Being a By No Means Comprehensive Selection of Obscure
and/or Interesting Words of Particular Interest to the Reader of Greer
Gilman’s Moonwise (1991 Roc; 2005 Prime Books).
airt: A direction, or point of the compass. [The tinker had marked
from what airt of heaven Mally’s cloudgeese had flown, and had set
aldercarr: The alder, Alnus glutinosa, is a tree related to the beech
and common to wet places. A carr is a fen or bog.
Anthelion: One of Sylvie and Ariane’s invented (or, possibly,
discovered or intuited) worlds. Literally, “a luminous, white,
halolike area occasionally seen in the sky opposite the sun on the
parhelic circle.” However, the word is derived from the Greek
anthelios, meaning “opposite the sun,” which is the more likely
anyroad: Modern Northern dialect for “anyway.” [“Don’t
trouble. Time I were up fort milking anyroad. Phoebe’s up.”]
arain: The North country word for spider. It is hardly a
coincidence that Ariane, mazed and patient and wandering, has a
name only a letter away from Ariadne. Arainwebs are of course spider
arfish: Old Norse and Northern dialect meaning cowardly,
pusillanimous, timid, fearful; but also inert, sluggish, lazy, slow,
loath, reluctant; as well as unwilling, indisposed, disinclined.
[“Hedgehogs’ll say owt. They’s arfish.”]
arval: A funeral-cake. Capitalized, it is the name of an invented
arveth: Difficult or hard. This word appears only once in
Moonwise, capitalized, as the name of a king.
ash-keys: The fourteenth definition for “key” in the OED is “A
dry fruit with a thin membranous wing, usually growing in bunches, as
in the ash and sycamore.” The entry also cites Turner’s Herbal: “They
are called in Englishe ashe Keyes, because they hangh in bunches after
the manner of Keyes.” In the Vermont of my childhood, maple-keys
were called “helicopters.”
attercap: A spider; also an ill-natured or foolish person.
Babylon: Of this ancient city, Gilman writes, “It’s not the
Babylon of the hanging gardens, but the Babylon of the nursery
rhyme: ‘Can I get there by candlelight? Yes, if your legs are long and
light, there and back again.’ In my head, anyway, it’s Elsewhere and
Otherwise, the place beyond the fields we know; and if the candle
should go out, it never was. Could be that the traveller vanishes as
well. It’s a riddle and a danger and a will o’ the wisp.”
bearward: A bear-keeper, one who leads a bear about for
exhibitions, public display, and the like.
The Beano: A British children’s weekly comic book. A much-loved
and emphatically childish miscellany, it debuted in 1938 and is still
belantered: Belated or benighted. [All ways were dark;
belantered and amazed, he lapsed into stumbling forgetfulness and
babble, hush ba and lilly ba, fa and lillylow.]
bield: A shelter.
bodhran: A traditional Irish hand-held drum with a wooden
body and a goatskin head. It is played with a double-headed stick.
bojangles: In context, dancing globules of quicksilver. Taken
from the great dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, whose nickname
may have meant happy-go-lucky or else squabbler or even been a
vulgarization of the name of a Frenchman in Robinson’s home town
whose missing beaver hat, in an apocryphal tale, mysteriously appeared on Robinson’s head.
bosky: Literally, having trees or shrubs. Figuratively, tipsy.
breastknot: A knot of ribbons worn on the breast.
broch: A fortified dwelling in the form of a circular stone tower,
found in Scotland, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, and the Hebrides.
brock: As a verb, to crumble, as an adjective grey, and as a noun a badger.
brumal: Belonging to winter, wintry.
budget: A pouch or bag, usually of leather.
Burd Ellen: The sister of Childe Rowland, who in the fairy tale
and ballad bearing her name runs around a church the wrong way
and is captured by the fairies. In “Burd Ellen and Young Tamlane”
she (or another of the same name) is an unwed mother betrayed by her lover.
bourdon: The drone of a bagpipe.
burr: The circle of light around the moon. The original sense,
according to the OED, “seems to have been merely ‘circle, halo’; but
in modern use there is usually the notion of a nebulous or nimbous
disc of light enfolding the luminary.” In Moonwise, it is applied not
only to the moon, but also to candle flames and even to green nuts
“burred in their prickly husks.”
Caedmon: A seventh-century English poet and saint. The
Venerable Bede relates that when Caedmon was a laborer at the
monastery of Whitby, he left the company of his fellows one evening
in shame because they passed around a harp and he had no skill in
poetry or song. That night an angel appeared to him in his sleep and
told him to sing of Creation. His spontaneous verse, called Caedmon’s
Hymn, survives to this day.
Caldbeck: Literally “cold brook.” In our world, a village in the Northern Fells of the English Lake District.
canny: Clever, of course, but also prudent [“Best go canny, lad;
tha’st drunk five hundred year already.”], and agreeable to the eyes
[Poor awd attercap, she thought, poor Mally: thowt I’d look canny
on thy shelf, didsta?]. It also means supernatural or endowed with
occult power, as does its negation, uncanny.
cat-ice: Thin ice that would not support the weight of a cat.
Hence, dangerous ice to try to cross.
ceint: A girdle, a belt.
celadon: A pale shade of green, like that of the willow’s leaf.
According to Littré (or so says the OED), the color was named after
Celadon, the hero of Honore d’Urfé’s pastoral romance Astrée.
cere: To wrap something, especially a corpse, in a cerecloth.
[Cered in mortality, she would dwindle, mute, translating tallow
briefly into flare and reek, devoured and devouring.]
clagg: To stick mud upon.
clarty: Smeared with sticky mud; dirty, nasty.
clew: A clew is both the yarn and the ball into which it’s wound;
the thread itself and its function as a guide through mazes, both
literal and metaphoric; and of course it is also a hint as to the true
nature of things.
cloud: A hill.
cludder: To crowd together.
cobbish: A cob is a spider, whence the term cobweb. Thus, cubbish means spiderlike. [The children ran, dragging their cobbish sacks like shadows, imps and urchins of the dark; their old, wild, joyful terror flying out behind, like fire from a shaken brand.]
collop: A small slice of meat.
corbel: A stone bracket projecting from a wall and supporting a
ceiling, beam, or shelf. The word is ultimately derived from the Latin
corvus, raven, for its beaklike appearance.
corpse-candle: Our old friend Will-o’-the-Wisp or ignis fatuus,
the misleader and sometime drowner of travelers, often identified as
marsh gas. In Welsh superstition, a small flame foretells the death of
an infant and a large flame that of an adult.
craobh: Irish for branch or bough. Pronounced “creeve.”
