Posts Tagged words

More on flags

flag half mast

Today’s Watchword of the Day continues this week’s flag theme and actually includes three separate but related words that all deal with vertically hoisting the flag up and down the pole.  By the way, did you know that when raising a flag to half-staff (same as half-mast), you first raise the flag to the top of the pole, then lower it either to two-thirds of its normal height or by the width of the flag?  And, when lowering a flag flying at half-staff, you once again raise it to the top of the pole before lowering.

dipping n. a form of saluting with a flag by lowering it almost to the ground, then raising it back up a flagstaff to its original position.

strike vi. to lower a flag as a sign of surrender.

trailing n. an uncommon method of flag saluting whereby the flag is lowered to lightly touch the ground, then immediately hoisted back up the staff.


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cantonIn today’s Watchword of the Day, following this week’s flag theme, comes the word that can be used to describe the particular area of design in many flags, including the U.S. national flag, and the flags of Australia, New Zealand, and the People’s Republic of China.  (The picture at right is the Royal Air Force ensign of India.)

canton n. the upper corner of a flag adjacent to the staff; typically where a special design, such as a union, is placed.

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Courtesy Flag2Continuing with this week’s theme of flags is today’s entry (actually, Tuesday’s entry – I have been experiencing some technical difficulties).

courtesy n. a small version of a host country’s national or maritime flag, flown as a sign of respect by a foreign ship while cruising in the host country’s waters; typically flown from the foremasthead of multi-masted ships, or from the starboard spreader of single-masted ships, or from the bow staff of ships with no mast.

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gonfalonI thought I would try something different.  Each day this week, I will be posting a Watchword of the Day that pertains to a selected subject.  This week’s subject is flags. In future weeks, I would like to post words that pertain to subjects that you, the reader, request.  So that’s an open invitation for you to make your requests – first come, first served.  It can be anything at all, such as “words relating to horse colors,” or “words ending in ‘ism’,” or “old Hebraic measurement words.” The more arcane, the better.  I’ll see what I can come up with.

gonfalon n. a flag or banner hung from a horizontal bar, often accompanied by streamers and tails.

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More on groups

home-aloneSpeaking of groups (see “Birds of a feather” below), there are a number of words that relate to a group of related words that deal with other words that are related in some distinct but different manner.  Confused?  Read on and all shall be revealed.


heteronym n. a word that is spelled the same as another but has a completely different pronunciation and definition.

homograph n. a word that has the same spelling as another but differs in its meaning and origin, and is sometimes pronounced differently.

homonym n. a word that is spelled and pronounced the same as another but has an entirely different meaning.

homophone n. a word that is pronounced the same as another and can be spelled the same or differently, but has a different meaning.

homealone n. a movie that was much better than the three sequels that followed. (Just making sure that you’re paying attention.)

So, let’s review.  A homonym is always a homograph and a heteronym is too, and a homophone can be a homograph if the two words in question are spelled alike.  Likewise, a homonym can also be a homophone if the two words are spelled alike, but a heteronym is never a homophone because they have different pronunciations.  And just why is it pronunciation and not pronounciation?  And why is it that sequels are almost never better than the first movie?

Heteronyms are probably the rarest of all the classes of words defined above.  Can you think of any?  Here’s one: lead, as in “lead an army into battle,” and lead, as in “don’t eat paint containing lead.”  You should probably just stay away from eating paint altogether.  Homonyms are easy to think of as there are literally thousands of examples.  There’s bear (to carry), and bear (the kind that bite). Homophones (when spelled differently) are rarer than homonyms (which are always spelled the same) but less rare than heteronyms. Bare and bear, and air and heir come to mind.  Led and lead (the element) also work.

Still confused?  Don’t worry.  There’s no test.

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Birds of a feather

flockI have amassed what I believe is quite possibly the world’s largest collection of words associated with animal groups.  As part of the work on my upcoming book on uncommon words, I have been accumulating terms in this category for more than a decade and I have yet to come across a list as comprehensive as the one I’ve put together.  But as they say, all this and about $3.50 will buy you a cup of latte at your favorite gourmet coffee shop.

It’s not that more is necessarily better, it’s just interesting to see all of the words that have come to be associated with different kinds of animals.  I won’t bore you with a comprehensive list (and I have to save some surprises for my book), but here are a few of my favorites.

Maybe you’ve heard of a murder of crows?  This once relatively unknown grouping was made more popular by a forgettable 1988 movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.  Staying with birds for a moment, a flock of geese is pretty boring, but there’s also a richness of martens, or a murmuration of starlings, an exaltation of larks, or a drumming of grouse.  For the more exotic birds, there’s a flamboyance of flamingoes, although a group of flamingoes can also be referred to as a stand or when in flight, as a skein, and a group of peacocks is an ostentation. If a flock of geese is boring, a flock of geese flying in a V-formation is called a wedge, and strictly speaking, a gaggle of geese is only when they are standing on the ground, but when they’re in the water, they’re called a plump. One of my favorite bird groups is a wake of vultures.  Get it?

Okay, enough about birds.  Tired of hearing about swine flu?  A group of hogs can be called a passel or a drift. In the livestock category, there’s a tribe of goats, a rumination of cattle, and a troop of horses, although a group of racehorses are called a field. Whales aren’t just called a school or pod, but also can be referred to as a herd, gam, grind, mob, or run. You could probably guess this next one: a group of vipers is a nest. For African animals, there’s a crossing of zebras, a memory of elephants, a crash of rhinos, and a machination of monkeys, although monkey groupings  have several other terms, such as barrel. And let’s not forget a cackle of hyenas.  Had enough?

Groups of bison are called a thunder, there’s a mischief of moose, a bike of bees, a shiver of sharks, and a confusion of weasels.  Just a few more.  A group of swans are a regatta, leopards are a leap, and groups of frogs are an army. Even groups of gerbils have their own word – a horde.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  Did I fail to mention your favorite animal?  Let me know and I will tell you its grouping name or names.

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A penny for your thoughts

coin rolls

Continuing yesterday’s “There’s a Word for That?” theme of words with a French root that begin with R, comes today’s entry whose definition will be instantly recognizable but whose term might not be.  It comes to us from the French word for roll.

rouleau n. a roll of coins wrapped in a cylindrical paper form.

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