Pronounced: SAS-truh-guh, noun

Notes: This word is usually used in the plural (sastrugi), and is more-or-less timely for last month’s weather. Even though I grew up in northern Illinois, I did not know this word, and I’d be surprised if any native Texan knows it.

Yesterday’s word

The word ocellus means

  • a small simple eye common to invertebrates
  • an eyelike colored spot on an animal (peacock feathers, butterfly wings, fish, etc) or on a leaf of a plant

The word comes from Latin ocellus (little eye), which is a diminutive of oculus (eye).

First usage

This word showed up in the early 1800s


Pronounced: oh-SELL-us, noun

Notes: Yet another word I simply didn’t know

Yesterday’s word

The word gymkhana means “a meet featuring sporting contests or athletic skills such as competitive games on horseback or a timed contest for automobiles”.


The word originates in India; it is considered to be an alteration of the Hindi gẽdkhāna, which is a ball-playing area similar to a racquetball court. In addition, the first syllable was influenced by our word gymnasium. The first gymkhanas were displays of athletics and equestrian skill. While these are still common, the 1900s introduced a new kind of gymkhana that shows off car handling (instead of horse handling). Modern auto gymkhanas are often held in parking lots, where contestants race over tight, twisting courses marked with cones or pylons.

First usage

The word began to be used in the 1800s.


Pronounced: jim-KAH-nuh, noun

Notes: I have run across this in a British television show, but I didn’t know the word

Yesterday’s word

The word trompe l’oeil means

  • a style of painting in which objects are rendered in extremely realistic detail, giving an illusion of reality
  • a painting, mural, etc made in this style

The word comes from French (duh!) and literally means “fools the eye” with the following root words: tromper (to deceive), le (the), oeil (eye).

First usage

This word came into English in the late 1800s

Rejected word

The candidate word roseate was rejected because I properly figured out the meaning.

trompe l’oeil

Pronounced: tromp loi

Notes: No credit for knowing the language this word comes from

Yesterday’s word

The word sedulous means

  • involving or accomplished with careful perseverance
  • diligent in application or pursuit

The word traces back to the Latin se dolus, literally meaning “without guile”. The two words eventually merged into one, sedulo (sincerely, diligently), which became sedulus in Latin and became our word in English.

First usage

This word came into English in the mid-1500s


Pronounced: SEH-juh-luhs, adj

Notes: I was off on this word; I associated it with something sinister or unpleasant, and that’s not at all the case for this word

Yesterday’s word

The word ullage means “the amount of liquid by which a container falls short of being full” – a pretty handy word.


The word comes from Old French noun ouillage/eullage, which come from the verb ouiller/eullier (to fill a cask), with the root word ouil (eye, hole).

First usage

The word showed up in the mid-1400s


Pronounced: UL-ihj, noun

Notes: A nice, useful word that I did not know

Yesterday’s word

The word tarantism means “a dancing mania or malady of late medieval Europe”


In the 1500s the town of Taranto in Italy was hit by a dance craze; people had a hysterical impulse to dance and was called “tarantism”. Some people claimed that this impulse was caused by the bite of the the European wolf spider, called “tarantula” — also after the name of the town. The folk story was that dancing was the only cure to the bite. Musicians would show up in the region to help cure the epidemic. There is some belief that the Italian folk dance called the “tarantella” resulted from this craze (note that this is the word that I referred to as knowing); however, “tarantella” may have just come from the town name instead of the dance name.

First usage

The word showed up in the mid-1600s


Pronounced: TA-run-tih-zuhm, noun

Notes: I didn’t know this word, but it is related to a word I have heard of

Yesterday’s word

The word Bluebeard refers to a marries and kills one wife after another


As I noted yesterday, I knew the meaning of this word; it was the background that I didn’t know. I’ve always thought that Bluebeard was a real person – probably by association with Blackbeard, who was a real person. Bluebeard comes from a fairy tale by Charles Perrault. The main character, Raoul, has the nickname Bluebeard due to his bluish beard. He marries multiple times, and forbids each wife to enter a certain room. One wife does, and finds the bodies of his earlier wives. Thus the word came to mean a man who has married several times. A similar phrase for women is “black widow”.

First usage

The word came into English in the late 1700s


Pronounced: BLUE-beard, noun

Notes: I know the word, but the background was utterly new to me

Yesterday’s word

The word palinode means

  • an ode or song recanting or retracting something in an earlier poem
  • a formal retraction

The story goes that Stesichorus, a Greek poet in the 6th century BC, was struck blind after writing a poem insulting Helen of Troy. His sight was restored after he wrote an apologetic palinode – he used the Greek word palinōidia, from palin (back or again) with aeidein (to sing). English poets borrowed the Greek word for their own nodes.

First usage

This word came into English in the 1500s


Pronounced: PAH-luh-node, noun

Notes: I was thinking it might be related to “palliative”, but it isn’t.

Yesterday’s word

The word prosopopeia means “a figure of speech in which..”

  • …an imaginary or absent person is represented as acting or speaking
  • …an inanimate object or something abstract is represented as possessing human form; personification

The word comes from Latin prosopopoeia, which comes from Greek prosopopoiia (personification), which is made up of pros- (facing) plus ops (eye) plus poiein (to make)

First usage

This word showed up in the mid-1500s

Rejected word

I rejected circadian because I was pretty close to the meaning.


Pronounced: pruh-so-puh-PEE-uh (also spelled prosopopoeia)

Notes: Quite a long word!

Yesterday’s phrase

The phrase scarlet pimpernel means, as one might guess, “a person who rescues others from mortal danger by smuggling them across a border”.


The book The Scarlet Pimpernel came out in 1903 and was popular. English speakers began to use scarlet pimpernel to refer to anyone who smuggled people in danger to a safe haven in another country. Over the years, the term has become more generalized and can now refer to a person who is daring, mysterious, or evasive.

First usage

This word began to be used in the early 1900s.

Rejected word

I rejected wraith because I knew the meaning.