Capitalized, the name of the lightborn child Ariane finds.
cratch: A crib to hold fodder, a manger.
cromlech: This word applies with equal validity to a stone circle
or to a single dolmen. In Moonwise it has the latter meaning.
crowd, crowdy: A musical instrument, a fiddle.
crumhorn: A curved wooden wind instrument.
cruck: A pail or can.
cuddy’s egg: Cuddy is a name for the hedge sparrow or dunnock,
also for the moor hen, as well as the donkey. [Sploshing in the shoals,
he halted laughing: the child had set his feathered hat sailing bravely
down the beck. It foundered, overfraught. “Hey up, yon duck’s rigged
ower. Were hatched frae cuddy’s egg.”]
Dhurry: In Moonwise, the name of a sheep dog. That it is
named after a type of Indian cotton carpet with fringes suggests it is
donkey-stone: A scouring stone, originally used in the textile
mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire, to clean stone surfaces such as
stoops and doorsills.
doucely: In English, sweetly, but in Scottish, soberly or sedately.
draggle: To make wet or dirty or both by allowing (a cloak,
etc.) to drag through muck or wet grass; also to drag something in
dragonsblood: There are many substances with this name,
derived from the juices or resins of the dragon-tree, Dracaena draco;
the palm, Calamus draco; Pteroparcus draco; Croton draco, etc., etc.
Some of these substances are (or were) used by apothecaries. One was
employed to color the wooden stairs in my house. However, Gilman
employs it literally, if only in a figurative turn of phrase.
dubbin: A combination of oils and waxes used to soften and
duergar: Old Norse for dwarf.
Dulle Griet: “Mad Meg” is the old woman so fierce and
formidable that the Devil himself fears her. Pieter Bruegel the Elder
painted a marvelous picture of her harrowing Hell.
dunnock: The hedge sparrow.
dunt: To strike with a dull sound; spoken of the heart, to beat
violently. [Stiff and shy, the ghostly Ariane of years ago still fumbled
with her scarred unwieldy ranks of silver, knives and forks, her heart
dunted with amaze.]
dwine: To waste away, wither, or decline in strength.
eddered: Bound together by flexible wood worked into the top
of hedge stakes.
elfshot: A disease supposed to be caused by evil spirits; also small
stone arrow-points which the medievals, finding in their fields after
a rain, believed had been employed by malicious elves to inflict said
disease on passersby.
etenish: Like an eten, gigantic. The taxonomic distinction
between etens (or ettins) and common giants is probably lost in the
elaborations of literature. Tolkien populated his Ettenmoors with
eyot: A variant of “ait,” a small island.
faas: Gypsies, tinkers. This is a proper noun turned common,
like valentine or hamburger. “The Faas have long been accepted as
the ‘royal house’ of the Scottish gypsies, but it is possible that at one
time they had rivals in the Baillies.” Also, “A.D. 1756 Frances Heron
King of the Faas a sort of gypsy people living near the Borders was
buried in Jarrow churchyard.” Sylvia Townsend Warner writes of the
Queen of the Faas, and Davie Faa shows up in ballads.
fairing: A present or gift bought at a fair, and hence a
complimentary gift of any kind.
fallow: Fallow has many definitions. Among others, it can
mean a piece of plowed land; farmland that has been left uncropped;
anything that has been left fallow; or even a pale brownish or reddish
yellow color, as of sere grass or leaves. Moonwise employs all four of
fardel: A bundle and hence a burden.
farouche: Fierce, wild. Also, of withdrawn and shy temperament
coupled with a cranky and even sullen fey charm.
Farrander: The adjective “farrand” applied to a person means
comely, handsome, well-favored (applied to an object it means
becoming, dignified, and pleasant); so the Farrander family may be
construed to be well-beloved by their author.
fell: A hill or mountain; also a wild, elevated stretch of waste or
pasture land, a moorland ridge, a down; also a marsh or fen.
fettle: To make oneself ready, to prepare, particularly for a battle.
[“Is tha fettled? Tha mun travel light.”]
fey: Though those of us in the fantasy biz tend to use (and
overuse) this word to mean unworldly or even elfin, it originally
meant doomed or fated to die, with secondary meanings of accursed
or unlucky, and feeble, timid, and sickly. Moonwise combines the first
and second meanings to suggest madness.
flacker: To flap, flutter, throb, as do a bird’s wings.
flapdragon: Flapdragon (originally snapdragon) is an
amusement in which raisins are snatched out of burning brandy
and the flames extinguished by closing one’s mouth about them
and eating them, and also the raisin itself. Hence, the nonce-word
means to swallow something as one would a flapdragon.
Flawing: Ruffling, as a flaw (a sudden gust or blast) of wind does.
[Flawing wildly and furling, the fire dwindled to a sullen squint.]
flaycraw, flaycrow: A scarecrow and also, by association, Tom
a’ Dreams. The Flaycraw is a Cloudish constellation as well. “Flay” is
a variant of fley, to frighten.
fleer: To make a contemptuous face at; also to laugh at mockingly
or scornfully. Poul Anderson, whose first-rate fantasies were
overshadowed by his science fiction, loved this word to excess.
forby: Like most prepositions, forby is a multi-purpose word. It
can mean close by, past, near, or beside.
foxfell: A fell is the skin or hide of an animal, “but often associated
(in my mind anyway)” Gilman says, “with ‘a hill, mountain . . . a
wild, elevated stretch of waste . . . land; a moorland ridge.’ The beast
and its terrain.”
frails: A frail is a kind of basket, woven of rushes, used for
packing figs, raisins, or the like. It holds thirty to seventy-five pounds
of dried fruit.
frowst: A warm stuffy atmosphere in a room. Hence, frowsty
means unpleasant-smelling, musty.
frouncing: Gathering into plaits or wrinkles.
furbelow: A flounce; the pleated border of a petticoat or gown.
