As seems fitting, let us start with the first entry in Merriam-Webster's The Official SCRABBLE® Players Dictionary, Fourth Edition.
The listed meaning is not meant to be confused with the second entry, aah: to exclaim in amazement, joy, or surprise. But you may very well say aah when looking at aa:
Pāhoehoe, also Hawaiian (pronounced pa-hoy-hoy), by contrast, is smooth, unbroken lava. It moves more slowly and is thicker. Therefore, if suddenly masses of tourists start running away from approaching lava, you’d better pray that they are screaming “pāhoehoe!” rather than “‘a‘ā!”
Also, this is a wondrously useful word to know for Scrabble.
One has usually heard of an aardvark, but an aardwolf? Both eat termites and live in burrows: aard- comes from South African Dutch meaning “earth.” So aardwolf is “earth wolf” and aardvark is “earth pig” (not to be confused with “groundhog”!). The aardwolf is obviously related to the hyena, and the aardvark is just plain weird.
This is the first “unit of” entry listed. As there are so many that I’ve never heard of, and since I am fascinated with how humans come up with units of measuring the world, we’ll make this a regular installment.
⚛ Units of the Week
Abampere: a unit of electric current
Abfarad: a unit of capacitance
Abhenry: a unit of inductance
Abmho: a unit of electrical conductance
Abohm: a unit of electrical resistance
Abvolt: a unit of electromotive force
Abwatt: a unit of power (I obviously need to go back and study up on electricity)
Acutance: a measure of photographic clarity
Afghani: a monetary unit of Afghanistan
Agio: a premium paid for the exchange of one currency for another (one might say a meta-unit?)
Agora: a monetary unit of Israel
It turns out there is a reason that I haven’t heard of many of the electrical ones: the “ab” prefix was affixed to denote “absolute” in a time when the centimeter-gram-second system of units was used and were considered absolute for some bizarre reason (when is anything absolute in life, ever?). When the meter-kilogram-second system and then the International System of Units were used, the prefix was dropped. Whew.
Notably absent from this electrified list is abcoulomb, defined as the charge that passes in one second through any cross section of a conductor carrying a steady current of one abampere. It is not included because the Scrabble Dictionary only includes main words from two to eight letters, those deemed most useful to Scrabble players. It never claimed it was general dictionary of the English language, after all, and admittedly the chances for me to use abcoulomb were infinitesimally small to begin with.
Acro- is from a combined Greek form meaning 1) stone-tipped and 2) highest, topmost, outermost, ultimately. Medically it is used to form terms relating to peripheral parts of things, particularly bodies. So while an acrodont is an animal whose teeth are attached to the jawbone (stone-tipped), acromion is the outward end of the shoulder blade (outermost). Acrophobia, as another example, is the fear of being in high places. The combination may be explained with the word acrolith, which, in ancient Greece, was a statue with the head and the extremities made of stone—the body being made out of wood. That seems to sum it up nicely, if weirdly.
But then you have acronic, also formed from acro-, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with any of those definitions, since it means “of the rising or setting of a celestial object: occurring at or just after sunset.”
(If you can’t tell, I really like etymologies. The best part of attending graduate school is the free access to the Oxford English Dictionary Online. I'm only partly joking. I’ll try to contain myself for your sake.)
!!! Words of the Week
--when WYS (or thought you would see) ≠ WYG
Abattoir: a slaughterhouse
Ablation: surgical removal of a bodily part. Not to be confused or compounded with oblation, a religious offering. That would be a most unfortunate mistake. The "ablative" case in Latin comes from the same root as ablation, meaning to remove or to take away. The OED says that it was “used punningly with reference to the use in grammar” but even though I loved learning and tutoring Latin in college, I think it’s a terrible pun.
Aborning (adv): while being born. I tried to use this in a sentence and failed. Anybody? ("Aborning, the baby said, 'Hey dudes, it's cold out there. WTF?'")
Abrachia: a lack of arms
Abreact: to release repressed emotions by reliving the original traumatic experience. Not sure that this is helpful?
Abri: a bomb shelter
Acaleph: a jellyfish
Acaudal: having no tail
Aceldama: place of bloodshed. From Syriac hĕqal dĕmā, field of blood. Kind of freaky.
Acrasia: a lack of self-control. In Latin it meant intemperance and in Greece, Hippocrates applied this term to meats, meaning unmixed, untempered. Could "meat-head" then have a secondary meaning?
Actinal: having tentacles
Actressy, adj.: affectively theatrical. ::Jamie frowns:: I have noticed that some of the words could use a non-sexist touch.
Agria: severe pustular eruption
Aioli: garlic mayonnaise
Ait: a small island (I'm very partial to small islands now)
Albumen: the white of an egg (I never knew!)
Alcohol: a flammable liquid
Alewife: a marine fish
👀 Other Observations
Abolla: cloak worn in ancient Rome. Not to be confused with ebola the deadly virus, Ecola, a state park on the Oregon coast that I love, or E. coli, deadly bacteria.
Absolute: free from restriction. Oddly, it seems that groups or individuals who use this word often use it in a restrictive sense—something is absolute, therefore it is set in stone and not free at all.
There also seems to be an impressive array of words, here at the beginning, dealing with poky things and sour things:
Aculeate: having a sting
Absinth/absinthe: a bitter liqueur
Aciculum: a bristlelike part
Acerbate: to make sour
Acantha: a sharp spiny part
Acanthus: a prickly herb
Acrid: sharp and harsh to the taste or smell
Alegar: a sour ale
♡ Favorite Words of the Week
Abulia: loss of will power
Alarmism: the practice of alarming others needlessly
Below is a very simple reading chart (Excel file) available for download if you'd like to follow along. Remember, you can skip to different sections if you start going crazy, and there's 27 "free days" if you're reading at the pace of 2 pages a day. It's not too late to catch up!