Welcome to the miscellany bin. This post holds all the words that I’ve learned from various places, ones whose categories couldn’t gather enough critical mass to merit a post of their own.
- auto da fe: The ceremony accompanying the Spanish Inquisition’s execution of a heretic.
[This one comes courtesy of Mel Brooks’ History Of The World, Part 1, in which there’s a rousing musical number about the Spanish Inquisition: “Auto da fe, what’s an auto da fe? / It’s what you oughtn’t ta do, but you do anyway!”]
- ewer: A pitcher.
[I owe my knowledge of this — and several other entries in this list — to crossword puzzles. If you get (basically) the same clue for a word from one puzzle to another for long enough, you learn it!]
- indemnity: Compensation for a loss, e.g. the payout on a life insurance policy.
[This one comes from a movie as well, in fact a movie title: Double Indemnity. In addition to being an absolutely great film, it’s a word teacher as well. Thanks, Billy Wilder!]
- oleo: Margarine.
[It’s another crossword puzzle special, a word for margarine that I have never heard or seen used outside of a crossword puzzle.]
- olio: A mixture or collection; a hodge-podge.
[Or, as it’s known in my mind, the crossword puzzle one that isn’t margarine.]
- sword of Damocles: A constantly impending jeopardy. Based on a legendary Greek courtier who learned the joylessness of a ruler’s life when he was allowed all the king’s privileges but noticed a sword hanging over his head suspended by a single horsehair.
[For whatever odd reason, two of my three movie vocabulary words come from songs sung in a movie. This one is from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which Rocky sings, “The sword of Damocles is hangin’ over my head / And I’ve got the feeling someone’s gonna be cuttin’ the thread!”]
- tableau: A theatrical depiction of a still picture, performed by silent, motionless actors.
[I learned this word from a stage play, The Fantasticks, which makes a big point of the fact that its first act ends in a tableau, and its second act begins with the same tableau.]
- verbatim: Word for word.
[It’s not often that I learn a new word from a computer component (although computer people are constantly repurposing words in ways that wrench them away from their original meanings.) However, in the 7th grade or so, I started noticing these 5 1/4″ floppy disks in envelopes that read “VERBATIM VERBATIM VERBATIM.” Some friendly teacher clued me into the fact that it was an actual word, not just a nonsense company name, and when I looked it up I decided that it was a pretty clever name for a magnetic media company.]
- windfall: An unexpected gain or bonus.
[I was quite the board game enthusiast growing up, so much so that I had a closetful of them, and even when I couldn’t find anybody to play with me, I’d set up a board anyway and run through a game with imaginary opponents. One of the games in that closet was Parker Brothers’ Pay Day, a money management game. One of the events that could happen in that game was a windfall, my first introduction to that all-too-infrequently-encountered term.]