Often employed contemptuously in the plural for excessive decorations
or trimmings, especially of a lady’s dress. [The next that comes in is Awd
Nan Furbelow; she’s as ragg’d as a sheep and as black as a crow.]
gabbleratchets: Ratchets were spectral hounds, akin to the
guytrash; a pack of them was known as gabbleratchets for the gabbling
sound they made as they chased across the sky.
gan: The obsolete infinitive of go.
garth: A small piece of enclosed ground, usually by a house, used
as a yard, garden, or paddock.
gauded: Ornamented, decorated with gauds. [Or a witches’
castle, a hold for such ill-fated sheep as they’d seen lying dead and raven-worried on the moor, with rings and gauded hair.]
ghyll: A deep wooded ravine; also a mountain stream. It is derived
from the Norse gil. The variant spelling was apparently invented by
gingernuts: There are many recipes for ginger nuts. Pretty much
all they have in common is the presence of ginger.
girning: (Scots) Complaining whiningly, or else grimacing.
goatstar: Capella, in the constellation of Auriga, the
goose-summer: A late and unseasonable warm spell (Indian
summer, essentially) occurring in November. “Goose summer” gave
rise to the word “gossamer,” describing the delicate strands of spider
webbing common during spells of warm, calm weather in autumn.
gowk: A cuckoo.
gramarye: Magic. Originally, grammarie meant simply booklearning.
But in the Middle Ages, learning fell into disrepute and
became associated with the black arts.
grough: A deep gully in a peat moor.
grykes: Exposed limestone pavements such as those dominating
the Burren in the West of Ireland, are made up of clints and grykes.
Clints are the blocks of limestone that constitute the paving, their size
and shape directly dependent upon the frequency and pattern of the
grykes. Grykes are the fissures that separate the individual clints.
hag: An infernal being in female form, of course. But also a peat
bog (as in Soulsgrave Hag), a hedge, wooded enclosure, coppice or
copse (as in “a weaver of thorn-hags”), a solid bit of ground rising out
of a peat bog, and many other things as well. Its usage in [“Moon’s
hagging,” he said. “A’ but dark.”] evokes, as Gilman writes, “a
Cloudish usage: of the moon on its way from gibbous to sickle, bent
over like an old witch with a bundle of sticks on her back,” but draws
upon its meanings of to torment or terrify as a hag; to trouble as the
nightmare (Samuel Butler: “That makes ’em in the dark see Visions,
And hag themselves with Apparitions”), to fatigue, tire out, “fag”
(“I’se fair hagged off my legs”), to go wearily (Byron: “We hagg’d
along the solitary Road.”), and a touch of (obs.) a kind of light said to
appear at night on horses’ manes and men’s hair (“In my head,” Gilman
notes, “the horses are nightmares”) and (dial.) a white mist usually
accompanying frost. “Inexhaustible word, hag,” the author observes.
“The witch/frost/light/nightmare/fog/thorn/hedge complex is
pretty well entangled in my head: one thing.”
hagged: Either bewitched or haglike. In Cloud, the distinction
is moot. [“As lief gan mowing hell wi a moonbeam. And I dare not.
Hay’s hagged, right enough.”]
hagtree: A tree that is regularly coppiced for firewood.
Hallows: All Hallows Day, when Annis wakes and hunts souls.
November 1 or Samhain, depending on which calendar one uses.
Hallow means holy or sacred; but to hallow is to chase with shouts
or even to rouse to action with a sharp cry.
hallybairns: Literally, holy children.
handfast: Pledged or contracted by the joining of hands. In a
handfast marriage, the couple pledge their troth privately and decide
a year later whether to continue the marriage formally.
the Harp of Bone: This is, Gilman relates, “A constellation, a
fiddle made of a dead girl’s body, pegged with her fingerbones and
strung with her hair. It plays of itself, the same tune always: the true tale
of her death; also the Totentanz, the skeletons that dance to Death’s
fiddler.” In “Jack Daw’s Pack,” it is called the Crowd of Bone.
horse and hattock: The words of a traditional spell to make
broomsticks fly. According to Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in
Western Europe, Isobell Gowdie, in a confession of witchery made
in 1662, testified,
I haid a little horse, and wold say, “Horse and Hattock, in
the Divellis name!” And than ve vold flie away, quhair ve
vold, be ewin as strawes wold flie wpon an hie-way. We will
flie lyk strawes quhan we pleas; wild-strawes and cornestrawes
wilbe horses to ws, an ve put thaim betwixt our foot, and say, “Horse and Hattok, in the Divellis name!”
The fairies also employed this phrase. In the seventeenth century,
the Laird of Duffus was walking in the fields when he heard a
whirlwind and voices crying “Horse and hattock!” Injudiciously, he
repeated the cry and found himself transported through the air by
the fairies to the French king’s wine cellar in Paris, where all drank
copiously. He was discovered there alone the next day, with a silver
cup in his hand and explanations to be made.
harled: Tangled, twisted, and confused.
headrail: In medieval times, a woman’s kerchief or headdress.
[“Cawd night to walk abroad in,” she said, heeling off her pattens;
and she twisted up her flagging headrail, her elbows jutting and
headwark: A headache.
Hecate: A Greek goddess of the moon, earth, and underworld,
associated with witchcraft and sorcery, and often depicted with the
heads of a dog, a snake, and a horse. She was the goddess of crossroads,
the “Hag of the Dead,” and was also called “the most lovely one,”
a title of the moon. In the Middle Ages, she became the goddess of
hempen hampen: Reginald Scot, in Discovery of Witchcraft
Your grandam’s maids were wont to set a bowl of milk before
him . . . for grinding of malt or mustard and sweeping the
house at midnight. He would chafe exceedingly, if the maid
of the goodwife of the house, having compassion of his
nakedness, laid any clothes for him. For in that case he sayeth,
“What have we here? Hempen, hampen, here will I never
more tread nor stampen.”
