to specific stimuli. Chemists have synthesized a number of simple molecular machines, including molecular propellers and molecular motors, the latter of which are powered by light or reactions with other molecules and are capable of unidirectional rotation.

Far more complex biological versions of these artificial nanomachines are found in living cells. What do they do?

…read more

The Hidden Art of Steganography

Steganography is the practice of hiding secret messages in seemingly innocuous documents such as pictures, articles, or shopping lists. The practice dates to the 5th c BCE, when early practitioners concealed information under the wax of wooden writing tablets or on the tattooed scalps of slaves. As technology evolved, so did steganography; and today, information is often hidden in computer files.

…read more

Ouzo

Ouzo is a clear, anise-flavored liqueur made exclusively in Greece. While some say that its name derives from the Turkish word üzüm—meaning grape—a popular anecdote claims that it actually comes from the Italian phrase uso Massalia, meaning “for use in Marseilles.” According to the story, the phrase became synonymous with “superior quality” after being stamped on crates of silkworm cocoons exported in the 19th century. Why does ouzo turn white when mixed with water or ice? Discuss
…read more

Christkindlesmarkt

Christkindlesmarkt is the biggest and best known of the Christmas markets of Germany. The market in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, has been held since 1697 in the city’s Hauptmarkt (“main market”). More than 100 booths are set up to offer only goods directly related to Christmas, and food booths sell Nuremberg’s specialties—Lebkuchen, or gingerbread, and Zwetschgenmannlein, which are little people-shaped confections. The three-week festival is inaugurated with choral singing, the pealing of church bells, and illumination of a creche.

…read more

solecism

Definition: (noun) A socially awkward or tactless act.
Synonyms: faux pas, gaffe, slip, gaucherie.

Usage: She smiled again, turned, and walked away, leaving George to reckon up all the social solecisms he had contrived to commit in the space of a single moment. …read more

exulansis

exulansis – noun – the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.

…read more

Pancake Day

For the people of Olney, England, and Liberal, Kansas, Pancake Day is more than another name for Shrove Tuesday. The old custom of making pancakes on the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday has survived in the form of a Pancake Race. Ladies of both towns run a 450-yard course, and participants must wear a skirt, an apron, and a headscarf, and must toss their pancakes in the air three times as they run. The winner of the Kansas race is announced by a phone call to Olney immediately after it is over. The Olney race dates back to…read more

Parietal Eyes

Lizards, frogs, lampreys, and some fish species possess a unique organ known as a third, or parietal, eye. Though referred to as an “eye,” this photoreceptive organ does not “see” in the same way that a standard eye does. Instead, it uses a different biochemical method of detecting light than normal eyes and helps regulate circadian rhythms and hormone production for thermoregulation. The parietal eye is associated with what gland that humans, too, possess? Discuss
…read more

pedicab

Definition: (noun) A tricycle (usually propelled by pedaling); used in the Orient for transporting passengers for hire.
Synonyms: cycle rickshaw.

Usage: Boys who once pulled rickshaws now pedal pedicabs.

…read more

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887)

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887) was an Indian mathematician. Extremely poor, he was largely self-taught from age 15. In 1913, he began a correspondence with English mathematician Godfrey H. Hardy that took him to England, where he made advances, especially in the theory of numbers, the partition of numbers, and the theory of continued fractions. He died of tuberculosis at age 32, generally unknown but recognized by mathematicians as a phenomenal genius.
…read more

midden

midden – (noun) – A dunghill or refuse heap.
Synonyms: muckheap, muckhill, dunghill.

Usage: His opponent, as proud as the rooster who is left unchallenged upon the midden, crowed away in a last long burst of quotation and deduction.

…read more