The Toad's Words

Excursus #6

I am quite surprised by the generous responses I am getting from the readers of The Toad's Words. The readership is expanding and I have been told that it is being forwarded to several people. As a favor, if you have received The Toad's Words by having it forwarded to you from a friend (or enemy) please let me know.

Many people have also commented that they now see "new" words as they read and travel through life. My wife said she noticed a box of "fenestrated" sheets at the doctor's office the other day. Of course, we all know by now that that would be a sheet with a window in it. That makes me wonder if there is another definition of defenestration besides the one used in Toad #1. Could "defenestration" mean "sewing up a hole in something" (like a sheet)? Hence, one could defenestrate a sock. I know when my socks get holes in them, I yell "darn" and then defenestrate them.

Pooka, noun

An Irish legend usually meaning an evil spirit in the form of a horse or rabbit.

Since Harvey is the most famous pooka of all (at least among Jimmy Stewart fans) I have a hard time coming to grips with the evil part. I like to think of it as a spirit in the form of a rabbit. Maybe that means that the Easter Bunny is a pooka.

Ellwood P. Dowd found that, while Harvey was nice to have around, the presence of such a large pooka tended to cause his other friends to shy away.

Pukka, adjective

Can also be spelled pucka.

(See beginning of Excursus # 7 for pronunciation.)

Authentic or genuine. First class or superior.

For some reason, this comes from the Hindi word pakk , which means cooked, ripe, or firm. Go figure. My guess is that it is one of those India to England to America word bastardizations. Although, I have to admit, I have only heard it used by the British.

James asked Ian, a right pukka fellow he had met at Eton, if he would stand up for him at his wedding.

Posh, adjective

Elegant or fashionable.

My two favorite dictionaries (which I am quickly losing faith in) both say that the origin of this word is unknown. Now I find that hard to believe. I learned in college (from my thesis advisor Prof. Klock) that posh meant 'Port Outbound, Starboard Homeward.' Let me explain more. In the old days when people regularly sailed from England to India, the tickets for the nice cabins were stamped POSH. This meant that the cabin would be facing Europe and away from the sun and weather in both directions of transit. Believe it or not!

Not! If we are believe Janet Whitcut who wrote The Penguin Book of Exotic Words, 'Port Outbound, Starboard Homeward' is simply a legend and "quite without foundation." (I certainly hope that that is not true of the other things Prof. Klock taught me.) Ms Whitcut says that it is more likely that 'posh' is an old British slang word for 'dandy.' Merriam Webster's Word Histories devotes nearly two full pages to explaining that nobody really knows where 'posh' comes from. They thoroughly debunk the marine theory and do a fair job on the 'dandy' theory as well. They do say that two turn-of-the-century slang dictionaries define it as 'dandy' "without corroborative evidence." Apparently, this is one of the great mysteries of English etymology. I know, let's make up a new definition for 'posh' and promulgate it as fact.

Priscilla always opted for the posh hotels when visiting the city, even though they tended to cost at least twice as much.

Puck, noun

Yes, this is a hard vulcanized rubber disk used in the sport where the players wear sharp blades on their feet and carry big sticks. However, I am thinking more of the other usage made familiar to us all (well maybe not to the guys that play with pucks) by Mr. William Shakespeare. I am referring, of course, to a 'puck' as a mischievous sprite. Remember Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck) in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

No matter how hard she tried to hide, Hermia could not escape from the puck that called himself Robin Goodfellow.

Philippic, noun.

A verbal or written denunciation characterized by abusive or vituperative language. A tirade.

For those of you interested, this comes from speeches by Demosthenes against Philip of Macedonia.

When that pukka chap, Paco went to Paris on leave and found that he could not get Mexican food at the posh restaurants, he got drunk on port, started seeing pookas, and finally launched into a philippic against the pukey French food, wondering the whole time why the puck was putting those nasty words in his mouth.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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