Most likely, this is a reference to the fairy practice of stealing hempen
stalks from the field and converting them to riding horses.
King Herla: Herla, a king of the Britons, went with his men to
the underworld and when he returned, centuries had passed. Some
say that he and they are now the Wild Hunt.
Hedge-backward: From the phrase, “pulled through a hedge
backwards” to connote bedraggledness.
hob: A part of the fireplace where things are left to keep warm;
[“Could yer gi’s a hand wi sheets folding? Tea’s been stood out hob.”]
Also a shortening of hobgoblin (unless, of course, hobgoblin is a
lengthening of hob). [“There’s hearthtales telled by fires, rimes and
ballads sung o’t lightborn, though they call us out of our names, hobs
Hodge and Tib: The common folk, specifically common country
folk, Hodge being the familiar for Roger and Tib a shortened form
of Isabel or Tibet. “As fit . . . as Tibs rush for Toms fore-finger,” says
hoodie-crow: A crow with a grey body and black head. The
hoodie-crow has deep roots in folk mythology. The Irish for hoodie
crow, babhbh, also means a fairy and a scold. “The Hoodie Crow” is
to be found in Andrew Lang’s Lilac Fairy Book.
holly-warded: The holly is a plant with strong pre-Christian
associations. Planted near a house, Pliny tells us, it repels poison,
lightning and witchcraft. Useful stuff.
Irene: Not the goddess of peace but Princess Irene of George
MacDonald’s Curdie books.
jack-in-the-wanleaf: “Wan-” is a negating prefix, so this would
be a leafless jack-in-the-green. The jack-in-the-green is a woodland
guardian spirit, most commonly encountered in Britain in the form
of a shrubbery-covered mummer on May Day. In the winter he
presumably, like the robin, retreats into the deep wood.
jackstones: A precursor to the game of jacks. Take five pebbles
and toss them into the air, trying to catch as many as possible on the
back of the hand. If none are caught, the turn is over. If a few were caught, they are tossed back in the air from the back of the hand, and then caught in the palm. If at least one stone is caught, the rest are thrown on the ground and the game proceeds.
Lang Jenny-wi’t-lantern: Will o’ the Wisp is only one of a great
family of supernatural light-bearers who lead travelers astray. Lang
Jenny is one of his more obscure relations
jennywrens, jenny wren, Jenny Wren: Jenny Wren is the
sweetheart of Robin Redbreast. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and
Fable reports that:
Robin promised Jenny, if she would be his wife, she should
“feed on cherry-pie and drink currant-wine”; and he says:
“I’ll dress you like a goldfinch,
Or any peacock gay;
So, dearest Jen, if you’ll be mine,
Let us appoint the day.”
“Cherry-pie is very nice,
And so is currant wine;
But I must wear my plain brown gown,
And never go too fine.”
keeping-room: The sitting room, the parlor. [Here was the
keeping-room, with its wide cracked boards and blood-of-nightingales
scabrous rug, on which she and Sylvie and Cat and Thos, Nan’s
grandchildren, had played wild scrabbling flighty games of cards]
keld: A fountain or spring. Also a deep, still part of a river.
kist: a chest or coffer
kittle: Ticklish or tickling. [Cold and ticklish perplexity: a throng
of holly-leaves, hailsharp as a whirlwind of witches, as thick as hell’s
thatch, with quickset thorn, a cross-grained wicked crowd of twigs
and knees and jostling elbows, firs prickly as frieze; and cold kittle
feathers everywhere, or eider-drifts of snow.]
kizzened: Parched or over-roasted.
knarry: knotted or gnarled.
knarl: A tangle or knot.
knop: A knob or nub, especially of an ornamental nature. [By one
and one, derisive, loving, wary, they dropped what they had brought,
from beaks and talons: sallow heavy knops of bronze, that scattered
where they fell, on ashes, rushes, slutswool, or in her standing cup.]
knowe: The Scottish and Northern English form of knoll—a
hillock, rising ground.
knucklebones: A game played with the metacarpal or metatarsal
bones of sheep, tossed up and caught in various ways. Also called
huckle-bones or dibs. Suspected by many—but who knows?—to be
derived from some ancient means of divination.
lagman: As Gilman explains, this is the hindmost, the guy
bringing up the rear, with the devil nipping at his heels. [“Come, lagman, all are folded; come, by the star I bid you sleep . . .”]
laik: To play or sport, occasionally in an amorous or obscene
sense. Children laik and so do adults; but in different manners. Also,
dialectically, to take a holiday from work or to be unemployed, and
hence in Moonwise, occasionally, used in the sense of idling or abiding.
From Old Norse.
lait: To search for or seek after.
laithe: A type of barn. Gilman notes, “The Brontës use that one.
In Yorkshire, out back of beyond: you can’t get a wain up those hills,
and it’s just too difficult to drag the hay to the farmstead, sledge by
sledge, they have field barns.”
Langneb: “Long-nose,” an epithet name for Tom a’ Dreams.
lappet: A streamer or loose piece of cloth hanging from any kind
law: In Yorkshire, a roundish hill, also a word for a monumental
tumulus, a cairn of stones.
lief: Depending on the context, either willingly or dear.
ligging: Lying. “By t’water I were, all my lone, ligging i’t leaves
and laiking, cracking nuts.”
Lightfast Kindling: Candlemas.
Long Meg: Long Meg and her Daughters is the name of the third
largest stone circle in England, after Avebury and Stanton Drew. The
largest of its outlying stones is Long Meg, the “mother stone.”
lyke: A corpse. A lyke-wake is the watch kept over a dead body.
Lyonesse: The legendary land, emblematic of all things lost
and yearned after, which sank beneath the sea, destroying Merlin’s
army after the death of King Arthur. The westernmost kingdom of
Arthur’s realm, it originally joined Cornwall with the Isles of Scilly.
