The Toad's Words

Excursus #11

Yes friends, I know it has been nearly two months since you last received a new issue of The Toad's Words. I bet you thought that the Toad was just a 10-issue wonder. Nope, I've been busy, mostly earning a living or resting from earning a living. I've also been collecting more words. There are little 3M Post-Its all over my house with obscure words written on them. Some come from things I've read, others from my wife.

Now, the kids are gone for 12 days, my proposals are out the door, and Pam found some banana Popsicles for me so here we go with Toad #11. This time we stick with big words that are five letters or less.

Poser, noun

Pronounced Poe - zur. Accent on po.

A very puzzling problem or question.

I stumbled across this one while reading Pygmalion the other day. A stage direction to Higgins in Act II is "throwing the book aside and marching down on Doolittle with a poser." One definition of 'poser' that I found really intrigues me "An affected person, especially a poseur." Apparently, a 'poseur' is one who poses to impress people. In this case, 'pose' means an attitude assumed for effect. I assume Shaw meant the puzzle kind of 'poser.'

We could tell from Phillip's pose that he didn't think that the etymology of "posh" was much of a poser. But then, Phillip thought he knew how to rhyme orange, also.

Olio, noun

Any hodgepodge, mixture, or jumble. Also, this can mean a disparate collection of literary, artistic, or musical pieces.

This word was found in Dominick Dunne's People Like Us when Matilda Clarke responds to Augustus Bailey's comment about a party with a lot of movie stars with, "A veritable olio." Hey, this comes from Pam, I was reading Shaw!

'Olio' derives from the Spanish word olla meaning pot or stew.

Why Matilda thought that the party of movie stars and starlets was an olio was a real poser.

Cabal, noun

Pronounced cu (as in cut) and bal (as in pal.) Accent on bal.

A cabal is a conspiratorial group or a secret scheme. Unlike a normal conspiracy, a 'cabal' is usually made up of a small, well-organized, group of powerful or well placed individuals focused on a very clear goal. Usually the goal has something to do with a shift of power.

This word was found in the sentence - "The truth is that, if there was a cabal, it was led by Carlotta herself against poor Christine..." in The Phantom of the Opera. It would be interesting to see the original French!

Cabal traces back to the Hebrew word qabbalah (also spelled kabbalah) which means 'receiving.' The qabbalah are the doctrines obtained from Moses and handed down by word of mouth. During the Middle Ages the people who possessed these doctrines were thought to have secrets of mystical power. Hence, 'cabal' acquired the meaning of mystery. It is interesting that now, the word 'cabala' is applied to the mystic interpretation of the scriptures. 'Cabala' is a way, developed in the Middle Ages, of interpreting the scriptures based on numerical rather than alphabetical value of the letters in a word.

It is interesting to note that the term 'cabal' came into common usage during the reign of King Charles II when the five members of his Privy Council were named Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale.

Unbeknownst to the matron, there was a cabal organized to do the old woman in.

Vapid, adjective

Something that is senseless, flat, jejune, or without good taste. Also, something that is dull, or lacking zest or animation. Can often refer to tasteless food.

This was found in Jane Eyre in the description of Sophie the French nurse "she ... generally gave such vapid and confused answers as were calculated rather to check than encourage inquiry." 'Vapid' comes from the Latin vapidus which somehow relates to vappa meaning sour wine.

Because the cabal was made up of such a vapid olio of conspirators who got their direction from the cabala, it was a real poser as to why it had any level of success.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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