On the day when Arthur returns, Lyonesse shall rise again from
beneath the waters.
Mad Maudlin: “Mad Maudlin’s Search for Her Tom of Bedlam”
was published 1720 by Thomas D’Urfey in Pills to Purge Melancholy.
To find my Tom of Bedlam
Ten thousand years I’ll travel,
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes
To save her shoe from gravel.
Chorus: Still I sing,
Bonny boys, bonny mad boys,
Bedlam boys are bonny,
For they all go bare and they live by the air,
And they want no drink nor money.
maggot: A maggot is not only the larva of a fly but also an odd
whim or notion. A head may be as maggoty as a fruit, but with ideas
rather than insects.
mandrake, mandragora: The mandrake, or mandragora, is
an actual plant used for various medical purposes in classical and
Medieval times, due to its high levels of scopalamine, mandragorin, and
hyosciamine. Because the root was roughly homuncular in form, the
folkloric belief arose that the root screamed when it was pulled from the
ground and that the sound of that scream could deafen or even kill its
auditor. Gilman appears to employ mandrake when evoking its mythical
properties, and mandragora when referring to the actual plant.
mawks: Maggots. Hence, mawky means maggoty.
Mawk-town Strutters’ Ball: A play upon the “Darktown
Strutters’ Ball,” one of earliest jazz songs to become a standard. The
version recorded in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band may
be the first commercial jazz recording.
missel-thrush: Turdus viscivorus. A common member of the
thrush family found in open woods and cultivated land all over
Europe. Its diet includes insects, worms and berries. A great number
of missel thrushes feeding upon a hawthorn foretells a harsh winter.
mollock: An alteration of “morlock,” to frolic, dance, cavort, or
play. Specifically to engage in sexual play.
mow: To make a wry face.
moonbow: Though less common than solar rainbows, a bright
and full moon in a dark sky can produce a moonbow if the moon is
less than 42o high and it’s raining on the opposite horizon. Because it
is rarely strong enough to activate the color receptors in human eyes,
the moonbow almost always appears white.
neave: Var. of “nieve,” a clenched hand, a fist.
noll: The head, and specifically the crown of the head.
numen: A divine power or spirit, a numinous creature.
oatstraw pipe: Musical, rather than for tobacco. This may come
from a poem by Edward Taylor:
A shadow, Lord, not such as types show here
Nor such as Titerus his broad Beech made
In which he with his Oat straw pipe’t there
A Forrest march, such his dark blackish trade.
ogham: Ogham is a twenty-five-character alphabet used for stone
and wood inscriptions in Celtic lands, a group of twenty sacred trees
that give names to those letters, a calendar of thirteen months named
for some of those trees, and a system of divination in Celtic paganism
that may or may not be related to the runic alphabet.
Orion: The Cloudish Orion, Gilman writes, is called by many
names: the Hanged Lad in Hallows and the Fiddler at Lightfast,
when he plays for the guisers and the starry hey to dance. (In a ballad,
Jack Orion is a fiddler “who could fiddle the milk from a maiden’s
breast”; he played the lord asleep to bed his lady, but his knavish boy
forestalled him: for which he hanged the boy.) In spring, he is the
Flaycraw, who wards the seeded sky; and in summer, the Sheaf, whose
binding is a belt of stars.
owled after: To hunt as the owl does, silently, stealthily, and with
a sudden swoop upon the prey.
pace-eggs: Pace-eggs are an ancient Lancashire custom. The
eggs are wrapped in onion skins and boiled, giving them a mottled
golden color, for Easter.
pancheon: A wide earthenware bowl or vessel, larger at the top
than the bottom, most commonly used for setting milk in to separate
out the cream. But of course, all kitchen tools are put to multiple
parkin: A kind of gingerbread made from oatmeal and treacle.
patten: A kind of overshoe or sandal, consisting of a wooden sole
with a leather loop around the instep attached to an oval iron ring
or the like, to raise the wearer’s feet out of the mud or wet. Mally’s
pattens are of course made of cold iron.
Phebe: See Silvius.
Phoebe: The feminine form of the Greek work for bright or
radiant, and hence the name for Artemis or Diana in her persona as
goddess of the moon; the moon personified. Phoebus is of course
the god of the sun.
pibrochs: A series of variations for the bagpipe, primarily martial
but also dirges.
pinchbeck: An alloy of zinc and copper which makes a fair
imitation of gold, and is used in making cheap jewelry, watches,
and the like. It was named for its inventor, Christopher Pinchbeck
(1670–1732), a watch- and toy-maker of Fleet Street, London. The
term has since been extended to apply to all substitutes for gold.
pluff: To blow out or swell up, to puff. [There was a criss-crossing of
scarves and pairing of great ill-assorted hollow boots that dropped and
pluffed at every step, and a fierce brief skirmish over the tinker’s hat.]
poddish: Pottage or porridge.
Pyewackett: A traditional name for a witch’s feline familiar.
Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witch-Finder General of Essex
and author of The Discovery of Witches, declared that Pyewackett was
a name “no mortal could invent.”
pyke: to peck
quain: A variant of quoin, a corner-stone or angle-stone.
[There were fans of cloud, pale as Thule or louring, and quains
of broken stone, of bronze-veined greyish-black, all splashed with
drops of crimson; it was bound with Lapland witches’ knots, that
rein the wind.] Hence quaining, the stonework making up the
angle in a wall.
quern: A small hand-mill for grinding corn, made up of two
stones. [Somewhere, everywhere, dull and dreadful, was a roaring, a
rumor of the querns of giants, grinding bones.]
quickset: A hedge, particularly of whitethorn, created by setting
slips or cuttings in the ground to grow.
Rach: Proper name. Perhaps derived from Middle High German
rach “rough” or “stiff,” a nickname for someone affected by hard
work. [Rach was not the attendant spirit of the bath, but an older
child, mole-dark and greyer eyed, with a knotted dangling red ribbon
clenched in a very skimpy lock of hair.]
rache-hound: A hunting dog which tracks its prey by smell.
rade: Variant of “ride,” meaning a group or procession of
horsemen. [They were good mugs, a little crazed, but handpainted:
Titania and her green rade, horsed upon swift-running hares; and the
babes in the wood, dying rosily beneath their coverlet of birds.]
ramp: To rush about in a wild and excited manner.
rant: In dialect, “to be jovial, boisterous, uproariously gay or
merry; to lead a gay or dissolute life; also, to sing loudly” [OED] or
rantipole: in a romping, rude, or noisy fashion; In the canting
tongue, “to ride rantipole” means to jig it wench uppermost, the
dragon on St. George.
ratted: Rutted. [Turning from the ratted lane, they went up
onto the bare rigg behind the farm, scrunching and backsliding on
the sheep-gnawed brittle grass. ]
rattlebag: A rattle in the form of a bag. By transference,
something rattling or reckless. [Old rattlebag, old scarecrow, rags
rede: As a noun, counsel or advice. As a verb, to counsel or
reet: A variant of right. [“Forby you’re reet mucky fort
Rianty: Riant means cheerful or gay. It seems unlikely that
Ariane’s nickname in Cloudlaw is anything less than meaningful.
riddle: Both the Sphinx’s enigma and a kitchen sieve. The latter
meaning is why we say that something is “riddled with holes.”
rigg: A ridge.
riving: Tearing at or asunder.
roke: Steam, smoke, vapor, fog, mist, drizzling rain—which is to
say that a roke is none of these things but their visual impression.
rolag: A roll of cotton or wool fibers prepared for spinning. [Her
wolf-toothed carding combs lay by the hearth, ensnarled with rolags
of stormcloud.] Capitalized, it is the name of one of Maire’s cats.
roof-tree: A ridgepole.
Childe Rowland: Cunningly enough, Rowland’s name
(“Childe” is an archaic term for knight) evokes two separate
poems in Moonwise, first, by proximity to that of Burd Ellen, his
sister, to the ballad “Childe Rowland” and second, by mention
of his tower to Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark
rune: Both a riddle and a running onward, a flow, such as a rune
of blood or a rune of stars: which is their rise and turning.
runestave: A runic letter or symbol. Not to be confused with
rush-candle, rushdip: A dipped candle with a rush for its wick.
The common Candle Rush grows in wet meadows, and along brooks
and ponds, and has a round, green stem filled with a soft, white pith.
The outer skin is peeled and the center dried and then dipped in a
boiling mixture of saved household fats and grease, with beeswax or
mutton suet added to the mixture if available. When skillfully made
a rush candle would last for hours and burn with a clear light. Hence,
Tom Rynosseros: Tom O’ Bedlam’s characterization of himself
as a fierce and dangerous fellow in “Tom O’Bedlam’s Song.”
sadcake: So called because the cake falls during baking and comes
out looking flat and “sad.” Here’s an untested recipe:
Beat 4 eggs and 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar until
Add 2 cups biscuit mix, 1 cup flaked coconut, 1 cup
chopped pecans, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and mix
Pour into a greased and floured pan. Bake in a preheated
oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool before
sain: To make the sign of the cross, and hence to bless.
sallowed: Grown sallow; turned a sickly yellow color.
saltbox: The saltbox, a frame house two stories high in front and
one in back with an uneven pitched roof, is quintessential vernacular
New England architecture. [Illyria, caught spare and sailing into light,
was a saltbox, slanted house among tall trees and a hodge-podge of
sark : Shirt.
scarry: Depending on its context, covered with scars, rocky and
precipitous, or thin and meager.
scried: Saw images in crystal, water, or the like, of the future or
of distant affairs. But also, simply, descried or perceived. It may not be
entirely coincidental that a scry is, like a riddle, a kind of sieve.
scutter: To move hastily, with much fuss and bustle. [He bent
toward Craobh, and all his throng of shadows swaled and scuttered,
goblin-beaked and backed, and etenish.]
seely: Holy or right. Unseely, therefore, means unholy, evil, or
Shawn: A musical instrument, a woodwind.
Silvius: A young shepherd in love with the disdainful Phoebe in
Shakespeare’s As You Like It. [Their bodies were exalted by their act,
their mooncurved cheeks and chins turned silver, their faces and their
flying hair to gold; each Phebe and her Silvius to sun and moon.]
sithe: To sigh. It is perhaps a coincidence that a sithe is also a
skirring : Sliding or skating swiftly.
skirret: Sium sisarum, a species of water parsnip, formerly much
cultivated in Europe for its tubers.
slather: This appears to be a back-construction from slathery,
which means slippery. [They stood all of a row like mummers, in the
cloudy raw of winter, in the goose-green slather of the yard.]
slutswool: A slut was originally nothing more than a slovenly
housekeeper. Hence the term “slutswool” for what we now call dust
smallpipes: A Northumbrian instrument, bellows-driven
bagpipes essentially, with distinctive features that make it much
beloved by its advocates.
sneck: The latch of a door or gate. As a verb, to latch.
spinney: A small wood or copse, especially one planted or
maintained for sheltering game birds.
splodge: A thick, heavy splotch, a dollop.
springe: A snare for catching small game.
squinny: To squint, to peer.
stane: Stone (dial.). The Hill o’ Many Stanes in the Scottish
highlands, has some 250 neolithic standing stones, not a one of them
taller than your knee.
strake: To whet. [He straked his knife against the stones, trying
its edge, and let it fall.]
stravage: To wander about aimlessly.
stridor: A harsh, grating, or creaking sound.
sunwise: Clockwise, anti-widdershins. But also, in a separate
usage, wise in the ways of the sun.
swale: To move or sway up and down or from side to side. But
also to be consumed with fire, and specifically of a candle, to melt
away, to gutter. So that the answer to the first half of the riddle
Malykorne poses to Ariane (“What’s wick i’t shadows? Swale-anddie.
What’s sharper nor thorn? Sword i’t leaves. See tha don’t cut
thysen”) is a candle, whose flame dances as it dies and which is both
wick/quick/living and tallow around a bit of rush or flax.
syne: Like many small and simple words, syne has many
meanings. The two employed in Moonwise are “directly after” and
“long time later.”
tabor: A small and shallow hand-held drum.
tatterwag: Defined by Gilman as: “A fluttering tatter or rag;
the tinker or trollop or beggar wearing same, or turning into them.
Probably, in my private iconography, with reference to autumnal
teind: Literally, a tenth. Among Christians, the portion of one’s
income it is thought proper to give to one’s church. Hence, a spiritual
offering of any kind.
thole: To endure, bear, or suffer.
thrang: A variant of throng [a thrang of birds] or thronged [The
nuts were brown and ripe; they clustered, thrang as stars] but also
meaning busy as well [Mally went owling about her hovel, thrang at
her obscurer wintry tasks]. “She’s thrang as Throp’s wife” is idiomatic
for being over-ears in work.
thrawed: Twisted, turned awry.
thrawn: Crooked or misshapen.
Thule: The ancient Greek and Roman name for the uttermost
northern land in the world. Though it has been variously identified
with Iceland, the Shetlands, and so on, its true identity is uncertain,
and it may in fact be mythological. [There were fans of cloud, pale
as Thule or louring, and quains of broken stone, of bronze-veined
greyish-black, all splashed with drops of crimson; it was bound with
Lapland witches’ knots, that rein the wind.]
Tib’s eve: Of St. Tib’s Eve, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and
Fable says, “Never. A corruption of St. Ubes. There is no such saint
in the calendar as St. Ubes, and therefore her eve falls on the “Greek
Kalends” (q.v.), neither before Christmas Day nor after it.”
Tib’s Maggot: A maggot is a whimsy and it is in this sense that
it enters into the titles of many dance tunes. This particular title is of
Gilman’s own invention.
Timour the Tartar: This is taken from a British folk song of the
same name. Timour was none other than Tamburlaine.
tisane: An herbal infusion; a medicinal tea.
touse: To tussle, or to worry at.
tumbril: A cart so constructed that the body tilts backwards to
empty out the load; nowadays chiefly identified as the vehicle that
served Lady Guillotine.
tup: A male sheep, a ram, from whence come the verb for
fornication and that for placing horns on a cuckold’s head.
un-: In Moonwise the negative prefix is featured in more
than two hundred seventy separate words and variants (unable,
unadorned, unafraid, unamazed, unassailable, unattended,
u n aw a r e , u nb a l a nc e d , u nb a ne f u l , u nb a r r e d , u nb e i ng ,
unbidden, unbind, unbinding, un-unbinding, unbirth, unblind,
unblinding, unbodied, unbraided, unbranched, unbreaking,
unbroken, unbrooched, unburning, unborn, unborne, unbound,
unbowered, uncalled, uncanny, uncarved, uncaught, uncertain,
uncertainly, unchance, unchancy, unchanged, unchanging,
unch ild, unch ild ing, unch ild like, uncircled, unclenched ,
u ncloa ked, u nclose, u nclosed, u ncloud ish, u ncloud i ng,
unCloudish, uncolored, uncombed, unconcerned, unconsciously,
u nconsented, u nconsidered, u nconsumed, u nconsum i ng,
u nconstel lat i ng, u ncor r upted, u ncor r upt i ng, u ncoveted,
uncreated, uncreating, uncrumpling, uncurtained, uncrystal,
uncurl, uncurled, uncurtained, undanced, undark, undarkly,
undarkfast, undead, undesiring, undid, undo, undone, undoing,
undreamlike, undreaming, undying, unearthed, unearthing,
unearthly, unearthliness, unease, uneasy, unencumbered,
unending, unendurable, unenskied, unentangled, unestranged,
unexpectedly, unfallen, unfamiliar, unfast, unfelled, unfestive,
u n f l awe d , u n fo c u s e d , u n fold i ng , u n folde d , u n fo nd l y,
unforeseeing, unfull, ungarlanded, ungainly. unglazed, unglazen,
unglinty, unglutted, ungraved, ungreen, unhallowed, unhallows,
unhappily, unharvest, unheard, unheavens, unheeded, unheeding,
unhinged, unholding, unholy, unhooked, unhorned, unhorsed,
unidyllic, unimpassioned, unirised, unislanded, unjudging,
unkempt, unkindling, unknotting, unknowing, unknown,
unlaired, unleaf, unleapt, unleaving, Unlethe, unlidded, unlight,
unlightborn, unlightfast, unlight ning, unlike, unlookedfor,
unloosing, unmade, unmantled, unmoon, unmoonwise,
unmoving, unmoved, unnamed, unnaming, unnumbered,
unnuminous, unpatterned, unpatterning, unpinned, unplayed,
unpleat ing, unpossessed, unquenched, unquiet, unrailed,
unravel, unravelled, unravelling, unravelment, unread, unreal,
unreason, unrecallable, unregarded, unregretful, unremorseful,
unresolved, unrestful, unreversed, unriddle, unriddling, unrimy,
unripe, unrooted, unrucked, unruefully, unsalt, unscathed,
u nseei ng, u nseely, u nseen, u nseen foreei ng, u nseizi ng,
unshadow, unshadow y, unshadowed, unsha ken, unshells,
unshrouding, unsight, unsilvering, unskein, unskied, unsleeping,
unsought, unsoul, unsouled, unsorting, unsought, unspeaking,
unspell, unspelled, unspells, unspelling, unspelt, unspilled,
unsprung, unstarred, unstarry, unsteadily, unsteady, unstony,
unstrangely, unsummoned, unsunwise, unsure, unsuspecting,
unswept, untaken, untelled, unthinking, untold, untrampled,
untranscended, unturned, unturning, unvengeful, unvented,
unvexed, unvoiced, unwadded, unwadding, unwaking, unwaked,
unwa lk ing, unwa lled, unwa ning, unwa nt ing, unwa rd ing,
unwary, unwearied, unweaving, unwedding, unwieldy, unwilling,
unwilled, unwindowed, unwinged, uwink ing, unwitched,
unwithering, unwitting, unwittingly, unwondering, unwood,
and unwove) and while some of these were surely unavoidable in
an English-language novel, taken together they suggest that in
Cloud a thing’s negation is as real as the thing itself.
urchin: A hedgehog
Urne Burial: The full title of Sir Thomas Browne’s book is
Hydriotaphia, Urne-burial: Or, A Discourse of the Sepulchral Urnes
lately found in Norfolk. Together with the Garden of Cyrus, or the
Quincuncial Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients,
Artificially, Naturally, Mystically, considered. With Sundry
Observations. The discovery of Bronze Age burial urns in Norfolk
during the seventeenth century prompted Browne to meditate on the
burial customs of ancient races and on the inevitability of death and
led to this famously difficult but rewarding book.
Vallombrosa: From Milton’s Paradise Lost, I. 303ff, wherein
stood and called
His legions, angel forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
The name means “shady valley” in Italian, and echoes “valley of the
shadow of death” in Psalm 23. Gilman notes, “Rather a portentous
chord for a basket of darning, which is the joke of it; but remember
that Mally’s washing is souls. Clothwork—weaving, washing, ironing,
or mending—tends to be magic in my stories. All part of the numinous
commonplace.” Also that, “the Milton goes with the glances at Dante:
‘selva oscura’ / Sylvie / unselving.” [Mrs. Owlund and Mrs. Woodfall
were darning stockings, thick as leaves in Vallombrosa, with the basket
set between them.]
waft: An apparition or wraith.
waking: An essential pun here, both arising from sleep and
mourning the day. Waking wood means both to bring the wood to
consciousness and (because “wood” also means “mad”) waking up
insane. Gilman explains: “Tom a’ Cloud was told to ‘wake wood.’
That is, to rouse himself, to rise up mad. Another essential pun. To
wake wood is to call from sleep the Wood Above, the Unleaving: the
pack of tales that is Cloud. It is also to keep watch, to shepherd it; and
also to mourn its passing. His dream is this world.”
wakerife: Indisposed to sleep, wakeful, vigilant. [“Peace, hawd
thy clack. Tha’s like a cat I’ pattens, back and forth. Gan spin, an
tha’s wakerife, but let be.”]
St. Walpurgis: An eighth-century English missionary to
Germany and abbess of a Benedictine nunnery which she founded.
Because her feast day is May First (“Walpurgisnacht”), the same as a
heathen festival marking the beginning of summer, she has become
associated with witchcraft and is regarded as the protectress against
magic arts. [But that was all at first, when caught, baffled, she had
thumbed through the ruined palimpsest of tape, hearing islands
in unmeaning tumult: a grand daemonic St. Walpurgis station,
beneath the iron and the veniced glass of northern lights; a stridor
and a gibbering—light leaves—of spectral geese, of daws—and
catch—a cry of gabbleratchets; witches’ sabbats, hurling backward
on the whirlwind—turn—and raving; tumbrils of apocalypse, and
the rancor of the horns.]
wan-wood: The prefix wan- means without. Ariane’s fugitive
thought, “Though worlds of wan-wood leafmeal lie” is taken from Gerard
Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall,” dedicated to a young child:
MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
wark: Dialect for work.
weal: Wealth, riches. [It was a heron-grey morning, in the
backend of the year; cold and bright the springs of water ran, and
wealed the moor with silver.]
welter: As a noun, a state of confusion, disorganization, or
turmoil. As a verb, to roll or twist the body, to turn, writhe, or
wethers: Male sheep, particularly gelded rams.
wherret: To give a blow or slap to. [Mally wiped her moonblank
rimy glasses on one of her petticoats, perched them on
again askew, and unrucked her skins, wherreting them with the
whirr and flap of sparrows in the dust.]
whinnymoor: John Aubrey, he of the Brief Lives, wrote: “The
belief in Yorkshire was amongst the vulgar (perhaps is in part still) that
after the person’s death the soule went over Whinny-Moore . . .”
the Abbess of Whitby: St. Hilda presided over the double
monastery (men and women lived in adjoining quarters) of Whitby.
The herdsman Caedmon was one of her subjects.
windeye, wind door: Window.
wind-egg, windegg: An imperfect or sterile egg, from the
popular superstition that such an egg was fathered by the wind. Thus,
an enterprise with little chance of success.
winsey: A cotton and wool mix cloth resembling linsey.
woodwose: A wild man of the wood.
wraprascal coat: A long-obsolete type of coarse overcoat with
a delightful name.
“Wreck of the Deutschland”: A poem by Gerard Manley
Hopkins, dedicated “To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns
exiles by the Falk Laws drowned between midnight and morning of
Dec. 7th. 1875.”
wren: A Cloudish constellation, and a power as well. Of this bird,
Gilman writes: “The wren is the winter king, the sun that dies and is
reborn at solstice. So they say. The wren is sacrosanct, tabu: it is the
blackest of bad luck to do him harm. But at the turning of the year
he must be hunted, caught, and killed. His corpse is then displayed
with pomp, ‘in ribbons so rare,’ and borne from door to door with
the bidding, ‘Please to see the king.’ (In Ireland, boys have been
known to take round a potato stuck with feathers.) For their pains,
the wren boys are given ale or coins or cakes: the sort of offerings
one gives the dead.”
wried: The past tense of “wry,” in the sense of contorting one’s
features, making a face.
writhen: Either subjected to writhing, twisted out of shape, or
plaited, twined, convoluted or coiled. The word is used in both senses
wrying: Turning aside from the correct course, twisting,
bending. [Stubbornly, with all her wiry strength, she bent the wrying
ends together, warping, sliding, biting deep into her hands.]
wuther: A variant on “whither,” to tremble, shake, quiver, or to
make a rushing noise, to whizz, to bluster and rage, as a wind. This
is the derivation of the title of Wuthering Heights.
wyrm: A worm, in Old English, was any serpent, snake, reptile,
or dragon, though the title has since devolved upon their lowly, soilcreating
cousin. Beowulf died of wounds incurred fighting a wyrm.
Michael Swanwick lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.